What’s the latest in Music Technology?

The UK’s creative industries are now worth £84 billion and I think it’s interesting to note that the fastest-growing area within music is Music Production. There are now more students on production programmes than any one instrument-specific discipline and music technology is developing at a rate of knots. How can we keep up with these rapid changes in technology? How can we support students and parents in this extremely creative area of music making? And what’s the point?!

Music technology is now an essential part of all GCSE and A-Level music exams. Students need to be able to access this technology to enable them to create digital portfolios and prepare course work. At some point, a professional composer’s work will need to be type-set to help enable performance and possible publication. Technology also helps a composer to hear what their composition or arrangement may eventually sound like, before live musicians get involved to add a different array of tonal colour.

Most music departments have two pieces of software; a notation program and a sequencer (DAW). On the notation front, Sibelius has been the standard program for over 20 years, and Notion has done very well with its excellent iPad app. Dorico (pictured above) is the latest notation program to be launched, developed by the original Sibelius development team . It has taken notation software to even greater highs with increased flexibility. The beauty of notation software programs, is that they all speak the same language. By saving a composition as a ‘MusicXML’ file, a file can be opened in any of the competing notation programs.

In the sequencing or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) there are no (obvious) musical notes. All you get visually are blocks or piano roll grids. Generally the non-reader is extremely proficient using a sequencer and leaves the classically trainer musician a bit lost. However, this is the program that is needed to enable recording. You need a sequencing program like Cubase, Logic or Pro Tools to enable a good quality recording. These programs and the use of an Audio Interface, change an analogue sound into digital.

Both programs are equally important to each other in the creation, preparation and recording of a piece of music.

With the rapid changes in music technology, it is important to try and keep up. This means updating software frequently, and hardware occasionally. Unfortunately this generally means spending some money, but it normally brings enough to the composer’s palette to warrant the expense.

To help learn the intricacies of Music Technology, I would like to bring your attention to the brand new Rockschool series of Music Production exams. The Rockschool (RSL) exam board have been around now for over 25 years, and they are a global first. A Key Stage 3 student could start at Grade 1. Grade 5 would be about GCSE level and Grades 6 to 8 would sit very happily alongside A-Level music. For students in sixth form, the beauty here is that passes in Grades 6 to 8 come with UCAS points. These are excellent books for learning about music production, whatever level you may be at.

One area I feel could grow in schools, is the use of the music tech room during break times, as an extra-curricular activity. I have seen some excellent projects where a Steinberg Music Tech Club has been set up. Mondays it’s school choir, Tuesdays it’s band, but Wednesdays it’s Tech Club. This gives all students access to the music tech (encouraging peer to peer learning/teaching), and allows greater access to the equipment to work on compositions. It’s also proven to be brilliant for SEN students who may find it physically and mentally ‘safer’ in this type of environment.

Music software gives composers an extremely creative box of tools to work with. From the most basic ‘cut and paste’ fugue, to being able to change the instrumentation of a particular phrase. Being able to digitally share new compositions with fellow musicians, and have the tempo exactly as the composer intended helps to save lots of rehearsal time. The ability to isolate a particular part within a composition, just by using the in-built mixer, can be really useful when learning a piece of choral music.

I would suggest it is important to try and keep within distance of the music technology changes. I would also suggest trying to keep aware of the various free training videos and training events that are popping up more frequently than ever. And the point of all this, I hope, is that it’s helping creative music making and that it’s fun!

If you would like to let me know what you think about my blog entry, then please do feel free to contact me at [email protected] or tel 07841 516 066. I do hope you may have found it of interest.

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