Music Education | Feature

Music Education Goes High Tech

Over the last 25 years, Luis E. Loubriel has watched technology dramatically change the way music students learn at the college level. "We've always used some type of technology," says Loubriel, Benedictine University's chair, department of music, and an associate professor of music, "but it wasn't electronic -- it was metronomes."

Over time, those metronomes gave way to early notation systems, which according to Loubriel, "just weren't very good." "For a while we were using a program called Mockingbird that made all of the musical notes basically look square when displayed on the screen," explains Loubriel, who teaches Technology for Music Teachers (Music 303), a required class all music majors.

Loubriel began to see the real potential for technology in music education in the mid-1990s. It was then that music notation/composition programs like Finale were introduced and, like most software programs, honed over time to better meet the needs of both students and teachers. "At that point we finally had a professional program that worked," says Loubriel.

Prepping for Music Careers

For the next decade Loubriel and his classes would experiment with various applications designed to bring music education into the 21st century. In 2004 Benedictine University built its first general computer lab. Four years later it opened the doors to two dedicated Macintosh computer labs specifically for the school's music and communications departments. This was a big step, according to Loubriel, who says the new lab suddenly put into students' hands the same equipment used by professionals working in the music field.

"This was a significant move because suddenly our students were using the Apple computers and related software that they'd be expected to use out in the workforce," says Loubriel. "It really brought our music program into a new light and helped us better prepare students for their future careers."

Loubriel still uses Finale as his primary music notation software program. "It's the professional standard in the industry," he explains. "Students use it to write music professionally, enter and listen to specific notes (via the software's playback feature), create musical scores, and develop arrangements. It's pretty all-encompassing."

Also populating Loubriel's tech toolbox are programs like Apple's Logic Pro X, which allows students to use their Macs as professional recording studios. "Once students have their music notated and composed, they need an application for recording it and listening to it," says Loubriel. "We've tested out a number of different programs but usually prefer Logic Pro to handle this aspect of the class."

Loubriel says he also weaves experimentation with technology into his classes, knowing that the latest tools and applications are introduced every new school year. "I have students research their options and test out new programs all the time," says Loubriel. "If they find something that they like, and that helps them advance as music majors, then I encourage them to make use of it."

From Metronome to High-Tech

Thinking back to the days when his most technologically advanced teaching tool was a metronome, Loubriel says the new applications and equipment that he's using in the classroom have changed the face of music education. Trial-and-error experimentation, for example, takes place much faster that ever before.

"Simple ideas in students' heads can now be turned into something wonderful within a very short period of time," says Loubriel. "Add two violins, a piano, and a bass to the mix and the creators can hear their masterpieces live, make the necessary adjustments, and learn a lot during the process."

Technology has also made music education more interactive and enabled instant feedback. After entering their musical arrangements into music notation software, for example, students can instantly hear what their work sounds like. Looking back on his own college career, Loubriel says it used to take him two weeks to accomplish the same task. "I had to handwrite out the music, gather some musician friends together, and then play my piece live before I could really hear what it even sounded like," he recalls. "Today, my students are getting all of that done within 10 minutes."

Loubriel, who anticipates a time when his current technology stable grows to include iPads for student use, says one of his most interesting class projects found students arranging Beethoven's 5th Symphony for choir on Finale. "They wrote it, got the instant feedback, and then sang it in class and recorded it at the same time," says Loubriel. "For undergraduate students to be able to tackle this kind of project was pretty amazing."

Amazing points aside, Loubriel says he does run into challenges when using technology to teach music -- mainly, trying to keep up with the constant changes and new options. "We're at the point where our computers have to be replaced at least every five years; keeping up with that is definitely challenging," says Loubriel, who adds that while technology tools facilitate learning, they don't necessarily fix problems or provide all of the answers. "It just makes things easier and faster."

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