Music Tech is here – now how do you make a music lab?

10 09 2010

JpegiLife09_PF_Open_NoKeys_GarageBand_Compose_SCREEN 2

Music technology is quickly becoming a popular element of many music education programs. Kudos to the many teachers and department heads that have realized the potential of using computers and midi controllers to further develop their music curriculum. Especially Yokohama International School where I am currently hanging my shingle. The school’s administration is both forward thinking and supportive in so many ways. Thanks!

I have been getting requests for an outline of what I use and opinions on how a music lab should be set up. What do you buy with your budget. What is most important.

I hope by sharing my setup here at Yokohama International School it will help with your decision making process. I think the first decision to be made is weather you want a piano lab, a music tech lab, or both. Let’s look at the difference.

A piano lab is a group of midi piano keyboards that are connected through a special system so that the teacher can listen and communicate with each student via a headset intercom. The teacher can listen to the student and visa versa. They can also talk to each other via the mic headset. The teacher can also listen to all the students at the same time and chose any combination of students at any one time. This system is great if teaching piano keyboard skills is your number one priority. This system is in no way limited to just this function but it is the main use of this kind of system.

If you want to run a music technology class you may want to create a slightly different setup that includes a computer and a midi piano keyboard. I have a setup that has ten workstations that service a maximum of 20 students. Two students per workstation. Here is a list of the equipment found in each workstation:

– One Apple laptop (the fastest you can afford, I have Apple MacBooks, now the MacBook Pro 13 inch)
– One Yamaha P85 piano with built in speakers and two headphone jacks, two sets of headphones
– Two MIDI USB cables (one for the piano and one for the M-Audio Axiom)
– One M-Audio Axiom 25 Key Semi-weighted Keyboard, USB Midi controller with drum pads
– I also have 2 M-Audio Fast Track digital/analog translator boxes for guitar players to use as an input interfaces
– One set of wall mounted M-Audio studio monitors for playback
– Video projector and screen
– One set of Korg Nano series mixer and keyboard controllers
– I do not have individual speakers at each work station. When I want them to play a composition or project for everyone to assess I get them to plug into the room sound system.

I started with just the Yamaha piano keyboards and then added the M-Audio for two reasons. It let everyone play piano at the same time. One of the two students uses the Yamaha piano with internal speakers and the other student uses the M-Audio controller playing the sounds in the GarageBand software.

Here is a list of software I use for most of my classroom lessons.
SOFTWARE
– Apple iLife suite
– Logic Express
– Maestro keyboard viewing software
– Mr. Drum step time drum machine – free online
– Several other drum machines and music games that are free downloads
– Staff Wares music notation learning games
– Airfoil wireless sound playback with airport express and speakers
– Was using ProTools (phased out as it is too expensive and not very flexible for education. Protection components problematic for school IT department)
– Sibelius Music Notation (phasing out as it is too expensive and not very flexible for education. It can be replaced very nicely with free Web 2.0 software called NoteFlight)

WEB 2.0 SOFTWARE
– GarageBand and the other band members of the iLife 09′ suite
– NoteFlight Web 2.0 Music Notation
– Ricci Adams Music Theory
– eMusicTheory.com
– If you know any other web software that might be interesting, let me know!

Using Web 2.0 software is a real plus as students can work on projects at home on any computer with a browser and internet connection. For those of you not familiar with Web 2.0 it means the software is online and does not have to be downloaded onto the computer. Therefore it doesn’t matter what your Operating system is. Many are currently free and/or have an educators membership to setup class lists and online testing etc.

I hope this helps you in designing the best system that is right for you. If you need further information or want to discuss other possibilities just leave a comment.

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