Why aren’t children using computers to learn music?

That’s a very good question!

Some may think the reason is because this is new technology.  Actually it’s not.  Computers 1391932_47356186have been used for composing music since the early 1980’s.  In 1990, I did several technology lecture series presentations where thousands of people attended.  In fact, there was so much interest in computer music back then, that we couldn’t accommodate all of the people who wanted to attend.

Today, the technology has advanced at least ten fold, yet it’s still a mystery to most K-12 schools and the general public.  The lack of knowledge isn’t because kids are new to computers.  Today, even two year old children are being handed tablets like the Ipad and most kids by nine years of age are more adept at operating computers than adults!

Perhaps you might think it’s because of cost.  Granted, there are costs associated with getting involved with computer music, but the price of entry has dropped ten-fold over the last twenty years.  Back in the 1980’s, the price of admission for a home studio would have been at least $10,000 to $30,000.  Today, that cost is nearly ten times less, and the functionality is one hundred times greater. 

If you looked at my modest studio back in 1986, I had an IBM Personal Computer that I paid well over $4,000 for.  I had a Roland digital piano that cost me another $3,000 that I purchased used.  Then, add a couple of outboard synthesizers from Roland and Yamaha that set me back another $3,000 bucks.  The software at the time was very limited and scarce.  I used Cakewalk’s DOS based sequencing software.  It wasn’t that expensive, but it didn’t have much functionality compared to today’s software. I also had a mixing board, some monitors, and a MIDI interface that needed to be integrated into my computer.  I then purchased a multi-track tape recorder for another grand or so.  So, by the time I was finished I had well over $10,000 bucks invested in my home studio.

Today, all you need is a laptop, a MIDI/Audio interface, and some software.   You can purchase 1171719_25568909digital keyboards today for under a hundred bucks.  Laptops can be had for under $500 bucks and a decent MIDI/Audio interface can be purchased for around $150 bucks.  Even full weighted action 88-key digital keyboards can be purchased for under a grand and the quality of the sound these generate today would have put my early keyboards to shame.   

So why the heck isn’t this technology in the hands of our children in schools today?

First, the general public has never been exposed to this technology.  The secret to my success in getting people to come to my seminars in the 1990’s was that I actually demonstrated the technology.  If you don’t see it in action, you just won’t understand it.

Second, it isn’t easy to figure out what you need to put a computer music solution together.  What laptop do I need?  Should it be an Apple or IBM?  How much processing power do I need? How much memory and disk space do I need?   What is the best software to purchase?  (Today there are hundreds of software products to choose from.)  What kind of MIDI, (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) interface do I need?  What kind of Audio interface do I need to record music?  Do I need a mixer?  What is the best digital keyboard to purchase based on what I am trying to do?   Should I get a weighted action keyboard or non-weighted action?  What kind of speakers should I get?  Should I use regular speakers or active monitors? These are just a few of the questions that arise.

Then you need to learn how to use the software and integrate it with the hardware technology.   Today, a single Laptop can take the place of all the outboard gear I used in the 1990’s.  There are no need for outboard synthesizers anymore.  The Laptop can do that today.  You really don’t need a mixer.  The tape recorder is no longer necessary.   So – in a lot of ways, things have become much simpler.  In other ways it has become more complex.  The software today is many times more complex than it was in the 1990’s.  More capabilities inherently bring more complexity.

Of course someone needs to put the whole program together.  You first have to understand the technology, be able to sift through the array of options, integrate everything and then build an educational program around the technology.  This is no easy task.  In fact, I don’t believe there is any K-12 computer music program being run today.

So who is using this technology today?  Well, first of all every professional musician on the planet.  http://www.dreamstime.com/-image3003650If you want to be a recording artist today, you will most certainly be working with computer music technology.  Studio time and musicians are very expensive and if you can do your composition on computers instead, you have really reduced your cost and time.

Recording studios all use it and many universities offer the technology in their music educational programs.  There are also college level schools that focus entirely on audio engineering using computers.   

Then there is this underground world of what I call “computer music hobbyists.”  Sometimes they are called “electronic musicians.”  These people are both musicians and computer savvy.  There are thousands of them out there.  Unfortunately, they don’t include kinds in the K-12 age range.  There are also magazines like “Electronic Musician” and “Sound on Sound” that are dedicated to these people.   

In summary, I think there are a few reasons your kids aren’t using computers for making music in their schools.   First, most teachers have never seen the technology before.  Second, the parents don’t know the technology exists.  Third, it takes a lot of knowledge and skill to choose, integrate, and prepare a curriculum for a computer based educational program.  You might think they could purchase a program, but to my knowledge these programs don’t exist.  Cost is really not a valid reason as the technology costs continue to drop and also include educational discounts.

It’s unfortunate that kids aren’t getting exposed to computer music.  It’s probably one of the most exciting and rewarding programs a child could ever get involved with.  What could be more exciting for a child than composing their own music composition and sharing it with their friends?  When kids use computer music technology they end up wanting to practice their instruments more.  They become interested in math and science. They learn music theory faster, develop improvisational skills and they gain a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

There is a tremendous opportunity to put a program like this together at the K-12 educational level.  I really want to find an educational institution that would like to pioneer this.  I have been working on integrating such a program for the past 25 years.   If you are interested, please contact me through my website.   I want to make history with you.

Author, Dave Sass

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