Teaching Music Now vs. Then: How Technology has Changed

If you think your job of teaching music now is hard lets look back at what I had to work with 45 years ago when I entered the life of a public servant as a music teacher. As you know, today the arts, in most cases, are very low on the totem pole for funding of quality music equipment…. Surprise, nothing has changed!

The good news is you at least have options. Though all schools have computers, how much do they help you as a music educator?…… Hmmmm, quite limited! More on computers later.

I happened to see a current movie at the theater about a Washington D.C. news publisher. The scene that got me thinking was in the news room where reporters were typing frantically on their state-of-the-art type writers. That would be circa 1970. What’s a typewriter you may ask? These machines today can only be found in antique shops or museums. You young teachers would be horrified if you had to use such basic tools in every day life.

Though the music you teach hasn’t changed, Mozart is still Mozart, and a half note is still a half note. But the technology has. All you have to do (fortunately) is invest in a music writing program and you will be off and running. Today there are classes in colleges to prepare you.

Carbon paper on a mimeograph machineNow let’s go back to the 70’s. The best we had was carbon paper to write musical notes on by hand. Just think of all the blue ink that transferred to our hands in the process. Of course we had to repeat for each corresponding key ie. Flute, clarinet/trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. Strings were another can of worms. If you made a mistake, you couldn’t delete and correct neatly.

mimeograph machineUse your imagination as to WHAT A MESS you had. Assuming you completed that phase, it was on to the hand cranked mimeograph machine. The ether fumes from the copying process left you just short of high as you were about to face the little cherubs.  Everyone was so excited when we got new self powered machines in our schools. Oooo “state-of-the-art” again. Of course the rest of the world had already moved on to Xerox photo copiers. By the way, mimeograph machines were also notorious for destroying original master copies you spent the evening before producing. # notgood.

Photo copiers were pretty bad at first but evolved as technology dictated to what you have today.

Ok, Back to 1973! If you wanted to play a piece of music from any era, you played it on a cd right? WRONG! Let’s try scratched up vinyls. These you might find in your parent’s attic along with a turntable which will make you chuckle. Somehow we revered our vinyls. Some adults today believe that “that was the purest form of sound reproduction”.  These might have survived in a home environment but a school classroom was the kiss of death for vinyls. Not to be offensive but, most of you who believe this concept probably have a ponytail and still wear polyester shirts and slacks. (Another sign of being stuck in time)

The record players were horrendous sounding and the tracking stylus (needle) would wear down or break at the most inopportune time in class.

Next came 7 inch reel to reel tape recorders followed by cassette tape players, both of which made it impossible to find the beginnings of songs. Still tapes were an improvement over records.

Somewhere in the 1990’s, compact discs (CD’s) became common place in the music world and in the classroom During the last third of my thirty years as a teacher, CD’s were my teaching materials of choice.  I personally had to research and buy my own CD player and discs.

Finally in the 21st century we have laptops. Technology, I bow to you. iTunes karaoke backup music is perfect for the classroom as well as personal performance. Do some research on karaoke. You won’t be sorry. In most cases songs are $.99 each. Of course these are all for vocal backup in the classroom.

Also, since I retired, I have……. “Wait for it”…………desktop published an elementary band and string music supplement entitled “The Yankee Collection” This will save you even more research time. I hope you appreciate the era you live in. On the other hand, what can we expect in the future?

Each new generation of music teachers has its own road blocks, especially those imposed by local school boards and the philosophies of administrators. Even state regulations manage to get into the mix. However, as you can see, technology is making your life easier than it was in the 1970’s.

Oh yes, one more tool you might use is the DVD. I know many principals frown on these in classes but you might beat the wrap in your lesson plan objectives. Let’s say your video is “The Nutcracker Ballet”.    Objective: To observe the interpretation of the music through dance, movement, and dancer’s costumes. Hey, its worth a shot rather than calling in sick.