Music Education and MIDI Technology
Ever since the first version of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was introduced in 1983, it has helped composers create music and edit easily while reducing cost and the size of performance spaces.1 It was reported in the Music Educational Journal, “At the January 1983 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention, sequential Circuit’s Dave Smith and Roland’s Jim Mothersbaugh successfully connected two digital synthesizers from those two different manufacturers.” MIDI truly became real by then. 2 It was a clear advance in the development of computer and music technology. Although MIDI was not the first revolutionary invention for composition, it opened up comprehensive possibilities for composing tools.4 MIDI is simply a system that communicates sound through MIDI devices i.e. software, controllers, and sequencers. Larry Mueth, a music educator and a writer, defines that the roles of MIDI instruments are sending or receiving digital information about note pitches, note durations, note enhancements, and performance information.3 MIDI programs can provide a great variety of sound sources that are very close to the original instrumental sound. The technology is both easily accessible and affordable, thus making it a great resource to teach and learn music. Due to its relative simplicity, effectiveness, low cost, and even its charm, MIDI technology would make music education increasingly approachable for many kinds of students. Its widespread distribution in classrooms would enhance music programs and a diverse range of school activities.
Being used over 20 years, many advantages have been found about MIDI technology. Especially it results in an increase of home recording so anyone who owns the program can create music and even share it online. This has the added advantage of saving MIDI users the time they would otherwise need to physically go to professional studios to record. Also, the user will have an easy access to upload their music and share with musicians all over the world. With their low cost of implementation, MIDI devices offer sounds relatively similar to those of sophisticated professional instruments. Therefore, a large number of musicians or producers prefer to work with MIDI devices (Criswell, etc). Their accessibility, reliability, and portability provide many advantages to live performers. David Last, a musician and visual artist living in Brooklyn, New York, says “The use of MIDI results in an increase of home recording so anyone who owns the program can create music and even share it online. The barriers to entry are now extremely low, anyone with access to a computer, money for software, and some time to learn, can make music.” Thus, students who do not have monetary accessibility to buy real instruments can use many free software available online and practice music at home and school. Sharing musical experiences online with peers will add more interests in it.
One of the main advantages of MIDI itself is that anyone, even non-professional musicians, can look at music and manipulate the notes, speed, and velocity. The MIDI interface connects computers and musical instruments (e.g., keyboards, percussion sets, string instruments, wind instruments, pad controllers etc), reducing the need to hire an orchestra for programs with smaller budgets. Two current examples of this trend are the Stanford Laptop Orchestra (SLOrk) and the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) where each group member is responsible for a particular instrument to create an orchestral masterpiece entirely disposing of real instruments. Members of those two organizations, not all professional musicians, only use Mac Book Laptops for their music creation and live performances. The members play computer play keyboards with each key representing a note, producing the sound of 200 different channels. Even tilting the computer generates different sounds. They also use pillows, stands, bowls, chairs and other inexpensive “instruments” to achieve effects. They build speakers and woofers by poking holes in wooden salad bowls from IKEA.4 Simply having a computer and MIDI devices gives everyone the chance to become musicians because they are portable and not intimidating for ones who do not have real instruments or are not able to perform them.
Also, there are technical advantages that make MIDI more useful and attractive to users. Robert Sadoff, the Director of the Scoring for Film and Multimedia Program in NYU, states that a great advantage of MIDI programs is that they allow the technical manipulation of music, by expanding, compressing, and shifting pitch, and also fading by simply press keys in the program(170). Previous to the development of MIDI programs, musicians, sound engineers, and other technicians needed to work with the actual audiotapes to add expansion, compression, etc. MIDI technology has made music production much quicker and easier. MIDI users are able to produce their own unique sounds, and also replicate and manipulate sounds from nature. For example, if someone is unable to find a specific hurricane sound, they could tweak and create it as they wished. The main role of MIDI programs that include numerous electronic instruments is to save and play the music within the synthesizer. Compared to the analog era, when composers had to write the music notation on the paper, digital tools has made the process easier by automatically inserting or recording music throughout MIDI machine when the user performs with synthesizer (Mueth 49). By simply clicking the recording button on the synthesizer, the keyboards, or MIDI software program will generate and store the sound in the computer.
In addition, usage of MIDI can expand from music to psychology. Through an experiment by Woody, associate professor of music education at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln School of Music, three pianists performed three different melodies while looking at an image and recorded music was transported to the MIDI program and examined for loudness, tempo and articulation (23). By looking at waveform and components of the MIDI software settings, it was possible to analyze how the pianists’ emotions were responding to the image. This experiment allowed the researchers to observe the relationship between both imagery and music, and imagery and emotion, as a result of MIDI interpretation. Since MIDI software can be used to watch the volume, waveform, speed, and rhythm graphically, the experiment showed that subjects felt emotional depression or happiness in response to music, and also that they were better at remembering the images(23).
MIDI techniques are easy to learn since many parts of them are self-explanatory. Among the musicians, there are both agreeing and oppositional views on the use of MIDI technology. Alex Igoudine explains that “the technological tradeoff made for the sake of enhanced user-friendliness and affordability in the larger commercial market limited synthesis capabilities and access and therefore disappointed some composers.” (28). However, it is clear that not only professional, but also amateur musicians have become more familiarized with music production. making MIDI technology a positive contribution to the world of music. Igoudine also states that MIDI improved the chances of experimentation with compositional ideas through different compositional tools (2). MIDI programs offer simple ways to compose; users, for example, can simply click on the grid to create notes. If they don’t like the sound, it can be moved to different parts of grid or erased completely. No pencils and erasers are necessary to create music. Also, many tutorials are available online for free, as MIDI programs like Cubase, ProTools, Reason, etc have become common for computer musicians.
Current music education has strengthened out the program from limited or formal educations to enjoyable and trendy ones. Teachers create motivational and suitable curriculum considering students’ interests and environment for better absorption. For example, an elementary school in Columbus, Ohio, supported by the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for the Performing and Cultural Arts and Ohio State University, selected African American students were taught on an easy-to-use MIDI program and keyboard in addition to traditional bands and orchestra instruments.5555 Students learned how to produce hip-hop and R & B genres that are popular among their culture. It is a positive outcome that music education has evolved more interesting as the MIDI technology has been developed. Lon Beery, an assistant professor of music department at the Syracuse University, New York, explains “Because popular music plays such an important role in young people’s lives, the creative teacher should not pass up the chance to incorporate popular music into a lesson whenever possible.”(38) Teachers are able to manipulate the tempo, key and instrumentation when they demonstrate musical sources. They can also mute, and solo the tracks through MIDI program. Thus, in addition to teacher’s musical knowledge, the technology will give them better opportunity to interest students.(Ruth Brittin 239)
While MIDI programs have risen to a prominent role as a technology to educate students, they also have increasingly been utilized as an educational source in classroom settings. The importance of music education gained emphasis as studies have shown that music listening makes an impact on mathematics problem-solving skills and social behavior (Jeffery 371). Without real musical instruments in the classrooms, teachers are able to show pictures of them online, and play the sound through the MIDI program. Jeeny Wojcik, a music educator, has shown that MIDI software’s can provide inexpensive music classes (61). Beery explains that students are able to create, edit and hear, up-to-date sound with MIDI and synthesizer (35).
Currently, teaching materials are insufficient in many educational settings for young children, and that is a deficiency that will need to be addressed in order to have cohesive music education. Research conducted in 350 elementary schools in the U.S on principles and goals for music revealed that unless the school really valued music classes and expected outstanding results, no funding was given out to purchase musical instruments (Abril 6). Music teachers argued that students needed more opportunities to develop their musical skills; the administrators, however, disagreed (7). In kindergarten music classrooms, teachers are too busy taking care of the children to teach them the rudiments of music, (Martina 46) and there is a shortage of additional teachers who could provide the extra work necessary to run a music class. Music in early development is important as at an early age children have a better ability to accept new materials, and a better curriculum for them would be beneficial. Moreover, as Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT Media Lab, has pointed out, children need to learn how to use computers anyway, which will heighten the quality of their lives in many ways, including musical and social aspects (Barun 236). Children have more tendencies to grasp new techniques than adults. It is sure MIDI technology will help children understand and develop their musical senses while they are spending time with the technology. Now, education with using computer has become efficient that it has been proved to be useful. The analysis of two case studies suggests that the Continuator is able to develop interesting child/machine interactions and creative musical processes in young children. 21 In the study they used a particular system, the Continuator, developed at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris (Pachet, 2003) age of 3 to 5. The Continuator reacts to children’s musical response.
Recent studies dealing with musical invention in young children (2–4 years) have suggested that the origin of new musical ideas is structurally anchored in the sympathetic interaction established between the adult and the child while playing with educational musical instruments 21(Young, 2004). The relationship between new technology and learning is gaining increasing relevance in the ﬁeld of music education. 22 As ‘transparent’ instruments that allow children, even outside the school classroom, to make and produce music (Folkestad et al., 1998). 22
From a psychological and pedagogical point of view, the general aim was to study the nature of the interaction between the children and the system, the kinds of musical behaviors that developed, and how interactive systems can be used in the educational ﬁeld to stimulate creativity and the pleasure of playing.
The main lesson learned from these experiments is that it is worthwhile to design and use a particular class of interactive systems – the are called ‘reﬂective’ – for music education: systems in which the user, regardless of skills, competence level, and musical goals, is confronted by a developing
‘mirror’ of him- or herself.(23-24)
Child’s proposals, and how this aroused in the child a sequence of emotions going from surprise and interest, to curiosity, which encouraged him to turn a random single note (G) into an alternating succession of variants of a rhythmic-melodic cell, making up an interesting, albeit brief, musical dialogue.(32) --- case study 1, jerry(5 yr 10 mo)'s interaction with the MIDI tools are clearly appeared through observation when he played notes randomly on the keyboard Another Tom is also 5 years 10 months. He soon becomes involved in the sound, and learns very quickly how to interact ‘in real time’ with all the stimuli that he receives from the system and from the whole set of equipment (computer, loudspeaker, expander, wires). 33
Observed recently in young children and adults playing a xylophone (Young, 2004): this kind of interpersonal dimension is a potential source of musical creativity for young children. The very fact that the interaction is so similar to that of humans may perhaps explain why the children ﬁnd it so exciting:
just like in cartoons, where the thing they like most is that ‘it seems real because it’s fake’ (Mattia, 3 years old, in Mazzoli, 2001).40
Result: The two case studies would suggest that the Continuator is able to develop interesting child/computer interaction, very similar to that between humans. This to have its origins in the ability of the system to replicate the musical style of the children. 40
The quality of the child’s explorations, improvisations, compositions and performances depends
essentially on the child’s ear, and it is this aspect that prompts the child to reproduce
an invention, vary it, play with the variation and create special effects. (42 - ear)
MIDI synthesizers and controllers can be used to create a complete setting for a music classroom. The most commonly used synthesizer is a keyboard. Although a keyboard is embedded within the MIDI software program in the computer, it is recommended to have an actual physical keyboard to play with and study the notes. Joong Il Kim, a professor of MIDI at the Music Academy in Kangnamku, Seoul, Korea, recommends keyboards with 61 keys or more for music composition because less than 61 keys will not give enough octaves to play with two hands. About the synthesizers set up in school, John Blacknoir, a sound design instructor at the Parsons the New School for Design, says that the more of them will be required for students. These advanced keyboards are particularly indispensable for experienced performers. Modulation and pitch are easily corrected within the program. Some schools have drum machines, small devices that connect to the computer by USB plug-ins but the virtual versions can be also found within the MIDI programs. Samplers allow the recording, editing, and performance of sound by manipulating pitch, duration, and timbre (Brown 127), and they also include their own software. Producing music with MIDI is very cost-efficient because none of the equipment is required as long as there is a computer with a MIDI software and a sound card. A simple studio setting can be created with only those two elements.
In terms of affordability, MIDI technology reduces both the labor cost and the educational cost. It is particularly useful during concert practice—since the MIDI can replace absent performers, not everyone has to attend every practice by section (Igoudin 148). Unlike playback from a cassette player or tape, MIDI programs allow users to turn on and off any instruments at will. There is a variety of MIDI software, and brands such as Logic, CuBase, Pro Tools, Reason are often popular in music studios. These programs are sold at affordable prices, ranging from $99 to $299, and free trials are available for first time users. In addition to these brands, numerous free programs for computer-generated music are available on the web (e.g., Beat Master, DW-8000, Encore, Midi Gate, Wave Blaster, etc.). Anyone who is curious about creating MIDI music or wanting to explore more can teach himself using these free software.
Sound can also help deliver meaningful images and express emotions. Though there are precedents of relating sound and imagery in European art history, there has been undoubtedly a growth of multimedia and computer based media technology, including MIDI. Contemporary multi-media or interactive artists use MIDI to add dynamics to their sound. A large number of sound effects and music are produced through MIDI programs for animation, films, television shows and commercials. Many soundtracks for visuals are created in MIDI by using keyboards, drum pads, wind instruments etc (Leonardo 312). According to Sadoff the computer music editors’ work with “overall perspective;” in other words, they easily manipulate sound depending on the mood of the film(166). As the media industry moves ever more rapidly, faster MIDI programs for composition and production keep the pace. While some instrumental musicians do not appreciate the invention of MIDI because of a supposedly “unoriginal” quality of the sound, progress on the technology for the new sound interface means that the quality of electronic sound devices will soon meet the expectations and tastes of various users. For example, once the new official sound card for Pro Tools, M-Audio’s Fast Track, is released, it will provide accurate and faster quality for generating sounds (Sound on Sound). iPhone and iPod users can now install an application for MIDI controller for only 99 cents. With that application, users will be able to control any MIDI software program on their computer through a wireless connection. 88 As the multimedia industry is active and always looking for better quality, various helpful MIDI programs will be released along with many other electronic protocols.
MIDI software can be used in games to teach children beats and rhythms easily. Online music games like Beat Machine and Drum Steps can be found at the Making Tracks BBC Web site. 9999 These programs, as well as others such as O Generator, are fun to play by sequencing simple rhythms (Brown, 71). Considering children’s attention span and appreciation for play, these game-style applications will be helpful to teach them music. Not only MIDI has been used in classroom settings, but it has also helped to educate children at home. Recently, eMedia has released ”My Electric Guitar Tutorial”, where the animated character Rocky the Guitar teaches children to play guitar in a fun and enthusiastic way. The animated interface and exciting motion graphics motivate children to practice the guitar without physically having one. Children can also learn by this method how to play many different kinds of musical instruments through these educational MIDI programs.
Over the past two decades, MIDI has become a core technology in the creation of modern electronic music, particularly a wide range of genres of dance music (Criswell, etc). Its relative quick turnaround for production so one person can handle composing and editing, along with its time- and cost-efficiency have made MIDI very attractive to the electronic music community. Moreover, the interface encourages people who do not have real musical instruments to explore sound. It has been grown as a music education tool for students in schools where no real musical instruments are available. Blackford claims that the music education through MIDI should be more spread through elementary school classroom environment because he believes that children have ability to develop musical skills using the latest technology.
By gaining access to MIDI programs, students can learn “composition, orchestration, and theory of music” (Mueth 49). MIDI software and gear need to be more available in school settings so students can experience their use since the early stages of educational development. As the evolution and upgrading of MIDI technology, much better sound can be expected to make up for the absence of real instruments at the moment. Of course, the instructors of MIDI programs should also prepare accordingly to teach their students in effective ways instead of scaring them away. If the program interface seems intimidating at first, once students become familiar with it, it would then be merely a matter of practice and experimentation. Blackford sees the MIDI technology will develop toward pre-modular synthesis, which will result in faster MIDI programs. Busoni, the Italian pianist-composer of the early 19th century, said “ Music is born free; and to win freedom is its destiny. In the new great music, machines will also be necessary.”20 He knew that new technology would be necessary to produce better music and there’s no limitation to music tools.