Quick Bytes: “no budget” music technology

In the interviews you conducted with music teachers, many of you noted that cost and availability are an issue. For just a moment, I want to focus on the wealth of technology resources that are available for next to nothing. If I were running a music program, and I did not have any technology resources, here’s what I would do:

1. Solicit donations of older computers (either Mac or PC). Particularly in industry, machines that are three or four years old are often retired, and many businesses and individuals love donating to schools. A machine that is three years old, or even five or six years old, often has more than enough computing capability. In fact, at the elementary school where I taught, one teacher collected all the old Apple classic computers she could get her hands on, giving her a complete computer lab within her classroom (she had about 21 machines, which he used mostly in teaching writing with her students). It used to be the case that it was hard to get a computer that could really do everything you would want to do, but these days it is hard to get a computer that can’t handle all the basic tasks admirably.

2. Load the computers up with free and open source software. We haven’t spoken about this much, but there are great free alternatives to many programs. Open Office is a great substitute for Microsoft Office, GIMP is an open source pixel editing program like Adobe Photoshop, InkScape is a free competitor to Adobe Illustrator, Finale Notepad has already been explored by us, and of course Audacity. All of these programs could be installed on a computer without spending a dime, and would allow students not only to learn to use them, but to download the same programs if they have a computer at home. If you or some of your students are Linux-savvy, you could install Planet CCRMA, which has hundreds of free programs and is focused on professional level audio (in fact, if you want to drool, look at how many free programs are included for everything from video work to DJing).

3. Carefully spend money on high impact hardware. A decent microphone would allow for recording nearly everything. A few electronic piano keyboards with headphones would be fantastic for students to explore music making. Once a basic lab was in place, it would be easy within most school districts to raise $500 or so to purchase some of this equipment.

4. For computers that do not have a MIDI keyboard, it is often possible to get an application that allows students to play the piano using the QWERTY keyboard (try this out: open GarageBand, and then hit the caps lock button.]

5. Use free services to set up a weblog, website, etc. The weblog for this class is a free account, and we haven’t had any problems yet (knock on wood). By contrast, the school of music website has been down for weeks (no comment).

By the way, speaking of free software, we have loaded open office, audacity, GIMP, and Inkscape onto these machines. Feel free to take them on a test drive!

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