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Get your head in the cloud, part 1: introduction

George Hess, MUSIC:ED Music Technology Editor, introduces a series of articles about cloud-based software for music teaching and music creation.

George Hess, MUSIC:ED Music Technology Editor, introduces a series of articles about cloud-based software for music teaching and music creation.

One of the most common questions we hear from teachers who are new to technology is what software to use. There’s no one right answer and there are a few factors to consider before we can answer the question.

First and foremost is what do you want to accomplish? Do you prefer a more traditional approach to learning music fundamentals? Or do you want students to learn while creating music?

It may be tempting to decide to do it all but if you’re just starting out, take care to not take on more than you can handle.

Structuring the class

Another question to answer is how you intend to structure the class. This will be affected by your classroom setup.

  • Do students each have their own device in the classroom?
  • Are they using computers, ChromeBooks or tablets?
  • Do you have MIDI keyboards?
  • Is this an entire class or just a unit?

Each of these scenarios will require different answers.


Finally, there’s the ever-present question of budget.

It’s far too common for teachers to be asked to implement music technology on a shoestring. Or less. You should always ask for what you need. It’s unethical to require you to teach technology without the necessary equipment but we also have to accept reality.

One way budget-conscious schools are dealing with this is by using lower-cost Chromebooks and tablets. The challenge then is to find software or apps that work on these. So, look to the cloud. Cloud-based software is the perfect combination of power, ease of use and affordability. More importantly, they run on virtually any device, even smartphones.

Almost all cloud-based programs – only Bandlab for Education and Musictheory.net are still free – are available through an annual subscription based on the number of students using the program. Prices vary considerably and many programs have free versions or trials available. The subscription model is still a little controversial but, in general, it lowers the entry cost and makes it easier to plan your budget for each year.

Cloud-based software has come of age

When cloud-based music software was first introduced, the limitations of the technology made it little more than a curiosity. As often happened, it was actually a step backward in terms of design and pedagogy.

But now, cloud-based software has come of age and you can easily design a curriculum around it for your music or music production class. It offers significant advantages over standalone software in that students have access anywhere, the programs provide class management tools and the entry cost is significantly lower.

In the accompanying articles, we’ll examine software for creating music and programs that support teaching music. Of course, either type of software is useful for any music class.

Other articles in the series

About the author

George Hess is an educator, guitarist, composer and author who has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

The author of Create Music with Notion, he is a regular contributor to leading music education publications and his tutorial videos are published by Groove3 and featured by MuseScore.

Dr Hess is an Apple Distinguished Educator and award-winning teacher who serves on the board of directors for the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) in the US. A certified Flipped Learning trainer who regularly presents at conferences and workshops around the world, he is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia.

Website: http://georgehessmusic.com

Header image: Bandlab for Education is an example of free cloud-based software