Hankering for change

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Andy Murray describes his wish list of eight industry developments that would benefit music teachers

There are many ways life could be made easier for those of us who strive to teach music using ICT. This is my particular wish list.

* Friendlier website addresses:ICT advisers often have to point people to Becta's advice website (www.ictadvice.org.uk). Sometimes this means directing them to something like www.ictadvice.

org.ukindex.php?section=xzqrresponsespeed=snaildocid=unmemorable_series_o f_digits. We would like addresses designed for people, not file servers.

* A common sequencer file format: Ever wondered why there are so few resource files for such a potentially powerful music education tool? As long as sequencers use proprietary file formats, you won't be able to load a Cakewalk file into Cubase, for example, so developers cannot target enough customers to make development worthwhile. In music notation, musicXML (an interchange format for notation, analysis, retrieval, and performance applications) now seems set to provide a lingua franca across diverse programs (see www.recordare.comsoftware.html). XML technology has been around for some time. We would like manufacturers to embrace it, too, so files could be loaded into any sequencer, irrespective of its manufacturer.

* Realistic music education copyright rules: No teacher dares admit it, but music teaching inevitably entails occasionally ignoring copyright. In theory it is possible to use public-domain teaching material, but it's not always realistic. This is never more glaring then when using ICT. We would like record companies and copyright holders to create a liability-free environment for education in which we can nurture their potential customers without abusing our own professionalism.

* Built-in auto-configuration option for music computers: In Windows, the "power options" control panel lets me choose between several schemes, depending on the use I intend for it. I wish something similar would allow me to select "audio workstation". Choosing this would instantly make the necessary tweaks to the system to optimise it for that purpose.

* Relevant technician training and time allocation: School network managers and ICT technicians rarely seem to know much about how music hardware and software communicate. They may be OK as far as selecting a different MIDI (music instrument digital interface) out-port in the Windows control panel, but what if your sequencer isn't talking to the sounds in your external music keyboard? We would like technicians to be trained to understand and fix equipment.

* Music-equipped network rooms: Music ICT activities are often expected to take place in a networked room shared across all subjects. How many incorporate music equipment? Visit www.prodikeys.com to see a clever way to incorporate a music keyboard under a Qwerty wrist-rest.

* Music-quality hand-held recorders: What could be a more obvious piece of hardware than a one-piece portable recording device? Whenever I check a product that looks promising, it turns out to be speech-quality only. We would like music-quality recorders.

* A government-funded online school: There are a variety of relevant in-service training courses for teachers, but we would like more ready-made, hands-on pupil ICT resources to make the training worthwhile.

That's eight suggestions to be getting on with and I haven't even touched on software. They can all be achieved with existing technology and the will to make it happen. I am surely not the first person to think of them, so why is nothing significant being done to make them happen?

= Andy Murray is an independent author and ICT consultant


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