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Columns | Fall 2015

Let's Talk Tech

Tech in the Classroom

An Interview With Katie Wardrobe

Ms. Katie Wardrobe is a music technology trainer and consultant. She runs hands-on professional development workshops and a myriad of online courses that reach far beyond the borders of her home country of Australia. Born into a musical family, she studied music education at the University of Melbourne. She plays the piano; she sings; she studied oboe, bassoon, and early music, playing the baroque and Renaissance recorder at university. After school, her interest in then-new technologies led her to work with Sibelius, teaching customers their musical notation program. That experience and her background in music education led to the creation of her own company, Midnight Music. Katie’s approachable personality and ability to break down seemingly complicated programs into easily understandable pieces have made Midnight Music a popular and valuable resource for music educators worldwide. I was lucky enough to meet up with Katie in Melbourne, Australia, and we had a lovely chat at a coffee shop in town. Katie is a soft-spoken, friendly, and engaging conversationalist and is clearly passionate about her work!

What is one piece of technology any music teacher could pick up and easily use in their class tomorrow?

I like the idea of using what you already have. Taking out your smartphone and video-recording your class is one of the most simple but effective things you can do. It’s great for students to see themselves, and you can use the video for feedback or archival purposes.

What is a common problem or misunderstanding that music teachers have with using technology in the classroom?

One of the biggest issues with teachers using technology is a lack of time to “play” and a fear that things will go wrong. My philosophy is to keep it simple—just do one or two small things to start with. Add technology to something you’re already doing. Just go a little step further from where you are and don’t attempt to take big leaps. The best thing you can do to ensure success is to do the entire project yourself before you do it with your students. I still take that approach for every workshop or course that I run—I do the whole thing through before I get up in front of the group. It means I can troubleshoot any things that might go wrong or head off issues before they arise.

What are your three favorite websites, other than your own, that you find to be great music education resources?

The Fun Music Company has some great music education resources for classroom teachers. For piano teachers, Teach Piano Today is a great place to find practical advice and games. And for software tutorials, places like macProVideo, Tuts+, and Lynda.com are great resources.

What is an app all music teachers should have?

It’s very difficult to name a single app, but a good all-rounder is GarageBand. It’s simple to use but allows you to do a lot. You can use the Smart Drums as a simple rhythmic accompaniment; you can use the Audio Recorder to record your voice or an instrument. You can use the Smart Guitar to lay down a great-sounding guitar accompaniment even if you can’t play the guitar, and you can create a full-blown multitrack recording by using the in-built instruments and live recording function.

What would be your top two tech choices for traveling early childhood music teachers?

I think an iPad is invaluable. I love the fact that it serves so many functions. It can be your note-taking device, a camera, a video recorder, an entire recording studio, and a creative music tool all at the same time. A laptop—either Mac or PC—is my most-used tech tool. There are lots of things that are just done better on a laptop, and I wouldn’t be without mine.

What aspect of music education do you think tech cannot replace?

Tech will never replace the performance side of music education. Singing and playing are crucial and can only be done by singing and playing. Technology can enhance or help you learn how to do those things, but won’t replace them.

On the flip side, what has technology brought to the classroom that has changed it for the better?

I think developments in technology have made some great things more accessible to teachers and students. For instance, the ability to multitrack record yourself and your students quickly and inexpensively is so valuable; you can create backing tracks, record performances for feedback or archival purposes, and compose songs. Advances in technology also mean there are new or different ways of being creative musically. One of my favorite things to do on my iPad is live looping—it’s the art of recording layers of a song live in front of the audience. It’s been done a few times on The Tonight Show. One of the well-known instances was an episode that featured Jimmy Fallon and Billy Joel performing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” They used the app that I love called Loopy HD to build a song in front of the audience. Just one person could do an entire performance by themselves. In the past you would have only been able to do that with a $400 guitar looping pedal, but now you can do it with an app that’s around $6. There are lots of other things that technology has made possible—one is the ability to collaborate musically with anyone in the world. There is online recording software that I can use in Australia to start recording a piece of music. Then a friend in the United States can use the same software online to add to my composition—without our needing to be in the same country.

What role does social media play in your business?

It plays quite a big role. Lots of people ask me how I keep up with developments in technology, and it’s mainly through social media. I’m connected with a lot of teachers online, and we all share useful links or new software or news with one another. Social media also allows me to ask questions or offer answers to other people’s questions. I started out with Twitter and that was such a useful place to connect with other teachers from around the world. I “met” some really interesting people in the United States and United Kingdom who are well-known names in music education and formed relationships with them. Later on I was able to invite them to come and be a part of music tech events I was involved with in Australia. Facebook is my current favorite; I have a business page where I share articles, links, and other information. I’m also part of the Music Teachers Facebook Group, which has more than 13,000 members. You can ask questions at any time of day or night and have them answered by teachers from all over the world. It makes you feel a lot less isolated.

How has social media affected your marketing?

Because social media has no geographical boundaries, I’m able to market my courses and products anywhere. It’s a great way to get the word out about what I’m doing, and the best thing is I can help many more teachers by posting articles and information on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pinterest has been a surprisingly good way of sharing links and information, and it’s a very effective way of cataloguing the things you want to save.

What on the tech scene are you really excited about and want to learn more about?

I have a lot of iPad apps that I’m dying to play with. I don’t have a lot of time to explore new things, so I would love to do that. Apps that I want to spend more time on include Loopy HD, remixing and sampling apps, digital audio workstation–type apps, and many others!