By Kevin Tuck, editor, Printable Music Theory Books


Manuscript Paper and Pencil

I’m constantly communicating with music teachers all over the world. Every day I get emails and communicate with teachers via forums and blogs, and I read lots of opinions on the current state of technology in teaching music.

A lot of questions recently have concerned iPads and tablets, and how they are going to affect how and what we teach. Should we be incorporating these new technologies into our teaching and learning environments, and what is the best way to do so?

Please don’t get me wrong here… I’m not saying that technology and in particular iPads are bad. In fact I’m an advocate for these things in the classroom, however today I’d like to talk specifically if they should be used for teaching music theory and notation.

Yes, computer software is very good these days for music notation, and you can do amazing things using an iPad.

But… today I’m going to ask the question… should we?

Just because you CAN do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD.

I grew up learning music theory using nothing more than a pencil and a theory book.

We had to manually learn how to draw notes clearly, learn how to draw a treble clef perfectly first time, every time. We had to learn how many beats went in a bar, and how to beam the notes together correctly.

There simply wasn’t technology that would place notes in the right place for you, that would check to see how many notes were in a bar, and that would place the notes nice and evenly with perfectly shaped heads and perfect length beams.

No… we had to learn how to do these things, and practice and practice until we got it right. We had to endure practice tests and drills over and over to make sure that we had it correct, then we would have to sit an exam to test our knowledge and skill level using nothing more than a pencil.

Now… think about a world where the student doesn’t have to worry about how many beats are in the bar… the computer has taken care of that for them. Think about a world where a student can’t draw a treble clef…. because they’ve never had to!

What are the implications if we grow a generation of musicians that never have had to learn these basic fundamental skills…. .because they’ve had them done for them by the computer?

People in my position are very fortunate – we have the skills, and now we can use the technological tools available to make it easier and quicker to create wonderfully presented music scores.

However, what about the next generation? How are they going to go when placed in the real world if they don’t have the fundamental understanding which is gained by lots of practice with the pencil?

Because we are too busy trying to incorporate the latest technologies in our classrooms and cut down on paper we give them a computer program to learn music theory: instead of making them practice using a pencil. What are the long term implications of this for these students?

That is why at our company we are NOT going to create a music theory product for iPad.

I believe that music theory can be taught using an interactive whiteboard, or perhaps an iPad in the hands of the teacher, but in the hands of the students should be only one piece of technology….. the pencil.

Once again, I want to reiterate that I am NOT saying that iPads and tablets are bad, and that they shouldn’t be used in teaching music.

We are in fact developing iPad textbooks to go along with our musicianship courses, but they are designed to be a reference text for reading, rather than a workbook for student completion.

I believe that having students do music theory homework or lesson work on an iPad or a computer of any description is a very bad idea, until such a time that they really know and understand what it is that they are doing.

However this is just my opinion:  I know that others probably have quite differing opinions on this, so please fill in the comment box at the bottom of this page to contribute to the discussion.

Interactive Music Theory Program