How Technology has Completely Changed Music

Piano Lessons / music theory / How Technology has Completely Changed Music

Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s question comes from a viewer. Mike asks, “How has technology changed how we learn and experience music?” This is a deep subject. I’m going to give some pointers and a bit of a historical perspective.

We take modern technology for granted to a great extent. But early in the 20th century, pianists and musicians of every ilk had no idea what other people did in music. People would only know the few musicians who toured in their area. Until finally, when recording came about, people were able to hear other performers! People living in rural areas didn’t even have access to symphony orchestras. So, people would learn how to play four hand arrangements of Beethoven symphonies (and others), because there were no opportunities to hear the music any other way.

Today it’s so easy. You can just go on YouTube or Spotify and instantly have access to many performances of almost anything you can think of!

One thing that this has done is make performers much more homogenous. If you listen to recordings from the infancy of recording in the 1930s, the variety of interpretations was astounding because everybody didn’t hear everybody else. There wasn’t a “normal” performance at that point. Listen to Cortot, Schnabel, Rachmaninoff, Hofmann or Levine and you can’t believe the variety of ideas in their interpretations of pieces. So, it’s a little bit sad that people now are so highly influenced by each other that everybody sounds more and more like one another. That’s one of the downsides. The positive is being exposed to so many great instrumentalists, as well as so much music literally at your fingertips. It’s phenomenal! So it’s a balance, but overall I think it’s positive.

In terms of learning music, MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that came about in the 1980s, was a tremendous development.

Previous to MIDI, anybody who wanted a computer music system had to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a turnkey system by a company that offered them. For example, New England Digital had the Synclavier system, Fairlight had theirs. This was very expensive! MIDI enabled products from any manufacturer to connect to any other. So this ushered in things like music notation transcription software. With this you could take any keyboard that has MIDI and it could print out the music on your computer. What a time saver that is!

The downside of that is some people will just play into their computers, not really giving thought to each note. When you’re working with a pencil, much less a quill and ink, you are thinking about every note you’re writing, because it’s an arduous task and you don’t want to get it wrong. But if you could just play things in, the same thought isn’t required. I’ve seen some compositions where it was obvious they didn’t really understand what they were writing, because the way it was notated didn’t make sense rhythmically. Just because you have these tools doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be used in a positive way.

There are music education software programs for things like note reading.

It used to be the best tools in music education you could hope for were flashcards. Now you have apps that can help you learn to read music! There are even music software programs that can show you if you’re playing something right. It shows you what notes you missed! So there are tremendous opportunities and developments in music education regarding technology, not to mention what’s possible with recording. You can use an iPhone to make what would have been a professional video or audio recording in the 1980s, and share it with the world at the click of a few buttons. It’s pretty remarkable!

Overall I’d say technology is ushering in a lot of positive new learning strategies. And we have easy access to almost everything ever recorded! We have all kinds of tools at our disposal and yes, they can be used positively. But it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have better music just because we have these tools. Having great teachers is invaluable, technology or not. So, that’s my take on this subject. It’s a deep subject. We can get a lot of discussions going in the comments on YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Resource.

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