May 13, 2015
The Pros and Cons of Teaching Choral Music Through MIDI
Saying that technology has completely transformed music in recent years is an understatement. Everything from how composers work to how the world consumes music from their favorite artists is unrecognizable from what the musical climate looked like at the turn of the century. Music education is no exception. Bringing MIDI into choral music education spaces is an example of the myriad complex impacts technology is currently having on music educators and their students. Today, we’re breaking down the pros and cons of teaching choral music through MIDI.
What is MIDI?
MIDI stands for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface.” It allows musical instruments and other devices to communicate digitally with computers. More and more today, composers, songwriters, and music educators are using MIDI in their work. MIDI technology lets users record ideas that can later be edited in a variety of ways.
MIDI is bridging the gap between organic musical instrument functionality and the endless possibilities of technology. In a choral music context, MIDI can be used to show students everything from individual part-specific passages of music down to entire computer-generated pieces.
Benefits of MIDI in choral education
Many choral directors have their hands full when it comes to playing the piano and working with their choirs simultaneously. MIDI instrument-programming allows instructors to create editable tracks for their choirs to sing to, allowing them to be more involved in leading and instructing singers. Whether instructors generate backing music or specific choral parts through MIDI, every note generated can be later changed. Things transposing music to new keys or shifting parts to new octaves is quick and easy through MIDI. The DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) that host MIDI technology typically offer dozens or even hundreds of unique synthesized instruments to choose from, giving instructors an incredible amount of ways to present music to their choirs.
For choirs consisting of young students, teaching individual parts through MIDI generated sounds can be hugely beneficial. Through MIDI, specific sections can easily be muted, amplified, or removed completely on the spot. This gives choral directors the power to hone in on areas of their music that need the most attention.
Drawbacks of MIDI
By far, the largest negative impact of MIDI in choral education settings is when educators rely on the technology in ways that hurt their students’ ability to read music. When students are given the choice to read music or learn by ear, they’ll usually opt for the latter approach. You’ll get through material much quicker than let your choir learn exclusively through singing along to MIDI tracks, but you’ll also be depriving them of a vital skill they need to succeed in music. But approached the right way, MIDI instruction can be used to enhance the music reading skills of your singers. MIDI-generated sounds can be used in sight-reading exercises, interval training, and other music reading drills.
Another drawback of MIDI to consider is the quality of the sounds you’ll be working with. Technology has greatly improved in recent years, but it’s possible the sounds you’ll have access to will sound thing, odd, or noticeably inauthentic. The human voice is especially difficult to synthesize, so you should be prepared to work with some strange sounds in your classroom if your go the MIDI route.
But even with MIDI’s obvious drawbacks, it’s still a remarkable education tool. The key is to use it only in ways in which there are clear benefits to your students. For educators who use MIDI in the appropriate contexts, it can deliver huge benefits for them and their choirs.