The Washington Post

From ivories to iPads: This is not your parents’ music class


View Photo Gallery: The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on emerging technologies released its top 10 emerging technology trends for the year.

Neil Johnston is managing director at Store Van Music in London. He is an entrepreneur and composer focusing on the link between the music industry and education. He is currently on a 21-day tour visiting classrooms throughout the United States.

Nearly everyone has an opinion on education. Think back to high school. If you were among the more creative students, you likely hold a soft spot for your music or arts teachers and band instructors.

My very first music teacher was Mrs. MacIntosh, an eccentric and excitable ambassador for Scottish folk songs who loved to force 7 year-olds to sing.

I remember she had a bizarre twitch and peculiar warts, but I also remember that, above all, she was a great educator. Somewhere between the twitches and the out-of-tune ivory piano keys she hammered away on, she engaged kids effectively. I can say that, as a result, I thoroughly enjoyed my music lessons.

Not everyone shares the same story, and our biggest challenge as modern educators is to encourage students who love music socially, but are completely disengaged in the music classroom.The problem with music education and education in general, I find, has always been a lack of student engagement. From where I sit, it is the single most important facet of a successful education.

I have only worked in education for five years, and I have seen the successful integration of PC's, smart boards and modern technology first hand as both a student and as an educator. My work in education is centered around a constant drive to create the most engaging music lessons possible. This mission was greatly advanced in spring 2011 when Apple released their iPad 2. (In the interest of full disclosure, Apple is among Store Van Music’s clients.)

Alongside this launch came the release of GarageBand for iOS —a touch-activated version of their computer-based, music software. My challenge has always been to make music learning relevant and exciting again. The conversion of music teaching onto a touchable, digital experience offers an opportunity to change education for the better. I knew we had to implement this concept into our work as soon as possible. The results have been better than I hoped.

It has been 8 months since I embarked on my project to bring tablet technology into the classroom. I started experimenting with iPads back in London with a group of students that I knew well.

In the US, my team and I have found that schools are equipping students with tablet devices at an astonishing rate, turning basic principles of traditional education on their heads. Our goal, during our 21-day tour through the US, has been to encourage the belief that increased creativity in education can be implemented almost immediately—before education reform. I believe all it takes is a tablet and some passion.

Follow Neil on his tour through the U.S on his website and on Twitter.

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