The Laptop Ensemble as Pedagogical Tool

November 6th, 2006

ICMC 2006 @ Tulane University.

Co-Chairs: Nathan Wolek and Virgil Moorefield
Additional Participants: Dan Trueman and James Harley

ABSTRACT – The performing ensemble has a firmly established role in music education. In the music conservatory model, conventional acoustic groups such as the chamber orchestra provide students with the opportunity to apply musicianship skills that are taught in the classroom. These skills typically encompass subjects such as theory, analysis and aural skills. Traditional ensembles also have long-standing conventions about how their membership should be balanced based on instrumentation or range. When extending this ensemble tradition into the domain of technology-based music, certain questions commonly arise: what instrumentation is most effective in a technology-based music ensemble? What is the primary intellectual focus of the activity (code, learning software, performance skills)?

Institutions of higher learning produce diverse answers to these questions. Historically, there have been some general trends. Early technology-based ensembles were centered around the synthesizer, and leveraged its timbral variety. Repertoire usually consisted of arrangements or commissioned compositions tailored to an ensemble’s membership. As computer hardware has become less expensive and more portable, the laptop computer has begun to unseat the synthesizer as the instrument of choice.

The transition from synthesizer to laptop has created exciting creative and pedagogical possibilities. The use of general computing hardware makes it easier to explore intermedia, and enables students to more directly participate in the compositional responsibilities; this in turn raises the question of aesthetic antecedents and direction. As a teaching tool, technology-based music ensembles facilitate experiential, problem-based, collaborative learning in ways that complement and extend conventional classroom teaching. This panel will focus on the ability of laptop ensembles to enhance the development of artistic and technical skills in music students.

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