Dr. S. Alex Ruthmann is a Music Education and Music Technology professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He researches new media musicianship, computational creativity, the creative processes of audio engineers and producers, and the development of music technologies for use in school- and community-based programs for children. While his research might seem specialized, it facilitates music education and composition for students coming from all levels of experience. He and the members of the Music Experience Design Lab (MusEDLab.org) design new technologies and experiences for music making and learning, together with teachers, students and community partners. He and his students have developed materials and instructables for creating instruments with Makey Makey construction sets (i.e. a sitar with conductive rubber bands), and techniques for making music with MIT’s Scratch, an online programming environment that allows children to mix and remix songs using computer code. Alex also researches and develops technologies for online programs that encourage students from across the globe to collaborate, learn and make music together.
His largest current project is a MOOC collaboration between NYU Steinhardt, Peter Gabriel, and Peer 2 Peer University called Play With Your Music (PWYM) . PWYM teaches students to mix and remix music as they learn from multitrack musical recordings, peer support, and video tutorials. Acclaim spoke with Alex about Play With Your Music and the Music Technology Educators Meetup group he runs.
ACCLAIM: What is Play With Your Music? How do people use it?
SAR: Play With Your Music is a free online platform which teaches students of all ages how to listen more deeply, mix, and remix their own songs using the latest internet audio tools. The site offers courses and creative music making modules that focus on critical listening, recording analysis, audio FX, mixing, and remixing. In the recent Play With Your Music Course, students learned how to mix and remix two Peter Gabriel songs, “In Your Eyes,” and “Sledgehammer.” The course provided instructional video interviews with other musicians who have played with Peter. The students used Soundation‘s web-based production environment, and could post their mixes to SoundCloud‘s listening community.
ACCLAIM: Could you tell us about the PWYM audience, and the online communities it fosters?
SAR: PWYM is aimed at novices and kids, as well as experts. It includes students from ages 5 through 75, from over 90 countries worldwide. There’s a very active community of members who engage in discussions and share ideas surrounding listening and audio mixing. There are sub-communities representing different nationalities, ability levels, and musical interests. For example, the German-Speaking Group (Deutschsprachige Teilnehmer) is especially active, and includes participants from all over Germany. We’re seeing a lot of online discussions where people describe their backgrounds, and where they ask questions about the course. We’ve also been able to reach out to women. Traditionally, audio production was a predominantly male field. Our most active sub-community within PWYM is called “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Across the entire platform, people are stepping inside the music, playing with and remixing the songs and recordings that they like.
ACCLAIM: You’ve had a chance to interact with a wide variety of students, encouraging professional musicians and educators to engage with their communities. Can you tell us more about the NYC Music Technology Educators Meetup Group?
SAR: The Meetup Group includes music educators, local students, music technology developers, and entrepreneurs. It convenes every second Saturday of the month at NYU. Educators can experiment with classroom activities, and receive feedback on their ideas. App developers take the opportunity to let students and teachers try out their products. Some of the apps are actually designed by students and for students. We’ve seen great participation from New York city charter and public schools. There are also hands-on workshops, where we might create instruments using the MaKey MaKey or explore teaching techniques for popular music and production.
ACCLAIM: You’ll be integrating more video in your courses this coming fall. What are your plans? (Is this assessment based? or lesson/flipped classroom based?)
SAR: Both! We plan on using video-based reflection with students in my face-to-face courses and in the PWYM online community. In our Introduction to Music Education course, students will analyze online instructional videos, learn what works and what doesn’t in that context, and use their knowledge to produce their own instructional videos for use in their future teaching. There’s no reason why music educators shouldn’t be creating custom instructional videos for their students. Students in public schools already get so little time for music and the arts. Teacher-created instructional videos can engage students outside of class time, expanding the physical and temporal bounds of their classroom.