What if I don’t play piano?

What follows is thoughts spilling out of my head, prompted by several conversations I’ve had with students over the past week. If it sounds scattered, incomplete or just dumb, well, you’ve been warned.

In my life as a college teacher, I spend most of my time teaching “Music Technologies” classes. The content of the courses is mostly up to me, which is both great fun and a real challenge. This term I’m teaching a basic course in GarageBand and a more advanced Ableton Live class. We also cover notation software (Sibelius) in a different semester. One of the big challenges in these courses is trying to help the students develop some literacy in “Music Technologies” rather than just facility with a few specific programs.

While this really comes down to a problem of general musical literacy and musicianship,¬†facility with the programs is a big issue, and wrapped up in it is another issue: piano playing. The problem is that the most obvious and natural method of getting notes into any mainstream sequencing program is to play them on a MIDI keyboard. If you’re a piano player. I’m lucky to be one of those, but many of my students are not. As the keyboard has effectively become the only metaphor for notation in mainstream music software, this can create a serious bottleneck in the creative process, if the goal is (as it is here) to make music with a computer.

So, no matter how well I teach the software itself, a lot of people still get hung up at, “What if I don’t play piano?” I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot, and I’ve got some thoughts; some are more technical, less conceptual and possibly less helpful suggestions, and some are less tied to procedure and have more to do with how you approach making music.

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