Who uses paper and pencil anymore? With laptops, tablets, phones, and speech to text technology, many people have moved away from longhand. Using technology cleans up clutter, the note or document can be reached by any devise when it’s put into a cloud, and digital text can be shared directly and instantaneously. Copy and pasting is convenient and spellcheck is extremely handy. The importance of learning how to type has surpassed the necessity to learn how to write in cursive. Not only has digital technology changed how we write notes, articles, papers, and books, it has also changed how we write music.
Just as it is easier to type up a document, it is also simpler to create sheet music or a score using music software. Programs such as Finale and Sibelius can be used to write music quickly and efficiently. There are quick ways to enter musical notes using a computer keyboard, or a MIDI devise, such as a piano keyboard, can be hooked up to transcribe whatever is being played. This saves an immense amount of time for the composer. The notes can be entered easily, and then the music can be played back instantly. There are copy and paste functions in these programs as well, and with a simple command, individual instrument parts can be extracted from the full score. As an already prolific composer, think of how much more prolific Haydn would have been with this technology!
Although these technologies are wonderful in many ways, how do they influence us as musicians? In the case of transcription software, the composer must still know how to write for different instruments, and they must be literate in notating rhythms and articulations. With some software however, this is not the case. With Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), such as LogicPro or Cakewalk Sonar, the user can import audio files, choose from loops in the library or record directly into the software. A major difference between these and the software mentioned above is that staff paper is no longer necessary, which means that musical literacy is not required. “The introduction of sequencing, sampling, scratching, Garaeband, MIDI and VST systems make composing and performing available to anyone who is literate in basic computer skills,” notes Chris Rojek in Pop Music, Pop Culture.[i] With these technologies the user does not need to know music notation or orchestration. “Synthesizers, sampling and MIDI systems destabilize traditional models of musical competence, credibility and relevance,” Rojek continues, “It is no longer necessary to be a trained or self-taught musician to be taken seriously.”[ii] It is true that basic music skills are not essential to create a song anymore, but there is more than knowledge at stake.
Creativity is also hindered. With meters, keys, rhythms, phrases, tempo and sometimes, even melodies (in the case of loops) all pre-set in music software, people have to go out of their way to create outside-the-box music. Musical form is more likely to remain basic using software too because of the effortlessness in creating repetition. With the perimeters already established, creativity can be stifled without the creator even being aware of it.
Although technologies have made life easier for musicians and writers alike, the product will be better with a knowledgeable, literate, and creative musician, and many times the technology in question can be diminishing the skills and traits that made them artists in the first place. I’m not asking you to do anything drastic; you don’t have to go back to how it was before we had these tech luxuries. But try getting out that daunting, yet thrilling, blank sheet of paper and sharpened pencil to see where it will lead you.
By Anna Brake, a composer who still begins every piece with an empty sheet of paper and a pencil. Find out more about how technologies have impacted musicians in Music Trends of the 21st Century: Technology Influencing Culture now available on Amazon.
[i] Chris Rojek, Pop Music, Pop Culture, (Cambridge, U.K.:Polity Press, 2011), 177.
[ii] Rojek, Pop Music, Pop Culture, 16.