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July 08, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 08, 2005

Kids dig digital music Kids dig digital music (July 08, 2005)

Computer composition takes off at CSMA summer school

By Katie Vaughn

An unusual sound overwhelmed a summer music camp at the Community School of Music and Arts: complete silence. Instead of blasting trumpets or pounding piano keys, the six young musicians at camp sat quietly at computer stations, using headphones to listen to the music they were digitally composing.

Their instructor, Joao Neves, had just explained how to use the computer and attached piano keyboard. The campers diligently tapped and clicked away, putting together short pieces of music and ignoring everything else around them.

"Now it's almost impossible to get their attention," Neves said.

Technology is being used to enhance music and arts education throughout the country, but perhaps the task is easiest in Silicon Valley, with leaders of the digital technology industry nearby to provide consultations, inspiration and venues for field trips. At CSMA, technology has been incorporated into the standard curriculum.

This summer marks the third in a row that the nonprofit arts education organization has provided digital classes. Students from age 9 to 19 can take weeklong digital arts and music classes and six-week courses for kids and adults on such topics as audio recording, sequencing, DJ skills and turntablism, Web design and animation.

During the school year, students in grades four and higher can attend similar weeks-long courses on various digital arts subjects, in addition to the traditional music classes and lessons CSMA offers. Additionally, the organization offers digital arts samplers in early September. The 2 1/2-hour classes cost $25 each, allowing students to try their hand at new art forms.

CSMA instructors have found that adult and younger students bring very different skill sets to digital arts classes. In general, they say, children are more computer literate than their older counterparts, who may have greater experience playing an instrument or knowledge of music theory. To get all students on the same page, all are required to take a free introductory class before beginning a course.

Daniel Wood, special music programs coordinator, said kids typically see a natural connection between technology and music more than older students.

"It's become a part of their vocabulary," he said.

The digital component of the classes attracts many children who normally wouldn't enroll in music or art courses. Others simply use technology to enhance their art- and music-making. Instructors at CSMA work to provide crossover between classes for students. For instance, a violinist may record his work at a lesson, then experiment with the sounds in a digital lab. He then may alter his playing at his next lesson to achieve an effect he liked in the studio. The process also could help him understand the underlying principles of music.

"Once they become better listeners, they become better in their theory classes," Wood said.

But while students see the need for today's artists and musicians to be computer savvy, Wood said teachers are careful to keep the focus on learning the basics and excelling at the craft, using technology as one of many tools.

"The only downside of technology is it's easy to create a product without understanding the art behind it," Wood said.

It's easy to understand why students might be anxious to use the technology instead of practicing scales or perspective drawing. Certainly the presence of iPods and Pixar animation, not to mention the special effects in the "Star Wars" movies, have kids excited about technology. And many students enjoy learning how the songs they hear on the radio are made.

Another reason digital classes have become popular, Wood said, is that the art forms don't carry hundreds of years of history with them. Kids get to make the music their parents never did and create animated forms no one has ever imagined. And with more experimental media, there are no rigid rules to follow, no rights and wrongs to keep in mind.

"There's no tradition saying you have to do it this way," Wood said. "It's digital freedom."

E-mail Katie Vaughn at [email protected]

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