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Hitting the high notes: how technology is changing the way we teach music

Country kids don’t always get the same opportunities as their city counterparts. But when it comes to learning music, one of Australia’s leading academics wants to change that, with the help of fast broadband.

Gary McPherson doesn’t want country kids to go through what he had to, just to follow a passion. So he’s doing something about it. And it’s rather unique.

Professor McPherson’s passion is music - he is director of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music - and he wants to make sure school students in rural and remote areas have all the opportunities enjoyed by city kids who want to develop their musical ability.

So he’s running a project called “Creating musical futures via the nbn through iMCM for students in rural and remote communities”.

Creating musical futures

With his conservatorium colleagues Robin Stevens and John Baratta, and Graham Moore of Infrastructure Engineering, he is finding ways of using fast broadband with accessible and inexpensive equipment to bring the best music teaching to students who would ordinarily be denied access to specialist knowledge and training.

He started the project 18 months ago with the Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society (since renamed the Melbourne Networked Society Institute) at the University of Melbourne.

“I grew up in a small rural community and I was learning trumpet but I didn’t really have any specialist teachers,” he said, adding that his teacher, a piano accordion player who ran the local town band, was good but not a trumpet specialist.

“Kids might have access to teachers but they are often no experts in the instrument they are learning. To allow them to reach their personal best they need access to specialist knowledge to really develop skills and compete in years 11 and 12. It can be a real challenge to keep up with their city counterparts who have access to specialist teachers.”

So Professor McPherson and his colleagues are seeking funds to do two things:

  • Establish a National Online Music Innovation Hub, where rural conservatoriums and communities around the country develop better ways of teaching music online with fast broadband, and
  • Allow the specialist knowledge within Australia’s largest conservatorium to be accessed by students across the country, and especially those who would benefit from tuition by experts

“The nbn is amazing for music because of the superb quality of audio and visual when teaching an instrument, in virtually real time.”*

“The possibilities of hooking up with great teachers not just here but overseas over the internet are tremendous. Bringing the world to Melbourne and Melbourne to the world is really quite exciting. Stretching our very best students, wherever they are, is made possible.”

The project is running up to 10 regular music lessons over fast broadband, teaching instruments like oboe, keyboard, drums and vocals.

Modern kids like using the internet to learn music

One of the nbn™ network-connected schools involved in the project is Ballarat Clarendon College.

“The response from the kids has been really fantastic,” says Professor McPherson. “They’re very enthusiastic. Modern kids like using the internet. They’re using it for other social engagement so teaching that way is really quite attractive and motivating for them.”

With high-definition Polycom video conferencing equipment in nearly 800 schools and education establishments around the country, the potential for further development of the idea is significant.

“There are a number of rural towns that are on the nbn and we are keen for their kids to have access to more specialist (musical) knowledge. We really want to unfold it across Australia where we feel there’s a real need. We want to open this up,” says Professor McPherson.

“Modern digital cameras are quite amazing. You can have a close-up shot of the child’s hands on the instrument or get different angles so that a teacher using fairly simple equipment can zero in on what they need to see and hear.”

With fast broadband and the right equipment, teachers can play duets with a student without the lag that previously made it impossible.

“That’s really quite exciting. What we do can stretch the boundaries of how the internet is used for teaching,” says Professor McPherson.

* Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ network depends on the technology over which services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how your service provider designs its network.


Check your address to find out when the nbn™ network is available at your home or business.

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