As you know, we are always very attentive to our educational community. So, I recently interviewed Brendan Finucaneand about the use of technology for teaching purposes and the future of music education. These topics are of great interest, especially considering the times we are living.  

First, a little context

Brendan Finucaneand is a performing and recording cellist from Chicago. He is also a music educator at the Chicago Waldorf School & leads the Knights of Jazz String Band. Also, he co-manages the membership-based recording studio Soapbox Music, and owns the music education boutique Chromawheel Music.

Whenever I talk to music teachers, I am intrigued about why they came to that profession. In most cases, the reason is related to having had an excellent teacher while growing up. Brendan is not an exception.

"I am happy to say I have had wonderful music teachers, mentors and role models all my life, beginning when I first started learning cello in second grade. There was a great music community at the Washington Waldorf School, and in Washington DC more broadly, where I grew up. Being surrounded by musical talent was very inspiring"

It is impressive how much a child's life is marked by having a teacher who inspires them. Music educators must be aware of that and take that responsibility very seriously.

Integrating technological tools to music education


Considering his background and all the changes that education has undergone lately, I wanted to know: how has been his experience integrating technological tools to teaching music. About this, he claimed to have a healthy skepticism towards technology in music education. In other words, being cautious in the way he uses these tools.  Also, he finds it imperative to make sure that technology supports the development of the students and not vice versa.

"The technology I end up using with my students needs to be developmentally appropriate, and needs to serve a clear social and pedagogical aim"

On this aspect, he calls on teachers to be careful not to get lost in the weeds, following new trends in technology without a strong commitment to core teaching principles. The pandemic has accelerated some inherent transformations in such a short time that we have had a hard time adapting, especially in 2 areas, according to Brendan: the social aspect of music-making and students’ sense of responsibility for their learning.

"I think students and teachers over the world are experimenting and breaking new ground addressing these transformations. I have found Soundtrap, Flat.io and Zoom most useful as teaching tools during this time of remote learning because they provide opportunities to address both of these challenging new aspects of music education head-on"

Finding the right tools is vital to overcome the challenges that education is facing.  These times, Flat is one of those must-have tools for music education due to its intuitive and straightforward interface, which lows the barrier to start a new composition project.

"You fire up the website and you’ve got a cursor ready to start entering notes!"

Education, socialization and technology

Another quality desired in a technological tool, is that it should break down the barriers of social distancing.  Not pronounce the social distancing. Socialization is one of the most valuable aspects of the formation process, especially at early ages. Therefore, we ought to find the best way to preserve this aspect despite the pandemic. The collaborative aspect of Flat allows us to maintain this educational socialization even if we are separated from our students.

"This feeling of togetherness is extremely important for the social aspect of music-making, and also helps support students’ taking individual responsibility for their learning. After all, one takes personal responsibility by doing one's (social) part"

Brendan shared an example of an activity he does with his students using Flat that I found interesting. The Knights of Jazz creates 16-bar solos using chord tones based on the famous Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz tune Minor Swing.

The full ensemble uses one shared score. This way, everyone can follow each other's progress. Each student is responsible for composing a solo on one staff line. By selectively soloing/muting instruments, the Knights can listen to the solos one at a time, with chordal accompaniment.

"While obviously not identical, the software facilitates something like participating in an actual jazz band!"

The future of music education

It is very difficult to imagine how the future of education is going to be, but integration of technology is inevitable. It is already happening. This accelerated integration of technology has its pros and cons and like any other tool, the outcome depends on its use. Therefore, teachers have a key role in this regard. They must act as mediators between technology and the students to ensure technology is at the service of education and not the other way around.

When I asked Branden how he imagines the future of music education, he answered he thinks the students might be more “siloed off” learning and experiencing music on their own. But he also sees an opportunity to connect thanks to social networks - and other platforms- never before seen, that we could not even imagine a few years ago.

"Students are actually connecting socially with peers, teachers, role models, etc via social media in new and different ways. I think the social-emotional aspect of the work of teachers is getting new attention now"

To end our conversation, I asked him the following question:

What advice do you have for musicians and educators to remain motivated?

These are the pieces of advice he shared with me:

  • "Stay inspired by finding great teachers and identifying great role models! Make a list. Write down the qualities these musicians or music teachers have that you admire. Not all of your teachers require formalized relationships. For example, some of my best teachers teach and inspire me from the Great Beyond-- like Duke Ellington!"
  • "Let yourself be transformed by the optimism of your students. I have many students who talk and act like in-person performances are right around the corner. It is very important to stay positive in this way! I wrote about this recently in an article for the National Association for Music Education"

Now, let me ask you, how do you envision music education in the future?

We need to reflect on this to build the path to an encouraging future for the next generations.

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did!

Best,