Crossfading and plugging in: Secondary students’ engagement and learning In a songwriting and technology class
The purpose of this intrinsic case study was to examine the musical engagement and
learning of secondary students in a songwriting and technology class (STC) that focused on the
creation, performance, recording, and production of original music. Connecting aspects of music
technology, production, and popular music, this study addresses the intersection between school and popular music as well as informal/formal learning practices in a music classroom.
Focused primarily on the work of select individuals and groups during a final STC
project, data were generated through observations, video and audio recordings, computer
screencasts, interviews, video-based shared reflections, and researcher memos. Analysis of data
revealed that students, given an open environment to create music with minimal parameters or
guidance as to aesthetic aspects of songwriting, enacted idiosyncratic creative practices and drew upon popular music influences. Students acted as musicians and embodied the roles of
songwriters, performers, sound engineers, recordists, mix engineers, and producers—sometimes
separately and other times in an overlapping fashion. Each role and associated use of tools and
techniques provided students with specific ways of thinking through and engaging with music.
Findings suggest the importance for broadening notions of aural skills, music literacy,
and musical thinking/doing to account for the processes and products involved in contemporary
music creation and production. This would involve engaging in a discourse of composition in
music education that addresses a conceptual framework of songs and tracks (Zak, 2001).
Additional implications related to music educators’ roles, pedagogies, and curricula are discussed
based on participants’ (1) development of aural skills and music literacies in the context of
popular music studio production and digital technologies; (2) understanding of musical concepts
but lack of standard labels to articulate their understanding; and (3) feeling that the STC was
relevant and connected to their lives and future. Implications from this study lead to a recasting
of curricular options beyond large ensembles to address needs of students marginalized from
traditional music programs and the re-examination of K-12 and higher education music curricula
and pedagogies in light of popular music, production, and traditionally excluded musical roles.