Music, Teaching, Technology, and Change?

Many years ago I met a well known writer of a very successful and popular piano method. He asked me in a very strong southern drawl: "Hey Mark, how many music teachers does it take to change a lightbulb?" I responded that I didn't know, to which he replied: "Change???" As a music teacher myself, I didn't find it that funny!

However, the fact is, sometimes, or actually, often, I don't like change. I get comfortable with the way things are, and I don't appreciate my little world altered in any way. Well! The pandemic really showed me that I have no choice but to accept change in many areas of my life. Who knew we would be teaching and taking exams on Zoom. Ideally, there is no substitute for a real lesson or an in person practical exam, just like there is no substitute for a live concert. However, when you don't have any other choice these are effective ways to continue music study. 

I have an incredible piano tuner. So incredible, that there is a documentary about him, his piano tuning, and his fascinating personality. The last time he was here, he was telling me about a fellow teacher in Sherwood Park who has been teaching students living in the Middle East, via computer, for years. Many of the oil and gas workers take jobs in Middle Eastern countries and move, but just continue their lessons online. He told me of his admiration for this teacher because she was using this medium long before many of us were forced to.

Music lessons and exams are not ideal by video, but they can offer a solution when the possibility of being physically present is not available or allowed.

As a child I grew up on a farm in rural Alberta. Eventually I outgrew the local music teacher. My mom had to make the trek with me to the city every week so I could continue my lessons. More and more cities and towns across this country have highly knowledgable and great teachers, but for some people who live in communities far away from a major city, without advanced teachers, this technology can be an alternative for some elements of study. I have a former, in person student, living and working in silicon valley who takes lessons with me weekly on zoom. Obviously, there are great teachers in California, but she wanted to continue studying with me. Change can be tough! 

Technology has been taking over our lives in many ways. There is always some new and easier way of doing something thanks to its magic. When I was writing my harmony books, I found a gifted artist from Paris named Bruno who was living and working in Canada. I hired him to design the covers for my harmony books. If you remember the original full color covers, they were works of art. Later they were changed to a single color and lost a lot of their beauty. Anyway, to make a long story tedious, this was the mid 1990's and I remember him telling me that we should create a company that prepares books for reading on computers. At the time there were no smartphones or tablets. I thought to myself, "What a dumb idea! Who's going to read a book on a computer screen?" Well... as it turns out...ME! Who knew that there were going to be kindles and ipads. Newspapers, books, and magazines are so easy to read on an ipad, your computer, or even your phone. No more trips driving to the library and trying to find a parking spot. I visit the library online, click a button, and I'm reading!

When I was given the opportunity to write books again, I decided it might be interesting to sell them digitally as ebooks. Music theory books have to be printed and written in however. They can't just be read on a screen. We know that some theory exams can be done online without actually physically putting pencil to paper, but others, like harmony still need to be written. Harmony requires music notation and there are no programs easy enough to be universally used for an online exam.  Music notation programs are really effective, but learning many of them is like learning another language. It takes time, effort and perseverance. 

Printing and distributing books is very expensive and the cost is passed on to the buyer. I wanted to make these books affordable for teachers and students and as easy as possible to access. Even with the cost of paper and ink or toner the price of most of my books is under $10. It does take a little effort to print them, but I think it is still easier than driving to the store. The books are printable once, unless you order multiple copies. In that case, if you order 3 copies you can print 3 times, 5 copies, 5 times, etc.

When I decided to do this I can't tell you how many people said to me, "Yeah so what's stopping people from buying one book and photocopying it 30 times?" However, what ever stopped anyone from buying one of my previous print books on Amazon or at Long and McQuade and photocopying IT 30 times. I think most people are honest, and I trust that they know not to do that, even though some might. Plus, it costs $.17 a page to photocopy now, so it's cheaper just to buy another book and print it yourself. A 100 page book will cost $17 to photocopy at a stationary store. Why would you do that when it costs $5.99 (and a couple of dollars for paper) to buy another one? I wonder if people warned the Westons when they were opening Loblaws and Superstore that people might shoplift. Of course some people will, but hopefully, not everybody!

This has been an effective way to get my publications out there, and the self printing process is working well. So far, there has only been one paper jam. By the way, in the event of paper jams, ink running out, or whatever, I am happy to send another copy as quickly as possible. Stuff happens.

I hope you will try this way of accessing your theory materials. It's not the traditional way, and it does require, yes I'm going to say it... change! 

Happy Teaching!



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