During the pandemic, non-profit music program Plugged In pivoted to offer online music tech programs to keep kids engaged with music. Known for its in-person youth band program in the Boston area, Plugged In empowers youth to create positive change in the world through music.
Music is an important part of children’s lives, so I was excited to learn about these new programs. Plugged In’s founder, Sandra Rizkallah, told me that they initially created music tech programs in 2020, when the world moved online and they had to transition their band classes to a virtual environment. She explained, “We wanted to give our students another option in addition to doing band classes online. We found that students, both musicians and non-musicians, loved learning about music technology.”
Sandra shared, “Since our music tech programs are online, students from different parts of the country and across the world are able to participate. One of our online programs is a cross-cultural music exchange, called Peace Tracks, where students from different countries come together to write, record and produce an original song using digital music technology and create a music video using an online collaborative video editing tool. Students learn about each other’s culture, music, and food and discuss topics like what peace means to them. People have told us that it was a life-changing experience. International programming teaches empathy and communication and breaks down barriers. It’s amazing to watch the connections form.”
Music tech programs are designed for non-musicians and musicians.
Plugged In’s programs appeal to musicians, of course, but also to anyone interested in music technology who wants to learn about it, regardless of whether they have music skills. Since you can create music digitally using software apps, you can be creative and make music online without knowing how to play an instrument. Plugged In aims to get students interested in either learning new technology or building upon existing music technology skills so they can take their skill set to the next level.
How do students learn music technology online?
Plugged In’s teachers designed the curriculum specifically to be taught online in live scheduled classes. Because all of the apps are web-based, instructors can share their screens and demonstrate as they’re instructing. They can also see what the students are doing by having them share their screens. All of the apps are collaborative, so teachers can instruct not only by sharing their own screens but also by going into a student’s project to edit and instruct in real time.
All online music tech classes are project-oriented; students can also retake classes and work on more advanced projects each time they take them. Plugged In also offers private lessons for students who are interested in one-on-one instruction.
What do students learn?
As of this writing, there are five programs to choose from to meet all types of music technology interests and abilities, including digital audio production, songwriting and production, coding, and cross-cultural music technology exchanges. Detailed class descriptions are on the Plugged In website, but here’s a rundown of the five classes.
- Intro to Digital Audio Production: Create and edit audio recordings of a song or podcast in this beginner’s class by learning how to use the digital audio workstations (DAW) Soundtrap and Reaper. Learn the fundamentals skills, techniques, and tools needed to work with digital audio software, including audio editing and the grid, MIDI editing and drums, mixing and effects, creative arranging, audio, comping & sampling, synthesis & MIDI and automation, routing & effects.
- Songwriting and Production: Students will dive into the world of songwriting and music production. Students will learn the tools, techniques and fundamentals to write lyrics and music. Using Soundtrap, a collaborative, web-based music production workspace, students will write and record their own original song. Students will be able to bring their musical idea to life, learning tools of sound design, engineering, and production. Students do not need to play an instrument to enroll, but those who already play will receive guidance on playing and recording their instrument as it fits into their original song. This is a project-based class where each student will write and record their own song. Students can create a new song or are welcome to bring a song they have already been working on.
- Creating Music with Coding: Creating Music with Coding is a web-based STEAM class where students learn introductory computer programming and digital audio workstation skills to compose, mix and produce electronic music. Experience in music or computing is not required. Students will learn how to make their own virtual instruments, custom effects and audio plugins through the JUCE C++ and Pure Data frameworks.
- Livestreaming 101: The World’s Biggest Stage: Learn about different streaming platforms (Twitch, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, YouTube Live, TikTok), tools of streaming (content, hardware, software), building scenes, overlays and branding, social media integration, monetization (how to raise funds for charities/causes) and ethics and etiquette. At the end of the program, participants will create and run a music or gaming livestream for a final project.
- Peace Tracks: A Cross-Cultural, Collaborative, Digital Music and Video Project for Youth: With guidance from professional musicians, participants from different parts of the world work collaboratively using cloud-based, collaborative music and video editing tools to write and produce an original song and music video that is live-streamed on YouTube. Music/songwriting/editing experience is not required. Students learn the critical competencies of global citizenship, explore and study the world, gain knowledge of global issues, learn to communicate ideas thoughtfully and responsibly, learn to understand and respect the perspectives of other cultures, and collaborate creatively across cultures to create the change they want to see in the world.
Register for a class
Learn about upcoming classes by visiting the Music Technology section of Plugged In’s website. You will find class descriptions, session dates and times, age ranges (10+ for some classes and 13+ for others), tuition costs, and required materials. Private lessons in music technology are also available.
What makes Plugged In special is their commitment to including all students, regardless of their ability to pay or the costs associated with accommodating students with special needs. In this environment of compassion and acceptance, all students learn the power of helping others and learn to love themselves.
About Plugged In
Plugged In is a non-profit music program committed to creating an inclusive, loving, and diverse community empowered to change the world. We educate musicians in a non-competitive environment and provide band and individual performance opportunities in support of community and charitable causes. In addition to weekly ensemble band classes, music technology classes, cross-cultural programming, private lessons, summer camp, songwriting workshops, and community performances, five times a year Plugged In students perform in benefit concerts that raise money for causes and organizations chosen by the students themselves. We offer in-person band and music classes in our Needham, MA facility.