Announcing the Peter Gabriel edition of Play With Your Music

You may have noticed a lot of writing about Peter Gabriel on the blog lately. This is because I’ve been hard at work with Alex Ruthmann, the NYU MusEDLab, and the crack team at Peer To Peer University on a brand new online class that uses some of Peter’s eighties classics to teach audio production. We’re delighted to announce that the class is finished and ready to launch.

Play With Your Music - Peter Gabriel edition

Here’s Alex’s video introduction:

The class is free, it takes six to ten weeks to complete, and it is going to be ridiculously awesome. Participants will get hands-on experience with audio mixing, editing and effects. No special software is required — you can do all of the class assignments in the web browser. Most excitingly, Peter Gabriel has very graciously agreed to give us access to the original multitrack stems for “Sledgehammer” and “In Your Eyes” for students to mix and remix with. Get a taste right now, if you want, you can try mixing “Sledgehammer” this very minute. We’ll also have video lectures and interviews from audio engineers, NYU faculty, musicians and engineers who worked with Peter, and other interesting people, including me.

So, why are we doing this, other than the fact that we can? A couple of reasons. One, this is part of the larger research agenda of the MusEDLab: to design and test music learning experiences with technology. This means designing the technology itself, like the in-browser mixing tools and such, but just as importantly, it also means examining the learning context in which the technology is used. The first time we ran Play With Your Music, it had a more traditional class structure; this time, we’re making it more self-paced, and focusing more on the community aspect. We’re testing out new and different video formats, interactive features and discussion platforms. The participants’ experiences and feedback will be a rich data set for future research.

PWYM is also a test bed for a new kind of pop music pedagogy. As the music academy slowly embraces pop and rock, it still mostly addresses the music using tools from classical music: looking at melody, harmony and form. Pop music has those things, but they’re simple or even totally absent. Most of the expression and creativity of pop music lies in the production: the timbres, spaces, arrangements, recording and mixing techniques. Hip-hop and dance music in particular may have no melody or harmony at all, and will carry all of their expressive content in their rhythms and their production. Unless you explicitly set out to study audio engineering, chances are that your music education won’t include the producer’s perspective. In the year 2014, that’s a pretty significant perspective to be missing.

As a music teacher, even if you want to get your students involved in the studio as an instrument, you may well be daunted by the cost and complexity of all the software and other gear. Part of the goal of Play With Your Music is to battle-test a suite of beginner-friendly technologies that put meaningful expressive tools within reach of anyone with an internet connection. Our utopian vision is that production and remixing will become as much a part of a fundamental music education as chords and scales. This is new territory, pedagogically and technically, but we think the potential is rich.

We’re already talking about future iterations of PWYM that will focus on other styles of music and other definitions of musicianship, from film scoring to hip-hop. In the meantime, signup for the Peter Gabriel class is open and we hope you’ll join us. You can work through the class at your own pace, and do whichever parts interest you. If you do jump in, please get active in the community and let us know what you think! We’d like to hear from everyone, whether you’re a total beginner, a session pro or anyone in between. You can also be in touch with us on Twitter (#pwym), Facebook and Google+.