Building a Digital and Electronic Music Program

David Williams from the University of South Florida shares his experience building a digital and electronic music program, and how you can implement the same practices!



Hi, my name is David Williams and I am on the music education faculty at the University of South Florida. While maintaining attention on the traditional aspects of our profession, at USF we also emphasize pedagogical techniques that feature student centered and informal learning approaches. Such pedagogies are often linked to five musical pursuits we feel are important for twenty-first century music teachers:


1) Creativity through composition, improvisation and song writing

2) Small, cooperative, student directed ensembles that make use of digital and electronic instruments

3) a wide variety of vernacular music

4) An emphasis on aural and oral transmission

5) Different combinations of instruments and voice


Together these make for a pedagogical approach much different than our traditional large ensemble model.


USF's iPad Quintet at the 2014 NAfME National In-Service Conference
USF’s iPad Quintet at the 2014 NAfME National In-Service Conference


Our undergraduate music education students presently take two semesters of both a methods course and a corresponding ensemble class in which they develop musicianship skills through composition, improvisation and song writing. This is achieved working collaboratively in small groups, often with digital and electronic instruments, while learning and performing musics of their choice, mostly by ear. 

In all such activities, students have signifiant amounts of autonomy in making musical decisions that guide their own learning. We find that students involved in these self-directed experiences often acquire enhanced musicianship skills and demonstrate high levels of motivation.


There are several different classroom arrangements that facilitate these activities:

  • The simplest might be an iPad or two with small speakers that can attach via an 1/8th inch cable. An acoustic guitar could be added, or perhaps electric guitars and basses with small practice amps.
  • The next logical step would be the addition of a mixing board and speakers that would allow for easier mixing of sound. (Don’t forget a couple of microphones for vocalists.)
  • Another addition might be a computer so that music can be recorded, edited, and produced.
  • Headphones can be added in order to facilitate multiple groups in one room. These can be connected to a headphone amplifier that feeds off the mixer. At USF we have five such setups in our music education room so we can have an entire class of students making music in small groups all at the same time.


It is an easy setup to replicate from simple to complex at various budget levels. Compared to some traditional music program budgets, a student centered classroom like this can actually be relatively inexpensive. All it really takes to get started is teacher interest and motivation, and a willingness to experiment! Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or comments.



About the author:

David Williams

David A. Williams is an associate professor of music education and the Associate Director of the School of Music at the University of South Florida. His research interests center on the enhancement of teaching/learning situations in music education, especially with aspects of informal learning and student centered pedagogies. 


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Kristen Rencher. March 30, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (