Robert Estrin - piano expert

How Technology has Completely Changed Music

Interesting thoughts on the relationship between music and technology

In this video, Robert talks about how technology has changed music and its fruition in the past few centuries. Can you keep up with it?

Released on September 23, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to, I'm Robert Estrin. We have a viewer question from Mike who asks, "How has technology changed how we learn and experience music?" This is a deep subject and I'm going to give some pointers about this and kind of a historical perspective. Modern technology we take for granted to a great extent, but even early in the 20th century for example, pianists and musicians of every ilk had no idea of what other people did in music. People would know the few musicians who toured in their area before recording came about. And finally, when recording came about, people were able to hear other performances. For example, people living in rural areas didn't have symphonies so people would learn how to play symphonies, four-hand arrangements of Beethoven symphonies, and things like that because there was no opportunity to hear a symphony orchestra. Today, of course, it's so easy. You can just go on YouTube or Spotify or anything you like and instantly have many performances of almost anything you can think of. So this is a huge difference.

Now, one of the things that this has done is it's made performers much more homogenous. If you listen to recordings from the infancy of recording, the 1930s for example, my gosh, the variety of interpretations was astounding because everybody didn't hear everybody else. So they didn't know, there wasn't like a normal at that point. Listen to Cortot and Schnabel and Rachmaninoff and Hofmann and Levin and you can't believe the variety of ideas as to interpretation of pieces. So it's a little bit sad that people now are so highly influenced by one another that everybody sounds more and more like one another. So that's one of the downsides, of course the positive is being exposed to so many great instrumentalists as well as so much music literally at your fingertips. It's phenomenal so it's a balance. There's some give and take with the positives, the negatives of this. But overall, I think it's a positive.

Now in terms of learning music, MIDI, the Musical Instrument Digital Interface that came about in the 1980s was a tremendous development. Previous to MIDI, anybody who wanted a computer music system had to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a turnkey system by a company that offered them like New England Digital had the Synclavier system, Fairlight had theirs, and this was very expensive. Well, MIDI enabled products, keyboard software, from any manufacturers to connect to any other. And so this ushered in things like music notation transcription, where you could take any keyboard that has MIDI and it can print out the music.

Now what a time saver that is, however the downside, there's always a downside, right? The downside of that is some people will just play into their computers, not really giving the thought of each note, crafting it. When you're working certainly with a pencil, much less a quill and ink, you are thinking about every note you're writing because it's an arduous task and you don't want to get it wrong. But if you could just play things in, and I've seen some compositions and I almost use air quotes where people say, "Oh, they wrote this," and they didn't really understand what they were writing because the way it was notated didn't even make sense rhythmically or otherwise.

So just because you have these tools doesn't mean they're necessarily going to be used in a positive way. However, there are music education software programs for things like note reading. Where it used to be, the best you could hope for is flashcards, now you have tools that could help you. There are even music software programs that can show you if you're playing something right. It'll show you what notes you missed. So there's tremendous opportunities and development in music education regarding technology, not to mention what's possible with recording. You can take an iPhone and make what would have been a professional video recording or an audio recording in the 1980s on your phone and share it with the world at the click of a few buttons. It's just pretty remarkable.

So overall I'd say technology is ushering a lot of positive learning technologies and strategies and we get to hear everything. Sometimes I randomly will ask Google to play something that, I'm just making something up, just to hear what comes out. I do this sometimes when I'm driving, make up a phrase or anything, an animal, it could be anything. And wow, it's a great way to explore music you would never come upon otherwise. So we have all kinds of tools at our disposal and yes, they can be used positively, it doesn't mean that you're going to have better music just because we have these tools or better learning. Having a great teacher is invaluable technology or not.

So that's my take on this subject. It's a deep subject. We can get a lot of discussions going on the comments below here in YouTube and my Patreon subscribers, you can email me, all of you. I really appreciate the subscribers and just joining me here. Lots more to come. Thanks again for joining me. Robert Estrin here at, your online piano resource.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Anne Iams on September 23, 2020 @3:31 pm PST
Wow, this is an interesting subject, Robert. Thank you for all the knowledge you put out in these videos. I have learned helpful ideas from you.
Robert - host, on September 23, 2020 @8:30 pm PST
So glad there are people who appreciate the piano like you do!
Elliot Zelevansky on September 23, 2020 @6:55 am PST
Robert-- WHAT is the"keyboard" at which you are sitting, during this video about technology? Thank you!
Robert - host, on September 23, 2020 @11:11 am PST
It is the second prototype modular piano system which provides a virtual concert grand experience.
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