New York City, Spotify Team Up for Music App Hackathon

Gone are the days when learning how to play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder was the coolest thing kids did in music class. Now students may be playing instruments via apps like Garage Band — and due to dwindling budgets and vanishing art programs, technology could be the most cost effective way to save and improve music instruction. Spotify and the New York City Department of Education announced that they are hosting a competition to encourage software developers to create apps for music education, reports Ki Mae Heussner from Gigaom.com.

The “hackathon” will allow music teachers to collaborate with developers to identify problems and detail the issues they want addressed with apps. Teachers will be present during the event to give the developers feedback, and judges will include members from Spotify and Rap Genius, officials from City Hall and an executive from Universal Music.

In a post on its blog, Spotify said its goal is to “unlock the creative power of music and technology to address some key educational challenges.”

Music and art programs are being hit with budget cuts — and even being eliminated — all over the country, depriving children of a creative outlet and education. One in five 8th grade students graduates from a New York middle school without meeting the state’s minimum requirement for arts education.

This competition is a continuation of New York City’s efforts to bring the education and technology communities closer together. Apps could never replace an effective teacher, but they can serve as useful tools to help engage students in the arts and other academic fields.

Already, The New York City Department of Education held the Gap App Competition this year. Developers created apps in categories such as administrative/management and engagement/instructional to help teachers stay organized and improve classroom outcomes. Educators in iZone schools have already seen improvement in students who have fallen behind by engaging them with these tools.

They don’t expect the hackathon to turn out any flawless technology that can be implemented in classrooms right away. However, they do hope to get momentum going between educators and developers in order to start solving education problems together.

The immediate idea is that developers could create tools that will supplement music education programs already in New York schools but, down the road, technology could help make music education of some kind more feasible for more schools. A traditional orchestra program may require a big investment in instruments and rehearsal space, but, as Steven Hodas, executive director of Innovate NYC Schools, pointed out, digital music programs could still teach students about harmony, composition and production — at a lower cost.

“It could make a different kind of music education open to more schools,” he said.