How Far e-Music has come in 30 years

As a new teacher in the 1980s Lisa Gabriel did battle with mono cassette recorders and wrote music on a banda machine or chalk board. e-Music did not exist. How times have changed. Lisa shares her journey over the last 30 years, using BBC-Bs, four track recorders, Amigas, Karaoke, PCs, Sibelius, Scorch, MP3s, the web, and Audacity amongst other things. Here is Lisa’s journey…

Lisa Marie Gabriel Thinking back to 1980, the year I left Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln, UK, we still had 8 tracks playing in the College bar, video was a new and exciting thing and I wanted to be a composer….  In those days we could hear it in our heads or work it out on the piano but the chances of a performance were very slim once we were out of the College environment. It was my dream to hear the music played and to share it with others, but that had to wait some 20 years.

The classroom technology I knew then was a clapped out stereo system and a mono cassette recorder. Each Sunday I would practise my chalkboard skills and write songs out by hand on a spirit duplicator master. The school had a TV and video in a huge cabinet that was wheeled from classroom to classroom – and I was so technologically gifted that I had to ask the children to switch it on. We had little idea of the revolution to come when BBC-B computers and four track cassette recorders came into our working lives.

Somehow technology has a way of creeping in by the back door. By the late 1980s, my capitation allowance still did not allow for big items and I begged for a decent computer and the new Sibelius software. If the school would provide one, I was happy to provide the other – but no way. I was left with a BBC-B with its limited abilities and an Amiga the IT department had kindly donated that was better with graphics than music. I now word-processed lyrics at home on an Amstrad and photocopied them. A boogie box I bought myself enabled both karaoke and amplified guitar parts. The stereo system still sucked and I played cassette tapes on the boogie box.

It was only when I left class teaching and became a music service tutor that I took my first steps in music technology. My boss showed me what was now possible on Sibelius. I threw out the Amstrad and purchased a Tiny PC. Early struggles to understand the terminology of computers and the internet still make me smile. The first simple tune I programmed with Sibelius took me hours and hours – but the result looked fully professional and I was hooked.

In the late 1990s I learned how to sequence, arrange and compose with Sibelius software. I used the results in my teaching, but I was still bound by paper and printouts. Soon I opened a store on selling compositions and arrangements as downloads.

The learning curve steepened and I learned to hook up a digital recording studio and mix with simple software. I was now recording my own songs, but an engineer friend would mix them for me initially. When Geoff’s former band, 4,000,000 Telephones, wanted him to re-master their album, our project was sidelined until I could mix tracks myself and I turned my excess energy into producing a resource sharing website for guitar tutors.

The site is not an E-learning site in its proper sense as it has no programmed or interactive content. It is more an enrichment site for individual or small group learning. Guitarlincs resources can be printed or played off the screen in Scorch or PDF form. Lo-fi MP3 backtracks can be played or downloaded to assist with rhythm.

The site set out to encourage reading and simple music theory and I shared the resource with friends, colleagues and students. I soon found out that web resources have their drawbacks too – there are still children who don’t have computers, internet access or parents who will allow them to print their own music so old methods still come very much into play. However the site was my first real venture into EL and I could see its huge potential for motivation.

I now see myself as a much more confident user of IT, albeit still flying by the seat of my pants. I am enrolled in Trinity Guildhall’s KS2 CDP course and midway through the course I attended the IT workshop and discovered wonderful free resources such as Audacity and Van Basco Karaoke Player which can bring individual and group lessons to life.

I also use my laptop in teaching more and find Sibelius is great because the children can see the music moving on-screen and, as with Van Basco, I can alter keys and tempi as necessary. I have already uploaded some simple children’s group compositions to the site and am preparing to use USB microphones and Audacity to share their performances and compositions online. We will be able to record, mix and add effects to provide an experience of real music technology to the children I teach.

Meanwhile in everyday life I have released an album, Flying To Meet The Sunrise, which features 14 mixed genre tracks. It is live on iTunes, selling in small numbers as yet, and is due to be released on Amazon as a CD – hopefully in time for Christmas. Thinking back to 1980, I can’t help but smile….


Lisa Marie Gabriel works for Lincolnshire Music Service. She is a first study guitarist, but composing has always been an interest for her. She is happy to arrange both vocal and instrumental music if time permits! Any genre within reason including jazz, rock, pop and classical. She splits her time between the UK and Canada.

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