Spotify and New York City Schools Get Together To Hack on Music Education

Makers, teachers, and students work together to create new solutions at the first-ever Music Education Hackathon.

Two weekends ago the music platform Spotify joined with the New York City Department of Education's Innovate NYC Schools initiative to sponsor the first ever Music Education Hackathon. A dozen teachers and just as many students joined 174 self-described hackers for the 48-hour sprint, created on Spotify's initiative and designed from the get-go, says Innovate NYC Schools director Steven Hodas, to meet specific classroom needs.

"We come from a very user-centered philosophy, as does Spotify," he said. "Before we even started we got together one dozen music educators at Parsons to go through a problem definition process."

Imagine for a second that you're a public school band teacher with 300 students on a dozen different instruments, who range from a concert-level pianist to a tone-deaf plodder who can barely get a toot on the clarinet. You have to somehow reach each student at his or her own level and get them collaborating. Oh, and you have to do it with zero budget for extras and from within a testing-driven school culture where you're expected to objectively evaluate each kids' progress. The team's design-thinking yielded five prompts, asking participants to address collaboration, practice, tracking progress, working with parents, and teaching the technicalities of volume and pitch.

The weekend included all-night coding, visits by local bands, and lots of musical bonding. In addition to Spotify, music intelligence platform the Echo Nest and Peachnote, a search engine for musical scores, served as API Partners, and one of the judges was an SVP at Universal Music.

In the end, the groups came up with over 40 projects. Prizewinners were Exemplify, an app that lets teachers build lessons around any song by annotating and adding quizzes, which could be useful in social studies or English as well as music class.

The Makey Makey Musical Construction Kit, building on an invention kit created by some folks at the MIT Media Lab with help from Sparkfun., was also a winner. Makey Makey allows teachers and students to, for example, turn household objects into electronic instruments, record and play back individual parts from a choral or ensemble music piece, or explore chord theory.

The third-place winner was Rosetta Tone, which helps students learn a foreign language karaoke-style.

While all the projects had specific classroom purposes, Hodas said that meeting up and having fun was just as important a goal. "The function of arts education is to connect kids to the arts community. And those communities are looking to embrace new people as well, so the bridge-building function makes a lot of sense."

[Image: Flickr user Brandon Giesbrecht]

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