Publication: The American Music Teacher
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 27331
ISSN: 00030112
Journal code: IAMT

We've all been there before - you're all set to show off a new kind of software or set up a student with a technology-based project when BAM! - the software crashes, the keyboard freezes or the lab starts sending smoke-signals (okay, I've only seen that once). So what do you do when your fancy new technology backfires? Do you spend valuable lesson or prep time trying to figure it out? Do you call the manufacturer and wait on hold for an eternity? Do you send a message to tech support and pray for a reply? Sometimes these steps are necessary, actually, but often there are lots of things you can do to either avoid these problems or resolve them more quickly once they occur.

Before you call in the cavalry, take a few minutes for basic, logical troubleshooting. Here is a list of the 1 0 most common culprits for technology failure:

1 . Make sure everything you need to use is plugged in and powered on. I know, it sounds obvious, but any tech support you call is going to ask. So humor them and double check before you call.

2. Out to In, In to Out. If you are using MIDI, check that the cables are plugged in the correct way: MIDI OUT on the keyboard connects to MIDI IN on the computer and vice versa. Even veteran MIDI users make this mistake sometimes.

3. If your problem is Internet-related, try to plug directly in to your modem (the point at which the cable or DSL line enters your house) or at least directly into your router. Try to avoid WiFi connections during the troubleshooting process. Limit shared use of your Internet service, especially if it is not particularly fast.

4. Make sure your operating system is up to date. Very often. Windows and Macintosh computers, as well as iPads, iPhones and other tablets and smartphones, are set up for automatic updating. If you usually turn your computer or device off at night, however, it may not ever get around to installing those updates. You might also have chosen to keep this feature off. Additionally, Windows computers in particular often skip "optional" updates that are actually important for music and Internet-based software. Make a point to run the Windows Update feature and choose manual updating instead of the "express" option.

5. Make sure your software is up to date. As computer operating systems evolve, software companies have to keep up by providing updates. If you have an autoupdate option enabled, you may not always realize that your operating system has had a change. These changes can, to varying degrees, affect how your software behaves on the computer.

6. Make sure your hardware is up to date. These days, even keyboards and digital pianos can be updated electronically, adding new features, fixing bugs and improving connectivity with other devices. If you're having the same problem repeatedly, it's possible that a socalled firmware update will provide a solution.

7. Is everything installed properly? Usually, software installer programs just sort of whiz through their processes and ask you only once or twice to authorize the procedure. Sometimes, however, there are additional components that need to be installed. Be sure to "babysit" the installer as it runs to be sure you aren't missing an important prompt for one of these issues. Also, (even though no one ever follows this advice), before you install, do read the text file called "ReadMe" attached to many installers. Sometimes there are known issues or a specific order of installation that needs to be followed.

8. If anything you are using requires a "driver," make sure it has been properly installed and you have restarted your computer. (This primarily applies to Yamaha keyboard and MIDI products.)

9. Turn off any other software that might be running on your computer and try again. MIDI software can sometimes take certain computer functions hostage and make them unavailable to concurrently running programs. Try to repeat your problem with as few variables as possible.

10. Restart your computer and everything connected to it - keyboards, interfaces, modems, routers, everything. Think of your technology as a river and power back on from upstream to downstream. If you are having a keyboard problem, perform the factory reset instead of a simple power cycle. This will restore all the user settings, but won't erase your personal data (such as recorded songs or presets). You'll usually find this by a "function" menu or a "settings" button.

Keep the manual handy

If you're still stuck after checking all the basics, it's time to consult the manual. I know, manuals are tedious and boring, and read like they were written by engineers. But these days, technology companies are trying harder and harder to encourage more self-sufficient users, which means great efforts go into making manuals readable. In an effort to cut costs (but not cut trees), many software companies often incorporate all the help into a built-in document, which is searchable and cross-referenced. Look for a menu called "help" in the software or perhaps a PDF file in the same folder as the program or the installer.

Manufacturer Websites

You shouldn't stop visiting the manufacturer's website just because you have completed your purchase. Most companies provide extra tutorials, videos, supplementary products, and monitored user forums on their websites. Very often a visit to the product's FAQ list can solve your troubles. Additionally, search for any place on the site where users can interact, whether in live chat or an online User Forum. The forum will be a moderated place where users can ask questions to be answered either by other users or by representatives of the company itself. Because these questions and answers are indexed and archived, you can usually search for keywords of your problem and find a record of how someone else (hopefully) solved it.

Independent User Forums

Widely used products include web-wide user forums, some of which are operated independently of the manufacturers themselves. You'll find groups for nearly any product or category of products on Yahoo, Google and social networking sites like Facebook or Linked In. You'll not only "meet" enthusiastic users of similar technology but perhaps even make lasting long-distance friendships - sort of modern day pen-pals. A good tip for finding groups like this quickly is by using the words "user group" with the product name in a search. is a user-created collection of instructions on everything from basket weaving to rocket science. Music technology falls somewhere in the middle. (If you use a particular tech setup frequently, consider writing one of these yourself!)

Social Media

Outside of organized "fans" or "groups" of a technology product's users, you might just find a solution among your friends. Believe it or not, I have seen more than one technology crisis solved on Facebook, and this often happens within minutes. If you have a lot of friends who also use technology in their teaching, it never hurts to ask for advice via your status post. Even if your friends don't know, they might re-post your question as their status, getting it out to exponentially greater numbers of people and giving you an even better chance ata fast solution.

When you DO make that call or send that e-mail, be prepared...

Before we launch into a big list of dos and don'ts, it's important to understand a little about the current state of the music technology industry and the relationship between music technology providers and users.

First, you might have an idea that you call a number or send an e-mail to get help and that someone is going to be there to help 24/7. While very large companies may be able to offerthat kind of immediate service, most music technology companies, especially the ones that cater to the education market, are small and operate on a shoestring. In today's economy, small companies have to provide more services with fewer resources, which usually equates to fewer people.

Also, keep in mind the time differences you may encounter. In this global age, you may be requesting help from someone in a very distant time zone, so few if any business hours will overlap. With these things in mind, it's good to be prepared:

* Be ready to give some basic information: What version of the software are you using? What is your computer brand and operating system? What model of keyboard, MIDI interface or other hardware are you using? This type of information will be important in getting your problem solved.

* Try to articulate your problem as specifically as possible. Don't just send a message that says the product doesn't work. Let the support staff know exactly what you were trying to do when the failure occurred. Be detailed in what other hardware might have been plugged in, as well as what other software might have been running.

* You may have to wait 24-48 hours for a response, especially on a weekend. Don't take it personally.

Don't set yourself up for failure - prevent technology disasters before they happen

Of course the best way to prevent many frustrations with technology is simple education. Just as you wouldn't drive a new car without first learning where all the controls are, you shouldn't expect to get a new computer or new software without first learning the ropes.

If you are new to computers in general, get to know the basics about the operating system before you start adding a lot of new things. How do you organize files or folders? How do you open programs? How do you add "shortcuts" or other time-saving features? Many library systems and community colleges offer free and inexpensive classes for basic computer skills. Check them out.

Don't use new technology for the first time in a lesson. Not only are you likely to find a bump in the road, but you may also have parents and students wondering what they're paying you for. Give yourself several practice runs with a new setup and be ready to show off to your students when you feel confident. You might even host a "tech tools petting zoo" for students and families to have them practice using it. This will get them excited about what you are offering them, as well as make them more independent users of the technology. Maybe they'll even want to try it out at home!

Read the manual, of course, but you may be able to arm yourself with an arsenal of even more tools. There are lots of third-party support materials for major products such as notation software and sequencers. These may include books, videos or online courses that have titles similar to "X for Dummies" or "X, the Missing Manual." Check online and in local book and music stores, either in the computer section or the music reference area for these kinds of tools.

Even small companies and obscure products have enthusiastic users. Join them! Do join user groups, including those hosted by the manufacturer, hosted by Google or Yahoo!, or on social media sites such as Facebook or Linked In. Keep up with what other users are doing with similar technology - these groups often pool ideas to come up with completely new ways to use hardware and software that even the manufacturers didn't conceive.

However you decide to get help for your technology, it's important to remember that you're not alone. Bringing your teaching into the 21st century may be a daunting task, but a crucial one, considering the world you are preparing your students to enter. Take new technology one step at a time, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it!

Author affiliation:

Shana Kirk isa pianist, teacher and technology " geek for folks like Yamaha ' Corporation of America and Zenph Sound Innovations. Having been on both sides of tech support calls for many years, she enjoys escaping to the mountains of Colorado without electricity.

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