PC Vs Mac: Music Technology in Schools

PC & Mac

Action: please forward this post to any music teachers who have classroom experience of using compositional software such as Logic or CuBase with pupils? Please invite them to comment and build the evidence. The opinion of those that have used both environments would be invaluable.


At my school we have received an IT bid for the music technology room to be replenished with Macs rather than PCs. The machines need updating anyway, and the added cost would be circa £5.5k, including Logic music composition software. I’ve dealt with this issue before. The influence on the decision at that time was to go with the *PR* factor and purchase Macs, theoretically making the school more inviting to prospective pupils, parents and teachers, but, in part I felt I was caving in to pressure from music teachers evangelising this option without them having any significant experience actually using the targeted software. My questions at the time were:

  1. Does the different machine actually make any difference to the intended learning outcomes – what the pupils can produce with the software?
  2. Do we have Mac expertise in the department already, specifically in the music composition software as oppose to CuBase, which they had been using for a few years?
  3. Are we going to be able to handle the introduction of OSX onto the school network?
  4. What are the hidden costs of this transition, including technician time (which, in theory, would mean a technician or two attending training on bringing Macs onto the network)?

I do not wish to discuss school business openly on the web, so I will aim to keep this generic.

My real problem is I do not know the software well enough to provide informed comment: for me, the unknown unknowns are… unknown. So, I asked on twitter and facebook, and here I will collate the answers and possibly seek out some more advice from those who do know.


Twitter replies

Responses from various teachers and a former pupil

Twitter summary: Mostly those with experience of the software in a classroom environment are saying that Macs are better. There is also a note about neither offering anything in particular above the other.


Facebook replies

[NB: I have anonymised these because my Facebook wall is private, and, therefore, those that post on it do not necessarily do so as though it is public.]

Former colleague: Necessary as better programmes. I was head of creative arts in a school and music was one of the subjects I line managed and I had to fight for funding to get macs and lap tops. It all depends on which programmes your music dept want to use. I do remember having lots of problems with the Macs on the network. [Didn’t actually use the software, but worked directly with those who did and positive]

A teacher friend: We had them, and would really recommend them. Great software, and while not completely industry standard, we argued that it was worth providing that experience for our students, especially those on the music technology course. It’s worth looking at getting a macmini server to act as a backup system and, maybe, as a link back to your school network as well. Give me a holler if I can help any more. [Didn’t actually use the software, but worked directly with those who did and positive]

Agreeing with teacher above, IT technical expertI’m with [teacher above] on this and they don’t have to be too much of a nightmare. Your tech team have enough contacts in Northants who use Macs in schools if you need to chat to anyone locally. [Helpful if we go ahead]

Another teacher friend: To qualify – Sibelius is best used as standalone software. GarageBand on the other hand doesn’t require macs. Our biggest issues are with macs on our network. As standalone devices – they win – but this is not ideal in a school environment. I suspect you really want to know if the software and tasks in music means that using macs are better than PCs. We’ve had both, and I’d say that with what the musos wanted to achieve- the software, midi keyboards and just general user misuse (unplugging devices and swapping them around and then not plugging them back) meant that neither platform edged out the other. [Someone in similar position to me. Didn’t actually use the software, but worked directly with those who did and remains positive]

Musician/peripatetic teacher friend: Personally I’d say that unless you want to run Logic then get PCs and spend the difference on putting SSDs in them. You still have Cubase, Pro Tools, Ableton, Sibelius, Finale, etc, etc etc to choose from and if you really want a picture of some half eaten fruit on your computers I’m sure the art department can put something together. [Interpreting this to mean if you actively *want* Logic. PCs are better choice. This man records music as part of his living]

Maths teacher friend, who has a recording studio at home: Pure PR. U can only run Logic on Mac, but good though it is, it is not necessarily ‘the best’. There are so many pc alternatives that are different to Logic, but in there own way, just as good. I use Ableton Live. [I have had the pleasure of recording in this studio (no, you can’t hear it!) PC fan. Ableton is really good but learning curve is steep]

Another teacher friendCubase does not support network installations – support from the company is non-existent. Plenty of windows alternatives to Logic but they require testing to ensure they don’t follow same rubbish model as Cubase. As for macs – admittedly they are harder to manage via a windows network but that’s no different from running Linux clients over a windows core network. Just set them up properly, learn a few tricks like checking the time hasn’t changed, which prevents AD logins for example and you will be fine. We have two Mac rooms – 1 with iMacs that has been moved around and faffed about with by me for two years and is still going strong. The other has Mac minis and big screens for A Level programming. The iMacs are all dual boot, look great and most importantly for me – minimal physical footprint from desk space and cabling. More than happy to help/ photo room if you want. We have some custom build windows PCs as well that we throw on the laptop desks in the middle of the room for hackdays etc. when buying iMacs go as high as you can in specs as upgrading parts is not worth the hassle. [Someone in similar position to me. Didn’t actually use the software, but worked directly with those who did and remains positive]


Conclusion

Every practising school music teacher who uses Macs in the classroom supports the use of Macs. Although the fact that they actually use them for the purpose in question is strong evidence, it must be noted that they have probably gone through this process themselves and requested Macs be installed, leading to a possible bias.

For reference, I am not a Mac fanboy. I use a Mac at home, PCs in the classroom, Linux in the classroom and at home, an iOS tablet and an Android phone; it is my responsibility to have an overview of all mainstream operating systems and tools. My personal experience of this specialist software is GarageBand on the iPad, CuBase on Windows, and Ableton Live on Windows, but nearly all of it for solo/band recording rather than running on a school network.

More evidence is required. I would very much like to hear from teachers who have used Macs and PCs for composition activities. Sibelius is the same on both, so it comes down to the larger software that affords input from MIDI devices. Your help is very much appreciated, thank you.

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PC Vs Mac: Music Technology in Schools

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