Free software for music students

My department, as most music departments, have been teaching software in a computer lab with a bunch of commercial (expensive) software:

  • Notation: Finale, Sibelius
  • Sound editing, mixing: Logic, Digital Performer, Pro Tools
  • Sound programming: Max
  • Writing: MS Word
  • Spreadsheet: MS Excel
  • Analysis: Matlab, SPSS

The free software community has developed rapidly in the last years, and I now see that there are good, free and cross-platform software covering a lot of the functionality of the above-mentioned programs:

On top of that comes some great free analysis software that don’t have commercial competition:

For advanced courses, I still think it makes sense to use some of the industry standards. Many of them are more advanced than their free software counterparts, and they are often better documented. But for introduction courses I think it would make sense to use free software. This would have many benefits:

  • Students can install on their own computers, and will not be locked to working only in the computer lab.
  • Students will not be locked to a specific operating system, since the above mentioned programs run on all platforms (OSX, Windows, Linux, and some even iPhone!).
  • The computer lab will not be overcrowded around assignments and exams.
  • We can focus on content, method and theory rather than on corporate peculiarities and the latest new features. This will hopefully also show students that the basics of sound theory, recording, editing, mixing, programming, composing, etc. are actually quite generic (and technology-independent).
  • The department saves money on licenses and computer maintenance.
  • The money can instead be used for running higher quality labs with more advanced (expensive) hardware and software.
  • Statistically, most of our students end up as teachers at various levels. Most schools can’t afford the commercial software packages, so the teachers will end up using free software at some point anyway.

More general arguments for the use of free software in education can be found in this article by Stallman.