- current music students are predominantly non-binary in terms of the composer-performer divide. Although some do identify themselves as one over the other.

- they are media-curious, and use a range of media and disciplines in their music making

- there is a heightened awareness of coding and AI skills in the current and future workplace, and music students are seeking these skills. As it happens music is a rich space with which to explore these skills.

- Musical plurality leading to mixed musical identities which draw on different cultural influences and therefore reflect the types of digital skills those students are pursuing, which also ends up being mixed.


At the start of 2023, DigiScore visited the US and North America to evaluate higher education music students’ wants and needs from digital musicianship education through engagement with digital scores. This work is part of the DigiScore research project focusing on the analysis of case studies and research in music departments worldwide known as “Roadshow”.

The tour gathered data from the point of view of ‘a person’s ability to perceive, understand and create sonic experiences’, through a range of musicking activities revolving around digital score creativity. Here, we present the results of this tour and evaluate it through a theoretical framework which encompasses the following areas of interest:

  • Skills: what are the skills needed to articulate and interpret features and effects of digital score musicking?
  • Contexts, Cultures & Literacy: what contextual, cultural literatures and insights are required to inspire creative thought and support musicking ideas
  • Musical Identity and Creative Practice: what are the new modes and possibilities of creative practice?
  • Perception and awareness of (digital) music: how do musicians actively analyse digital score music, and what interpretations are they generating when making music?


We conducted two types of polls, the first was embedded Mentimeter slides that allowed the students to engage and contribute to the discussion within a 90-minute lecture. There were also two online survey questionnaires made for the roadshow tour, one addressing the students who would attend the DigiScore lecture and another to collect responses from the students participating in the workshop with digital scores. Overall, 60+ students engaged with the in-lecture Mentimeter polls, from which 50 completed the online forms.

1. Mentimeter

The first poll asked “How would you define yourself as a musician? (multiple answers possible)” (see image at top of page). This aligned with the 3rd point of interest “Musical Identity and Creative Practice” and was chosen to be the first to draw their sense-of self directly into the discussion. The list of possible types is listed in figure 3, and this distribution was almost identically replicated across each university department.

Of interest was how many students identified themselves as BOTH composer and performer (41%), adding nuance to that identity with the remaining types (e.g. hacker). When we discussed this distribution and choice, it was revealed that any division between “composition” and “performance” pathways within a department was generally a negative divisive split. Whilst there were a few monotypes who only chose “composition” or “performance”. The provisional conclusion of this poll gives us confidence to state that current music students are much more diverse in terms of the composer-performer divide and with addition of other categories such as multi-media, digital technologist, sound artist, etc. (37 out of 92 students or 40 % overall who view their practice in multi-disciplinary terms).

The second poll followed a series of slides that outlined the different types of digital scores. This was presented as a continuum ranging from type 1 “The Digitised Score”, to type 4 “The Animated Score”, to type 6 “The Creative System”, to type 10 “The Living Score”. This question asks them “What skills do you have that could help you with digital score creativity?”, and was immediately followed by a slide that asked, “What digital music skills would you like to have?”.

A major theme in this poll was the repeated focus on AI, data and coding skills where 37% of students are interested in actively seeking these skills. This poll also showed that the majority of students are already media-curious and use a range of media and disciplines in their music making (37%). Also, the answers to the second question showed that there is a heightened awareness of coding and AI skills as important in the current and future workplaces. Additionally, there is an awareness that music is a rich space with which one can explore these skills. Our observation here is that music could be a great laboratory with which to learn about AI, data and coding in composition, performance and musicological studies. If implemented in the curriculum could be a very popular programme (1).

The third poll focused on surveying the underlying cultures and contexts that inspire these musicians to make music. This was a broad litmus test asking them to choose one or more of the following:

  • Types of music/ musicians
  • Books/ theories
  • Art forms (art, theatre, dance etc)
  • Media (film, gaming, video etc)
  • Nature and the environment (this one was added half way through the roadshow and was inspired by Seth Cluett at Columbia)

Overall, music/ musicians were the dominant choice, but not by much. Generally, only peeking over the top of others by 1 or 2 counts. With the others generally coming out equal. One conclusion is that, as the world gets smaller due to the internet and knowledge becomes readily available, and other musics and cultures are within grasp. Thus because of this, we have a pluralistic society that is taking inspiration from many more sources than merely music studies.

2. Online Questionnaires

The Digital Musicianship Questionnaire followed a similar logic of questioning strategy as the one targeted through the Mentimeter polls. While the questions were similar, they allowed for a more in-depth description of each participant’s digital/musical skills, the context in which they are creating, their digital music identity/creativity as well as knowledge and awareness of their music practice.

Besides more traditional music skills, it was noticed that the majority of students already have some digital music skills such as DAW, mixing/producing, MIDI and Max/MSP/Pure Data skills (40 out of 50 respondents). A lesser number of students expressed proficiency in coding (10 out of 50 respondents), however, some expressed a desire for acquiring those skills. This aligns well with some of the Mentimeter poll answers where students generally expressed a desire for more coding, AI and machine learning skills in higher education (37 %). This was a concern about their skill-base for the jobs market generally as they perceive that AI and coding skills will be essential in the future both inside and outside music professions.

Another, correspondence to the Mentimeter poll that was answered in more depth in the surveys was to do with students’ digital music identity/creativity. A lot of the students see themselves not just as instrumentalists/composers but as music producers and creative technologists (37 out of 50 respondents). Thus, the use of digital technology greatly augments and changes how these musicians see themselves. Based on our classroom discussions and survey responses, it seems like most of the students are aware of how the tools of digital technology shape their musicianship, citing “a learning tool for shaping own’s musicianship” and allowing for “flexibility in one’s music-making”. Similar to the Mentimeter poll but in more depth, when evaluating what one finds important in one’s music, most students answered personally citing, “fun”, “authenticity”, “originality”, “passion” and “self-expression”.

Evaluation and Discussion

By evaluating digital musicianship through digital score creativity, we can start to see four major trends that are emerging:

  • current music students are predominantly non-binary in terms of the composer-performer divide. Although some do identify themselves as one over the other.
  • they are media-curious and use a range of media and disciplines in their music making
  • there is a heightened awareness of coding and AI skills in the current and future workplace, and music students are seeking these skills. As it happens music is a rich space with which to explore these skills.
  • musical plurality leading to mixed musical identities which draw on many different cultural influences and therefore reflect the types of digital skills those students are pursuing

We also start to see patterns that suggest that digital musicianship is shifting across 4 realms: skills, contexts, identity, and awareness. We wish to stress that these four realms are immutably interconnected and should not be isolated to the point of exclusivity of the influence of others.

The dynamic behaviour of these patterns suggests a DST (Dynamic Systems Theory) approach rather than a separation by each category. For example, skills that are enacted in real-time are done so because of the individual’s context and education, which has informed how they perceive and what they are focusing their awareness on.

We are also able to see that creativity plays an important part in digital musicianship setting it apart from regular musicianship. It is a primary force in this dynamic system as it draws from a person’s context and background, contributes to the music identity and helps in the self-evaluation of one’s digital skills and learning processes.

When thinking about DST, we must view learning in a digital music context as a creative process in which the entire brain-body-world network dynamically changes itself through the physical enactment of new relationships and their configurations. This often involves the goal-directed process of introducing and resolving periods of instability as one learns new tools and approaches which may lead to new possibilities emerging (2).

The skills acquired through this process are often self-established by the entire organism in its embodied relationship with the environment in the process of developing a relationship with its milieu (3). Thus, it becomes imperative to view the new skills that one acquires in digital musicianship as something that could be aimed towards a cultural context where the individual hopes to enact them.

Context & Culture, Digital Identity & Creativity, Digital Skills, Knowledge & Awareness

In our research 26% of respondents came from specific cultural music environments or identified their creativity to be embedded within them, thus learning skills related to types of music or a variety of different digital tools that could extend their practice. For example, someone who considers their cultural background and literacy within RnB, Jazz and Pop might be interested in acquiring skills that are aligned with some traditional music skills but also learning about processed and autogenerated sound which could extend their jazz practice where they feel “it creates a more modern sound that would not have been heard before”.

As one of the trends points out, musical plurality was also very apparent in our research results. 58 % of all respondents draw on different cultural influences and this reflects the types of digital skills that they are pursuing; just as an example, one student mentioned a mix of electronic/improvised/sound art and traditional Mexican/cumbia/reggaeton/sonidero.

While most of all participants, also mentioned the digital musical skills that they are pursuing as very mixed, ranging from coding, analogue circuitry, DAW and audio programming and engineering to traditional instrumental playing and composition. 66 % of all respondents had or were pursuing a variety of digital musical skills and were also from a pluralistic background as mentioned above.

Also, 18 % the participants valued knowledge and awareness of their musicianship within the context or genre within which they were creating. This demonstrates another element of learning and development that is supported through a dynamic system theory approach, whereby critical evaluation is part of what musicians do to see how new or original a certain approach or use of a digital skill could be in their practice. This is also something Andrew Hugill cites as “a curiosity, questioning and critical engagement about what they (digital musicians) do” (4).

  1. As is evident in the University of Illinois’s Computer Science + Music degree https://cs.illinois.edu/academics/undergraduate/degree-program-options/cs-x-degree-programs
  2. van der Schyff, Dylan & Schiavio, Andrea & Elliott, David. (2022). Musical Bodies, Musical Minds: Enactive Cognitive Science and the Meaning of Human Musicality. 10.7551/mitpress/12117.001.0001.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Hugill, Andrew. The Digital Musician, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/nottingham/detail.action?docID=5582665.