In this era where there is often much debate between the use or often over use of technology in music, DOA anyone? But what are we really debating here? I often like to draw comparisons between tools and toys. When I was growing up and wanting to possess a keyboard there was really only one keyboard that I could afford to buy. Now I’m going to give brand names but let’s just say you could find this keyboard anywhere fine electronic items and watches were sold.

I was often frustrated by the lack of musicality that I perceived as shortcomings of the keyboard. But was it really the fault of the keyboard? Conversely nowadays when I program a couple of string patches to play a nice cascading line am I really an arranger of strings?

For comparison let’s look at the definition of Tool: an implement used in the practice of a vocation. Now let’s look at how a toy is defined Toy: an artifact designed to be played with. Well, I guess we’ll have to define play now. I think that definition can be summed up in one word: amusement.

So what we are discussing here is the difference between a tool used for “work” and a toy used for “fun”. Could there possibly be some overlap between work and fun? Definitely. Could a toy in one person’s hand be a tool in another’s? Most definitely.

What are your thoughts on Tools vs. Toys as they relate to music? I know that it has taken me a longtime to realize that it’s not the tool or the toy but what’s most important is who’s using them and how. Peep this video of two masters at work Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. Listen in on their discussion of this issue over 30 years ago.


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Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.