A Collaborative Digital Audio Workstation for Young Learners
Adriano Barat
, Luca A. Ludovico
and Giorgio Presti
Laboratory of Music Informatics (LIM), Department of Computer Science “Giovanni Degli Antoni”, University of Milan,
via G. Celoria 18, 20133 Milan, Italy
Remote Education, Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs), Web, Online Technologies, Sound and Music
This paper presents the early results of the project titled A Band in the Cloud”, conducted in cooperation
between INDIRE, the agency of the Italian Ministry of Education for educational research and innovation, and
LIM, the laboratory of sound and music computing of the University of Milan. The goal of the project is to
foster the development of musical and extra-musical skills in young learners through a free web-based digital
audio workstation. After presenting the state of the art and discussing the pedagogical aims of the initiative,
we will describe the technical details of the platform and give details about the release plan.
A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic
device or application software aiming at recording,
editing, and producing audio files. In the digital do-
main, DAWs are usually software applications based
on the metaphor of a multitrack tape recorder. In
general, they present a standard layout that includes
transport controls (play, rewind, record, etc.), track
controls, a mixer, and a waveform display. DAWs
mainly represent music-production tools in use in pro-
fessional environments, but they can also have educa-
tional purposes, being adopted at various school lev-
els and with different goals.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that
DAWs and web technologies can be profitably com-
bined to create opportunities for the development of
musical, technical, and soft skills. These educational
results can be encouraged by remote collaboration
between users, where the concept of collaboration
embraces both supervised work, namely a teacher-
learner relationship, and peer-to-peer cooperation oc-
curring between learners. This article aims to intro-
duce a model for a digitally mediated online collab-
oration that focuses on music composition through
the use of an online DAW. To this end, a free soft-
ware platform has been developed in the context of
a publicly funded Italian project involving an educa-
tional research institution, a university lab with exper-
tise in the field of sound and music computing, and
external experts for software development and user-
acceptance tests.
As better explained in the following, the project
is still at an early stage, so this paper will outline the
pedagogical context, discuss the state of the art, and
provide details about the first implementation steps,
whereas the results of the test phase from both a tech-
nological and an educational point of view will be ad-
dressed in future publications.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: Sec-
tion 2 will describe the state of the art concerning on-
line applications for music education, focusing in par-
ticular on Digital Audio Workstations, Section 3 will
frame this initiative in the context of a publicly funded
Italian project, Section 4 will provide technical details
about the developed solution, Section 5 will discuss
the expected outcomes from an educational point of
view, Section 6 will propose a roadmap for future de-
velopment, and, finally, Section 7 will draw the con-
In the digital domain, a huge number of tools for mu-
sic training and education is available, including “tra-
ditional” computer software, mobile apps, and web
applications. For the goals of this paper, we will nar-
row the field to the latter category and, certainly far
Baratè, A., Ludovico, L. and Presti, G.
A Collaborative Digital Audio Workstation for Young Learners.
DOI: 10.5220/0011135100003182
In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2022) - Volume 1, pages 458-464
ISBN: 978-989-758-562-3; ISSN: 2184-5026
2022 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
from being exhaustive, we will mention some exam-
Based on their functions and educational objec-
tives, web platforms can be subdivided into various
Online Music Studios usually have the char-
acteristics of a sequencer, offering music loops
and sounds for song creation. Examples in-
clude BandLab,
Groovy Music,
and Soundtrap;
Music-performance Platforms offer practical
tools to help students learn how to play an instru-
ment or sight-read music at distance. Examples
include Doozzoo,
Sight Reading
and Yousician;
General Music-education Platforms, with re-
spect to the previous category, aim at fostering
more general music abilities, focusing on lis-
tening skills, theory, composition, computational
thinking in music, also through gamification.
Examples include BrainPOP Arts and Music,
Chrome Music Lab,
Classics for Kids,
on Sound,
and PBS KIDS Music Games;
Music Notation and Creation Platforms offer
online tools often augmented with score sharing
and collaborative functions. Examples include
and O-Generator;
Music-theory and Ear-training Platforms
mainly address the study of formalized music
knowledge through music-theory lessons with
interactive exercises and tools. Examples include
and Musition.
Even if the present review is far from being ex-
haustive, it can return a broad idea of the educational
offer for music education currently available on the
The category that best fits the goals of the present
proposal is that of online music studios. The use of
DAWs in education has been addressed in several re-
search works. A trivial field of application is the use
of DAWs to develop specific musical and/or technical
skills, e.g., in recording and layering parts (Brown,
2014), in collaborative songwriting (Clauhs, 2020),
and in audio signal processing (Tarr, 2021). It is also
important to remark that some experts warn against
the indiscriminate use of DAWs in music education.
For example, Dorfman deconstructs the myths that in-
corporating music production and related software is
simple and requires little thought (Dorfman, 2022).
Similarly, Bell argues that music educators should be
able to critically assess how DAWs influence the deci-
sions of music-makers and highlights the fallacy that
these applications are wrongly perceived as “easy to
use” in music education (Bell, 2015).
Another interesting field of investigation concerns
the adoption of DAWs to develop extra-musical skills.
For example, Walzer studies the use of relevant tech-
nology, including DAWs, for digital storytelling in
music and audio education, thus inspiring modern re-
flective practices (Walzer, 2016). Duncan investigates
the cognitive processes that emerge when students in-
teract with GarageBand and Soundtrap, two of the
most popular entry-level DAWs, both in classrooms
and in online learning (Duncan, 2021). Cipta dis-
cusses a case study where DAWs are employed in
a self-learning scenario in order to foster creativity
(Cipta, 2021).
What are the reasons to implement a new web
solution when well-established platforms are already
available? In the authors’ opinion, there are mainly
three reasons. The first reason is connected to com-
mercial and legal aspects: in general, these platforms
are not free and/or require premium access to fully
benefit from all the services, which is not compati-
ble with extensive use in public schools; moreover,
user data are stored and managed by private com-
panies, and, even though protected, they would not
be accessible for educational research purposes. The
second reason is connected to one of the fundamental
aims of the initiative, i.e. fostering peer-to-peer co-
operation between students. In fact, even if the web
seems the natural means for team working, many on-
line platforms turned out to be the web version of of-
fline applications, mainly intended for personal use
and equipped with a-posteriori sharing functions. Fi-
nally, one more reason to design a brand new product,
A Collaborative Digital Audio Workstation for Young Learners
even if inspired by previous solutions, is the possibil-
ity to study ad hoc interfaces and functions tailored to
the target audience represented, in this case, by young
For the sake of clarity, it is worth mentioning the
availability of free DAWs (e.g., Ardour
) and share-
ware DAWs (e.g., REAPER
) that currently present
a good level of maturity and usability; nevertheless,
these solutions cannot be considered our competitors,
since they are not online platforms and they have not
been explicitly conceived for interaction within edu-
cational activities.
The design and implementation of the online DAW
described below has to be framed in the context of a
wider project financed by the Italian Ministry of Ed-
ucation (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Universit
a e
della Ricerca) and focusing on multidisciplinary lab-
oratory teaching. Such an articulated project, code-
named 10.8.4.A2-FSEPON-INDIRE2017-1 (CUP:
B59B17000020006), was entrusted to INDIRE.
Within this framework, the music area of the
project was developed in cooperation between IN-
DIRE, the National Institute For Documentation, In-
novation And Educational Research of the Italian
Ministry of Education, and LIM, the Laboratory of
Music Informatics of the University of Milan. The re-
sulting proposal, explicitly addressing musical goals,
was called A Band in the Cloud”. The public call
was published by INDIRE on July 14, 2020, and the
beginning of the operative phase, determined by an
official communication sent from INDIRE to the Uni-
versity of Milan, dates back to May 7, 2021.
3.1 Project Partners
Founded in Florence in 1925, INDIRE
is the earli-
est institution of the Ministry of Education and rep-
resents the reference point for educational research in
Italy. Among its activities, it is worth mentioning the
development of new teaching models, the use of new
technologies in training programs, and the involve-
ment in some of the most important experiences of
e-learning at the European level. Within the project
A Band in the Cloud”, INDIRE represented the ed-
ucational and pedagogical point of reference. More-
over, INDIRE provided the specifications for software
LIM is one of the first research labs of the Depart-
ment of Computer Science of the University of Mi-
lan. Founded in 1985, LIM
has hosted renowned
composers and experts such as Franco Donatoni, An-
gelo Paccagnini, Antonio Jos
e Rodriguez Selles, and
Dante Tanzi. In almost 40 years of activity, LIM car-
ried out international projects and established impor-
tant collaborations. Among others, it is worth men-
tioning: Teatro alla Scala of Milan, Bolshoi Theatre
of Moscow, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, RSI Ra-
diotelevisione Svizzera, Orchestra Verdi di Milano,
IEEE Computer Society, Ricordi Historical Archive,
and the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Ac-
tivities. LIM contributed to the project with its know-
how and expertise in the field of sound and music
computing, being mainly in charge of software design
and implementation.
The evaluation of the user experience and the test-
ing phase, which is currently in progress, have been
performed in cooperation between the two institu-
3.2 Project Goals and Research
One of the key goals of the general project was the
design and implementation of prototype educational
software to be experimented with in learning environ-
ments and characterized by the acquisition of skills in
an informal way. Within the project A Band in the
Cloud”, such an objective has been interpreted as the
creation of a digital learning environment for primary
and lower secondary school students based on cloud
computing and web technologies.
The purpose of the learning environment is to let
students develop specific skills including the com-
position of musical pieces, instrumental practice, mu-
sical analysis of formal and structural aspects in a
collaborative way. In order to support peer-to-peer
cooperation and out-of-the-school learning activities,
the user interface has been released as a browser app.
This product will be first experimented in a pilot
study, and, after an evaluation and refinement phase,
released for free use in Italian primary and low-level
secondary schools. From this point of view, the plat-
form is expected to have a deep impact also in dif-
ficult educational scenarios, such as small and rural
schools, where technology can make up for the short-
age of “traditional” teaching aids and specialized ed-
ucators (Barter, 2013; Wang et al., 2019; Kormos and
Julio, 2020).
The research questions of A Band in the Cloud”
CSME 2022 - 3rd International Special Session on Computer Supported Music Education
focus on the capacity by the proposed platform to
make young learners develop three categories of
skills: i) basic musical skills (e.g., rhythm, melody,
harmony, timbre, piece structure, etc.), ii) computer-
oriented skills (i.e. the ability to use web tools and
technologies and the development of computational
thinking), and iii) soft skills (e.g., communication,
problem-solving, teamwork, leadership, creativity,
In this section, we will provide some technical de-
tails about the platform we are proposing. In Section
4.1 we will illustrate the strategy used to implement
client-server interaction and the synchronization be-
tween the local and master copies of the project, in
Section 4.2 we will list the main functions offered to
users, and in Section 4.3 we will show the graphical
user interface.
4.1 Client-server Interaction and
The web DAW is based on client-server interaction
and presents a specific synchronization model be-
tween the local copies of a music project and the cen-
tral one, called the master copy.
The key role of the server is to host the master
copy granting access after an authentication process.
Music projects are shared between groups of users
and can be accessed concurrently according to the
scheme described below. Each project is described
in the server as a JSON (JavaScript Object Nota-
tion) document which describes some general fea-
tures (e.g., tempo, meter, title, author) and the mu-
sic content (e.g., tracks, events, list of multimedia
materials). The master copy can be read and writ-
ten by clients by invoking ad-hoc web services. The
server also hosts a collection of samples, i.e. short
audio files organized in four families (tuned loops,
percussion loops, hits, effects) and characterized by
a description, a base tempo, and a reference music
genre. Users can employ these samples in their music
projects as well as upload their own audio files. Each
project is hosted in a specific server folder that con-
tains both the JSON document and, potentially, the
custom audio files uploaded by users. Users work on
their local copy of the project through the graphical
interface of the client, as described in Section 4.3.
As it regards the synchronization of the local
copies of the musical project with the master copy,
a critical decision was required. An option was a
hard synchronization, where any action on each client
would have immediately impacted on the master copy
and such an update would have propagated to all the
clients connected to the project. Rather, we opted for
a soft synchronization model, where the information
transfer from the local to the master copy (upload) re-
quires an explicit confirmation action by the user and
the alignment of all the clients with the server (down-
load) occurs either periodically, at regular time inter-
vals, or on demand, upon explicit request by the user.
This architectural solution implies misalignment be-
tween local and master copies, but it presents several
The mechanism is simple to implement and
does not require push notifications or similar ap-
The server workload is, in general, low;
The approach is flexible, in that if necessary
it lets a user request the master copy at any time,
upon explicit action. Moreover, by setting a very
high refresh rate, users can have the illusion of
real-time interaction;
Also in case of low refresh rate, misalignment is
only temporary, and the synchronization process
is transparent to users;
Even if collaborative, such a strategy is a non-
blocking one, since users can have concurrent ac-
cess to the master copy.
In order to avoid conflicts during the misalignment
phase, each user is enabled to work on a subset of
tracks only. The implementation of a locking system
further improves the efficiency of the client/server in-
teraction. In fact, called U the current local user, the
Us client uploads only the tracks under the control of
U, and it downloads (and consequently overrides) all
the tracks but Us ones.
4.2 Main Functions
As mentioned before, the developed platform can be
seen as the simplification of a standard DAW, adapted
to an audience of young learners and oriented to a col-
laborative workflow. The main functions the system
supports are:
Track Operations Add, remove, and change
properties such as name, color, pan, volume, etc.
Please note that tracks can be either audio tracks,
intended for samples, or instrumental tracks, in-
tended for MIDI-like music events;
Event Operations Add an event to a track, re-
move an event from a track, move an event along
A Collaborative Digital Audio Workstation for Young Learners
a track or across tracks, duplicate an event, resize
an event (i.e. cut an event before its natural end);
Sample Library Operations List available
samples, add self-produced samples to the project
library, search by name or family;
Transport Operations Play/pause, rewind,
monitor and alter the playback point;
Project Operations Rename the project, syn-
chronize project copies (upload and/or download),
change tempo, change the time signature.
The mentioned functions are those available to
any user. There are also features that depend on the
specific user’s profile. For example, a teacher has
complete visibility on the project, with the possibil-
ity to change its general properties and operate on all
users’ tracks, whereas a standard user is enabled to
act on his/her part of the project only. Moreover, the
prototype described in this paper is still lacking some
key functions, such as user-profile customization and
cooperative tools (e.g., chat and file sharing).
4.3 Graphical User Interface
In order to ensure full compatibility with HTML5
web browsers, several standard languages and for-
mats approved by the World Wide Web Consor-
tium (W3C) have been employed for the implemen-
tation of the client. In particular, HTML (Hyper-
Text Markup Language) version 5, a language to de-
scribe static hypertext documents, provided the logi-
cal structure of the web page. CSS (Cascading Style
Sheets) version 3 was adopted to define the format-
ting and graphic appearance of the client; in detail,
we used SCSS (Sassy CSS superset), that is a syntac-
tical variant for the CSS Sass preprocessor equipped
with some relevant extensions (variables, functions,
etc.). JavaScript was adopted as the reference client-
side scripting language. Web Audio API and Web
MIDI API constituted the low-level JavaScript-based
libraries for handling audio and MIDI events, respec-
tively; moreover, Tone.js was also employed as the
high-level JavaScript-based library for handling audio
events. React, another JavaScript library, was use-
ful for creating user interfaces updated on the base
of state changes; thanks to this technology, modifica-
tions in data structures are automatically reflected in
the graphic interface and vice versa. JSON, a struc-
tured plain-text format, was selected as the means to
exchange data between the server and the client in
response to web-service calls. Finally, PHP (PHP:
Hypertext Preprocessor) was the interpreted script-
ing language running server-side to process client re-
The resulting graphical user interface is shown in
Figure 1. The main area is taken by the visual repre-
sentation of tracks and their sound events (i.e. the se-
quencer part). The left column provides the tracklist,
the right one contains the sample library, and the up-
per part presents performance controls. Colors can be
used to improve the project’s organization and struc-
ture, e.g., to highlight the work by different users or
group instrumental families. Unlike typical DAWs, in
order to keep the interface simpler, a mixer part is not
present as an independent area, whereas mixing ac-
tions (such as changing volume and pan) are already
available in the left part. In other words, this part can
be considered as a vertical mixer.
Currently, the interface is available in Italian only,
since it is the result of a national-funded project; but
the platform is ready to be localized in other lan-
guages, too.
Considering the advances for educational research,
the learning environment is expected to have a high
potential thanks to the analysis of i) user data, ii) per-
formance data, and iii) experimental data.
Concerning the former aspect, even if users are
anonymized (i.e. identified only by a nickname in the
platform), available data can be analyzed to extract
relevant information. Needless to say, user statis-
tics such as participants’ age, grade, school type, and
country can help define the typical use cases of such
a learning tool. But even more, relevant information
can be obtained from the analysis of users’ behav-
ior: e.g., where, when, how frequently, and how long
learners use the platform, how many learners coop-
erate on a single project (huge class assignments vs.
small-group projects), how many intersections occur
in their cooperation (in-parallel vs. in-sequence op-
erations), and so on. Please note that the mentioned
aspects disregard the musical aspects and the disci-
plinary learning aims of the platform.
The analysis of users’ performances, intended as
the musical outcome of learning activities, is another
area to be evaluated. Even if the practical outcome
is the collaborative creation of a music piece, such
a result is necessarily based on a number of skills:
the ability to plan a music piece both “vertically”
(number, type, and family of instruments) and “hor-
izontally” (structure and sections), the ability to se-
lect and organize suitable music materials (samples,
loops, etc.), the technical skills to adjust tempo, vol-
ume, panning, and so on. Soft skills are required
CSME 2022 - 3rd International Special Session on Computer Supported Music Education
Figure 1: The client’s graphical user interface.
as well, including communication, peer-to-peer co-
operation, self-regulation, problem-solving, compu-
tational thinking, etc. (Bassett, 2013; Ludovico and
Mangione, 2014; Barat
e et al., 2015) Unfortunately,
the assessment of music abilities is a complex prob-
lem, due to the difficulties in establishing a reliable
system of parameters to measure them (Law and Zent-
ner, 2012). Planning an educational path of increasing
difficulty may be challenging for teachers, too. What
are the critical aspects for students? The number of
tracks to be managed by a single user, the number of
students who work in parallel, the need to include spe-
cific instrumental families, or something else? Users’
data could help in shedding new light also in this re-
search area, which is extremely important from both
an educational and a technical point of view.
The third field of investigation concerns the ac-
quisition and analysis of experimental data from the
teacher’s perspective. All the data collected through
platform activities are updated on the fly and made
available for educators. Each teacher can adopt het-
erogeneous strategies and plan different working ses-
sions to be experimented with students in order to
form experimental and control groups with the final
goal of finding the most effective teaching strategy.
Needless to say, such a strategy can be adapted to spe-
cific learning goals and can be differentiated on the
basis of students’ musical background, school level,
possible impairments, etc.
At the moment of writing, an early but fully work-
ing prototype has been implemented. The solution
already presents all the functions described in Section
4.2 and the graphical interface shown in Section 4.3.
Concerning the test and deployment phases, the
release plan includes the following milestones:
Alpha test (March to April 2022). In this step, the
prototype will be presented to a small number of
selected users, mainly scholars and experts in the
field of music education;
First public presentation (May 2022). Dur-
ing Fiera Didacta, the most important school-
innovation fair in Italy, the prototype will be
publicly shown to the participants. Fiera Di-
dacta aims to encourage debate on the world
of education between institutions, associations,
and entrepreneurs. The event addresses all lev-
els of education and training: nursery school,
kindergarten, primary, lower and upper secondary
school, professional institutes, universities, scien-
tific research and professional training institutes,
and companies working with schools;
Beta test (June to September 2022). After collect-
ing the results of the alpha test and the remarks
and suggestions made during Fiera Didacta, the
prototype will be revised and brought into a small
number of schools in order to conduct a pilot
A Collaborative Digital Audio Workstation for Young Learners
Final release and deployment (from October 2022
on). The platform, in its final version, will be
made freely available to all Italian schools thanks
to the support of INDIRE.
This paper has presented the early results of the
project titled A Band in the Cloud”, conducted in
cooperation between INDIRE and LIM University
of Milan, whose aim is to foster the development
of musical and extra-musical skills in users. Based
on web technologies and a cooperative approach, the
main outcome of the project is the release of a DAW
equipped with basic but relevant functions and explic-
itly conceived for an audience of young learners.
Even if, at the moment of writing, the goals of
the project, the pedagogical strategies to adopt, and
the technical features of the platform are clear and
well established, the efficacy of the approach in a real
learning environment has still to be verified. Answer-
ing the research questions listed in Section 3.2 will be
the focus of the experimental phase that we are go-
ing to open. The roadmap towards the final release
of the platform is articulated and can bring substan-
tial modifications. The web DAW will be hopefully
ready for use in October 2022, allowing both class-
room and out-of-school music composition and per-
formance activities.
This project is the main outcome of the
10.8.4.A2-FSEPON-INDIRE2017-1 project (CUP:
B59B17000020006), funded by the Italian Ministry
of Education in the context of the National Oper-
ational Program (in Italian: Programma Operativo
Nazionale, PON) titled “For school – Learning Com-
petencies and Environments” (in Italian: Competenze
e ambienti per l’apprendimento). Such an action plan
aims to create a high-quality education and training
system. Financed by the European Structural Funds,
it has a seven-year duration, from 2014 to 2020.
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CSME 2022 - 3rd International Special Session on Computer Supported Music Education