When I first set out to build a music listening library for my classroom I invested about a hundred dollars of my budget. This enabled me to purchase about five whole CD's. My intent was to loan out the CD's to students and have them do specific listening assignments using them. Within six months only three of the CD's remained, the rest having been lost in the deep, dark recesses of student lockers and backpacks.
Now it appears that there might just be a better way. Napster recently made almost all of their music available to listen to for free. Not just a thirty second segment like with most music sites, but the entire piece of music. Not only that, but now all of these tracks are available directly through a web browser rather than having to download and install a piece of software. What does that mean for music educators? Consider the possibilities...
Instead of giving a student an expensive and fragile CD to take home to do a listening assignment you can create a web page with links pointing to the tracks that you want them to listen to. The student goes home, gets on his computer, goes to your school web site and clicks on the links. On the same page you could even put a copy of the assignment sheet (just in case he lost it coming home). Unlike with a CD, you can select any track from any album in Napster's library, and it won't cost you or the school one dime.
In your jazz classroom you want to play for students some real classic jazz pieces. You go to Napster and find "Kind of Blue ," by Miles Davis and in a few seconds you are providing your classroom with an educational experience that previously you would have had to pay a lot of money for. Don't like Miles? Try Dizzy ! Don't want Dizzy? Go try Louis and Ella!
Got a clarinetist that you want to inspire? Have her listen to "Rhapsody in Blue." Doing an arrangement of Nussun Dorma by Puccini? Why not listen to it as sung by the Three Tenors ? I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Napster's library does not have everything in it that you could possibly want to use, but it has a lot more than you have on your shelf at school!
What's the catch? There are two downsides to this service. First, you can only listen in a very low-fidelity streaming format and second, you can only listen to the same track five times before you have to pay ninety-nine cents to buy it (buying it allows you to download the full hi-fi version in a format that you can then burn to a CD). Music educators might also consider a subscription to the service. Subscribing allows you to listen to hi-fi streams any time you want to and depending on the subscription you can download the tunes into your MP3 player to take with you.
There was a time that Napster was a dirty word. Today, with the introduction of this new free play service, Napster should be welcomed into our school's with open arms.