Low Budget Tech Options For Music Education

Finding ways to stretch your budget in a music classroom is always important and even more so when trying to purchase high tech electronics, software, and other materials.  This article provides an updated list of dozens of different low cost or free alternatives to expensive music education products.  It includes such categories as music notation software, drill design software, special needs hardware, and many more.





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 The various tools found in these articles are not ranked in any particular order.  The comments made regarding the products are also not intended to be official reviews.  For many of the titles the links will take you to pages here at MusicEdMagic where the official review of the software or hardware product is provided.  For those items without a dedicated review on this site the link will take you to the manufacturer's site or to an Amazon description page.

If you prefer a program that is not provided in these lists please feel free to add a comment about it and it may be added in the future.


Special Needs and Adaptive Instruction Hardware


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   Soundbeam $3000+

The Soundbeam allows mobility impaired students as well as others to create music by moving their arms,legs, or body.

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   The Beamz  $200

The Beamz is an electronic instrument that triggers different sounds when the user breaks one of several different laser beams with their hands or other object.

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  The Magic Flute  (Price unknown)

The Magic Flute is an electronic instrument and MIDI controller that can be used by musicians with special needs.  Moving the head up and down changes pitch, blowing into the mouthpiece determines velocity.

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   The Jamboxx  (Price unknown)

A MIDI controller similar to the Magic Flute but more like a harmonica where moving the head from left to right as well as blowing or inhaling control the pitch and attack of notes.


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  Leap Motion  ($80)

A gesture based motion controller that can be used as an alternative input device.


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   Kinectar  FREE plus $80 hardware

The Kinectar Project is a free software program that works together with an XBox 360 Kinect sensor (connected to a PC) to interpret the user's movements and uses them to control MIDI sounds or other events.

windows icon   Adaptive Use Musical Instruments software FREE

Trigger sounds with movement as visualized by a standard webcam

windows icon  GOODFEEL $1395

Translates printed music or MusicXML files into braille

windows icon   FreeDots  FREE

Open source alternative for translating MusicXML into braille

windows icon    Lime Lighter $3995

Computer system that magnifies music and lets users scroll through the score using a pedal, also allows annotation



iPad to Display Software and Hardware

Web Icon   AppleTV   $99

Apple's digital media and streaming box includes AirPlay, allowing you to wirelessly mirror your iOS device's screen on any HDMI connected monitor.

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    AirServer  $15

Use the AirServer software to wirelessly beam your iPad's screen to your computer for output to a monitor or projector.  No Apple TV required.

mac icon   Reflection $15-$50

A Mac only wireless solution that seems to have better success than AirServer in some cases.



Digital Audio Recorders

For complete reviews and a detailed comparison chart of over a dozen different digital audio recorders please visit our Digital Audio Recorder Buyers Guide page here at MusicEdMagic.  You may also wish to check out:

iPad iconiPhone with Mikey Digital $99

For those that already own an iPhone or iPad the Blue Microphone's Mikey Digital is a high end accessory mic that far outperforms the mic built in to the device.




Music Theory Software


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   Essentials of Music Theory   $30   

The classic music theory textbook and companion software program published by Alfred


windows iconmac icon    Groovy Music  $69

One of a series of three titles from Sibelius/Avid designed to teach basic music theory concepts in a fun, entertaining way.


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    Staff Wars 2    FREE

An instrument fingering practice program that listens to the student play notes as they float across the screen.


windows iconmac iconlinux icon  Jalmus   FREE

A free music theory tutorial and practice application available in multiple languages.



Ear Training and Sight Reading Software


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   Auralia Ear Training  $99

One of the more popular commercial ear training software programs from Avid/Sibelius


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   EarMaster Pro $60

A solid ear training program with classroom/lab assessment capabilities


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  GNU Solfege   FREE

A simple but free, open source ear training program that is available on all platforms


 Web Icon     Sight Reading Factory   $29.99/year

An online service that creates custom sightreading exercises and tests for all instruments, voice types, key signatures, and custom note ranges.  Sheet music can be printed as needed.


Accompaniment Software


windows iconmac icon  SmartMusic  Annual Subscription

The well known and respected interactive accompaniment and performance assessment system from MakeMusic.

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  Band In A Box  $99

One of the oldest accompaniment programs around.  Type in the name of your chords, choose a style, and hit play.

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  Impro-Visor  FREE

A free accompaniment system similar in form and function to Band-In-A-Box but with lots of added features to help students learn improviational skills.

Web Icon   Community-Band FREE

A free, web based cross between SmartMusic and Guitar Hero.  Limited number of songs but still very useful.

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   Aria Maestosa  FREE

A free, open source MIDI track editor.



Music Notation Software


windows iconmac icon   Finale  $600

One of the most popular music notation programs available.  Also allows users to create SmartMusic accompaniments for use in class or for home practice.


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   Sibelius  $599

Now owned by Avid, Sibelius continues to be a solid, robust, professional music notation program.


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    Notion  $129

Not as well known in the music education community but still a beautiful, well written music notation and accompaniment system in one.


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   Maestro Composer  $99

An up and coming independent music notation program with most of the same features as Finale and Sibelius.  Also has a version available that integrates with MS Word. 


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  MuseScore  FREE

A free, highly advanced music notation editor that shows great promise and is the current top choice for free music writing software.


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  Finale Notepad 2012  FREE

A free version of MakeMusic's Finale 2012 but with fewer features.  Great for student use and basic arrangements.


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  PyWare Music Writer Touch  $75 

A music notation program designed specifically for use on Interactive Whiteboards (IWB's).  Best used with a touch interface.


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  Crescendo  FREE

A free, bare bones music editor that works well with touch based computers and Interactive Whiteboards.


Web Icon    Noteflight  FREE

A free, online music notation editor with sharing and collaboration features.  A subscription adds additional features and more storage space.


iPad icon NotateMe  $26

Music notation handwriting recognition on the iPad.  Future updates will include audio transcription as well as photo scanning and transcription of music notation. 


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    Musink  FREE



A new, free entry into the music notation arena.  Written by a disabled musician from New Zealand.

Web Icon   Scorio  FREE

Another free, online music notation program with an accompaning iPad app.

iPad icon   Notion $10

An iPad based music notation editor that most agree is the best on the platform.


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 TuxGuitar  FREE

A free, open source guitar tab editor.


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 Denemo with Lilypond  FREE

Denemo is a graphical front end to the text based Lilypond music notation format.  Both are open source and free.



Marching Band Drill Design Software


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    EnVision  $449

One of the big names in drill design, with very high end 3D animation and attention to detail.


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    PyWare 3D Java  $349 and up

One of the more popular drill writing tools out there with what some consider to be the best 3D rendering engine.  Check out their video demo to see an example.


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    VDrill Pro  $449

Another marching drill software that reminds me a lot of the old Advantage Showware interface.  


windows icon    Field Artist   $160

A Windows only marching band drill design tool with a much more reasonable price tag.  Offers many of the same features of the major brands.


Web Icon     Micromarching   FREE

On online, web browser based marching band drill design application.  Create your own simple animations and share them publicly with others.



Digital Audio Workstation and Recording Software


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     ProTools  $299

The Cadillac of digital audio workstation tools to which all others are compared.  


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     GarageBand  FREE w/Mac

If you own a Mac you probably already own GarageBand.  If not you can purchase it with the iLife suite of programs or individually for $15 through the app store.


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 Studio One Free    FREE

A free version of the popular Studio One DAW program from PreSonus.

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  Linux Multimedia Studio  FREE

LMMS is a very popular, free digital audio workstation program that runs on all three major platforms.  Downsides include lack of good documentation and forum only support.


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    Ardour   FREE

A free Mac only digital audio workstation program for those who do not like GarageBand or who desire more customization.



Audio Editing Software


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    Adobe Audition   $349

The high end digital audio editing and sequencing program from Adobe.  Expensive but top notch.


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    SongSurgeon    $49

An audio editor with a simple interface and some of the best quality time shifting capabilities available.  If you need to change the speed or pitch of a song this is the one to use.


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   Audacity   FREE

Probably the best known freeware audio editor, Audacity is one software program you should keep around for quick and easy audio editing tasks.



Music Library and Listening Software

 All of the web sites and tools listed below provide free or subscription plans that allow you to access and download music for personal or classroom use.  Spotify and Grooveshark are immense libraries of music that can be searched to find almost any track you need.  Google Play and Amazon Cloud Drive are primarily music storage and shopping sites.  You can upload your own tracks to their service and access them anywhere in the world plus purchase new tracks that you legally own and can download DRM free.  The Free Music Archive is a collection of hundreds of public domain MP3 files sorted into genres.


 Music Listening and Discovery Sites

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    Spotify   FREE

Arguably the largest of all of the music sharing services.  Spotify streams decent quaity audio to your Internet connected device.  You can create playlists and share those playlists with others.  Subscription plans add higher quality audio and unlimited mobile device access.


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    Grooveshark   FREE

Similar in form and function to Spotify but with a slightly smaller library.


Online Music Storage and Shopping Sites

Web Icon  Google Play   FREE

An online music storage service with free audio streaming.  Upload all of your music to the service then listen anywhere in the world.  An easy to use sync program keeps the online files updated to match your local collection.


Web Icon  Amazon Cloud Player   FREE

A free (or subscription based) music storage and streaming service.  Does not allow as many free tracks to be stored as Google Play and works primarily through a web based interface.


Public Domain and Custom Collections


Web Icon  The Free Music Archive   FREE

A large collection of high quality, free MP3 downloads in many different genres.  Not the biggest collection out there but still a good place to look.


Web Icon MusOpen.Org  FREE and Paid

A large and growing collection of recorded classical music pieces performed by professional orchestras as featured in this article.  They are currently trying to raise money to record all 240+ of Chopin's works.


Web Icon  Naxxos Music Library  

The largest collection of classical music available on the web.  The Naxxos music library is used by collegiate music schools as well as secondary schools.  Subscriptions are yearly and can be customized to the institution's needs.  Personal accounts are also available.



Sheet Music Downloads

For a specialized search engine for finding free concert band sheet music scores and parts please try this CUSTOM SHEET MUSIC SEARCH ENGINE

Web Icon   Music For The Nation  FREE

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   PDFBandMusic.com FREE and Paid

Web Icon   BandMusicPDF.ORG  FREE

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   Internet Music Score Library Project  FREE

Web Icon   Open Music Scores  FREE

Web Icon   Brass Chamber Music  FREE  

 Web Icon  Great big list of free sheet music sites at IMSLP  FREE

Web Icon  The Mutopia Project  FREE



Video Editing Software


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     Adobe Premiere  http://www.adobe.com/premierepro $800

The flagship of all video editing tools, used by professionals and amateurs alike.  


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    Adobe Premiere Elements  http://www.adobe.com/premiereelements $85

Adobe's stripped down version of its pro line video editing software.  Watch for special sales which occasionally bundle both Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements together for under $100.


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     Lightworks (W) http://www.lwks.com/  FREE

A free video editing tool created by professional movie makers.  It has been used to edit major motion pictures including Hugo and The King's Speech.  Pro version upgrade adds additional features.


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     Windows Live MovieMaker  FREE

A free video editor that is available free for users of Windows Live.  Free registration required.


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     Ezvid (W) - http://www.ezvid.com FREE

An easy to use video editor with built in screen capture tools.  Record your computer screen to create customized software tutorials for use in class or to upload to YouTube.


Music Office Organization and Database Services

Web Icon

      Charms Office Assistant $300/year - $795/ 3 years

Includes access to student info, financial management, text messaging, phone messaging, online recording studio for submitting assignments, parent communications hub, interactive calendar, mobile apps, uniform and music checkout, etc.

Web Icon     My Music Office  $179/year - $899 lifetime

Includes access to student info, music library, instrument inventory, student financial accounts, uniforms, lockers, etc.


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     WinBand and WinChoir  $199 each

PC only database system that lets you track and organize students, uniforms, finances, accounts, attendance, allows for bar coding of equipment, much more.


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   Music Director Pro  $150/year

A music program organization system based on FileMaker Pro. 



Alternatives for Performance Equipment and Instruments

iPad icon PercussionSS (iOS) -  $13.99

An iPad app with realistic sounding replicas of various pitched percussion instruments including Xylophone, Marimba, Glockspiel, Vibes, Tubular Chimes, and Wind Chimes.  Plug it into a sound system and use as a substitute for full size, expensive instruments.   PercussionSS2 sells seperately and includes Lithophone, Kalimba, Crotales, Agogo Bells, Metal Plates, and Water Glasses.















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