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.
- Music Theory Software
- Ear Training and Sight Reading Software
- Accompaniment Software
- Music Notation Software
- Marching Band Drill Design Software
- Digital Audio Workstation and Recording Software
- Audio Editing Software
- Music Library and Listening Software
- Sheet Music Downloads
- Video Editing Software
- Music Office Organization and Database Services
- Alternatives for Performance Equipment and Instruments
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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.
1.1. Special Needs and Adaptive Instruction Hardware
The Soundbeam allows mobility impaired students as well as others to create music by moving their arms,legs, or body.
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.
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.
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.
Leap Motion ($80)
A gesture based motion controller that can be used as an alternative input device.
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.
Trigger sounds with movement as visualized by a standard webcam
Translates printed music or MusicXML files into braille
Open source alternative for translating MusicXML into braille
Lime Lighter $3995
Computer system that magnifies music and lets users scroll through the score using a pedal, also allows annotation
1.2. iPad to Display Software and Hardware
Apple's digital media and streaming box includes AirPlay, allowing you to wirelessly mirror your iOS device's screen on any HDMI connected monitor.
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.
A Mac only wireless solution that seems to have better success than AirServer in some cases.
1.3. 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:
iPhone 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.
2.1. Music Theory Software
The classic music theory textbook and companion software program published by Alfred
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.
Staff Wars 2 FREE
An instrument fingering practice program that listens to the student play notes as they float across the screen.
A free music theory tutorial and practice application available in multiple languages.
2.2. Ear Training and Sight Reading Software
One of the more popular commercial ear training software programs from Avid/Sibelius
EarMaster Pro $60
A solid ear training program with classroom/lab assessment capabilities
GNU Solfege FREE
A simple but free, open source ear training program that is available on all platforms
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.
2.3. Accompaniment Software
SmartMusic Annual Subscription
The well known and respected interactive accompaniment and performance assessment system from MakeMusic.
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.
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.
A free, web based cross between SmartMusic and Guitar Hero. Limited number of songs but still very useful.
Aria Maestosa FREE
A free, open source MIDI track editor.
2.4. Music Notation Software
One of the most popular music notation programs available. Also allows users to create SmartMusic accompaniments for use in class or for home practice.
Now owned by Avid, Sibelius continues to be a solid, robust, professional music notation program.
Not as well known in the music education community but still a beautiful, well written music notation and accompaniment system in one.
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.
A free, highly advanced music notation editor that shows great promise and is the current top choice for free music writing software.
Finale Notepad 2012 FREE
A free version of MakeMusic's Finale 2012 but with fewer features. Great for student use and basic arrangements.
A music notation program designed specifically for use on Interactive Whiteboards (IWB's). Best used with a touch interface.
A free, bare bones music editor that works well with touch based computers and Interactive Whiteboards.
A free, online music notation editor with sharing and collaboration features. A subscription adds additional features and more storage space.
Music notation handwriting recognition on the iPad. Future updates will include audio transcription as well as photo scanning and transcription of music notation.
A new, free entry into the music notation arena. Written by a disabled musician from New Zealand.
Another free, online music notation program with an accompaning iPad app.
An iPad based music notation editor that most agree is the best on the platform.
A free, open source guitar tab editor.
Denemo with Lilypond FREE
Denemo is a graphical front end to the text based Lilypond music notation format. Both are open source and free.
2.5. Marching Band Drill Design Software
One of the big names in drill design, with very high end 3D animation and attention to detail.
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.
VDrill Pro $449
Another marching drill software that reminds me a lot of the old Advantage Showware interface.
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.
On online, web browser based marching band drill design application. Create your own simple animations and share them publicly with others.
2.6. Digital Audio Workstation and Recording Software
The Cadillac of digital audio workstation tools to which all others are compared.
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.
Studio One Free FREE
A free version of the popular Studio One DAW program from PreSonus.
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.
A free Mac only digital audio workstation program for those who do not like GarageBand or who desire more customization.
2.7. Audio Editing Software
Adobe Audition $349
The high end digital audio editing and sequencing program from Adobe. Expensive but top notch.
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.
Probably the best known freeware audio editor, Audacity is one software program you should keep around for quick and easy audio editing tasks.
2.8. 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.
2.8.1. Music Listening and Discovery Sites
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.
Similar in form and function to Spotify but with a slightly smaller library.
2.8.2. Online Music Storage and Shopping Sites
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.
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.
2.8.3. Public Domain and Custom Collections
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.
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.
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.
2.9. 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
Music For The Nation FREE
PDFBandMusic.com FREE and Paid
Open Music Scores FREE
Brass Chamber Music FREE
The Mutopia Project FREE
2.10. Video Editing Software
Adobe Premiere http://www.adobe.com/premierepro $800
The flagship of all video editing tools, used by professionals and amateurs alike.
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.
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.
A free video editor that is available free for users of Windows Live. Free registration required.
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.
3. Music Office Organization and Database Services
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.
My Music Office $179/year - $899 lifetime
Includes access to student info, music library, instrument inventory, student financial accounts, uniforms, lockers, etc.
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.
Music Director Pro $150/year
A music program organization system based on FileMaker Pro.
4. Alternatives for Performance Equipment and Instruments
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.