If you are familiar with old music education software titles such as Music Ace or MIBAC then you probably also have fond memories of taking your music classes down to a computer lab and having them boot up the machines, only to then battle with the local network or file storage that seemed to always be losing the student’s submitted work. As technology has progressed over the years many schools have started to do away with dedicated computer labs entirely in favor of one to one computing. Music teachers can also benefit from this shift in focus by doing away with these old CD based software tools and instead move traditionally lab based projects and activities into the cloud.
With the help of online, cloud based apps dozens of browser based music programs are now available to choose from, all with the convenience of being able to run on almost any web enabled device from PC’s, Macs, and Chromebooks to most tablets and smartphones. For most teachers this can lead to a whole lot less busy work while also providing a more comprehensive and open ended learning experience for the students.
What is a cloud based music lab?
A lab in this context means online music education apps that allow a teacher to create a class, give assignments to that class, and collect their end projects in one centralized online repository. The apps provide the teacher with the ability to seamlessly aggregate and assess student work and other assignments, organizing them in a gradebook style format. Quite often these gradebook portions of the apps are known as learning management systems (LMS) and will be referred to as such later on in the article. An example of how an LMS is used would be where a student might log into their Soundation.com or Noteflight.com account, see the assignment given by their teacher, and use that app to create a 16 or 32 bar composition. When they are done they save the composition back to the LMS, instantly allowing the teacher to see it or to share it with others in the class. This is the most basic form of LMS system, and many online music education apps now have them built in. While simply having these gradebook style tools is helpful where this can become truly powerful is when these apps are connected together in a suite, allowing the teacher to pick and choose from a variety of applications without having to change to a different service.
By far the most powerful of these online systems currently is the MusicFirst Suite. Available within the suite is a collection of over a dozen different music education apps encompassing general music topics, band, choir and orchestra related apps, aural training, music theory, and various music creation options, all of which are integrated into their own LMS, the MusicFirst Online Classroom. Unlike stand-alone programs, a teacher using the MusicFirst Suite can assign and collect student work from any of the connected apps all in one convenient place making grading, archiving, and general record keeping for the class much less of a hassle.
The Perks of Using Online Music Education Suites
“All of my students have an account on MusicFirst,” says Marianne White, Band Director at Bernard Harris Middle School, San Antonio TX and webmaster of thatflippingbanddirector.com. “It allows me to create and collect assignments (even recorded playing assignments) all in one place. I use PracticeFirst which is a great practice tool for students that, in a nutshell, gives basic feedback about pitch and rhythm, has a flexible metronome, will playback music for students to listen to before they play, and allows you to upload your own exercises or choose an exercise from their library.”
“Sight Reading Factory is another of the MusicFirst apps that I use every single day in class or in online assignments. It allows me to set custom parameters that include rhythms, keys, and time signatures. I can choose to have students do a rhythm-only exercise to reinforce rhythms or have them do a melodic exercise in parts (for in band class) or in unison. Once I set the parameters, it will generate a sight reading exercise for my students. I use this in class on our projector with beginner and advanced band classes to sight read during class and also give students a weekly individual sight reading assignment to complete at home. MusicFirst also comes with an integrated quiz creator, recorder app, classroom discussion area, and ways to embed videos or website URL’s and request a student response. These tools make it invaluable and completely useful for the music classroom.“
As mentioned before though, part of the real power and convenience comes from the integrated LMS system. White continues, “I love the assignment system in MusicFirst that pushes assignments to students in each class. I can assign things to groups of students (sections, small ensembles) or to an entire class. When students turn assignments in online, within the assignment I can quickly see who has and has not completed their work. This is very helpful and allows me to keep all of my instructional content in one easy to access place for my students. Due to the grading software that my district uses I keep my grades there instead of updating them constantly in the MusicFirst grade book, but MusicFirst does allow you to export grades in a way that would potentially upload to other grading programs.”
Standing apart from the MusicFirst offerings are general use LMS systems such as Google Classroom and Microsoft Classroom. Many districts across the country already make use of Google Apps For Education or Office 365 Education, providing email and other services both to students and teachers. The Classroom parts of these services however provide the features of a full blown LMS as well. Teachers can create a class for their group, give out assignments using any other online or offline tools that they wish, and then have the students submit their work back to Classroom electronically. While giving and receiving assignments using this method requires a little more work than using something like MusicFirst, it has the significant benefit of keeping all of the materials in house and under the school district’s control rather than leaving the student’s assessments and other materials on a remote server.
Online music education apps are poised now more than ever to change the way you think about computer based instruction and enrichment activities both in and out of the classroom. Most of the apps mentioned in this article have free demos to allow you to check them out and analyze their potential for use in your classroom. Take a few of them for a spin and see what new educational experiences you can dream up for your own students.
Cloud Based Music Education Apps
*Denotes apps available in the MusicFirst Suite
The examples given below do not include pricing information due to the rather complicated pricing systems that are used by the various companies. In some cases pricing is available per teacher, but the pricing for most cloud based apps is determined based on the number of students using the software and the features those students will be allowed to access. In general prices for cloud based apps range from $2-3 dollars per seat per year up to $10 per seat per year. Most subscription terms provide access to the app for one year.
Music Notation Systems
A full featured and fairly robust online music notation editor with sharing and collaboration capabilities. Also provides a free version for evaluation use.
A collaborative music notation program that also allows for offline editing and is fully integrated into Google Classroom. Demo version available.
Music Creation Systems
An online music studio similar to GarageBand that allows for recording from a mic as well as using hundreds of provided loops and sounds to allow students to create their own unique compositions quickly and easily.
Part tutorial, part music creation platform, HookTheory makes learning chord progressions and creating music with them much simpler and easy to understand. Includes ear training and other useful tools as well.
Music Theory and Training Apps
The popular elementary general music theory training program for younger students now available online via MusicFirst.
The classic ear training (Auralia) and music theory (Musition) training tools now available either as locally installed or online only as a part of the MusicFirst online classroom.
Music Practice Apps
SmartMusic is now available as a browser based cross platform online version or in the traditional classic version which is installed locally on a PC or Mac. Both versions offer an LMS for grading and assignments and the largest library of premade musical titles available.
A strong, and fast improving online practice system that integrates within the MusicFirst ecosystem. Students can practice, record, and submit playing assignments from anywhere in the world through a mobile or desktop web browser.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine and is reposted here by the original author.