The Best Tech Tools That I Use In My Music Education Classroom

Last week I had the opportunity to present a session for the Heartland AEA's monthly Technology in the Classroom program.  While the room was rather slim for music teachers in particular (the mornings sessions were dedicated to fine arts and PE in general) I still got a bit of a laugh when people realized what the title of the presentation meant.  I called it "No! You Can't Call It A #Hashtag!"  If you don't get the joke just think about it for a bit. :)  

I talked about a wide range of technology oriented programs, hardware, and apps that I and other music educators use in their classrooms.  Things like using video conferencing technologies such as Skype and Zoom for lessons and large group classes, recommended music education iPad apps, hardware solutions to help you make better recordings, and a bunch of other stuff as well.  The video is included below and I want to thank Heartland for making it available to everyone online.  

If you would like to get a copy of the presentation slides you can find them here.  The video is below and links to the resources discussed are included farther down the page.  

Recommended Technology Hardware For the Music Ed Classroom:

The video below starts at the beginning of the classroom tools and software portion of the presentation.

One of the many tools that I use on a daily basis in my classroom is the SmartBoard.  While I personally believe this particular technology lends itself better to the younger grades it definitely has applications in the upper levels of music ed as well.  Almost on a daily basis I am using the SmartBoard not only to display and talk about music that we are learning in class (music provided through SmartMusic) I am also using it as a tool to get students to interact with it to demonstrate their knowledge of musical concepts.  For example, I'll put a piece of music on the board and have them draw in the beats or countings for rhythms.  There are many different ways to use it, and while yes, you could do much the same thing with just a whiteboard, a projector, and some dry erase pens the SmartBoard opens up other useful applications as well.

While SmartMusic is definitely the most often used software tool in my classroom I am also a regular user of video and audio recording technology as a teaching, assessment, and evaluation tool.  Words cannot demonstrate nearly as clearly as a photo or a video of a student who is doing something physically incorrect with the embouchure, posture, or hand position on an instrument.  Likewise the audio recordings are the only real way to have a student self assess their playing, especially at the younger grades when they may not even realize that they are making a mistake.  For those reasons I simply use my phone or a class iPad to record the student then immediately play it back to them to allow them to see what is going on and what they need to fix.  

The only problem with using a phone or an iPad as a recording device is that the microphones on them usually is not the best quality.  If you are recording for more professional purposes such as to submit as an audition recording or to product a CD of your group's performance you want the best audio quality possible and this means upgrading to either an external mic accessory for your phone from a vendor such as Blue Microphones Mikey Digital or a dedicated portable digital audio recorder such as the Zoom H4n.

Recommended Music Technology Software For the Music Ed Classroom:

Some of my favorite pieces of software that I use regularly in my classes include a variety of both free and paid apps from TheMusicInteractive.com.  As many people know I am a big fan of StaffWars and now that they have both versions available for iOS I have all but replaced the old PC versions with these new portable offerings.  Other useful music ed software apps include similar apps such as NinGenius for teaching note names and fingerings as well as apps like Tonal Energy Tuner which serves as my go-to app for tuning and teaching about intonation.

Other programs that come highly recommended by other music educators include websites such as Sight Reading Factory to help produce customized sight reading exercises for instrumentalists as well as programs like Impro-Visor to help students learn and practice jazz improvisation.  There are several more apps included in the video so be sure to watch from around 34 minutes to the end of the presentation.

Video Conferencing Applications in the Music Ed Classroom:

The programs mentioned in the video are ones that the majority of music educators use for teaching private lessons and doing long distance collaboration for large group in class lessons.  Of the three main ones Zoom.us is often the best quality audio for the price point (free for up to 40 minutes of broadcast time). Skype works good too, but it compresses the audio in ways that does not accurately reproduce the sounds that most instruments make.  It's fine for the human voice, but anything with lots of harmonics or very high or low frequencies like flutes or tubas can get distorted.  Polycom's RealPresence software is the pinnacle of audio and video conferencing, but in order to get the best results you need to have special hardware as well.  They do have a free trial of their software version though so give it a shot as well if you are in the market.

Find an Online Teacher For Music Lessons or Classroom Presentations:

One of the fastest growing applications for video conferencing in the music classroom is its use for teaching private instrumental or vocal lessons at a distance.  If you have a student who needs private, professional instruction on an instrument but no such teacher is available within a reasonable geographic area taking lessons via Skype or another program is an excellent alternative.  Keep in mind though that teaching lessons to beginners via this method is usually not recommended as face to face, hands on instruction is often needed to make sure the student is holding the instrument correctly and forming a proper embouchure.  For novice students with a firm grasp on the fundamentals though it can work very well.

To find a private lesson instructor that is able and willing to teach a specific instrument over the Internet you can use website services such as LessonFace and TakeLessons to search for instructors on a specific instrument or for a specific style of music.

Just as you can find private instruction for your students via the Internet you can also connect your whole classroom with professionals, composers, performers and other professionals all over the world.  Their knowledge and presentations can be easily incorporated into your own lesson units on whatever topic you might be presenting.  Bring in a professional for a unit on African drumming, or Skype with a jazz musician from New Orleans for example to elaborate and expand on the information you are already using.  Some colleges such as the Cleaveland Institute of Music's Distance Learning division produce full length classes on a wide variety of music topics.  Other sites such as epals.com and the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration also help connect you with other professionals all over the globe that are ready and willing to interact online with your classroom.

Online Audition Sites (Audition for college placements, scholarships, etc.)

There is also the growing trend for colleges and private performing groups to use the Internet as a way to accept online audition materials for special events, honor bands, and college applications.  Sites such as Getacceptd are providing this service now to many noted organizations including the National Association for Music Education's honor ensembles.

 

 

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