Educators inevitably face the age-old problem; how do you get kids to pay attention in class for long periods of time? Music educators face still a greater problem; how do you get kids to pay attention in class for long periods of time when they have musical instruments in their hands?
Integrating technology into the classroom or studio can combat distractions and restlessness. Today there are tools and programs that are designed to help students learn music. When a traditional lecture isn’t working, frame the information in a new way to produce better understanding and spark motivation.
I spoke to music ed tech experts to get their favorite apps and resources. Here are their recommendations to help enhance your classroom learning.
Teaching kids to read music in a group setting can be a challenge. While some kids understand basic concepts right away, others will plod along in a fog of confusion. Their comprehension is significantly influenced by age.
For younger kids, a great starting point is Flashnote Derby, which introduces the concept of reading notes. In the game, players get a horse. Their horse races toward the finish line, advancing when a player correctly identifies a note. Kids can practice with just a few notes, then work their way up to mastering the full staff in treble, bass, alto and tenor clefs. The Music Flash Class app is similar, but can be used by all ages. It is a customised flashcard application developed by a professional piano teacher. You can drill in letter names, solfège and piano keyboard.
Scales are critical for understanding basic music theory, no matter the instrument. However, they’re generally not a student’s favorite part of music study. In fact, most people find scales a very boring, necessary evil.
To make scales more fun, you can utilise the MusiClock scale trainer and improv tool. This app allows you to jam over backing tracks with scale charts for piano and guitar. It will inform you what scales sound good according to various backing tracks. Students can get a great feel for improvisation. The Ear Trainer app also contains hundreds of exercises designed to assist with scales, chord progression, chord inversions and relative pitch. The app contains a visual keyboard so students understand the notes being played. This app might not be suitable for very young beginners.
To encourage budding songwriters, there are several apps and websites that introduce the theory of composition. Composition can be challenging, since it is almost never fully mastered by even the most advanced musicians.
The app SoundPrism is free, and can serve as a very basic introduction to composition. It requires no background knowledge of music, but it allows even young children to start to visualise pitch, melody, tone and chord patterns. Equally easy to use, the Dropophone app allows users to compose music based on the sounds of raindrops representing different notes. Depending on a user’s level of understanding, they can create more complex chords and rhythms. For more advanced users, apps like Musical Notepad and Symphony Pro allow users to craft songs and play them back.
For more advanced composers who have an understanding of musical theory, composition and note editors are crucial. Your students can compose, edit, and play scores, sometimes even using real audio samples from orchestras and bands.
Notion gives users an entire music creation suite. Using your finger or a stylus, users can quickly write music and automatically convert it into digital notation form. Notion allows syncing across multiple devices too. MuseScore is also a favorite of teachers and composers for musical creation and editing. Their musical notation software helps users create sheet music, and has audio playback capacity. This software is also compatible with a desktop computer.
Scanning and Processing
Once sheet music exists, there’s a lot that you can do with it. Teachers and students may want to hear automatic playback, or convert digitised sheet music from a pdf into an editable format. To complement composition apps, there are scanning and processing apps.
Sheet Music Scanner can turn a PDF or a photo into a MusicXML or MIDI file, which can then be used in all sorts of ways. The app also supports separate exports for each voice within a composition, which is useful for choir directors. Sheet Music Scanner easily feeds into other composer apps, and can serve to make any sheet music more playable and editable.
One of the most exciting parts of learning music is being able to play with others. However, it might not always be convenient to get a band together. Also, adjusting gradually to playing with accompaniment can help with stage fright and pre-performance anxiety.
Garage Band is a classic tool that has helped to launch the careers of many budding musicians, composers and djs. With its recording studio and collection of instrument sounds, you can play along with a band or orchestra by filling in their parts. Also, students can experiment with sound loops and stompbox effects. Similarly, iRealPro can simulate the sounds of a live band to accompany students’ practice. You can also collect chord charts from your favourite songs. If a student wants to be the accompaniment, he or she can use Chordify. Chordify plays videos from YouTube and breaks down the chords in real time. It’s amazing.
Looking for another app that teachers and students alike find useful? Sheet Music Scanner scans sheet music using a phone or tablet’s camera and plays it right back. It’s easy-to-use. Just snap a picture, choose the instrument, pick the speed and enjoy! Also supports import from PDFs and export to audio, MusicXML, and MIDI files.