Why are you scared of music technology? Part Two

Some people are cat people and some are dog people. Me? I'm a dog person. I grew up with dogs and have had a dog, or dogs, in my home for most of my life. I don't have anything against cats, but I love how a dog seems to believe that they are another person in the house while cats seem to prefer to keep their feline identities distinct from their human cohabitants. We currently have a yellow lab, Buddy, and a chocolate lab, Finley, in our home. Buddy is our old man at nine years old, while Finley is a rambunctious one and a half. Buddy knows how to do all of the basic dog tricks: sit, shake, lay down, speak, but that is as far as Buddy's training for treats ever went. Finley has learned how to do all of those tricks now and I was attempting to add another to his repertoire: roll over. Finley loves to have his belly rubbed. Buddy, not so much. So, I thought Finley would be a natural for this one. I was dutifully attempting to get Finley to learn the trick. I had him sit, then lay down. Now I just had to get him to roll over. I had his treat and was about 10 minutes into trying to get him to do it to no avail. Buddy had been laying in his dog bed watching us go at it for awhile when I looked at Finley and said, "no roll over, no treat." Then an amazing thing happened. Buddy got up from his bed, took a long stretch and then calmly walked over to where we were, laid down and rolled over. He got up and looked at me as if to say, "Alright, hand it over. That's how you do it kid!" Since then Buddy has not once done that trick again. I have tried, but he just looks at me as if to say, "Come on Pop, we've known each other long enough now. Let's not go through this."

I think that is how many of us are with technology. Particularly those of us who have been around awhile. It's not that we can't learn the new technology, it's that we have been doing this for awhile and it's worked pretty good so far so why go through the trouble of learning new tricks. I've felt the same way myself before jumping on the technology bandwagon. When I was going through my transition, so to speak, into a music tech evangelist I had an epiphany one day. I remembered one of my "go to" pep talks for my band booster parents. Whenever we were struggling with some decision or challenge I would say to them, "Remember, everything that we do, we do for the students. If we are (fill in the blank) to help the students learn and succeed, then we are doing the right thing." I thought about that and how many times I had said that to a parent or group of parents, but I don't know that I had said that to myself often enough. That was a bit of a break through moment for me. Admittedly I did not go into the classroom the next day with an all new digital approach to instruction and learning, but it was a first step to being more open minded about how technology might help my students learn and become more successful. I had to stop thinking about technology from my own perspective, and start thinking about technology from the students' perspectives.

Back in my high school band directing days I would always have students work in pairs early in the year to complete tuning charts. I had a few practice rooms where I had a tuner setup and students would go in pairs. One students would tune their instrument to their tuning pitch, then play through scales in half notes while the other student recorded which notes were sharp and flat. Students were encouraged to come in before or after school when they could find time to practice with one of the classroom tuners to learn the pitch tendencies on their instruments and how to adjust. I remember a colleague who had their booster club buy a set of those index card sized tuners for everyone to have in rehearsal. They were cheap, but cheap times 60-70 students isn't cheap any more! But technology has changed that. The last few years that I was teaching band, before moving to music tech full time, I always required that my students had their cell phones on their music stand with a tuner app turned on. Why not!?!

I enjoy telling my students about getting my first tuner when I was in middle school. I remember having to save up my allowance for several weeks and then begging my mom to drive me downtown to the music store so I could buy a tuner. I was so excited and knew that my band director would be proud. I couldn't wait to get home to pull out my saxophone and start using it. Today all my students had to do was whip out their cell phones, go to the app store and search Free Tuner where they would find tons of free tuners that they could download in a matter of seconds onto their phones. They didn't have to even get up out of their chairs! Even though I may be a little resentful of the convenience of it compared to when I got my first tuner, technology is certainly a wonderful thing!
Today's students are part of a digital generation. These students were born into a world of iPads, Androids and other digital media. While technology may still be a bit uncomfortable for many of us, it comes naturally to these students and can be a highly effective way to get and keep them engaged in learning. Just like my dogs Buddy and Finn, its not that us old dogs can't learn new tricks, sometimes we just need a new dog to show us the way!

I will close this article with a list of some ideas to start incorporating technology into your classroom:

  • Have students download a tuner and metronome app on their phones
  • Use Spotify to create a listening list for each instrument in the class. Have students subscribe to the list to listen to professional performances of their instrument.
  • Many class method books now offer digital formats with digital practice tools for students to use (Essential Elements, Standard of Excellence, Sound Innovations, etc.)
  • Google Classroom and other learning management systems (LMS) allow for integration of assignments, grade books, student portfolios, calendars, etc. for making assignments, assessments, and classroom organization.
  • Have students record scale assignments with soundtrap.com. They can use the cloud based DAW to create a multi-track accompaniment to record their scales to.
  • Create a twitter account for your class to send out important announcements and dates to students and parents.
  • Create a virtual library of youtube videos that students can use to listen and watch performances or other virtual clinics or lessons about their instruments.
  • Create your own instrument assembly and care videos for your beginning instrumental students to use as a reference at home. These types of videos are also great to share with parents so they can see what you are teaching in class.
  • Use noteflight.com to create customized parts and scores for students. The app has a great annotation tool to add performance notes about alternate fingerings, pitch tendencies, or any other information you want to include. Share the parts online.
These are just a few examples. Your imagination is limit!



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