MET:Music Software As a Tool in the Classroom

From UBC Wiki

This wiki entry article will be a brief overview of some of the possible uses of music software as a tool in the classroom. Because of the scope of this wikipage it is not feasible to provide detailed information or lessons on the use of every program or technology mentioned on this page. Below you will find sections for both educators and students, and multiple areas of focus for music software. In many countries, states, or provinces, music teachers are required to include technology in their music curriculum. The British Columbia Curriculm Guide contains the requirements for studying rhythm and melody, music history, and modern music, as well as the requirement for students to create their own rhythms and melodies. Music Software is a powerful tool for educators to use in their instruction, and for students to use as an aid to learning and becoming better musicians.

A screenshot of the Apple program GarageBand.

Evolution of Music Software (and Hardware)

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Illiac mainframe, 1957, Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson programmed the computer to write music using a set of mathematical algorhythms.

Electronic Music

Some of the earliest usage of modern technology and music can be found in the work of Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson, who programmed a mainframe computer “ILLIAC” to actually write music, using a set of mathematical algorithms(Griffeth, Ed, 1986)(Center, 2012). The 1957 “Illiac Suite” (Quartet #4 for Strings) is the first piece of music composed by a computer (Center, 2012). In the late 1960's and early 1970's the Moog synthesizer, the creation of Robert Moog, was introduced. By the late 1970's this instrument had made its way into homes and classrooms (University of N.C., Asheville, 2011).

MIDI - Musical Instrument Digital Interface - a digital communication system between computer components and accessories.

MIDI Technology

Today, many music classrooms have a digital music station for students to use and explore, featuring sequencers, recording software, and MIDI technology. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a computerized communication between different components of digital music technology. The system was designed in the early 1980's by Dave Smith, in an effort to make different technologies and manufacturers products able to communicate with each other, and was accepted as the industry standard in 1983 (Wikipedia, MIDI, 2012). Electronic, or digital keyboards are commonplace in today’s music classroom, as both a serious instrument to play in ensembles, and a learning tool to understand recording technology. As a direct result of their affordability, portability, and durability, these instruments have made their way into many homes and classrooms (Wikipedia, Electronic Keyboards, 2011). With newer computers and music programmes, including GarageBand, a computer lab can be converted into a music lab. (see section 2 - "In the Computer Lab" below)

In the Computer Lab

Music Labs

Any computer lab could be turned into a music lab with the addition of just a few pieces of equipment and software. Barbara Freedman, a music educator from Greenwich, CT, has written a “how-to” article that does not rely on a huge influx of capital, but rather headphones and cables for every computer (Freedman, 2010).


One program that students love working with is GarageBand. This is the entry level music program from Apple that come pre-installed on the hard drive when you buy an Apple computer. According to Apple, GarageBand is “your own recording studio. If you want to learn to play an instrument, write music, or record a song, GarageBand has everything you need.” (Apple, 2011). Not only is it on Mac computers, but it can be used on iPads, iPhones, and iPods as well. The possibilities for students and teachers with this creative software are limitless. On the iPad for example, students can play virtual drums, virtual piano, guitar and bass, loop and mix tracks, record their voices, and much more. Databanks with prerecorded sounds, sound effects, and a great interface to assemble your creation make this a piece of software that students will work with during class, but also enjoy on their off-time. The ability to put it on a portable device makes this a great tool for musicians and students to use anywhere.

In the Classroom


Online games exist for many different subject areas. There are many sites that feature exclusively music-related games. This could be an interesting way to reinforce learning, or allow kids to take a break, or reward the class, or set up a station in the class that students can cycle through. These games offer students the fun of a game without the pressure of an assignment. While some students may think they are wasting time, they are indeed learning and moving forward. Some of the many sites for these games include:

According to Semiotic Domains: Is Playing Video Games a “Waste of Time”? (Gee, 2003), if learning is to be active, the learner must “understand and operate within the internal and external design grammars of the semiotic domain he or she is learning.”(p.31). In order to maximize learning and minimize wasting time, the students should be offered the chance to play good games. These would be games that “are crafted in ways that encourage and facilitate active and critical learning and thinking” (p.38). It is not always necessary to engage in lecture style learning! Games can provide “for its players a very different politics of engagement that shifts the experience of locus of control from teacher… to the player." (de Castell and Jenson, 2003, p.655). Another style of game that is very popular with Intermediate and Secondary age students is the family of games that include Rock Band and Guitar Hero. These video games rely on modern technology, including Sony Playstation ,Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii and allow students to play instruments and accumulate points. With a focus on late 20th century popular music, the application of these games in a classroom setting may be a little harder to align with government curriculum, but certainly it is within the scope of music history and an understanding of melody and rhythm. This might be fun to incorporate into the classroom at the end of a unit, or an ongoing project during a “modern music” unit. Similar games that focus on music and dance include Just Dance and Dance Dance Revolution.


Podcasts are an innovative idea, either for students to subscribe to, view, or actually create on their own. Podcasts are viewable on computers, but their use on portable digital media is what makes this an interesting idea for students. They could be downloaded, uploaded, viewed, or stored during class or outside of class. A class studying digital media could participate in a very exciting unit through a combination of Youtube, Podcasts, Skype, and Facebook. This is very much in keeping with the concept of generating many sources of microcontent contributing to Web 2.0 (Alexander, 2006).


One of the many social networking sites is Facebook. This program is hugely popular with teenagers, but according to the website, students must be 13 years old to use the site. Many students already have their own accounts, but some schools do not allow this website to be accessed on their server. However, students easily get around this by using their own data plans. One popular classroom assignment is creating or subscribing to pages dedicated to popular bands or musicians. Students can join groups and participate in discussions and comments about different pages they visit. Creating a Facebook page could be an alternate form of a report or public presentation. Students would need to research the history of their topic, and design and build their own page. This requires manipulation of data, imagination, emulation, and an ongoing commitment to managing the pages content and monitoring contributions by other group members.


Skype is a relatively new technology that allows users to link computers for a video chat from anywhere in the world. Students could ask each other questions, interview a musician, or work collaboratively with other students from different schools, towns, or countries. Users need to have an account, and a computer equipped with a camera and microphone. Skype also has a messaging system that allows communication without synchronous use. In areas with low band-width, Skype also allows audio with the video feed turned off.


iTunes is far more than just a way to listen to music. It is also useful for storing podcasts, movies, newscasts, and other forms of digital media. The new App “iTunes U” gives us a powerful new way to help students learn how they want and when they want. According to Apple, “If you’re an educator at a university, college, or K-12 school, now you have an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content. And students and lifelong learners can experience your courses for free through a powerful new app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch” (Apple, 2012).

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YouTube lesson on Guitar

YouTube and Lessons

The possibilities for the use of YouTube in the music class are exciting. It is very easy to find performances from music groups both professional and amateur, and it is also easy to find lessons. Lessons topics of music theory and music history, often very entertaining and informative can be found on YouTube, as can lessons on instruments ranging from voice and band instruments to guitar and percussion. A simple search for videos on “guitar lessons” will give many thousands of hits with infinite variety of styles, ability and interest levels, and intended audience. There are even examples of teachers who place summaries of their lectures and videos of interest to help students get more out lessons (Cardine, 2008) The popularity of Youtube has given rise to similar sites aimed at different audiences. Two such educationally oriented sites are and A number of prominent American universities including Berkeley, Northwestern, and University of Southern California have partnered with YouTube to set up private channels run by the institutions featuring content by staff and students (Cardine, 2008). An idea for students in a classroom would be to create a series of YouTube assignments – limited to a group with access only to those members – that students could complete in video form and post themselves playing, or singing, or completing the assignment in some recordable way.

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Metronome Application "App" for smartphone

Smartphones, iPads

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Tuner Application "App" for smartphone

Applications (Apps)


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iPads used in a playing ensemble - a future replacement for paper?

ever increasing number of Applications (Apps) for Smartphones, iPads and other portable devices are available. Students and teachers in music classrooms are able to download and install applications ranging from guitar tuners, instrument and chromatic tuners, pitch pipes, and metronomes, to guitar chord charts, instrument fingering charts, and even applications that sound like specific instruments. These tools can be toys of course, but with guidance these tools can be used effectively by students to improve their musical ability, and to engage them in a relevant and meaningful way. Manyapplications for mobile devices are free, if you are willing to accept advertising on your screen. To avoid advertisements, you can pay a fee to download. Sometimes you can pay as low as $0.99 and up to $15.00 to $20.00 for fancier copyright protected applications.

iPads.... as sheet music!

With the increasing popularity of iPads and tablet display computers, sheet music can be loaded through USB connections, iTunes, or internet sources. This sheet music can be accessed by the musician, replacing paper. Page turns are a simple tap, and musicians can write on the music, and enlarge or reduce page sizes. What used to be reams of paper falling from the music stand can all be stored in the memory of the tablet computer. While the cost factor for a project like this may be prohibitive, and the screen size may still be a little small for this to be practical, it has definite possibilities in the classroom!

Music-related games and self-improvement apps are also available on these devices, and while some may just be wastes of valuable classroom time, others can be very useful. Some educators find them to be effective tools in student's studies (Associated Press,2011). Students may not get better marks, but their interest level increases. Some schools have begun including Professional Development sessions for teachers on including Smartphones in their classroom as a “Framework for Learning” (The Learning Nation, (2011). With the addition of Internet capabilities, the area of smartphones continues to grow. Students and teachers can view YouTube clips, lessons, and other video content, and incorporate them into their classroom activities. In a North Carolina study, a series of low-income neighbourhood schools partnered with Digital Millennium, to give students high-end cellphones running Microsoft's Windows Mobile software (New York Times, 2009). Students were able to record themselves performing tasks and post the videos to a central site. This could be very useful in a music classroom.

Interactive Whiteboards

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Interactive Whiteboard in the music classroom

Interactive whiteboards are often termed “SMART Boards”, the brand name of the Calgary, Alberta-based company that produces them. These classroom tools have a unique appeal that students in both elementary and secondary school love. In some schools, every classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, while in other schools there are very few. The technology is relatively simple, with a projector displaying the contents of a computer screen on an interactive whiteboard, which can then accept input from a finger or pen, or eraser. Students enjoy the fact that they can “interact” with the board, by modifying images, changing them, or creating their own and saving them. There are many websites that have games, presentations, activities, lessons and tutorials on different subjects. One such website is the Education Service Unit Wiki. Databanks of resources from around the world can be accessed using the Smart Notebook software that comes with the Smart Board.

Promoting Remix Culture in the Classroom

According to Kirby Ferguson (2012), everything is a remix. There is really no point in training students to have a completely unique and original idea. Instead, he argues that we should be promoting the idea that all knowledge and content generation stems from the recursive cycle of the remix. The New London Group argues that we should be moving away from traditional literacy structures and instead be focusing on the many mediums and modalities that are used to express oneself. They believe these literacy modalities should be built into the praxis of teaching.

“Because the tension between the idea of an original and the autonomy of an interpretation is at the core of remixing, it allows remixes themselves to be commentaries on the process of creating meaning” – Jacobson, E. (2010)

Audio technology is often mistakenly dubbed as music only software; especially, in grade school educational settings. The following stop motion video provides a framework for practically encouraging a remix culture within your classroom. The basic premise is that students capture samples of instances that have occurred in the classroom. These instances are taken from a variety of modalities: video, student-student discussions, teacher presentations, notes, readings, podcasts etc... As an educator, you can place emphasis on a certain modality by requiring more or less samples. For instance, if you wanted to focus on classroom discussions then more samples should be required from that modality.


Clip Grab - This is an open source software that allows students to extract audio and video from websites. The understanding is that the user is extracting the media for fair use.

Digital Audio Workstations

Software for the Educator

Many music programs exist which allow teachers to tailor their learning environment to suit the needs of themselves and their students. From notation software that allows note entry or scanned music opening as an editable file, through to manipulation of existing music and experimentation with sound and writing programs, there are many products available. Industry standards include Sibelius developed by Sibelius Software for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, and Finale, developed by MakeMusic for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. For the guitar teacher, the Internet is a vast source for both chorded and tabbed music, often with mp3 files available. From simple 3-chord songs to the most complicated riffs by today's biggest artists, it can be found in multiple versions in many different places on the net. There are many sites including:

One area that guitar teachers often struggle with is finding good "tabbed" music. Often the solution is painstakingly "tabbing" a song yourself. A free tablature editing tool is Power Tab Editor. It can allow tablature creation alongside musical notation, and can even import sheet music and MIDI files. This unique feature allows teachers who may not have the time or ability to create their own tab to use this freeware to assist them. It makes great-looking music in tablature form.

Stop Motion Artifacts

Turn Your Classroom Into A Remix : Created by Kevin Ault