The First Digital Tools for All Music Teachers

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As you I’m sure need no telling, to become a competent teacher take a long time. There are many skills to master and make habit so that they become an unconscious part of what you do without needing to think to do them all. The challenge for new teachers is that none of these things are embedded and all take energy to remember to do. Becoming a music teacher is even more challenging as not only do we have the musical pedagogical subject knowledge to show mastery over, but the social management of learner groups beyond simply sitting in table groups and of a wide range of instruments and resources that are often bulky, heavy and fragile.

I have found over the years that there are many ways I can use technology to scaffold my classroom, both for what I use to organise myself and display to learners, but also how many physical resources or paper I have to manage for them. There are as many tools, apps and websites as I have time to consume, but I have boiled this down to three distinct types of tools that  all teachers, and especially music teachers would benefit from taking time to master. There will be others of course but starting from and mastering these will make a great difference in your practise.

General Classroom Tools

To deliver classroom music there are a few key tool types that are invaluable. The first is a whiteboard app of some sort (Jigsaw, MS Whiteboard, OneNote, Smart Notebook, etc), then a presentation maker (PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, etc). Confidence with one of each of these can be all you need to effectively prepare and deliver classroom music. We can do better, but this is a baseline for achieving solid prep and the confidence to adapt on the fly. Let’s look at each tool through the following lenses:

  • Enhancing learning experiences
  • Improving student engagement
  • Saving time and effort

Top Uses for a Whiteboard App

This will likely be governed by what subscriptions your school has in place or what screens you have in your room, as they will likely come with an app designed specifically for the features of that screen. Here are some ways a music teacher could use a whiteboard app:

Interactive Lessons: A music teacher could use a whiteboard app to create interactive lessons that allow students to engage with the music material. For example, the teacher could draw musical notes on the whiteboard and ask students to identify them or create a melody.

Notation: Whiteboard apps allow teachers to create musical notation on the board. The teacher could use the notation to teach music theory or to demonstrate how to play a specific piece of music.

Collaborative Learning: With a whiteboard app, music teachers can enable collaborative learning by allowing students to work together on music projects. The teacher could create a shared whiteboard where students can collaborate in real-time, share their ideas, and work together to create a piece of music.

Visual Aids: A whiteboard app can be used to create visual aids to support music lessons. The teacher could use images or graphics to demonstrate musical concepts, such as rhythm or melody.

Recording Sessions: Whiteboard apps with audio and video recording capabilities can be used to record music sessions. The teacher can use this to create a library of recorded lessons that students can access anytime, anywhere.

Popular school subscription and free options include SMARTboard, Promethium, Jamboard (soon to be discontinued), FigJamLucidspark, Miro and Microsoft OneNote. I will be covering each of these in detail in future articles.

How can I use PowerPoint or Google Slides in the music classroom?

Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides are the standard for presentation tools. I’ll mention others later, but to learn one of these is ideal, as they are part of a suite, and so once you are comfortable with one, you will find you can use others (Word, excel, docs) much more easily.

Here are some ways as music teachers we can benefit from using PowerPoint or Google Slides to teach music:

Presenting music theory concepts

PowerPoint can be used to present music theory concepts such as notes, scales, chords, intervals, and time signatures. The teacher can use the slides to explain each concept in detail with examples. This works really well. You can insert images from the internet or snapshots from a scheme you use, but once comfortable using the shapes tools I prefer to create staves and notes myself as I can move them around and repurpose them, or change what is shown during a lesson depending on what my students are responding to. When presenting, the annotation tools allow me to markup, label and annotate the slide much like a whiteboard app would.

Creating interactive quizzes

PowerPoint can be used to create interactive quizzes where the teacher can ask questions related to music theory, history, or any other music-related topic. The students can answer the questions by selecting the correct option on the slide. You can make slides with questions on for yourself, or if you have an account with an online quiz tool such as kahoot you can embed those to happen when you reach that slide in the deck.

Displaying sheet music

PowerPoint can be used to display sheet music for students to read and practice. The teacher can use the slides to display different sections of the music and highlight important parts to focus on.

Demonstrating music performances

PowerPoint can be used to create slideshows that demonstrate music performances, such as showcasing different instruments or vocal styles. This can help students develop an appreciation for different styles of music.

Creating visual aids for music history

PowerPoint can be used to create visual aids for music history lessons. The teacher can use the slides to display important composers, eras, and musical styles, and provide additional information to supplement the lesson.

Creating timelines of music history

PowerPoint can be used to create timelines of music history. The teacher can use the slides to showcase important events, people, and musical styles, and help students better understand how music has evolved over time.

Creating a Career Long Resource

The possibilities are fairly endless, and teachers are inspiring in how creatively they  find new ways to use presentation apps in more bespoke ways to support teaching and learning music. My favourite use for Google Slides or PowerPoint is to create a reference deck that I can keep open all the time, and jump to a slide as I feel it is relevant to what we are discussing. It is very reassuring that I have this resource at hand that I have created over years, and contains refined versions of resources that I have used many times and tweaked each time I find a way to improve it. I would encourage all teachers to begin creating one of these for themselves now.

How Can I learn?

There are several ways that teachers can learn how to use digital tools such as whiteboard apps and Presentation Tools. Here are some suggestions:

Professional Development Workshops: Many schools and educational organisations offer professional development workshops for teachers to learn about various digital tools and how to integrate them into their teaching. Teachers can attend these workshops to gain hands-on experience and guidance from experts in the field. Often these have been recorded before, so talk to your edtech lead about what subscriptions to online support you have – there are often hours of support material available that you may not have been made aware of.

Online Tutorials and Videos: There are many online resources available for teachers to learn how to use different digital tools. Websites like YouTube, Lynda, and Khan Academy offer free and paid tutorials on a wide range of topics. You can also access webinars and online courses to learn at their own pace.

Peer-to-Peer Learning: Find the expert in your own setting. A healthy school culture should be identifying and making teachers aware of who is a good source of advice and experience for different aspects of teaching. Most teachers love to discuss teaching and sharing what they have learnt over time. Ask to  collaborate with that one teacher for your needs; they will often be happy for you to watch them teach using that tool or give you advice and tips themselves.

Trial and Error: Sometimes the best way to learn can be by trial and error. Feel confident to experiment with them in your own classroom. This approach allows you to learn at your own pace and adapt the tools to your specific needs. However there is another source of training that I would highly recommend and has made an incredible difference in my practice over the years.

The Official Support Sites: Each of the tools we have mentioned will have training and resources available on their own websites, which I have linked each to above. Additionally, the big platforms have specific programmes in place for educators to help them teach more confidently using their tools. Here are the big ones that you may find most relevant to you:

Google Certified Educator

Microsoft Innovative Educator

Apple Teacher

Look out for next week’s article, breaking down the range of whiteboard apps to consider in the wake of Google’s announcement to end jamboard.

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