Thursday, July 11, 2019

Digital Technology in the Elementary Music Classroom

This is a guest blog post by Elizabeth Lawrensen, who serves as the lower school music teacher at Chattanooga Christian School. Elizabeth is a tech-savvy teacher and I knew she would have good tools to share!

Using digital technology in the music classroom can be very rewarding, giving students ownership over their own creativity with the vast array of free music technology that is currently available. In my music classroom, I use both education-specific technology as well as free online software and websites available publicly. Different websites or applications have different benefits as well as disadvantages for the classroom. It is important to know what your goals are as well as what your students' level of proficiency is with the device they are using.

Here's a non-exhaustive list of the digital music technology I use in my classroom, and a perspective on the benefits/disadvantages for elementary school students.

1. Audiotool

Audiotool is a free online DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It contains various free samples available for use in a library, and can be sample-based, loop based, or can utilize your own tracks. Audiotool is set up like a physical workstation, with software pedals, synths, and drum machines that mimic actual physical hardware. For this reason, Audiotool is a lot of fun to work with, but also can be a challenge to explain to younger students with no previous experience with signal flow works and what different devices achieve in terms of sound modification. When teaching Audiotool, I have usually begun with explaining what samples are, explaining loops, and then teaching one of the basic drum machine modules on the app, called "Machiniste." "Machiniste" is a drum machine with the ability to import samples from the Audiotool sample library, which is sourced and uploaded by other users of the online app. Users can sequence samples on each beat or sub-beat using a grid. The grid allows 16 samples per measure (one per sixteenth note) for multiple instruments.

Usually, I challenge students to choose a kick, snare, and a cymbal or clap first and make a "classic" drum beat before going crazy. I explain how if you want a kick to happen on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, you need to click squares 1, 5, 9, & 13.

Another great aspect of Audiotool is that you can open public projects that other artists have created and work on their projects directly in the app. This can be a great learning tool to see how other artists have used the workstation to make a certain sound.

Disadvantages of Audiotool include:
A pretty high learning curve for those with no experience in sound production. Samples are not filtered- if students search for inappropriate language, it could come up if someone has uploaded a sample containing that word. Recording original audio needs to happen in a separate module outside of the main app, making Audiotool ideal for sampling and looping.

2. SoundTrap

SoundTrap is another free online DAW. This is much more ideal for original recording, and while it is free, if students are using a school email, their account will be deactivated after a trial period because the educational license is not free. While I enjoyed using this website, for its basic capabilities, I did not find the price of $249/year for 50 students to be an efficient use of my budget as I only used the website for a one-quarter elective.

SoundTrap is free for non-educational users and makes it easy to record directly into the web application with your built-in computer microphone. It is also easy to set up midi through your computer keyboard or an external device.

SoundTrap can also use samples but is not as sample oriented as Audiotool. When choosing between the two, I prefer Audiotool due to it being consistently free for students to try and use.

3. Noteflight

Noteflight is a free online software for musical notation. It can be a tool students use to practice basic notation and learning how to translate ideas into sheet music for others to play. I sued this software at a limited level with fourth-grade record students. The students appreciated being able to hear their own compositions played by the computer player on various software instruments. At the end of our short song-writing unit, I used Noteflight to print a mini-book of student composition for each class.

4. Odogy

I used this website to "test"/"play a game" on recorder during the second half of fourth-grade music. After students know most of their notes, they will be able to choose basic songs and be able to play along with the computer on known songs. I input students' names, then they can choose the song they would like to play. Songs can be modified for tempo, etc. The fingerings for recorder are displayed on the left while students play the song chosen. The notes light up as students play into the computer microphone. For each note played correctly, the note will show a fire symbol. Notes not played correctly will turn red.

This "Game" became a competition of sorts this year in music class. Students would be motivated to beat the top score on certain songs or see if they could get 100% correct. This is a great way to encourage both solo playing and to build confidence in recorder playing in the form of a game.


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