• Technology: Power-User Synthesis

    Mike Lawson | February 11, 2014

    From Scanning to Notation to Customized Creativity & Beyond

    Ever wish that technology could change the way you prepare, teach, and assess your students? Or maybe help create customized instruction to better define how well all of your students are learning and progressing? Without a user-friendly assessment environment to enable this, teachers rarely have the time to be creative about exploring new solutions. But we are here to help!

    Innovative new products now go beyond individual music software applications, incorporating power-user applications for targeted instruction. The key to creating music projects with the power-user concept is in converting files that can be used to transfer data across different software apps for enhanced instructional opportunities.

  • Technology: Digital Audio Workstations

    Mike Lawson | January 21, 2014

    Web-based apps for the music classroom

    In a previous edition of SBO, Dr. Jay Dorfman wrote about the growth of cloud-based computing and its impact on education. This model of computing leverages access to networks (both local and internet) for most, if not all, activities that a user may do on his or her computer. Very little is actually stored on the user’s computer. Instead, applications and documents are accessed from remote servers. The netbooks (i.e. Google Chrome) are a good example of this new trend. It’s almost as if we’ve come full circle from the early 1970s when mainframe computers handled tasks sent from “terminals,” primitive keyboard and printer devices. Of course, today we have media-rich experiences with images, audio, and video at our beck and call, which can be invaluable resources for the music classroom. 

  • Technology: Videoconferencing

    Mike Lawson | December 16, 2013

    Videoconferencing and Remote Music Instruction


    The widespread use of computers and the Internet today has made distance learning so much easier and faster that now, in addition to virtual schools and universities, even brick-and-mortar schools are delivering more and more curricula online. Interaction with the instructor and other students can now take place via email and class message boards, as well as synchronous “live” interactive instruction, also known as videoconferencing. And the best part is that one doesn’t need to purchase expensive proprietary equipment in order to access these tools. Believe it or not, there are almost 30,000 video conferencing systems in U.S. schools, service centers, district offices, and departments of education. Many are used every day to connect students and teachers around the world.

    Videoconferencing allows two (point-to-point) or more locations (multipoint) to communicate by simultaneous, interactive video and audio transmissions. An increasing number of schools across the country teach music technology classes via online classes locally and long-distance simultaneously.

  • Technology: Cloud-Based Software

    Mike Lawson | November 19, 2013

    The Tech-Savvy Music Classroom


    Teachers who use technology to introduce, reinforce, and evaluate students’ proficiency with musical concepts in their classrooms are often bound by the limitations of music-related software. I frequently hear questions like these: Which software is the right choice for my students? How can I equip my classroom with the limited budget that my school provides? How can I give students access to software even when they are not in my classroom?

    There are several models that are useful for evaluating software to be used in your classroom [see sidebar], most of which emphasize ideas such as documentation, support, extensibility, navigation, and aesthetics. Once software designers deal with these issues, the more practical concerns of teachers come to the fore. Cost and access are perfectly legitimate concerns. In a typical computer lab scenario, once a school purchases computers and furniture, there is often little money left for software. In addition, students’ creativity may flourish if they have access to the technology for more than just a period a day, or perhaps less.

    The emerging market of cloud-based software has already begun to conquer the issues of expense and access. But first, what is cloud-based software, and how can it help educators overcome these obstacles?

  • Technology: Band Methods

    Mike Lawson | October 17, 2013

    Center Stage: Tech-Oriented Band/String Methods for the Classroom

    Exciting, innovative, and interactive technology is now integrated into the best band and string method books for students of all skill levels. The latest tech advances built into these methods are vastly superior to the CD recordings that were themselves innovative when they first became available in method books just 10 or 15 years ago.

    Now, it’s all about customization. Students can record themselves and instantly share those recordings with friends and teachers. Practice is jazzed up with choices of loops, styles, tempos, and modulations. Tuning has never been easier thanks to on-screen chromatic tuner software apps. Student assessment is easy and accurate. DVD video recordings provide authentic instruction models and explanations. And best of all, the price of instrumental classroom method books is still a bargain even with new and powerful technology features. Let’s take a closer look at three methods that are leading this new charge: Sound Innovations by Alfred Music Publishing, Essential Elements Interactive by Hal Leonard Corporation, and Tradition of Excellence by Neil Kjos Music Company.

  • Technology For All

    Mike Lawson | September 17, 2013

    Tools and instruments to facilitate music-making for students with disabilities


    I like the name of the organization “Music for All” because it implies that music and music-making can and should be experienced by all people, especially in the education sphere. Unfortunately, in many music education programs this is not always the case. This is not a critical commentary on the broad population of music educators per se, as I believe it is not most educators’ intention to inadvertently deny access. However, access for students with special needs may be greatly improved through the application of certain technologies, some brand new and others which have been around for decades.

    If we look at performance on traditional acoustic instruments, the performer affects changes in pitch, volume, articulation, and timbre by direct manipulation of the physical attributes of the instrument (including things like embouchure and voice in this, too). This all requires relatively good coordination and similar physical attributes to develop even limited skills. Maybe with the use of electronic-based instruments, the performer can overcome the need for this direct manipulation with a level of interaction spanning a range of movements, gestures, or cognitive abilities.

  • 21st-Century Sequencing Tools

    Mike Lawson | August 15, 2013

    Sequencing is the quickest and easiest way to involve students in their own music. Without years of training, sequencing introduces students to the elements of music: melody, rhythm, harmony, form, texture, and tone-color. It also ignites musical intuition through discovery of learning activities, in turn giving authentic first-hand experiences that strengthen performing skills. What was once only available to professional musicians is now in the hands of educators and students thanks to exciting new technology available with few budgetary restraints.

    The Evolution of the Sequencer

    Onboard sequencers built into MIDI keyboards are the oldest variety of sequencer, made popular 30 years ago before computers took over. Some keyboards today, with onboard sounds, allow students to record and store a performance (entirely with MIDI data), along with basic editing features like quantizing. Most of these even allow you to “layer” sounds, sometimes called “combinations,” or multi-timbral sounds. These types of keyboards are often referred to as arranger keyboards, and work quite well for those who regularly perform live on stage, without a computer, and need a “backing track” to perform with. Usually, the sequence produced can be stored as a MIDI file and later exported to a computer, usually via USB. In the old days, this was done by floppy disc drive. This style of sequencing has generally been overshadowed by newer techniques.

  • Got MOOC?

    Mike Lawson | July 18, 2013


    To keep our knowledge of educational trends and best practices fresh, music teachers must continually seek out opportunities for professional development. Traditionally, these opportunities have been available from in-school or in-district workshops, state and regional conferences, and classes at local universities. With the advent of communication tools available through the Internet, it was only a matter of time before professional development in many fields became available electronically.

  • Sight-Reading Software to the Rescue

    Mike Lawson | May 15, 2013

    SmartMusicSight-reading is a lost art form in many performance-dominated music programs. In the professional world, however, it is an essential part of musicianship. In a series of behind-the-scenes videos chronicling the making of the "Hobbit" it is explained that the entire movie score was never rehearsed, and was recorded in just one take without any previous rehearsals or individual practice. (See 11:02 in the link above for commentary from the famous Abbey Road Studios in London, where the 93-piece orchestra sight-read and recorded the sound-track 18,000 miles from the New Zealand movie set.)

    Why this critical skill of sight-reading often gets neglected in the classroom is a complicated problem. For example, one band director responded to my inquiry about sight-reading in his rehearsal by complaining, "I'm tired of putting together and taking apart (daily) ensemble sight-reading folders. I'm thinking about not even working on sight-reading this year, except I have to because my school has been assigned to host the district Band and Orchestra festival, so I'd better have my students sight-reading well. Any help will be greatly appreciated."

  • Heavy Hitting Cloud Notation Tools

    Mike Lawson | April 4, 2013

    The days of slogging through notation with pencil and paper and keeping track of dozens of composition rules only to hear your creation played on a piano are long gone. A new wave of technology has facilitated a number of powerful online notation tools. This interactive environment that music teachers need to be aware of includes online storage, web-based applications, electronic grade books, sharing data files, lesson plan dissemination, and more.

    Notation Heavy Hitters


    First launched in 2007, Noteflight is the pioneer online notation tool. This powerful music writing application can be used to edit, display, and play back music notation through a standard web browser. It has an integrated online library of musical scores that anyone can publish, link to, or post online. Users can write music on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, and then share compositions with other users or embed them into a website.

  • What’s New In Music Technology: 2013

    Mike Lawson | March 8, 2013

    It was snowing here in Carson, Washington when I left for NAMM 2013, the annual music products tradeshow that took place in Anaheim, California from January 24-27. I thought I could get away from the foul weather but arrived to unseasonable rain, thunder and lightning, and, believe it or not, snow in the Golden State. Nonetheless, the NAMM convention offered comfort inside and a few new and exciting things in music technology coming your way for 2013.

  • Integrating Technology

    Mike Lawson | February 14, 2013

    Epic economic dilemmas require epic solutions. Even while the struggling economy is negatively affecting education, positive and creative options are emerging in music education. We don't need to stand by while furloughs and cuts threaten our profession or watch fine performance ensembles be squeezed between single-section specialty classes. For years, School Band & Orchestra has thrown a spotlight on music educators who are thriving in spite of the downturns around us. And some of our finest innovators are using technology to come up with epic solutions.

    One such innovator is Barbara Freedman, of Greenwich, Connecticut, TI:ME's 2012 Teacher of the Year. By reaching out to the wider student population with the help of technology, her music department is on stronger ground, music is being viewed as an educational necessity, and jobs and careers are no longer on the chopping block. As the music technologist at Greenwich High School for the past 11 years, Barbara successfully provides 300+ students (and a waiting list for more) with innovative composition and tech-performance experiences.

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