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Music Technology Lesson Planning

By John Mlynczak • Features • October 22, 2015

Music technology provides endless possibilities for musical instruction, and school systems all over the country are integrating technology courses into music programs. As we begin this new school year and create or revise our lesson plans, we must constantly strive to teach music in every lesson.

Creating a technology lesson is different than a traditional performance rehearsal or theory lesson, because it is dependent on the specific technology used. We can focus on phrasing using any piece of music, and the make and model of instruments used does not affect instruction, as all trumpets have three valves. However, every notation software, DAW software, and piece of hardware has specific features and workflows that cause our music technology lessons to specify the technology. Because of this differentiation, it is easy to lose track of the musical focus and fall into a sort of “gear mentality.”

 School districts all have various required lesson plan formats, but the tips below will universally apply to any lesson and help you create stronger lesson plans that increase student learning while adding awareness from your administration.

Write Musical Lessons

A music technology class teaches music using technology, just as an orchestra class teaches music using stringed instruments. A lesson plan should not focus on recording in Soundtrap or Studio One Prime, but instead focus on producing a composition or arrangement, where the recording aspect is a step in the process. We are always teaching music, so the lesson is about a musical skill and everything else is supporting.

Focus on Learning Instead of Doing

A learning objective in a lesson plan should be about what students learn and not what they will do. A common mistake in composition is to write:

“Students will use Noteflight to write an 8-measure phrase in D minor” instead of, “Students will learn to compose an 8-measure melody in the key of D minor using Noteflight”

This slight language variance makes a big difference in the way this lesson is presented, because the second option is about composing and creating music. Also notice the placement of the technology component at the end of the second objective. When your administrator is asked about music class, will they say “the students are using Noteflight” or will they say “the students are composing music.” While your intentions of this lesson may be the same, the language used in the learning objective helps portray the intended outcome to the students and administration.

Lesson Plans are Advocacy Statements

I will admit that writing a detailed lesson plan can be time consuming and many times we question the purpose. I will also admit that every time I have written a detailed lesson plan the lesson is more effective. The process of thinking through an entire activity and relating it to student learning does provide better experiences for the students. Many times I have finished a lesson where I was “winging it” and had many “wish I would have” moments. Besides creating better experiences for the students, there is another equally valuable reason to write detailed lessons: Lesson plans are advocacy statements for why we learn music. What else does your administration and parents read that outlines what you do in your music classroom? Do not assume that others understand why teaching students to write a musical phrase is valuable; explain the value in the lesson. It is easy and quick to just write that “students will write 8 measures in Noteflight”, but it is more important to present the musical value of composing and how this process benefits the whole child.

Understand the Understated Standards

The National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) provide a more detailed set of standards for our lessons and integrate well with other key initiatives in education, particularly 21st century skills. As music educators we know that music has inherent benefits on the whole child, and it is important to demonstrate how our musical, student learning-focused, and detailed lessons relate to standards outside of NCAS. We teach music for music’s sake, but also benefit from numerous research studies that find positive correlations between student assessment scores and musical learning. Therefore, linking to other standards outside of music from within a musical lesson will show stakeholders how music supports other academic areas. Here are some helpful resources for other standards relating to a music technology lesson:

International Society of Technology Instruction (www.ISTE.org)

Partnership for 21st Century Skills (www.p21.org)

Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org)

The tips above all have the common theme of putting music and children at the forefront of education, and this focus begins in the earliest conception of a lesson and ends with the final evaluation of the lesson. Instruments, sheet music, and technology all support the musical experience we want for our students. Best of luck to a successful school year!

John Mlynczak is director of Educational Technology at Noteflight, a Hal Leonard Company. He is also adjunct professor of music technology at Louisiana State University, president-elect of the Technology Institute for Music Educators, and a passionate advocate for music education.

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