Technology: Band Methods

Mike Lawson • Technology • 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.

Sound Innovations

Sound Innovations by Alfred Music Publishing is a method for beginning concert band and string orchestra that provides an open-ended architecture of the first order. This unique blend of time-tested strategies and technology offers educators the opportunity to completely customize the curriculum.

With the Director’s Choice option, teachers can log into and use the Internet-based step-by-step program to customize the method books. Users can edit the pedagogical approach, music selections, and enrichment materials to match teaching styles and situations. Desired tunes can be selected for each book in the order they will be taught, then up to 32 pages of enrichment activities can be added. Even concert pitch can be customized along with pizzicato or arco for the orchestra. Accompaniment recordings can also be customized. Each instrument-specific DVD contains master class lessons demonstrating key concepts by distinguished teacher-performers. Customization can include the order in which sharp keys, flat keys, duple rhythms, and triple rhythms are introduced, along with substitutable tunes and enrichment pages. Book 3 is now out for both band and strings, and Book 4 will debuted at 2013 Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic in December. A Class Guitar Standard Edition of Sound Innovations is also now available.

Sound Innovations is organized into six levels. The format is clear and uncluttered with each page structured to highlight essential concepts. There are numerous possibilities for enrichments; additional theory, history, ensemble tunes, assessments, and technique etudes interspersed throughout the method for you to choose from.

An MP3 CD includes instrument-specific recordings of every single line of music. Each tune contains a click track with the melody plus accompaniment. Also included is a Tempo Changer program in which a track can be increased or slowed down to accommodate individual practice, a critical feature in any method book involving home practice. The practice/assessment tool, SmartMusic, is also included with the first 100 lines of music (more than half of the music in Book 1), with the rest available with a paid SmartMusic subscription.

Percussion instruction in the band edition offers three books to meet the percussionists’ needs. There is one method book for snare drum, bass drum, and accessories, another book for mallet instruction, and then a third percussion book that combines those two books.

While no beginning instrumental music method may strike us as perfect, Sound Innovations band and string methods come close thanks to their revolutionary customizable options. The bottom line is that this method allows educators to create individualized methods inside a well-orchestrated pedagogy, with a twist of new technology.


Essential Elements Interactive

Hal Leonard’s Essential Elements Interactive (EEi) features a web-based add-on to the book materials, offering an impressive teacher-oriented website capable of extending instruction far beyond the classroom. Online instructional materials and resources engage students and parents in a variety of innovative activities. Students using EEi also have their own personal practice sites, which encourage them to have fun while also practicing in class and at home. Detailed practice records help students and teachers plan, while keeping parents informed of rehearsal goals and progress. Customized calendars help organize group sharing, event details, and updates, along with other flexible communication tools that provide a variety of ways to share information with students and parents.

The heart of EEi is the online Music Studio, which brings cloud features to the teaching environment. Professional soloists demonstrate each exercise in the Music Studio, providing students with a model to emulate. Multiple accompaniment styles, again, performed by professional musicians, enhance each exercise. Students can save up to eight different recordings for each exercise in the book. I find that this actively encourages students to continue practicing with different recording options, rather than just moving on to the next exercise after creating a single polished recording. The recording feature allows a student’s recording to be easily shared with teachers, friends, and relatives.

Other EEi practice tools include a built-in metronome, tuner, and fingering charts. The Music Studio interface is easy to use, whether creating music or recording, and it makes sharing both simple and fun.

EEi also provides a number of resources that will be expanded on a regular basis, as the website evolves constantly to better meet the needs of students and teachers. These resources include new HD videos with extensive pedagogical lessons, plus individualized studies for all instruments. There are impressive music theory lessons and worksheets that are motivating and essential for grasping a better understanding of the music being performed. The instrument training worksheets are likewise desirable for motivating students to practice outside of class. Perhaps best of all, teachers can also upload, share, and archive their own materials to further customize and organize their online classroom with links for YouTube and web sources, plus MP3 files, PDFs, and their own videos. Finally, the online resources offer a large variety of songs, duets and trios for expanding the book’s lessons far beyond the book itself.

Beyond the online Music Studio, the entire SmartMusic library is available for EEi teachers and exercises 1-100 are free for EEi students. Finale Notepad is a powerful notation program to help teachers and students create their own compositions and musical exercises. Noteflight, an online music writing application that lets users create, view, print, and hear music notation, is also included. Assignments and calendar events can be posted and shared in real time via flexible communication tools. Grade assessments can be exported to Excel, which can then be imported into school or district-wide grade book software.

Tradition of Excellence

Tradition of Excellence by Bruce Pearson and Ryan Nowlin, published by the Neil A. Kjos Music Company, is a flexible, performance-centered curriculum that seamlessly blends classic and contemporary pedagogy with cutting-edge technology. Fundamental to this method is differentiated instruction that allows teachers to customize the curriculum with three unique starting systems: for private lessons, instrument class instruction, and heterogeneous large ensemble groupings. It is also designed to work with the varied skill levels of students. Pedagogically, it uses a clever two-page lesson format and sound-before-symbol rhythm introduction, all within a standards-based, comprehensive musicianship curriculum. The method itself is loaded with supplementary materials, including: theory, composition, orchestration, arranging, improvisation, ear training, conducting, sight-reading, chops builders, scales, history, and more.

Each page of Tradition of Excellence is designed as a self-contained lesson. The lesson plans allow directors to maximize the benefits of the layout, while also including objectives for exercises, enrichment studies, printable history, culture-oriented student worksheets, stories behind the songs, and much more. Comprehensive lesson plans are included in the “Teacher Studio” for each page of the student book as PDFs, Microsoft Word documents, and Rich Text Format (RTF) files. While each lesson plan is complete as provided and flexible enough to meet many teachers’ needs, these files can be duplicated and edited to fit specific classroom or administrative requirements, as well as individual teaching styles and strategies

Tradition of Excellence includes an instrument-specific DVD containing excellent video tutorials, state-of-the art accompaniment recordings, and importable audio files. The videos provide instruction by master teachers addressing specific challenges young band students will encounter. There are nearly 200 tutorials in the Book 1 series alone. The percussion family of instruments, alone, has 41 instructional videos in Book 1. The percussion books also offer creative ways to begin instruction on the drum-set and timpani, even if students may not have access to these instruments.

The DVD also includes audio recordings for every full-band exercise performed by exceptional musicians modeling superb tone and outstanding technique. One of my beginning flute students benefited from the quality of the video tutorials. She was having some embouchure problems and during her home practice session, so she began watching the DVD tutorial. They were particularly helpful in her embouchure development, articulations, and playing different octaves. By the fourth lesson, she was playing most of the beginning flute book with confidence.

Students who purchase this method are given an access code, unique to each book, that allows them to download the “Interactive Practice Studio” (IPS). The IPS software provides instant access to recorded accompaniments, video lessons, biographical and historical information, reference recordings, and a map illustrating the geographical location of the world music found in Tradition of Excellence. It also includes a metronome/tuner, notation software, and more. For teachers, it works wonderfully with interactive whiteboards. The IPS is included in the price of the book and DVD.

The Interactive Teacher Studio (ITS) provides line-specific reminders from the authors regarding challenges, objectives, and enrichment opportunities. In addition, it includes full lessons plans with objectives, national standards, evaluation, and enrichment studies, plus answer keys to comprehensive quizzes, rubrics, and country and composer worksheets. Tradition of Excellence is supported by SmartMusic, and includes much of the sheet music or band literature being played in class.

Tradition of Excellence allows students to record their performances and place that recorded performance in an electronic portfolio that can be sent via email to the teacher for assessment or to any friend or relative for their enjoyment, support, and encouragement. Tradition of Excellence includes Music Writer Touch, basic music notation software that lets students and teachers compose, notate, and play back the composed music. Teachers can integrate this composition tool with an interactive whiteboard.

Another important and unique technology component is Kjos’s Reflection Forms and “Lesson Plans.” From the Tradition of Excellence Interactive Practice Studio, students can access reflection forms for test lines and solos that lead them through a succinct, meaningful, self-evaluation of their performance. These PDF forms can be completed and submitted electronically, or they may be printed for hard copy submission. Self-reflection is an important aspect of students’ musical study because it helps students to formalize their learning, measure progress, and develop goals.


Closing Comments

Today’s students are adept in technology and we teachers have to be ready to meet their needs with the best new options for instruction. Today’s sophisticated methods represent a perfect mix of pedagogical improvements and technology. In addition to the three methods reviewed above, there are more than 25 other classroom music methods available for consideration. These cutting-edge music methods are capable of helping to bring excitement into your program. Good luck exploring and deciding which method is best suited for your instructional needs. For more information about this new breed of heterogeneous beginning band and string method books, visit this article’s companion website:

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator, and music technologist with more than 41 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 400 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America.

For more information, visit

Robert Waggoner has been involved in the music education field since 1964, at all levels including elementary through university. Waggoner is currently the director of Genesis Jazz Project Big Band in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches a Jazz Education course for Webster University and the Jazz Lab Ensemble at the Community Music School. Waggoner is also the president/owner of St. Ann Music Publications, Inc., a business that he operates with his wife, Ann.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!