ACCESSING THE ARTS
CHOOSING SOFTWARE FOR THE
CLASSROOM MUSIC TEACHER
by Donna Williams
Fall 1998, Vol. 10 No. 1
Everybody talks about how well music and computers go together. This is
certainly true in the professional arena, but in education, the connection is
less obvious. Professional music software is expensive and elaborate to use,
and usually is out of the range of most school music programs.
I recently took a course on educational technology at The College of New
Jersey and was pleased to find alternatives to expensive software written for
professional musicians. I was delighted to discover the extent to which music
and sound are integrated into many low-cost, children's software programs.
With a little creativity, these programs can be used in music classes to
engage children in the joy and discipline of musical invention.
Since there are so many programs on the market from which to choose, I thought
it would be helpful to provide some pointers on how to select programs which
match the music curriculum and how to organize a music class around
computer-based activities. In the box you will find 10 programs which I have
successfully used in music classes. Some I listed because they are neat or
beautiful and full of color, sound, and music. Some will appeal to limited
age spans, while others have enough intricacies for any age. They all provide
highly engaging opportunities for children to experiment with music and
sounds, listen critically, solve musical puzzles, explore art history,
and/or experience musical composition.
What Should I Look For?
I chose the software titles in the accompanying box because they meet the
Easy-to-Use: I prefer programs which do not require hours of time (my
time or my students' time) to learn to use. Can my students access help
easily or get suggestions if they don't know where to begin? Is there a
"help" icon or "hint" buttons which explain how to perform
a certain task? Can I give a group direction that everyone will be able to
follow? Can a student with a physical disability use this program?
Low Frustration Producer: Do students get adequate time and multiple
chances to work through a problem? Are gentle reminders provided? If the
program is a game, do characters get killed or eliminated? Is there a way to
start over without restarting the game?
Ease of Changing Preferences: Can preferences (difficulty levels,
speed) be chosen without exiting the program? Do I need to memorize function
keys and keystroke patterns, or can I just click on something?
Reading Issues: For my students who are non-readers or non-English
readers, a program with little or no reading will facilitate their successful
completion of activities. Poor, slow, or early readers, on the other hand,
may benefit from a program that requires some reading. I look for programs
that highlight words as a voice reads them, such as directions or background
information, and allows the student to repeat the reading as needed.
Potential for Cross-Curricular Teaching: Does this music software
incorporate information from other subject areas? Can I use this non-music
program to teach a music lesson? Sometimes you don't want a program that is
strictly music since art, gaming, history, critical thinking, and puzzle
programs often incorporate music activities or obstacles, and at the least
have theme songs, background music, and rich sound effects (Have you played
Myst lately?!) On the other hand, we also need to advertise the way music
in general and specifically music software can help students reach
developmental milestones, master basic skills, use higher-level thinking, see
events in historical contexts, generalize mathematical concepts, etc. No
administrator in his/her right mind would call math and reading a "frill;
" use their language to inform them why they need this
Quality Graphics and Animation: Any good chef will tell you, "If
the food looks good, the person will expect it to taste good."
While we all know that it doesn't necessarily mean it is good for us,
appearance makes us want to taste it. Students using software are no
different. Choose programs with smooth animation, depth of artwork and
design, bright colors (especially at the elementary level), and CLEAR TEXT!
Staying Power: Choose programs that you can use year after year to
minimize your need to replace and upgrade ($$$). Spend your money on a few
basic programs with multiple skills levels that will take time for students to
complete, then purchase one or two titles a year. Also, rotate programs week
to week if possible so they don't get "old" so fast.
Tech Support: Do they have a toll free number? What are the hours?
The more accessible the company makes itself to you, the more they want and
deserve your present and future business. However, it is up to you to
know the system requirements of the software and if your hardware can support
it before you curse out the technicians.
But I Don't Have a Computer!
Teachers see my enthusiasm for computers in music class and they gripe,
"How can I use music software if I don't have access to a computer? I
don't even have a classroom!" But over the years I have learned to
problem solve. My school has a computer lab. I jump in it whenever
it's free, with the full support of the computer teachers. (By the way, more
than once I have heard them doing music activities with students during
computer class, which I thought was great.)
Know your school's classrooms: Sometimes bilingual and special
education classrooms have computers. Familiarize yourself with what they
have, and hold a few music classes in their rooms to use the software. If you
feel comfortable with the teachers, let them borrow or install a program.
Recommend titles that your students have used successfully and enjoyed.
Lastly, I test out new titles in our after-school program. Have a
music club and include computer activities. When there's a will, there's a
Tips for Teachers
I have learned (the hard way) that a clear structure and a few simple rules
are necessary to maximize computer-based music activities.
Give students an objective to focus the activity. Start off simply,
like "create your own four note pattern," then expand.
List what is forbidden. "Do not click on these words: Exit,
Shutdown, Save, Delete." Put the list where it is visible. Give a list
of alternatives, and help students problem-solve when they get stuck. Don't
be afraid to exclude someone who does not follow this rule; usually their
partners are frustrated also.
Always debrief. Give students a chance to talk about what they have
done. Students' misinterpretations of directions can be useful. Ask students
who make errors to explain what they did differently from your directions.
One of my groups strung together their patterns and created a group song.
Unexpected creations can lead to great places.
Cultivate helpers. Second graders can install and put away CD-ROMs.
Older students can supervise younger ones. There's plenty of set up and break
down work to do, and students can learn additional skills from helping.
Rules for Students
Buddies are required. Duets, trios, and maybe quartets are acceptable,
but no solos.
Sit down or sit out! Students using computers must stay seated at all
No physical contact: One hand on the mouse at a time. Sit so your
legs don't touch.
Know what you have, what you need, what you can get, and what you will do with
it. When you can answer these questions, you will be able to make wise
software choices for your school that won't gather dust or make children cry
or run away. The best learning takes place when students are engaged and
having fun. Good music software choices and exciting computer-based
activities can only enhance a strong music program.
* This article is based on a presentation by the author at the New Jersey
Music Educators Association Conference in East Brunswick, February 1998.
Donna Williams is an alumna of the graduate program of the Department of
Special Education at The College of New Jersey.
DONNA WILLIAMS TWO CENTS' WORTH
RECOMMENDED SOFTWARE LIST*
||Softkey/The Learning Company
||art history exploration,
elements of compostition
art & music connections
|Share this with the art teacher.
||story with original theme songs
by contemporary computer artist
R. A. Greenblat
|Share this with the art teacher.
composition, critical listening,
|Students will need instruction time at first; has different levels of difficulty
|Lamb Chop Loves Music
||For young children
||no reading required;
||critical listening, theory,
|QuickTime 3.0 or later needed for instrument sounds
|The Lost Mind of Dr.Brain
some music history, notation,
multiple intelligence, theory
|has different levels of difficulty; for grades 5+
|Thinkin Things 1, 2 and 3
||ear training,experimentation (1 & 2),
drill design (3)
|Classic! (and they're not really music programs)
* Some of these titles may no longer be available for purchase.
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