Software for the Elementary School Music Classroom
by James Frankel
There are many myths about computers in the elementary school music classroom. Myth #1: Music technology is mainly geared for high school music theory courses, with perhaps some general music applications in the middle school setting. In reality, there is more music software aimed specifically at elementary aged students than any other grade level. Myth #2: Most elementary school geared music software titles are drill and practice types of games, that serve little educational purpose other than to occupy one or two students who are either advanced or lagging behind. Once again, the opposite is true. Myth #3: The technology available is too expensive to justify itıs use in the classroom. The truth of the matter is that most schools today have the technology necessary to run the software available, and most of the software is surprisingly inexpensive (under $50). This article is an attempt to shed some light on the myths about computers and software in the elementary school music classroom.
The following four software titles are intended for students in grades 2 through 6. There are of course many other titles available, but these, I feel, offer wonderful activities that can easily be adapted for classroom use. A classroom application will follow after each of the brief descriptions.
A Brief Word about Classroom Applications:
Even if you only have one computer available in your music classroom, any software can easily be used to help teach musical concepts. If you think of the computer and the software as another teaching resource, like a video or a recording, it is easy to translate itıs use for an entire class. It is imperative however that you have some type of projection or video monitor device so that all of your students can see the computer screen.
Midisaurus Volumes 1-4, by MusicWare
This software is quite a lot of fun, and incorporates many different types of musical activities for younger students. Everything from sing-a-long songs to note naming skills to basic piano skills are included. There are numerous games that students really enjoy playing. The games start as easy as recognizing the difference between the right and left hand and progress up to distinguishing the form of a composition. Combined with a MIDI keyboard, this software is a wonderful way to get students interested and started with piano. The graphics are very bright and colorful, there is narration throughout, and since the software is extremely user-friendly, very little manual reading is required. Another great feature of this software is the record keeping aspect. While only a handful of student scores can be stored into memory, it is a wonderful feature to keep track of student progress. This software is very reasonably priced at $29.95 per volume. The software runs on either the Mac or the PC platform. Look for it at www.lentine.com.
On the Volume 1 CD-ROM, there is a wonderful rhythmic dictation exercise that asks students to click on the rhythm that they hear. On the screen, a series of apples scroll by, each one with a rhythm on it. When the student hears the rhythm being played, they click on the appropriate apple. The teacher can call up individual students to respond to each of the examples. Students are quite excited to get up in front of the class to answer the question. In the traditional way of rhythmic notation, how many students would be excited to answer a question in front of the class?
Making Music & Making More Music from Voyager Software
This software, created by Morton Subotnik, is a wonderful tool for teaching basic compositional skills. There are a few games on both titles, and they are listening exercises, mainly geared for younger students. What makes this software title truly unique is the way Subotnik presents the composition feature of the software. In Making Music, the user can basic draw a melody on a canvas, and the software will translate the drawing to pitches, and will then play the melody back to the student. Students can add different instruments and parts to their composition, and in turn, come up with some pretty interesting stuff. In Making More Music, students can explore musical forms, experimenting with changing around existing melodies and phrases. Like Midisaurus, both Making Music and Making More Music have record keeping capabilities. In this software however, it is not the game progress that is kept track of. Students can record and store their very own compositions. This software runs on both Mac and PCıs and is available at www.soundtree.com. Retail price is about $39.95.
Making More Music
³Theme and Variation²
Using the theme and variation aspect of the software, students will learn, through the use of the built in videos, about theme and variation. Supplemented by the information that the teacher presents, students will show their understanding of theme and variation by creating variations using the software. Students could either come up one at a time to enter their variation, or the students could work in groups to determine what to include in their variation.
When one thinks about teaching the theme and variation concept to elementary aged students, it is sometimes difficult to think of exactly how to do so without losing the interest of the students. Of course, there are many terrific ways of teaching this concept without the aid of technology, but if you have access to the technology, this software provides an exciting way to teach it.
Music Ace & Music Ace 2 by Harmonic Vision
This software is by far the most popular music theory skills software currently available. There are three different aspects of the software that are quite valuable in the music classroom. The first of these three aspects is the tutorial section which on both titles takes students through comprehensive theory exercises ranging from discriminating between high and low pitches to basic voice leading principles. When a students feels that they have enough information about a certain theory concept, they may move on to the next aspect of the software, the games. These games, unlike games on other software titles, are truly educational. Even high school theory students might find some of them challenging. They range from clicking the mouse on the beat, to identifying major and minor chords. What makes this software outstanding is the record keeping function. Up to ten students can record their progress through the software. The third and final aspect of this software is the ³Music Doodle Pad.² Here, like with the Making Music software, students can create their own compositions by drawing in the melodies. They can also save their compositions. This software runs on both Mac and PCıs and each title retails for around $65.00.
Music Ace 2
³Major or Minor?²
I know that I personally hated doing aural skill exercises in elementary school. My teacher used to sit behind the piano, and plunk out intervals and chords asking us to write them down. Music Ace and Music Ace 2 present these same aural skill exercises in a game format that students will love. Like with the other software titles, it is best to use this software with a computer and a projector, and have the class complete the activities with students taking turns. The students will be more than happy to volunteer since the game format provides wonderful positive reinforcement.
Thinkinı Things by Edmark
Although this software is not intended as a music title, there are many wonderful musical activities that are absolutely perfect for younger music students. I have actually used this software with students as young as kindergarten, and they love it. Ask the computer specialist in your building if they have a copy of this software. They probably do. When it came out in 1993, it was very popular, and still is today.
There are six areas in the program for student exploration in to their creative side. Two of the activities, ³Toony Loon² and ³Oranga Banga² are wonderful music listening games. ³Toony Loon² is a bird that plays simple melodies on a colorful xylophone. Students can also choose strings, glasses, hollow logs and chickens as the musical instrument that the example is played on. After listening to the short melodies, students play the melodies back by clicking on the corresponding bars, strings, glasses, logs or chickens. They can even create their own tunes. In the ³Oranga Banga² section, a big, hip orangutan plays rhythms on a drum set, and the students have to repeat the rhythms by clicking on the corresponding percussion instruments. To make the exercise more challenging, students can have Oranga play in the dark. They then have to play the instruments based on what they sounded like. Itıs really a terrific piece of software for young students. There is now a second Thinkinı Things which have similar activities. Youıll have to look around a bit to find Thinkinı Things 1 & 2, but it is more than worth the effort. Again, make your first stop the school computer specialist.
Grade 1 or 2
³Play that Melody²
You can use this melody game as an alternative to playing percussion or Orff instruments. Although I would certainly not suggest doing away with real instruments, using the computer every now and then may appeal to your students, and bring some extra excitement when it is time to learn about melodies. Have the students sit around in a circle in front of the computer, making sure that they all can see. Have the students once again take turns playing the melody that the bird plays. You can do the same type of activity with ³Oranga Banga².
Hopefully this review of some of the many software titles available to todayıs music educator will help you make some decisions about whether to incorporate technology in to your elementary school music classroom. Please feel free to email me any further questions that you may have.