Technology in the Large Ensemble Classroom

Technology in the Large Ensemble Classroom:

New Tech to Explore for Back to School

Investigating New and Upcoming Technologies for New School Year

By NAfME Member Peter J. Perry, D.M.A.


As the summer winds down, and thoughts toward a fresh new school year begin to the formulate, this can be an excellent time to rejuvenate your “teaching mind” and explore new teaching strategies and methods to “keep things fresh” (See my 3 R’s of Summer). With technology strategies continually becoming more a focal point in our instruction and part of a twenty-first century classroom, I have found it useful to use this time to seek out and explore new technology applications and developments that might be interesting or useful for including in my classroom instruction for the upcoming year. Below, are some discoveries I have made that you might find interesting.


technology | lechatnoir

What is Old is New Again

I am always on the lookout to see if the tools I currently use are being updated. If so, what impact will it have on me?

Sometimes the product changes necessitate a change in software or hardware for me (which has its own cost and time implications). In this continued pursuit, three industry-standard products I use, have come out (or are coming out) with some major modifications/changes. Two programs that have been exclusively Windows-based from their inception, BAND-IN-ABOX and SONAR, have come out with versions for the MAC OS.

BAND-IN-A-BOX is a computer-assisted-instruction (CAI) jazz improvisation application. It allows you to enter chords for a piece and it generates a rhythm section accompaniment for those progressions. There are numerous variations and permutations, making this an invaluable tool for teaching, learning, and practicing improvisation. Additionally, the program can generate improvised solos and uses realistic sounds to complete the CAI play-along experience. While not a new product, this can now be accessed by MAC users.




SONAR, is a digital audio workstation (DAW) by Cakewalk. It is a professional quality application competing with other DAWs like ProTools. SONAR has different versions depending on the amount of features you require. In addition to its new platform, Cakewalk is offering lifetime upgrades for Sonar, making its continued upgrading manageable for school program’s budget.

Finally, Makemusic, the parent company of the notation program Finale and the accompaniment system SmartMusic, is coming out with what they describe as a “new” browser-based (no app to download) SmartMusic meant to run alongside the current version. In essence, this is new product based on the old one. The most interesting feature in this version is the easier method for teachers to provide EVERY student in their program with access to the software. This is in contrast with the prior model that requires users to purchase their own student license in order to access accompaniments at home. The big difference is that only teacher-assigned music will be accessible and the school program purchases a license for this capability (see here for specifics). Additionally, the new SmartMusic is Chromebook-compatible making it useful for schools using the Google platform. As with the iPad version, the Chromebook version facilitates the application’s use in practice rooms or just the ability to spread around the band or choral room. See more comparisons between versions here.


New Apps to Check Out

There is a constant flow of new technology coming out. Here are some interesting applications for both computers and mobile devices that could be useful for the ensemble classroom this year:

Hit’n’Mix 2 is an innovative tool that allows you to unlock, extract, and edit an existing MP3 audio recording. Easily eliminate a vocal or melody track in a recording, or increase the volume on a part that a student needs to practice. While billed as a DJ tool, it possesses many possibilities for the large ensemble classroom. The application converts the MP3 audio file into its own proprietary format that graphically shows all the audio elements present (e.g. drums, vocals, etc.) in the recording (follow the link above to see an example). From this point, you can go in and adjust the individual aspects as needed, or even eliminate them entirely. While this can be done creatively using other existing programs, this is pretty cool.


Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock
Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock


Cadenza is an app for your mobile device (both iOS and Android) that allows the user to perform solo literature with a real (sampled) orchestra. Additionally, the app accompaniment listens to and follows the user’s performance. The sensitivity of how much the app follows is adjustable. Currently, Cadenza is available for nine instruments: violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, French horn, and trumpet, and contains 200 solos. While it does not contain the assessment or other features of competing accompaniment systems, this can be an affordable, fun, and portable way for students to practice for recitals, solo competitions, or solo and ensemble festival.

Polynome – Is a metronome app for iOS geared for drummers, but could be useful for conductors and other ensemble members as well. It has all the basic metronome functions, but on steroids. It allows for multi-meter, accented rhythm practice, and polyrhythmic practicing. More than anything, as an instrumental music teacher, as I looked at this app, thinking this is a GREAT tool for percussionists of all levels, styles, and abilities.

I hope you can find a place in your instructional toolbox for these tech tools, and have a GREAT school year!


About the author:

band director

NAfME member Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident, and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currently in his twentieth consecutive year as Instrumental Music Director at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Here he conducts the: Chamber Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Pit Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Concert Band, and Marching Band. These ensembles consistently receive critical acclaim on local, state, and national levels.

Dr. Perry is a strong advocate for music technology usage in the large ensemble. His doctoral dissertation, “The Effect of Flexible-Practice Computer-Assisted Instruction and Cognitive Style on the Development of Music Performance Skills in High School Instrumental Students,” focused on how the practice software, SmartMusic™, and the cognitive styles of field dependence and field independence affect musical performance skill development.

He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Education from Shenandoah Conservatory, as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Education-Instrumental Conducting Concentration, and a Bachelor of Science Degree-Instrumental Music Education, both from the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, Dr. Perry was awarded the prestigious Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in Music.

In 2006, Dr. Perry received a Japan Fulbright fellowship and participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. He is an active guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, lecturer, author, composer, and performer.

Follow Dr. Perry on Twitter: @peterperry101.

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