Music Lessons for Interactive Whiteboards

Times have changed since NAfME member Karin Nolan wrote about using interactive whiteboards (IWBs).* They’re a much more common sight.

Nolan notes that today’s students

  • prefer visual communication over speech or text alone;
  • tend to scan large quantities of text, rather than focusing on a single text;
  • expect to quickly find the answer to any question online, often without evaluating the credibility or accuracy of the source; and
  •  place a high value on interactivity and active learning and are comfortable with self-teaching. 

General Suggestions

  • Let the students use the whiteboards and technology; try not to always be the “driver.”
  • Ask your technology department to allow access to YouTube and other streaming media sites, as well as to image searches. Expect to justify your request.
  • Use fully IWB touch-screen capabilities and functions. An IWB is a lot more than a projector. Explore its functionality, and let students go to the screen and become the mouse and cursor. 

Tips and Techniques for Music Lessons

• Connect the screen to a video game console or computer/online games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. They draw students in while teaching music concepts like beat awareness, hand-eye coordination, rhythms, and patterning.

• Compare and contrast different versions of the same piece of music. Open two different YouTube videos/versions of a piece of music. Beneath the video, open up a blank window for writing. Play each piece; ask students to write descriptions. Students can then perform the piece in these different “styles.”

• Analyze a piece of music (and/or lyrics) displayed on the screen. Students use different colored markers to mark the form (ABA or verse/chorus/verse/chorus) over appropriate parts, write note names, underline rhyming words, and circle rhythmic patterns. For divided parts, students can highlight group A (for example) in one color, group B in another, and the entire class in a third.

• Teach instrument names. Divide the screen in half with a marker or the line tool. On one half, list instrument names. (Make sure they’re separate text boxes so that they can be clicked and dragged separately.) On the other half, place instrument pictures. Students match the name of the instrument with the picture. Add a sound file so students can hear the instrument or have a play list open with sound files of each instrument.

• Categorize instruments by strings, percussion, woodwind, and brass. Divide the screen into fourths and label each category. Have students name different types of instruments, search for images on the Internet, copy the photos to the blank grid, and drag each picture to the correct category.

• Put song lyrics in order. Students can sort lyrics either before or after learning the song. Try it before, save the file, and then do it again after learning the song to compare the two versions.

  • Type all lyric phrases as separate text boxes and jumble them up. Students must read all of the lines and put the song in order, reinforcing reading comprehension standards and chronological order.
  • Ask one student at a time to drag one of the lines from the song and decide where it should go. If each line is a separate text box, the lines can be moved around as often as needed.
  • Once completed, students read the lyrics in their new order and guess what type of music would fit the character of the story.
  • Play the song, and then teach it. 

• Record the class performing a piece of music or a dance. Show the recording at least twice (the first time, just let them enjoy it; the second time, analyze it), ask students to evaluate it for ways to improve, and note the incredible things that may have occurred. Record the final performance for a running video log to assess progress. More advanced students may enjoy creating music videos of pieces the class is studying.

“With these boards,” Nolan says, “I have found students are more involved in the lesson and focused, and I can get through standards faster, because students are accustomed to the quick nature of today’s technological world. I believe that I have become a better teacher because I am adjusting my lessons to fit the needs of today’s students.”

They also help her address 21st century skills (including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation) and emphasize hands-on learning, including inquiry-based and problem-based activities.

*“SMARTer Music Teaching: Interactive Whiteboard Use in Music Classrooms,” General Music Today, January 2009

21st Century Skills Map

—Linda C. Brown, June 8, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (