Personalized Learning through Project-Based Music

Personalized Learning through Project-Based Music

By Michael Hayden



How to Personalize Your Music Classroom


Project-based music is a way for students to personalize their learning, take ownership, use relevant technology, build upon and acquire new skills, and showcase their understanding to key learning outcomes—and yes, solve a real world “problem.” As with other types of personalized classrooms, project-based environments focus on learner outcomes and 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

This type of democratic learning environment has students learning by doing and by allowing all to explore individual interests and passions, learners are more motivated and excited about school. Finally, this real world context has a direct connection to our students’ lives outside of school.

The heart of project-based music is personalized learning. This student-centered environment places each student in control of their learning outcomes, the resources they use, and the ways in which newly acquired skills or mastered content will be showcased. A few takeaways about personalized learning and project-based learning are:

  • Learner becomes more responsible for their learning
  • Connects with learner interests, passions, and talents
  • Makes learning relevant to each individual student
  • Inquiry based education
  • Acquire skills to select and use appropriate technology
  • Makes use of various 1:1 technologies
  • Goes beyond differentiation and individualization


Let’s Get Started


Projects in which students take control of their learning can be started with any grade level and are perfect for the music classroom. There is no one size fits all first step so . . . start small, design a single project for your students, and center it around your learner outcomes. Don’t forget to make it relevant. As you get started with your first project be sure to plan formative steps that build off one another, provide students with an assessment rubric or work with individuals/groups to create their own, include an opportunity to reflect, and create opportunities for students to share (present) their projects.

You may also find it useful to create overall objectives for each project that include a project template and general guidelines. These guidelines set up the project and helps students who are not yet comfortable designing their own learning objectives.


personalized learning


What Do Some of These Music Projects Look Like?


Music Composition

  • Create a remix of a favorite song
  • Arrange pre-made loops to create new music
  • Video Game / Movie trailer Soundtrack
  • Create a cover song
  • Live audio composition using recorded (found) sounds
  • Create a Soundscape

Instructional Videos

Students work in small groups and showcase understandings of skills, concepts, or topics and create an instructional “how to” video that highlights the process and the product. These videos serve as a recourse to other students.

Graphic Novels / Comic Books

Similar to a how-to video, having students create their own instructional guide can personalize, strengthen, and showcase their own understanding while providing a resource for other students to use in the future. There are numerous graphic novel / comic book creator apps and websites available that go beyond creating a word processing document.

Student Newsletters

Students create a newsletter for their parents and the school community that highlights what is going on in music class and explains the process behind some of the skills based products (like performance). Apples Pages, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs have built in newsletter templates as a starting point for students.

Independent Musical Focus

Students independently explore one of the many facets of music. This provides students the opportunity (and the time) to further explore and investigate an area of musical interest ranging from music history to the intersection of physics and music. Students create their own learning outcomes, how they will showcase understanding, and identify what resources they may need.


Moving Forward


By placing students at the center of their own learning, music educators can really tap into the individual interests and passions. Personalized learning through project-based music increases motivation, learner outcomes, and improves a student’s outlook on education (school). In this inquiry-based learning environment, students learn by doing and develop 21st century skills such as communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. All of these are perfect for the music classroom.


How to Start


Some final thoughts on how to get started using project-based music to help personalize student learning.

  • Start small: use current learning outcomes as a guide
  • Scaffold activities and build formative steps
  • Provide valuable, timely feedback
  • Let students drive: FACILITATE (guide on the side)
  • Allow students to create HOW they will showcase learning
  • Provide time for all to share the projects


Additional Resources


Bray, B., & McClaskey, K. (2014). Make learning personal: The what, who, wow, where, and why. Newbury Park, CA.


Horn, M., & Staker, H. (2014). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


McDonald, T. (2011). Unsustainable a strategy for making public schooling more productive, effective, and affordable. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.


Schwahn, C., & McGarvey, B. (2011). Inevitable: Mass customized learning – learning in the age of empowerment. Lexington, KY: Chuck Schwahn & Bea McGarvey.


Why Project-based Learning (PBL)? (2015). Retrieved from


About the Author

Michael Hayden is a music educator from Milwaukee, WI. He teaches 6-12 grade orchestra, digital music production, and rock band for Whitnall Middle/High School, which launched 1:1 iPad programs in 2013. Hayden is passionate about music and technology, especially the new and relevant ways students can create meaningful and unique music compositions using a variety of recording/sequencing hardware and software that are readily available. Additionally, Mike is a frequent presenter at various state and national education conferences–including this year’s National In-Service Conference—in the areas of music technology, secondary general music, composition, technology integration, and personalized learning. Finally, Mike is an instructional technology specialist, serving on various pilot and training teams for his school distric t.



Twitter @Hayden__Michael


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