Taming Technology – Part II

Taming the Technological Beast

 Taming Technology – Part II


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


I have written (and continue to write) about the benefits of incorporating technology into music instruction—especially ensemble music instruction. Technology is a necessary component to bring music education into the modern era of instruction and to keep it relevant. With this said, technology is evolving at lightning speed, and as a culture, we are having difficulties adjusting to the speed of this advancement. For example, the fact that we have to write laws preventing people from texting and driving underscores our inability to control our technological urges—even when our own safety is concerned.

taming technology
iStockphoto.com | skynesher

How Serious Is the Problem? 

In education, we see our students, digital natives, entering the world already attached to technology of all types. While we see the benefits of this use, at the same time, technology addiction and other serious physiological ailments due to technology are very real. France has recently banned cell phones from schools due to these concerns. A recent study shows that student use of mobile devices in the classroom actually diminishes academic performance because their “multi-tasking” really is not effective (Glass & Kang, 2018). Additionally, we are just starting to see the effects technology use (and over-use) have on children, their learning, and overall development.

While there are risks, we are not going to get rid of technology, and the positive instructional aspects its use brings. At the same time, the phones that pop out during rehearsal are distracting, unproductive, and detrimental to learning. How do you tame THIS beast?


Setting Technology Limits

You can use technology effectively in the music classroom. Like other aspects of your classroom, you have to set limits, and establish behavioral expectations. Setting these at the very beginning of the year is important. Additionally, being clear with consequences is equally important. These also have to be in line with your institution’s technology rules and regulations. Moreover, make sure your rules are consistent with other teachers’ expectations and procedures to make sure the same message is being sent to students throughout the entire instructional day.

Establishing your music classroom as a place for music-making and learning, and not texting and gaming, can be difficult. This is especially so because of the entitlement students feel about their technology use (as it is a PART of them). The entitlement is further enhanced because of how early students are exposed to and use technology, making it an actual part of their identity and how they interact with the outside world. These two factors can make it extra difficult to get in between a student and technology. Furthermore, this also can become a point of contention and even a discipline issue if you have a student not willing to give up the phone. Below is a method I use, and have also seen other teachers successfully use, to tame the technological beast.


The Carrot Approach

The phones are on the students all day long and are not going away. A device that is on and operating basically all day, however, needs to be charged. Why not make your music class “charging time” for the students’ phones? There are a couple of ways to accomplish this.

First set up an area to charge the phones. This space should be out of the way of student traffic, but in your view to maintain security of the devices. I have a back corner of my rehearsal room for this purpose. I also have a phone holder to hold fifty phones at a time (Fig. 1). Additionally, I have a power strip that allows students to plug in their devices. I have seen other teachers take this a step further and provide USB chargers or device-specific power cords (e.g., Apple or Android). However you do it, this is now a place to leave the phones to charge during class time, and thus, separating the device from its owner. Since I do have occasions when students need to use their devices (i.e., having students put concert or assignment dates into their calendars, or complete Google Classroom assignments), I do have permissible times to bring out the phones.

phone case
Figure 1. Phone Storage Case



The Stick Approach

Now that there is a “safe” place to charge the phones, there should not be a reason to have it out in class. My expectations are that the phone is either charging or put away. If the phone does materialize (because students really do think they are THAT clever), there needs to be a severe enough consequence to address the breach in discipline and hopefully prevent it in the future. I use “Dr. Perry’s Phone Jail” (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Phone “Cyber Jail”


This is a place confiscated phones can sit in for the duration of class. In this case, it is a repurposed kitchen utensil holder with some penitentiary décor (but anything, even a box of some sort, can work). If there are any more violations, consequences increase to parent conferences, and administrative actions. Together both the carrot and the stick approaches help keep the technology at bay and allow it to be present for purposefully use in instruction.



Glass, A. & Kang, M. (2018). Dividing attention in the classroom reduces exam performance, Educational Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/01443410.2018.1489046

About the author:

band director

Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currently in his twenty-third 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 is completing his first book about using Technology in the Large Ensemble, to be published by Oxford University Press as part of their Essential Music Technology: The Prestissimo Series next year.

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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