Technology-Infused General Music
By NAfME Member Katie Krueger
Technology can be a great tool to add to your classroom toolbox. I know some people are a bit scared or put-off by it, and some think we aren’t teaching kids REAL music if we’re using devices. There is definitely something about putting mallets in kids hands and xylophones in front of them that can’t be replicated in a digital format. However, using tech in creative ways, we can get kids to do more than they (or we) might have thought possible.
One of my favorite lessons to date uses a mix of tools. It starts with Sharon Burch’s Freddie the Frog. Along with the creative and educational stories, Burch has also come out with a resource book for teachers, Beyond the Books. This is where my lesson starts. Burch has a great lesson series to teach the blues that goes along with her story book, Freddie the Frog and the Secret of Crater Island. I love doing this with my second graders. Using her guides, they learn the blues “code,” realize how roman numerals connect to the music alphabet, and get a basic understanding of the sound and feel of the 12-bar blues. We have had so much fun with it that I decided to take it further.
After they’ve got the basics down, I have my students get out their iPads. Now, I realize how lucky I am to have a full classroom set of iPads. If you don’t have a full set yourself, maybe you have a cart you can check out in your building for an hour, day, or week. Or maybe you have five iPads you could borrow from a classroom teacher or team. Whatever number you have, this lesson could be adapted to suit your needs. Read on!
So – my students get out their iPads. I tell them that today, they are going to be real blues musicians. We open up the GarageBand app. If you’ve never used GarageBand before, you may not know that it has “smart” instruments built in. There are pianos, guitars, basses, drums, and string sections built in a format that is incredibly easy to use for even the most novice of musicians (see picture below). We start with the smart acoustic guitar. The students have already learned the 12-bar blues in the key of C, so it only takes a few seconds before someone notices that it says C, F, and G right on the guitar! I like to think of the GarageBand smart instruments as the modern-day autoharp. You just don’t have to spend time keeping all those strings in tune!
At this point, I have the students turn their iPads so the screens face me. They hold them in front of their bellies with their left hand and get their right hand ready to strum – just like playing a real guitar. Once their “guitars” are ready, we try playing the blues by strumming a steady beat through the whole 12-bar blues code. The look on their faces is priceless as they listen to themselves and hear the sound of the blues. It is obvious that some really feel like star musicians!
We continue this unit by expanding into a blues “band.” After practicing on the smart bass, smart piano, and drumset (I do NOT use the smart drums because I want them to keep their own beat to the tempo I set), I split up the class into four groups. Each group rotates through the instruments and we play the blues as a class “band” together. As they rotate through the instruments, they get better and better at internalizing the beat and the blues code. They are amazing!
One more tech addition …
After the kids have fallen in love with playing the blues, we extend it yet again into singing our own blues songs. I take one day and sit on my stool with my (real) guitar, them crowded around my feet, and we just improvise new blues stories. The crazy blues we have sung on these days – oh my. We expanded it this year to create class blues songs – ideas voted on and stories created by the students themselves. Using the SmartBoard makes the writing process easy. And the final product? We record it using an iPad on a stand. I immediately project it to the SmartBoard (using AirPlay) so students can judge if it is ready for the public, and once we get a class-approved version (or we run out of time!), I post it on YouTube for the world to enjoy. The kids are thrilled at their stardom, I don’t have to worry about copyright because we made it up, and parents and families love seeing and hearing their cute little munchkins. Knowing it was going to be going to a true audience has helped kids focus and work harder during class time, too.
I want to end by encouraging you to try something new. It may not work right the first time, but who really gets things perfect right away, anyway? We, music educators, need to embrace the tech revolution and show our students that music is modern as well as historical. And remember, if you don’t know how to do something, one of your students would probably love to show you how!
About the author:
Katie Krueger has taught elementary music in Byron, Minnesota for ten years. She previously taught one year in Detroit, Michigan. In addition to full-time teaching, she enjoys being a technology coach for colleagues, helping them better utilize the tech tools at their fingertips. Katie was thrilled to share some of her favorite music technology tools and tips at the NAfME conference in October, 2014.
Linked In: www.linkedin.com/in/KatieKruegerMusic
Burch, S. (2011). Beyond the Books. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation.
Burch, S. (2009). Freddie the Frog and the Secret of Crater Island. Centerville, IA: Mystic Publishing.
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