Technology Strategies for the Performing Ensemble Classroom
By Peter J. Perry, D.M.A.
The ensemble classroom is a multifaceted and complex instructional environment. As choral, band, and orchestra teachers, we wear many hats, requiring us to accomplish a multitude of tasks (sometimes simultaneously). These encompass both administrative responsibilities such as attendance and communication with parents, as well as instructional ones such as repertoire selection, assigning assessments, and lesson planning. In most cases, we are the only ones who can do these tasks (both logistically and legally).
Additionally, we are constantly looking to improve the musical performance of our ensembles and further enhance our students’ musical skills. Combined, these demands can be daunting (especially when compounded with ensemble performance obligations and school environmental dynamics such as testing, field trips, and assemblies). Where do we find the time? Is there a way to be more efficient in completing these responsibilities?
Using technology to accomplish these tasks is one answer to these questions. By harnessing the power and convenience of the technology we already use, and incorporating it into what we do in the ensemble, we can streamline our workload.
How do we do this meaningfully without adding yet another demand to our already full plate?
Admittedly, there are many technology solutions available that can help us do what we already do more easily. Below are some of my favorite strategies that I use in my ensemble teaching and administration to save time, be more efficient, and provide my students with engaging instruction that connects to their twenty-first century worldview.
Technology for Administrating the Ensemble Classroom
The administration of the performance ensemble involves managing many activities both inside and outside of class. Communicating with the important people in your organization becomes a key factor to the success of these activities. Using technology to send and gather information can help expedite this as well as provide a digital place to store this information (no more paper). Paper forms can be replaced with digital ones using cloud-based storage systems like Google Drive™.
Some school systems are moving to this type of system, allowing teachers to create “digital classrooms” in their schools. Google Drive™ allows you to store files and share them (without having to send files via email). The Google Apps that complement Google Drive™ such as Google Docs™ or Google Forms™ allow you to send information in a format that can be changed by the reader and sent back, or simply filled out and returned (as in the case of Google Forms). This returned information resides online, and in the case of Google Forms™, the data is placed automatically in a spreadsheet and processed into graphs and other visuals. Google Drive™ is a good “one-stop-shop” for digitally administrating your tasks and is free to use with a Google account.
Other web-based and mobile applications that can help include:
- EmailMeForm – which allows you to create, distribute, and collect web-based forms (there are both free and paid versions);
- Remind – allows you to collect mobile numbers from the members of your organization and send text message reminders (e.g. concert tomorrow night 7:30pm). This is free but you create an account.
- Volunteer Spot helps facilitate volunteer scheduling, sign-ups, and reminders. This is also free with the creation of an account.
- Finally, Issuu is an app that allows you to publish and distribute documents digitally (e.g. Chorus Handbook), optimizing them to be read on tablets, computers, and Smartboards. There are both paid and free versions of this app. I find that these programs help me stay organized and be as efficient as possible.
Technology for Instruction in the Ensemble Classroom
In addition to administrating and collecting information, technology can be an authentic instructional tool in the performance classroom, used as part of the actual instruction. In musical performance, we see this with Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) applications such as: SmartMusic, Music Prodigy, and Practice First. Depending on the software, these programs allow students to practice with an accompaniment (SmartMusic has an Intelligent Accompaniment System that can speed up or slow down with the performer). All the programs provide instant feedback to the user (typically regarding pitch and rhythmic accuracy).
Depending on the program, publisher repertoire libraries of choral, orchestral, jazz, and band music are available, as well as sight-reading, improvisation, and other exercises. Additionally, some of these programs provide an online grade book area for teachers to assign, collect, grade, and return performance assessments. All of these programs are offered in subscription-based formats, and are available in mobile format.
These CAI apps can be very helpful for reinforcing skills that are taught in a lesson, and offer feedback to students when the teacher is not present. If it is in your budget, this type of program can really help motivate and enhance student practice and foster improvement.
Music Monitor by MusOpen is a free mobile app that allows students to record and send practice sessions and assessments from their mobile devices. This, as well as the digital recorder found in current mobile devices provides an excellent method of assessing individual student performance. Playing tests can be done remotely or in a practice room, sent via email, assessed, and then later reviewed together by both student and teacher.
This is just a sampling of the technology strategies that are out there. I recommend finding ones that work best for you and your program. I am also interested to hear what you use. Please feel free to state so in the comment section below.
About the Author:
Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident, and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currentl y in his nineteenth 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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