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How to Engage Students Utilizing Music Education Tools & Technology

August 6, 2019

Music teachers are increasingly using technology when developing new strategies for engaging students. Where we once thought of acoustic instruments, pencil, and paper as primary learning tools, it is now possible to involve students in creative music learning using technologies such as iPads and education apps.
how to engage students through music education
Integrating technology with teaching has distinct advantages for engagement, but music educators must also be careful to take a measured approach to incorporating these tools—the best framework for including them will combine knowledge of music and education, as well as challenge teachers to stay hyper-focused on the knowledge and skills they want their students to develop.


Music Education Tools Overview

One of the major music education technology trends has been the increasing use of online services and mobile devices alongside learning. Online services like SmartMusic empower teachers with the ability to create assignments using vast music libraries. Music sharing services like SoundCloud offer students a platform for receiving feedback on a larger scale — both in and out of the classroom.

One-to-one computing models, in which each student receives their own classroom computer, have also been adopted by music educators. However, the effectiveness of these initiatives can vary dramatically depending on how they are implemented.

On one hand, some studies show that students’ productivity, research skills, and engagement all improve when students have their own classroom laptop that they can take home. On the other hand, a lack of consideration for educational objectives can result in mixed student success.

As music teachers have more sophisticated and user-friendly technology available to them, many are using it to enhance student learning and engagement. An area of music technology that is just beginning, and shows much promise, is the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

Although research is still being done to fine tune AI across numerous industries, some software has already incorporated it for use in ear training and to measure students’ performance while they practice individually.

Many of the apps that market themselves on providing powerful AI offer limited functionality, such as basic chat or curated performance recommendations. However, some companies are working toward creating more sophisticated virtual tutors, and it is possible that these AI-enabled applications will evolve considerably, much the same way that virtual assistants like Alexa or Siri have.

For example, a music startup called Tonara has launched a music tutoring service built on AI. The company’s software automatically measures a student’s musical performance, using a proprietary scoring system and a large music library. This allows students to get more feedback while practicing on their own. In a beta test of Tonara’s software, the music teachers who tried it reported a 68 percent increase in student practice time. Similar platforms like SmartMusic and PracticeFirst automatically assess students’ playing and have built-in tools for educators, such as customizable rubrics and analytics for tracking student practice time.

There are numerous other categories of technology that have helped to transform both formal music education and informal learning. Here is a summary of some of the major types of music education tools covered in this article and some specific examples.


Music Education Tools — Examples

Software Category Examples
Online Music Sharing and Collaboration Oclef, SoundCloud, Google Classroom
Music Notation Flat.io, MuseScore, Noteflight
Aural Skills Training MusicTheory.net, Teoria
Music Production GarageBand, Soundtrap
Augmented or Virtual Reality HP Reveal

Music Education Tools and Technology Trends

While the specifics of using music as a learning tool will vary by teacher and by the resources a given school has, the overall evolution of music education tools and technology is indicative of a few major trends:

  • Music technology has generally pushed music toward becoming shareable at a larger scale. This trend can be seen in music and education tools like Soundtrap or Google Classroom as well as broader multimedia social platforms like YouTube and others.
  • Music education tools have emerged that can offer additional practice to supplement classroom learning with specific skills, such as ear training apps to help students learn to match pitch. These tools open the potential for more self-paced learning and allow teachers to focus on other key skills.
  • Newer media platforms, such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) show potential for enhancing learning both in and outside of the classroom, by enhancing collaboration or offering immersive ways of engaging visual learners. While usage in music education is currently limited, major breakthroughs in these areas could spur innovations in the way teachers use media as a learning tool.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) apps may act as a supplement to in-classroom learning. One of the common areas for AI is in aural skills training apps, in which AI digital assistants can provide assignments or offer feedback on what to improve. AI is another area in which current usage is limited but may offer opportunities for innovation as the technology matures.

Digital technology has become so interwoven with today’s culture and society that it is difficult to imagine a world without it. But integrating these types of tools into music education classrooms is not without its challenges.

“The question of how to effectively use technology in education is not answered by only considering technology,” wrote UF online MMME Program Director William I. Bauer1. “Making technology available to teachers and students, and helping them understand its functionality, is necessary, but not sufficient. Technology is merely a tool, and a tool is not useful if one does not comprehend the various ways it can be employed to achieve a given outcome in a specific context. If music educators are to effectively integrate technology into teaching, learning and assessment, more is required than an understanding of specific technological tools.” As a result, when exploring the use of technology with students, it’s critical that music teachers account for the curricular objectives being targeted, the benefits and limitations of the technology under consideration, the teaching and learning strategies (pedagogy) to be used, and the context of a specific music class and school.”


Ways to Keep Students Engaged with Music Education

While many barriers, such as media distractions and a lack of at-home support, can get in the way of student engagement, teachers also have the opportunity to change the way students and other educators think about media. Music educators who are purposeful and strategic with integrating it to engage students and to teach different aspects of creating and producing music can elevate their teaching.

For example, digital media has transformed the way many artists create, produce, and distribute their music. Some researchers have leveraged this to explore the benefits of platforms like YouTube as well as the potential of using informal music education to supplement learning in formal education settings.

However, the best way to integrate technology into your teaching will vary significantly based on your goals and the needs of your students. For example, if many of your students are struggling to master a certain skill, showing video lessons from other teachers could help the lesson sink in. It may take some experimentation to figure out what works best for your classroom, but the incorporation of technology with a clear purpose and a mindset of continuous improvement can ultimately enhance the way your students learn.


Use Music Education Tools to Enhance Your Teaching

One of the major criticisms of technology in the modern age is how much it distracts people from the rest of the world. While it may be true that certain forms of technology, such as social media platforms, can be distracting, technology tools can also be used to motivate and enrich student learning.

Technology has the potential to allow music and music lessons to be experienced in ways that are transformative and shared with others on a far greater scale. Savvy music teachers will take advantage of this potential to enhance their students’ engagement in creating, performing, and listening to music.


About the University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education

The University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education program is designed with the evolution of music education in mind. In addition to covering a broad array of music genres, the program’s curriculum explores advanced concepts in music education psychology, instructional design, and technology in the music classroom. The faculty include instructors from a diverse range of professional backgrounds— from professional musicians to internationally recognized music education researchers and authors.

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