Building an Advanced Music Lab in Your Classroom, Part 1: Elementary


When I began teaching in 1982, everything from lesson planning to grading was done by hand with paper and pencil. I was part of the transitional generation of teachers that started when classroom technology consisted of overhead projectors, records, cassettes, and mimeograph machines, and then moved to the plethora of digital devices and services that are now available to fulfill all of those needs and more.

I am also what most would call an “early adopter.” As computers and software became available for use in the classroom back in the early ’80s, I jumped right in and never looked back. It has been a wild and crazy ride with unexpected twists and turns: computer crashes, data losses, and lessons left in ruins due to technological glitches and failures. At the same time, it was thrilling to witness the exponential growth in my students, watching them create works of art, gain greater understanding, and build skills that I could only dream of at their age. I could capture and track student data and create portfolios for each individual student to save their ever-improving work.

Today, the technology available to us is far more stable and accessible, while being light-years ahead of what my students and I were using back in the ’80s. Another beautiful thing is that as technology has advanced, it has also become more available to more classrooms – from high school all the way down to elementary and even preschool. It’s not just more pervasive in our lives, it’s now expected in our lessons and teaching. Many teacher evaluation models contain expectations for teachers to incorporate technology into their lessons, and many states, schools and districts have adopted the ISTE or 21st-century technology standards and expect their students to master these skills.

In this blog series, we will explore meaningful and purposeful ways of incorporating technologies into your music classroom at the elementary and secondary levels. Meaningful incorporation of technology cannot replace the music educator; the teacher should always be the lead instructor in the classroom. Rather, its use supports, augments, and enhances the traditional classroom activities: Performing (singing and playing instruments), Creating, and Responding. Throughout this series we will introduce you to some great products as well as some ideas for incorporating technology in purposeful and insightful ways that enhance your teaching and your students’ music education.

One word of caution as you start down this road – technology has a way of overwhelming people, so I suggest the following steps:

Make a plan to begin working with and incorporating the technology into your lessons, realizing that you may struggle at first, but it will get easier.

Take it slow – only add one new thing at a time and make sure that you give it the opportunity (15 – 30 days of regular use) to fully evaluate its effectiveness.

Ask yourself: does it improve instruction? Do your students enjoy it? Are they able to accomplish musical tasks that would have been too difficult if not impossible without using the technology? Is it more inclusive? Are your students more successful? If so, consciously begin to incorporate it into your regular lesson planning. If not, let it go and explore a different tool.

As you begin your path towards integrating technology in a meaningful way into your teaching, you really have three different paths you can take, each with different products you will want to explore.

Option 1 – MusicFirst Junior

MusicFirst Junior is an amazing learning management system built from the ground up specifically for the elementary music classroom. It allows for teacher-led instruction as well as independent student use inside or outside the classroom. MusicFirst Junior is the perfect solution for the flipped classroom model, the blended learning model, or the traditional music classroom – it is that versatile and is only limited by the teacher’s imagination.

MusicFirst Junior is truly a full K-5 curriculum! It comes with a large library of creative and standards-based (NCCAS) lessons, with a full scope and sequence. These lessons are readily available to be used as they are, or they may be easily customized through the built-in editor. This editor allows you to tailor each learning criterion, differentiating the materials to fit your students’ needs. It also allows you to add objectives, standards, procedures, instructions (written, audio or video), student materials (scores, images, videos, and songs) and more. Teachers are also able to create or add their own lessons and share them with colleagues. Using a very intuitive interface, teachers decide which learning tools and content they wish to use as they teach, which items they wish to display to the class, and which items they wish to distribute or assign to their students.

Formative and summative assessments are easily created and built using a very powerful tool – the Quiz Generator – that allows teachers to use multimedia in their approach to creating a valid assessment tool. Teachers can also easily monitor where each student is in each lesson, what they have accomplished, and what they have left to do. These tools, along with the Simple Recorder, allow a teacher to build an online portfolio for each student, tracking the skills and understandings they possess as well as the ones they don’t.

MusicFirst Junior comes with a suite of software apps that are easily accessible on iPads or other tablet devices, Chromebooks, laptops, or desktop computers. There is Simple Recorder, which allows students to record themselves or a performance and make the recording available immediately for teachers to review; Groovy Music, software that allows elementary students to explore and create/compose music in a natural and intuitive way; Instruments First, which allows students to develop listening and theory skills; and Morton Subotnik’s Creative Tools, which focuses on ear training. Each of these apps can be used alone, incorporated into lessons, or used as assessment tools.

So whether you have just a single teacher computer with an interactive whiteboard/projector, access to tablets, laptops, Chromebooks or a computer lab, or you want to allow your students to extend their learning outside of the classroom, MusicFirst Junior is an affordable and complete solution to integrate meaningful technology into your teaching and, more importantly, your students’ learning.

Try a free trial of MusicFirst Junior here.

Option 2 – Computer Lab or One-to-One Devices

If you have a computer lab open to you or your school has one-to-one devices or laptops available, there are some excellent software solutions, depending on what you want to do. You can easily cover all aspects of the Artistic Processes – Create, Perform and Respond – but you will need different software solutions for each.

Creating and Performing: Noteflight Learn, Finale Songwriter (notation software); Mixcraft, GarageBand (digital/audio music creation). Use this kind of software to have students score arrangements in class, collaborate with others to create a composition, or compose their own pieces to share with the class or perform. They are also very effective for teaching note and rhythm reading.

Responding: Alice in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (listening & responding), Music Ace 1 and 2, and Maestro (listening & responding). Having students listen and respond is done all the time in the music classroom, but it is always hard to measure each student’s ability. This software helps measure how students listen and respond on an individual level.

Drill & Practice/Ear Training/Music Theory: Auralia (ear training), Musition (music theory), Essentials of Music Theory (theory and ear training), Music Ace (listening and theory skills), Music Games (theory). This is where technology in the music classroom began, and it is still an excellent use of technology – not only to help students practice what they have learned, but to easily capture that data and track each student’s progress.

You will also want to pick up some books that walk you through setting up and working with technology in the classroom. While some of these texts will give lesson ideas, others will help you learn the fundamentals or provide philosophical and pedagogical foundations for when and how to use technology. I would also suggest picking up a “for Dummies” book for any notation or digital audio software you might want to use, if available.

You will also need some hardware to go with the software. That means keyboards and/or controllers, digital audio interfaces, and digital/USB microphones. In the final part of this series, we will put together a fully functioning music lab so that all of the components work seamlessly with each other.

Option 3 –  Active and Interactive Video Displays

This option will allow the infusion of technology into your classroom and teaching, but the students will have limited interaction with it. If carefully thought out, used, and infused throughout a lesson, this can be very effective both for the teacher and the students. This requires that you have a teacher computer available to you that is connected to an overhead projector or interactive whiteboard, as well as a good sound system.

Classroom magazines Activate! and Music Express both put a mix of traditional lessons, hands-on student activities, singing, playing instruments along with multimedia, interactive lessons, and digital offerings into the teacher’s hands either through a provided CD or digital download. For the most part, the use of technology is in the teacher’s hands with very limited student interaction with the technology. However, it provides the teacher with accompaniments, songs, games, dances, performances, Orffestrations, and the like in digital formats that enrich the experience and help engage the students.

Software that uses the power of an interactive whiteboard offers the same kind of broad experiences, with a bit more interaction. The software, in essence, makes these whiteboards large touchscreen tablets providing multimedia and interactive lessons controlled by teachers and/or students to enhance instruction. Some of the software written for these interactive whiteboards also includes assessment tools – but there is also a wide range of software available that is completely dedicated to assessment and building a portfolio for each student.

If you wish you had an interactive whiteboard in your classroom but all you have is a whiteboard or a screen and a projector, I would suggest that you check out a neat little bit of technology by IPEVO which makes any computer, projector, screen or whiteboard into a fully functioning interactive whiteboard.

Next in the series – Technology options for the secondary music class.








Tom Dean
Tom Dean
Tom Dean is a Choral Editor, and the Elementary and Secondary General Music Editor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. Prior to working for Pepper, Tom taught instrumental and choral music as well as audio engineering at the high school level in the Delaware public schools for 32 years. He is a member of the ACDA and is active in the Delaware Music Educators where he served in numerous positions including President, All-State Coordinator, Technology chair, and Composition chair, and NAfME where he served as Eastern Division President and NEB member. He also was a member of the music writing team that developed the new music standards for the NCCAS project.


  1. If you are going analog – I would recommend a dynamic microphone with cardioid polar pattern. The Frequency response should be 50 to 15,000 Hz if you are only doing vocals, if you will be doing vocals and instruments and want just one type of mic, get one that would have a frequency response from 40-15,000 Hz. Solid and durable choices here would be the Shure SM58 or 57.
    If going digital (usb) you will also want a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar patter with at least the same frequency response (many digital go from 40 – 18,000 Hz). You will also want to make sure that the microphone has a Word Clock/Sample Rate of 44.1/16 bit. A great microphone in this class that is very durable for classroom use would be the Blue Snowball. The snowball also offers settings that add a -10 db pad, or changes it from a cardiod pattern to an omnidirectional pattern.


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