Building an Advanced Music Lab in Your Classroom, Part 2: MusicFirst

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Like many other teachers, I have been exposed to learning management systems (LMSs) through professional development, online courses and even some face-to-face coursework. Early LMSs were a neat new technology and they certainly piqued our interest, but they were also fairly clunky and difficult to use in the early stages. A new LMS called MusicFirst is about to change that!

As the “made for K-12” LMSs started to appear, I eagerly jumped on board and actively test drove several of them in the classroom. I was impressed with the ease of use, the students’ responses, and the way they allowed me to manage my classroom. They gave me a better handle on where each of my students was and fostered communication with individual students much better – but there were still issues, and they were certainly not ready for the K-12 classroom.

Things have changed, and improved versions of these LMSs are now being used in classrooms at an increasing rate. They allow a teacher to plan lessons, communicate with students and parents, create projects and assessments, score rubrics right within the platform, share lessons with other teachers, check student progress at any time, and so much more.

While these new LMSs are fine for a regular classroom, they are not focused on the needs of the typical secondary-level music ensemble or classroom. Having students do a musical activity – sight-reading, notating a musical composition, creating a digital audio composition, recording a performance, or any of the myriad activities of a music classroom – and then trying to upload it to the LMS can be a nightmare. It can take longer for the student to upload their work than it did to create it in the first place – not to mention the time it takes to figure out the workaround. I know many a music educator who just gave up trying to use an LMS because the negative aspects outweighed the positives.

For all of the music educators who have given up on using an LMS, those who have never even tried one, and for all who are out there trying to make them work, MusicFirst is the solution. It was built by music educators from the ground up, expressly for the secondary setting – whether it be a performance ensemble or a class for music theory, guitar, composition, or general music.

MusicFirst is a comprehensive LMS that uses software built for and fully integrated into the platform to create a complete music education solution for any situation. Everything you would expect to find in any LMS, you will find in MusicFirst – and more. It enables you to create, share, and use shared lessons; create assignments for students; schedule and grade; create rubrics aligned to the standards; and share reading, listening, and video assignments. Students can interact through a class discussion, a written discussion, or through an audio or video recording. You can even communicate with parents using MusicFirst!

MusicFirst grants both teachers and students 24/7 access. No longer do you need a computer lab – it works with any internet-capable device. Tablets, smartphones, interactive whiteboards, laptops, and desktop computers are all compatible. The safe and secure messaging system allows you to easily create announcements and notifications, clarify expectations and assignments, schedule rehearsals, and so much more – while archiving all conversations for future reference. All of this and it integrates seamlessly with Google Classroom, too!

Then there is the integrated software that allows your students to work right within the MusicFirst environment to complete all of their assignments regardless of the activity. The software includes an audio recorder to allow your students to record and upload audio for assessment, Noteflight Learn for notation and composing, PracticeFirst for practice and assessment, Sight Reading Factory for practicing sight-reading, Auralia First for ear training, Musition First for music theory, Focus on Sound for theory and history, Soundtrap for audio recording, O-Generator for music composition, and Lesono for video recording.

If you missed Part 1 in this series which discusses incorporating new technology into the elementary classroom, you can read it here.

Next in the series: Designing, building, and maintaining your own music tech lab.

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.

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