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Enhancing Music Education for Digital Natives

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Enhancing Music Education for Digital Natives

How to use tech tools to help teach and engage students.

By Linda Christensen, PhD

Today’s students learn in a variety of ways. The days of “looking it up in the encyclopedia” have given way to our era of mobile devices and video games. What started with Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego has become a national phenomenon.

For music teachers, many of whom are already reeling from budget cuts, the prospect of teaching digital natives may be intimidating. But for the enterprising educator, there’s never been a better time to teach students a fresh approach to mastering “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”

The Benefits of Music Education

Music education has a number of proven benefits. In addition to providing students with a means of self-expression, it also stimulates beneficial skills for potential future work experiences. Playing in a band or orchestra also boosts and reinforces teamwork, perseverance, project management, and time management.

And if that weren’t enough, the National Association for Music Education reported a difference in brain development and improved memory for young children who have taken music lessons. Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement also highlights research suggesting that students in music education tend to have better GPAs, higher scores on standardized reading and math tests, and are less likely to drop out of school.

Music programs across the U.S. are under attack. As schools undergo numerous budget cuts, music and arts programs are among the first to be eliminated. This is not a recent development: more than 1,000 teachers were let go, and the involvement of students in music education steeply declined.

Reinventing the Music Lesson

But there is a light, and perhaps a song, at the end of the tunnel.

Teachers that incorporate newer teaching modalities—using the digital devices that students are so at home with—are far more likely to be successful at reviving the currently sagging music curriculum and leaving today’s students with a more balanced education that incorporates music.

For instance, students’ smartphones can become de facto teachers’ assistants, offering exercises that can expedite a student’s learning curve, and in some cases, real-time feedback on exercises. Students can reinforce classroom instruction during study hall or the bus ride home with devices they’ve got in their backpacks.

Many teachers have a zero-tolerance policy for smartphone use in the classroom. In my classroom smartphones are encouraged, if not required. During traditional lectures, I use apps that offer real-time student interaction to keep students focused on the material, while allowing them to use their devices to interact with me on polls, quizzes, drawings, and more. Some examples of excellent apps are NearPod, TalkBoard, and Socrative.

For non-lecture activities, such as practicing instruments, there are effective apps like Piano Maestro, Practicia, and Practice Center. These provide the teacher with useful feedback on students, including which songs were practiced and for how long. Students can also send their teacher audio and video recordings from the practice room to show their progress or to ask for help. Using apps like these, I can catch issues between lessons that help my students move forward, so they don’t have to wait for the next lesson to correct or change the way they practice.

I’ve only encountered two students in my career who were hesitant to use their devices in the classroom and the practice room. They didn’t use their phones and mobile devices frequently, although they had access to them. But after mentoring them and showing them how the devices could benefit their education, they now happily admit that these apps have worked, and can’t imagine learning how to play an instrument without using a device.

Linda Christensen is the Director of Education for JoyTunes, a company that combines music methodologies with the latest in gaming features through a series of apps. She is a piano and music technology specialist with over 20 years of experience in higher education. Previously, she served as Professor of Piano and Music Technology and Music Department Chair for Wayne State College.

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