This article was originally published in The Woman Conductor Journal, February 2023 issue.
If you are looking to engage students during rehearsals, technology might be the answer! There are several tech tools you can use to enhance musicianship and get students more deeply involved in the music-making process.
Tech Tools to Build Musicianship
The goal of any band rehearsal is to make music and for students to increase their musical capacity. Here are three tech tools you can use to help students develop skills in rhythm, sight-reading, and intonation. For each, you ideally want to project the website or app on a screen at the front of the room where all students can see it.
Sight Reading Factory is a tool that makes sight reading practice fun and easy. You begin by choosing your instrument or ensemble type, difficulty level, time signature, and key signature, then Sight Reading Factory generates a musical excerpt.
Ensemble excerpts can be unison or multi-part. There are even options for rhythm-only excerpts and other customizations. Project the exercise at the front of the room so the whole ensemble can sight read together.
You can access a limited number of sight-reading exercises for free, or subscriptions are available for educators at a very reasonable cost. Students can get full access to Sight Reading Factory for only $2 per student. With student accounts, teachers can create assignments, give students feedback, incorporate practice logs, and more. Sight Reading Factory can be accessed through a web browser or through an iOS app.
The Rhythm Randomizer is a great tool to help students practice reading rhythms. Use the Settings to select the exercise length (1-8 measures), time signature, and type of notes. The Rhythm Randomizer will generate a new rhythmic pattern each time. You can even access a metronome and have the Rhythm Randomizer play the rhythm for you. Project the rhythm on the board in front of the ensemble for students to practice counting and playing. Or you could have students create a melody using the generated rhythm. The best things about Rhythm Randomizer – it’s completely free and as a web-based tool, you can use it on any device!
The Tonal Energy app can be considered a musician’s best friend! It contains a tuner, tone generator, and metronome all in one place. It will even help track your practice. Students enjoy the visual elements of the tuner – it displays a green smiley face when pitches are played in tune. Band directors can project the Tonal Energy app on a screen at the front of the room for students to tune, use the tone generator for students to practice matching pitch, see visual representations of rhythms and meter, or use the analysis features to see a waveform of what they played. Tonal Energy is currently available for iOS and Android devices for only $3.99. They are also in the process of creating a special version for educators and their students.
Tech Tools to Involve Students in the Rehearsal Process
Often during rehearsals, the director does most of the error detection, critical thinking, and decision making. This is for several reasons, one of which is the fact that there are often a large number of students in the rehearsal, making it difficult to hear from everyone. You can use technology to help with this problem. By giving all students a voice in the ensemble, you are engaging them more and involving them in the rehearsal process. Students can share their thoughts about musical decisions, analyze the ensemble or sections’ performance, suggest plans for the next rehearsal, and more.
Here are some tech tools that are great for involving students and giving them a voice during rehearsal.
Google Slides is one of the most versatile tools in Google Workspace. While many people think about Google Slides for presentations, you can also use Slides collaboratively. Share an editable Slide deck with the ensemble that includes some pre-planned discussion prompts. Then students can all add their thoughts and feedback in one place. If you’re looking for more Google Slides ideas, check out Using Google Slide in Music and Tips and Tricks for Using Google Slides in Music.
Jamboard is Google’s collaborative whiteboard tool. Students can respond to prompts using sticky notes, text boxes, images, and drawings. You can also add a custom background. Jamboard is similar to Google Slides, but the benefit of using Jamboard comes from its simplicity. The limited features make it perfect for what it does best – providing a digital whiteboard with space for all students to share their voices. Check out Getting Started With Google Jamboard for even more ideas.
Padlet has similar features to Jamboard, in that multiple users can share their thoughts about a topic. Something that makes Padlet unique is the ability to add text, links, images, videos, audio recordings, files, GIFs, and more! On Padlet, users contribute to one webpage that you can configure in several ways, such as a grid, a single stream of responses, a canvas where responses can be moved and arranged, columns, or a timeline. Padlet is very easy to set up and use.
Pear Deck allows you to insert interactive elements into a presentation (such as Google Slides or Powerpoint), encouraging active participation, and giving all students a voice in the rehearsal. Students can answer questions, give feedback, and share their reflections. Create a Pear Deck presentation to accompany a rehearsal and ask one question after each piece or section to confirm that students understood concepts and learn what they still need to work on.
Nearpod is very similar to Pear Deck and makes presentations more interactive. Nearpod has numerous templates and activity options and also also includes some gamification elements to add an extra layer of fun to the learning.
Mentimeter encourages student voice through interactive polls, quizzes, and word clouds. Mentimeter is simple for both the creator and the participant, making it easy to use at the beginning, end, or even during a rehearsal.
Poll Everywhere is another solution for teachers looking to create quick questions and collect responses from all students. Students respond to a question using their devices and results are displayed in real time. You can use it for formative assessments or anonymous discussions.
Many of us became familiar with “backchannel” conversations during online teaching. A back channel is a secondary conversation that happens alongside the primary conversation. Using the chat feature in Zoom during a presentation is a great example of a backchannel. We can also use backchannels for in-person learning – including band rehearsals! The backchannel gives students a voice and a place to share their thoughts and opinions to engage more during rehearsals.
There are many options for backchannel tools. Google Chat, Slack, and Discord are three popular examples. YoTeach is a backchannel app where students can ask questions, participate in polls, and collaborate with classmates all within one platform. YoTeach is free and can be used on any device. Your LMS might also contain chat or discussion features.
The backchannel doesn’t have to be used during every rehearsal, but it can be a good thing to try when you want students to be more analytical and reflective about their playing. It’s a good idea to set clear expectations and boundaries prior to introducing a backchannel in rehearsals.
Things to Remember
Not every tech tool will work in every situation. Think about your ensemble and musical goals first, then determine how technology can support that. If your students are under 13 years old, it’s a good idea to check with your school’s technology director prior to introducing a new tech tool to make sure it’s approved for use. When thinking about non-musical tech tools, the technology director may be able to suggest which tool the students are already familiar with or have the easiest access to. Technology will never replace live music making, but it can definitely help engage students during rehearsal and enhance the experience!
Interested in learning about other tech tools to engage music students? Check out these other blog posts: