Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010's Model Defined for Shaping Music Education: Lessons Learned from Facebook

By Mark Burke

There is no question in my mind that those of us in the music education field can revolutionize the way we teach using modern technology.  The web has the ability to connect those who have long been disconnected.  Facebook is a great example of how a solution was developed to enable old and new friends alike to connect, converse, and share.  Facebook is also a great model for what I believe is the answer to truly adding value to music education.  Simply connecting teachers to students via the web has limited value by itself.  Had Facebook created just another discussion forum, they would be no different than the 10s of thousands of common place web communities.  However, the folks at Facebook thought through the total "reconnection/connection" experience to ensure they provided the tools to do just that.  They are obviously providing a host of services so that each of us can choose those we desire the most and use them to share.  If you like to share photos, you can do that.  If you like to share your thoughts while on the road, you can use their mobile services.  If you like to play games, you can play by yourself or with others.  By providing multiple reconnection and connection mechanisms, Facebook has created a world that millions now find ingrained into their daily lives. 

What does this mean for the music education industry?  Here are my lessons learned from Facebook.

Being "Online" is Not Enough
Simply providing lessons via the web has limited value.  Like Facebook, we must create a dynamic and enriching experience for our students by providing multiple tools and services.  If students simply log on and play a few exercises for their teacher and then log off, we will have built the music equivalent to a discussion board. While this may be valuable to a point, the long term advantages to the student are limited.  So what must we do? 

1.  Educators must have a plan for EACH lesson.  While most instrumental music lessons are reactive, online teaching must be proactive.  Knowing what you are going to cover ahead of time, sharing that with the student and sticking to your plan is a must.

2.  Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate.  Your plan should easily be turned into an evaluation for the student.  At the end of the lesson, share the results, and build the next plan from that.  Ad-hoc lessons will quickly demonstrate how little value simply spending time online can have.

3.  Provide supporting content.  When not engaging with students, provide content for the students but don't just let the students alone to search their way through the content.  Be available for support, guide them through the content, share with them outside of the actual lessons - ENGAGE the student totally in the act of learning music.

Community Is Key
Facebook counts on numbers. I know I can count on a ton of variety when I log in each day.  Some days I hear from a certain friend, other days another.  The real value of Facebook is in the community that provides variety.

Music educators often consider ourselves islands.  We have been trained since day 1 that our job is to solely educate our students.  We have been taught to be the "Directors", the "Conductors", the person in charge.  Often in schools we find ourselves isolated, fending for ourselves to attract students to our programs and keep them involved.  We have grown to become the controllers of our domain.

To create a powerful music education experience, we must unite our abilities, communicate our skills efficiently and promote the power of our collaboration.  To do so, we need a new kind of musical organization. What will that organization look like?

1. The organization will unite forward thinking, open minded music educators who are aware of the current state of our art and field of music education. Through our network of professional, energetic music educators, we can provide students of all ages with centralized instruction AND expanded opportunities to learn from others.

2.  We must recognize and reward educators for their ability to share their talents in innovative ways.  On Facebook, those who post the most engaging content are those that get followed.  The new "news feed" is a great example of how we measure successful engagement in their online community.  If you create a post that gets responses, then you "score" higher and have a chance of appearing in the news feed.  Being followed is a reward. 

3.  By sharing the accomplishments of our students openly, we provide a motivation tool like no other.  Students witnessing the success of other students encourages growth. Our new organization will harness the web to showcase students performances and share the learning experience with others.

Community Is Business
Behind the scenes at Facebook, you will no doubt find a business driven organization.  Providing the services they do is big business and as such, business conversations and actions drive them forward.  Our new organization will be staffed by driven individuals with musical talent and business savvy.  Most importantly, the organization will be filled with individuals who know our art will die unless we drive toward our goals.  The folks at Facebook are driving and driving to capture and maintain an ever growing portion of our time per day.  As music educators, we can learn from their approach.  We have options.  We can sit on the sideline and watch others play the game, or we can join in.  Not so many years ago, we battled to get our students to spend 1 hour per day practicing.  I witnessed that goal shrank to 30 minutes per day 10 years ago, then to 20, now 15.  We've tried practice charts, signed logs, extra credit, stars, candy and any other reward and recognition.  Now what? The answers will be developed once we get off the sideline. 

1.  Our new organization will redefine our approach to business.  Our first step is to engage those who want to get off the sideline and start playing the game.  Our staff will be filled by individuals who awake each day thinking about how they can help students reach their goals, how to get desiring students on board and how to reestablish music in our world.  Ideas will be generated.  But we will be valued only if we can act on our ideas and carry out our mission ourselves.

2.  We must give musical power back to students. Is the creation of music fun and rewarding for students?  Do they feel empowered to create music, or do they feel they are being told to create music?  Our organization will spend our time creating services and products to ensure students want to create music each and every day.  Like Facebook, we will provide services that build a desire in students to spend precious time each day with our organization, making music for themselves.

3.  We will influence the way young teachers are trained.  Facebook has revolutionized the way Marketing majors are trained.  Organizations with existing Marketing staff are also finding they must train their staff to harness the power of Facebook (and other web 2.0 applications to be fair).  Our organization will have a choice to either re-train existing professionals or be part of our upcoming professionals foundational training.  While efforts will go to both, our belief is that new students entering the field of music education will only be successful if they apply innovation to their educational approach. Therefore, they must be exposed to innovation during the formative years.  Our organization will help shape undergraduate programs as part of our business model. When young professional enter the field, they will hit the ground running, aware of how to help students reach their goals, no longer thinking of the themselves as the sole solution.

So I've given away our "secret plan" for viaAcademies.  While the bulk of 2009 was spent building our instructional foundation, we also had our ears firmly placed on the railroad tracks and our eyes on the horizon.  What we heard and saw was a clear sign that our art is primed and ready for change.  We see a pixelated portrait of what lies ahead, waiting for an organization to bring the view into focus.  We know we will not do this alone, that's why we share our goals.

We are in the process of finishing our 2009 course development and setting our sites on the actionable tasks for January 2010.  The two important take-aways from this message are:
  • We are forming a network of educators who match the description above.  Our network of teachers will work directly with our students (those who enroll at viaAcademies) as well as provide extra services for students in innovative brick and mortar programs around our country. 
  • In addition, we recognize the power of uniting teachers from around the country to reach out to students, helping them reach their musical goals while building online studios for dispersed teachers.  For teachers, we will provide the infrastructure, curriculum and training to help you reach more students.
What we have learned from Facebook is that to reach our goals, we must innovate, communicate and educate. We must also organize ourselves and set clear actionable goals.  And above all, it is us who add value to what we want to accomplish.  Our own ideas are only good if we act on them. We must create followers by creating a really great thing to follow.

If you are interested in learning more about viaAcademies or becoming part of our teacher network, please feel free to email me at

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays!  So that we may spend time with family friends, posts will resume on Monday, January 28th to our fan page and blog.

The gift of music is a precious gift, to possess, to receive and to give.  Give thanks for your musical abilities and share your talents with others this holiday season.  Give the gift of music with the help of viaAcademies to a family member, friend or student.

We wish everyone the best during this joyous season.

From the staff at viaAcadmies, Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top Holiday Activities to Unite Music and Your New Gadgets

By Mark Burke

I believe every techie gadget has a small window of opportunity to either become indispensable or just a fad. During the holidays, millions of small, personal gadgets and computers will fall into the hands of wide-eyed owners, brimming with excitement and little desire to read the manuals.  During the first few days out of their boxes, those gadgets either become ingrained into the lives of their new owners, or they become just another device trickling away at the electric bill.  The key to really harnessing the power of these devices is not knowing "how to use it", rather "how to MAKE use of it."

So here are a few devices and activities for each one (for students and teachers).  It would be really special to have readers post other activities, maybe even a few examples of your efforts for all to enjoy.     

  • Laptop
    • Student Activity:  Create a musical "presentation" highlighting your musical activities for the past year.  Plan to incorporate other medial including pictures and maybe even movies or sound files.  Plan the design of the presentation so you can excite your viewers.  Since you now have a laptop, take the laptop to your relative's or friend's homes so you can share your creation.  The key is to show how you can use your new laptop for more than just surfing the web. While you have their attention, showcasing your musical talents helps them learn a bit more about you as well. 
    • Teacher Activity:  Going mobile is really empowering. Create a list of Youtube or other musical videos that you want to share with your students.  By having a laptop, you no longer need to worry about copying links or emailing them to another account at school or at your studio.  Soon you will not believe you managed so long without a laptop. It is an incredible feeling when you can simply open the lid and share so much with others.     
  • Webcam
    • Student Activity: Meet online with a friend and play your instruments for each other.  Use SKYPE for a high quality experience.  Give a concert for each other and invite others to join in.  Pretty soon you will realize how easy it is to create your own, virtual concert.  
    • Teacher Activity:  Connect with a musical colleague over the holidays.  No need to worry about long distance phone bills, using SKYPE is free. Discuss your teaching techniques and share stories, best practice etc.  Store the colleague's contact information for the future so you can get together any time.
  • Digital Still Camera
    • Student Activity: Take several pictures of your instrument.  Try different angles and perspectives.  After you have several pictures, create a poster of the pictures.  You can go high tech here too by using a computer to create the poster, or just print the pictures and make a paper and glue collage.  Throw in some other pictures of your friends and include their instruments as well.  Be creative and show off your musical pride. If you want, you can even create an online albums. The goal is to show the pictures to younger students.  Show them how much fun you had making the pictures so you could share your instrument with them.  Check with your music teacher and work out a way for you to show your pictures to other classes or groups of students.
    • Teacher Activity:  Capture moments over the holidays of how music impacts the lives of others.  Take pictures at concerts, after and before (make sure this is ok). Your goal is to produce pictures that show the power of music in the lives of many.  Remember, if we can't see the value music has in our lives and others, it is hard to communicate that to students.  This is a great activity to remind us all why we play musical instruments. 
  • Digital Video Camera
    • Student Activity: Record yourself playing your instrument.  I know this sounds pretty basic. But let's face it, you may need a reason to practice over the holidays. Your goal is to demonstrate to your teacher that you did practice over the holidays. Record an exercise that you were assigned or record yourself playing a band song.  Place the video on a DVD.  Ten years from now you will have a lot of fun watching your video.  
    • Teacher Activity:  Record a "What Music Means to Me" video. When you return to school after the holidays, share the video with your students.  They will really appreciate hearing your story. Remember, you can also use this as a recruitment tool in the future. 
What advice do you have for making use of new gadgets?  Let us know what you discovered under your tree and how you put it to use in your musical world.

Happy Holidays Everyone! 

Friday, December 18, 2009

SmartPhonic Music

By Mark Burke
Websters defines "instrument" as "A device used to produce music."  I'm not sure when that definition was first crafted, but it was certainly written with an eye to the future.  Who knew back then how the "mobile device" would impact our lives?  I believe we somehow knew mobile devices would permeate most of our lives and therefore the definition was written to ensure the future of instrumental music ;-)  Everyone who carries a mobile device should now think of themselves as a musician - fantastic.

To create music of some level of complexity, it helps to have an instrument with the ability to produce a variety of sounds.  Enter the SmartPhone device and what I hope becomes a common phrase around the stage, SmartPhonic music.  Homophonic music is music with one melody played at a time with other sounds as accompaniment.  Polyphonic music is two or more musical lines or melodies interacting to create the desired musical effect. Since there is no official definition of SmartPhonic music, I'll do my best.

SmartPhonic:  Music created through the reactions and interactions of mobile technologies based on their relationship to the physical world.

The iPhone is already becoming a viable musical instrument.  In fact, the University of Michigan offers a class called the "Mobile Phone Ensemble"

You can also visit their website at the Michigan Mobile Phone Ensemble

SmartPhonic music is created, with the iPhone in the case of the MMPE, by connecting one of the many sensors in the phone to its ability to produce sounds.  So for example, as the phone is moved through space, the GPS sensor can be used to produce a variety of sounds.  In the case of the MMPE, adding multiple players and a conductor raises the production of SmartPhonic music to an entirely new level.  New conducting methods and gestures are being developed, new rules about ensemble performance no doubt come into play and on and on and....

As educators, it's now up to us. How will we harness these new musical instruments? Can we now teach and influence more students than ever to create music? 

The future of viaAcademies is wide open.  Do I see a future class in how to play a Smartphone?  Yes I do.  What do you think?  Will SmartPhonic music become a new entry into Websters?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

School Band Programs Are Dying

By Mark Burke

As schools cut elementary and middle school band programs, the future of high school (and college) programs is unclear. I am sad to say that even in my own backyard, I see evidence that band programs continue to shrink or at minimum, not grow. While my observations are anecdotal, it does not take a data collection effort to see large school stages, once filled with musicians, now occupied by small ensembles as a sign of the negative changes occurring. For sure it would be unfair to say that all schools, even in my own area are shrinking. It is also unfair to say that shrinking bands are not quality bands. I was once the director of a 25 piece Marching Band that performed well. So for clarity, my point is not that small is worse.

The point is though, that there are others who see the shrinking of bands as the real, global issue that it is. This video by ABC represents what others are experiencing in their communities. Bands are shrinking now more than ever due to budget constraints and school beliefs.

Marching to the Sound of Silence

Schools no doubt choose to cut elementary and middle school programs first. Those programs can more quickly fade away. If students do not have the option to join, the thought is that they will simply move on to other choices. Eliminating a high school program means eliminating the history of both the student performers and the band. High School bands are highly visible in the community so eliminating them ignites many emotions. For schools, this means the "anger" of the community can enter the board room, a situation schools want to avoid. Cutting the elementary program at first seems easier and less controvesial.

Over time, that decision will impact the high school, college and professional musical ensembles. With no feeder systems, those programs are sure to suffer. A decision that seems easier at first becomes gradually harder to deal with over time. Of course, it's only harder to deal with for the people who want and need music in their lives. Raise your hand if that is you. I fear too many people forget that the music they appreciate and listen to each and every day started in quality, elementary music programs in some way, shape or form. If you were responsible for cutting a program at some level, and raised your hand indicating you need music in your life, it's time to rethink your actions.

What role do music teachers play? First, times have changed. It is no longer feasible to think band programs can thrive following the old school ways of engaging students. Lessons must create excitement in students. When they leave the lesson room, they must feel rewarded and motivated to work hard toward clearly defined goals. The days of listening to students each week, with only a pencil and lesson book in hand are over. As teachers, we must have a planned course of action for our students, a learning plan. We must set goals and show students how to reach them. We must demonstrate that music is a learned art, a subject that has value beyond just pushing buttons and blowing air into a horn.

Teachers must also make use of tools outside their comfort zone in order to bring awareness to their program, ensure educational value, learn new techniques and create opportunities for students. I will go so far as to say, if you are a band director and make limited use of technology, it's time for a change. The change goes beyond taking a class on using the internet. You must get past understanding what tools exist and move to integration quickly if we expect our art to survive. Educational Technology is not the end all solution. The tools are there to help us as educators meet our instructional goals. When instrumental music teachers begin to demonstrate our role in the overall education of students, and the impact on our communities, we will start to rebuild instrumental music's place in education.

Where should we start? Start by having open discussions on this topic. Search the web and you will quickly see our profession keeps this topic wrapped up. There is little public discussion going on about how we can help each other. Even on the top Band Director Facebook page, little interaction is occurring on the topic. Start here. Share your thoughts.

Am I wrong? Are band programs NOT dying? What can we do here and now for the future?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Trombone Slide: A Mystery Solved

By Becky Ciabattari

For most wind instruments, it is easy to see the keys, buttons, or valves that are pressed to make different pitches. The Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone and Trumpet are all examples of instruments that utilize keys or valves to change pitches. Yet, there is one wind instrument that uses a slide to change pitches. It is called the trombone.

Because there are no valves or keys on a trombone, it may seem like a mystery as to how a trombonist can create different notes. People have often asked me, “How in the world do you know where to put the slide?” Others have asked, “The trombone looks so hard and you’re such a small person; how do you do it?” Read on to learn how to dispel the mystery that lies behind the trombone slide.

The trombone slide is divided into seven positions that are created by extending the outer slide. The easiest trombone slide position to find is called first position. First position is when the slide is all the way in; seventh position is the farthest position, found by extending the slide out almost as far as it will go. The inner positions (2-6) are often found by using the trombone bell is as a reference point, in addition to careful listening. For instance, third position is found by placing the outer slide cross brace slightly above the rim of the bell. Fourth position can usually be found by aligning the top of the outer slide slightly below the bell. The trombone course through viaAcademies offers clear explanations, graphics, and videos describing how to find all seven positions on the trombone slide.

Once you are able to locate the positions, it is also important to be able to buzz your lips more firmly for higher notes and more relaxed for lower notes. The lips and air are important components to changing pitches on a trombone. In addition, listening to the sounds you make will help to encourage excellent trombone playing while making changes in slide positions and buzzing.

You may be thinking, “This seems like a lot to learn all at once!” Or, “I can’t play this instrument because I am small and I won’t be able to reach all of the positions.” Be assured that you will learn one slide position at a time, then move on to the next. As far as size is concerned, I always tell my students that it doesn’t matter. There are tools that can be purchased to help a student reach the longer positions if you choose, and in most cases, your arm WILL grow! Also, fortunately, most music you will play in your first year will require little use of sixth and seventh positions.

I hope that this information has helped dissolve the mystery behind the trombone slide. As you learn to listen to the sounds you make on the trombone, this instrument may become less mysterious, but rather more tangible and enjoyable. Learning to play the trombone is not only well within the "reach" of most students, it is definitely fun!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Art of Music Advocacy

Finding the right way to advocate for music education is an art form in and of itself.  Here have a few of the many approaches.

The Texas Music Project

Muzak Heart & Soul Foundation

VH1: Save the Music (LG/VH1)

Jack Stamp: Educator and Composer

Are the approaches above good for music education?
If you could create the ultimate Music Advocacy Campaign, what would it be?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top 5 Techniques for Providing Quality Instrumental Music Lessons

For the next 5 minutes, I ask all Band Directors to put down their batons.  I know it can be scary, but we'll get through this together.  Just lay it on the music stand and back away slowly.  You can do it.  There, you did it.

Conducting a band is such an amazing experience.  We've all had those moments we just don't want to end when the students are totally immersed in the moment, all eyes are on the stick and beautiful music erupts....Wow!Our planning paid off.  We chose the right music, our notes from the last rehearsal helped us prepare and the recording of this rehearsal will guide our efforts for the following rehearsal.  All is good. 

We've laid the baton down so we can spend some time looking at how we can apply our skills as directors to ensure our instrumental music lessons, either individual or small group are just as successful.  Here are my top 5 techniques for providing quality instrumental music lessons.  

  1. Have a plan:  Know your student(s) before they walk into the lesson room.  Have a document to track the materials taught during the last session and the goals for the current session.  Make sure the students get a copy of that document as well.  Using that document, get yourself focused on the materials.  We all have a ton to do during the day.  If we can't remember what students are doing and WHY, we can't help them.  When they arrive, you will be ready to jump right in knowing exactly what to work on.  This effort doesn't have to take a ton of time.  Use the time between periods to review the document.  
  2. Stick to the plan:  Students can be tricky.  They have many finely honed skills on sidetracking us older folk including stories about their pets, friends or family and their upcoming holiday travels.  Stay focused.  If the kids notice they can consistently side track you, no amount of planning will matter to them.  They must know that you have a plan and that you will stick to that plan. This doesn't mean you have to be rigid. You can still remain a human being while ensuring students do not take control of the short about of time you have with them
  3. Set goals and make them important:  One example is setting specific tempo goals for exercises.  Track those tempo goals during each lesson.  Send those goals to parents as well (if you teach school aged students).  Have you ever trained to run a marathon, began a weight lose program or set a goal to bike 1000 miles? If so, you know the power of sharing that goal with others.  Use that same logic to help students.  Share their goals with the parents, make them a part of the skill improvement process.  Doing so lets the student know they are not alone and makes the goal more important.  When we strive for goals, and others know we are striving for those goals, we tend to not want to let others down.  Letting others know about a student's goals can motivate them to succeed. If you teach older students, encourage them to share their goals with others. One option is for you to maintain a program blog and allow students to talk about their goals with others.  Be creative.  We should always remember that music is important to those who participate.  We shouldn't try to hide our enthusiasm or the enthusiasm of our students.  
  4. Assess for Success:  If students leave lessons too often with little more than a "good job today" accolade, they soon realize the bar has been set pretty low.  Assessing their performance during lessons should be systematic and organized.  Use a rubric and comment on a variety of areas including tone, articulation, musicality, technique, preparedness, instrument care and handling, etc.  
  5. Model:  Be prepared to model the various skills on the instrument you are teaching.  If you can't play the instrument well enough, demonstrate using an instrument as close to the student's as possible.  The real goal is to demonstrate on the same instrument the student is playing.  But it's ok to demonstrate using another instrument as long as the effect and technique can be mimicked very closely.  For example, it is hard to demonstrate how finger technique effects sound for a saxophonist using the trumpet.  You could demonstrate the concept however, using a clarinet or flute if you don't play sax well enough.  
We may now all pick up our batons. The skills we demonstrate when conducting our group can tell us much about how to prepare for lessons.  Plan, assess, make goals important, model and most importantly, stick to the plan to ensure quality lessons.

What techniques do you use to ensure quality lessons?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Free Online and Software Metronomes

By Mark T. Burke

Traditional metronome devices are simply amazing practice aids.  New versions are small and portable, feature rich and generally inexpensive. But lets face it, budgets don't always allow for another musical purchase.

Free, downloadable, computer-based metronomes can quickly put a metronome in the hands of a student.  Are they all created equal?  To help you decide, I've collected 5 readily available metronomes, tested the interface and performance and wrote a sentence or two about each.

TempoPerfect Metronome by HCM Software
Web-based or Software:  Software
Download and Installation:  Straight forward.  No membership or sign up required.
Interface:  Nice layout and subtle use of colors to enhance certain features.
Multi-metric:  Yes
Subdivision:  Yes -- even some that are impractically fast.
Pluses:  Includes a tempo scale showing common tempo terms and associated tempo ranges.
Cons: Metronome readout is poor, gray highlighted, digital number could be better.  The sound is a pleasant sound, but not very loud.
Final Thoughts:  Nice overall tool.  The sound limitations may not make this the perfect tool to play along with.  But for sure, since it is software based, it is accurate and easy to use.

Metronome Plus by M&M Systeme  
Web-based or Software:  Software
Download and Installation:  Choose language on the website.  Straight forward.  No membership or sign up required.
Interface:  WOW!  A bit intimidating at first.  Lots of buttons but they make sense after your start to use it. 
Multi-metric: Yes
Subdivision:  No
Pluses:  A host of sounds available and the ability to add your own.  Programmable patterns possible. Sound types make it easy to choose one you can hear while playing. 
Cons: No native subdivision.  You could create the subdivision with really fast tempo settings but doing so is not that easy.
Final Thoughts:  Great tool minus the subdivision issue.  The program mode is a great tool. It allows you to program tempo changes over time, great for teaching rit. and accel.

The Accelerating Metronome by Sean Luciw

Web-based or Software:  Software
Download and Installation:  Straight forward.  No membership or sign up required.
Interface:  Bold colors appeal to a younger audience. Simple layout.
Multi-metric: No
Subdivision:  No
Pluses:  A very simple metronome if you need just the basics.  The tempo change feature is great for exercises.   
Cons: The dials are hard to use.  I kept trying to move the dials in a circular motion.  Click and move your mouse up and down to change the dials.  The tempo change is time based, not musically based. 
Final Thoughts:  At first I found this little tool odd. But as I began to think of ways to use it, I think it will be a nice tool for scale patterns and for use when doing finger drills (woodwinds).  The sound of the click will certainly allow it to be heard while playing.

Advanced Metronome Online by Marcin Szpak
Web-based or Software:  Web-based
Download and Installation:  None
Interface:  A new approach that works.  The timeline at the top shows the instruments that have been chosen for the pattern.  Clicking on them deletes them from the timeline.  Sliders provide easy volume adjustments for each instrument. 
Multi-metric: No
Subdivision: Yes and No
Pluses:  A new approach to metronomes. To see the benefit, click on the Tango choice on the first screen.  Then, click start.  WOW!     
Cons: The interface does not have good user choice indicators so I was never sure what tempo I was using.  The rhythm pattern box was confusing to use at first. 
Final Thoughts:  This metronome really impressed me.  It appears to be a work in progress.  The style options are really nice and the sounds are high quality. This one is worth a look for sure.

At viaAcademies, we provide students with SmartMusic which also has a built in software based metronome. 

Practice Metronome by SmartMusic
Web-based or Software:  Software
Download and Installation:  Installs as a component of SmartMusic.  Accessed through "Practice Tools."
Interface:  The familiar SmartMusic interface is used.  A simple slider for the tempo and buttons for other options.  I still find the look and feel out dated.   

Multi-metric: Yes
Subdivision: Yes
Pluses:  Free to SmartMusic subscribers.  Flexible beat patterns and easy to use.      
Cons: The metronome is a bit soft and can be hard to hear. 

Final Thoughts:  A nice tool if you have SmartMusic.  Those familiar with the interface will find it familiar and usable.


Do you use a great software or web-based metronome?  Add your review with others.  

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brick, Mortar and Megabytes: Uniting Brick and Mortar with Virtual Schools

By Mark Burke

In 1993 the school where I taught was at the doorstep of a revolution.  The school's first WAN had been installed along with Internet access and district-wide email.  School's across the US were eagerly adopting the technology identified as a sure fire way to raise educational quality.  At my school, those of us who adopted the value of the technology were balancing our real jobs with other duties to help the school setup networks and computer labs, train teachers and develop new strategic plans to include technology. 

For the next few years, schools reviewed and integrated countless computer applications all with a focus on helping students learn. Document publishing software, graphic art applications, databases, math tutoring games, and yes, music software were being purchased and installed on thousands of school computers.  In addition to software, there were few schools not teaching students how to use the web for "research."  Schools had become a strong, centralized resource for technology and thus, even stronger educational entities.

By 1998 and 1999, a transition had begun.  School networks had become increasing faster and the web had gotten a foot hold in many homes.  Schools began connecting services typically only available by visiting the school with families in their homes.  A new wave had begun where school, home and community became part of the learning circle made possible through web tools and communication.

Around that same time, what would seem like a threat to our strong public and private brick and mortar schools came out of nowhere.  Enter the Virtual Schools.  As a technology enabler for my school, I grew increasingly interested in jumping on board the fast moving Educational Technology revolution. I was not alone.  Those who witnessed the true instructional benefits or technology in our schools moved full steam ahead to create even more powerful technology based education.  With schools now able to reach out to the community more easily, it made sense to develop a way to not just communicate, but educate using the same distributive methods.  Virtual Schools allowed education to take advantage of the ease of distribution the web had to offer.  What ensued appeared by many to be a large threat to the future of brick and mortar schools.  Virtual Schools became a main source of education for many K-12 students. Students were now staying home and receiving their education via the web. Still even more students were remaining in their brick and mortar school and taking classes online as a supplement. The threat seemed to be growing.  

Like many professionals who played a role in creating virtual schools, I have never thought of them as threats to other school systems.  Virtual Schools developed because great schools rolled out technology solutions to long held challenges.  My background in public school teaching helped lead me to develop virtual schools.  Online courses open new doors for many students who would otherwise not have options. They do so because they were developed, like all good educational technology to solve problems.   

I had a brilliant trumpet teacher(Dr. Mike Galloway, Mansfield University) in college who used to say "I am a musician who just happens to play trumpet."  His statement was simple yet profound.  He instilled in me that being a musician was my goal and that my instrument was merely the vehicle of my art.  When I speak to other educators, I use an adapted version of that same philosophy.  I tell others "we are educators who just happen to teacher at a xxxx", filling in the blank with public school, private school, private studio, community college, state university or virtual school.  This mindset establishes the school as a vehicle for delivering education, not the center of our occupation. 

As an educator, I want to use ALL tools available to me.  I encourage others to think the same.  I had the great pleasure of presenting viaAcademies to a band director at a brick and mortar school recently.  His feedback was priceless.  He shared what I know is an ongoing struggle.  He has several students in a lesson group, all at different levels.  He mentioned how the first few lessons of the year are fabulous with all kids at about the same level.  After a few weeks though, the frustration sets in.  He is tired of feeling that frustration and tired of seeing kids being frustrated.  He is a passionate educator looking for solutions no matter where they come from.  His approach is as I mentioned above.  He is a educator who just happens to teach at a public school and wants the help of an online school for his students.  His choice does anything but lower his credibility as a public school teacher.  It does so by significantly raising his position as an educator, first and foremost.  He sees his job clearly, help kids be successful.  At the end of the demonstration, he said "I will make the case for this and I will be successful because it is simple, effective and will help kids."  I am proud to say he was talking about viaAcademies and our courses.

I say it is time to rid ourselves of the controversy over the relationship between brick and mortar and virtual schools. I like the phrase, Brick, Mortar and Megabytes.  I know there are many who want to see the separation maintained and find no value in partnering the two.  My challenge to all is to think of yourselves first as educators, willing to use whatever tool needed to educate students.  Virtual School courses are certainly incredibly powerful tools in our arsenal. I'm not willing to be viewed as someone who doesn't take every path possible to help students.  By pushing virtual schools out of the equation as solutions for brick and mortar challenges, isn't that what is happening?

What do you think?  Should brick and mortar school use virtual school solutions?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Musical Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Our fans recently submitted their top picks for musical gift ideas.  I've listed the items along with pricing and a few features and benefits for each item to help you decide on the right gift. 

  • Digital Music Recorder -- Price Range - $100+
    • High quality sound representation
    • Digital files can be sent via web to others for assessment (or even to relatives and friends)
    • Files can be named, saved and located easily for future reference
  •  Digital Metronome / Tuner -- Price Range -- $30+
    • Small size - fits into case, many can be attached to music stand for easy access
    • Small adjustments to tempo possible, great for drill practice.
    • Adding metronome and tuner into practice quickly raises the level of accuracy for musicians.
    • Great motivational tool
  • Professional Recording -- $0.99+
    • Demonstrates the true sound and capability of a student's instrument
    • Great motivational tool
    • Quickly provides example of musicality possible in a specific composition
  • High Quality Folding Music Stand -- $35.00+
    • More stable than the inexpensive, silver folding stands
    • Hold heavier books and music folders.
    • Easier setup encourage proper use and adjustment.
  • New Instrument Case -- $200.00+
    • Lighter, easy to carry options available with backpack and shoulder straps.
    • The added pockets provide storage for books, music and accessories.  No more excuses for forgetting items for lessons :-) 
    • Modern designs are more attractive to young and old musicians.
  • Supplies, Reeds, Valve Oil, Cleaning Kits -- $2.00+
    • Great stocking stuffers
    • Students seem to never have the supplies they need :-)
    • Small items that show you support a student's involvement in music, young or old.
  • SmartMusic -- $30
    • Of course, the best way to provide SmartMusic is to enroll a student in viaAcademies.
    • SmartMusic is a great practice tool.
  • Concert Tickets -- $0.00 +
    • A great way to spend a few hours with family and friends
    • Live concerts stimulate us to practice and create music on our own
    • Tickets support music in your hometowns and add value to all musicians
What other ideas can we add?