Music Education: Tech Independent AND Tech Rich - Guest Blog Post

In recognition of Music in Our Schools Month, Atomic Learning invited our own Garrett Lathe to share his take on how music and technology can work together to impact the learning experience. 

Why? Because Garrett is not only on our eLearning content team, but also Artistic Director for Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota and an experienced former music educator.
Guest Post by Garrett Lathe, eLearning Senior Producer, Youth Chorale Artistic Director, and former educator.
As a veteran vocal music teacher of 17 years, I often touted the choir room as a place that was technology independent. If the electricity went out, or even worse, the wifi network tanked, I could not only keep students engaged, but also meet state and national standards by flashlight.
Fun Fact: This has happened in my class on more than one occasion. Inevitably our tornado drill would occur directly preceding a concert. Thankfully the choir room I taught in for 12 years also doubled as a tornado shelter. Knowing the drill, my students would line the walls, take the cover position, and continue to sing as students from other classes joined us in the music dungeon.
Music ensembles, especially choirs, are an amazing counter-cultural phenomenon. They require little to no technologies developed in the last hundred years and are time intensive. Yet in an environment where STEM courses and College in the Schools programs are stretching scholars’ schedules tighter than a drumhead, successful music programs continue to grow in our schools.
While there are many reasons for this trend, I will focus on one: Music Education is a discipline that is both technology independent and technology rich.
Building the case for technology independence in music education is pretty easy. Most elementary through high school programs depend on acoustic instruments and very little electricity, let alone technology. The same principles that guided Pythagoras and Aristotle remain the foundation of our music ensembles, and require no synthetic modification to be studied and appreciated. The fact that students would choose to “unplug” from the world around them and sing or play music that is sometimes hundreds of years old speaks to the fact that it is a valuable discipline, regardless of technology’s role in the classroom.
The case for a technology-rich environment is easy to build as well. There are a variety of tools and programs available that can not only enhance music education, but transform the education musicians are getting in our school music programs.
  • Digital Sheet Music 
    If you are in a 1:1 environment, consider using a .pdf reader or applications like forScore for sheet music for your class or ensemble (while maintaining copyright law compliance). There are many options for free music or licensed digital copies. This not only simplifies keeping track of copies, it limits the excuse “I forgot to bring my music home to practice.”

    Even if you are not 1:1, consider conducting using your iPad. With forScore, you can export the markings you make in your music to send to your students in a .pdf. It also reduces the size of the folder you have to lug up to the conducting podium. However, make sure you turn your notifications off. I once was conducting a concert when my weekly reminder to put the trash by the curb popped up.
  • Rehearsal/Accompaniment Track
    Through SmartMusic, Band in a Box, or even GarageBand and iTunes, you (or your students) can record rehearsal tracks, accompaniments, or other rehearsal/performance aids that can multiply your time with students. This redefines the rehearsal experience, allowing the musician to extend rehearsals beyond the school building’s walls.
  • Composing/Arranging
    Did you know that you can get free notation software with Finale NotePad and musescore? Composition is made incredibly simple when a powerful tool is available for students to use. For arranging, you can use GarageBand, Fruity Loops, and many other programs. This is not simply a substitution for pen and paper composition of the 20th Century. Students can now step through arranging loops in Fruity Loops, to recording and arranging in GarageBand, to notating in Finale NotePad.

    Note: Atomic Learning offers training on both Finale NotePad and GarageBand.
  • Enrichment/Remediation
    Do you have a student who needs remediation for a skill, or a school-of-music bound student who needs to enhance his or her music theory knowledge? Using sites like or allow musicians to set their own pace for learning.
  • Audio Assessments
    Your time and your students’ time is limited. When you can’t get around to every student to check that scale or hear that difficult passage, use your devices to record assessments. Whether in a BYOD environment, 1:1, or where you have a few devices for many musicians, giving students the opportunity to record their assessments is a time multiplier, and increases the quality of their work (if it takes them ten takes to get it right, hey, they’ve practiced it nine times before the test!).
With such a rich history of music education in our culture, it is important that music and the study of natural acoustics stay healthy in a technology-independent environment. However, combined with the transformative possibilities a technology-rich environment offers, music education will remain a relevant and vibrant course of study.

In Garrett Lathe's own words, "My first and primary job in life is being a full-time learner. This way of life improves every other aspect of my life." In line with his dedication to learning, Lathe is Senior Producer for the eLearning team at Atomic Learning, where he helps to create and develop online training content for schools, districts, colleges, and universities.

Lathe is also founding director and current Artistic Director of the Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota where he oversees the vision of the organization.

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