Music Technology is Evolving – Use It!

with Jessica Maple

Jessica Maple is a Vandoren Regional Artist. The goal of the Vandoren Regional Artist program is to enhance the quality of the music experience in your school.  This is made possible by Vandoren and a network of woodwind professionals around the country with a passion for music education and performance.

VandorenUSA: As an educator for over 10 years, how has your teaching evolved throughout the years?

Jessica Maple: When I first started teaching, I didn’t really know how a group of students would react because I hadn’t taught homogeneously during student teaching. After the first three or four years, I was able to build upon a routine and know the things that worked and how to adapt when they didn’t. I also had to work with the other three band directors and to make sure I was staying on task with the teaching in their groups. As a team, we would change our approaches as well, so it was important to adapt while still maintaining the techniques I wanted to teach.



What are some things that have clicked with the students? 

- Ask a lot of questions to the students about the music. If I tell them the answer, they don’t learn or remember as well.

- Giving out stickers; everybody loves stickers–even seniors in high school!

- Allowing different students to shine during class. If there was a student who wouldn’t volunteer to answer, I would talk to them on and off and ask them questions to get them involved.

- Having the beginners play for the group. That way they became familiar with playing in front of other people and I got to hear them individually.

- Allow students to keep things fresh— you never know what they’re going to say and they might really impress you (and even themselves).



Do you think it is necessary for music educators to offer music technology opportunities to their students at a young age?

Yes, it helps keep class exciting! It’s very important to keep up with what’s available for teachers and students. It’s good for the students to learn practices from the past as well as use resources that are available today. The teachers are the ones who need to seek these out and test them so the students can be successful. I was lucky because in college I worked in the music computer lab, so I became familiar with Band-in-a-Box, Sibelius and things like that, which were new at that time.

When I had my first job down in Texas, I wanted to incorporate these music-writing programs. Our school didn’t have a music computer lab, so we would take a field-trip once a semester to the university that was close-by and go to their music technology lab. When we got there, I would have the university’s professor guide them.

The first time we would go, they would “learn the basics” of the program. At the end of the session, they had written their own version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The second time we went there, they would learn more about arranging, adding harmonies and more advanced techniques. After two years of doing that, I had the opportunity to write a grant (I believe we received the grant because of the guidance of the professor and from working in conjunction with him). We got 5 new computers, the Sibelius program and MIDI-keyboards for our band hall and the kids and staff were excited!



How would you incorporate technology in the music classroom? 

At the time, I was in a woodwind quintet and I had my music theory students who went on the field trips to the university arrange pop music for a woodwind quintet. The quintet would play their arrangements as a performance in class. It sounds very different with a live ensemble versus how Sibelius would play it back, causing the kids to become enthusiastic about music and the quintet had fun playing the students’ music.

In the band settings we used Rhythm Bee with the beginners that would have them follow a tapping foot on the screen and different rhythms to clap, tap and count together as a class. The program allows the teacher to set how many measures, the tempo and types of rhythms to include. With the more advanced classes, we had SmartMusic available that had some of the Essential Elements lines for the students to play along and practice with a metronome.

We could also project a tuner on the screen for the group to see as a whole or for an individual to check their pitch at the beginning of class. SmartMusic also has a lot of solos in its library that will follow the player on rubato or cadenza sections which allowed the students to practice along and prepare for rehearsal with the piano accompanist during solo and ensemble time.



Any cool music apps that you would recommend? 

Actually, I found out about an app from my students named the “TonalEnergy Tuner.” It shows a green smiley face when you’re in tune, which is a silly but simple motivator. Because my students were so familiar with that app and there was an option to record, I had them record their playing tests which saved class time.

The other thing I would have them do with that app as a practice tool was during class or rehearsal, I would encourage students to record us playing together. I came up with this idea because I had started to record myself during my community band rehearsals. The recording would give me the tempos the director was taking, in addition to hearing the other parts happening in the ensemble. Because I did this, I encouraged my students to do the same in our classroom rehearsals. When they went home, they could play along with the recording, making them want to practice more. In addition, the students could say “mom, listen to what we did in class today!”


 WAVE Wrap-Up

  • Keep up with music software and ask around with what other directors might be trying in their ensembles.  Check out Sibelius, Rhythm Bee and SmartMusic.
  • Take a field-trip. If you live close to a university, try networking with the music technology coordinator there. The kids would love to tackle a new music project.
  • Play student arrangements by professionals. If you are personally affiliated with a group or know of a group that can get together, have students hear their own arrangements by musicians.
  • Encourage recording. It may be scary at first, but allowing students to record in rehearsal may be an effective way for them to remember notes, tempi and know how their section sounds.
  • Check out some apps. Jessica made the suggestion of “TonalEnergy Tuner,” which can transform the way a student practices


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