Bringing recorder instruction to life with technology

How I use technology to impact recorder class

This article has been written by a guest author.  If you’re an educator or music industry professional who is interested in contributing an article to the Midnight Music blog, you can apply here.

The author of today’s article is Joshua Manfroni – a general 1-joshua-manfronimusic teacher at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry in Flowery Branch, GA. Joshua teaches all of the 750 K-5 students at his school.

In this article, Joshua shares the positive effect that the Joytunes online recorder program has had with his grade 4 and 5 music classes.

– Katie Wardrobe

So if you’re like me, your ears are still ringing from the sweet sound of the new recorders in your classroom. And if you are even more like me, this is one of the best sounds of my day! Students are always so excited to get their shiny, new recorders each year and their enthusiasm is heard ringing through the halls (I can’t tell you how many times teachers have walked by my room and asked how I deal with all the “noise”).

For a few year now, I have been integrating technology into my recorder instruction through the use of a free website called Joytunes. For those of you unfamiliar with this resource, I will explain it to you as I explain it to my students: it’s like Guitar Hero for recorders.

With a recorder, a computer and a microphone (most computers have these nowadays but you may need separate ones if your school computers are a bit more seasoned) you can set up a free account and begin exploring the two different paths they have: Recorder Master and Recorder Express.

In my classroom we use the latter of the two because it is based upon a recorder program that first existed in print – a book of the same name by Artie Almeida. The technology we have readily available is astounding and often overwhelming when trying to discern what is most beneficial. Knowing that it comes from a curriculum that has a firm footing in music education helps to alleviate the idea that this is more than “just a game”.

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I could discuss forever how to use the site both in mechanics and practical applications but most of what I could say has already been discussed. However, since you have given me a chance by reading this far I want to focus more on three positive outcomes this site has had in my classroom. Technology has great capabilities in the classroom to positively impact learning.

Increased student engagement… beyond the classroom

Isn’t this what every teacher wants no matter the content? With so much in our culture today beckoning for our student’s attention it feel like a constant battle to keep students interested in learning.

Joytunes goes beyond increasing student engagement once a week in their 45 minute class. The gamification aspect of recorder practice has encouraged my students to practice more on days when they are not attending music class. They want to improve their scores (for accuracy in playing) which in turn affects their playing time and overall exposure to music making, even when I am not around.

I found that Joytunes was beneficial over the past few years when the inevitable snow days would creep up on us. With all the hype that would come before the storms (snow is a big deal in the South) students would have plenty of time to make sure they took their recorder home with them and would log in to see what pages of Recorder Express they should work on.

This same process can be applied to a flipped classroom model where students are introduced to rhythmic or melodic content at home then practice it during class time. This leaves more time for teacher intervention and saves spending so much time on direct instruction to the students. In addition, the technology allows differentiation of tasks: students or classes who are further along can be assigned more challenging pages.

“Reinvigorating” the wheel

Using technology is not meant to replace traditional teaching methods. Instead it is meant to breathe new life into the methods we learned in our training and experiences and make them approachable to students. Joytunes Recorder Express brings the traditional text to life and makes music interactive. It makes students feel like they are not just playing notes on a page but creating something.

Just because a technology resource was designed with a specific purpose in mind, it doesn’t mean that it has to be used only in that way. I have had success using Recorder Express with non-recorder instruments including bells, boomwhackers, tone bars and Orff instruments. We have even had some success in singing with neutral syllables.

Using technology in this way provides a new approach, encourages musicianship and ignites a fire within students who may not have otherwise developed an interest in music.

Visible student progress

With over 750 students in my school, data tracking can be very challenging at times. Yet one of the great benefits of using technology is the ability to track data among a large set of students.

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Joytunes offers a teacher view that compiles all of the student data they collect. While there are shortcomings to these reports (not able to separate results by class, use of very broad categories, no option to sort by all headings) it does provide:

  • basic insights into student achievement
  • the amount of time practiced
  • the last time the student accessed the site

I have used this broad overview of student progress in my classroom by creating a leaderboard of sorts. As seen below, I have been displaying the top ten student overall performance scores for 4th and 5th graders. This has turned into something of a competition between students who want to get their name on the board!

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Students have a more detailed data view: they can track their own progress on each song and see their accuracy score for individual notes. The only downside is that the data can only be viewed by logging in to the student account.  The immediate feedback means that students are able to assess themselves, see how they are progressing and bring the digital practice back to reality.

I also extend the use of the Joytunes songs by tying them into an amended Recorder Karate program in which students earn belts for the Joytunes repertoire.

The Bottom Line

Teaching is always evolving. The goal of this technology is to bring out the best in students, offer a real-world connection and application and motivate students with progress data, in addition to praise.  Incorporating technology like this enhances the great work that we as teachers are already doing and future developments will only benefit our craft!

About the author

I teach general music teacher at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry in Flowery Branch, GA to all 750 K-5 students. I am in my 7th year teaching and have loved every day since my first! I find that technology makes students more receptive to music and willing to experiment in such a vulnerable field.  When not teaching I love spending time with my wife Elizabeth (also a music teacher) and our daughters Sophie (age 3) and Clara (age 1).

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