Using Repertoire and Music Literacy Concepts To Create With Technology


Guest author: Karla McClain

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.

Welcome to another blog post written by a guest author.  The author of today’s article is Karla McClain. In this article, Karla McClain writes about Creating In Context: Using Repertoire and Music Literacy Concepts To Create With Technology

– Katie Wardrobe


Creating In Context: Using Repertoire and Music Literacy Concepts To Create With Technology

by Karla McClain

Years ago, I took an amazing class with Sandra Stauffer from Arizona State about using listening as a springboard to creativity. I love being efficient and tackling multiple parts of my curriculum with one activity, and this concept resonated with me. Before then, my composing assignments really were stand alone. They might have been a culmination of a concept, but there was no connection to what we were doing in our day to day repertoire or unit study. The students didn’t necessarily see a purpose to what we were doing, or connection with our studies.

Since then, I have tried to find ways to really make sure that my creating assignments were truly embedded in what we were doing in our daily lessons. Here are a few ideas that have been successful in my classes.

Theme and Variations – Beethoven Symphony No. 7, Movement 2

After studying Beethoven and listening to the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, students were challenged with creating their own Theme and Variations. I input the theme into Garageband on iPads, and then they had to create the variations. Students needed to add at least 2 tracks to the theme, and I allowed them to use any instruments they wanted.

To differentiate, I told students who finished one to figure out how to loop the theme, and then they could create another variation that contrasted from their first one.

Here are a few student examples:   

Example 1

Example 2


Create a sight reading example

Students in my choir classes work on sight reading using solfege. I wanted them to use (online notation software) to create a melody, and thought it would be a great tie-in to music literacy to have them create their own sight reading examples.

We first looked at some exemplars of the exercises that we had been singing in class, and talked about what made them “good.” Students looked at the length of the examples, the time signatures, the rhythms, use of steps/skips in the examples, starting and ending on “do,” and we used that to develop criteria for our work.

I also wanted to create a purpose for their assignment, so once students submitted their examples, we used those as our sight reading examples in class. As we read the examples, students then gave feedback, which we used to revise the examples. Often, the students didn’t realize that their example was too difficult until they heard the class struggle to sing it.


Here is a student example:

creating in context



Create an accompaniment using repertoire

Starting at a new middle school, I was trying to find a way to have my students sing alone and in small groups, while still feeling safe. This project is the result of that. I allowed students to pick a verse of one of our pieces for our Winter Concert, record a vocal track using Soundtrap, and then create some kind of accompaniment to go with it.

We use learning targets in my new district, so the learning target for this assignment is: I can create a multi-track arrangement of a piece using music technology.

I have found that checklists help students to turn in better projects. I do let them go beyond if they have ideas, but I start off with this. It also helps struggling students pace their work and have smaller steps to complete.

____ I have a vocal track of a song we are singing in choir

____ I have a percussion track

____ I have at least 2 additional instrument tracks that are NOT a percussion track

____ I have at least 1 loop in my composition


The students really loved completing this project. Not only was it a great way for me to asses their vocal technique (which helped their overall progress as singers) but it allowed them to be creative in a class that usually is only about performing. It allowed students to be expressive, to have some choice, and be collaborative (some students chose to work in pairs). It was also a great way to engage students: many of the students said that our tech days were their favorite days of class!

About the author

Karla McClain is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Adolescent/Young Adulthood Music, and teaches at Irving A. Robbins Middle School and East Farms School in Farmington, CT. This is her 19th year of teaching choral and general music. In addition, she directs the Canticum Choir of the Connecticut Children’s Chorus at the Hartt School of Music, Community Division. She has a passion for using music technology and world music to engage students.


Download a copy of this blog post

Would you like to take a copy of this with you? Click on the download button below and we’ll send a copy straight to your email inbox.  You’ll also receive weekly music tech tips and news (if you don’t already).  You can unsubscribe at any time.

Click here to download