google slides music teacher literacy

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Sarah Joncas!

It is not always strictly musical technology that helps students learn effectively in music class! One of the most powerful technology tools I use in my classroom is the versatile Google Slides.

Google Slides is an online slide deck creation tool that is part of the Google Apps and Google Apps for Education suite.

A Google slide is basically a blank digital canvas that can be filled with content such as images, videos, tables and text.

There are many different ways to access Google Slides. They can be created and accessed from a desktop or laptop computer, tablet, or even smartphones via the Google Slides app.

Google Slides are stored “in the cloud” which means they can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.

Here are 10 ways Google Slides help my students build music literacy:

  1. Pitch exploration inspiration
  2. Digital notation flashcards (pitch and rhythm patterns)
  3. Pictures for pre-readers, English Language Learners (ELLs), and building background knowledge
  4. Listening maps and form
  5. Iconic notation
  6. Student manipulatives using printed Google Slides
  7. Sharing repertoire between teachers and classes
  8. Simplify differentiating for extension, scaffolding, and review
  9. Digital manipulatives for collaborative composition
  10. Templates for student compositions

Let’s dive into each of these amazing uses of Google Slides:

1. Pitch Exploration Inspiration

Pitch exploration is a way of giving students creative ways to use their voices that might be different than traditional singing or talking.

Pitch exploration exercises guide students towards an awareness of high and low sounds, and different expressive vocal skills. They are a mainstay of primary grades music curriculums such as Game Plan and First Steps in Music.

Google Slides add variety to pitch exploration activities, because they give students different visual inspiration for using their voices. For example, one of my favorite pitch exploration activities goes along with a song about an owl.

With a few simple pictures and a scribble on a Google Slide, students are able to “sing the owl to the tree” rather than simply singing an abstract vocal slide pattern.

Pitch Exploration Inspiration

I display these slides on the Interactive Whiteboard in my classroom (you could just use your regular data projector if you don’t have an Interactive Whiteboard), and students follow the line with their voice.

These can be done as a group or individually and it’s easy to go through a few of these in a row, or even to make a slide without a pathway and let students create the path themselves.

Changing out the pictures is a simple way to engage students in an important skill-building task and keep things interesting.

2. Digital Notation Flashcards (pitch and rhythm patterns)

Google Slides is an easy way of creating, storing, organizing, and using pitch and rhythm flashcards. With the built-in drawing tools within Google Slides, it is easy to create notes, change colors, and otherwise manipulate basic pitch and rhythm notation without a lot of time or effort.

To make it even easier, use the Midnight Music free collection of notation images as a starting point!

Google Slides’ “duplicate” slide and “make a copy” features are especially handy when working with notation flashcards. For example, sometimes I will create a slide with a new pitch highlighted in order to ensure students are aware of the skill we are targeting.

Of course, I want them to be able to read the note in context without the highlighting eventually.

So I take the original slide:

Digital Notation Flashcards

Then I go to the Slide menu and click “duplicate slide” to get another identical image. On this one, I’ll manipulate some colors to show high do since that is the skill I am working on in this pattern.

Digital Notation Flashcards

It is simple to sequence different pattern slides, print them out if you need them available in hard copy as a back-up to projecting, or even to mix up different sets of cards.

My students love the challenge of flipping back and forth between pitch and rhythm patterns, and all I have to do to create sets of patterns that use both is copy and paste my pitch slides that they’re working on and my rhythm slides into a new presentation!

3. Pictures for Pre-readers, ELLs, and Building Background Knowledge

Pictures help students collect English literacy to music literacy, and help ensure all students can understand the linguistic content of songs.

I often build students’ understanding of lyrics through photographs, drawings, and multiple means of showing the same concept musically with different iconic or symbolic notation.

For example, here are two of my slides from my lesson for Here Comes a Bluebird:


A photograph of a bluebird to introduce the song and build student background knowledge, since many of my students have never seen a bluebird before.

bluebird notation notes music

A representation of the melody on a simplified 3 line staff, using bluebird icons instead of notes.

4. Listening Maps and Form

Google Slides make it easy for students and teachers alike to create listening maps and representations of form with a bit of clip art and some copy-paste magic!

Color-coding certainly comes in handy to show form, especially with younger students.

Here’s a lyric and rhythm representation of the form AABA of Baker’s Hat in Google Slides:

lyric rhythm representation of the form
lyric rhythm representation of the form

Because Google Slides presentations can be collaborative, it is also possible to create slideshows which allow all students to contribute to a representation of the form of a piece of music.

It would be interesting to see what pictures or colors different groups of students choose for a given piece and the similarities and differences between interpretations.

5. Iconic Notation

Google Slides is an easy way to create and display iconic notation for a song or rhyme. It is easy to resize pictures and space them evenly in Google Slides to allow students to connect sound to sight to notation.

The big projected image of a Google Slide makes for an excellent way to model pointing page use, and is a fun way to assess students’ ability to follow icons representing pitch, beat, or rhythm.

The same icons can be printed for student use, allowing all students to participate in using the pointing page icons.

6. Student Manipulatives Using Printed Google Slides

Google Slides is an easy, cost-free way to create student manipulatives that can be printed and copied as needed. These manipulatives are great for composition, sequencing, and many other uses.

In order to print manipulatives of different sizes, simply download Google Slides as a PDF and use a free PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat Reader to print multiple pages per sheet. Then print and cut apart as needed.

7. Sharing Repertoire Across Teachers or Classes

Google Slides make sharing so easy! I often work with other music teachers in my district to create slides, and we can work either at the same time (even at different campuses) or whenever we have a moment.

Because Google Slides is a browser-based app and will work on virtually any modern internet-connected device, it’s possible to collaborate across platforms.

Cloud-based tools also allow for having a copy everywhere for travelling teachers. Having my band Google Slides available at the school I teach one class at weekly has saved me several times when I forget my copies across town.

Google Slides has a handy “Share” button that allows a variety of access options for individuals or groups. I suggest always saving a copy of Google Slides before giving a group edit access, just in case anything is deleted accidentally!

This is how you can play with the ‘sharing’ settings in Google Slides. You can select to share it with specific people, with anyone who has the presentation link or with everyone!

8. Simplify Differentiating for Scaffolding, Extension, and Review

I teach 4 sections of each grade level of general music, and the different sections are often not at the same level on a given skill.

In order to make sure they all get what they need, I modify many of my Google Slides presentations to include scaffolding, extension, and review for those I suspect will need it.

Recently, I worked on a syncopated rhythm (eighth note quarter note eighth note) with my fourth graders. I started with the same basic slides and then used the “make a copy” feature in Google Slides to duplicate the slides and renamed the copies with the name of each of my classes so that I could modify specifically for that class.

This is where you can find the option to ‘make a copy’ in Google Slides!

I knew that one class had a few students who really struggled with identifying quarter notes and eighth notes, so I added a few slides at the beginning of my Google Slides with a review of how to tell the difference between the two symbols and their sounds.

I also have one fourth grade class that picks up rhythm concepts quickly but is still working on singing, so for that class I snuck in a few pitch patterns at the end because I knew we would get through the rhythm material with extra time.

It’s awesome to be able to customize for each class, and much easier than having to keep track of separate physical materials or visuals.

9. Digital Manipulatives for Collaborative Composition

Before sending my students off to compose on their own, I like to model and compose with them to demonstrate the process of composition.

Notating by hand big enough for a whole class to see can be time consuming and unwieldy, so I use digital tools within Google Slides to compose with the class. This works best with an interactive whiteboard, but could also work with a student going over to the computer or tablet to interact with the slides.

Because digital ink isn’t permanent, I am able to let go and help students learn from their mistakes when composing with the class.

For example, if a student says they want to add eighth notes but they proceed to drag a quarter rest into the space, it’s easy to ask them questions and have them correct their work if needed without having to spend time figuring out how to backtrack.

Many students love coming to the board to use a digital pen, so I often get participation from a wider variety of students when I let them come up to the board to do part of our composition.

Unlike notation software, which contains an overwhelming number of options, I can make a Google Slides presentation with only the options I want my students to have.

For example, I use this rhythm composition slide with third grade:

rhythm composition

While I use this much simpler one (notice no rest or sixteenth note option) with first grade:

rhythm composition

To create these slides, I use images of each type of rhythm that I want to use. I copy and paste several of each rhythm (in this case 4, since I have four beat spots up above) on top of each other in the box.

I call the box a “note bank” like a word bank so students understand that it is just where we get symbols from, not part of the composition. It’s important to stay out of present mode when using these slides, since images like the notes will not be movable while presenting.

10. Templates for Student Composition

Because Google Slides make it easy to move around boxes, images, and text, I often use it to create templates for student work.

I usually resize my slides to match paper size inside the printable margins (10 inches by 7.5 inches for US letter size paper) and then create a template on the slide and print it.

Here’s my beat box template that I use for early rhythmic compositions.

beat box template

And here are two that students completed on paper (names cropped for student privacy):

beat box template
beat box template


There are so many benefits to using Google Slides for building music literacy! With countless uses in the music classroom, Google Slides can be a great tool for music teachers to explore and use.

There are even more opportunities for those with access to student devices and 1:1 technology, since Google Slides is student friendly and can be used to facilitate student composition, notation reading, and other important musical skills.

With even just one device, Google Slides can be extremely useful and a practical way to incorporate technology.

Have you used Google Slides to create resources in your classroom?

Do you have a favourite tip from this article? Comment below and let me know!

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About the Writer

Sarah Joncas is a music teacher from Massachusetts, USA. She teaches kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade chorus, fifth grade band, and percussion ensemble. Before becoming a teacher, she worked with technology and educational software.

In 2014, she was named a TI:ME Technology in Music Education Leadership Fellow, which allowed her to attend a music education conference in Texas and explore cutting edge music teaching technology. She has earned degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter or her blog Teaching Music Musings

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