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Best music software for classrooms

Pros and cons of some popular and favorite music software products for the classroom

The marketplace is awash with software for music, from toy-like games to complicated digital audio workstations (DAWs) for professionals. How’s a teacher to choose? Music educator Cecilia Roudabush, a 30-year veteran of the Iowa City schools and director of education for New Harmony Line, is always on the lookout for tools that produce satisfying results in real classrooms. She reviews some popular and favorite applications.

Chrome Music Lab
“Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.”
User age: All ages
Best features
No account needed; click on any experiment for immediate use
– 14 experiments to choose from
– Shared Piano, Songmaker, Rhythm and Kandinsky all feature music making as their core purpose
– Shared Piano and Songmaker can be posted or shared
– Shared Piano can involve live collaboration with another user
– 6 of the experiments feature the ability to use your voice as part of the music making or conceptual process
– Quick connections to science, art, coding and math as well as musical concepts
– Every experiment has a question icon that loads a text description of how to use the experiment or what concept it is demonstrating
– All the tools are visual icons that most people will have used, seen as a computer user or can understand from experience (walking figure versus running figure for tempo)
– Works on any device that can load Chrome
Ease of use:
– Composing feature in Songmaker and Melody Maker is intuitive with experimentation
– Most students will explore the tools and use the ones that work easily for them
– Kaninsky requires a touch screen which is not evident
– May hold the attention of younger users for a longer time than older users; Rhythm is very fun but doesn’t expand beyond the 4 choices and is not something you can save or share
Teacher review:
There are many wonderful features to this online technology for elementary students.  Experiments like Arpeggio, Harmonics, Piano Roll, Oscillators and Strings are useful for presenting a facet of a concept. Melody Maker and Songmaker would be excellent introductory composition tools.  Shared Piano would be interesting for creating melodies that someone else could play back, but the synesthesia method used is backward from the usual “drop from the top and touch the key you need to play”. If elementary students haven’t used synesthesia videos from YouTube to learn songs on the electronic keyboard, that might not be an issue.

As 7th and 8th graders, my students were given the option of using Chrome Music Lab but most students chose not to use it as they had used it while in elementary school. The best usage of this in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class in secondary school is as a choice for free-time music making.
Pricing: Free
Icon: the Hyperscore "H" in blue, red, and green on black Hyperscore
A new way to compose music
“Lay down some notes, listen, react and evolve.  Hyperscore is an innovative web application with an intuitive graphic interface that puts creativity first and encourages active listening and purposeful composing.” 
User age: All ages. Under 13 need parent or school permission to create account.
Best features:
– Easy free account set-up. For Educator Version, instructor sends email invitation for students to join classroom.
– Intuitive composing workspace: drop notes into the extendable rhythm and melody windows, listen, edit and continue to create melodic and rhythmic motifs;  motifs can be arranged in the harmony sketch window alone, or in combination with, other motifs
– Music is composed visually, allowing the user to manipulate note values, place pitch and arrange motifs with their eyes as well as their ears
– 1-minute video tutorials accessible to all users
– Teaching modules for elementary to secondary included in Resources for Educators
– User can customize note shapes, instrument sets, visually themed workspaces, and rainbow-themed diatonic scale
– Unique harmonizing tool in the sketch window: “general” and “classical” will adjust notes to fit harmonic principles.
– Unique Harmony Line function allows the user to add tension, release or drama to their composition
– Cloud version saves work automatically; projects can shared and remixed, and moved to a personal account once the class is complete 
Ease of use:
– Creative composing feature is very intuitive. Most students of any age or ability will be able to use the program
– Students will explore and use the tools with little support needed once they learn the basic composing process (write, listen, edit)
– Students will quickly learn their preference for monophonic or polyphonic melodies with some instruction needed for stacking musically rather than just filling the space
– Intentional composing can be achieved with storytelling or prepared composition prompts
– Scaffolded curriculum would allow students to collect their work year-to-year in a portfolio showing increasing sophistication in their compositional style
– Contact district technology department prior to creating accounts to make sure emailed account codes arrive directly in student in-boxes
– New Harmony Line’s Privacy Policy contains a prepared Parent/Guardian consent form for family/student users under the age of 13
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used the original Hyperscore as a composing and arranging tool. The majority of students could compose independently with the program because of its intuitive tools. Seeing music written visually was considered to be a strength of the program.  Students were able to edit and arrange motifs, and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  Students also used the dynamic, tempo, harmonic tools, tone color and copy/paste features once they were presented as options they could choose to utilize.

The upgrade to the web-based version in 2021 has allowed students from ages 3 to 18 to compose original works of music with simple instruction on using the tools.  By inverting the pedagogy and allowing students to compose before structuring the theoretical understanding of their process, students showed amazing leaps of creativity in their rhythm pattern choices, melodic shapes, use of non-traditional time signatures and harmonic combinations. Asking students to name their piece often elicited a peek into the imagery within their work.  Giving a student a storytelling or prepared compositional prompt also yields amazingly creative work.

Composing, editing and arranging are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class. Musically motivated students would find a trimester elective in composing with Hyperscore invaluable, which may lead to some career pursuits or lifelong interaction with music. Elementary general music teachers would benefit from using the program as a K-6 portfolio of mastery of compositional techniques.
– Free Starter Plan (5 projects)
– Basic $3.99/month (5 seats and 10 projects)
– Premium $9.99/month (5 seats and 20 projects); $8.00/month with annual plan discount
– Supreme $14.99/month (unlimited); $12.00/month with annual plan discount
– MusicFirst educator license. 30-day free trial. $199/year unlimited seating for 1 year; 3-year subscription $189.05/year unlimited seating
– General Educator
A fun, interactive music experience
“Create your own music with the help of a merry crew of beatboxers. Choose your musical style among 8 impressive atmospheres and start to lay down, record and share your mix.”
User age: Any age, as this program does not require account creation.  Parental Control button available in settings.
Best features:
– Immediate use with no account required (more content with downloadable app but not necessary to enjoy the experience)
– Very intuitive program; visual and textual help screens pop up once you choose your first mix set
– Available in 6 languages
– Drag and drop pre-recorded loops onto each beatboxing character which provides them with a themed “outfit” and a sound associated with their character
– You can record and save your mix (appears to be a cloud save because you do not enter any personal information although you can give yourself a handle for your mixes
– Name and share links immediately; the Playlist button allows you to see what’s been recorded in the last 24 hours as well as a Top 50 playlist of popular mixes
Ease of use:
– Arranging and mixing feature is very intuitive with visual/text guides if needed
– Most users will find this very fun and motivating
– You can spend hours listening to all of the mixes others created–inspiration to be found from the simple to sophisticated mixes
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Incredibox completely independently as a mixing and arranging tool. Most students used it purely for fun–they didn’t even realize they were making musical choices as they “played”!  Some used their mix as their final product for the composition unit and turned it in for a grade since their final product requirement was to spend 3 class periods ‘making music using technology’.  Although peers found it very entertaining, I made sure to label it as “mixing and arranging” rather than “composing”. 
Incredibox could be a wonderful introductory program into other mixing, arranging and editing programs or as a way to introduce composition during a one-trimester or-semester music technology class.  A few students will enjoy this for one class period and then be ready for something more sophisticated and not return to it again, whereas others will continue using at home or on their phone and share the website URL with others.  Most elementary students would find it just completely fun, although I did have a student or two who expressed concern that the beatboxers were bare-chested until you “dressed” them.  As a teacher myself, I find it to be a fun distraction that I return to a few times a year.
– Alpha version on website is free
– Educational Version 12 seat minimum for $12/mth
– App available on App Store, Steam, Microsoft Store for $4.99
– Merchandise store with coffee mugs to art ranging in price from $14.99 to $147.99
Make music in an online DAW
“An online studio where you can make beats, record & edit audio/MIDI, mix, and collaborate. 20000+ loops and samples. 15 audio effects.” 
User age: 13+ (use granted for those under 13 with Parent/Guardian permission)
Best features:
– Easy account set-up (Google login) for immediate use
– Video tutorials and user step-by-step guides
– Drag and drop pre-recorded professional loops from the Sound Library
– Choose audio effects for each loop
– Share links, collaborate or place your work in the Community forum
Ease of use:
– Composing feature is not intuitive
– Motivated students will explore the tools and use the ones that work easily for them
– Features a QWERTY virtual keyboard but does not have a step-by-step guide for using it
– The right toolbar has icons that are useful but not defined–most students will need to be taught their purpose and how to use the export feature
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Soundation independently as an editing and arranging tool.  No student chose to compose with it because they were too impatient to watch the videos and it was not intuitive for composing.  Students were able to independently understand editing and arranging sound loops and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  Many students used the channel features but only at the surface level.  I had to teach students how to export their files to me for their final grade.

Editing, mixing and arranging are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class.  Elementary students would be able to use the program with mixing and arranging lessons and guided practice.
– Free (3 projects and 1 GB storage)
– Starter (10 projects) $9.99/month; annual plan $4.99/month
– Creator (unlimited projects) $14.99/month; annual plan $9.99/month
– Pro (unlimited projects) $49.99/month; annual plan $29.99/month
Make music together. Online. Your everywhere studio.
The best collaboration platform for making music online.”
User age: 13+ (use granted for those under 13 with Educator School Account)
Best features:
Easy account set-up (Google login) for immediate use for 13+ users
Video tutorials for all features
Light and dark mode for personalization of workspace
Drag and drop pre-recorded professional loops from the Sound Library
Choose sophisticated audio effects for each loop with tutorials for using effects
Record,edit and collaborate on any device and store your work in the Cloud
Auto-tune feature offers the ability to pitch and modify voice recordings
Audio editing tools (volume, pan, filter sweep effects)
QWERTY synthesizer that allows you to easily play a virtual keyboard using the keys on your computer keyboard (dozens of sound settings available with effects settings) or a piano roll that allows you to click from low to high and extend the value with your mouse monophonically or with polyphony
Connects your microphone, guitar or any other electronic instrument to the program
Patterns Beatmaker tool allows you to make your own beats with 18 percussion instruments associated with a traditional trap set
Record, transcribe to text and edit your own Podcast which can be uploaded to Spotify or downloaded as a link for you to post anywhere
Educator Account links to all major LMS platforms and provides many of the features present in a personal use account with additional lesson plans and assignments
Ease of use:
Composing feature is sophisticated and would take multiple lessons for a student to learn the tools
Motivated students will explore the tools and videos and make incredible music; students who are taking a required course will need lessons and step-by-step assignments to use the technology and may find the vast resources overwhelming without finite boundaries
Beatmaker tool seems to only be quarter note values–there’s probably a video tutorial for that!
Easy to share, post, collaborate
Teacher review:
As 7th and 8th graders, my students used Soundtrap independently as an editing and arranging tool.  The composing tool has improved dramatically since we last used it.  Most students were able to independently understand editing and arranging sound loops and to judge what they liked and did not like about their choices.  A small number of students used the array of features, but the majority of students used it only at the surface level.  

Editing and arranging loops are its best usage in a one-trimester or -semester music technology class. An entire trimester or semester music elective would be needed to allow focus on the usage of all of the features of this online music technology tool which may lead to some career pursuits or lifelong interaction with music..  The podcast feature could be used by Language Arts, Drama, Musical Theatre and Music Production electives as well as in a Music Technology class through which a student could share their work, the work of others, reviews of current music or insights into the music they love. Elementary students would be able to use the program with mixing and arranging lessons and guided practice.
– Free plan
– Music Makers Premium $9.99/month; annual plan $7.99/month
– Music Makers Supreme $14.99/month; annual plan $11.99/month
– Storytellers (podcasts) $14.99/month; annual plan $11.99/month
– Complete $17.99/month; annual plan $13.99/mth
Education Version–30 day Free Trial (up to 500 seats with all features); School or District Plan $349 plus applicable taxes for 50 minimum seats ($6.98/seat); price per seat lowers as you add additional seats

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