My Favorite Apps and Websites

Version 2Today I would like to share with you the apps and websites I use most frequently for planning, delivering, and assessing music instruction in my general music classes. Keeping my lesson plans organized and physically available where and when I needed them  was challenging for me for several years. When I was an itinerant, I either had to keep separate plan books for each school, or else remember to transport my plan book to each site. On those occasions when I was asked to demonstrate correlations between lessons and standards, it became cumbersome to add that information into the hand written plans. Resources such as scores and articles were relegated to folders that had to travel with the book, or paper clipped to the relevant page. Google docs helped, because it allowed me to easily have my plans available on any computer or on my phone, but uploading documents from the internet or my home computer was still not convenient.

All of this changed when I started using planbook.com. Here, I can write plans on the provided templates, enter my teaching schedule, attach files either by embedding them right into the text, or as a link at the bottom of the plan. I can easily move lessons to a new date, or copy them to another day or period. My links to YouTube videos for music examples are right in the plan, so with my plans open on my school computer, I can seamlessly start musical examples without opening new windows or having many different tabs open at once each, with the next audio file. My plans are easily saved as pdf documents and emailed to administrators, or shared with others.  I really didn’t see all the advantages to using this website for my lesson planning until I started using it. It costs $14.00 per year, so it is very affordable.

I am big on my students creating music in class. With rap music still being very popular among my students, I’ve found the best approach for them to creating music is to start with a groove and then compose out from there. To create the beat, I like to use drumbit.app. This is a fully functional online drum machine. The free version does not allow for saving work or for creating individual accounts, but the last groove created will still be there the next time you open the application. The paid version saves work as a wav file, and offers a greater variety of kits, more polyphonic voices, and more effects. For my purposes of creating drum patterns in real time that loop and form the basis for composing other rhythmic or melodic layers, the free version is just fine. My students enjoy using it, and have created some excellent music with it.

Much of my assessment is done with rubrics. Rubrics allow me to focus in on a few or several concepts and quantify musical performance, responses and creations. Converting rubric scores to percentage grades can be problematic. On a scale of 1-4, a 3 is not a bad score, but as a percent, it is only a 75, or letter grade C. A 2 is only 50 and a failing grade, yet when I give a score of 3 or 2, I consider the work better than a C or an F. Clearly there is a problem with a straight transferal of rubric scores to percentages. This is where Roobrix.com comes in. This is a free java application, web based so there is nothing to download. On the settings page, I specify the number of levels in my rubric, the number of assessment criteria, and the minimum passing grade. It then presents me with a grid having rows with the number of levels and columns with the number of criteria. I click on the score for each criteria and it instantly calculates the converted grade. If I specified 60 percent as the lowest passing grade, then a 1 on the rubric becomes 60,  the highest level becomes 100, and the levels in between are evenly spaced. For example, if I have 4 levels, 1=60, 2=74, 3=87, and 4=100. Now my converted scores make sense and are more of what I had in mind when I gave the score.

Whether or not you have had the Little Kids Rock training, their site is useful if you are teaching guitar, keyboard or drums. On it, you will find chord charts for many songs, though most not so recent, searchable by number of chords, difficulty, and title. Each chart has iconic notation that is easy for students to read, and indicates strumming patterns for guitar and comping patterns for keyboard, drum patterns, scale for improvising, and has a link to the lyrics and often a recording on Spotify. There is also a bank of lesson plans and instructional videos which are useful because they have close up videos of what the left and right hands are doing, a view I cannot replicate “live” in my classroom. There are also files from their summer conferences, and powerpoint from their training sessions which give an idea of how the trainers teach. To access these resources, go to littlekidsrock.org.

Of course everyone knows about YouTube. I use it literally everyday as my go to source for recorded music that use in my classes. Within YouTube, there are a few channels I find especially useful among these are The Bucket Book, which, as you might guess, is devoted to bucket drumming, PaMus which has piano accompaniments to classical solo repertoire for winds, and Active Music, a site that contains music games and activities for children ages 4-11. If you are a member of John Feierabend’s FAME (Feierabend Association for Music Education) then his cite, Feierabendmusic.org, is very helpful. There, you’ll find articles and videos that include interviews with Feierabend, demonstrations of “Move It!” activities, an overview of Feierabend authored resources, and information on FAME certification and conferences.

For folksong repertoire to use in a Kodaly-centered classroom, there are several cites I go to constantly for material. My major source for songs is Holy Names University’s  Kodaly collection, located at kodaly.hnu.edu. There is a wide variety of search possibilities, including school grade, scale, song type, tonal center, form type, meter and range.  I also find myself going to Beth’s Notes often for songs, especially games. I like the search capabilities. The results by grade level seem to be more precise than the Holy Names Cite, though the selection of songs is much smaller. The cite has a free side and a fee-based side. The latter gains access to more resources, including Orff arrangements. For Orff arrangements, you can’t beat the Orff Schulwerk books, but Tom’s Orff Arrangements is a n excellent supplement, and contains seasonal music for holiday concerts. Though the cite hasn’t been updated since 2014, the arrangements there are useful. These are my most frequently visited cites. I invite you to share yours in the comments section.