Ableton, Philosophies, and Reflections

With this Ableton project that we have been working on with middle schoolers (from a distance through online interactions) I have been having a lot of questions about the way that the class itself was run, how it came about, and what exactly was the point of this project.  This week we had the teacher come in and share some things about the way this project came about and what he has been doing with it.  He also discussed his personal philosophy of how he interacts with students that don’t want to participate.  This has gotten me thinking about what I would do if I were in his situation and also about what I have to start thinking about before I head into the field.  I realize that any opinions that I have on this subject are just the opinions of a student with limited teaching experience, and I have never been completely in charge of a classroom on my own, so I cannot judge him too harshly on things that we may disagree on because he actually has the experience.

His philosophy is that he doesn’t want to force them to do anything, it is up to them whether they fail or succeed.  When there are students on their phone or distracted he doesn’t punish them or take away their phones because that does not guarantee that they will actually get to work and that they will become engaged, in fact it may make them even less interested and angry towards the teacher and still not get their work done.  He also described how he lead into this class and this project.  This is a new class where he has the control over what is taught and what they can do with the technology that they have at they school.  These students have little to no music training and are in an area and grade level where they have no real motivation to do will in this elective class.  I will say that I am not sure exactly what I would do, but I think that I would try to be more strict than simply asking them to be responsible and get to work.

I realize that this project was not for everyone.  I was hesitant about it because it was something different and I wasn’t sure how well it would turn out.  For some, it went as expected, the kids did the work and had a good time with it, and learned a lot about music from doing a simple cover of a pop song.  For others, it was a struggle because the kids were simply not interested in it one way or the other and didn’t want to actually do any of the work, which put us in a difficult situation.  I did try to keep an open mind, but it is hard to have fun with this when there isn’t work being done on both ends.  I do think that this is something that might be fun, and even do something like video game compositions or something else that students might be interested in.  I don’t know what to expect going into the field, but things like this show me the possibilities and realities that are out there.   It also gets me thinking seriously about the way that I might want to run my own classrooms at some point.


Music Teachers and Te[a]ch[k]no[w]logy

In my search for music teachers that use technology, I found a few Ph. D.’s with websites and even articles that they have written on how they have used technology to teach music and also some ideas that they have on what you can do to make the most of the technology  you may have in your class.  There are also a lot of different ways to search for them.

Dr. William Bauer at the University of Florida wrote an article “Music Learning and Technology” that talks about the different sides of teaching music with technology.  His article is focused around TPACK, taking into consideration the outcomes, pedagogy, and context of using  any technology to enhance the learning of music in classrooms.

Peter Perry is a “Teacher, Trumpeter, Conductor, Author, & Music Technology Specialist” with his own website.  He has links on his website that cover many different topics and are helpful resources for free music programs that musicians and teachers can use.  He also has an article on using Google Classroom with large ensembles and his article on technology strategies with ensemble classrooms on NAfME.  He also has a couple of other articles on the site about teaching and technology.

Midnight Music by Katie Wardrobe is a website where she shows teachers how to simply integrate technology into their classrooms.  The Midnight Music Community is offered on the website as a form of tech professional development.  There is some payment required to have full access, but there are some free things that are available.

It is important to be aware of the resources that are available on the internet and how to find them.  The Midnight Music website is probably one of the most helpful ones that I have found because it offers a way of finding professional development opportunities.   When trying to find people to either work with, contact, or just get ideas from it is important to know what you’re looking for.  Just simply entering “music teachers and technology” sometimes isn’t enough because you’ll get all sorts of things that might not be helpful.  You could enter “music teachers and technology articles” or “music teachers and technology iPads” or “music teachers and technology professional development” or just anything to narrow the search.  Searching these things on a website like Feedly can also lead you to specific things or things you might not have thought about.  When you’re a teacher that is looking for ideas it is important to keep an open mind and keep your eyes open for things that might be helpful.  I found the 2 Ph. D’s through Googling “music teachers and technology articles” that led me to the NAfME website that has bios and links for teachers in just about anything that you need help with.

Technology in My Classroom

Working with Ableton (Live and Push) has been an experience the last few weeks.  I went from knowing just about nothing to having to do a cover of a pop song with a group of middle schoolers (as their helper).  What has freaked me out about using this technology is all of the possibilities of what you can use it for and with.  You don’t really even need to have formal music training to use it, and in a way it can kind of supplement for a music course because through the process of using it you have to figure certain things out.  I think that is kind of the point with this project.  I am working with a couple of middle schoolers with not music training, who kind of know what they are doing with Ableton, and I am a student that has some music training and is not completely familiar with the technology.  In a way we can kind of balance each other out.  Another benefit of this project is getting used to working with people from a distance that you can’t see.

I think that I might like to do something like this in my own classroom if I am given the freedom in a music class like this.  There are a lot of possibilities with Ableton, and with having people to work with.  I would probably stray from the sink-or-swim model that this current project is following (at least that is the way that it seems from my perspective) and have more of a structured approach to using this program.  I would try to give my students more music training before handing them over to college students that may not know how to work with children from afar.  While teaching them what to do with the technology I would try to make sure that they know what it is that they are actually doing, like how to tell what the time signature is (and what a time signature is) and how to listen for a different note (as in a bass line) and how to try and find the key for that so that they know more or less what notes they will need to complete the song.

I also think that communication about the project between students would be beneficial so that they can perhaps form their own groups (between the middle schoolers and college students) like have introduction videos and where their strengths are before randomly assigning them.  I would also like to see more collaboration between people to see what songs they will want to do, so that no one gets stuck on something that they don’t like or that is too hard.  One way to make this whole thing easier would be to maybe have larger groups and assign them to different parts because a larger group on the same song might allow them to collaborate more and get help where they need it, particularly from their peers that they are actually in class with.  This would keep everybody interested, and if they get done early maybe they can split into smaller groups and try another song, and take on different responsibilities.  This would enable them to move around and explore more of Ableton without getting frustrated over not understanding something or getting bored.

I am not sure how realistic some of my ideas are, because I don’t have experience teaching yet, and I am not sure all of the work that it would take and has taken to work on this collaborative project; but they are just some things that have come to mind as I am going though this and I would actually like to try out if I am given the chance.

ELLs and Music

There is a research article on how some music teachers can handle incorporating SEI into the music classroom.  The article lists two perspectives on problems and solutions to having ELLs in a music classroom, from two teachers in Arizona.  This is a helpful article because it is written by Arizona teachers, and I might be able to access them more, and because it offers specific examples and each one offers something different to take out of them.  The first one, perspective A, offers insight on evaluating the effectiveness of your teaching strategies and practices and how they apply to both ELLs and native English speakers.  The second, perspective B also talks about how certain practices and adaptations to strategies and lesson plans assist in helping all students learn better and even faster, allowing them to help one another.  Perspective B also points out that having ELLs in the class forces teachers to be more aware of their speech and their plans as a whole, and offers specific activities that work well with all students and with making the most of the cultural diversity that you might find in a classroom.  There are different things that can be taken from this article, including teaching strategies, activities, alternative assessments, and what you can teach that ELLs and other teachers might be able to take from your class and transfer to other areas.   It is available as a PDF as well.

NAfME offers a few quick strategies in working with ELLs in a music classroom.  This is not anything long, but it is a quick reference for ideas and strategies for help with ELLs in a music classroom.  A lot of these strategies are just good things to be aware of, no matter what classroom you might be in.

There is a blog that offers some links to websites that can help in using music in ESL (SEI).  When thinking about music and ELLs, it is important to think not only of ways to get them to understand what is going on in music class, but how you might be able to use music to help them learn English.  A lot of the links available on this blog are resources on how to use music to do this.

There is a Canadian website with some helpful activities, the entire website is not really useful for teaching in the United States, but ideas and specific activities can be drawn from it.

This article offers ways of connecting multiple intelligences and the cultures of ELLs, along with a list of articles written by the same author to help with other issues concerning ELLs.  Music education focuses on cultural diversity through music, and by being more aware of the cultures that are in your classroom through your ELLs, you can structure your program to help your students become more culturally aware and to keep some kind of hold on their own cultures.

This blog has tips for getting children to enhance their language learning.  It is fairly short, only offering a short overview of the topic and a few quick short tips, but it is something that can be shared with other teachers if they reach out to you for help, or just to share with ESL teachers when collaborating with them and can be a way to show how your music program can work with theirs to increase the students’ language learning experience.

Dealing With Audio Interface

The biggest thing that can cause problems when getting started on anything unfamiliar is trying to get started with it right away.  There is a saying, something along the lines of “you have to learn to walk before you can run” and while I think that this is great, I also like to add to it.  My thing I like to think of before I get started on anything is to “learn how to crawl so you can learn to stand, so you can learn to walk and eventually run.”  I know it is a long saying, but sometimes approaching a technology is like learning how to walk.  If you don’t know what you are supposed to do and don’t have the basics of the basics, you can’t really go anywhere.

I was pretty much on my own when I was learning how to use the Scarlett, and I tried to just jump into it, and that didn’t get me anywhere.  I thought I would try to just try it out and see where I could go, and that took up too much time and caused a lot of frustration.   Once I took a step back and applied the getting the basics of the basics, I was finally starting to get the hang of it.  I started to learn about the technology that I was supposed to become familiar with from different sources, taking a look at websites and videos to help me get an idea what exactly I could be doing with this interface and a Mac.

Whenever I tried to learn how to do a certain thing I would enter a search engine and see what could be useful.  When I tried connecting the interface to Ableton Live I Googled it, and found videos like this Ableton tutorial (recording audio), which ended up leading me to this Ableton Live 9 Tutorial YouTube Playlist, where I was able to have almost everything that I needed to know about the basics of using the Scarlett in Ableton.  After some more digging I was able to figure out how to use it in Garageband, because it was more or less the same thing.  Getting to Soundtrap was a whole different story.

Ableton and Garageband were easy to find tutorials for, but I wanted something that was more realistic, something that pretty much everyone will have access to, and I found Soundtrap.  Making an account is free, and you can access it from just about everywhere, but connecting an audio interface to it is just a bit different.  Unlike the other 2 DAWs, there wasn’t an easy search, so I had to reach out to people that I knew.  I was able to learn through them the slight differences in how to record on the interface: (on a Mac) it has to be done through Google Chrome, and you have to prep the track for recording before you actually begin recording.  Other than that, the setup is fairly similar to the other 2 DAWs.  These might not seem like that big of a deal, but I had a lot of frustration over not being able to figure out how to use it myself.

I think that it would be beneficial to do like Ableton did on YouTube and create a “playlist” of things that everyone should know before they get started.  This can be web searches, articles, websites, videos, etc. that you can access and share.  Doing your research might prove to be more helpful than just attempting it yourself.  In some cases (as I found out with Soundtrap) there isn’t a whole lot so you might have to do a different type of research.  In doing the searches I haven’t had a lot of time to actually “mess around” with the interface, but now that I have all of this information I think that I will be able to figure it out, and have my references as a back-up.  I tried to walk before I could crawl and stand, and I failed.  Once I stopped and learned the basics of the basics, walking became easier, and I think that running will be that much easier.

Anyone interested in audio interfaces, composing, producing, etc. should become familiar with their equipment.  When looking for an audio interface and a DAW that you like, it is important to do your research and know what you can do with it.  There are so many benefits to knowing how to use this type of technology.  A real-life example of this is a violinist, Taylor Davis.  Check out this Instagram post by her in which she explains how she came to use her own computer and interface (not Scarlett and the DAWs talked about, but other options to consider looking into) to record and produce her own music, from her house.  In it she talks about how she got started, how she explored, and the benefits of being able to do all of these things by herself.  Check out her YouTube channel(s) and website and explore more of what she does, and see where being able to do things this way can lead.


Audio Inter[esting]face-Scarlett 2i2




“An audio interface is a piece of hardware that expands and improves the sonic capabilities of a computer. Some audio interfaces give you the ability to connect professional microphones, instruments and other kinds of signals to a computer, and output a variety of signals as well.” The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is just one of many easy-to-use audio interfaces that can be used in a variety of digital audio workstations (DAW) and that can be used in classrooms to allow students to record their own projects and get familiar with different DAWs.

To get started, everyone that is working with the interface needs to know how to carefully wrap xlr cords/audio cables, and a short tutorial can be found here.  Once you know how to take care of the cords, you need to familiarize yourself with the actual interface.  Focusrite has a YouTube channel that you can visit for help on just getting a look at how things work, and to get any ideas or even just to check it out.  You can also visit the Focusrite link from above and explore the site.

Through my exploration of this particular audio interface, I have found how to operate it and record with 3 different DAWs: Soundtrap, Ableton Live, and Garageband.

With Soundtrap, you have the option of  Soundtrap Education and just normal Soundtrap.  All you have to do with this DAW is create a free account and you will have access to a way of recording and creating your own music.  It is important to know that if you are using a Mac, you have to open Soundtrap in Google Chrome or it will not accept the interface.  If you need any help with navigating the site and learning how to use it, you can check out the Soundtrap YouTube channel.  When connecting the interface to your computer, you have to simply plug it into a USB port, make sure that a microphone or guitar is connected to it via the xlr cords, and that before you start doing anything with it that the gain is green and not any other color.  Once this is done, you need to go to your Mac preferences and select the interface as input (not output unless you have headphones connected to it), and then you can press the R button on the track you are recording on and then the actual record button.  For more information visit the YouTube channel.

With Ableton Live, it is basically the same thing and here is a YouTube tutorial that will walk you through how to set up and record with the interface.  There is another account/channel for Focusrite on YouTube for any help or questions you might have with the Scarlett 2i2 or any other product you might be interested in.  Again, with setting it up with your computer, you need to make sure audio input and output are correct.

Garageband is probably the simplest option if you have a Mac, it is just like the other DAWs listed, and there is a help article on the Focusrite website and a tutorial on YouTube to help you get started.

The main thing to worry about with connecting your audio interface is that you are familiar with your computer and the controls on the interface.  Make sure that everything is set up and good to go before you get started trying to record.  Sometimes it might be simple trial-and-error if you encounter a problem that is not addressed in the articles and tutorials provided or that you find on your own.  This is why it is important that you are familiar with the basics of your setup.  With this interface you can record your own tracks and even use them in combination with midi tracks on the DAWs to make just about anything you want.  One thing this can be useful for is getting good quality audio of a student’s performance or even original song that can be put into an mp3, and used as a part of a project like a music video or creating a CD, just about anything you can think of.


Ableton Isn’t All That Scary

With technology finding its way into classrooms, it is also making its way into music education.  While there are some that might be afraid of integrating technology into music classrooms, there are those that are seeing the benefits from it and are working on ways to make it work and enhance students’ experiences.  One such technology is Ableton.  On the website there is a resource for teachers to get ideas on how they can incorporate this technology into their classroom.  This article shows an effort to incorporate the Ableton Push into a classroom, and highlights some benefits and drawbacks to the effort.  The purpose of using technologies like Ableton (according to the article) is to get this new generation of students interested in music and creating it.

Any teacher that is wanting to or considering using the Ableton can go to many different sources to look for ideas.  As in some of the previously mentioned articles, there are a variety of ways to get students to use them.  Using the Ableton to teach music theory is innovative, and practical.  Sometimes using technology to teach students is the easiest way, because it is what they are used to.  Showing  YouTube tutorials about how to use the technology is one of the best ways because it allows students to learn at their own pace.  Things like Piano Roll Notation are probably best taught on an individual basis, and the video I shared is just one of many that students have available to them.  In a class students can take their own time and approach on how they want to learn and apply the different sides and uses of the Ableton.

This video is just one of many tutorials available on the Ableton YouTube account that are available to answer almost any questions teachers and students may have on how to operate Ableton Push 1 and 2 and Ableton Live.  Teachers that are not comfortable with the Ableton can use these resources to get help, and learn alongside their students.  Since technology is always changing and updating, no one expects every teacher to be an expert.  Sometimes it is refreshing to learn alongside your students because it can even convince them that is is just that easy, or even open up their minds to the different possibilities.  Doing this can allow you to explore the technology (not just Ableton) with them and find things that you might not have on your own.