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Thomas J. West Music

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Blended Learning in Music Education: Incorporating the SAMR Model

Posted on July 30, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Blended Learning in Music Education: Incorporating the SAMR Model


With the push to modernize and prepare our students for careers that quite literally don't even exist yet, scholastic band, orchestra, and choral directors have a responsibility to incorporate today's technology tools into their curriculum. Many have already adopted helpful tools for managing their programs and assisting with communication, but there is so much more that can be done to use technology to enhance student learning, especially at the micro level, where traditional performing ensembles struggle to help individual students develop as independent musicians.


Blended Learning combines traditional methods with today's technology in a process that redefines the educational process. The main goal of Blended Learning is not just to substitute traditional tools with electronic ones, but rather to incorporate technology to elevate student learning to the level of redefinition. Technology is not only used to enhance learning, it is used to create student-centered projects that were previously not possible. This redefinition is already at work. We see it at play in the world of competitive drum corps and marching band as more and more groups incorporate electronic effects into their musical productions. We see it play out on Broadway, where more and more shows have computer-controlled elements as part of the show. There is a whole generation of musicians on YouTube who are blending traditional instruments and music styles with today's technology - people like Lindsey Sterling, Peter Hollens, Eric Whitacre, The Piano Guys, Two Cellos, and many more.


Bloom's Taxonomy and the SAMR Model


All of us who went through an education degree program are aware of Bloom's Taxonomy (moving students from lower order thinking to higher in order to create more depth of knowledge, independence, and mastery of concepts). When utilizing technology to assist the march up the taxonomy tree, the SAMR Model provides a logical structure:


image: Dr. Ruben Puentedudura


In this model, technology begins as a direct subsititution for a traditional learning method and moves from there to using technology to not only learn how to do something, but to redefine that task in a way that was not previously possible. The SAMR model provides traditional ensembles with a method of enahancing the learning of individuals within the large ensemble in ways that were not previously possible. It also ushers in opportunities for students who are not participants in traditional performing ensembles to become music creators and producers without playing an instrument or singing in chorus.

Blended Music Teaching at the Substitution Level

Many traditional music education programs have already incorporated modern technology tools to assist them with doing what they already do. Composers and drill designers have been using software like Finale, Sibelius, and Pyware for creation of scholastic performing material for decades. More and more programs are using Google products to communicate and collaborate, and using social networks to communicate with students, parents, and alumni. Some progressive programs are also using recordings (audio and video) to assess student achievement in a way that is less stressful and time-consuming than the traditional seating test.

In the electronic music classroom, both traditional and non-traditional music students alike are substituting traditional acoustic instruments with digital audio workstations utilizing virtual instruments to learn the basics of music structure and composition. They are also using apps and cloud-based tools to create music using traditional notation. Some programs are using cool hand-held devices like the Korg Kaossilator to create student performing ensembles.

Blended Music Teaching at the Augmentation Level

Over the past ten years, several innovative companies have developed products and services that not only subsititute for traditional tools, but allow collaboration and customization in a way that was not previously possible. Many scholastic performing ensembles are using Smart Music to assess student achievement rather than the traditional time-consuming in-class playing test. Sightreading Factory provides similar cloud-based practice and assessment for the important skill of sight-reading and sight-singing. Noteflight provides students with not only a cloud-based music notation program, but allows students to collaborate and comment on scores with social sharing. One innovative company, Music First, is providing an entire suite of cloud-based music education products for K-12 classrroms and ensembles, incorporating everything from sight-reading and assessment to general music lesson plans and music theory training. Students in electronic music classes are using Soundcloud to share projects and leave in-line feedback comments. 

Blended Music Teaching at the Modification Level

At the modification level, student learning becomes self-directed. This is the tipping point where instruction leaves traditional teacher-centered paradigms and puts the student in charge of their own learning. Not only does this enable the students to personalize their education and move at an appropriate pace, it trains students to be productive members of today's rapidly changing professional landscape. Our public education system is training students for an ever-shifting professional world containing jobs and career paths that are often self-directed and self-defined. Simultaneous personalization and collaboration are the hallmarks of the 21st century professional.

The modification level is also the level that many of us who grew up in the traditional approach struggle to employ effectively, especially in performing ensemble settings where the teacher (or teaching staff for marching band) is the primary designer, instructor, critic, and evaluator. Modification activities involve taking the augmented resources above and using them not only as instructional and collaborative tools, but tools for peer evaluated assessments, student-to-student instruction, and student-researched or created musical content.

The most important part of the modification level is creating activities that have a high level of relevance for the students. Relevance generates interest, and students become more willing to invest in higher levels of rigor and depth in the instructional process.

Some ensemble music applications of technology at the modification level might include:


  • Teaching middle school instrumentalists to write simple melodies for their primary instrument over primary chords on piano using Noteflight to create, share scores, and print scores for performance. Students can record their own performance of their melody and upload to an LMS, Soundcloud, or other cloud storage for evaluation and commentary.
  • High school students arrange a popular song for a quartet of their primary instrument, recording their own performance of each part or collaborating with other players in their section to create a live recording of the arrangement. Score sharing and feedback can all happen in a LMS or in the cloud as in the above middle school example.
  • Writing original music for a mixed ensemble in the style of a favorite artist, genre, or idiom.

Some electronic music applications at the modification level might include:
  • Rearranging a piece of classical music in the public domain using MIDI files found online. Peer assessment and feedback in an LMS or in the cloud included.
  • Remixing a piece of music using stem files made available by the original artists.
  • Supplying sound effects, dialogue and a soundtrack for a public domain or creative commons licensed video.

It is important to note that all of these projects permit students to work on music they can relate to and find to be relevant to their interests. It is also important to note that all of the ensemble music projects can be accomplished completely outside the school day with instruction happening online via instructional videos. Projects such as these can also be presented as featured moments in concerts or as its own separate chamber music festival.

Blended Music Teaching at the Redefinition Level

The redefinition is "the final frontier" in music education. It's the place where the traditional meets the contemporary and creates what I like to refer to as 21st Century Artistry. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of today's successful YouTube artists are doing just this: combining classical music instrumental performance with today's popular music, sometimes using technology such as effects pedals and looping stations. They distribute their own music using YouTube, iTunes, and other online media. They use crowdfunding like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Patreon to garner support from their fan base and are able to turn their passion for music into a full-time career. Certainly the goal of public music education is not to produce a world of full-time musicians, but certainly a goal can and should be to give students the skills to not only be an ensemble performer, but an independent musician capable of producing their own music as an avocation or even as a part-time income.

The redefinition level is where music education becomes global - students expand outside of their live public performances for their local community into sharing their knowledge and skill with the world via the internet.

Applications at the redefinition level may include:
  • Producing a digital album or EP of student arrangements and original works
  • Creating a student-run charity benefit concert
  • Livestreaming student performances
  • Creating music videos of student arrangements and original works
  • Performing an exchange concert with another scholastic ensemble via Skype
  • Producing podcasts and instructional videos on music topics students choose to focus on

Enhancing (Not Replacing) Music Education

There is no doubt that there is an energy and a level of communication that is a product of live musical performance. There will always be a place for scholastic ensembles to rehearse and perform the great body of repertoire that exists for band, chorus, and orchestra. A classical training in music is the foundation of the artform in our culture. The one major weakness of our performance-heavy ensemble system continues to be the tendency for high school programs to garner all of the support and resources to elevate the large performing ensembles at the expense of individual musical development. Blended learning enables our current paradigm to expand to allow students to explore their own musical interests and become more deeply invested in their own music making.

There is no doubt that there is a learning curve for our current music educators to incorporate this brave new world of technology. It is also apparent that the current performance-heavy curriculua in most successful music programs leaves little instructional time and resources for anything else. Large performing ensembles teach a whole score of utilitarian and musical skills, but they do not provide the individual student with the skills they need to carry their ensemble music-making into a more personalized form into adulthood. By using technology to create rigorous, student-centered musical products that are relevant to their interests, we as music educators equip our students to become music creators as well as music performers. The skills they learn to create, produce, and distribute their own music not only encourages life-long music-making, but also equips them with contemporary skills that applies to today's ever-shifting professional landscape.

In future articles, I will highlight specific approaches to many of the blended learning projects described in this article. I will return to this article and link them below:


This article (c) 2015 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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Categories: Music Education, Blended Learning, Music Technology

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