How to Choose Tech for Your Music Lab

Whether you are just starting out with music labs or have been doing this for a few years, tech plays a big part in what we offer students.  But, how to choose tech can feel overwhelming.

How fancy do you want to get?

Music lab can be as fancy or simple as you want. Honestly!  There’s no rule that says you have to have a million tech gadgets in your studio.  (Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.  Wink)

It can be anything from:

  • Pencil and paper at a CD station with headphones
  • Computer with preset programs that students use
  • Digital piano with headphones
  • Tablet: Chrome or iPad with apps & programs for students to use

The list can go on and on.  

Tech should NOT be the thing that holds you back from making an amazing experience for your students.

Start with what you are comfortable with … and grow each year!

If you are still figuring out smart phones, having a computer or tablet for student use might feel like too much.

If tech has found it’s way into many aspects of your life, adding a tablet with apps for student use will feel fairly comfortable.

WHY do you want to use tech?

Another aspect of how to choose tech for music lab in your studio is … what will you use it for?

An iPad is a great thing.  But if it never gets used, it becomes an expensive paperweight.

Technology should never be used for the sake of using technology.

How does the app or site help the student MORE than a non-tech approach?

I’m known for being the “tech teacher”.  And, yet I think people would be surprised at just how much we do things ‘analogue-style’ in my studio.

The parents in my studio know (& are reminded often) that each app, site or digital resource their child will use has a specific educational purpose.  Lessons are not screen time.  They are a time for learning.

Before choosing which tech to purchase or use, look at your plan for the year.  Which resources will give your students the BEST learning experience?

Apple vs. Android

Two of the biggest questions that comes up online are:

  • “Why do people keep recommending that I get an iPad?”
  • “Why are there so many apps for Apple rather than other devices?” 

It isn’t because Apple has a better operating system.  Or that Android doesn’t have music apps.  It does.

The main reason why Apple keeps getting mentioned is … because of the way developers can release their apps.

A quick primer on app development

Apps don’t just happen overnight.  It takes hours upon hours of programming, design, testing & eventually marketing.

Pretend you are the developer.  You have two options:

  1.  Release the app so it can be used on many different devices … without any additional programming from you.
  2.  Release the app, but tweak programming for each set of devices that will use it.

Apple has an operating system (called iOS) that is used on ALL of its devices whether they are old, new or future.  The iOS gets updates, but they are system wide every time.  This make it MUCH easier for a developer to make a change & the app continues to work optimally on ALL the Apple devices.

Android was started as a way for people to customize their tech.  This means that each set of devices is different AND the user can customize it even further.  App developers must program their app to work for each SET of Android devices since they don’t fall under one umbrella (like Apple devices).

My husband is firmly in the Android camp.  He loves having control over every aspect of his devices.  And while Apple devices have increased user customization over the years, it is nowhere near what he wants.  That doesn’t make him right or wrong.  It just means Android devices have met his needs better than an Apple device could have.

Apple was designed for the non-tech individual.  It was meant to be easy enough to use that anyone, including a child, could pick it up & interact with it.  Customization was sacrificed so the user had a simple interface (programming) to work with.

And so for many music app developers, it was easier to release the app just to Apple.  They got more bang for their buck, so to speak.

How to choose tech

As you can see, there isn’t a cut & dry way of how to choose tech. 

And trust me when I say that I know how frustrating that can be when you are just starting out.  You just want a simple answer, right?  I remember that feeling well.

For the tech newbie

If you are new to tech (or a newbie as my kids would say), sticking with an iPad may be your best option.  If students have used them it has either been from home or early elementary school.  Getting apps is easy & their are tutorials that are added to your photo album regularly.  Plus, you can set up a help session at any Apple store.

Chromebooks (Android) are common in grades 4+ in the area I live in.  They are an economical choice for schools to provide devices for student use in the classroom.  However, if you are feeling overwhelmed with even the idea of customization, then it may not be the right choice right now.

Keep in mind that many of your students have never know a world without a touch screen.  They will adapt to much of whatever you give them tech-wise.

What is the technology that YOU feel comfortable with?  Because there will be some in-lesson training of expectations involved for your students.

The importance of setting up expectations

The first time I taught gym my class left the gym.  Yup.  They left the room, went outside & hung out on the playground.  And, they didn’t come in until the bell rang.  Perhaps one of my worst teaching days ever.

That night I told my husband (who played lots of sports growing up) how much I was dreading teaching this class for the rest of the year.  Thankfully, my husband was able to help me set up a routine that set expectations for my students throughout the class.  Plus, he bought me an AWESOME coaching whistle.

The next class was much different.  Before my students could hijack the lesson again, they were told the skill we were focusing on & directed to a warm-up.  The whistle blew loudly at any student who deviated from their task.  Drills were organized with military precision & yes, everyone was engaged right up until that bell rang.

THIS is why it is so important to choose tech that YOU are comfortable with. 

When my husband gave me that coaching whistle & ideas for drills, he gave me the tools to successfully teach gym that year.  If he had tried to set me up with a bunch of apps or complicated systems I struggled to understand let alone teach with … my year would have been horrible.

Our students can figure out the tech with enough experimenting. 

But they rely on YOU as the teacher to guide them in how it should be used.

Know your HOW and WHY

Regardless of how digital or analogue you choose to run your studio, decide HOW and WHY each tool will be used.  

Use the simplest tool that will do the BEST job of helping your students master each concept or skill.

Do you have any advice for how to choose tech?  Tell us in the comments below!

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