In music classroom without instruments, an ensemble of apps play bandleader

At Kaenoisuksa school, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we face the unique challenge of bringing music education to roughly 600 students who don’t have the benefit of real instruments to practice with. Adding to the complexity, our student body is a diverse mix Shan, Yunnan and Lahu students who all bring a different set of cultural values and learning techniques to the classroom every day. Our curriculum has to be nimble if it’s going to serve all of their unique needs.

As the school’s music and dramatic arts teacher, it’s my job to find educational solutions that will strike a chord with my students. In the common smartphone, I found a tool perfectly fit for the job—so long as it was equipped with the right apps.

Learning music isn’t just a matter of knowing how to play this song on that instrument. Using Microsoft apps like Office, Sway, OneNote, PowerPoint, Windows Movie Maker and others, I weaved together a 21st-century lesson plan that covered a range of musical topics, from theory to technique to history and cultural context. I call it Mobile Music Learning, and through it, my students have learned both the fundaments of music education as well as the value of technology in exploring their own questions in their own ways.

Things That Worked in My Classroom

  • Mobile VR Thrills: My students loved exploring international music and concert videos with apps like WITHIN and YouTube VR, which help turn your mobile screen into a virtual-reality headset. Access to music videos—from Operas in London to Indonesian dance routines in Bali—seeded them with questions about instruments, dance and other cultural elements that led to lively discussion as a class.
  • Strum Your Screens: Countless apps will turn your phone into a real-live instrument, replete with keys, strings, skins or some other music-making analog of your choosing. This let students get their hands a little dirty with playing where they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Even better, they got to do so from home long after class was over—and on just about any instrument they could think of.
  • Tech Does Double Duty: I want my students to learn music education, of course, but through it, I also want them to learn tech fluency. They are emerging into a world where success will depend on their ability to confidently navigate tech tools. Employing integrated apps like Microsoft Sway, Word, PowerPoint and Windows MovieMaker to explore, share and present the material helps them build that confidence along the way.

Practicing an instrument on a smartphone may seem like a novel concept, but for my students, a familiarity with mobile devices meant they brought more confidence to the initial lessons than they might’ve in a class with traditional instruments. The portability of our devices also empowered them to continue exploring the lessons for themselves once class had finished.

By applying the tech tools they’re already familiar with, I encouraged my students to explore, and ultimately synthesize, the subject matter in ways that felt natural to them as digital natives. The result was not only a newfound appreciation for music education but also the fostering of a rich and informed dialogue about other related subjects.

The Mobile Music Learning curriculum I created is little more than a collection of everyday Microsoft software applications. On their own, any one of the apps provides an important, specific tool. When combined in symphony, though, they strike a harmony that is greater than the sum of their unique parts. For my students, that approach helped fuel a modern, imaginative curiosity that made the curriculum more engaging and the group discussion more meaningful.

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