• Thomas J. West

Music Education 2.0 - Blended and Hybrid Learning Techniques to Enhance Secondary Music Ensembles

Thomas J. West standing next to the PMEA Conference banner at the 2022 In-Service Conference
Outside the exhibit hall

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting a session at the 2022 Pennsylvania Music Educators Association In-Service Conference at Kalahari Resort in the Poconos. My session was entitled Music Education 2.0 - Blended and Hybrid Learning Techniques Using Technology to Enhance Secondary Music Ensembles. In the session, I demonstrated how over the past 14 years, I have slowly but surely expanded my capabilities of using both in-person and cloud-based tools to help my students not only become better large ensemble players, but also more independent, well-rounded musicians capable of writing, performing, recording, and producing their own music. I had about 40 fellow educators in attendance, and I had a lot to squeeze in to a 60-minute session.

At the beginning of the session, I asked the audience to raise a hand if they were already using some form of technology with their students to support and enhance their middle school or high school's large ensemble performances. About two-thirds of the room raised a hand. I then asked them to raise a hand if they were having their band, chorus, and orchestra students use techology in their own homes to enhance their large ensemble experiences.

Only three people raised their hands. I was blown. Away.

I have been living in this blended world, a world where my students practice, record, create, and collaborate online from home in addition to learning and rehearsing in the classroom, for so long that it really struck home how far ahead of the curve on this I have been for so long. Anyone who knows me well knows I strive to remain humble and to constantly work to learn and improve. In this regard, my work with blended learning techniques truly does stand out, and it is expertise that I have a passion to share with as many music educators as possible.

A picture of Thomas J. West presenting at the PMEA 2022 In-Service Conference
Presenting a blended learning session at PMEA 2022

In this session, I discussed and demonstrated all of the following:

  • The difference between blended learning and tech-rich learning

  • Using Sightreading Factory as a practice and assessment tool for students to use at home.

  • Using Flat for Education LTI integration in the Canvas LMS to create embedded practice scores for students to practice their parts at home.

  • Using Flat for Education to teach music composition, starting with middle school students learning to write an 8-bar melody for their primary instrument over primary chords in the keys of Concert G Major (strings) or Concert Bb Major (winds), and differentiating all the way out to writing duets, trios, and full ensemble scores. These are printed out and played in class or in our winter and spring public concerts.

  • Using Flat for Education for real-time music arranging and composing collaborations between student cohorts led by student section leaders.

  • Using Soundtrap for students to submit performance assessments for concert literature excerpts, scale exams, and etudes.

  • High School Honors student semester self-directed projects, including performing or recording solo literature with accompaniment, arranging/composing for our chamber orchestra, electronic music production, repertoire selection, rehearsing, and conducting, and sometimes combinations of all of these!

  • Using Soundtrap for collaborative studio recording sessions where students learn microphone techniques to track their own part at home to a reference track, basic time correction, and collaborating with my Digital Music Composition students for pitch correction, mixing, and mastering. Here's a sample of what my middle school and high school ensembles produced during the pandemic.

All of this can be very overwhelming, especially for those who are new to all that today's technology has to offer. So, I told the session attendees to pick just one of these blended learning ideas to incorporate into their teaching for next year.

My Blended Learning Challenge

I want to help more middle school and high school band, chorus, and orchestra directors use internet-based technology to help transform their students' large ensemble experience into a lifetime of music creation. Therefore, I am currently offering a Blended Learning Challenge to any music educator who is interested in selecting just one single blended learning approach to incoporate into their 2022-2023 school year. Click on the Blended Learning Challenge link, fill it out, and I will be in touch to help guide you through the process.

Thank you to the organizing committee at PMEA for having me. This general session gave me great ideas for future sessions that zoom in on a few of these concepts.

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Thomas J. West is helping band, chorus, and orchestra directors use Blended Learning techniques to turn their students into life-long music makers.

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