Digital Music Learning Extends to Band in Illinois

Tim Perian, the Band Director and Music Instructor at Harlem High School in Machesney Park, Illinois has been using Soundtrap for the past four years as an integrated music learning platform for digital music learning for a variety of his music students. What started as an extremely useful Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for his Digital Music Production class (also taught separately by his colleague, Jeremy Toledo, the school’s choir director) soon expanded into the teaching of Band during the pandemic-filled pivots of the last few years. Remarkably, during the chaos, Perian managed to not only continue efforts in his digital music class for remote students but also broke up his band class into quartet ensembles that eventually blossomed into a hybrid teaching model that combined online students with in-class participants.

The Formation of a Digital Music Production Class with Soundtrap

After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in music education and euphonium performance, Perian returned to his high school alma mater to give back to the very place that shaped his start. Looking for software to use in the recently developed Digital Production Class, he and his colleague decided on Soundtrap because of its Chromebook compatibility, collaborative functionality, and affordability. “We decided we wanted to use Soundtrap for the course because it was online and web-based and we were going to Chromebooks pretty soon,” Perian recalls. “It was nice to have something that the students could take home with them and continue to use. It was also a lot more affordable than other software [we looked at].”

The collaborative aspects of Soundtrap stood out at first and carried over to subsequent years of teaching digital music production. “I would pull their stuff up on my laptop, mess with it and show the kids what it sounds like. We then worked on it simultaneously together,” he says. It resulted in students producing 2-4 minute songs using loops and instrumentation from Soundtrap’s library. When the pandemic heightened, the collaboration piece proved highly effective allowing all 30 students to virtually share projects with each other adding to the digital learning experience.

Collaboration Methods Move to Band

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough came when Perian opened up his traditional Band class to Soundtrap during the pandemic. In the beginning, Band class was both virtual and in-person, forcing him to divide his online instruction into smaller ensembles. “I put a backing track on a Soundtrap file for them and sent it off,” he says. “They were able to record their parts on top of it while soloing and playing along, It was pretty great.” The kids recorded the instruments and the chat feature in Soundtrap allowed for even greater communication between the students and their teacher.

Digital Music Learning in Action

When Harlem High School entered a hybrid model, Perian continued by merging the virtual classmates with in-classroom students. His Band students (60 in number) were all split into quartet ensembles. Every day over Google Meets he conducted class, but this time he had students in a variety of locations with different attention needs. It represented an incredible feat of teacher management skills and stamina. “My schedule was a disaster last year. Some students were in class once a week but at home the other four days. Some were at home all the time, and others alternated with a PE class too,” he says, recalling how a student actually met directly from gym class over Google Meets to go over his recorded parts.

By adding Google Meets, Perian could provide further collaboration in breakout rooms where in-class and virtual merged. “They could talk to each other and then work on mixing or lining things up in time with different tracks simultaneously. They could discuss with each other and make those decisions in real-time as a group.” Perian found himself hopping back and forth between various breakout rooms for all 60 students, talking to each group for a couple of minutes at a time. Although exhausting and courageous in commitment, his Band class managed to successfully produce a variety of well-performed productions including a spring online performance.

Digital Music Learning Brass Quintet and Quartet

Back to Normal with Lessons for the Future

With Harlem High School back to its normal setup, Band has reformed into its traditional large ensemble structure while the digital production class continues to expand the use of Soundtrap features. Perian teaches many other classes such as Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Pep Band, Music Appreciation, and Music Theory. All of which are additionally taking the lessons from virtual learning into their future growth.

This year, students in Digital Music Production have been given external keyboards to add to their repertoire of tools. Using keyboards that plug directly into Chromebooks with Soundtrap is supporting a traditional aspect of instruction through digital music learning that helps with Persian’s overall pedagogical goals. “I love it because I can tell them what the C major scale actually is,” he laughs.