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Get your head in the cloud, part 3: teaching music

In the third article in his cloud-based software series, George Hess, MUSIC:ED Music Technology Editor, looks at music production software for the classroom.

In the third article in his series about cloud-based software, George Hess, MUSIC:ED Music Technology Editor, looks at software for the classroom.

While creating music is a great authentic way to learn, some of you may not be ready to completely rework your classes and may be looking for software that supports your current curriculum.

Fortunately, there are cloud-based options for you too.

Music fundamentals, theory and ear training

Music theory and ear training have long been a focus of computer-assisted instruction and most software still relies on tutorials and drills. Let’s look at some of the options.


Ricci Adam’s venerable Musictheory.net has long been one of the most recommended sites. It’s quite comprehensive but rather dry as it provides lessons and drills on theory and ear training that range from the basics through diatonic chord voicings. The site has always been free and is a great resource.

Breezin’ Thru Theory

At the other end of the spectrum is Breezin’ Thru Theory, where the focus is on fun. While it’s still primarily a drill program, it has a more engaging interface and includes features like games and playing activities. The program includes class management tools and automatically graded assessments. Breezin Thru Theory is available on an annual subscription basis.

Theta Music Trainer

One other intriguing option, Theta Music Trainer, not only includes games and drills for traditional ear training and theory but also for audio production. The unique drills and games are quite engaging and focus on ear training but there are also clear explanations of the theory behind them. A free version takes you through the fundamentals of audio and theory and the annual subscription includes lessons that are more advanced.

Auralia and Musition

Auralia and Musition have been around for a long time as standalone programs for ear training and theory respectively and now have cloud versions available. These are by far the most sophisticated theory programs, with lessons from beginner through A-level, an extensive content library of examples from the repertoire and advanced class management and assessment. Syllabi, aligned with many standard curricula, including GCSE, Trinity and AP Music Theory (US), are available and you can use the included related lessons or create your own. Free trials are available to schools and both programs are available through annual subscriptions.

The play’s the thing

In the end, music is about performance and focussing on individual performance is difficult to attend to in a class situation.

SmartMusic and PracticeFirst

Fortunately, two cloud-based programs are geared to help students develop skills and practice repertoire. One, SmartMusic has been around for many years and has now moved to the cloud. The other, PracticeFirst, is a more recent addition to the MusicFirst suite.

In both programs, music is displayed on the screen and the program listens and evaluates as the student plays to the audio accompaniment. Each program includes an extensive repertoire of solo and chamber works as well as method books and exercises. You can also upload your own scores and exercises in MusicXML format (PracticeFirst also accepts MuseScore files).

SmartMusic is a standalone program and PracticeFirst’s class management is handled in the MusicFirst LMS but both have similar class management tools, including creating rubrics and setting evaluation criteria, that let you define assignments. There is a free version of SmartMusic with a limited repertoire and the full versions of both are available through subscription.

All for one and one for all

Adding music technology to your existing classes can seem to be a little daunting at first. Choosing software, designing lessons and setting up class management for each individual program is time-consuming and challenging. For those teachers who are feeling a bit overwhelmed, there are programs that are more complete solutions.

Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music

For elementary students, Quaver’s Marvelous World of Music is an option. The program supports popular pedagogies like Orff and Kodály and is designed as a complete curriculum with thousands of activities, including engaging multimedia lessons in music theory, music styles, instruments and ensembles and composers and music history as well as activities like movement and over a thousand interactive songs.

Class management is extensive and a free online PD program is an excellent resource for new teachers. Unlike other programs, Quaver’s subscription is per school or class rather than per student and has a variety of configurations.


Finally, you’ve probably noticed mentions of MusicFirst throughout this series.

MusicFirst is a unique cloud-based program that offers a music-specific Learning Management System (LMS) with built-in lesson units. A selection of music creation and teaching software is available at a significant discount through a cafeteria plan. Choose the applications you need when you need them or one of the bundles. MusicFirst also offers a nice option for classrooms with only one computer.

The LMS is full-featured and it and the lesson units are designed to make use of the integrated software. Class management tools support creating units, lesson plans, portfolios, gradebooks, rubrics and assessments. You can use pre-configured standards for grading including IB but, at present, GCSE and A-levels are not built-in.

MusicFirst works with all web browsers but a better experience is available on tablets using the MusicFirst app. MusicFirst offers training and workshops to help you get up and running and there are tutorials and videos for most of the integrated software.

Wrapping it up

As you can see, there are cloud-based options for any music program at any level, whether you are teaching General Music or A Level. They’re easy to use, easy to learn and yet powerful enough to handle the needs of most classrooms. Since they are cloud-based, the programs are transparently being upgraded all the time and with the subscription model, there’s no need to constantly pay for each new version.

Whether you’re just starting a program or considering upgrades and new software, you’ll want to take a look at these options.

Other articles in the series

About the author

George Hess

George Hess is an educator, guitarist, composer and author who has taught music technology, jazz and theory at leading universities for over 25 years.

The author of Create Music with Notion, he is a regular contributor to leading music education publications and his tutorial videos are published by Groove3 and featured by MuseScore.

Dr Hess is an Apple Distinguished Educator and award-winning teacher who serves on the board of directors for the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) in the US. A certified Flipped Learning trainer who regularly presents at conferences and workshops around the world, he is currently Associate Professor of Music at Sunway University in Malaysia.

Website: http://georgehessmusic.com

Header image: SmartMusic is a cloud-based program geared to helping students develop skills and practise repertoire