Keyboard Evolution

By Kate Whitney.

Keyboard Evolution is a unique curriculum-based music program offering an easy solution to incorporating ICT and music in the classroom. Designed by MusicEDU, a company whose mission is to “give every child the opportunity to enjoy music in the classroom by creating affordable and relevant curriculum solutions”, Keyboard Evolution is a great innovation designed to help schools teach a modern keyboard course and also meet music learning outcomes.

At the very core of the program is the idea that students should be able to learn and engage in music-making through the keyboard. Keyboard Evolution does not pretend to cover the entire music syllabus. However, it can claim its developers confidently cover all the core elements and many of the key concepts of music understanding in a fun and relevant way for both teachers and students.

One of the main aims of Keyboard Evolution is to increase the number of students taking elective music. With this program and its exciting features, feedback from the participating schools is that it is already making its mark.

The program boasts a very simple yet structured pathway to learning the various concepts taught both practically and theoretically. Each ‘session’ is flexible and can be completely finished in a single lesson or can be taught over a few class lessons (this is dependent on the school and the time they set aside for music/keyboards within the timetable). Within the simple structure, each stage of the session always contains a safety net full of ideas and technological examples to support the delivery. Teachers just need a PC or a Mac and to be online with speakers during the session.

The framework consists of:

  1. The Facts: students learn new concepts for that lesson (practical theory)
  2. The Main Event: students play the practice runs (ICT, performance) and learn as well as perform the ensemble piece (performance: solo/group, ICT) with backing tracks
  3. The Quick Quiz: consolidates the learning with a quick written test (written theory)

Throughout the book, there are helpful symbols indicating whether a particular topic is covering dynamics, texture or pitch for example – there are also constant reminders of both traditional note names and the modern equivalent (semibreve/whole note).

Keyboard Evolution takes some keyboard favourites and has given them a great arrangement allowing for all levels from simple play to advanced technique, all within the same arrangement. Repertoire consists of music by the likes of Coldplay, Rihanna, Adele and Beethoven! Students learn about instrumentation too and discover what instruments look like as well as playing their sounds on the keyboard.

However, what is exciting teachers most about the program is the way each lesson is filled with relevant YouTube samples, video tutorials, extra repertoire for the advanced and often forgotten about student and a whole world of online resources for both teachers and students. The Keyboard Evolution website hosts two main portals: one for students and one for teachers. This is a place where teachers can download fact sheets, chord charts, music theory elements and extra repertoire. They can also share their own performance to inspire their students. Students can also publish their performances, watch video tutorials, complete class and extension work – with or without a keyboard.

Approximately 40 schools are signed up for 2012 – here’s what two of them had to say about the program:

Simon Smith, Director of Music –
Barker College, Hornsby NSW

Q: There are many keyboard courses out there – why is Keyboard Evolution different?

A: Keyboard Evolution is an exciting innovative program that enables students to explore a number of skills. These include ensemble playing, contemporary pieces for mixed-ability keyboard players combined with a wide assortment of instrument sounds, effects and fantastic recording features. The students have also responded positively with the web-based video tutorials and YouTube examples.

Q: Can you comment on the teaching method of the program and how you facilitate this at Barker?

A: Incorporating the use of technology only enhances and stimulates students’ learning and performance skills. At Barker College, we have a whole school approach to teaching based on the Harvard ‘Teaching for Understanding’ framework. Students need to be given the opportunity to explore and create in order to gain a deep understanding of the keyboard. Another positive aspect to the program is that it is designed to be played with or without headphones allowing the teacher to alternate between intervals of quiet practice or playing as an ensemble.

At any point in the lesson students can demonstrate their understanding to the teacher.

Q: Why is it important do you think for students to be introduced to music technology such as sampling, iPod compatibility and recording in Year 7?

A: It is a necessity that we embrace new technologies and continue to move with the times, especially as our younger students are becoming more and more computer literate. In many ways, this is the “performance” equivalent medium to the composition program Garage Band, based on its inbuilt multi-track recording facility. It also enables students to “play along” with pieces adding another dimension to the wide-ranging repertoire.

Q: What are the learning outcomes of the program or what can students expect to achieve by the end of a session?

A: Students can finish each lesson with a sense of satisfaction having performed as a soloist, in an ensemble with a professional backing track, or just having completed a written quiz. Everything is already organised for the student and teacher and the outcomes all correspond to the school syllabus.

Q: Does this course suit non-keyboard playing music teachers or even non-music teachers (relieving teachers)?

A: Yes, for teachers who can’t play the ensemble accompaniments on the keyboard or who simply wish to go around the class and check their students’ work, there are professional backing tracks for use in the classroom and these are arranged to work with the scores in the book. They are very easy to use and are available from the website.

Q: Is there an examination / assessment available?

A: Yes, this is available for download on the teachers’ website – there is a simple mark sheet for both practical and theory testing. In addition, teachers can also move away from the structure of the sessions and conduct a ‘one off’ task in composition, performance or listening.

Vanessa Cesta, Music Teacher at Pittwater High School in Mona Vale NSW.

Q: What do you find most innovative about the program?

A: There is a three-step process that is effective whereby students have the opportunity to learn in small portions and accelerate according to their own ability. The program is very flexible so teachers can focus on particular areas of the curriculum if need be. Also, the program caters for the three types  of learners – visual, aural and kinaesthetic.

Q: What are the 3 stages of each session?

A: The three steps begin with “The Facts” whereby the teacher introduces the keyboard and musical concepts of the lesson and outlines expectations. This is supported with an interactive presentation already organised for the teacher.

In Stage two: The Main Event, the students undertake ‘Practice Runs’ which help them read music as well as understand how the next step of learning the main ensemble piece is structured.

The Main Event repertoire piece comes in two formats, either as a single line melody or as a part of a three or four part ensemble piece of music. This enables students to select a line of music according to their ability and practise it at their own pace.

Finally, the last step of each lesson is The Quick Quiz. This serves to reinforce what the students have learnt as well as provide important feedback to the teacher.

Of course, all the above is flexible and can be taught over several lessons according to the individual’s school timetable. Teachers can just focus on the warm ups or the pieces if they wish or just use the website to enhance the already learnt skills and outcomes.

Q: By having Keyboard Evolution at your school, do you think there will be new opportunities for creative performance?

A: Once students become engaged with the keyboards they quickly learn how to ‘jam’ and use functions such as chord features and various rhythms. The keyboard is actually a great source for improvisation and allows students to easily compose through improvisation.

Q: YouTube links? Are they important?

A: YouTube has only recently become available in schools and colleges for teachers in New South Wales and the power of this amazing tool is still being seen – being able to demonstrate on a video what you need students to do as opposed to explanation or a teacher demo means that students can access material at home via the Keyboard Evolution website and learn holistically, in their own time and at their own pace. Furthermore, there are a wealth of YouTube ‘recommendations’. These are examples of different arrangements, fun versions and learning sessions where students can instantly see the alternatives to what they are playing. All these videos have been pre-selected and are available through the website so teachers don’t need to spend time trawling the net and bookmarking in preparation for their lesson.

Q: How do you cross-reference the musical learning experiences (composing, listening, performing) already taught at your school with the Keyboard Evolution?

A: As well as the obvious links to performance, composition and listening clearly listed in the student book, students are able to plug their smart phones and other listening devices into the keyboard to access their backing tracks. This not only benefits the piano and keyboard players but also the instrumentalists in a practical sense. We often have ensemble periods and use the keyboards to fill out the sound of the ensemble or replace the sound of instruments that are missing (in that particular class).

Composition is central to our music program in all years. The keyboards are of benefit as they enable students to listen to the instrumental sounds that they are writing for. There are so many sounds available within the keyboards that often students want to know more about a particular sound they have discovered. This then triggers some research into areas of music they have not explored or experienced in the past.

Q: What about the use of computers at your school? Does the program complement this?

A: Our Year 9 and 10 teachers are enjoying being able to use the keyboards with the free software on the DER (Digital Education Revolution) laptops available to students. This music-scoring package, when used with the Casio keyboards, can communicate directly through USB (one cable) and there is no need for either midi converters or extra drivers. There are also other programs yet to be explored by our staff that can be used with the keyboards such as Apple’s Garageband software.

Q: The future… what is Pittwater hoping to achieve with Keyboard Evolution?

A: Through the use of the Casio keyboard and the Keyboard Evolution, Pittwater High School is hoping to achieve musical outcomes for all our students by making music enjoyable and accessible. All of our Year 7 students participate in the now mandatory keyboard program, achieving performance, composition and listening/learning experiences and music outcomes throughout the course. Students are really enjoying moving at their own pace and we expect this will have ramifications for the future as more students learn the love of music. We hope that in the future our elective classes expand and students move on to learning the keyboard in a dedicated and sustained manner. We also hope that our already large instrumental population learns the keyboard well enough to complete theoretical and compositional tasks on the keyboards. Above all, the teachers at Pittwater High School know that they have given all students, as they move through Year 7, the opportunity to read, perform and explore music through the use of the keyboard and enabled students to play and enjoy music throughout their lifetime.


Kate Whitney can be contacted on Ph. 0402 616323

For more information on MusicEDU, please visit

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