Interactive Whiteboards And The Digitisation Of Music Resources

Digitisation of Music Resources

Despite the growing iPad trend, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are still a fixture in many music classrooms. While a set of iPads have the benefit of engaging more than one student at a time, IWBs still have a lot to offer – for both the students and the teacher. Whether you are engaging students through music literacy and ear-training activities, presenting listening activities or music reading and writing exercises, there are many ways to ensure your IWB is more than an expensive way to show YouTube videos.

IWB-Specific Music Software

Often, the first thing music teachers do is go looking for the perfect interactive music website or software program, designed specifically for IWB. The following software options were made with IWBs in mind, although they still work beautifully with a plain-old data projector too!

Notation Software

If you use a notation program like Sibelius, Finale, MuseScore (free) or Noteflight (free) you can put it to good use on your IWB for group exercises in reading and writing music, or even for class ensemble performance.

One possibility is to choose a song that you have been singing or playing with students in class and notate it ahead of time. Then, save a copy of the score and delete some of the notes or bars so that students can fill the gaps on the IWB. When you display the score, zoom in as much as possible to make the notation readable and then have students ‘click’ notes into the stave using their finger (or the IWB pen). Before you try this with your class, make sure you test it out on the IWB yourself – it feels different to doing it at the computer! Once the melody is complete, your class can sing or play it and then play it back in the notation program to compare versions.

If you have class ensemble arrangements that you have created in your notation program, you can turn the program into your personal accompanist. You can play the full score in the notation software so that students can hear all of the parts, or you can mute selected staves so students can play along with a backing track. You can control which parts are playing by opening the mixer and using the mute or solo buttons.

Interactive Websites 

Strictly speaking, any website becomes ‘interactive’ once displayed on your IWB, however there are some music education sites which really seem to shine:

Digitising Your Own Resources

One of the hidden benefits of using an IWB is the motivation it gives the teacher to digitise their own resources. Digitisation of resources has been possible for a long time, through the use of PowerPoint, Keynote or word processing software, but IWB is better designed for the task, especially when it comes to including multimedia such as images, audio and video.

The benefits of digitising resources are immense:

  • it allows you to create a bank of learning resources that can be used many times across multiple classes
  • you can replace some of your physical resources with digital versions that are always at hand
  • your classwork will not be erased by the next teacher to use the room
  • you can ‘bookmark’ the progress of a single class by saving a copy of the file. In their next class, you can pick up where you left off.

Luckily, you do not need to rewrite your curriculum. When starting to use IWB software such as Notebook (Smartboard) or ActivInspire (Promethean), a good approach is to think about of the types of activities you would have done on an ‘old-school’ whiteboard:

  • writing notation on a stave
  • using magnetic ‘song shapes’ or pictures to depict a melodic contour
  • identifying and writing out song form.

By learning a few IWB software skills, you will find that many of your current class activities can be adapted for use on an IWB.

An ‘Enhanced’ Traditional Whiteboard

Start simply with a few basic IWB techniques:

  • students can write music terms such as dynamics or tempo words and let the IWB convert them to text
  • students can draw music symbols (rhythmic notes, clefs, dynamics) using the pen tool and then drag them freely around the board
  • set up an empty stave (there is usually one supplied with your IWB software) on a blank slide and use the pen tool to write notation.

Digital ‘Song Shapes’

You can use your IWB software to make digital versions of the magnetic song shapes that are used as a graphic representation of noteheads for early music literacy activities with young students. For example, if you are teaching Rain, Rain, Go Away to your students, search for a clipart image of an umbrella. Create a new slide with an empty stave and import the umbrella image into your IWB software. You can then activate the “infinite cloner” in Notebook or “drag a copy” in ActivInspire so that there is an endless supply of umbrella noteheads. Students can drag the umbrella images into position on the stave to notate the song in the same way they would have done with magnetic pictures on a traditional board.

Teaching Form

Collect or draw images to represent the different sections of a song. Students can listen to the song, identify the form and place the pictures in the correct order. They can also experiment with changing the order of images to rearrange the song and then perform the new version. 

Model Note Writing And Music Symbol Writing

Some brands of IWB allow you to record yourself drawing and writing on the board by using a built-in screencasting tool to create a short movie (on the Smart Board it is called the Smart Recorder Tool). Using this feature, you could record yourself modelling the drawing of notes or clefs, then step away from the board so the students have an un-obscured view. You can set the movie to play on a loop so students can watch it repeatedly. If your IWB software does not have a built-in screencasting tool, you can use a free option such as Jing (download from

Interactive Music History

Ask your IT person to install Google Earth on the school network so you can tour the birthplaces of composers in 3D.

21st Century Soundscapes

Your IWB can provide an alternative approach to creating soundscapes. Choose a topic, such as “in the city”, “outer space” or “under the sea” and brainstorm ideas with the class about the sorts of things you would see and hear. Kynan Robinson, a former music teacher at North Fitzroy Primary School in Victoria, describes the approach he took with students:

“Using the IWB, draw up a series of pictures and then have the children suggest appropriate vocal sounds for them. The children can also suggest what the pictures would be. So we had bird sounds, rustling seaweed, we made body sounds to represent the octopus, screaming for the scary fish, bubble sounds for the school of small fish and a scraping sound for the large rock. Then draw a simple submarine and explain that the sub is on a sound-gathering trip under the ocean. When ever he reaches a destination, a new sound will emerge. Using your mouse guide the sub around the ocean and let the children make the appropriate sound.”

You can use the IWB’s in-built recording facility to record the student performance, or use GarageBand or Audacity. Kynan shares a video of the soundscape in action at the following link:

Repeat-Use Multimedia Units: Peter And The Wolf, Carnival Of The Animals And More

Larger projects or units of work which you use for multiple classes such as Peter and the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals or Instruments of the Orchestra, can incorporate all the best features of the IWB software. Creating a great interactive unit of work may require more preparation time on your part, but once the preparation is done you will have it for all of your classes and can even use it for years to come.  Everything can be included in the file: background material or history, interactive worksheets, listening examples, images and video. Students can tap on images to start video playing, complete worksheets by matching pictures with audio examples, or zoom in on an embedded map.


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Katie Wardrobe
Katie Wardrobe is a music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music educators. She runs hands-on workshops and online courses through her business Midnight Music and focusses on incorporating technology into the music curriculum. Katie is also the author of the middle school MusicEDU curriculum program Studio Sessions and is currently writing an ebook titled iPad Projects for the Music Classroom.
Katie Wardrobe

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