Random Thoughts

Chromebooks in Band Class

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As I start my second full year working with Auburn School District educators in what they call their Auburn Teacher Leadership Academy 2.0 (ATLA), it’s aways great to hear that long-term professional development really works.

For context, I meet with the ATLA group 5 times throughout the school year. Each training builds upon the one before giving depth to the professional development you just can’t get at a conference or one-day PD session.

This is where my focus with school districts is right now. If we’re going to make actual lasting change in schools with these powerful connected tools, then we need to make sure we have professional development plans in place that help teachers learn how to use them in truly meaningful ways.  –Jeff Utecht

The following is reposted with permission from Auburn School District.

Last year when I received my Chromebook at ATLA (Auburn Teacher Leadership Academy 2.0), I didn’t see how it would benefit me as a band teacher. After all, band is about having students blow air through instruments, not typing up a summary about a music history assignment on a glorified typewriter. But after graduating from ATLA, I realized that there had to be ways to use technology to support my students that I didn’t realize.

auburnbandYesterday was our first day of Chromebooks in the band room and I was blown away. I realized that the little laptops give all of my kids instant access to digital keyboards. After a brief survey, less than 5% of my students could name the notes on a piano. Now 100% of my students can.

That simple lesson is going to lead into much more complex musical theory discussions in ways that we could never have had before. In this way, the Chromebooks took us beyond supplementing what we were doing because it wasn’t feasible to provide access to pianos for all my students.

Now the Chromebooks offer us a quick and portable way to do so. And the software! Instead of just presenting information to students, they get to practice! Repetition is a key to student growth. Today I am out of the building and my students’ Do Now is to practice naming piano notes for 50 repetitions!

Currently, we are in the process of buying Flat, a simple to use music notation program that will allow our students to become composers. I’m excited by the cross-curricular benefits my students will enjoy as they try to divide 6 quarter notes by dotted 8th notes.

Before easy-to-use student notation software, kids didn’t get the instant feedback when they tried to incorrectly assemble measures of music. Now, not only will they be practicing math, but they will be able to connect the songs from their cultural backgrounds to their instruments at the same time!

bandchromebookI know that students have to play their instruments to improve, but the Chromebooks are helping me fill in the gaps of basic music education in an interactive way that they weren’t getting before.

Yesterday at the end of class a student came up to me and put his hand out as if we’d never met before. When we shook hands he said, “Thank you.”

However, my evaluation goes this year is immaterial. For this kid, I just passed it.

On behalf of my students I’d just like to thank Auburn for giving us what we didn’t know we needed.

Orlyn Carney
Music Teacher
Olympic Middle School
Auburn School District
Auburn, WA

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. What an interesting perspective! This is a very creative way of using Chromebooks in band class, Jeff.
    What is the workflow, though? Do students practice playing the instrument in class and then study theory at home, or vice versa?
    Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

  2. Jeff, this is so cool! I’m super jealous and wish the school district I work in, (rhyme’s with cattle, sort of…) would wake up and see Chromebooks are versatile for so many subjects. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Orlyn Carney Reply

    Wow, I didn’t think I’d get a chance to respond to readers of my article. Thanks Jeff!

    Currently we are using Flat, Theta Music Trainer, and Musictheory.net. Students come in, assemble their instruments, then set them down if the lesson requires that they start on chromebooks.

    When we’re focused on literacy, we go straight to musictheory.net and begin identifying notes.

    Theta Music Trainer is a wonderful resource for developing the ear and music theory. I’ve found that if I start my rehearsals with a game on Theta that helps them identify differences in pitch, then when we start playing, they’re already in the habit of listening, which is huge. Theta Music is awesome because students can begin the work in class and continue the practice at home or wherever they have access to the internet. The software is designed so kids work through the Karate belt color system as they progress. They are are currently racing me to black belt.

    Flat is perhaps the biggest gift to our classroom because it allows students to work in groups on compositions. One upcoming assignment is a transcription of a song from their culture. These songs are to be transcribed on Flat for their instrument so they can then play the music for their families and each other. After the transcriptions, the students will begin work on writing duets over provided chord progressions.

    I can tell you that we are playing our instruments less this year than last year (when we didn’t have chromebooks), but the students sound better already. I attribute this to listening, and to a greater sense of investment in the music.

    My upcoming vision is to bring in a Yamaha Harmony Keyboard like the ones being used in Japan to begin applying the extra ear training in just intonation. Without the chromebook ear-training, the just intonation practice might go over their heads. But my hope is that the chromebooks will make that type of playing accessible to us!

    Thanks for your interest,

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