Teaching Music with PowerPoint

by James Frankel



Picture yourself teaching general music to 6th graders.  Itıs January, the winter concerts are over and itıs time for a lesson on the music of the American colonial period of music.  You are standing at the blackboard writing for the third time that day about penny broadsides when your chalk breaks.  The students wake up from their state of semi-consciousness to giggle.  You look down in disgust at your chalk-covered hands that are so dry that you could easily light a match with them.  The thought enters your mind that it might be time for a career change. ³There must be a better way!²  Relax.  There is.

Let me introduce you to a powerful piece of teaching software that will not only eliminate the use of chalk forever, but will save you time, and money (no more hand lotion), and even make penny broadsides infinitely more interesting to your 6th graders.  PowerPoint is part of the Microsoft Suite, and most schools have it installed on every computer already.  For those of you who are already familiar with PowerPoint after sitting through countless staff developers who use it, or perhaps even using it yourself, you already know how powerful the software is.  For those of you who are not familiar with the software, I strongly urge you to get to know it.

What Power-Point basically does is allow the user to create a slide show.  The user can put anything that they choose on each slide, including text, pictures, narration, sound clips, videos, links to websites, animation, and even the capability to draw on each slide just like John Madden.  The slide show can be controlled either with a click of the mouse, or it can be set up to run automatically. All of these features combined make teaching with PowerPoint an extremely effective teaching tool. While there is little doubt that creating a slide show for each lesson you teach can be very time consuming, in the long run, it is more than worth the effort.


Getting Started


            Obviously the first thing you have to decide is what the subject matter of your lesson is.  For the purpose of this article, letıs stick with penny broadsides from the American Colonial Period.  The first thing that you need to do is gather information that will be included in the slide show.  If you have a textbook that you have been using that contains pictures or graphics that you would like to include, you can use a scanner to import the images in to the slide show.  Another terrific resource is the Internet. Just type in ³penny broadsides² in to a search engine and youıll be amazed at what youıll find.  Download as many pictures as youıd like.  There are even recordings available of accurate performances of original penny broadsides.  Save all of this information on to your hard drive, or just copy and paste directly in to your slide show.  Once you have all of your resources gathered, you are ready to create your slide show. When creating slide shows, think of yourself as a film director.  You are completely in charge of how the information will be presented to your students.

            Open the program.  You will be asked whether you would like to create a blank presentation, or use a template.  I recommend using a template at first, as it makes the background of each slide a bit more interesting.  Next you will be asked to select the format of the slide.  Choose the title slide.  You will then be shown a blank slide with two text boxes.  The one on top is for the main titles, and the one underneath is for a subtitle.  Simply click on each box to insert text.  You can change the text font, size and style just as if you were using a word-processor.  The final step you should complete on the title slide is selecting the transition and animation for your slide.  To select this option, go to the slide show pull down menu and select either slide transition or animation.  Experiment with different animations and transitions.  Choose one that you like.

            The next step is to create your next slide.  You can do this simply by going to the file pull down menu and selecting new slide.  Once again you will be asked to select the format for the new slide.  There are a number of options.  Choose the one that best fits the sequence of information that you will be presenting.  If you would like to insert a picture in this slide, it is quite simple.  The easiest way is to select the slide format that has a picture on it.  Once you have done that, all you have to do is double click on the picture and the program will ask you from where you would like to get the picture.  If you have downloaded a picture off of the Internet it is a simple as remembering where you saved it.  You can also select clip art that already comes with the Microsoft Office Suite.  Once you have selected the picture it will appear on the slide.  All that you have to do is adjust it to the size that you want.  Next add text, and your slide is complete.  Remember to always add slide transitions and animations if desired.    There are a number of other features such as including video, sound and narration, all of which are accessible from the insert pull down menu.  One piece of advice however, if you want to play music during the slide show, it is easiest to put a CD into your computerıs CD drive and have PowerPoint play the examples from the CD.  Using mp3, Real Audio, AIFF and wav files is also quite simple, but it uses far less memory.  Once you save an mp3 into the slide show, it adds to the files overall size quite a bit.  As we do not all have computers running at 600mHz and tons of RAM yet, I highly recommend using CDs.  If you have any questions about how to perform any of the functions I have just mentioned, simply use the help menu that PowerPoint provides.  It is very thorough, and should answer all of your questions.

            Once you have mastered the operational functions PowerPoint that shouldnıt take you very long, you are then only limited by your imagination on how to use it in your classroom.  The idea is so simple.  Once you have created each slide show, you can permanently save it on your computer and use it year after year.  As someone who has been teaching middle school general music for 9 years, I know how difficult it is to get really valuable and age-appropriate resources for middle school students.  Most of the time, I wind up creating the materials myself.  Now, using PowerPoint, I can create my own materials that look professional, that are far more interesting than older resources and contain the materials that I want to teach, or that my curriculum wants me to teach.

            I strongly recommend that you try using PowerPoint during one of your lessons this year.  In order to do so there is one catch.  You will need a projection device of some kind.  There are inexpensive ways to connect a computer to a television.  Ask your school computer person about how or if you can do this in your school.  The other option is to use a more expensive projector, preferably one that is bright enough so that you do not have to turn out the lights while you are teaching.  If you have either of these means of projecting your PowerPoint presentations to your class, try it.  E-mail me and let me know what you thought about it.  Better yet, if you have a great presentation, e-mail me the presentation and Iıll try to get it posted on the web for you on either the NJMEA website, or my own schoolıs website.  Or even better yet, post it on your own schoolıs website!  Good luck!