Podcasting in the Music Classroom

By James Frankel


            If you Google podcasting you will find over 85 million results – probably more by the time you read this article.  However, if you had Googled it in September of 2004, you would have found 0 results.  Since October of 2004 when Apple created podcasting as a new form of expression on the Internet, it has taken off, and it is just starting to become popular in classrooms across the country.  But what is podcasting, how do you create podcasts, and how can they be used in a classroom?  This article is an attempt to answer these questions, and point you to some fantastic resources for getting started with podcasting in your classroom today.


What it Podcasting?


            Podcasting is a contraction of the words iPod and broadcasting.  I like to think of podcasting as TiVo for the radio.  Many radio stations now podcasts their daily broadcasts so that you can download them and listen to them whenever you want.  Missed your favorite NPR show?  Log on to www.npr.org and download it.  The iPod can be used as a device to listen to the show – although you can also listen to it on your computer, or any other MP3 player.  Most podcasts are available for free at the iTunes Music Store, but you do not need to have iTunes to download podcasts from individual websites.  Contrary to what you might think when you see the word iPod, podcasting is possible for everyone, whether or not you are an Apple computer or iPod user.

            In addition to downloading individual radio programs, you can also subscribe to a specific podcast through the iTunes Music Store, or on an individual website.  Podcasts use a script known as RSS – Really Simple Syndication – that automatically updates the latest podcast to your computer.  Personally, I subscribe to a few different podcasts, and each time I log into the iTunes Music Store, my podcasts update automatically (you need to set this in your preferences). 

            What makes podcasting so exciting however is not the fact that you can download other people¹s radiobroadcasts, but that you can create your own podcasts and have them available on the iTunes Music Store (and on your own website).  Recently Apple Computer released iLife ¹06 that includes two powerful tools for podcasting: GarageBand 3.0 and iWeb – a new web design title that creates the RSS feed for you.  The following is a step-by-step guide to creating a podcast.


Creating podcasts


Step 1: 

Create the Content


            The first thing you need to consider when creating your own podcast is the actual content within it.  Because we are specifically addressing educational uses of podcasting, you might want to consider adapting an existing project that you do with your students.  For example, if you have your students learn about different composers, it might be an idea to have them create a podcast about a specific composer – for example: J. S. Bach.  Have the students write a script that answers different biographical and music questions about Bach.  Once they have created a script that you approve, have them consider what musical examples they might use to illustrate various aspects of Bach¹s musical life.  Students can download MIDI files of Bach¹s works legally from websites such as the Classical Music Archives (www.classicalarchives.com).  After they have carefully planned out their podcast, it¹s time to record it.


Step 2: Record Your Podcast


            While it is possible to use any software title that can record audio and export the file as an MP3, the easiest application is the all-new GarageBand 3.0 from iLife ¹06.  When you launch GarageBand 3.0 one of the new options is to create a podcast.  Select this option.  When the application opens, you will see 5 separate tracks: Male Voice, Female Voice, Jingles, Radio Sounds, and a track for integrating images and video files.  The Male and Female Voice tracks are pre-equalized for the specific voice type.  Record your spoken script into one or both of these tracks (you can also create additional voice tracks if you need them).  To record a voice you can either use the built-in microphone on the computer, or you can integrate a more professional level microphone using either a MobilePre USB Interface with a handheld microphone like a Shure SM58, or a stand-alone USB microphone (I recommend Blue USB Micrphones – www.bluemic.com). 

            Once the dialogue has been recorded you can import MIDI files that you have downloaded into a new track.  You can edit them anyway you¹d like to suit your podcast needs.  You can also add intro and exit music for your podcast using the Jingle track.  GarageBand 3.0 includes 225 jingles of various styles and lengths.  Like all GarageBand loops, these jingles are copyright and royalty free.  To add a little sonic humor, you can explore the 283 different sound effects that come with GarageBand 3.0 and add them to your podcast in the Radio Sounds track.

            Finally you can import both visual images and videos into your podcast in the Podcast Track.  This allows you to create what are known as Vodcasts.  Vodcasts are just like podcasts except that users also get a video with the podcast that can then be viewed on a video iPod, or a similar device with video playback capabilities.


Step 4: Post Your Podcast


            When you are happy with your podcast you are then ready to post your podcast to a website.  In order for anyone else to hear your podcast, you must make it accessible through a website.  Most schools in New Jersey have their own homepages.  Many teachers I know have their own Music Department webpage posted on those sites.  You need to get your podcast from your computer to that website in order to make it public.  To do this, I would strongly suggest using iWeb.  There is an option in GarageBand 3.0 under the Share menu option that allows you to ³Send Podcast to iWeb².  By selecting this, you automatically create the necessary scripting (XML) to make your podcast available to others.  Non-Apple users can do the same thing by downloading programs like Feed For All (www.feedforall.com) that create the necessary RSS feed using XML. 

            Once you have created your podcast webpage using iWeb or your RSS feed using Feed For All you need to post the podcast onto a web server.  You can do this by using a simple FTP program like Fetch, Fugu, CoreFTP, or an FTP program imbedded into a web design program such as Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive.  If you are confused by this step, I would strongly recommend enlisting the help of the school computer teacher.  If you let them know that you are creating podcasts in your classroom they might be motivated to help you get them up and running.


Step 5: Publishing Your Podcast


            By now you have successfully uploaded your finished podcast onto your website.  The final step in getting your podcast out there is to log onto the iTunes Music Store and submit your podcast.  On the left hand side of the main page of the iTunes Music Store there is a ³Podcasts² in the menu.  Clicking on this brings you to the podcasting section of the store.  In the middle of the screen you will see a large button that says ³Submit a Podcast².  Click on it.  Enter the exact URL address of the podcast on the website that you have posted your podcast.  It is very important that you do this correctly.  The address should end with the suffix .xml.  I suggest copying the URL address from your browser and pasting it into this window to avoid mistakes. 

            This step of the process is the one most people have difficulty with.  The iTunes Music Store has a very good FAQ section about submitting podcasts that should answer any question you may have.  When I first submitted my student podcasts I had trouble with this step.  It¹s all in the address – remember XML!

            Once you have submitted your podcast it takes about a day for it to appear on the iTunes Music Store.  You can find it by searching for the title you give it.  You¹re done!


Curricular Integration Strategies


            So now that you now what podcasts are and how to create them, how can you use them in your music classroom.  I have already mentioned one use – the J.S. Bach podcast.  My suggestion would be to think of all of the assessments you already do with your students and think of ways to adapt them.   Here are some quick ideas:


Music Theory Podcasts:


Have students create podcasts about a certain aspect of music theory.  Let them create a short podcast on the major scale.  They can write a script that describes the structure of the scale, import images and videos that illustrate the structure, and they can sing the major scale as an audio example.


Folk Song Podcasts:


Have the students research a given folk song.  They can then write a script that describes the history of the song.  Have them locate a MIDI file online (www.contemplator.com), import it into GarageBand, add a vocal track and have them sing the lyrics along with the accompaniment.  I have done this project with my own students and it was very successful.  To hear their work search the iTunes Music Store for ³FAMS Folk Song Podcasts². 


Young Composer Podcasts

Podcasting is a great way to provide your students with a free form of getting their music on the iTunes Music Store.  They can create and record their music using any notation or sequencing software.  Simply convert their work to an MP3 and post it to the iTunes Music Store.




ProfCast is an affordable utility that allows you to record your lectures, along with a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.  ProfCast creates a vodcast of the presentation that can then be posted as a podcast that all of your students can download.  This can be very beneficial to students who have difficulty taking notes during class.  Many universities are now using this application to make their lectures available to their students.  Visit www.profcast.com to find out more about this great utility.


Podcasting Examples


            Aside from the Folk Music podcasts I have posted, there are some really wonderful examples of podcasting in the classroom on the Internet.  My first suggestion would bee to visit Radio WillowWeb (www.mpsomaha.org/willow/radio/index.html).   This site contains podcasts from students at the Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska on a variety of topics.  I strongly recommend a visit.

            To get an idea of what students can do with vodcasting, visit: www.dearbornschools.org/videocast.  This site is from the Dearborn Public Schools in Dearborn, Michigan.  There are a number of interesting vodcasts by high school students enrolled in a video class.

            Finally, to see what higher education is doing with podcasting, visit: http://itunes.stanford.edu         This site is run by Stanford University and it contains many of the lectures given by their distinguished faculty and also student recitals from the Music Department.  I firmly believe that this site will serve as a model for all of higher education in the very near future.


Podcasting and Copyright


            Podcasting poses some questions about copyright law and fair use.  The thing to keep in mind in regard to fair use is that the intention of copyright law is to avoid copying.  Even though you may think it is an educational use, and therefore a fair use, to include copyright protected music within a podcast, if it is made available to the public it is no longer fair use.  Whether or not you are using only 30 seconds of the piece (or less than 10%), once you make available in a format where other users can copy it you are violating copyright law.

            When you submit your podcast the people at Apple whether or not your podcast violates copyright law.  Clicking no does not absolve you from guilt.  I have personally heard a number of podcasts that use copyright protected material throughout.  My suggestion is that you avoid this completely by assigning podcasting projects that do not require students to include copyright protected music.  Better yet – have the students write their own music!


Podcasting Resources


            For more information about podcasting, I would recommend visiting the Apple Education Podcasting website at www.apple.com/education/solutions/podcasting.  The Radio WillowWeb site also has a great FAQ page that can help you create your own podcasts as well.  Finally, you can always google ³podcasting² and surf through the 85 million entries. 


            I hope that you try podcasting in your classroom. Over the next few years it will become a regular part of our educational methodologies.  Get in on the ground level.  Start podcasting today. The possibilities are endless.


            As always, if you have any question about podcasting or anything else about music technology, please feel free to email me at jtfrankel@hotmail.com or visit my website at: www.jamesfrankel.com. 




Join the newly formed New Jersey State Chapter of the Technology Institute for Music Educators.  Our goal is to bring music technology training and support to all of the music teachers of New Jersey.  Visit www.nj-time.org today to find out how to become a member.