Music Technology Budget: Get More Bang for Your Buck

Music Technology Budget: Get More Bang for Your Buck

I don’t know how your school or district works, but in our district, preliminary budgets are allocated to schools in January, and a plan to spend those funds must be in place by March. The purchasing of new items begins in July as soon as the new financial year begins. 

Let’s be honest—most schools do not budget a lot of money for technology. Often teachers have very little say in how that money is spent. To add insult to injury, subjects like music education are often near the bottom of the priority list when it comes to technology funding.

To help, I’ve compiled some tips on how to do more with your music technology budget (even if you don’t have one).

Raising Funds

You might find yourself having to provide for your own technology needs. If so, a candy bar or lollipop fundraiser (check out Ozark Delight lollipops) could provide for your needs. In addition to fundraising, I would also suggest looking to see if there are any local companies or organizations that would be willing to sponsor your project with a grant.

Additionally, if you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve, do not be afraid to share that vision with your parents. One of your parents may own a company that would be willing to support you!

Music is Unique

To further add to the challenge, a significant percentage of educational technology doesn’t fit well with music education. It’s often hard for music educators to find technology products or programs/applications that are useful for the music classroom or that can be easily integrated into the classroom.

If you wish to use or purchase technology, you have to keep the end goal in mind. You need to have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve with the technology you purchase. And you will need to know both the hardware and software that is needed to meet your end goal.

Devices

There are exciting developments in hardware, such as Chromebooks that “flip” to create a tablet and can run Android apps, the stunning Surface Pro 4, and a long-awaited 12.9” iPad. The problem is that schools usually don’t buy these devices, because they, too, are trying to get the most “bang for their buck” with technology.

If you are looking for inexpensive devices, do not be afraid to look at used iPads, Macs, or even Chromebooks. If buying an iPad for yourself, do not purchase anything older than an iPad Air 2. Similarly, don’t buy a MacBook older than 2012 or a Surface older than a Surface 3. And remember that Chromebooks can often be purchased inexpensively—even at Walmart!

Where to Purchase

Especially when looking at accessories, such as USB microphones, I suggest looking at Amazon, eBay, and craigslist. While it is wonderful to support local businesses, getting the “most for your buck,” will require you to look online for best prices. An Amazon search will help you determine what the current price is for a device, and eBay and craigslist can offer significant discounts on some items.

You do have to be careful when purchasing on eBay and craigslist—not all items are in working order, and some items are stolen goods. If purchasing from craigslist, meet in a public place, and only pay for an item after you have tested it and made sure that it is free of any restrictions (such as “Find my iPhone”). If you find that online prices are not any better than what you can find locally, by all means, support your local merchants!

Bargain hardware, such as tablets sold for $25 on Black Friday, often lack up-to-date processors and other important hardware features. You often “get what you pay for.”

And when it comes to software, free software often lacks the support you will receive versus a paid product. A number of programs offer “freemium” services, where the basic service is free, but additional features require a purchase. This can be problematic with iPads in a school environment because there is still no way to make an In-App Purchase using a school purchasing account.

Platforms

Many schools are turning to BYOD solutions (Bring Your Own Device). If this is the case in your school, you will have to find software solutions that work on any platform. There are programs that work on most devices, but there are always going to be glitches and surprises on various platforms, and students will expect you to be the expert. Learn to say, “I don’t know,” and to urge students to use Google and the support solutions from various applications to solve problems on their own.

When it comes to multi-platform solutions, the best applications require a purchase or subscription, and educational pricing is often available. Schools that adopt Chromebooks typically do not set aside money for subscriptions, because many courses integrate technology simply using the G Suite apps (Docs, Slides, etc.). While music classes can use G Suite apps, music teachers usually want to adopt technology that can be used directly with music.

Recommended Apps

Here are three examples of technology that many music teachers want to use:

  1. If you are looking for a computer program that can help students practice their music and provide authentic assessment, you will want to look at the “red note/green note” programs on the market, such as MakeMusic’s SmartMusic. One of the exciting developments with the new SmartMusic is that the program has a completely different price structure, making it more affordable for many schools. Learn more here.
  2. If you are looking for a notation program to use with students and have access to a Windows or Mac computer lab, check out Finale Notepad, which is free. Have a mixture of devices in your classroom? You may wish to explore web-based options including Noteflight and flat.io.
  3. If you are looking for a Digital Audio Workstation that works on most devices, check out Soundtrap and Soundation.

Other Resources

In the world of Mac and Windows, there are a number of free programs that can be used successfully. I would point you to other articles and presentation such as Chad Criswell’s (Music Ed Magic) blog post: “Low Cost Music Technology Options for the Music Education Classroom” and Barbara Freedman’sFree Technology for Music Education with Barbara Freedman.”

And there are hundreds of online music games and resources that can be used on many platforms, such as those found at Karen Garrett’s MusicTechTeacher site. Also make sure to check out the work by Amy Burns (and also at mustech.net) as well as the work by Katie Wardrobe.

Of course, you are always invited to check out my Technology in Music Education blog, and the Music Education & Technology Podcast that Paul Shimmons and I  produce (it’s also available in iTunes).

In closing, if you have a limited budget, it is important to make sure that you begin with the end in mind, knowing exactly what you want to achieve through your project. This will help steer your purchase of hardware and software—and may also help you convince others (school, boosters, PTO, community) to support your efforts.

Christopher J. Russell, Ph.D, is a middle school choir teacher at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, Minnesota, which is part of the South Washington County School District. He speaks across the country on the topic of technology in music education, is the author of a blog called techinmusiced.com, and has two books on the subject available on the iBookstore.
Photo by December Orphen