Assistive Music Technology

Tech Solutions for the Classroom

The explosion of Web 2.0 technologies along with the rapid increase in 1:1 technologies in many schools are putting powerful tech based solutions into the hands of the music teacher tasked with differentiating instruction for students with various disabilities and special needs. Below are but just a few of the many solutions available to accommodate those special needs in the music education classroom. The technologies are grouped by the specific challenge they can be used to assist with.



Band in a Box is an ideal solution for those with cognitive disabilities when working on music composition projects. The software is geared towards a general audience, but works very well as an assistive technology. Band-in-a-Box can simplify music composition by allowing students to enter simple chord symbols and then transforms the input into complete arrangements for multiple instruments. The program also features RealTracks, which are a vast bank of pre-recorded sound loops to aid in music creation

Hotz Box

How the Hotz Box can help the Handicapped perform music.
The Hotz Box is another technology which can be used with students with cognitive impairments. The instrument was designed as a MIDI interface that served as a non-traditional input device. Thus, the user does not need the ability to play a traditional piano keyboard. With the simplicity of of the interface, the Hotz Box opens up new possibilities for music creation to those with cognitive disabilities.


Joystick-Controlled Instruments

The above link shows just one way technology is being used to adapt the music education classroom to those with physical challenges. The part of the story under the heading "No Limits" tells how a Spokane high school student was able to participate in band with the help of technology. Lukas has very limited use of his extremities, and playing the euphonium requires that the performer press any combination of 3-4 valves to produce that various notes. A local music store owner developed a joystick which Lukas can use to control the valves, thus allowing him to play the instrument.

Voice to MIDI data

The Digital Ear offers another way in which those with physical limitations can still produce music. With the software, those with limited motor control can still play an instrument by singing. The software converts the sung notes into MIDI data, a standard protocol used by electronic instruments. The data can then be used to generate the sound of any instrument.


Lime Lighter Low Vision Music Display Software

Limelighter demo
The Lime Lighter is a rather straightforward solution for those with impaired sight. It allows music to be zoomed to various levels, highlights the current measure in the music with a box, and can be scrolled using a foot controller.

Braille Music Translators

Braille music technology pushes blind music literacy forward
Created by the same company as the Lime Lighter, GoodFeel allows blind musicians to understand written music by using Braille. The program creates a hybrid of Braille that includes information regarding rhythm along with the note names. The program can also print a version for sighted performer so that sighted instructors can follow along.

At-Risk Students

Apple's Garage Band and similar freeware products provides the music educator with a resource that is outside of the scope of the traditional music classroom setting. Whereas students in band must learn how to play an instrument and those in choir must be able to sing, students need no experience to create with Garage Band. This can prove particularly effective with at-risk students, who may not engage in the traditional music offerings within the school. Garage Band also allows the student to easily create music in a variety of genres, such as pop, rock, and rap, and can be a more engaging experience for at-risk students.

Kjos Interactive Practice Studio

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Often, at-risk students in the band classroom just need more individual attention than time allows. The Interactive Practice Studio can be a tech-based solution for this problem. The studio provides multiple supports for young instrumentalists, such as audio examples, play-along tracks, metronomes and tuners, as well as the ability to record their own performances.

Gifted and Talented

MIT Open Courseware

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MIT offers all of its undergraduate coursework and materials online, almost all for free. A class of particular interest to music educators of gifted students is the Introduction to Musical Composition Course. The course provides instructors an excellent way to differentiate instruction for advanced students. With the course entirely online, students can work independently through the material in addition to their participation in the regular music classroom activities.

Collaborative Distance Learning

With many schools now providing laptops to students, educators can make use of collaborative projects with gifted students from other schools, across town or across the globe. As Neven Jurkovic of SoftMath notes,

"gifted students are often starved for relationships with academic peers. In smaller schools, gifted students may be genuinely unable to find even one true academic peer with similar interests. In contrast, 1:1 technology provides students like these with opportunities to connect and communicate with others (from anywhere around the globe) who share their interests and abilities."

1:1 technologies allow the music educator the ability to create collaborative projects with students of like abilities from outside the classroom, providing higher levels of engagement for advanced students.