Music Meets Technology in the Classroom: Using GarageBand

  • Academics
Chris Holtzem


At Aspen Academy, 5th-8th grade students have the opportunity to show their musical creativity using a tool called GarageBand, which incorporates technology and music. These students have varying degrees of musical backgrounds, and I like to provide opportunities both to use the provided and pre-recorded loops and sound effects, as well as the recording of their own.

Among the projects that we do, here are three of my favorites:


The first is often the kids’ favorite. We take a variety of short film clips and create our own soundtracks and sound effects to go along with it. We use this project to discuss the importance of the sound and the music that go along with film clips, and how drastically different the story can become with different styles and approaches to the same clip. As we often have at least 3-4 kids creating sound for the same clip, we get a lot of examples of how a film clip can be perceived and what changes based on sound. After large amounts of discussion in class, they get a prompt that they’re graded on and a set of clips to choose from. Here's an example completed by a 7th grader who recorded most of his own music and sound effects for the project.



The second of these is a project we use to learn about themes. We use many examples in class about how one can create a musical theme without being a virtuosic piano player, such as the Jaws theme. We listen to how a theme can be re-used but changed with examples like the ‘Pink Panther’ theme, the ‘Jurassic Park’ theme, and the list goes on. Then we connect their MIDI keyboards to their programs, show them how to record, and then let them at it. They are asked first to create something that they can use as their ‘theme’ and then to expand it into a song, where there is form and re-emergence of the theme throughout. Once again they get a prompt that they will be graded on (included in this email). I have also included an example of this project done by another 7th grader who used his MIDI keyboard to record all of the tracks.



This super fun project involves two main learnings:

  • Exploring music all around us, and in everything

  • Delving into the wealth of editing features of GarageBand

We use things like STOMP or pieces like ‘4’22”’ to show the kids that music doesn’t always look or sound the same. I also love to show the clip of ‘August Rush’ where our hero is in the streets of New York and hears music in his surroundings as he begins to conduct the car horns, wind, trash, etc. I give students iPads and send them out into the school to find sounds that they find interesting or that they think they can use in their piece. We talk about what timbres created a good rhythmic basis for their piece, the kinds of sounds that could create more of a melodic or a pitched sound, etc. They are allowed to use anything they want except for actual instruments. (I allow voice as long as it’s only talking and not singing, humming, etc.) Then we go in depth about cutting up sounds to find the exact section they want to use, how to properly fit things within the chosen tempos and line up their separate self-recorded tracks, different effects that can enhance or alter their sounds, etc. 


My favorite aspect of these projects is watching the students find their voice as an artist and musician and leveraging technology to tap into our student's enthusiasm for music.


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About the Author


Chris Holtzem, Music Instructor

Chris has over a decade of experience in teaching and creating musically competitive programs. He has also had an outstanding performing career as he has traveled the country with groups such as Spirit of Atlanta in Drum Corps International, and has worked alongside artists such as Yo Yo Ma, Keith Urban, and Michael W. Smith. He loves Aspen’s focus on leadership, teamwork, and overall character building. He grew up in southern California and loves ultimate frisbee, Spikeball, surfing, and any other beach activity.