Realizing the Student-Centered Dream: Soundtrap Class at DCI

Guest blog post by Zach Diamond, Music and Music in Spanish Teacher to 6th-9th graders at DC International School.

Listen to this:


No, this little song isn’t perfect. It wouldn’t get played on the radio – if we’re nitpicking, maybe the gain’s a little high on the voice; the sounds the girls make before they sing should have been cut out, and the vocal performance isn’t the most expressive.  But none of that matters to me, because I think this song represents the realization of a dream that most music educators share: it’s a legitimate (and well made) piece of creative musical expression that *mattered* to the students who made it, and through it, they learned musical concepts by experiencing them. When I think of the girl who wrote this song, and the paper notebook she carried with her to write rap verses in, I feel fulfilled in knowing that, by teaching her to use Soundtrap, I enabled her to create music she had only held in her head before my class.

## What My Class Is – and What It Isn’t

When I tell people I teach music, they generally assume I direct band or choir. Those types of music education are firmly established, and they are extraordinary opportunities for students to experience music performance. My class, however, follows a modern trend in music education that is often referred to as “Innovative Music Education.” I tell people I teach “General Music,” although I have to give caveat after caveat to communicate what I really do, because they’re not familiar with Soundtrap.  If they were, I’d just say “I teach Soundtrap Class!” Each unit I teach covers a single Soundtrap skill (or maybe two or three related skills), and as students become more advanced they can create more intricate songs.

## Project-Based Learning in Music Class

My class is project based, and the only “lessons” are simple Soundtrap tutorials at the beginning of each unit and an explanation or model of the assignment requirements and parameters. Once basic foundations are established, students work independently to create and inquire into musical composition. Soundtrap is a great platform for this, because it has a low barrier to entry for DAW beginners (meaning the tutorials are basic and easy to teach) but a high ceiling for students who know how to use it to its fullest (meaning that students’ creativity and inquiry are not limited by the software). Put differently, Soundtrap is a very effective scaffold for music learning.

As an example, in our first unit, students make a song about respect in the classroom. I show students how to use the loops to make a backing track, teach about microphone technique and audio input/output, and cover a little on musical form (to ensure I get back coherent songs, rather than random, rambling combinations of loops).  Soundtrap makes it easy for them to create musical backgrounds so they can spend more time and creative energy actually creating music, and all of my lessons are directly in service of the final project and elevating its quality.

## The Dream, Realized

Innovative music teachers, and particularly critical pedagogues in music education are pushing the limits of music education and finding new ways to engage students through and within music, because we share the dream that our students will become lifelong learners, music lovers, and critical thinkers. Student-centered music classes allow for learning experiences that develop these traits by respecting and leveraging students’ own musical lives. By focusing on the creation and avoiding limits or restrictions on the type of music they’re making, Soundtrap allows students to explore and learn through music that is relevant to them. Not only does this achieve the deep musical learning we’re striving for, but it also breaks down the barrier between “school music” and “my music” that can arise when students are taught (forced) to appreciate music they don’t care about. A class with this structure truly *empowers* students to create pieces like “We Are Artisticas,” and in creating these pieces, students learn to hear the creative process playing out in other music as well.  Soundtrap is the key to unlocking this student-centered music pedagogy (you can hear other examples below).


When I listen to these songs, I hear my students using the Soundtrap skills I taught them (which is so much more rewarding than just having them get correct answers on a test), and exploring their own creative selves.  Perhaps they’ll go on to create or produce music on a higher level (they certainly have more than enough of a foundation in DAWs to get their feet wet in Logic or ProTools), or perhaps they’ll become stronger listeners, hearing (and understanding) something new in the music they like. This represents the dream of an innovative music teacher realized, and Soundtrap is the key to unlock these learning experiences for my students – it has given me the opportunity to teach an engaging, relevant, and innovative music class, and to turn my vision of student-centered music education into a reality.

Zach Diamond teaches Music and Music in Spanish to 6th-9th graders at DC International School, a public charter school in the District of Columbia. He specializes in percussion (having studied Jazz Drums at Oberlin College) and currently plays mandolin in a bluegrass band, but he believes strongly in the importance of engaging music education for all, even students who have no interest in instrumental performance, and therefore prefers teaching general music and songwriting/composition. He met his wife while living in Lima, Peru, and his two children are bilingual; he has an unhealthy obsession with fountain pens and interesting stationery, and he can’t decide what his favorite music is – he just loves all of it!