#42: Project-Based Learning in the Music room

The what, why, and how of PBL in the music room!

Have you ever wondered why or how you should try PBL, or project-based learning, in your music room? In this blog post, I'll outline what PBL is, why you should try it, and will give you a couple project ideas for you to try in your own music classroom! You can also listen to a podcast episode here:

What is Project-Based Learning?

According to PBL works, Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.

According to DefinedStem, Project Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional methodology that encourages students to learn and apply knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. PBL presents opportunities for deeper learning in-context and for the development of important skills tied to college and career readiness.

I've learned that PBL has some distinct characteristics: a driving question (a question that drives the whole project), an entry event (some kind of event that kicks the project off), a real world/ community connection, integration to other subject areas, and a way to share with the world.

Why Use Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning connects students to their learning in ways that traditional instruction often doesn't.

PBL allows students to work on a real-world problem, fosters creativity, and gives students so much ownership in their learning! It's also a wonderful way to encourage cooperation among students.

What does it look like in the Music room?

It depends!

In my music room, we are still singing, dancing, playing games, playing instruments, etc. During a PBL lesson, I might spend 25 minutes doing more of a “typical” lesson, then will give students the other 25 minutes to work on their PBL.

It can be messy. And noisy. But the student engagement is so high!

Mickey Mouse and the Haunted House PBL

I was first introduced to this project through this blog post by Katie Wardrobe from Midnight Music. The general overview of the project is that students create a film score to accompany the short film, “Mickey Mouse and the Haunted House,” which can be viewed here:

In the first lesson, students watched the original film, and we discussed how music and sound effects were used. Then, students split into small groups and were handed a storyboard sheet (which can be downloaded in the blog post above) with a portion of the short film for which to create a score. Students logged into Schoology on Chromebooks and began watching their part of the film.

In the second lesson, students split into small groups and began making a plan for their score. Then, they got instruments, tried out what they had come up with, and revised.

In the third lesson, students had time to work, but then also performed for each other. During the performance, I put the short film on my View Sonic Board but muted the soundtrack. Then, each group performed their part of the score! Afterwards, students discussed how it went, what they could change, etc.

In the last lesson, students continued reflecting on what they could change or add. Then, we had their final performance. For this performance, I once again muted the sound, but this time I recorded the class with my iPhone. I sometimes was recording the film, and sometimes panned out to the class playing instruments. After the performance, I mirrored my screen to my View Sonic Board so students could watch the performance (which they loved!)

Here is an overview of the PBL, with the characteristics outlined.

Driving question: How do we create an entertaining score?

Entry event: Watching the video with the original soundtrack

Real/ world community connection: Students could Skype with a film composer or sound effects specialist, to discuss their process.

Integration: There is technology integration, as I embedded the videos into Schoology and had students log in to view the video. There is also science integration, as we discussed how different instruments, such as the thunder tube and rain stick, create sound.

Sharing with the world: Last year when I did this project, I shared with Padlet. This year, I'm planning on sharing with parents through SeeSaw (read more about using SeeSaw to assess here.)

Students really enjoyed this PBL, and were so proud of their work!

Let's Go to the Symphony

In this PBL project, students decide on a theme for an orchestra concert, then choose pieces for their theme, by watching videos in a YouTube playlist. Once they've made their selections, they have to add up the minutes and seconds to make sure their program is between 40-50 minutes, and if not, make revisions. Then, they can create a printed program for their concert, and create their own YouTube playlist to share their concert with the world.

In the first lesson, students watched a video of a “Star Wars” symphony performance, discussed different themes (such as Halloween, Christmas, Space, and Variety) and chose a theme.

In the next few lessons, students got an iPad or Chromebook and watched videos in the themed playlist, then made decisions about which pieces they wanted to program. Once they had their pieces, they did the math to make sure the program was between 40-50 minutes.

Some students got done quicker than others, so those students were able to begin working on their printed program in Google Slides, and then could create a YouTube playlist to share their program with the world.

In the last lesson, students got into small groups and shared their programs.

Here is an overview of the PBL, with the characteristics outlined.

Driving question: How do we create an entertaining program?

Entry event: Watching the video of a symphony orchestra piece (although it would be even better to take students to the symphony!)

Real/ world community connection: Students could Skype with a orchestra conductor or symphony manager

Integration: There is technology integration, as students watch the videos on Chromebooks or iPads. There is also math integration, as students have to do addition, subtraction, and division to figure out the length of their program.

Sharing with the world: Last year when I did this project, I shared printed programs on Padlet. This year, I'm planning on sharing with parents through SeeSaw. Students could also create their own playlists on YouTube.

Students really enjoyed choosing pieces, and it was a great way to expose them to lots of different selections! To purchase this PBL, which includes printables and YouTube playlists, click the picture below:

How Do I Get Started with PBL?

I would suggest just trying one out! If one of the projects above appeals to you, go for it! Here are a couple good resources to try when implementing PBL:

I hope this has been helpful to you as you consider implementing project-based learning in the music room! Happy planning, and happy teaching!

5 Responses

  1. Your PBL examples are helping me in my integrating technology class at ESU with kusic education emphasis. Thank you for your shared experience.

    Sheri Moore

    1. PBL,though it takes time to initialize but it is useful for the learners for it enhances their learning.
      Creativity and cooperation based.

  2. I love the Mickey Mouse PBL. Did you have an issues with children or parents about the racial undertones in the film? I would love to do this one, but as I saw the cartoon I had questions. I work at an inner city school and I’m not sure how it would be received. It could be incorporated within the lesson or turned into PBL for multiple grades….I would really love to know your thoughts?

    1. I’m so glad you brought up this point. I wasn’t aware of racial undertones until recently. I bet there is another film that could be used…I’ll do some research and comment again here when I have a solution. Thanks for asking the question!

    2. Hello….I have done this style of pbl but used an old Charlie Chaplin film, usually The Lion’s Cage. I think there are 3 clear sections just over a minute in length, the 3 scenes addressed by groups with sound effects and musical themes and the remainder of the task is pretty much the same.

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