Teaching Band In A Computer Lab

Though the title may seem surprising to many, this is now not only possible (using the KeyMusician Keyboard application), but an excellent way of teaching band-readiness.

The goal of teaching beginning band in a computer lab, is to have students coming into actual band class, already able to read music, and enthused about making music. All the band teacher needs to do, is teach them to play their particular instrument.

There is an advantage for the students starting band this way too.

As they play their first notes, and continue on, there is no struggle to get a good tone – that happens automatically here. They only need to concentrate on playing the right notes. And the instructor can quickly help-out, because the typing-keyboard-keys are all labeled.

And there are no problems with being in-tune with the rest of the band – that can wait for when they learn to play the actual instrument, later in band class.

You can use whatever elementary band method your school band uses, and for the full-band pieces, all of the band parts (in whatever key-signature) will play together in concert pitch.

If you’ld like to skip the complication of setting up the configurations needed for playing the individual band parts of a band method, you can just use the application out-of-the-box, and teach from the music in the KMK Songbook.

Teaching from a band method, will do a better, more thorough job of teaching your students to read music, so it’s worth the extra effort.

The instruments played simultaneously in your computer-lab band, are limited by the number of computer workstations, but the types of instruments played, can be a full concert band or orchestra. The students can even experiment with the type of instrument they want to play.

As the students play, the notes are shown on the computer screen with the key-signature, with any flats, sharps, or naturals, as it would appear in the written music, and they instantly know if a note is too high, or low, visually. It also assists them in learning to read music.

How To Do It

1. Installing The Application

You’ll need to work with the person responsible for the computer lab to get the application installed.

You supply them the installer, for the type of system the computer lab uses (Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux), and show them the installation instructions (online).

They will check the digital signature of the installer, or do a virus-scan on it if applicable, and then install it on one of the workstations (or a test computer).

They may check out the application there, and when they are satisfied with it, install it on the other workstations.

2. Sound Systems

As a musician, you know how important it is for the sound of the instrument to inspire the performer.

Having played a student oboe, and the Oboe on the KeyMusician Keyboard, the Oboe sound on the KMK is better.

But – it doesn’t matter how good the sound generated by the instrument is, if you only have a cheap, un-amplified sound system on your computer, IT WILL NOT INSPIRE. The same goes for laptop speakers.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot – use good quality speakers for your computer lab workstations – even if cheap ones need to be replaced.

The bass instruments of your computer lab band, absolutely need a sub-woofer as part of their sound system, so they might as well ALL have sub-woofers, as it improves the sound of other instruments too. The sub-woofer normally goes under the desk.

For the speakers on top of the desk, one of them (the one without the volume control) needs to be pointed forward toward the teacher, so the teacher can hear what each student is playing.

As part of setting up your computer lab band, you should check that the speakers are at the volume level you decide on, and that the speaker icon in the computer task-bar is at the level you decided on.

The speakers in the picture below at the left, and right, are part of a computer sound system including a sub-woofer, which would be up to the task of a computer-lab band class. It is amplified (with the volume control on the left speaker). The sub-woofer is below the desk.

3. Which Workstation Is Which Instrument

Draw a diagram of each seat (workstation) in the computer lab, and jot down where you want each type of instrument used. For your own benefit, you may attach a picture of the instrument that plays from that workstation, attaching it to the desk, or (if you can avoid blocking cooling vents), to the back of the monitor.

In the “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder of each machine, are all the configuration (‘.kmk’) files the application can choose from. Most important of these, is the “PriorConfig.kmk” file. This is the configuration that is initially loaded, and you (the band teacher) control how that particular machine is set up as a musical instrument.

Having set up a configuration file for each type of instrument, and saved it on a thumb-drive, the teacher can select the file on the thumb-drive to become the “PriorConfig.kmk” file of any particular class workstation.

The teacher has their own music workstation on a desk, up front. On the teacher’s machine, is a copy of all of the configuration files for the various instruments, and the teacher’s machine can instantly ‘become’ that type of instrument, simply by loading it’s configuration file.

If a student wants to change to play a different instrument sound permanently, it’s a simple matter of sitting at a different workstation. A student can do this easily, because regardless the instrument sound used, the notes are played the same way.

4. Use Of The Various KMK Performance Panes

Every band class starts out in the “F2” performance pane. You do the instrument-specific exercises of your band method, using this pane.

The F2 pane is set up to be in the key of C, and as a “C (concert pitch) instrument”. Its instrument sound is set to that of the assigned instrument. That means (for example) if it’s a Trumpet, it’s a C Trumpet, rather than a B-flat Trumpet.

For instruments whose music is in the treble-clef, but whose sound is in the bass-clef, simply make it a “1 octave lower sound” instrument, which keeps it a C instrument, so it can play with the other C instruments.

Similarly, yet opposite direction, for the Picollo, make it a “1 octave higher sound” instrument.

This way, all of the instruments can use the same music, and play together in-tune. Individual instrument parts are only supplied for the full-band pieces of the band method.

As new key-signatures are introduced, the students can change to that key-signature in the F2 pane, and change-back as necessary, to make playing in any key-signature super-easy. That change doesn’t get saved in the machine’s configuration file unless you actually save the file.

I recommend setting the key-signature, to avoid saddling beginning musicians with unnecessary, awkward fingerings they shouldn’t have to do when playing the KMK instrument. Let the instrument do the work.

The other performance panes (F3, F4, F5, F6, F7, F8, F9, F10, and F12) are set up for playing the individual band part (of the instrument) for the full-band exercises. You only need to set up the performance pane configurations for what full-band exercises your band method provides. If the part for the full-band exercise uses the same key-signature as another one, they can use the same performance pane.

The teacher might say something like, “Switch to the F5 pane, and get out your music for The Alle Breve March.”

It’s better to use particular performance panes for each full-band piece (in the same key-signature), because you can’t tell them the key-signature to switch-to, because it’s different for each type of instrument.

We’ll give you more information on setting up the configuration for each type of instrument later.

5. Music For The Students

It’s best if the students each have their own music, at their computer workstation, and that there’s a way to prop it up at an angle on the desktop, at one side or the other of the monitor. That music is probably the individual band method part, for the particular instrument. They need to be able to reach it and turn the page when necessary.

You may have to get creative on this, since computer labs haven’t been designed with music-stands in mind. You might be able do something like in the picture below, with the music in a folder propped-up on the desk surface.

I’m assuming that the instrument-specific exercises are similar enough, that the students can play the same exercise from their music, and it would work together with the similar exercise number of the other instruments. This also assumes there are the same number of per-instrument exercises for each instrument type.

You’ll have to check this out with your particular band method, possibly skipping exercises that aren’t in-common with the other instrument types.

6. Dynamics And Expression

In the early exercises, there isn’t a need for varying the volume because you set up the configurations beforehand. If there were a need to modify the volume, one or more presses of the Left-Arrow or Right-Arrow keys can take care of it. Hopefully, the volume level of the speakers (and of the speaker icon of the task-bar) can stay the same.

As the students move on in the band method exercises, dynamics and expression come into play.

Show the students how to access the Dynamics window, by clicking the “Dynamics” toggle-button at the lower left of the “Num-Keypad Chord” window. When they do that, the Num-Keypad Chord window will change to look something like this:

It has now become the “Num-Keypad Dynamics” window.

With this in place, the student can instantly effect dynamics by pressing the numeric keypad keys corresponding to the buttons in the window. You can instantly set the volume level to the dynamics marking in the music.

Caution: Don’t accidentally press the Num-Lock key, or these keys will stop working until you press Num-Lock again. It also switches you to the Chords pane in the main window, making you have to switch back to the performance pane you were using!

On the Dynamics window, the big “<” and “>” keys, start an automatic crescendo, or decrescendo, at the selected speed (slow=4 seconds, or fast=2 seconds), as you play the melody notes. You can stop the crescendo or decrescendo early, by hitting the key again.

The “reset” key (numeric keypad key “5”), restores the dynamics to earlier settings, so you can use it to restore the volume to the way it was before, after a crescendo, for example.

Probably the best way of doing an accented note, is to press the numeric keypad “0” key (labeled ‘louder’) just as the melody note key is pressed, then press it again as the melody note is released.

(For more detailed instructions on using the Num-Keypad Dynamics window, click the Dynamics window’s “Help” button.)

Once dynamics and expression markings start appearing in the exercises, the Dynamics window should always be displayed.

6. Details Of Setting Up The Performance Panes

In the performance pane you want to change, choose the instrument sound by clicking the “Instrument” drop-box (at the lower right of the pane), scrolling through the entries, and choosing on the instrument sound you want to use.

Then, to set the key-signature and instrument type, click the “Transpose” button at the top-right of the pane. A window similar to the following will appear:

Set the key-signature (if it isn’t already what you need) using any of the 4 top drop-boxes.

Usually, that’s all you have to do. But for a computer lab band to work, the bottom, “Music Played is For” drop-box needs to be used.

When you click the bottom drop-box, the values available for you to select, correspond to the “Instrument Type” column below.

Your choice lets you change the sound of the KMK performance pane, as follows:

Instrument Type

Actual Note Played When Playing a C

Transpose of the sound, from the written note

C instrument



Bb instrument



Eb instrument



F instrument



G instrument



Bb bass, using treble clef



1 octave lower sound



1 octave higher sound



2 octaves higher sound



C Instruments:

Piccolo (+1 octave), Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Trombone, C Tuba, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass, C Trumpet, Timpani, Xylophone (+1 octave), Orchestra Bells (+2 octaves), Vibraphone, Chimes, Guitar (-1 octave), Harp, Piano, Celesta (+1 octave), Harpsichord, Harmonium, Organ, Pipe Organ

Bb Instruments:

Bb Trumpet, Bb Cornet, Bb Clarinet, Bb Bass Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone, Euphonium, BBb Tuba

Bb Bass Instruments in Treble Clef

Baritone, Euphonium, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Tuba

Eb Instruments:

Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Alto Clarinet

F Instruments:

French Horn, English Horn, Basset Horn

G Instruments:

Alto Flute

1 Octave Higher:

Piccolo, Xylophone, Celesta

2 Octaves Higher:

Orchestra Bells, Glockenspiel

1 Octave Lower:

Guitar, Double Bass (String Bass), Bass Oboe

Try playing music with what you’ve set up, paying attention to the volume.

I usually set the “Velocity” and “Volume” sliders (each controls volume in a different way) to the same value. But don’t set them too far to the right, or the Dynamics Window will perform poorly. The configurations that come with the KMK (such as “MusicLab-1.kmk”) are set too loud for the Dynamics Pad to work well.

A setting similar to the picture below is a good place to start:

If playing at this volume level is too soft for pianissimo (ppp), consider setting the volume control on the computer speakers (or taskbar speaker icon) a bit higher. Remember what worked for both of them, because you might have to change settings for a workstation that got changed in some other computer lab class.

It’s best to avoid changing the speaker-system volume and task-bar volume, and instead get your KMK configuration right.

Note: For Velocity & Volume changes to be preserved when switching to another performance pane, click the “Save” button of the performance pane.

When you’ve got everything set up the way you want it in all the performance panes, switch-to the F1 pane, and click its “Save Config” button. It will assume you want to re-write the file you loaded from, but that isn’t what you want, if you’re creating a file for a new insrument. In this case, modify the filename to include the name of the instrument it’s for, then click the “Save Config” window’s “Save Config” button to save it.

It saves it in your “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder.

When you have such a file for each type of instrument in your computer lab band, copy/paste all those files from your “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder, to a thumb-drive (also called a pen-drive, or USB drive).

Then take that thumb-drive to each of the student workstations, copying the appropriate instrument configuration file, to the “KeyMusician-Keyboard” folder of that machine, using it to replace the “PriorConfig.kmk” file for that machine.

When you’ve finished all the student workstations, your computer lab band is ready for students!

7. Other Possibilities

Though we’ve taken care of what we need to teach music in a computer lab from a band method, the KeyMusician Keyboard supplies other resources that can help you in teaching music:

Good fortune to you, as a band leader, raising the new generation of musicians. I hope this article gives you new possibilities! - Aere

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