Audio Backpack: Kid Tested, Teacher Approved

Eric Peacock/Flickr Creative Commons
Eric Peacock/Flickr Creative Commons

Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s Audio Backpack is one of my favorite teaching resources in my elementary general music classes. Exposing my students to high-quality recordings is important, and Audio Backpack is a convenient and easy-to-use source of classical music audio clips. The carefully-chosen clips illustrate specific concepts and styles, and they’re short enough (most of them around 30 seconds) to keep even the youngest students’ attention. The clips are organized into playlists by an MPR curator, but anyone who makes a free account can create playlists from the growing collection of clips. Audio Backpack is a versatile tool that can enhance learning in any music classroom and save valuable teacher prep time.

Welcoming Music: Help students get into a musical mindset by playing a recording as they enter the classroom. Audio Backpack has a wide variety of classical music, so it’s usually easy to find a clip that corresponds to concepts that will be covered in class. Depending on the size of your classes and the set-up of your room, the half-minute clips could also be used as a timer to get students to their seats before the music stops.

Entry/Exit Tickets: Entry and exit tickets are very short exercises at the beginning or end of a class period. They can be used to focus students’ attention on a topic to be covered, help them remember previous learning, or assess at the end of a class period what they’ve just learned. Audio Backpack clips are perfect for this! Provide a question for students to consider while they listen, such as “What instruments do you hear?”, “What tempo is this music?”, “Who is the composer of this piece?”, or “What do you think this piece of music is about?” For older students, this could be a writing activity, but for students of any age, directed listening can be a wonderful discussion starter.

Identifying Instruments: A favorite activity in my kindergarten and first grade classes is “Mystery Instrument.” I created a playlist of clips featuring solo instruments, and I play one clip each day. Students determine what the instrument is from the sound and identify its family. We talk about how the instrument produces sound, look at pictures of it, and pretend to play along with the recordings.

Music Theory Concepts: There are a number of Audio Backpack playlists that organize clips by music theory concepts, such as steady beat, tempo, and major and minor. Musical examples help students understand theory, and Audio Backpack makes it easy to access the sections of pieces that illustrate particular concepts.

Composers: Audio Backpack contains clips from the Renaissance through modern times that are great for enriching lessons about composers. Search for a clip by a composer’s name, or use the playlists of works by particular composers. Also check out the playlists of women composers, African-American composers, and young composers.

Performance Techniques: Hearing an instrumental technique can help students better perform that technique. Orchestra and band teachers might be particularly interested in the playlists that demonstrate different techniques, such as arco vs. pizzicato, muted vs. open, and extended techniques.

Listening Quizzes: Being able to create my own playlists has saved me a lot of time in preparing listening quizzes for my students. The clips are a good length for this purpose, well-chosen to illustrate specific concepts that need to be assessed, and can be arranged in any order in playlists.

I’ve enjoyed using MPR’s Audio Backpack to enhance and streamline my teaching of kindergarten through third grade music classes in a variety of ways this school year. I use more recordings in class and spend less time preparing to use them. It makes my life easier, and my students love listening to the clips!

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