WESTFIELD, NJ — Franklin Elementary School music teacher Brent Geyer has a hit on his hands. His virtual x­ylophone, created to allow his students to make music remotely, has been used more than 350,000 times worldwide.

Geyer is a certified practitioner of the Orff-Schulwerk teaching method, which uses musical play and discovery to teach music to children. Through grants from the Westfield Coalition for the Arts and the Franklin School PTO, he has been able to purchase xylophones, an integral part of the Orff-Schulwerk method, for his classroom. But when schools closed and students began learning remotely in March 2020, he was looking for continuity in his lessons.

“I searched online, but any virtual xylophones I could find didn’t sound good or respond well,” Geyer said. “So it was out of necessity that I figured out how I could create my own.”

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Geyer had heard about Scratch, an online programming language, from the Franklin School librarian.

“I had never coded before, so it was a lot of trial and error,” said Geyer. “I drew each bar for the xylophone, which I thought looked good, but I still had to figure out how to create the sound. I recorded each note and uploaded the files.”

Geyer spent an entire weekend working on the virtual xylophone before it was useable, but joked, “I was on lockdown; I certainly had the time.” He coded it so that students could play the virtual xylophone on a keyboard, with a mouse or even on a smartphone or iPad which, along with the higher quality sound, differentiated it from others Geyer had found online. Making it intuitive and user-friendly for his students was also a priority.

Once it was completed, Geyer posted a link to in an online group of other Orff-Schulwerk practitioners, included it on his classroom website and began using it with his first through fifth grade students.

“The kids were excited,” he said. “You typically can’t take a xylophone home with you, and this allowed them to continue making music.”

Geyer has heard from music teachers as well as professors of future music teachers from as far away as New Zealand, all of whom have been finding ways to use the virtual xylophone. He has made it free for users.

“Every child should have access to music,” said Geyer. “Many of us were at a loss as to how to teach during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m pleased it’s been a great resource for teachers during this time.”

In addition to the basic virtual xylophone, Geyer has created nine others, all of which are available on Scratch. Each xylophone has a counter, so he can see how many times it’s been accessed. 

Geyer has been invited to speak about his virtual xylophone at several education webinars, and will be a guest on an upcoming episode of “Afternoon Ti,” a podcast for music educators.

Click here to play Geyer's virtual xylophones.

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