Music apps – a music teacher’s perspective

As I’ve already mentioned before, I’m in the process of investigating iPad apps for learning enhancement in the classroom. A few weeks ago a colleague and brilliant music educator, Stuart Collidge,  joined me in a meeting with our Deputy Principal (Curriculum) and a few other leaders in the school, to put forward a case for the use of iPads in the school, specifically for learning enhancement. I asked Stuart to write up how he sees the use of the iPad in the music classroom.

Recently, Tania asked me to speak with some of the decision-making powers that be at school to pitch the use of iPads as learning tools.  This was something that Tania and I had reflected on a little and saw some potential in so I was more than happy to make the pitch.  After borrowing Tania’s iPad to have a play on (I am not yet one of the iPad collective L), I worked my way through a few possible applications and uses.  It was also very useful to troll through Google and look at the ways that other music educators are using these beasts.

Being a laptop school, it was important to differentiate the potential of these units from the laptops that are already in the hands of the students. For a school with no laptop program, I imagine that a class set of these would be AWESOME for a whole raft of areas of study, but being outside my brief, I didn’t focus too much on it.

My impression initially (and once we are up and running with a program, I’ll report on the accuracy of those impressions) was that this device would be awesome for me on two levels: as a music/education professional, and as a performer.  I can also see how students could use these devices in the same way.

As a performer, the iPad is now a very comprehensive musical instrument. In fact, several instruments all in one.  There seem to be two different approaches to performance apps.  The first way is to use the device as a synthesiser. There are several things that already do that, but the advantage of the iPad is in the interface which can encourage different approaches to composing and performing.  If you sit down at a conventional keyboard, the notes are laid out in a particular way and we are trained to approach the keyboard in that particular way (unless you are into avant garde composition).  A lot of music is constructed around  melodies and chords that “fit under the fingers”.  Take a look at a synth like Musix.  The layout of the octaves and notes allows us a melodic freedom and an opportunity to audition sounds that are harder to achieve on a conventional piano.  I imagine that you can find many other synths that encourage alternative approaches to melody making.

There is also a variety of apps that are much like a hardware synth allowing you access to oscillators, LFOs, filters, etc. You can also use the iPad to drive Digital Audio Workstations for tracks or DJing live.  Ableton seems to be the best suited to creating and manipulating arrangements in a live situation.  And for patching your iPad into your amp/PA/recording rig, try this:

All of this means that with a few apps and some time, students can generate performance material  in a variety of different ways to suit a particular idea or project and allows for a greater degree of creativity and freedom.

As a music professional, I am most interested in using the iPad as music stand. I have spoken with people that do this and received mixed reviews, but I feel that this is where music reading should be going.  An iPad could contain an entire library of sheet music in PDF format (solo music, ensemble parts, method books, scores, backing tracks) and would be fantastic to use in performance or rehearsal.  No longer need to worry about losing original parts, remembering pencils (the software stores any annotations made), or sorting through libraries of stuff (although the logistics of scanning everything might be headache enough, until publishers are in selling more of their material in that format).  Imagine being able to transpose a score instantly into a new key (to my way of thinking, the only way for us to be rid of the archaic institution of transposing instruments).

Of course, it already has a variety of apps that are useful (and which I use on my iPhone) like chromatic tuners, tone generators, metronomes, DMX dipswitch calculators, remote control for lighting desks, decibel meter, power load calculators, chord finders, etc.

All this in a device the size of a small text book!

I am very much looking forward to putting my hands on a unit that I can stock it up with goodies!

Stuart Collidge



Filed under 21st century learning, teaching, technology

17 responses to “Music apps – a music teacher’s perspective

  1. Nicholas Cowall

    Thanks for sharing your ideas Stuart.

    I have just moved to Marcellin as Director of Music and we also are a 1:1 school. Currently we are building a new chamber performance space with a rehearsal and music tech facility. I am not sure whether to go for ipads or imacs in the room. Your post has made me think that ipads might be the better option as students already have laptops. I have over the last year been collecting blog posts and links on the use of ipads in the music classroom from my twitter plns (#musedchat, #mpln, #musiced) and have listed some below.

    You should also join the music ed social network I find that this network has been a great source of many of the tools I use in my music classes and ensembles.

    Would be great to catch up some time to hear how you go with ipads at Whitefriars.


  2. Nicholas Cowall

    You might also want to look at the transcript from today’s
    #MusEdChat Transcripts – Mobile Devices (3/28/11)
    Below, please find the transcript from this week’s #MusEdChat. The topic of this discussion was “What are the advantages/disadvantages/considerations when using mobile devices (iPods, iPads, etc.) in the music classroom?”

  3. I have gone 1-1 iPad in my class this year. I admit I cant keep up. All the music on their iPads? Maybe next year. Virtual recording studios? Maybe next year.

    But what has completely changed is the power structure in my classroom. Before debating iPads vs. iMacs you should picture in your head what you want your classroom to look like. I value the mobility and the interactions that mobility encourages.

    • Leave it to next year, and there will be something new to explore. Technology is changing so rapidly that educators need to accept that we are learners along with the people we teach. It’s quite exciting! 🙂

  4. Hi, Stuart.

    Interesting article. I’d love to send you a promo code for my app mScribble. It enables the player to make virtuoso improvisations in a number styles.


  5. Check out our music learning program for groups that are tech savvy – including seniors (yes senior citizens!) and homeschoolers:

  6. Stuart Collidge

    @Nick Cowall
    I imagine a iPad classroom to be a very interesting place, particularly if you coupled that with a couple of jamhubs ( You can have your students focussing on demonstrating or understanding a particular musical element or focussing on a particular creative approach using the instrument app of their choice in an ensemble setting where they can all hear each other, have individual volume control and work collaboratively. In this way, the class is less about the device and more about the way in which they collaborate to explore a concept or ideal. You can then also couple it with conventional instruments (guitars, synths, electronic drums/midi drum pad) and dump an audio signal out as a recording.

  7. Stuart Collidge

    @David Place
    Thanks for the offer David. I would be keen on checking out your app (had a look at the overview on the app store) but don’t yet have a unit to drive it on. Perhaps you could send the code to Tania and I can work something out with her?

  8. @Stuart

    Great. I sent a code to Tania. Love to know what you (two) think of it.


  9. Pingback: Useful Websites and Links for Mobile devices and Music. | iTouch Journey

  10. Julia Drischler

    ProKeys is a great app but my favorite and one I use the most with my lessons is Metronome Plus. It’s better than a real metronome I feel like. Easily adjustable, always accurate, and easy to use. The volume is great too. You guys forgot to mention any kind of metronome app what-so-ever!

    • Good point. There is a reason for this. At the time of the post I was researching music apps for students and not teachers because that was the brief from school. Stuart had many more apps to talk about for himself as a music teacher but had to hold off. The list is far from comprehensive but will hopefully expand over time.

  11. Hi all, please take a look at my collection of music apps for learning and teaching, with a teachers’ corner, at
    There’s a general blog, and a special forum on most pages to discuss
    specific items.

    I’d love to get your input.

    Anita Pincas
    London University

  12. We are also a 1:1 school in South Africa and an Apple Lighthouse school. We are successfully using iPads and Macbooks in the classroom and are enjoying the creative process immensely! Are you on Twitter?

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