Using the iPad in Music Education

Mike Lawson • Technology • March 9, 2012

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Apple’s iPad is changing the music education landscape. I became a believer after attending the January JEN and TI:ME conventions in Louisville, Kentucky. There were iPad users everywhere I looked. The iPad has expanded instruction opportunities through their platform structure, significantly engaging and motivating students to extraordinary levels of instruction. And with Apple TV and AirPlay, one can teach anywhere in the classroom with complete portability and wireless connectivity that rivals the popular Smartboards, with less than half of the cost.

Apple has sold more than 55 million iPads since its launch in 2010. Because the iPad accounts for over 80 percent of all tablet computer sales, software developers are creating apps at warp speed for these new devices. Right now, the iPad is the preferred platform for most new music applications. Some of the more popular apps include SmartMusic, Band-In-A-Box, Garage Band, Scorch, and Practica Musica. In addition, there are many other music apps that are just fun to play with, like Virtual Piano, Air Guitar, Congas, iBone, and Soundrop.

What’s New?

The biggest physical difference between the iPad and a laptop computer is that with the tablet, Apple lopped off the keyboard in favor of an all-multitouch interface. Internally, it doesn’t use a desktop operating system, instead opting for an easy-to-use iOS (operating system) that has really changed the playing field, because it means that the device can be picked up and used immediately. In addition, Apple paired its iOS with its power-efficient A4 chip, which means that the iPad’s batteries can last up to 10 hours on a single charge – a full day at school! The iPad 2 allows full multitasking with up to 11 apps opened up simultaneously, folders to better organize apps, and the capacity to stream music and video wirelessly to compatible accessories, including the Apple TV Plus.

Great Teaching Tools

The iPad itself inspires creativity and hands-on learning with features you won’t find in any other educational tool and on a device that students really want to use. Students can flip through a book by sliding their finger along the page or flick through a photo gallery and dive into an image with interactive captions. Budget constraints force schools to use the same books year after year, long after the content is out of date. But with textbooks on iPad, students can get a brand-new version each year for a fraction of the price of a paper book. Powerful built-in apps from the App Store let students engage with content in interactive ways. There are over 500,000 free lectures, videos, books; and other resources on thousands of subjects. iPads have the ability to find information in an instant, and access an entire library wherever they go. iPads take learning to a whole new level with a collaborative system including iCloud, App Store, iTunes, and Apple TV for a start.

Storing Data in the Cloud

Cloud technology is great for storing student work from the many iPads used by students during the school day. It means that files aren’t stored locally, and can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. With Apple’s cloud system, iCloud, information is not only backed online, but also automatically shared and synced among a user’s various devices. Simply log into your account and access iCloud features, such as e-mail, calendars, and student data.

iCloud is Apple’s second attempt at online storage, and this time Apple did a better job. It’s free, fairly easy to set up, easy to use, and many of the features are automatic. With iCloud, you can put a wide range of content in the cloud and keep it synced everywhere – your IOS devices, your desktop computers and even your Apple TV. Any changes you make using this web interface will automatically be synced to your desktop computer and iOS devices.

This sort of service has long been available in a protocol called IMAP and Microsoft Exchange Server, as well as Google products like Gmail and Google Docs. It’s amazing to have everything synchronized and be able to access data from any computer connected to the Internet.

There are two iCloud features that can be very useful for those that have multiple iOS devices. If you purchase a book in the iBookstore, the iBooks feature pushes that book to all your iOS devices and will sync any changes made in a book to all your devices. For example, if you’re reading a book on your iPhone, when you open the book in the iPad, it’ll automatically open to the page where you left off. Similarly, any app you purchase in the App Store is pushed to your other iOS devices. You can access all your previously purchased apps through a new menu item with the App store app called “Purchased.”

Apple TV

Apple TV and AirPlay bring wireless freedom to classrooms. With AirPlay, you can wirelessly stream what’s on your iPhone 4S or iPad 2 to an HDTV and speakers via Apple TV and mirror your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S screen. With mirroring, what you see on your device is what is seen on the TV screen. AirPlay Mirroring lets you share exactly what’s on your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S with everyone in the room. Stream web pages, spreadsheets, lessons, photos, videos, games, and more to an HDTV by using Apple TV. Just double-click the Home button, swipe all the way to the right, and select AirPlay Mirroring. Zoom in and out, and pause for applause. Rotate from portrait to landscape, and students will sees that, too.

Another impressive feature lets you combine the iPad 2 with the new Digital AV Adapter accessory: video mirroring. The iPad 2 is able to output a mirror image of whatever is displayed on its screen to a TV, monitor or HD projector connected via the Digital AV Adapter and an HDMI cable. Unlike with the current AV and VGA-out 30-pin connectors, you can output to an external screen and not be limited to apps that have the feature enabled. The new mirroring feature works with all apps, and even with iOS itself, including the iPad’s home screen.

Take a step back and think about an interactive white board. You can use it to write down notes and save them for students to use later. What if every student had the whiteboard in their hands and with a click of a button they begin sharing what they are working on with everyone in the classroom? The average cost of an interactive whiteboard and can range up to or above $3,000.  Apple TV costs $99 and, with iOS 5, will be able to use AirPlay to mirror what is on your iPad to the Apple TV. Now you are free to roam around the classroom not tied to a computer.

And that’s not all, Apple’s iTunes app lets you put all the assignments and materials students need for a complete K-12 or college course on their iPad, with the world’s largest online catalog of free education content, including iTunes University, which offers free courses in collaboration with many leading universities.

The Future is Now!

“Teaching with an iPad is a different approach, a new paradigm,” says Wiley Cruse, a band director and iPad enthusiast. “If educators invest in this technology, it can open up a whole new level of interaction, communication, and discovery learning. Educators can now mediate and facilitate instead of just monitoring their students. For example, Apple is developing ‘living-textbooks’ that ignite students’ imagination unlike static, cumbersome text books which go out-of-date and are increasingly expensive.” For online demonstrations that illustrate just how far the paradigm is shifting, visit and

Is the iPad for everybody?  It is certainly possible to do much of what has been discussed above with laptops, Android tablets, or even netbook computers. However, the innovative enhancements for instruction go far beyond the hardware or apps themselves. The iPad environment can offer distinct, dynamic, and interactive instruction that students will enthusiastically embrace.

As music educators, we need to embrace technology and understand how to utilize these new tools to inspire our 21st century students. On the bright side, teachers in the field are currently looking for the “right stuff” that will reach students and bridge the gap between curricular tradition and virtual collaboration. To help illustrate this in the next issue, powerful music apps for iPads will be featured along with examples of how several music teachers are currently using iPads for classroom and performance instruction. The technological innovations taking place in the classroom today are redefining the future of our profession.

Educator Q&A

I recently spoke with Steven Chetcuti, a New York middle school music educator extraordinaire, and asked him about how he uses iPads in his classroom instruction.

John Kuzmich: What’s your first impression of the impact of iPads in the classroom?

Steven Chetcuti: iPads definitely have the “wow” factor in their favor. With applications like Garage Band, iMovie, and Tabs at their fingertips, music teachers will have a hard time keeping the kids away! The ability to create practice modules in Sibelius and transfer them to an iPad for individual practice has been a big help for my Fife & Drum group.

JK: Are iPads cheaper than notebooks or desktop computers?

SC: Not necessarily. You can get decent laptop for about $500, about the same price as an iPad. Laptops are not quite as portable, but more versatile. However, the software is more expensive and maintaining a slew of laptops can be very time consuming compared to iPads.

JK: iPad software apps are much cheaper than computer versions.

SC: This is a big factor! Although you can only sync your personal (or classroom) iTunes account to 5 devices (computers) you can sync an indefinite number of iPads to any one computer. This means that if a teacher buys garage band on iTunes ($4.99), it can then be loaded onto a full classroom set of 30 iPads. This makes it affordable for the teacher to maintain and install apps as needed. This way, apps can be acquired by the teacher as their curriculum develops. The integration of new apps on the iPad for the teacher is similar to that of carpenter keeping his tools sharp.

JK: What do you say about the quantity of music ed software apps for iPad vs. Android?

SC: I only have two words – Garage Band! This is not as powerful as the desktop version, but having these iPads in my classroom has freed me from computer lab time. My students are now creating podcast projects in my classroom.

However, there is something to be said about having access to flash based lessons on the Android-based tablets. Many of the interactive elements on my website ( are flash-based. Students are currently unable to access some interactive elements on my website so I’ve had to modify my model. Some apps like Scorch by AVID allow students to play my guitar and harmonica lessons on the iPad.

JK: How is the screen size and resolution for multiple users?

SC: The iPad is an individual or, at best, two-student learning station. However, getting a Belkin Rockstar Multi Headphone Splitter ($11 on can allow up to 5 students to listen and collaborate around a single iPad while recording using Garage Band.

JK: How about their portability? Does that have any downside?

SC: They are extremely portable, no doubt, but that also means that they are droppable. Although I’ve had no casualties, I remember that kids take technology for granted. They need to be taught guarded respect for these valuable tools. I have an iPad table in my room that is right next to the storage cabinet. The student doesn’t have to travel too far with the iPad to use it.

JK: What about adds-on for iPads?

SC: The Jam Guitar input by Apogee ($99) has been very reliable. It will allow a musician to connect any ¼” cable instrument to Garage Band and record multiple tracks. There is also a microphone called the iRig Mic by IK Multimedia ($50) that serves as a good unidirectional mic for individuals reporting projects.

Another fabulous add-on is the Zagg bluetooth keyboard and smart cover. This turns an iPad into a sleek netbook-like tool that even the English teacher would want to use. As a matter of fact they have used mine.

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