iPad Innovators in the Music Room

Mike Lawson • Technology • April 9, 2012

The “wildfire” began in April of 2010, when Apple released the first iPad, selling three million units in the first 80 days and 14.8 million, worldwide, that year. In that same year, 95 educators from across the U.S. attending the Apple Academy in Cupertino, California were introduced to the iPad. And the iPad has been blazing its way into the heart and soul of education ever since.

I recently spoke with three amazingly innovative educators bringing new life to their music programs with the help of an iPad: Sarah Meyer of Jackson, Wis.; Anthony Johnson of Salisburg, N.C.; and Brandt Schneider of Seymour, Conn.. Meyer works with children in fifth grade through high school, using technology in a wide array of functions; Johnson has created an “iPad Marching Band” with over 100 at-risk children at his school (for the record, the students play actual instruments in that ensemble); and Schneider is bringing the iPad into his symphony orchestra. Their stories are among many emerging in our profession that can ignite imaginations and build new creative fires in the lives of music students.

Sarah’s Story

Sarah Meyer instructs 65 students in grades five through eight across the seven schools that feed into Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School, where she also teaches freshman Pre-Algebra and conducts two concert bands.

“I use the iPad for a number of things and I’m finding new uses for it almost daily,” says Meyer. “My information is stored in the Cloud and my teaching partner and I use Dropbox and/or Google Docs for everything. My biggest project this year was to record the students in lessons and rehearsal and create digital portfolios for each one. I believe in the power and value of summative assessment and self-evaluation. Portfolios can be a place to collect evidence of learning and progress or a place to collect creative ideas and compositions. We use them both ways. About once a month, students are asked to choose a song they are practicing to record into the portfolio.

“My teaching partner and I are also working on simple composition projects that are captured and inserted into the portfolios. I have been using the free app, WavePad, for audio recording and editing. In the future I would like to see my students use one of the notation apps or websites to notate their compositions. I would like them to share with each other and give feedback on other students’  works – sort of a unique way to do collaboration and project-based learning. Our students often live as far as 45 miles away from each other. The world is becoming smaller through technology.

“All students have a notebook on my Evernote account, so all artifacts are sorted into the correct notebook for each student. Evernote became my medium of choice because I have it with me everywhere: phone, iPad, MacBook. I only have a free account and I have not come close to my data limit. As a solo/ensemble contest approaches, we will be recording at more frequent intervals to help them to self-assess their performances and set goals for practice. The more they can hear themselves play and be their own constructive critics, the better musicians they become. I have started using Smart Music more this year, and some students have it at home. I really appreciate what Smart Music has done so far with their iPad Inbox app. I can listen to completed assignments and give written feedback anywhere I like.

“I work with some very creative students, and I encourage their creativity and exploration of sound through the apps I have. From time to time, I let students use those apps before or after their lesson to create. Sound Drop is a fun app for younger students to create sounds and rhythms without the hindrance of notation. It’s like Pong for musicians! Beat Wave is another app that the kids love. They can make designs on the grid and the sweeping bar creates music based on the patterns. In the past I’ve used ReadRhythm for rhythm practice. Other apps my students and I have enjoyed working with are GarageBand, SoundCloud, Music Studio, 4 Music Rooms, Chordinary, Symphony Pro, MadPad, Metronome+, Magic Zither, Rockmate, forScore, Loopseque, FingerStomp, Music for Little Mozarts, and Music Theory for Beginners. iPad apps are so cheap that an iPad can be customized to any content area very economically. Budget constraints are a challenge transitioning from one age of education to the next, but it’s important to put this technology in the hands of teachers and let them explore the best ways to implement them into the curriculum. And, this technology can really aid differentiated instruction.”

Anthony’s Story

Anthony Johnson, a technology facilitator, works with Overton Elementary students in second-through-fifth grades, assisting teachers with integrating technology into the curriculum. His lunchtime buddy program for at-risk third and fourth graders started as a drum line with six students in 2010 and has grown into the famous Overton Mini Funk Factory Marching Band, with over 100 students today.

Johnson, an “Apple Distinguished Educator,” recalls, “Our executive director of Technology, Phil Hardin, came to me one day and said he wanted to start a Digital Band in the school system using iPads and asked if I was interested.”

After two years of dramatic growth, Overton Mini Funk Factory Marching Band now performs in the annual Christmas parade and Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is very exciting for the young students. The superintendent, Dr. Judy Grissom, was so impressed with his program she purchased 16 iPads for the band. The section leaders use them to teach band members the parts. Johnson also used them to start a second band, the 25-member Overton Elementary School iPad Digital Fund Factory Band, in which students compose music using GarageBand and play it on the iPads. These two links show Anthony’s work with the two bands: and

“I am a technology facilitator; therefore, I don’t teach classes,” explains Johnson.” “I assist teachers with integrating technology in the curriculum. I began a lunch buddy program with 32 at-risk third and fourth graders. The students eat their lunch with me three times a week, during which time they learn how to compose music using GarageBand on the desktops and create beats using the iMachine app on the iPads. The behavior of students in the classroom has improved, as well as their grades on their report cards. Their performance in the county parades raised the awareness of the total community. Students’ self-esteem blossomed and their collaboration skills are significantly higher. We created a unique partnership with the Livingstone College Marching Band. Through this partnership, we held the first elementary school band camp in Rowan County. And we made history as the first and only elementary school band to participate in the North Carolina Battle of the Bands.

“Some students get to use iPads during band practice, currently just the section leaders to learn and practice using the installed music apps. The Notion app allows a visual of the arrangement and playback while the students play along. Because the iPads are portable, I can send students outside or to different parts of campus without limitations that are associated with a desktop. We don’t have a band room so the devices are great when we have to move. When I first started the iPad digital band, we began practice at 7:15 a.m., 30 minutes before the start of school. I had students arriving at 7 a.m. and some even at 6:50 a.m.

“I download the music we play as a band from iTunes. I also use Notion for playback of band arrangements; GarageBand for playing and composing music; iMachine for creating drum tracks and triggering samples; and Wii Orchestra for live playing. iPad apps are economical and offer a lot of benefits for the program. I think we are in a transition right now in education from paper books to iPads. I just visited our school book fair and thought about how this is going to look in 24 months. The world is changing and, as educators, we must embrace change, also. The iPad offers so much potential for education with textbooks, calculator, dictionary, internet access, video, pictures, and camera all in one portable device.”

Brandt’s Story

The students at Seymour High School are fortunate to have Brandt Schneider as their choir, band, jazz band, music tech, and web design teacher. On top of all that, Schneider keeps his music education blog, Things To Come (, current for his students and the public. It’s chock full of helpful iPad information and recommendations he’s gathered since he obtained 14 iPads through a Katharine Matthies Foundation grant last year.

Brandt points out, “The aspects of the iPad that are essential: Instant on… You can’t believe how much time we save. Battery life… Never a thought about running out of battery during the day or week. Ease of applications. There are entire courses that revolve around teaching software. Not so on the iPad. I give almost no instructions on software. I teach music. My three-year-old is writing music and making animations. She can’t do that on a PC. While students can use the iPad immediately, there is a definite teacher learning curve for educators, mostly around logistics. Spend a lot of time organizing before you deploy. Think about how you will deploy apps, secure the iPads, and collect student work.”

After finishing his first year with iPads Brandt reviewed some of the most useful features he experienced with iPad. He says, “YouTube is the number one destination. I’m not sure if this would be the case in every class, but in a music class it certainly is. We use it to listen to music we are performing. We use it for lessons on guitar or piano playing. We use it for downtime. It is awesome to be able to direct students to watch a video to learn their part while the rest of the class continues to rehearse.

“Google is number two,” Schneider continues. “We have greatly expanded all the Google functions from Google docs, to search to translate. Students get information when they need it. That is a huge shift. GarageBand is used constantly. GarageBand on the iPad is an instrument which makes it very different from the desktop version. I found that students were playing GarageBand both to create their own music and to recreate music they had heard. Verbally is the jaw-dropping app for anyone who works with special ed students. Hands down, most amazing thing ever. Jampad is a very simple synthesizer and chord generator. Music theory kids used this a lot and seemed to be their destination of choice. Students said that iPad helped them explore music they wouldn’t normally listen to. Sometimes we forget that the iPad is really a music device.”

In February, Schneider blogged about a GarageBand lesson he experienced with his students. After he explained the iPad assignment, he said, “Each student produced some cool versions. In almost every case, as I assessed them and gave some suggestions, they came back with a substantially better version. Some students started laying multiple tracks down of their own playing (scales in two directions, ostinato and melody, and so on). The iPad is so easy to do this with. This assignment involved analysis, evaluation, improvisation, and composition. It also required collaboration.”

iPads in the Symphony Orchestra 

On May 12th, Schneider’s music theory class students will perform on iPads with the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra as they premier “iAlchemy,” a commissioned composition by Doug O’Grady, assistant professor of Music at Western Connecticut State University; supported by the Valley Community Foundation, Timex and Naugatuck Savings Bank. “It starts with the iPad playing electronic sounds,” O’Grady explains, “but then the orchestra joins in, little by little, instrument by instrument. It’s not crazy dissonant music. It’s kind of bombastic film music at the beginning.” Among the several different instruments that the iPads will mimic is a brand new iPad ‘instrument’ called a MorphWiz, which is played by sliding a finger along the iPad screen, moving up and down to change the volume, and back and forth to change the pitch. While O’Grady wrote the music in standard musical notation, he says, “Above some of that notation are shapes, or indications of what they should do to the timbre or color of the music.”

One student will play the MorphWiz, while the other students will use GarageBand to play wind and string instruments, along with some keyboards. Schneider said that because the MorphWiz is similar to the trombone in the sliding motion used to create notes, a senior, Amar Lapastica, who plays trombone in the school band will play the main iPad part for the premier of “iAlchemy.” Lapastica, 17, said, “It’s different than blowing air into a trombone. You use your brain more to figure out the notes.”

Closing Comments

Technology and imagination are aligning at warp speed and music educators are putting new spark into music programs across America. Good iPad apps are perfect for differentiated instruction and project-based learning. And with the new iPad launch, iPad 1 and 2 will be more affordable as inventories are sold down, making this a good time to join teachers like Meyer, Johnson, and Schneider to ignite your students’ imagination.

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