Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making Musicians with iPads

In this last post, you read about my first experience playing a musical instrument, an unforgettable experience from 4th grade. You also read about my thoughts for how we can use available technology to give every student the kind of experience I had. In this guest post, you hear from Dr. Sara Womack who provides her suggestions for specific software.

The benefits of music education, and particularly keyboard studies, are well known. In addition to cognitive benefits, a strong link exists between piano playing and the development of skills needed to be successful in life, including patience, discipline, and coordination. Playing the piano can also reduce stress and anxiety prevalent in adults, as well as children.

Traditionally, to offer piano in a school setting, a piano lab outfitted with full size keyboards and instructional materials must be available for each student. Now, technology has opened additional avenues for piano instruction. Students can utilize classroom sets of iPads, available in many schools, as an instrument and as an instructional tool.

Utilizing the iPad as a piano does not come without drawbacks. The spacing of the piano keys on the iPad may not match the spacing on a traditional instrument. The 88 keys of a full size keyboard will not fit on the iPad screen without stacking the keyboards. Some people solve that issue by playing on two iPads, like this performer on YouTube. Additionally, the touch sensitivity on the iPad is not comparable to a traditional instrument, no matter how lightly or heavily the key is played. Nevertheless, with restricted funding and space, utilizing iPads for a piano lab is a viable option to expose students to the world of keyboard music.

In schools, keyboard classes could be structured, so that all students master concepts at the same pace or the class could be differentiated to meet individual student’s needs. Students could also be grouped together by ability level to help each other follow the sequence of concepts to be mastered. iPads offer a wealth of options to meet each school’s needs. An iPad piano concert is also a great way to showcase the talents of the students! How about this version of “Happy Birthday?”

Below, I have listed a brief selection of iPad apps that could be helpful in class keyboard instruction. Many of the apps offer in-app purchases to expand the song offerings or lesson content.

  • Virtuoso Piano (Free) – This is a basic piano that students can play. Students have the option of labeling the note names on the keys. 
  • Piano (Free) – Students will play the piano to 32 accompanied songs, while the notation scrolls across the top of the screen. The practice mode allows students to set their own tempo. Additionally, the keys highlight to show students which key should be played for each note. 
  • PianoMan (Free) – This game allows students to play music from various classical composers on the accompanying touch piano. You can set the difficulty level to differentiate for each learner and students can have a Piano Battle with up to four players. 

  • Learn Piano HD ($1.99) – Follow along with Peter Darling, an expert piano instructor, as he teaches private lessons that students can master at their own pace. Videos and instructional text are included in the app.
  • Piano Dust Buster 2 (Free) – Students will help Granny dust off her piano by playing the correct notes of familiar tunes when germs touch the rhythm line to earn points and bonuses. This app can utilize the touch piano included in the app or can sync with a real piano. 

  • 50in1 Piano ($1.99) – Lessons on how to play 200 songs on the piano are included in this app, as well as a piano keyboard with option note labels and 50 instruments, covering a variety of musical styles. Students can compose and record their own songs with 100 different drumbeats. 
  • Nota ($2.99) – This app includes a four-octave piano that allows students to see where each note on the piano is located on the staff, in addition to a chord and scale browser and a reference library with over 100 symbols. The interactive quiz section of the app measures each student’s ability to recognize notes on the staff. 

  • Piano Notes! ($0.99) – Test the students’ knowledge of reading notation in treble and bass clef with this app. Three game modes, Arcade, Count-down, and Endless, encourage students to associate notes with the correct piano keys. 
  • Piano Genius (Free) – Students will learn how to play more than 400 songs including classical, traditional, and modern hits. While the notation scrolls at the top of the screen, students will follow the dots on the keyboard to play the song. Songs are available in easy, medium, and hard levels and points reward accurate playing. 

  • If you have a small amount of additional funding, you can purchase the ION Piano Apprentice (Amazon, $49.95), a lighted 25-key touch-sensitive keyboard with built-in speakers. When connected to your iPad, iPod, or iPhone, the accompanying Piano Apprentice app shows students how to play and lights up the keyboard. 



Technology offers a multitude of ways to expose students to keyboard studies. With the equipment already available in most schools, a little organization and time will afford students with the invaluable benefits of music education. But it’s not just the equipment that is needed to provide these benefits, music teachers that inspire and engage students are essential. Steve Jobs said, “The most important things is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can.” The technology is only a tool utilized by those teachers that motivate students to realize their potential as musicians. Inspire your students’ musicianship with iPad pianos!

Dr. Sara Womack is the music teacher at Greystone Elementary School in Hoover, Alabama. Dr. Womack is Past-President of the Alabama Music Educators Association and President-Elect for the Southern Division of the National Association for Music Education. In additional to the doctorate in the field of music education, Dr. Womack also holds a Master's degree in school administration. 
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