If You Teach Elementary General Music,
Which Apps Could You Use to Enhance Your Music Class?
By Amy M. Burns
The past couple of years, this question is a very popular one with TI:ME members to social networks groups on Facebook, to hashtags on Twitter, to national conferences and to virtual conferences, like the recent Fun Music Company’s Virtual Music Education Conference 2013 (http://vmus2013.com/). I frequently read posts from elementary music educators who have acquired from one to four iPads for their classrooms, and even some with 1:1 iPad classrooms, who question how to go about utilizing iPads with their current curriculum. When this exact question was recently posed on the Music Teachers Facebook Group, an educator responded by telling her to look at my website (http://www.amymburns.com) and click on the iPads/iPods link at the top of the page. She responded that she had done that, but did not know what to do with the information. This is a very real problem because many educators are required to utilize new tools in their classroom, but they receive very little training on how to do that. When this occurs, the educators have to rely on any info they can acquire through speaking with other music educators, networking via social media, and researching on the Internet.
When you decide to enhance a unit in your music classroom with technology, you should be looking at the final outcome you want your students to achieve as opposed to the technology itself. As the 2012 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Barbara Freedman states, “Teach Music. The Technology Will Follow.” When it comes to apps, common misconceptions are that the app should be the center of the lesson (it should not) and that they are games and young students will think of them as some sort of gaming device. However, if students do perceive iPads that way, then that is acceptable because you can perceive them as teaching or assessment tools. Here are some of my students’ favorite apps and ways that I have been using them as teaching or assessment tools in my classroom:
Goal #1: Note Reading: There are apps out there that serve the sole purpose of quizzing students on note reading. Some of the ones that I have used are Flashnote Derby ($0.99 https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flashnote-derby/id453126527?mt=8) and Note Squish ($0.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/note-squish/id381536270?mt=8). In both apps, you can assess the students on specific notes and clefs that you preselect before the students have the iPads in their hands. I have four iPads in my classroom, so I set the students up in groups (I usually have one student who can assist the others with note reading) and watch them as they “play this cool music game.” With Note Squish, which looks and feels a lot like “Whack-A-Mole”, remind the students that they are not supposed to whack the mole with the note name above his head until they see the correct note name. If you have one iPad, use the Reflector App (http://www.airsquirrels.com/reflector/), which will wirelessly mirror your iPad screen to a projector screen (you need the $12.99 app, a projector, and a computer to do this). There are some latency issues with this solution, so if you have the money to spend, a $99 Apple TV might serve this purpose better, especially if you have one iPad in the classroom and you plan on utilizing that iPad often.
Goal #2: Music Creation: There are so many advantages to having your young students create music. It is another way for them to love music and it gives them a feeling of great ownership of their music. When my students create music, they experience success and feel so proud, even at the youngest of ages. An app that helps young students feel success when creating music is GarageBand ($4.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/garageband/id408709785?mt=8), where two out of many things you can do with your students are create music with pre-recorded loops, and use it to have the students record their own Orffestrations.
Another creative app is Songify ($2.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/songify/id438735719?mt=8), which my students use to create their own “animal haiku raps” based on the animals in Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals.” If you have one iPad, project it up onto the screen and create music together or use it as a “music creation station.” If you have more that one iPad, divide the class into small groups and create music together. Give each group “creative guidelines” so that they can successfully experience creating a musical piece. Other apps worth mentioning are MadPad ($2.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/madpad-hd-remix-your-life/id460309682?mt=8%20) and Finger Stomp ($0.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/finger-stomp/id385700277?mt=8), which assist your students in turning rhythm patterns into a creative piece using pre-recorded sounds or everyday sounds that they record themselves.
Goal #3: Playing Virtual Instruments: I use numerous virtual instrument apps in my elementary music ensembles. I do this for several reasons: 1) A virtual instrument is sometimes easier to play for students who have challenges with fine motor skills and holding the instrument or mallets prove difficult; 2) When you hook the iPad up to speakers, you have another instrument to add to your Orff and percussion ensemble. If you do not have enough Orff instruments for each student to play, you can use the Percussive app ($0.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/percussive/id375170589?mt=8, the lite version is free), to add more xylophones to your Orffestrations; 3) You can teach a lesson where the students compare and contrast performing on acoustic instruments verses virtual instruments. This was very enlightening when I performed this with my Kindergartners this past year; 4) Would you like a pipa to celebrate the Chinese New Year? “There is an app for that.” There are many cultural instruments that are free or very inexpensive apps.
Goal #4: Organization: I have read many requests for apps that will assist with organizing lessons and assessments. There is PlanBook ($5.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/planbook-touch/id387115895?mt=8) for lesson planning, but I do not have much experience with it. For assessment and organization of classes, I recommend iDoceo ($5.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/idoceo-teachers-assistant./id477120941?mt=8). I have seen a teacher use this very effectively in her classroom. You can set up the app to include the students’ names, the students’ pictures, class seating charts, class grading charts, attendance, and you can also record various assessments. You can customize the grading and attendance charts. The drawback is that it will take up a lot of space on your iPad and you will need to export (which you can do easily) your info at the end of the school year to be able to use it again for the next school year.
Goal #5: Playing Recorder: The two that I adore are JoyTunes Recorder Master ($1.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/recorder-master/id492065346?mt=8), and Denise Gagné’s Learn and Play Recorder ($3.99, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/learn-and-play-recorder/id543660617?mt=8). JoyTunes challenges the students to play their recorder (beginning with the note B, then A, etc.) within music games. They love that it is like “angry birds for the recorder” and that they can score points and earn levels. Gagné’s app has 38 songs for the students to play along with and shows them how to take care of the recorder and how to read music. You can utilize both of these apps with one iPad connected to a projector screen, or in small groups spaced out around the classroom with multiple iPads or in a 1:1 classroom setting.
There are so many more apps that I could write about like Brainpop Jr, Screen Chomp, and Explain Everything (which your classroom teachers use these all) or free apps like Blob Chorus (ear training), Beatwave (music creation through drawing), Drum Pad (create drum beats), Google Earth (show your students where the composer of the month lived), and Loopseque Kids (creating music with loops).
Please check out my website to see more apps and how to utilize them in the elementary music classroom. I will also be presenting a session on this topic at the TI:ME/TMEA conference in February of 2014 and will be teaching a week-long course on this topic at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in July of 2014.
Amy M. Burns (http://www.amymburns.com) is a PreK-grade 3 general music educator, performing arts chair, 5th grade instrumental teacher, and director of the after school conservatory at Far Hills Country Day School (http://www.fhcds.org) in Far Hills, NJ. She has also authored several articles and books and has presented numerous sessions at state, national, and virtual conferences on the topic of technology in the elementary music classroom. She is the Past-President of TI:ME and was the first recipient of the TI:ME Teacher of the Year award in 2005. She is a current author on the newest Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music Curriculum powered by Silver Burdett.