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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

GB iOS Beat Sequencer Activity


This resource includes numerous pages for helping the teacher and/or students with the basics of this fabulous component new to GarageBand for iOS (iPad, iPhone).

This activity promotes exploration of the app, GarageBand for iOS and the tactile experience of using the graphic layout to represent the rhythm and percussion instruments.

This resource focuses on the basics of the Beat Sequencer component, the graphic representation of rhythm (quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes and rests), building a 1 – 4 bar/measure pattern and changing the percussion instruments. Students can use different time signatures, as well.

They will create one measure/bar patterns for quick assessment, e.g., one period lesson, which leads up to a 4 bar product with characteristics of a typical 4 – 8 bar drum pattern with contrasting bars, e.g., bars 2 and 4, and bar 4 having a ‘fill in’ or riff.

Next step lessons would include looking at the features on the bottom right of this component, that include Velocity, Note Repeat, and Chance.

Discussions could easily be generated on common features (rhythms, instrument choice and velocity) of the various genres included under the pattern icon on the bottom left of the Beat Sequence screen, e.g., Classic House, Warehouse Vibes, Festival Bounce, Wavey, Backbeat Funk, etc. Students could ‘play’ with these, modify them, or create their own with descriptive titles.

If your plan is to have students write actual drum music on a drum staff, check out this site for an online Web 2.0 resource called Groove Scribe, an excellent resource.


Thank you for supporting actual teachers in the school system trying to give their students the best of a blended approach to education. These resources are used within my classrooms, tested and modified to make them engaging and meaningful for our students’ future. Your continued support at a modest cost for these resources will prompt me to provide further support in this type of resource, as well as modify them based on your valuable comments. Thank you.


Smart Instrument Chording


This is a paid activity is for GarageBand for iPad available from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Chords are the emotional support for your melody. Teaching students chord progressions is so important to model this important foundation of melody writing.

Using the Smart Instruments chord bars and Autoplay, they can explore loop-type chord patterns to underscore their chord-based melodies (taught in an other resource).

In this activity, students enter chord patterns using the Autoplay feature, changing chords when necessary to match the chord requirements. In another track, the melody can be played – sheet provided. Additional tracks can introduce drums and bass, or any other instrument.

Using the track settings, students will learn about panning, treble and bass enhancement, as well as reverb and echo. There are other features here, as well. Quantisation and graphic notation editing is also mentioned.

Saved work can be shared via email, Airdrop, as a audio file, or a GarageBand file to be worked on another device or the Mac GarageBand version. Remember, once an iPad version project file has been transferred to a Mac and modified by GarageBand for Mac, it cannot be exported back to the iPad for editing.

Enjoy and let me know your thoughts!

Music Lifted with Emotion

Listening to music is a personal experience moving one’s spirit over a spectrum of emotions depending on the mood.  This manifests itself in one’s playing if you are a performer of music bringing a unique, expressive quality, typically referred to as emotion.  For students of music, this is an important feature that breathes life into the music beyond the printed notes.  An able performer can play with, remix, or add a fusion of colours in different ways to suit the mood of the music.  How do we teach the emotional level of music beyond the basic dynamics, articulations, and tempo?

Give this app a try!

Cove: The musical journal  (FREE) from Humane Engineering offers an app to allow you to do this.  It is a reflective process that begins with identifying your moods, then choosing a dynamic, background palette.   This step helps Cove to identify the types of instruments that best match your moods.


Cove: The musical journal

When the above selection is made, a wave moves cyclically up your screen playing anything entered.  On the bottom are the three areas of sounds, Base, Melody, and Percussion.

  • Base refers to the wash of sound, not the bass instrument one may think of – think chords (groups of notes) in most cases
  • Melody is exactly this, using a limited scale of available notes that blend without discord with your Base sound
  • Percussion allows you to add up to 6 different percussion sounds that can be layered above each other … balance is the key

When done, you can select the percussion tab to see all three layers to see their relationships.

Next, sends you to the page to record your sound’s name, some thoughts or description, image, if desired, and tags to add.  Saving your music allows you to share it in audio file form, a fabulous feature, and very generous of the app company.  I haven’t found out whether these new compositions are available online for others to enjoy… don’t think so, according to their privacy page.

The Journal area is a mystery to me.  It basically is a quit feature, erasing any current music creation, and exits back to the start screen.  This is an area I will explore.

This app is a valuable way to connect students to emotion and music collaboration to help promote the healing effects of music, or as a way to work through emotional issues, constructively with music creation (expression).  Educators could exploit the subtle concepts of scale, texture, pitch, timbre, ambience, form, looping, and instrumentation to introduce traditional music theory.  Most importantly, is the musical link/support between creating and emotion, a new found companion in a free app.  Thank you, Cove.


Blooms 21

A few years ago, I blogged about the importance of allowing students the freedom to engage in musical exploration and risk-free play to discover sound creation ideas and possibilities.  This was my slogan I used at that time…

Creation first… theory second

It made my day to come across an article written by Adam Hart at the University of Salford discussing this very notion based on Flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy by Shelley Wright (2012).  It proves that we all progress on a grand continuum of learning in our own way and in our own time.  We build our teaching pedagogy on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us (12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres, but  Isaac Newton in 1675 brought the English translation home to us: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”)

Bloom’s taxonomy flipped (Shelly Wright, 2012)

Hart outlines the challenges of the New National Curriculum of U.K. for the study of music (2014) which extols the importance of a broad, music education, especially experiencing musical creation but without the curriculum leadership.  This sets up a familiar scenario amongst educators which provides vague or no guidance specific to compositional approaches they could use with their students.

This is not the first time I’ve read this jargon-laden curriculum quoted by Hart in his example,

“improvise and compose music for a range of purposes using the inter-related dimensions of music (DfE, 2013: 2). 

This is what curriculum designers write who are not composers and creators of music.  They are curriculum writers (generalists) first with little foresight to collaborate with composers of music, especially popular artists of the day and film score/media composers who reflect the current musical scene and, more importantly, the advancements in technology (particularly mobile technology).

Hart continues to highlight what is necessary to move students from a traditional, skill based approach to a exploratory and experiential learning process where the teacher and peers serve as guides from within the learning circle.   The teacher becomes a “supporter, partner and guide” (Na Li, 2017) throughout this process as the creation journey looks different for everyone – we never actually arrive but continue to hone our skill of sound creation and expression to suit a variety of purposes.

I finish this post encouraging teachers to look at Blooms 21 and its implications.  It is also celebrated as, ‘Backwards by Design’.  It suggests to ‘unwrap’ the big present first, use a specific skill set to assemble the new toy, and to, through experience and experimentation, learn how to use it purposeful to our needs (play).  As students take on music composition tasks (problem solving), together, we see what skills are needed and, in context, model the usefulness of the skills accentuating their value, e.g., I-IV-V-I chord progression, or ostinato pattern writing.  Students keep the skills that serve their purpose in their tool kit of compositional techniques.

In his article, Towards an effective freeware resource for music composition in the primary classroom, Adam Hart introduces a number of free music software to help with music teachers or generalist teachers who are looking for free apps (software) that are built on a firm, pedagogical foundation that addresses music theory, history and composition.


My current dissertation centers around GarageBand for iOS or Mac, free on all new Apple devices which is a mammoth Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) sitting idle on a percentage of 1 billion active devices –including iPhones, iPads, Mac computers, Apple TVs, iPods, and Apple Watches (Apple, 2016).  My dissertation focuses on the value of GarageBand for iOS (and Macs) in a variety of educational settings over the next two years based on my composition experiences with DAWs since the mid-1980s.  Imagine the future of music creation if someone takes the time to show students, teachers, and administrators how to use GarageBand for iOS, an app possibly on your Apple device right now?


Fostering Musical Language

We are living in an age where traditional music notation is no longer a prerequisite to being successful in music creation or performance.  Traditionally, music education has been driven by factual knowledge over musical creation.  Technology has opened music creation to the masses producing music styles that involve traditional composition with notation programs (Finale, Sibelius, etc.),  Digital Audio Workstations via computer (Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Ableton Live, etc.) or mobile device/apps (GarageBand, Notion, Symphony Pro, etc.)  The fact is, mobile technology allows for music creation with results beyond anything seen anytime in the history of music.

Fostering Musical Awareness


Students are influenced with years of school-based music programmes that typically drive music theory and history as the building blocks to musical knowledge.  Isolating music theory in small packages without a larger picture can damper any interests students may have about music, especially what they listen to and participate in outside of school.  Backwards by Design thinking supports this notion that music engagements can start on the other end of looking at a completed work, and traverse backwards looking at how it was created (melody, chords, accompaniment, instrumentation, and rhythm, for example).  Think of the motivation this would create within our classrooms!

Using a variety of apps, my goal is to introduce creation of music without the baggage of  having to learn to read music first.  I want to open their minds to the incredible ways mobile tech can allow them to play around with musical sound, rhythm and chords to create music first, then assimilate music theory directly related to their interests.  This is nothing new in other subject areas, but critical to give students the tools to be independent in their trek through music creation.  Many of these apps are available for other platforms, not just Apple.

In the first month of weekly classes, apps were chosen to reinforce that music isn’t determined by their knowledge of theory and ability to read notation.  The goal: sound creation through hand gestures and icons on the screen.  eDrops Nature and eDrops – Bouncing Balls Music App Studio are similar to a pinball game reacting to the laws of physics with the results being a pattern like, musical soundscape.  I demonstrated this by recording one and a half minute of music from eDrops Nature and premiered it over a 4K nature video to stimulate musical conversation with the students.  The questions were, “What would the music look like in notation for this score?”  “Could you do this?” “What are the challenges of notation?”  They were so surprised that there was no music notation, only a game-like screen with falling balls of light bouncing from various points on the screen.  Yes, it is normal for some students to enjoy the game aspect of this app forgetting they are creating sound.

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eDrops Nature


eDrops – Bouncing Balls Music App Studio


The next app is quite a unique one, called Playground.  It provides sets of instruments that react to finger movement.  It has proven to be the students’ favourite app because of its contemporary sounds and tactile involvement.  After a ‘play’ period, we talked about the importance of establishing a beat, like a drummer.  Students need to become familiar with the layout of the instruments and the various icons and triggers that affect the sound creation.  Within the second week of using this app, students had to start to show patterns of rhythm and consistent tempo of finger movement.  You must try this app to understand what this means.  It’s free to try!




Within the third week, students explored Nodebeat.   This is a pattern creating musical app that has a game-like appearance.  It’s an enormous app that has so much to offer and would be better presented over a couple of classes highlighting its capabilities.  Students need time to learn the icons and their associated sounds and instrumentation.  Sound modification is also important within this app.  It is highly customisable.



Next Steps

Students will be challenged to use one of these apps to create a thirty to sixty second musical piece.  I find they are highly motivated when they have an endpoint and useful reason for doing this.  Their music will be promoted on SoundCloud for others in the school (and parents/teachers) to listen to and comment.  It will also be meshed with video of their choosing and placed on YouTube for the same purpose.  The goal is to get their music ‘out there’ for the world of social media to push them along with careful guidance from their teachers.

Please comment and share.  Thank you for reading!  This post will be updated throughout the year.


App-etisers for May

I’m excited to share some apps that are new, or just discovered.  I will highlight which features are transformational in the way we (students, teachers, and everyone else) can aid in personal music or art education, whether at school, home, or on the go.

Touch Notation Free – iOS

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The fine app (Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co., Ltd.) has the fastest ‘on the go’ notation entry I’ve ever used – I’ve tried many.  Regardless, finger or Apple Pencil, a few minutes of using, and an exquisite piano sample sound plays your music.  I’m still testing the free version with limitations – try this out!  Full version, with further in-app purchases is about $12 US.

Vanido – Your personal singing coach – FREE

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Vanido (Himanshu Singh) takes you through progressive, traditional, vocal exercises (chest voice, foundation, head voice, agility) with piano support.  Where this app flies is its visual of your voice as a sound wave-like line that signifies your accuracy to the target pitch.  For hesitant singers, this gives a much needed visual goal to strive for.  It has a basic, colourful display, game-like qualities, and must be used with earphones with built-in microphone.  See if this app supports your independent learning to become a better singer.

Art Break – FREE
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Art Break: Draw, Relax and Get Things Done (Tarasov Mobile) gives you a unique set of tools (brushes) that motivate an exploration of your love (or lack of) for drawing on a tablet (available at Google Play) with or without a stylus.  Students love the brushes that augment your line as you draw – ribbon, shaded, fur, web.  If you remember the popular Spirograph set years ago and the excitement that it caused, the next set of brushes bring a new level of amazement for users of all ages.  Mirror ribbon, symmetry ribbon, and symmetry fur are worth a look.  There are in-app purchases to upgrade to Premium version and remove Art Break watermark from your drawings and the addition of more brushes for Premium users in next updates.

This photo is from a student’s first use of the app over 10 minutes.


Music Making – Spring 2017

Here’s a glimpse at what software/apps I use frequently to explore and create music (notation-type apps).

There are many companies offering incredible music-making apps for mobile devices that make music creation easier and inexpensive (most free).  I have been a user of Finale for Mac for over 25 years.  With the advent of tablet technology over the past 8 years, my allegiance has changed supporting companies that are re-inventing music creation, and in a mobile manner.

Finale is my absolute preference for large score, orchestral works, however, they have produced nothing for composing ‘on the go’ via a mobile device.  Their $600 US hefty entry fee for their flagship software stops me from recommending it to few.  It will become a relic of the past.  They have student prices and other entry level software packages with less features, however mobile apps offer an impressive alternative, especially with the aid of a stylus, sampling and creating sounds, and work almost anywhere capabilities.

Notion offers the most beautiful, sampled instrument sounds (London Symphony Orchestra) on all their versions, desktop and mobile devices.  Working ‘on the go’ is extremely important to capture ideas while sitting on the bus or subway, then continuing at home or work via cloud technology.  Notion allows this from finger-gestures, Apple Pencil, music keyboard, and mouse input.  Thumbs up, Notion (PreSonus)!

[Personal note: each orchestral instrument has various techniques as sampled sounds included, for example, French Horn includes hand-stopped or muted notes and glissandi.  This is one of the many reasons I use Notion for its ease of use to add these effects or articulations.  Check out my brass piece, ‘I Saw Three Ships’ on SoundCloud that demonstrates this.]

On the bus or subway – iPhone or iPad


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Notion for iPhone/iPad

Symphony Pro 4

Symphony Pro 4 $9.99 US

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Symphony Pro 5 Beta

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Symphony Pro

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GarageBand for iOS

GarageBand for iOS is an absolute favourite, now updated with more performance capabilities.  I will celebrate the day when they add notation capabilities.

Personal note: This app awaits its entry into schools to help visualize music for so many disinterested students having to endure a skill or knowledge-based curriculum, rather than a holistic, creation-based one.  Share your thoughts on this, please.


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Stave’n’Tabs for iOS

In this example, Stave’n’Tabs handles triplets fairly well compared with other music notation apps.  I’ll keep my eye on this app over the next year.

Teaching or at home: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, MacBook, iMac


SCORECLOUD | Free Music Notation Software - Music Composition & Writing Online Firefox, Today at 11.29.29 AM.png

ScoreCloud Studio Mac or PC -Free with upgrades

ScoreCloud is known for its ease of input by a variety of means, especially great for school use with students inputting their music by keyboard, voice, or recorder!

Music Notation Software. Create Sheet Music with Finale Music Firefox, Today at 11.34.16 AM.png

Finale for Mac                                      $600 US


Notion 6 for Mac     $154 US

Music Notation Software. Create Sheet Music with Finale Music Firefox, Today at 11.34.16 AM.pngSave


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