Making Music with iPads, iPhones & iPod Touches
by Dr. Jim Frankel
No doubt that you have heard of the wonderful ways in which people are making music with the iDevices (iPads, iPhones & iPod Touches) from Apple. Musicians everywhere are finding new apps for music making each day – and they keep on coming. Music companies the world over are trying to figure out how to deal with this paradigm shift, and many have already produced both apps and hardware peripheral devices to facilitate some pretty serious music making.
One of the most common questions that I have been asked lately is “How can I incorporate these devices into my music curriculum?” Those of you familiar with my previous writings on this topic know that I still don’t believe they are ready for wide spread adoption in schools yet – mostly due to the limitations of the apps and the lack of control over content. However, I am confident that the day will come when tablet devices like the iPad will be adopted as the primary interface for student computing in the K-12 and higher education environments. There are quite a few improvements that need to be made to make them a completely transparent learning tool – but it is possible. These are exciting times.
This article is an attempt to provide music educators with ideas on how to incorporate the existing (and previous) versions of these devices into the music curriculum, along with some specific recommendations for apps and hardware peripherals as well as resources that will help you find out even more.
Apps for Music Making
Before I start to list an assortment of my personal favorite music making apps, I think it would be helpful to categorize them a bit. For the purposes of this article, I will name those categories: Notation, Sequencing, CAI, Performance, and Music Readers. CAI stands for computer-assisted instruction, but all the other categories should be pretty self explanatory. It is by no means a complete list, but provides an overview of some of the most well known apps. Here we go:
In my opinion, you’re not going to find ANY notation apps that can hold a candle (or a match) to Finale or Sibelius. The current sized screens on these devices makes it difficult to accurately input notes onto a staff with your finger tips. Using them on an iPhone or iPod Touch is nearly impossible. But that hasn’t stopped app makers from trying.
Symphony ($4.99 on the iTunes App Store) – Probably the most well-known of the available notation apps, this is the basic edition of Symphony. For more features, step up to Pro. Pros: great sounds, multiple staves, accidentals. Cons: MIDI based files, no slurs, text or ties.
Symphony Pro ($12.99 on the iTunes App Store) – This is as close as it gets to “real” notation software on an iDevice. Lots of great features, and the app benefits greatly from the increased screen space on an iPad. Pros: a full-featured notation app for the iPad, improved UI, great sounds, exports files in a wide variety of formats including MusicXML, MIDI, MP3, and PDF. Cons: you need small fingers to use the app effectively. Check out http://www.symphonypro.net/ for more details.
PocketScore ($1.99 on the iTunes App Store) – A great looking and affordable alternative to Symphony. Definitely worth a look. Pros: MusicXML based files, better UI, better accuracy when entering notes, different clefs & time signatures. Cons: pretty mediocre sound set. Check out http://www.electricears.com/prod_tpl2.php?id=67 for more details.
Scorio (FREE on the iTunes App Store) – a FREE notation app for iPad only, Scorio is a pretty decent way to experience notating music on an iPad. It is pretty clunky compared to the apps listed above – but it is FREE. Pros: FREE app for student use, supports multiple staves and lyrics, nice UI. Cons: difficult to change note duration, difficult to be accurate when placing notes on score as well as making menu selections. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scorio-music-notator/id417227998?mt=8 for more details.
Unlike the notation category, there are a lot of terrific apps for sequencing and recording music on the iPad, iPhone, and even the iPod Touch. The only thing to be concerned about when using these types of apps is how much of your memory you use when creating music. One of the downsides to these devices is that they have relatively small amounts of memory available when compared to laptop ad desktop machines. If you are going to do some serious music making, you’re going to want to use a serious machine. The sequencing apps listed below are terrific for capturing ideas, and creating on the go. I know that there are many that are not on the list that are fantastic – but I was going for simplicity here for the most part.
GarageBand ($4.99 on the iTunes App Store) – hands down the best music making app available in my opinion – Pros: Utilizing USB microphones and keyboards for recording, incredible UI, loops, new “Smart” instruments, close to the original program. Cons: exporting songs is difficult (requires syncing), cannot edit MIDI once recorded in, does not work on iPhone or iPod Touch. Check out http://www.apple.com/ipad/from-the-app-store/garageband.html for more details.
Groovemaker (FREE – with options to upgrade) – This is a very different style of sequencer from GarageBand. It is geared more toward building up grooves in a step-sequencer style interface. You won’t be able to plug a USB microphone or keyboard into Groovemaker, but it is a fun way to make some pretty cool sounding music. Pros: great sound set, easy to learn, students will enjoy the vibrant UI. Cons: you only get one song with the free version – need to purchase additional packs at $9.99 each, no USB/MIDI recording. Check out http://www.groovemaker.com/ipad/features/ for more details.
FourTrack ($9.99 on the iTunes App Store) – looking for a simple four track (non MIDI) recorder for your iDevice? This is it. With built-in effects, amp models, and support for USB audio, it is a great old-school sequencer without all of the loops associated with newer sequencers. Pros: easy to use, great effects and amp models, export files to your DAW. Cons: no MIDI support or virtual instruments. Check out http://www.sonomawireworks.com/iphone/fourtrack/ for more details.
Rebirth ($9.99 for iPad/$3.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch). For musicians familiar with Reason, this is a perfect app for you. Using the same style of plug in instruments and drum machines, Rebirth is a powerful music making app. Pros: great sound set, similar to the Reason UI, exports to MP3. Cons: very crowded UI on iPhone and iPod Touch, clunky step sequencer. Check out http://rebirthapp.com/rebirth-for-ipad/ for more details.
This could be the biggest section by far, so I will try to limit it to five of my personal favorite apps that focus on teaching musical concepts. There are hundreds of apps for specific instruments, including fingering charts, chord diagrams, etc. I urge you to go to the iTunes App Store and browse through the many, many apps in the Music category and find your own favorite!
O-Generator Acoustic ($4.99 on the iTunes App Store) – Now for iPad as well as iPhone and iPod Touch, this is the iDevice version of the popular software from O-Generator, Learn To Compose. While it could fall into the sequencing category as well, the song writing tutorials are terrific. This is truly an app for learning how to create music. Pros: same interface as software version, great sounds, exports as AAC/WAV. Cons: no MIDI instruments or USB audio connectivity. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/o-generator-acoustic-music/id416576435?mt=8 for more details.
The History of Jazz ($9.99 on the iTunes App Store) – This iPad-only app is a fantastic interactive guide to the history of jazz (they also have a new History of Woodstock app out that is very similar) that provides users with an animated timeline that focuses on periods of jazz. Click through to artists and representative YouTube videos Pros: great information, great UI, great organization of media. Cons: somewhat limited artist roster and suggested listening choices. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-history-jazz-interactive/id411521458?mt=8 for more details.
Pitch Primer ($9.99 on the iTunes App Store) – This app has been around for quite some time, but what it does is very useful for musicians. You play an instrument or sing into the app and it tracks your pitch very accurately. It’s a great visualization of how well you play in tune. It also analyzes recordings that you import into it. Pros: has built-in exercises, works on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Cons: it’s kind of a one-trick pony. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pitch-primer/id339022431?mt=8# for more details.
Nota ($1.99 on the iTunes App Store) – This is a great app to help students learn how to read music. It has a number of different ways to learn the notes on a staff, chords and scales. It also has a great quiz feature. Pros: great interface, quiz feature is a bonus, has a HD version for iPad. Cons: no way to record quiz grades onto other devices. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nota/id333179169?mt=8 for more details.
Chordmaster ($0.99 on the iTunes App Store) – this is a must-have app for any guitar player. The simple UI allows users to input a chord in any inversion or voicing and the app will display how to play it on guitar. Pros: easy to use, great tool, great sounds. Cons: none! Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chordmaster/id308730617?mt=8 for more details.
One of the most exciting aspects of the iDevice app genre is the performance tools that are available. Designers are creating both new versions of existing instruments and brand new instruments. Here are some of my favorite apps.
Korg iMS-20 ($15.99 on the iTunes App Store) – OK. I am a bit biased on this one, but I am so proud to work for Korg because of things like this. A perfect recreation of the legendary Korg MS-20, it works with USB MIDI keyboards, and even the MS-20 USB controller. A very serious music making and performance tool. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/korg-ims-20/id401142966?mt=8 for more details. iPad only.
Korg iElectribe & iElectribe Gorillaz ($9.99 each on the iTunes App Store) – Once again, Korg has faithfully recreated on of its legendary hardware devices for iPad – the iElectribe. And now, they let the band Gorillaz mod the app to allow users to remix some of their tunes. An amazing music making device. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/korg-ielectribe/id363714043?mt=8 and http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/korg-ielectribe-gorillaz-edition/id430288460?mt=8 for more details.
Bebot ($1.99 on the iTunes App Store) – one of the most popular music apps, Bebot has been featured in many YouTube videos and is a great way for students to make music with iDevices. It’s an affordable instrument and highly addictive! Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bebot-robot-synth/id300309944?mt=8 for more details.
AmpliTube ($19.99 on the iTunes App Store) – If you are a guitar player and an iPad owner, this is a must-have app. Period. Filled with different amp models, stomp boxes and effects, AmpliTube allows you to plug your guitar into your iPad and play through any amp! All for under $20. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/amplitube-for-ipad/id373750924?mt=8 for more details.
MorphWiz ($9.99 on the iTunes App Store) – created by DreamTheater keyboardist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess, MorphWiz is an amazing sounding instrument for your iDevice that will amaze you. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/morphwiz/id377345348?mt=8 for more details.
One of the easiest ways to translate music to an iDevice, specifically the iPad, is using it a music reader. While it is certainly possible to use the iBooks App ads well as apps like GoodReader to import PDF versions of your scores to then read, the following apps have some extra features that are pretty cool.
ForScore ($4.99 on the iTunes App Store) – ForScore is one of the most popular music readers available, with developers who implement user suggestions quickly. Compatible with Bluetooth page turners, ForScore has great annotation and organization features to help you mark up scores, and keep track of them when you’re done. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/forscore/id363738376?mt=8 for more details.
Medley ($4.99 on the iTunes App Store) – this is another great PDF music reader for iPad, with annotation and organization tools. Before making a choice between this an ForScore, I would recommend checking out the provided links and reading the reviews. They both do essentially the same thing. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/medley-music-score-reader/id348530524?mt=8 for more details.
MusicNotes (FREE on the iTunes App Store) – Although this app used to have an in-app purchase option to buy sheet music, it has been removed as per request from Apple (I guess they want to sell sheet music too?). A free music reader is a great option for education, and the app doesn’t skip any features. Check out http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/musicnotes-sheet-music-viewer/id369741034?mt=8 for more details.
Aside from these four categories of apps, there are many, many other creative and fun apps for music making. I suggest asking your students what their favorites are and then ask them to play with them. See if you can find some pedagogical uses of their apps. Now on to hardware.
One of the most exciting ways to expand the music making possibilities of an iDevice is to connect a hardware peripheral such as a USB microphone or a MIDI keyboard controller. The iPhone and iPod Touch do not have as many possibilities as the iPad in terms of connectivity, but there are some interesting options listed below.
In terms of the iPad, the most important first step for any one wanting to make music is to purchase the Apple USB Camera Connection Kit (http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC531ZM/A). At a cost of $29.99, this small device converts the 30 pin connector at the bottom of the iPad to a USB port, allowing you to connect virtually any USB device, including USB headphones, USB microphones (such as the Blue Snowball), and MIDI keyboards – including the very popular Korg nanoKEY2, nanoPAD2 and nanoKONTROL2. Unfortunately, the Apple USB Camera Connection Kit device does not work with the iPhone or iPod Touch yet, but it may in the future. There are many devices out there however that do not require this device. Let’s take a look at a few:
AmpliTube iRig from IK Multimedia
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Amplitube-iRig_p_534.html
Paired with AmpliTube (mentioned above) the iRig helps turn your iPhone/iPod/iPad touch into the ultimate mobile guitar and bass multi-effect processor and mobile recording studio. Use the AmpliTube iRig interface adapter to connect your guitar to your iPhone/iPod touch/iPad through the headphone jack. You simply plug the 1/4” patch cable from your guitar into the iRig and you are off and running. Play, practice and record anytime, anywhere with world-class guitar and bass tones right in the palm of your hand. AmpliTube gives you incredibly realistic tones and effects, plus full multitrack recording capabilities in a convenient mobile app, all from the leaders in analog gear modeling software for professional recording studios.
IK Multimedia iRig Microphone
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/IK-Multimedia-iRig-Microphone_p_541.html
The iRig Microphone is the first handheld, quality condenser microphone for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad designed for all of your mobile sound needs. Now you can make professional audio and vocal recordings anywhere on your iOS device. It comes with an app called VocaLive that allows you to add effects to your vocals and to record them. It is a perfect addition to the GarageBand app – allowing you to make high quality recordings of vocals and acoustic instruments.
iKlip from IK Multimedia
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/IK-Multimedia-iKlip_p_535.html
The new iKlip for iPad (with a new iKlip for iPad 2 on its way) makes it easy for you to use your iPad in any live setting — on stage, in the studio, at school or in the boardroom. With its multi-angle adjustable design, you can now securely position your iPad for optimal viewing and accessibility, while all controls, buttons and connection ports remain free from obstruction.
Alesis iODock Pro
The iODock (also called the StudioDock Pro) from Alesis transforms your iPad 1 or 2 into a full audio recording studio. Just get your iPad in place, and get ready to start making great recordings. The Alesis iODock offers two XLR/TRS inputs, each with gain, phantom power, and guitar-direct modes. This is a unique product and provides music teachers with the only way to get so many inputs to your iPad for music making. However you use it, the Alesis iODock offers full recording, performing, and playback with virtually all audio/video apps in the App Store.
Akai SynthStation 25
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Akai-SynthStation25_p_483.html
The Akai SynthStation25 transforms your iPhone or iPod Touch into a portable music production studio for mobile music creation. This MIDI keyboard controller gives your handheld device a two-octave set of piano keys and professional audio outputs, and it works with the Akai Professional SynthStation app, as well as other select third party apps. The SynthStation25 is powerful enough for professional musicians, yet virtually anyone can use is to easily create music.
Akai SynthStation 49
One of the most anticipated products of the year, the Akai SynthStation49 is a music controller designed specifically for use with the iPad or iPad 2 and the first true iPad performance tool for musicians. SynthStation49 provides unparalleled music creation capabilities, including direct in-app MIDI recording from its velocity-sensitive keyboard, nine MPC-style drum pads and array of transport controls. In addition to its integration with the SynthStation app, SynthStation49 is also completely iOS CoreMIDI compatible, making it instantly compatible with dozens of music apps already in the App Store and hundreds more on the way.
Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Line-6-Midi-Mobilizer_p_473.html
The only MIDI interface for Apple iPhone and iPod touch. Together with an Apple iPhone or iPod touch, and the free MIDI Memo Recorder app, MIDI Mobilizer can play, record, and backup MIDI information any time, any place. Whether you want to capture a quick musical idea or back up the settings of all your MIDI gear, MIDI Mobilizer is the most simple and compact solution for everything MIDI. MIDI Mobilizer is compatible with all models of iPhone and iPod touch.
In addition to these products, the following devices are perfect add-ons that can be used with the Apple USB Camera Connection Kit. While it is possible to use USB keyboard controllers and microphones that require more power than an iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch can supply using a powered USB hub, the devices listed do not require any additional power to work with iDevices.
Korg nanoKEY 2
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Korg-nanoKEY2_p_537.html
The Korg nanoKEY2 features an advanced and up-to-date design. By combining the great-feeling “touch” that Korg has developed for its professional MIDI keyboards and the low-profile “thinness” of recent computer keyboard innovations, the nanoKEY2 provides a superior keyboard response for its class and size. It’s designed with ample key width and plenty of space between the keys, reducing the chances of a wrong note. The touch and velocity response have been carefully tuned, as only a manufacturer with Korg’s track record and know-how can, ensuring that your expressive performance will be conveyed accurately to your software. Just plug it in to your Apple USB Camera Connection Kit and you are ready to go!
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Korg-nanoPAD2_p_559.html
Like all Korg nanoSERIES2 controllers, the nanoPAD2 had to be compact, lightweight and sized to work well with any laptop or desktop computer. In addition, the nanoPAD2 also had to pack in 16 great-feeling and dynamic-sensing pads – as well as leaving room for the X-Y touchpad! The Korg nanoPAD2 does all this and more. In fact, there are four banks of pad assignments, providing a total of 64 pad assignments.
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Korg-nanoKONTROL2_p_557.html
In a body proportioned to fit perfectly in front of your laptop computer, the Korg nanoKONTROL2 provides eight channels of the controllers you need to control your music software. The nanoKONTROL2 also features a dedicated transport control section. The buttons have been carefully selected to be useful with your software, ensuring simple and intuitive control. Many software titles – including major DAW programs – are supported, dramatically reducing the need to make complicated connection settings. Works great with the GarageBand app!
Available at http://store.soundtree.com/Blue-Snowball_p_61.html
Finally, a USB mic that’s not only easy to use, but sounds as good on your desktop as it does in a professional recording studio. Meet the Snowball; the world’s first professional USB mic. Whether you’re recording a guitar at your kitchen table or a complete band in the studio, the Snowball can capture it with detail unheard of before in a USB mic. The Snowball works perfectly with the GarageBand app, and the iPad provides enough power to power the capsule. Terrific!
Ideas for Curriculum Integration
The best way to find ways to integrate iDevices into the music curriculum is to actually try it out for yourself through a process of trial and error. The easiest way to integrate an iPod Touch or iPod into the music curriculum is to use it to organize your music library for easy and fast retrieval during lessons. That is probably the way that most teachers use these devices when they first start bringing them into the classroom, but there are so many more ways to use them.
Make recordings of your students and performances – you can use apps like GarageBand and VocaLive to make recordings onto your iPad. There are also plenty of apps for iPhone and iPod Touches that do the same thing.
Learn songs - I have seen quite a few instances of teachers who have their students access videos on YouTube to learn songs. If you search “How To Play _______” you are sure to find plenty of videos posted.
Tuner/Metronome – there are plenty of free and paid apps that allow you to use your iDevice as a tuner and metronome.
Presentation Device - if you own an iPad or iPad 2, you do have the option of connecting your device directly to an LCD projector. The iPad 1 only has limited apps that will project (iWork apps like Keynote work great). The iPad 2 has built in HDMI support allows you you to project anything that you see on your screen to the LCD projector. You will need to purchase this adapter at http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC953ZM/A?mco=MTY3ODQ5OTY. I would strongly recommend upgrading to an iPad 2 just for this feature if you plan on using an iPad for presentations. If you have an iPad 1, you can use a document camera (ie an ELMO) to project your screen so that your students can see what you are doing.
Music reader - it is possible that the textbook of the future will be a tablet computer. If so, no doubt the students will carry their music to school and rehearsals on their devices. Music readers apps will be mandatory. I recently heard from a music teacher who scanned all of his music that his band was playing at a festival onto his iPad in case anyone lost their music.
Alternative performance ensembles - there are more and more iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch bands showing up on YouTube, and in schools. With the music performance apps listed above, it is possible to make some serious music with these devices. I am confident that these types of ensembles will become more and more common in schools in the future.
Music creation devices – iDevices are an affordable alternative to purchasing laptops or desktop computers for your classroom. While they are not a replacement for computers yet, using apps like GarageBand, students can create music with these devices.
At the time of this writing, there are no books available that deal specifically with integrating iDevices in to the music curriculum. You’ll have to look online to see what the early adopters have been doing. These trailblazers are really pushing the envelope to see what works and what doesn’t with iDevices in a school setting. There are quite a few issues that need to be solved (using cellphones in school, who buys the apps for the students, how to control the content on the devices, etc) before there is widespread adoption in schools, and we have those folks trying it now to thank. The following online resources are a great place to start if you are thinking of bringing iDevices into your classroom.
www.musicpln.org – The MusicPLN site is an amazing place to start looking for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch resources. I would strongly recommend joining this free site and simply posting questions about how others are using iDevices in their classrooms. You can be very confident that you will get quite a few responses, complete with links to further resources.
www.mustech.net – Dr. Joseph Pisano’s incredible music technology blog has quite a few reviews of iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch apps with music education specifically in mind. You’ll find quite a bit of other amazing resources there as well.
http://mustechalley.com/ – the home of Richard McCready’s music technology program at River Hill HS in Clarksville, MD, Richard is doing amazing things with iDevices in his classroom. I would strongly recommend checking out this site and getting in touch with him. He is truly a trailblazer on this front.
www.musicedtech.com – this is the homepage of Barbara Freedman, a fantastic music educator in Greenwich, CT who is also doing great things with iDevices and her high school students. A great resource all around!
http://ipadmusiced.wordpress.com/ – another great blog by music educator Paul Shimmons. Lots of entries on music apps. Perhaps the most iPad-centered music blog I can find.
http://ipadeducators.ning.com/ – a Ning on iPads in Education. While not music-centric, it is a great resource on how other subject areas are using iPads in their classrooms. Lots to be learned here.
There was one other site located at www.ipmep.org (the iPad in Music Education Project) that was fantastic, but it seems that it has been taken down for one reason or another. I am sure that more online resources will be available in the future. Please let me know if you have suggestions to add to this list of resources. I can always be reached at email@example.com. It is my sincere hope that this overview is useful to you, and has given you some ideas for incorporating iDevices into your music curriculum.