The number of apps, software, and gadgets available for use in the music classroom continues to grow each year but finding things that can actually be beneficial to your classes grows more and more difficult as well. We spoke with Dr. Christopher Russell, Director of Choirs at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, Minnesota to get his must-have list of apps.
For daily rehearsals and music management Russell’s ace in the hole is an app called forScore for the iPad. “forScore remains the must have app not only because of digital music but also because of the features,” says Russell. While many people know of forScore as a sheet music storage and annotation app there are other options hidden under the surface that can assist with making rehearsals much more effective. “You can create recordings of your rehearsals or performances directly inside of forScore or load other recordings of the music you are studying into the app and use it in many different ways. For example, on the fly you can transpose into different keys, adjust the speed of the recordings, or even make rehearsal loops for students to play along with. For our middle school musical we use rehearsal tracks and the entire thing can be run off of forScore.”
With variable speed playback and recording capabilities, a built in metronome, a pitch pipe, PDF converter, multiple library support, and a full 88 key virtual keyboard, forScore is like a Swiss Army knife for musicians and especially for music teachers.
If you are a fan of YouTube vocalists who record multiple versions of themselves singing different parts of the same song and then overlaying them to produce harmony the Acapella app from PicPlayPost might be a nice fit. Russell has been doing a lot more with video recently and Acapella helps him create special videos for his students to practice with. “If I’m going to be gone I’ll use the Acapella app to make a rehearsal track. You can take multiple videos and overlay yourself.”
Keynote, Powerpoint, etc.
Another go-to app for Russell are slide based presentation apps like Keynote or PowerPoint. By organizing your rehearsal using presentation tools like these you can speed up the overall rehearsal and maintain focus on your rehearsal’s goals. “I use them to project the day’s warmups, display the rehearsal order, daily announcements, or anything else that I would normally have to write on a whiteboard. I’ll use it to play a short YouTube video at the beginning of class while I am taking attendance and then we go right into warm ups after the video.”
While many people think of the Notion app as primarily being a music notation editor on iOS it can also be used for many other purposes. “Notion is wonderful for creating practice audio tracks for rehearsals or private practice. You can add individual parts for each of your sections. Once the parts are entered in, you can easily bring up or mute individual parts so that students can have a practice track with or without the part they are singing. Another bonus in my opinion is that the app has a very high quality piano sound that actually sounds better than many classroom pianos and it never goes out of tune.”
Notion’s big strength remains in it’s notation capabilities however, making it easy to write music down on a staff, play it back using synthesized instrument, and later export or print that notation as needed. Russell uses it for this purpose as well and highly suggests that users consider investing in the handwriting plugin for the app. “If you have an Apple Pencil and one of the newer iPads that include Pencil support, Notion’s handwriting plugin lets you put in slurs, accents, and other articulations much more easily.”
NotateMe and NotateMe Now
Getting music into your favorite music notation program is always a challenge, whether it be on a PC, Mac, or any mobile device especially now that companies such as Finale have removed the provided music scanning programs from their products. However with an app called NotateMe you can quickly and accurately write music by hand or scan in multiple pages of full size sheet music. The app then converts it into a variety of formats including MusicXML which can be exported for use in your music notation app of choice.
There are two versions of the app. NotateMe Now is a single stave notation system which includes the scanning capabilities but only for one part or instrument. With NotateMe you have multiple staves and scan multiple parts if you invest in their Photoscore plugin as an in-app purchase. While the cost of the scanning in-app purchase is rather steep ($70), the quality and accuracy of the scanned music is quite high and can save the user lots of time over manually entering notes by hand.
Sheet Music Scanner
Along the same vein, the aptly named Sheet Music Scanner app provides basic scanning and MusicXML export capabilities while also providing some features that are very handy to have in a vocal music classroom. For only $4 the app allows you to scan in a piece of sheet music and then immediately play it back using a variety of different instrument sounds.
Misc. Music Apps
What’s My Note
“What’s My Note is a great app for any singer to have on hand,” says Russell. “You can take a picture of your music and when you touch a note on the screen it plays the note for you. It’s kind of like a notation scanner but it’s great in that it can help someone who doesn’t play piano to learn their part.”
Sight Reading Factory
One app that continues to get lots of use both from vocal and instrumental musicians is Sight Reading Factory. Whether using the online version or directly in the app Sight Reading Factory provides an excellent way to practice and develop sight reading skills. “For teachers that are struggling to teach sight reading it’s an excellent tool to have available.” Simply select the instrumentation of the music you wish to drill on, set the parameters of range, keys, and rhythmic difficulty, and the system will produce a random logical melody for the student to sing or play. It also provides classroom management and assignment features for those who subscribe to the app.
On the hardware end of things the variety of useful gadgets that can connect to your devices continue to expand as well. Here are a two of Russell’s favorites.
AmazonBasics Bluetooth 4.0 Receiver
Getting audio from your mobile device and into a classroom sound system used to be as easy as plugging in a basic headphone cable. The removal of standard headphone jacks and often dicey Apple AirPlay or Android streaming performance may mean that you need something a bit more robust to get the best sound out of your portable devices.
Russell highly suggests that music teachers invest in a Bluetooth audio receiver. These devices allow you to stream audio from your portable iOS or Android device directly into your room’s sound system. “Both AirPlay and the Android version of wireless streaming both work nice but can be difficult to use at times. Using Bluetooth on the other hand is usually much more reliable.” Use the Bluetooth connection to send any audio directly to your room speakers including sounds from your metronome, pitch pipe, or music collection. When neither Bluetooth nor one of the other wireless options is available Russell suggests falling back to using a wired cable with a VGA or HDMI adapter for reliability.
External Microphones Shure mv88 to use with iPhone, etc.
The built in microphones found in most mobile devices are adequate for making a phone call but often come up short when there is a need to record high quality stereo audio. Russell strongly encourages people to purchase an external microphone for this very reason. “I like to use the Shure MV88–which has a with a lightning adapter—and then use an app like TwistedWave or PreSonus Capture Duo, or a similar app to record students with high fidelity and edit that audio later, if needed.“
Getting music into your device is easier than ever before as well thanks to the growth in Bluetooth midi dongles that work with multiple devices. Use them to wirelessly connect your standard MIDI keyboard or other MIDI device into your iPad, Chromebook, or computer. They also have styles that work with USB instead of the traditional round MIDI ports found on older equipment.
This article originally ran in NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine in the summer of 2018 and is reposted here by the original author under agreement with InTune Publishing.