Friday, May 21, 2010

Music Education and my iPad

Edited Summer 2011: For a more up-to-date view on iPads in music education, please visit this post, to view part one of my iPad Mega-List!

Original post:

I was lucky enough to get a 32 GB WiFi iPad in April as my very late Christmas gift to myself, and it has already become an essential tool for work and play. I've been keeping my brain sharp with Crosswords and Sudoku; keeping informed with the NPR app, AP HD, TweetDeck, and the Weather Channel Max; reading novels and puppy training books with the Kindle app (that's right, we got a PUPPY during my maternity leave); browsing great artwork with Art Authority, and enjoying a fantastic web experience with Safari. Ted talks never looked so good!

I thought I'd organize some of my favorite education- and music-related apps into a blog entry, in hopes that colleagues, students, and parents might find it useful. I'm also writing a separate entry for my favorite tech tools on my laptop/desktop, some of which have iPad counterparts. In no particular order...

Just when I thought I couldn't be wowed by another sticky note/organizer app, I discovered Corkulous. Corkulous has a gorgeous, intuitive interface with a large, scrollable corkboard background and a nifty drawer at the bottom full of draggable stickies, labels, checkboxes, photo boxes, etc. There are also draggable corkboards you can put anywhere to embed an unlimited number of boards within boards (tap to switch boards). I've already found this app to be a great tool for brainstorming blog and curriculum ideas. Board content can be exported as a pdf or image file. Here is the image of my board for this blog entry.

By the way, Appigo, the developers of Corkulous, also make my favorite to-do app for the iPad and iPhone.

Bento is a scaled-down database app from the makers of Filemaker, a premium (and pricey) database program for the Mac. I've found that the desktop version of Bento ($50) has all the functions I need, and it's much more simple and intuitive than Filemaker. The iPad app syncs with the desktop version and is also completely intuitive. It lacks some of the desktop functionality, such as the ability to have multiple forms in a library or show videos more than 10MB in size, though I expect some features will be improved in updates. My first iPad Bento library is for my MS 1st-year music rotation class, and with a record for each student, it's been the perfect way to jot down notes on participation and projects on the fly. I've also dragged photos of my students' invented instruments and, on my Mac, videos of their projects. Now my course evaluations are practically writing themselves!

Introduced right along with the iPad, Apple has created counterparts for each of its desktop iWork applications. They include Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations), available for $9.99 each. Though they aren't quite as flexible or powerful as their desktop versions, the iPad apps are perfectly sufficient for most of my daily needs, and far outperform any programs of their type I've ever tried on a mobile device. Files are synced when syncing your iPad with your computer, and files created on the computer can be easily added through iTunes. If you don't use iWork on your computer (and it's not available for PC users), you can export to .doc or .pdf format before syncing. You can also email files straight from your iPad, or with the help of a printer sharing app such as Print Central, you can send them to a networked printer. Here is the test document I made (this is a JPEG so that it can be displayed on my blog):

One of the first things on my mind after Steve Jobs' keynote announcing the iPad was how it could work as a virtual music library. Several sheet music apps popped up within the first few weeks of the iPad's release, and so far ForScore is by far the best. It's actually a PDF reader, optimized for musicians. ForScore comes with quite a few pieces of piano music, but unlike many of the other apps, you can import an unlimited number of your own PDF music files. You can write directly on your music with a selection of virtual pens and highlighters, quickly skip to any page in the score, and utilize a basic built-in metronome as you practice. You can also organize your music into setlists, though the file organization capabilities still leave something to be desired. I've imported hundreds of PDFs of piano and flute music from my CD Sheet Music library, without a single hiccup. Now I have music for any occasion, on the go, no hefty bag of music books necessary!

Tab Toolkit
I'm not a guitarist, so this app isn't so useful for me, but it has great reviews and seems worth a mention. Tab Toolkit is a music reader app for guitarists, that allows editing and playback for certain types of files. Follow the link to its homepage for more information.

For whatever reason, Apple didn't include a voice recorder app for the iPad. QuickVoice is a simple, free voice recorder app that allows you to record and play back audio of any length, and export files via email. I have a long wish list of features in a recording app, but in the meantime, QuickVoice allows me to record my students singing and playing, and export audio files I can attach to their Bento records.

Camera for iPad
Another slight iPad disappointment is the lack of a camera, though it handles photos beautifully. Camera for the iPad connects your iPhone and iPad via WiFi or Bluetooth, and the iPhone acts as a wireless camera for the iPad. I do have an iPhone, so it's a quick way to get photos straight to my iPad. I often take photos in class, and now I can quickly make them available to Bento and my other apps. It's also a fun party trick to use my iPad as a mirror (so I go to nerdy parties, ok?).

The iPad seems a natural platform for a music notation program. I would love to be able to drag and drop notes, hearing them play back as I go. The developers of Symphony, a music notation app for the iPhone, are working on Symphony Pro for the iPad. I hope that we'll see a contribution from the major players, too. I use Sibelius on my Mac and an iPad app could appeal to Sibelius users as well as musicians who download scores from using the free Scorch plugin.

I currently use Circus Ponies Notebook, a fantastically flexible notebook/outlining app, for most of my curriculum development. This is another program that would lend itself well to the large touchscreen.

Finally, I've recently discovered Planbook, a Mac and PC lesson plan book application developed by a teacher for teachers. This is the first virtual plan book I've found that can not only replace, but truly surpass my good old paper plan book. The developer is working on an iPad version that will presumably sync with my laptop. I can't wait!