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14 minutes reading time (2734 words)

How do you use mobile computing devices (such as smart phones, portable listening devices, and tablets) in your teaching?

Just when we have reached the point where traditional, personal computers have become ubiquitous in the home, modern society has become inundated with new mobile computing devices. These mobile devices are basically computers disguised as cellphones, listening devices, and e-readers.

As Apple's Steve Jobs has informed us, we can now carry the Internet in our pocket. This also means that we can carry a lot of very useful teaching tools in our pocket as well.

Most readers are probably aware of the fact that mobile computing devices can assist us by helping us to manage and synchronize our calendars, contacts, and to-do lists, as well as communicate with students by text, voice, and even video. What may be news is the fact that you can actually obtain useful teaching apps for many of these devices as well. Amazingly, many of these apps are free, and the others typically range in price from $0.99 to $4.99.

Obtaining an app for a mobile device is usually pretty easy. These devices typically use a cellular or wi-fi network to connect to a store from which you can make purchases and download the app directly to the device. In the case of devices based on Apple's iOS platform, you can also make purchases through iTunes on your computer and then sync the apps to your iOS device.

A piano teacher north of the border creates her own flashcard app               by Kristine Gore

I was fortunate to grow up in a very small Wisconsin village, where the public school had a piano in every classroom and the churches remained unlocked. This access to instruments and venues for performance was invaluable for providing an early learning environment for music. Little girls in small farming communities had no sports, ballet classes, or gymnastics to compete with music studies.

I began the piano at age four and continued through university, taking a major detour into voice and conducting. After moving to Canada in 1984, I attended several Suzuki Teacher Training Institutes and began teaching full time in 1986. In the early years of teaching, I began creating experimental reading materials for my piano students. This ultimately resulted in the Minibooks Music Reading Series (http://minibooksmusic.com). The series is distinctive in that it is a programmatic progression of exercises designed to teach sight reading. The answer to each consecutive pattern is built in from the preceding one.

Enter the Apple iPad (www.apple.com). It turns out, by some great miracle, that my Minibooks and the iPad are the same size, so I began thinking about coordinating the two as I experimented with various iPad apps.

The first App I downloaded on my iPad was a metronome app called Subdivide (http://subdivideapp.com) which, much to my delight, has been a huge hit in my studio. Students enjoy the fact that it offers alternative sounds, such "Dance" and "Cymbals," to the straight "tick-tick" of a regular metronome. And, because it is so large and easy to read, I don't have to fumble for my glasses!

In August of 2010, I contacted the developer of Subdivide with the intention of creating an app for the Minibooks. Unfortunately, that idea proved too ambitious, but we were able to settle on another concept that mixes musical flashcards with a piano keyboard. We named this app PianoFlash! (http://itunes.apple.com/ ca/app/pianoflash/).

PianoFlash! enables my students to practice note reading right on the iPad itself with an interactive, on-screen keyboard that gives immediate reinforcement by sounding the note if the student plays the correct key. I have always believed that the quickest way to read music is not by focusing on note names, but by establishing a direct association between the keyboard and the lines and spaces of the staff. Therefore, note names are not mentioned anywhere in the PianoFlash!, except for Middle C, which establishes the geography of the on-screen keyboard.

Musicians are discovering that the iPad is a wonderful music display device, offering an extremely easy way to flip the pages. There are no sheets to fly off the piano, and your entire music reading library can be at your fingertips! As piano teachers become aware of all the possible functions of the iPad, I am sure that it will someday become an indispensable aid.

I am continuing to work on finding the best way to bring the Minibooks to the iPad and am exploring the possibility of publishing them myself in PDF format using Amazon's Kindle Store.

Yes, the iPhone can be an instructional device                                               by Penny Lazarus

I would not characterize myself as a savvy user of electronic technology. My family thinks it is downright funny that this is my second article for Clavier Companion, writing about music and technology. My ten-year-old son, Max, already knows intuitively more about the inner logic of computer programming than I will ever be able to understand. But then, my son grew up with cell- phones, electronic games and videos, digital music, social networking opportunities, web surfing, and computerized learning. To him, this is all second nature.

My husband bought an iPhone for me, figuring it would be easy for me to use since I already owned a Macintosh laptop. Wouldn't you know, during my first week with the iPhone, nearly every student spotted it on my desk immediately and wanted to check it out! Needless to say, it didn't take me long to incorporate iPhone apps into my piano teaching.

First, I started using the iPhone Camera app. It's easy to photograph my student's posture and hand position, comparing their strengthening fingers from month to month while documenting how our exercises and scales really do work. During the lesson I sync these photos with my computer and then send home printed color photos that document the improvement.

Every one of my students looks forward to using Henry Flurry's Music Flash Class app (www.music- flashclass.com) that takes the concept of paper music flashcards and turns them into an electronic game. Speed and ingenuity are required! Students love the sounds that Henry has programmed: actual pitches for correct answers and laughable, frog- like "splats" for wrong answers.

My middle school students prefer to hold the phone themselves. They use their gaming skill to work quickly up to speed, setting shorter and shorter time limits for their "decks" of cards or setting Music Flash Class to play "Hot Potato." My studio is filled with sticky note stars proclaiming students' fastest times and correct answers.

Unlike paper flashcards and on-line electronic music theory games, we can quantitatively keep track of a student's improving note-reading skill from week to week. If I suspect my aural learners have learned a piece by sound only, I can quickly check for any note-reading avoidance by using the iPhone app. In fact, Music Flash Class is now part of my routine for preparing a student to start a new piece. I can choose particular flash cards that relate to the new piece and send a student home confident that the staff notes are already identified and understood.

Hand-held electronic devices are a wonderful addition to our stable of learning aids. However, I still use my paper flashcards, just in different ways. I also rely on my 1950s-era Wright-Way Music Note Finder, a device with a printed staff and adjustable plastic quarter note on a string.

As we become more attuned to differences in how students learn (visually, aurally, tactilely, or through movement) it is not surprising that we collect a variety of useful teaching tools, including electronic ones. When we read that 89% of children between the ages of 6 to 11 use online computer services and that their top activity online is gaming, we should realize that it makes sense to meet students halfway and game with them, at the same time helping them develop fluent music reading skills that enable expressive musical performance.

Built-in apps can be very useful                                                                       by Jennifer Foxx

I am a piano teacher in Arizona and have been teaching for more than twenty years. I specialize in teaching beginners and intermediate students from four years old to adult. I started using technology in my studio when I added a piano lab over fifteen years ago and continue to take advantage of many technology resources that are available today.

The iPhone for me has been one of the best business purchases I have made. My favorite teaching tool on the iPhone is an app called Voice Memo that came with it.

At first I used Voice Memo to do simple things, such as remind myself where I parked in a crowded parking lot. One day at lessons, I had a student who was having a really tough time with her rhythm. Although we made corrections during the lesson, I felt the moment she went home she would probably default to the wrong rhythm when she practiced.

On the spur of the moment, I whipped out my iPhone, recorded the piece, and then emailed it to her. Coincidentally, she just happened to have an iPhone as well (not necessary) and checked the recording right there at the lesson. When she got home, she had a practice tool she could use. Since that experience was so successful, I have continued to use this app for many reasons, including recording a duet part for the student to play along with at home.

Another favorite app that comes with the iPhone is Camera, which includes a video feature. I do own a Flip digital camera and enjoy using that. However, since my iPhone is always at my side, I can quickly record a student and then let the students not only hear the piece but also view themselves, noting their posture and hand position.

The iPhone is a great communication tool in my studio. I can easily access email no matter where I may be, quickly go to web- sites for information, send text messages, use apps spontaneously, et cetera. Did I mention that I love my iPhone?

Another teacher becomes a software developer                                               by Henry Flurry

While my heart lies in music, a part of me will always be a geek. After majoring in both music and electrical engineering, I pursued a successful software development career for nearly ten years. In the mid-1990s, I renewed my studies in piano, composition, and pedagogy, and by the year 2000, I was a full-time musician and piano teacher. Today, I maintain a private piano studio of over twenty students, compose, perform regularly with my wife as the duo Sticks and Tones, and am co-director of both a Suzuki Music Institute and the Chaparral MusicFest.

Despites this career shift, my geek side did not disappear. When Apple introduced the iPhone and iPod Touch, I decided to write an application that I would use in my studio. The result: Music Flash Class (www.MusicFlashClass.com), a note flash card application versatile enough to be used by teachers.

In Music Flash Class, you can: 

  • choose what note names are used (solfège, letter names, et cetera)
  • choose the "deck" of note flash cards or define your own decks 
  • choose the goals for the student (e.g. number of times to go through the deck or end when a wrong note is chosen), time limits for playing the deck(s), and time limits for each card
  • choose to drill wrong notes or only test fluency 
  • review student statistics, including what the wrong notes were, how many were wrong, and how may were right 
  • save wrong notes for further drilling
  • turn on pitched or non-pitched audio feedback
  • adjust the display orientation and "safety-locks" to fit young students' holding preferences
I use Music Flash Class daily. When Judah and Silas are waiting for a lesson, they like to see who can recognize notes faster. When I gave beginning-reader Kate a piece written in a new hand position, she learned the new note names in minutes with Music Flash Class. Shanti was given drill assignments with Music Flash Class to do on her iPod Touch at home, and her fluency improved at a faster pace than with the paper flash card assignments I'd given her before.

My students' favorite feature is the Hot Potato Game. In group class, each student tries to avoid being caught by the Hot Potato buzzer by recognizing the note displayed and passing my iPod Touch to the next student. During play, the application beeps with increasing tempo and pitch, and the students giggle and jump off the floor as the frenzy of the play escalates. After the buzzer, I reward students with "music money" for each correct note selected by the group, plus some extra music money for each student who didn't get caught by the buzzer.

Even a geek needs user feedback, and I'm lucky enough to have users that offer great reviews and great ideas. By the time you read this, there will be a new version of Music Flash Class that incorporates a piano keyboard, a teacher mode, and a few other clever ideas that were sent my way.

Don't forget the Androids!                                                                                   by Shana Kirk

Although Apple's iPods, iPhones, and iPad have gotten a lot of press attention, we shouldn't forget the fact that there are other mobile platforms as well. In particular, there are many smart phones that are based on Google's Android platform, such as the Motorola Droid, HTC Evo, and Samsung Epic. And now there are Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Nationite Rocktab. The Android platform is becoming increasingly popular, especially since it is available on a wider range of devices than Apple's iOS, and users are not limited to a specific mobile service provider.

We are now just beginning to see some useful Android apps for the music teaching community. Using your mobile Android device, you can access Google's online Android Market and download musical apps straight to your device. These apps tend to be more utilitarian than glossy and game-like. Below is a sampling of a few that caught my eye. Where there is no weblink given, you can get information about the app on www.appbrain.com or www.androlib.com.

Metronome (www.workpail.com): a free, functional metronome

Metronome iNTHeFArM (Yes, that is the correct spelling!): use animal sounds to make metronome ticks, including the option to choose a different animal for the downbeat

Perfect Metronomeprogrammable metronome that can record a fixed length click track for a particular song, adding subdivisions, tempo changes, et cetera, as you go

Music Literacy Guide and Quiz (www.sagemilk.com): a glossary of music terms and definitions, including modes for dictionary, flash cards, and quizzes with report cards that can be sent via email

Music Flash Cards Proa simple app that covers staff notes in quiz or flash card mode

Musical Pro (www.souvey.com): includes metronome, pitch pipe, virtual instruments (piano, synth, drums), a recording feature, and offers a small library of tunes to learn via piano roll

iReal Book (http://massimobiolcati.com/irealbook): a fakebook with nearly every song ever, but not nearly as advanced as the iPhone version; it only includes chord changes, not melody or lyrics, and there is no play-along option

Rehearsal Assistant (http://urbanstew.org/rehearsalassistant): an audio recorder built for the performing arts, this app lets you organize recordings into projects, time-stamp voice-over comments, and upload to email or SoundCloud (see below)

SoundCloud Droid (http://urbanstew.org/soundclouddroid): a storage service for uploading and sharing audio and video

Sound Recorder Widgeta widget that allows recording straight from the phone's home page, rather than having to open an app

Chordbot (http://chordbot.com): lets you create and play advanced chord progressions on your phone

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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