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Time for a muse again, 

I have been watching the IPad classes quite closely and trying to ascertain if there is any genuine musical learning being achieved through the iPad. It’s definitely effective in Year 10, the final year of statutory music. Students make their subject choices in February, and , consciously or not, put far less effort into the subjects which they are dropping for GCSE. As only 7% of students take music at GCSE, these are long months of unmotivated classroom teaching. The Ipad definitely keeps them better on task, they produced some excellent work in GarageBand, and are delighted to use our custom made ibooks for revision.

The younger students however, still need the kinaesthetic aspect of instruments, voice and clapping, it’s a more ‘real’ experience for them and easier for group interaction. Making music is a very human pursuit: the recent ISS song with Chris Hadfield shows just how unifying it can be. The Ipad denies the ‘participation’ aspect of making music. It’s excellent for an individual to create a piece of music, mix and master it and play it for all to hear, but it does not really allow children to control timbre, to control dynamic response, to add intuitively to a collective musical experience. My big bone of contention with keyboards and recorders was the lack of dynamic and timbral control, the IPad is no different. 

The Band share (Jam session) option in GarageBand is not very good, there is much interference between ipads, Bluetooth is pretty poor quality in a classroom situation.

But revision aids,  interactive texts and audio technology are inspiring them to be more creative than previously. In the last few weeks of the year, they will compose songs and celebratory music in GarageBand and this will be the test. Maybe they’ll use traditional instruments, record it in Ipads and add other tracks, combining two ideas.

For note learning, theory, aural training and notation, the IPad is second to none. The elective music students benefit greatly from it.

I am looking forward to their next taking of the survey, (initially created at the start of the year to assess improvements in Ipad and musical skills and knowledge) as I suspect the results will be a real turnaround from last October.

The proliferation of Ipad to  GCSE classes has also had a great effect. These students have elected to take music and are performing regularly on conventional instruments. The Ipad becomes a tool for compositional experimenting, especially with the recent allowances made by Apple for AudioBus. One student completed his entire coursework in IPad GarageBand, using Irig and the built in drum plug ins. Cubasis allows for real post recording teaching, although it is expensive, mixing and mastering is of an excellent quality.

They use Tenuto, ABRSM Aural training, iwritemusic, GarageBand, AudioBus, Launchkey, Arix, Open GoldBerg, Youtube, iTunes, and a plethora of self chosen apps. The listening tests in tenuto are excellent and the Year 11s are making huge improvements in their interval recognitions.

For me, I am writing more and more ibooks, one for each set work/area of study. While time consuming, the students greatly appreciate it and, I hope, retain the information very well.

I anticipate that the hypothesis will be confirmed: students are more motivated and acquire more skills in music when taught through IPads. I may have to change this to ‘when teaching is greatly enhanced by IPads’





In my department, we base much of the KS 3 work on the Opus collection of books. These books provide excellent texts, solid lesson plans with clearly defined outcomes and high quality audio accompaniments. This particular Year 8 (first year) topic introduces students to Polyrhythms through Djembe drumming patterns, followed by student performances. This progresses to: an examination of music as art, an examination of the validity of the monotonous school, Steve Reich’s Clapping music, and an analysis and performance of Oldfield’s tubular bells. At the end of the unit, students will be able to recognise polyrhythms, play a part in a polyrhythmic ensemble, compose a percussion work with proper beginning, middle and end, become familiar with minimalist compositions and understand the basics of multitrack recording. While there are other elements such as; participation in groups, working with others, peer appreciation and review, the musical skills are the interesting part for my purpose.

There is absolutely no doubt that students love hitting things. The initial warm up exercises of hand claps, finger clicks and shouts engaged them all. The creation of polyrhythms in rounds was instantly recognisable in the classroom and the concept needed little extra explanation. Brains were taxed by suddenly switching patterns, repeating them backwards and leaving out certain beats. The creation of 4 part djembe patterns was also very well received, the kinaesthetic pleasure of learning different ways of striking a drum was highly engaging. At this point in any other year, the class ends and there is little valuable homework to be set; research the Drums of Kenya, find examples on youtube etc etc. However, the iPad allows for a good reinforcement of the topic. Students used the free app sound drop to experiment with random polyrhythms. They were also asked to create a 4 track polyrhythmic pattern in GarageBand. (4 tracks at once? remember one of the main aims of the topic is to introduce multi tracking, yet here it is in lesson 1) By experimenting with auto play random selections, loops and their own finger patterns, the students were able to create valuable homeworks.

The class work continues to take a practical approach, the ipad used only as an access point for lesson materials. A discussion of music as art, of Tracy Emim’s bed, leads into minimalism. In previous years, I have used basshunter’s youtube clip of fl studio loops to show a contemporary musician composing with technology. It’s in Swedish, but it’s clear what he is doing. Mike Oldfield’s pioneering days with reel multi track are available on youtube too, very much a look back in time, as the students are all in possession of greater technology on their desks. Students are asked to learn to play different parts of the riffs on keyboards and eventually we’ll create a class performance. As it’s in 7/8, GarageBand’s time signatures don’t allow for a straightforward input, but what is the value in non keyboard players trying to practise, with slow fingers, the rhythmic and melodic patterns created by Oldfield? How does differentiation work when competent keyboard players still have to wait for absolute beginners to come up to scratch. Does an absolute beginner playing a drone, pedal note or slow moving harmonic line really feel a sense of ensemble and group participation? My experience is that the beginners become quickly frustrated, bored and cannot see the point. ( How is this going to help me to become a Doctor/Lawyer?)

This is where GarageBand and other generators really come into their own. A basic, up to 8 track composition can readily be undertaken by these 11/12 year olds. The creation of minimalist building blocks, of layers, the use of split, edit copy and paste are all introduced seamlessly. The discovery of apps such as Novation’s Launch pad and keyboard, Arix 303, ikaosscilator all greatly enhance this learning, previously unachievable apart from by observation. All students are engaged, are learning how the works are constructed, have control of the resources and can create satisfying, musical works. 

One of my concerns is that the iPad removes the student from the actual instruments. I am still debating as to whether or not I really need keyboards in the classroom. This unit has given me great hope, showing that both Djembes and iPads have very solid places in this unit, the iPad greatly enhances the experience, the students are more engaged and they remember the learning. Ask last year’s group about Polyrhythms and minimalism, there won’t be too many hands up.

After a few months of daily use, the iPad becomes as normal as the old exercise book, text book or pencil case. The students open them and expect to use some app or other. For most first years, music is a subject which received very little attention in primary school. It’s a subject which is treated with a degree of tolerance but with little genuine interest or engagement. It is, therefore, with huge delight that I see students composing minimalist tracks in GarageBand, dance music with Arix 303 and Sfx with mad pad. Students who can barely spell minimalism are able to organise motives and use them within a composition. The most disinterested student is still creating good structured works with loops and drum patterns. The feedback from parents has been so positive. They can hear their kids experimenting and creating music in homes where musical experience has not progressed much beyond local radio stations. The most frequently asked question is about progression to Gcse, a standard to which,traditionally 12/180 students progress. The skills are available on IPad, but the exam and assessment criteria areaway behind. It’ll be a long time before this newly harnessed skill will be part of a formal assessment, yet, it is more musically valid than the standard methodology and musical experience available at key stage 3.
Nonetheless, it s very encouraging and is clearly achieving what I d hoped; a greater interest and higher level of engagement in and with First year music.