Last updated: 5/4/19
Why you need iPad apps for piano teaching
I’ve had an iPad now for a number of years and, like most iPad converts, I can’t think how I’d ever teach without it!
It has literally revolutionised the way I do most things: store files and music, research, read papers and magazines, watch movies, get my news – pretty much everything!
It can enhance your teaching in many ways by making things more engaging and interactive for students, by supplying backing tracks for music to help them with rhythm and groove, fantastic aural and rhythmic testing software and much more.
While there are other tablets on the market I would strongly recommend music teachers purchase an iPad for a number of reasons:
- The availability of the widest selection of apps for music teachers
- The reliability of the apps is second to none
- The iPad has the most connectivity options for connecting to other devices
- The screen sizes and resolution are great for music educators
- It’s fun to use and very easy to learn
- Comes packed with lots of apps for free and ready to use (eg. cameras, video recorders, GarageBand, etc.)
What’s the best type of iPad and how do you find out what apps to use in your studio?
Which type should I get?
When I first started teaching, I bought a second-hand iPad 2 (ie. “Second Generation” 64GB WiFi only. While the iPad 2 was fine for music use they are getting a bit old and slow now. Similarly with the Third, Fourth and even Fifth Generation. Not sure about the “Generations” of iPads?
In fact, I’d generally avoid iPads older than the iPad Air 2. Definitely don’t buy an iPad 1: it’s heavier, bigger and has a much lower resolution screen. Older models are becoming increasingly obsolete as new operating systems are released with extra speed and functionality which the older models struggle to cope with.
I now use an iPad Air2, 128GB WIFI, which is perfect for my use. I’d highly recommend it for any piano teachers. If I were to buy a new iPad today, I’d now get the latest release, the iPad Pro which has a much bigger screen which is perfect for score reading.
If you’re wondering about capacity (16GB, 32GB, etc.), please read this article. Basically, the bigger the better and 16GB won’t really cut it for music teachers. Go for minimum of 64 GB, more if you can afford it.
WIFI or Cellular?
The choice between WIFI or Cellular (3G/4G) is totally dependent on how you plan to use it. If you are regularly on the road and want access to the internet (and perhaps your files via Dropbox) while away from home, consider getting the 3G version.
‘This will allow you access to the internet anywhere, but you’ll have to pay for a SIM card and a data plan, just as you would on a mobile phone. This might be worthwhile for teachers who travel to students’ houses.
I have always bought the WiFi-only models as I only teach from home or school, and as long as I’m prepared, I can upload files and do my internet work at home using WiFi before I do any teaching or take the iPad to school.
So far, this has worked well and I’m happy to be saving the extra access fees of a new SIM and data plan (and the cost of a more expensive iPad up-front!).
What apps should I get?
Once you’ve got yourself an iPad, you’re going to need to download some apps! There are also a number of free apps in-built into the operating system, including sound and video recorders, calendars, email, word processors, etc. but to maximise the value of your teaching (and your iPad), you’ll want to invest in some of the brilliant apps that are now available.
Here are my top picks for the best iPad apps for piano teachers and music students. If you’re short of time, check out the links to the App Store in the box below.
PS. If you want to load these apps straight onto your iPad, make sure you’re reading this on your iPad and just click the links.
I manage my own piano teaching studio with MyMusicStaff which a comprehensive studio management solution that can be used on any platform (laptop, phone, tablet) and allows you to automate just about every aspect of your teaching including billing, scheduling, invoicing and reporting. Their support is second-to-none so you’ll never get stuck and my TopMusicPro Members get 90 days to trial the software for free. I can’t recommend MyMusicStaff highly enough.
Score/PDF Reading/Music Scanning
forScore – my go-to music-reading app. forscore allows you to store and view sheet music in PDF format. Files need to be in PDF format and are easily loaded via Dropbox or iTunes. You can annotate and save changes, re-order pages, print wirelessly and page turns are easy. The ability to store, read and print sheet music is one of the key reasons I bought an iPad. Previously, I was lugging folders and books of music between school and home. Get a Bluetooth page-turn pedal and you can even perform with your iPad! forScore also allows you to add scores by photographing them with the in-built camera.
SuperScore – this is a brand-new app by TimeWarpTech. I think of it as the love child of Home Concert Xtreme and forScore! It’s a MusicXML score viewer that comes with in-built backing tracks that follows along listening as you play. Like Home Concert Xtreme, the app will listen as you play at your tempo (not just a steady metronome beat) meaning that you can truly perform musically with it. It uses a “liquid” display that means as pages are resized, the music re-renders for the highest-quality resolution reading experience. If connected to a MIDI-enabled digital piano, it can play the piano as you watch or you can play with others remotely.
NewZik – a new app like forScore except this one not only reads PDFs, but also MusicXML files. This app allows you to read music files in many formats and can synchronise your scores with video and audio files. It also has a clever Band Mode which can synchronise page turns and scrolling across all devices in a group – great for live performances. This is only one of these three apps that work on iPhone as well as iPad, meaning that your scores will be available on both devices.
Need a way to scan music into notation software in MusicXML (and other) formats? Check out SheetMusicScanner which allows you to take a picture of any piece of sheet music and translate it into a MusicXML file to import into your notation software. Impressively accurate too! You can also play on-screen and export as PDF, MIDI, WAV and MP3. Great tool for music teachers.
Tempo – this is my preferred metronome/beat keeping app. Although there are plenty of free ones available, this one is infinitely customisable. It plays every conceivable irregular meter or unusual subdivision of normal meters (including 2+2+3 for example) and you can save metronome and beat patterns for quick access. One thing I really like is that it allows you to hear the difference between swung triplets verses semiquavers at the click of a button – great for explaining aspects of rhythm theory in practical detail. Also for iPhone/Android.
Super Metronome Groovebox Pro – if you want students to really groove with their music, while also feeling a steady beat, then this is the metronome for you. Instead of just clicking, this one plays drum beats that you can choose to suit what your students are playing. You can customise any of the beats in an on-screen grid pattern mode which is great for teaching students about rhythmic patterns. It has a huge bank of rhythms, beats and patterns included and has a high-quality sound output. You might just never need a boring old metronome again! Also for iPhone.
Rhythm, Pulse & Meter
Rhythm Lab – this is my new favourite rhythm tapping practice app. As part of my students’ weekly lessons, I used to write-up rhythms on a whiteboard for them to clap; now I do it all on the iPad with this app. It has heaps of built-in rhythm patterns in all sorts of meters and students can tap right on the screen and get instant feedback. It even has example rhythms from some of the big classical composers built-in! Read more about this in my article here.
TMASG “The Most Addicting Sheep Game” – weird name, great app. This is an app for students who need help feeling and maintaining a steady pulse. It’s a video game that requires precision in tapping along to a beat. As its name implies, it’s great fun and very addictive! Also available for iPhone so kids can practice on the way to and from school.
Flashnote Derby – I love this app for younger students. It’s a note-naming game conducted like a horse race complete with sounds and images! For adults and teens, check out PianoNotesPro (below). Now also available for Android – Oct 2013.
MusicFlashClass – actually an iPhone app, it’s the most customisable note-learning app I’ve found. It replaces what you might have done with flashcards. Here’s a great review by Jennifer Foxx. This is a great one for older students to download to their own phone so that they can practice a bit of note recognition everyday (I recommend my teen students do it on the bus/train to or from school). The only disadvantage is that it can’t listen as you play the notes on your phone (see Note Rush below).
Note Rush – Similar to the above apps, however this one listens as you play the notes on your piano. You can choose from multiple themes (space, soccer, ladybug) and different levels of complexity. Allows you to select the notes that you’d like quizzed. Great app that’s regularly updated.
NinGenius Studio Edition – this is a fun note-learning game where each correct answer helps the on-screen ninja break through a wooden board with his Ninja kicks! Can tally high scores and become very competitive in your studio. Kids really enjoy this app. There are three editions of this app: one for students to download, one for schools and one for studios. The link above is for studios.
Read Ahead is my latest find for helping with students’ sight reading. One of the hardest things about teaching sight reading is getting students to read ahead and not stop. To do that, they need to practise memorising a bar of music ahead of time. They also need to drill lots of patterns that come up in musical scores. This app practises all that and more. Definitely worth exploring – you can try demo levels for free and then buy upgrades as you need them.
The best new app for piano teachers released in the last few years has to be PianoMaestro by JoyTunes. This app is basically a completely interactive library of music, exercises, backing tracks and method books that listens and responds to students’ playing, creates a video-game like experience for them (great for your teen beginners) and is just great fun to use. I can’t recommend this app highly enough – it’s without-doubt one of the best apps for beginner piano students on the market. Oh, and did I say it was free? What have you got to lose?!
SightRead4Piano – I’ve blogged about this in a previous post as it really is a must-have for teachers who prepare students for exams. This app tests students’ sight reading by deletes bars as the student plays (the primary reason to get this app). While the app is free, it only comes with a few example pieces of music so you have to buy the music to suit each exam board (about $50 for all the AMEB grades, for example). Or you can buy all the music for all exam boards for about $120.
AuralBook – the aural training app that actually listens to a student’s singing and critiques them according to their pitch and rhythm. The voices and sounds are a little clunky but this is a HUGE improvement on anything else. Read about it on my blog here. It’s already set up with all the requirements for ABRSM and AMEB exam systems, grade-by-grade. Must-have for exam teachers around the world.
Ear Master – one of my new favourite apps available for ear training and musicianship. This one not only tests students on things like rhythm, intervals, pitch, progressions, etc. I’ve used this to help students with syncopation, hemiola, triads, scale degrees, etc. It really is an all-round musicianship app that every music teacher should have.
If you’re looking for simple drum/bass/rhythm section backing tracks that you can create yourself, look no further than iReal Pro. Works on iPad and iPhone, this app converts a chord chart into a rhythm section. Great for pop, jazz and rock playing. There are thousands of downloadable charts for most of the famous tunes from the 1930s onwards and they are all free. Great for exercises: scales, chord drills, pentascales, etc. Your only limitation in how you use this app is your own imagination.
Scale Backing Tracks/Improvising Tracks
If you’re interested in making scale practice fun, check out Musiclock. My kids LOVE this app (and so do I). It has the grooviest set of backing tracks that you can use for scales and general improvising. Once students can play along to the backing track, try getting them to improvise along using the scale they’ve just learnt or they can try and work out the underlying chord progression and play along. Great all-round aural/musical exercises.
A relative newcomer to the App Store is Scale Tracks, an app that gives you backing tracks for students’ scale practice in every key and a whole variety of styles. Download for free and try out the styles and backings in C and Am, purchase the upgrade for all keys and tonalities. I love that there are so many styles that kids can choose from – eg. Drum and Bass, Jazz, House and fun ones like Danger! If you’d like to get your students playing scales more often, playing along to fun backing tracks will help. Check it out.
If you have students preparing to play concertos, then there are two great apps you can use. Firstly, there is a new app by a company called Tom-Books which features high-quality orchestral recordings with on-screen score. This link will take you to an example Mozart Concerto movement that you can explore. You set the tempo and the music (and orchestra) will play and scroll as you progress. It’s a great option for students who want to get a feel for working with a real orchestra as the sound quality of the orchestral parts is excellent. Individual scores are less than $5 and bundles range from $18-$25 with new scores being released regularly.
Also in this category is Home Concert X-treme which is more versatile in that it allows any MIDI score to be loaded and it has a clever system of following the performer’s tempo, but doesn’t have the same quality level of the sounds it produces, given they are MIDI-based. The other downside is that it costs $50. Apps like this are well worth the investment for students working on concertos, even if they never actually play with a real orchestra.
Tonara – this is a new app that has released after years of development and testing and will likely revolutionise your students’ approach to practice. It keeps track of all the practice that your students are doing, it replaces the old practice diary/assignment book, it allows you to hear what they are doing at home and provide feedback, you can gamify their practice by adding online awards and badges and the list goes on… Definitely one worth checking out.
AnyTune – an app that takes any recording from your library or dropbox and allows you to slow it down or speed it up without changing the pitch. Also has easy looping, editing, etc. fantastic app which you can trial for free, but the full version will cost you $15. Money well spent. Here’s one of my blogging friends, Leila Viss demonstrating AnyTune. And another good article about AnyTune is here.
While there are now a few options for hand-written notation on the iPad, the best is Touch Notation by Kawai. Another option is NotateMe which is great if you want to download the in-app purchase that can scan-in scores, but otherwise I’d stick with Touch Notation for quick day-to-day use. If you want to play your piece into the iPad with MIDI, then check out Notion.
Leave a comment if you have other recommendations!
And if I had to choose my Top 10?
If you are on a budget and just want to know the absolute best of the best, then this would be my pick of the bunch, designed to cover most aspects of teaching including score reading, note recognition, aural, etc.
This list is in approximate order that I’d buy them. If you’re looking for more information about how to use any of these apps and see them in action, you can get full access to my training library if you’re a member of my Inner Circle.
- iReal Pro
- Rhythm Lab
- Flashnote Derby
- Note Rush
- Read Ahead
- Ear Master
- SuperMetronome Groovebox Pro
What’s your Top 10?
Leave your list in the comments below.