The New York Philharmonic Live from North Korea – Video: Watch the Concert | Great Performances | PBS

The New York Philharmonic Live from North Korea – Video: Watch the Concert | Great Performances | PBS.

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Week Four: making music

This past week we have started using some of the free music instrument apps on the iPad. The size of the device allows an octave of reasonably sized piano keys, though the apps we have used all had one shortfall or another when it comes to actually making music. However, for demonstration or performing a basic pattern these apps actually are quite useful. And when keyboards are scarce, the iPad provides a portable and accessible option. Plug the headphone jack into an amplifier and you can balance the iPad as part of a rhythm section.

My favorite keyboard is on Jam Pad. It’s keys are big enough to play chords and the keyboard scrolls so it is easy to go right to the octave you want. Unfortunately this scrolling feature can’t be turned off which makes it kind of like playing a piano that you can’t really feel that moves underneath your fingers. The piano sound also has a permanent sustain which makes it tough to play staccato.

Musical touch has two manuals which span an eleventh, but the keys are too small to voice chords. It also has the permanent sustain problem with the piano sound. It does have the option of turning on or off labels of the note names on the keys.

Clef tunes lite is an app which allows you to play right off the staff. It has an interesting set-up and actually the best sounding instrument of these three apps: you hold your finger on the note and it sustains, let up and it stops – brilliant! We’ve actually used it to play the left hand of the piano in our sixth grade jazz unit. It also has the option to turn labels on or off. Since it uses staff notation it has the ability to select major or minor key signatures. This could prove to be a powerful tool to help students learn the landmarks of the grand staff.

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Third Week: video, teacher productivity apps, and a program idea for next year

At the end of week three we are still comfortably plugging away with our iPad.  I’m finding it a handy place to bookmark and share sites that have classroom applications.  We started a jazz unit in sixth grade band last week and I was able to share some common tones for improvisation with the entire class via a bookmarked web page.  We don’t yet have a direct video connection between the iPad and our LCD projector, but I found the ELMO works just fine projecting the iPad’s screen.  Plus it doesn’t have the output limitations that the internal USB output has.  For more complaints about that and other current limitations read Dr. Joseph M. Pisano’s post on the iPad.

We also started sharing concert video using the iPad.  Our post-concert ritual is to have students view the video in class and either complete a written evaluation or participate in a classroom discussion.  It works just fine, except for the fact that between six and eight students miss seeing the video entirely because they are pulled out for their small group lesson.  I hate to have them miss a lesson in order to view the video, but perspective and opportunity for self-evaluation is valuable too.  Enter the iPad!  I quickly dumped the video from the camcorder into iMovie, then created small videos (about 10 minutes for each concert) and copied them to the iPad.  Each lesson group that missed the video in class took the iPad out into the hall, watched their portion of the concert and passed it off to the next group.  In the future I would like to create a survey that students could then complete on the iPad which would allow the students to participate in the evaluation part of the activity.  This also illustrates the capability of the iPad to catch kids up on classroom presentations when they’ve missed class.

In the realm of teacher productivity  I must recommend Evernote.  I discovered that you can log in/out of your account on the iPad/iPhone/iPodTouch which enables multiple users and maintains privacy.  So, we went ahead with the free download.  It is a simply beautiful app that I find more uses for all the time. Our colleague at the high school just got an iPad of his own and recommends a pdf reader like GoodReader or SimplyPDF and the amazing Air Sharing HD which turns the iPad into a wireless hard disk. So far our wish list has $28 worth of apps on it!

Looking ahead to the future I’ve started talking to our principal about the idea of virtual concert programs.  With the printing budget cuts we’ve experienced this year we have stopped printing programs for our sixth and seventh grade concerts.   Last week we had a sixth grade band concert and I saw at least one iPad and all manner of WiFi enabled devices from phones to Nintendo DS machines.  This is typical of a 21st century concert in a gym and I personally don’t mind it.  These devices keep the younger kids occupied and relatively quiet.  But seeing this caused me to imagine a way to engage the audience in the program with the devices they are already bringing to the concert.  Here’s the idea:  we post the web address of a virtual program in the gym for the audience to access.  We also make the school WiFi available (that’s the part we have to wait until next year for).  Not only is the virtual program loaded with the items we typically have in a printed program, but it contains all sorts of links to information on the compositions, the composers, musical styles, and for audience members to register their reactions.  It would work not only on the iPad, but any wireless device.  I’m not sure I’m ready to see an audience full of glowing screens in a darkened auditorium, but for a concert in a gym it seems like it may be an appropriate venture.  I’d love to hear readers’ reactions to the idea and if anyone has seen anything like this used in school concerts.

Thanks for reading – we’ll post more next week!

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two weeks in: opening Pandora’s box

Here’s a quick run-down of our uses for the iPad in the second week on the job:

1) reading of lead sheets continues to be a slick experience, even using our bookmarked pdf’s loaded to our school website.  There is a better way coming soon:  check out ForScore in the app store.

2) my substitute left his notes on the iPad using the notes app – clever rabbit!

3) Pandora…need I say more?

Yes, I will.  If you know all about Pandora you may find this discussion a tiresome review.  However, I am a very late adopter and am still completely intrigued by the app and the “music genome project” behind it.  This past week we’ve used Pandora on the iPad to augment our jazz listening project.  Every day I pick a different key jazz figure and play music from my personal collection for the students as they enter the band room – a quick survey for Jazz Appreciation Month.  With Pandora this activity expands exponentially becoming an education for the teacher as well as the students.  How much Bix Biederbecke do you have on your iPod?  Pandora gives you a whole station of not only Bix, but other artists close in style, genre, or inflection.  It also is a much more accessible tool to give students, especially for jazz.  I used to give kids a list of artists to listen to and the admonition, “go spend a buck and by a Count Basie track!”  Pandora gives them what I assume is nearly the entire Basie library, plus tracks on different shoots of the same branch – how about a little Thad Jones, Maynard Ferguson, or Frank Sinatra to go with your Basie?  Then, Pandora gives you an artist bio and information about why the music genome project selected the current track.  A music history and musicology lesson while you listen.

So, it’s cost-effective (a free app and no subscription fee), a nearly unlimited library, turns all of us on to new music, and gives us an education.  What’s the downside?  Why the ads of course!  But here is where the iPad app currently has some major advantages.  Not only does it load instantaneously (the other day I had the iPad plugged in to the big speakers and playing before the Pandora desktop web-app could load), but I have yet to hear an advertisement on it.  I haven’t even seen an ad!  On the iPhone/iPodTouch you get constant visual ads which are bigger than the control buttons.  The iPad interface is sleek, easy to navigate, and up to now ad free.  Let’s enjoy it while it lasts!

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First Two Days

We have had the iPad out in the classroom for two days (one A and one B at Parkview). It has been used to read lead sheets in 7th grade band and as a tuner in Jazz Band and one other section of 7th grade band. Of course there has been a wow factor. I can only imagine how many parents have been badgered about getting an iPad at home in the past two days! Some quick observations:

1) We did go with the Gibson app for tuner and metronome. Yes, it is a corporate advertisement for a guitar maker. Yes, it is a free app and works quite well.

2) The iPad is big enough that the tuner can be seen across the room – very helpful for getting the responsibility for intonation back in the students’ control.l

3) Kids intuitively know how to use the device even if they have never held one. The iPod touch is so ubiquitous. They naturally know the pinch to zoom technique and how to navigate the home screen.

4) It is possible to sit the iPad ona music stand and read one page of music just fine in portrait display – even in Safari. I’d still like to get a dedicated pdf reader for this, which would eliminate the navigation bar at the top of the screen. Please offer suggestions of good reader apps if you know of any (preferably free).

5) The 1/2″ profile is extremely thin. I can see misplacing the thing under a stack of papers. Not that I’ve done that.

6) There is at least one student who already has an iPad at home. Yeah, and his brother has one too. Cool.

I must again thank the Ankeny Community Schools Foundation for the grant for this project. More information on the foundation, including information on how to donate, may be found here: http://bit.ly/cRCUwV

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Finally out of the box!

After a very frustrating day of letting the iPad sit in the box, I have now set it up and have begun working with it. My first impressions are very positive. The screen is brilliant, printed text (iBooks) looks wonderful and the browsing experience in YouTube, iTunes, and the AppStore is unique and in many ways better than on a computer. One of the apps that I would like to get on the music stand is a tuner. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find a free tuner that meets the needs of a wide range of instrumentalists. I use the Peterson Strobe tuner on my iPhone, but that is a $10 app – no budget for that. I still have one dollar left of the grant money, so I could afford a $.99 app! The first project for next week is to start getting melody sheets in the kids’ hands on the iPad. I’m not sure the best vehicle for this now. Perhaps a stand-alone pdf reader? Or maybe via Safari using a link through a website? Either way I’m sure that I can set up a link on the home screen that the students can easily access. The other issue to solve this weekend is security. There is a ‘restrictions’ tab in settings that allows Safari, iTunes, the AppStore, and a few other apps to be locked out. This points to the overall need for a flexible platform for teacher direction and moderation. Until we have something like remote desktop I would be happy with an app that allows customized restrictions for all of the apps. It would be great to be able to set up my mail accounts and contacts on the iPad and then lock them out when it is used in the classroom. The other priority is to set up a simple survey and feedback form that the students can complete after they’ve had a chance to work with the device. I’m thinking a link to a Google survey and something posted directly on the home screen. Clearly lots to do, but I’m very motivated to get this tool in the hands of the students!

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Away we go!

The iPad in the band room project has begun. Thanks to a generous grant from the Ankeny Community School District Foundation, the students in the Parkview Middle School band program will soon have access to this exciting new tool for teaching and learning. Our goal is to get the iPad into the students’ hands as soon as possible and start to experiment with ways to use the technology in the day-to-day experience of a typical band student. But first, we’ll have to open the box!

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