Why the iPad?
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 (or live!) without it!
It has literally revolutionised the way I do most things: store files and music, reasearch, read papers and magazines, watch movies, get my news – pretty much everything! I’d highly recommend all piano teachers consider investing – it’s definitely money well spent.
Which type should I get?
When I first started teaching, I bought a second-hand iPad 2 64GB WiFi only. The iPad 2 is fine for music use although they are getting a bit old and slow now, and the iPad 3, 4 and 5 are great if you’re happy to spend the extra cash in order to get a higher-resolution screen. Don’t buy an iPad 1: it’s heavier, bigger and has a much lower resolution screen. 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. Go for absolute minimum 32, preferably 64+.
I now have a 128GB iPad Air 2 which is smaller, thinner, significantly faster and has a bigger capacity than any of the others. If you’re financially able to get the latest model and the highest capacity, I’d highly recommend it.
The choice between WIFI or 3G 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!).
App recommendations for piano teachers
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.
Forscore – this is the best music-viewing app I’ve found: it allows you to store and view sheet music. It pretty much holds as much music as your iPad has capacity. 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. Now I only need to take the iPad! It’s brilliant!! 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.
iAnnotate – this one isn’t specifically music-based, but is the best app I’ve found for reading and annotating non-musical PDFs (eg. work notes, files, documents, eBooks, etc.). The annotation options are endless and it’s all save-able and exportable. Great bookmarking features make access a breeze. Also works with music files, but the page-turning in ForScore is far superior.
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.
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.
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 - this is actually an iPhone app, but it’s the best available for quizzing notes on the stave. It’s highly customisable and you can put it in various modes including one where students just have to specify the letter name of the note (“A”) or play it on the on-screen piano – great for making the connection between rote note learning and actual piano playing. 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).
Piano Notes Pro – if you want students to be able to play the note “G” on the piano as well as just recognise it on the stave (as in Flashnote Derby), this is a good app. You choose the clef, range, accidents, number of notes to quiz, etc. and the student has to play the notes on the piano on the screen. Highly customisable and easy to use. Can also use with MIDI input so that you can play the notes that come up on the screen. You can also test students’ chord/inversion reading with this app.
While not specifically an app, the best new software for Sight Reading has to be Sight Reading Academy which is a website that you can access from any device and it provides students with daily new sight reading exercises and training to help them look ahead, improve memory, etc. It’s literally revolutionary and beats any other app, book or training that I’ve found. To find out more and get a special sign-up offer, listen to my Podcast Ep 4 with the founder, Colin Thomson and check out the special offers at the bottom of the page.
SightRead4Piano – The best sight-reading app around and I’ve blogged about this in a previous post. It really is a must-have for teachers. Keep in mind however, that the music found on the app is a replica of what is in each exam boards’ printed sight reading books, so if you already have these in your collection, you will be doubling-up. However, what the app does give you is the functionality that deletes bars as the student plays (the primary reason to get this app). unfortunately, while the app is free, it only comes with a few example pieces of music; 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.
MTA SightReadPlus- this app is great because it provides you with a note to play on the stave and then listens as you play it on your instrument (great for brass, string, winds, etc. too). Only allows Hands Separate reading, but still a great app. Can be tuned to your instrument so works even if your student’s piano is older and down-tuned.
AuralBook - the first 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.
ABRSM Aural App (iPhone)- this “Lite” version is a free app that is perfectly integrated to practice all aspects of the Aural component of the ABRSM exams. Really good listening and music appreciation practice for students at all levels, even non-exam students!
Auralia Interval Recognition and Auralia Interval Singing (iPhone)- these Australian-based apps are the best I’ve found for teaching and practising intervals. Like AuralBook, they will listen to your singing and provide immediate feedback on your understanding.
Tenuto - Good aural training app for recognising chords, intervals, etc. Also shows you how everything looks on the keyboard. Easy to use, good functionality. Also try Right Note – great app for beginning to learn about intervals, pitch and melody. I haven’t decided which is the best yet!
Looking for backing tracks that students can play along to? NoteStar by Yamaha has lots of recent pop music and has been a hit with my teen students in particular. While the app is free, you pay to download the songs you want (you get a free 30 second preview of any song you choose from the catalogue so you can instantly see how hard the music is). You then get access to on-screen auto-scrolling music, plus backing from a band and, the best part: vocals. You can change the key instantly, and slow the music down to suit your level. Brilliant app!
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.
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. Best of all, it’s now completely free for teachers and their students. 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?!
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.
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 demonstrating AnyTune. And another good article about AnyTune is here.
FlashCardlet (Flashcards*) – There are hundreds of flashcard apps out there, but this is the one I use with my students. For a full run-down on how to use flashcards in your studio read my blog post: Online/iPhone/iPad flashcards for exam scale/arpeggio practice.
Music Teacher’s Helper is a complete scheduling and billing (plus more) app and online software. They offer a free 30-day no obligation trial, making it easy to “test drive” and figure out if it’s a good fit for managing your studio. Every account also comes with a free music studio website. Started in 2004, thousands of private lesson music teachers use Music Teacher’s Helper to run their studio on a daily basis.
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 scans 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!
- The best forums, website, blogs for piano teachers – new blog post.
- More-online-piano-teaching-resources. An update on a previous post about online resources.
- Check out the iPadMusicEd blog for more info about using iPads in music teaching.
- MusiciansWithApps is a great resource of reviews of all the best new apps.
- For even more app suggestions for piano teachers, also check out the list at Foxx Piano Studio.