I’ve been using my iPad a lot recently, in preparation for my new, hands-on iPads: Perform, Create, Learn professional development course and have been running a number of apps through their paces. The amount of apps available really is overwhelming and the challenge is to separate the ones with substance and educational value from the novelty apps.

Personally, I think the best apps have one or more of the following qualities:

  • they’re more than a “one hit wonder”
  • you can use them in multiple ways
  • you can import content you’ve created elsewhere
  • you can export your creation in order to edit it further on your desktop computer

Once you find a few good apps, the possibilities for classroom integration are almost endless. So, if I had to narrow my choices and choose just 7, these are the ones that would make the grade:

Prices in Australian dollars; correct at time of printing.

1. GarageBand

Cost: $5.49

The GarageBand app is the best all-round creativity and performance app and if I had to choose just one music app, this would probably be the one.

You can use it simply as a performance tool: choose one of the many instruments and start playing. The instruments even come in two flavours: “touch” instruments (keyboard, guitar, drum kit) – which are virtual versions of their real-life counterparts – and “smart” instruments – which are designed for beginners and playable with only one or two fingers.

Secondly, GarageBand is an awesome portable recording studio. Lay down tracks using the touch or smart instruments, record your voice or guitar, or make use of the provided loops. If you invest in some extra hardware – the iPad Camera Connection Kit and an iRig – you can plug in a MIDI keyboard, USB microphone or guitar.

2. Forscore

Cost: $5.49

One of the first things that attracts musicians to the iPad is the thought that they can carry their entire music library with them at all times.

Forscore is a score-reader app with lots of features and options. You can view scores, turn the pages easily, make annotations (which can be saved), create a set list, set up “cuts” and repeats within a song and more. Instrumentalists can also purchase a foot pedal that will allow hands-free page-turns.

3. Symphony Pro

Cost: $15.99

Arguably the best developed notation app (so far!), Symphony Pro allows you to create and edit scores on-the-go. Although I personally wouldn’t use it to enter the notes of an entire orchestral piece, it’s excellent for creating sketches or harnessing the ideas that come to you when you’re sitting on a train.

The best thing about Symphony Pro is that you can export any scores you create (using the Music XML file type) and then open them in Sibelius, Finale, MuseScore or other notation programs for further editing. Symphony Pro also allows import of Music XML files that you may have started on your desktop notation program.

4. MadPad

Cost: free for a limited time.

Included in this list for it’s simplicity, MadPad allows you to create a “sound board” – a collection of 12 sounds that you can then play. Because MadPad takes advantage of video, this app works best on iPad 2, or an iPhone.

Video-record yourself creating 12 separate sounds: they can be percussive sounds (tap the table, clap your hands, jingle your keys) or melodic sounds (sing or play a single note, a chord, or little melody). If you don’t want to record your own sounds, you can use an existing sound set that’s provided with MadPad, or check out some of the shared sound sets from around the world.

Once you have created your sound set, you can “play” it by tapping each square. Make up a composition, hit the record button and perform your piece. You can then save your piece, export it or share it on Facebook or Twitter or by email.

5. Everyday Looper

Cost: $6.49

Everyday Looper allows you to record loop-based songs and was my favourite “creativity” app for a long time.

On the surface it’s quite simple – tap a track to start recording and layer other tracks over the top one by one. It’s the sort of thing that Aussie performer extraordinaire Mal Webb does really well with a looping pedal.

It’s an excellent app for singers to use because you can create your own a cappella vocal ensemble all by yourself but it works beautifully for instrumentalists too. Excellent for ostinato-based pieces, recording a beat-boxing loop, creating a chord sequence that students can improvise over or a making a quick backing for a 4-chord song.

It’s well worth watching Ed’s crazy tutorial videos on Youtube (they move quickly, so get ready with the pause button) and you can see a demo of Everyday Looper’s capabilities in this part of one of the videos.

6. Dropbox

Cost: free

The last two apps on this list are not music-specific, but I think they are must-haves for anyone with an iPad, especially if you are an educator.

Dropbox is a “magic pocket” that lives on your iPad, but you also install it on your desktop computer and any other mobile devices you might own. Why magic? Because any file you drag into Dropbox on your desktop computer will magically appear in Dropbox on your iPad.

I use it to transfer all files between iPad to desktop and back again. There are other ways of transferring files (including using the file-sharing are in iTunes, or using email), but Dropbox really simplifies the process.

7. Evernote

Cost: free

Evernote has changed the way I work. In the past, if I wanted to store the lyrics to a song, or a recipe, or maintain a list of books that I’d like to read I would save all the details in a Word doc which I would file inside a folder on my computer. Somewhere.

I now create a Note in Evernote and can’t describe how much easier it is to find information I need. You can also use it to “clip” websites for off-line reading.

Like Dropbox, I have Evernote installed on my desktop and mobile devices which constantly synch to one another so the information is always at hand.

The best thing about Evernote however, is the ability to search all of your notes (at last count, I had 363) in seconds flat. You can also add “tags” which are words defined by you that help you classify your notes. If you type a tag word into the search field it will show you all of the notes with that classification.

Some examples of use:

  • Keep track of which pieces a music student is learning and what you’ve asked them to practise
  • Store lists of scores or CDs you own
  • Keep lists of songs suitable for different age groups
  • Write down meeting minutes
  • Store lists of “someday” things: books to read, movies and TV shows to watch, restaurants to visit
  • Bring up songs that use 3 chords

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading my favourite apps list.

It was very difficult to limit the list to only 7 and I haven’t managed to fit in any music tools (metronomes, tuners and so on) or ear-training-type apps. They will be the subject of a future list!

What would your top 7 be? Do they match mine? Let me know in the comments below.

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Click on the image below for more information.

iPad Music Education Ebook