5 iPad Apps for Music-Making in the Special Needs Classroom

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Sarah Joncas.

iPads are an amazing tool for making music. They are especially helpful for making music accessible to students with special needs. Apps can help facilitate inclusive music making by allowing students to create music with the touch of a finger, eliminating barriers to participation which more traditional forms of music making may present. Because iPads are easily available and flexible, they can help music teachers provide a tool that will work for all different learners.

Choosing Apps for Students With Special Needs

There are several considerations for choosing apps to use with students with special needs. Apps need to be useful and usable in order for them to help students learn music.

It is important to consider whether the student will be able to understand and interact with the user interface (UI). The user interface is what the app “looks like” and how the user can interact with it. A simple, clean UI tends to be best for students with special needs, because it allows them to focus on the music making rather than having dozens of available settings to scroll through. 

Another consideration in choosing apps for students with special needs is sound quality. Apps that do not sound good, or apps that have sounds which are non-preferred for the student, are not a good choice. Like any type of music making, a nice sound is desirable and should be achievable with an iPad app.

When choosing apps for students with special needs, one does not always need to look for apps specifically marketed as special needs or accessible apps. Many general music making apps are well-suited for students with special needs, and can be set up as needed to help support the student’s success. 

1. GarageBand

GarageBand

GarageBand is a well-known music making app by Apple. It has many different options for creating and processing sounds. There are many different possible uses of GarageBand in the music classroom, and for using GarageBand with students who have special needs.

Multiple iPads can be used to form a virtual “GarageBand”, with each student playing a part at their own ability level. In order to allow the whole group to hear all the instruments together, multiple speakers can be used, or the iPads can be fed into a mixer.

When using GarageBand’s Smart Instruments with students who have special needs, the display can be simplified by removing some of the chord strips on the instrument. This can benefit students with processing challenges or motor difficulties. 

In order to simplify other GarageBand instruments, limiting the scale can be beneficial for students who have special needs. With the right scale for a given chord progression, any note will sound correct, allowing a student to improvise freely without fear of a “wrong” note.

Another important way to simplify GarageBand instruments for students with special needs is using the largest available version of an instrument. For the piano, especially on an iPad mini, the keys are much easier to play in the most spread out layout. 

2. Keezy Classic

keezy

Keezy Classic is a sound-trigger app which allows for the recording of any sound into a color palette of 8 colored blocks. When a block is pressed, the corresponding sound plays. A major benefit of Keezy Classic is its flexibility, since the teacher can pre-record any instrument, word, or sound that might be needed. 

Because Keezy’s UI is so simple, it is great for students with special needs who may find other apps confusing. A teacher can even color-code sheet music for their students to match the colors on the Keezy screen, allowing for the student to play by color as a support or substitution for conventional notation reading. 

I have also used Keezy Classic as a virtual recorder for students with motor challenges. One of my students could not cover the holes on recorder at all, and he preferred to have his instrument sound the same as the class rather than using a xylophone or other option. So I recorded all the notes of a given song using Keezy Classic and my recorder, and he was able to play them back at the appropriate time with the push of a button. 

Keezy Classic allows for the setup of different sound palettes, which allows the flexibility of using different sets of notes or different instruments for different purposes within the app. 

3. FlipGrid

Flipgrid

FlipGrid is a user-friendly video app which organizes student or teacher created  videos into “grids”. FlipGrid can be a very useful tool for assessing students who might not be comfortable performing alone in front of an audience. With FlipGrid, a student can take a device into the hallway or another private area and record their assessment until they are happy with it before turning in their video. 

The interface of FlipGrid is user-friendly, and typically students can figure it out intuitively without too much direct instruction. It has social media style features that are likely to be engaging for all students, including those with special needs. Video grids allow for a different way for students with communication difficulties to interact with their classmates, and provide a means of having a conversation across time and place.

The privacy settings of FlipGrid are also an important feature to consider for classroom use. Teachers can set grids to be viewable by the class, videos to need individual teacher approval before being viewed, or videos to be viewable only by the teacher. This allows for teachers to ensure that their students are only seeing appropriate content, and gives students who need it privacy to take a risk without facing the judgement of peers.

4. Singing Fingers

Singing Fingers

Singing Fingers is a drawing app, but the only way your picture will appear on the screen is if you make a sound at the same time as drawing on the screen with your finger. It allows for students to link visuals with sound, and to generate a predictable response (the iPad playing back the sound) through a kinesthetic (touch) action. The multisensory nature of using the app makes it appealing to all students, and it works great for student collaboration/teamwork. Different students can have different jobs, such as drawing, making a sound, and touching the finished image. 

Singing Fingers is great for incentivizing reluctant singers to attempt a vocal sound. The teacher or aide could model the use of the app for the student before giving them an opportunity to try. The app could also be used to allow a student to choose between options that the teacher has pre-recorded if they cannot participate vocally themself. 

Singing Fingers encourages student engagement and interaction, and it is simple enough to let students focus on music making rather than which buttons to push.

5. GroovePad

GroovePad

GroovePad is a beat-making app with a colorful, visual interface. It allows students to easily add and take away sounds with just a tap. While it may be simple, there are many different possibilities to create with GroovePad. 

A feature that makes GroovePad  great for students with special needs is that the loops automatically line up, regardless of whether a student interacts with the iPad to a steady beat. This is helpful both for students with motor planning or fine motor skills disabilities, and for students who are still working on their steady beat skills. 

The teacher can pre-set GroovePad on a specific beat panel to allow for truly tap-and-go music making. Students who can handle more freedom can select their own beat panel and experiment with different sounds. 

Conclusion

iPad apps can be an incredible tool for students with special needs to make music. They can provide multiple means of communicating and interacting in order to ensure that all students have a way to show what they know and engage in meaningful musical activities. In addition to being great apps for music students with special needs, these five apps are excellent music making apps in their own right, and allow for anyone to make music with a few taps and swipes. 

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About the Writer

Sarah Joncas

Sarah Joncas is a music teacher from Massachusetts, USA. She teaches kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade chorus, fifth grade band, and percussion ensemble. Before becoming a teacher, she worked with technology and educational software.In 2014, she was named a TI:ME Technology in Music Education Leadership Fellow, which allowed her to attend a music education conference in Texas and explore cutting edge music teaching technology. She has earned degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Boston University. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter or her blog Teaching Music Musings.

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