Collaborative Composing with Flat.io

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

If you like Google Docs and music notation software, you’ll love Flat.io! Flat.io (also referred to as, ‘Flat’) is an awesome tech tool for creating web-based, collaborative music notation. In other words, Flat.io lets you compose with friends from around the world. There are many features of Flat that make it a great tool to use with students for individual and collaborative composition and arranging. 

Flat.io has three versions: 

  • a free version
  • a paid version
  • an education version

All of these have the same basic function (writing music notation), but there are varied details with the different plans. There is a limit to how many compositions a free account may have. 

For the classroom, the education version is the best option because of the privacy and security features. The education version is COPPA compliant, and has many features. The per student pricing is very affordable. You can see all of the features and pricing details here

One nice feature of the education version is the ability to integrate with many common online learning platforms, like Google Classroom and Canvas. Additionally, Flat for Education’s integration with Clever allows for one-click logon simplicity for students, which can be awesome to avoid confusion around multiple usernames and passwords for the many sites that they’re likely to be using during distance or hybrid learning. 

Flat for Education

Web Based is the Way to Go!

Many schools may have both distance and in-person learning through this school year and possibly into next school year, meaning teachers need to plan for both potential options. This means that education tools need to be flexible, and have the ability to be used on a variety of devices. Flat is perfect for this. It will run in the web browser on PC, MacOS, and ChromeOS, and there’s an iOS app for iPads and iPhones. The devices your students already have, or that your school provides, will most likely be able to be used with Flat  since it works on so many different platforms. Unlike software, there’s nothing to install or run with the web-based tool. Students will be able to access Flat easily from school, from home, or anywhere else that they have internet access. 

Flat.io also integrates with Google Docs, which is very handy for teachers making worksheets and for students explaining their musical choices through writing. There’s a Flat.io add-on for Google Docs, which allows Flat to be used directly within the Google Docs interface. Most people who have used Google Docs will find the Flat interface intuitive, since they’re very similar. Of course, the close integration with Google for Education is also great for schools that are using Google Classroom as their learning platform, since it makes things simple for students and teachers alike. 

Sharing to Collaborate

Much like sharing a Google Doc, Flat has different options for who and how to share your musical composition. From the list of compositions once you’re logged into Flat.io, click the 3 dots next to the selected piece, and then click on share. This menu will come up. Select share.

Flat menu

Then, select the appropriate sharing option from the list for what you’d like to do. There are both link options and adding collaborators, which is great to make it simple for students to work together, and several options for sharing work more widely by publishing to Flat or embedding the music elsewhere. Of course, make sure any options you use or direct students to use comply with your school’s student data privacy policies and copyright law. 

Flat advanced settings

It is very important for students to realize what each option allows the people it is shared with to do, before they start sharing their hard work. Letting someone view the score will not work for those who are trying to work together to edit the same composition. This option is best for just looking at or giving feedback on someone’s composition.  However, making someone a collaborator lets them edit, delete, and modify the score, so it’s important for collaborators to understand they’re all working on the same file. Basically, all of the collaborators are sharing a digital piece of staff paper that they’re all writing on. They won’t have their own copy unless they make a copy of the composition and modify that. 

Flat Tips and Tricks

One of the best ways to input notes very quickly with Flat.io is by using keyboard shortcuts and the touch keyboard. To open the touch keyboard, click the keyboard icon in the upper right corner. 

Flat shortcuts

A musical keyboard will appear at the bottom of the screen, with notes labelled by letter name and octave number. To scroll the keyboard, use the arrows found just above it. After selecting the rhythmic duration you would like to enter, either via the keyboard shortcuts (1 for whole note, 2 for half note, 3 for quarter note, 4 for eighth note, 5 for sixteenth note, and so on) or by clicking on it, click the key on the musical keyboard for the note you’d like to add to the composition. 

You can also use your computer keyboard and type the letter name of the note that you’d like to input. However, be aware that this will put the note in the closest octave to the previous note entered, so you may have to do some adjusting if you choose to use this method. 

Most of the Flat.io tools, icons, and options are pretty intuitive. If you hover over the less familiar icons, a short explanation of what they do will appear. This allows students using Flat to figure it out themselves much of the time, rather than always requiring teacher support. The keyboard shortcut list is handy for students and teachers alike who need a quick refresher for how to execute a certain function in Flat without using the mouse.

Collaboration Ideas

There are so many ways to have students compose collaboratively in Flat! Here are just a few ideas:

  • Finish the phrase: one student composes the first half of a phrase in a shared composition. The other student composes the second half of the phrase. Then, students switch roles.
  • Melody and harmony: one student composes a melody, and shares their composition with a classmate for them to harmonize it. 
  • Theme and variations: groups of students all start with a theme. Each student adds their own variation to the composition. 
  • One note each: students share a composition. The first student adds one note, then the other student adds a note. Continue alternating. This could also be done with alternating measures
  • Arrange it: students work together to create an arrangement of a song. They can add multiple staves for different instruments, create harmony parts, add percussion, or whatever other ideas they can come up with. 

I’m sure you can come up with many other ideas for using Flat.io to compose collaboratively. This is certainly just a starting point, and students may have awesome ideas of their own for how they can use this learning tool.

Conclusion

Flat.io is a great tool for digital collaboration when composing. In addition to being great for traditional music notation, Flat also supports tabs and rhythm-only music notation which allows for a wide variety of uses. Once students learn how to input notation into Flat and collaborate by sharing their compositions, there is so much that they can do together. The web-based nature of Flat makes it perfect for distance learning, BYOD (bring your own device), and other programs where students may be using a wide variety of different devices to complete their work. I highly recommend that music teachers try out Flat.io and consider using it with their students.

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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

Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

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I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

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