Apple Watch Apps for Music (Education, Performance, etc.)

Last night I broke down and purchased an Apple Watch.  You can finally purchase them at an Apple Store, and the Apple Store at the Mall of America has most of the models in stock (apparently, there are only a few stores in the country that sell the gold model).

As much as the Stainless Steel model appeals to me, it costs $200 more, and a recent article discussed how the glass screen (Apple Watch Sport) was actually better than the sapphire screen used in the Apple Watch or Apple Watch Edition in daylight.  As a result, I bought the cheapest 42mm watch I could purchase (space grey) with the 2 year Apple Care protection.  I think I will be ready to upgrade in two years.

There has been a lot written about the Apple Watch, and really, Jim Dalrymple’s recent review has pushed me over the edge with the purchase.  I need an external motivator to start getting in better health, and a Fitbit isn’t going to do that for me.

Yes, there are some different interactions with the watch that take a few minutes to learn.  There has been a lot of griping about the watch not being on “instantly” when you lift your wrist (it is almost instantaneous), as well as the sync time between the watch and various apps.

What you have to understand about the Apple Watch is that (for now, until Watch Kit 2.0 in the fall), it relies on the iPhone for data, so you have a temporary lag as the watch updates.  That said, it isn’t a long period of time, and I still wait for some web pages on computers longer than I have to wait for the Apple Watch to sync.

What is weird, for musicians, is that under Watch Kit 1.0, developers cannot utilize the Watch’s speaker or the haptic touch sensors in the back of the watch.  Therefore, things that would seemingly make sense on the Apple Watch (e.g. a metronome that taps you with the tempo instead of playing it) can’t be done.  You can get a piano app on the watch, but you need Bluetooth headphones or your iPhone to hear it.

My main use of the Apple Watch will never be for music purposes…I have larger devices for that (in fact, I hardly ever use my iPhone for music purposes–98% of my work is done on my iPad, and the other 2% is done on my MacBook).  So I want to make it clear that I didn’t buy this Apple Watch specifically for use with music–but that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested to see what it can do.

When you buy your Apple Watch, the Apple Watch App syncs all of the apps that you have on your iPhone that also have Apple Watch programming.  For me, this included apps like Feedly, The Weather Channel, and so on.As you download other apps (on your iPhone) that have Apple Watch programming, they are added to the watch.  Unlike the home screen with a permanent grid of the same apps, the Apple Watch apps appear as little “tiles” on an ever-growing sphere.  You can move apps (and delete them), but in general it isn’t too hard to find the app you want.

So far, I have downloaded about five iPhone apps that have Apple Watch programming included.  A quick search of the App Store will yield a number of metronomes, which mainly allow you to control the tempo and on/off from your Apple Watch–but still play through your iPhone.  I have also downloaded one Piano, one music game, and a version of GarageBand (not from Apple) called “Watch Band.”  These apps pretty much summarize what is available on the Apple Watch for musicians at this time.

Each of the apps requires the iPhone to produce sound (although I am told that you can attach Bluetooth headphones to the watch and listen that way–but you will never do that in front of a class).  Basically, these Apple watch apps simply run an iPhone app.  Fully functional, independent apps (that don’t need an Internet connection) will come with Watch Kit 2.0 this fall.

The apps I have tried:

You can watch the video I made showing these apps on the Apple Watch below.

Additionally:  Here is a list of other metronomes I did not download.  As you can see, it won’t be long before the App Store is flooded with apps (just as there are hundreds of metronomes on the App Store).  So for this brief moment in time, this post represents a nearly summative list of all Apple Watch apps that can be linked to music education & performance.  Again, functionality and performance will improve with Watch Kit 2.0 in the fall.

Other apps that might be of music-related interest:

Showbie…an incredible iPad tool for $100 per year

Last summer, Larry Petersen from Huron, South Dakota, e-mailed me to ask about Showbie.  His district, which was going 1:1 iPad, had selected Showbie as a classroom management system.  I didn’t know anything about Showbie at the time, but I wanted to check it out.

At the time, Showbie allowed you to make classes, make assignments, and then upload materials into those assignments, such as a PDF.  A student could then work on that PDF, directly within the app, without having to open it in another app.  This is a key component, because many classroom management systems–including Google Classroom–require you to open documents in other apps, such as Notability.   Kids sign up with a class code, and can enroll using their GAFE e-mail address, if your school is a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education).  There were other features as well, such as students could upload just about any kind of file into Showbie, and you can also save those files out of Showbie.

I was hooked.  I immediately began using Showbie for my students to do daily journal questions (note: I later found it was best for my time to give a packet of questions and correct a number of questions in one sitting), and it wasn’t long before I used some of our choir account money to purchase a full subscription.

The full subscription adds a number of features, (now) including a palette of different pens for teachers and students, different “type-entry” fields, longer audio recordings, unlimited assignments (for teachers), and now, the ability to add an audio recording to another document.  Showbie keeps improving and adding features, and even though our school is going to use Schoology next year (which has some of these features), I will keep using Showbie as well.

Let me talk about some of the ways I used Showbie this year:

  1. I have students scan into class using a QR code and the app Attendance2 on one of our iPads.  I uploaded one of Attendance2’s generated QR Codes to each student in an assignment.  Admittedly. this took a while, but I only had to do it once for them, all year (and for any incoming students).
  2. I used Showbie for the the aforementioned daily journal questions.  As we moved into S-Cubed as a sight singing method, I prepared a packet (generally 5 days worth, or about 2 weeks of class in our A/B schedule) and students completed the packets in Showbie.
  3. I distributed music via Showbie, putting it in an assignment (making it due at the end of the term), and then students opened the music into another app (always an option) such as NextPage (a simple PDF music reader).
  4. By the middle of the year, I decided to use Showbie for ALL of their music.  They opened music in Showbie, and turned pages from there.  They were still able to annotate music.  This way, I was able to have them “locked” into one app (using our MDM, Casper) the entire hour, without having to deal with multiple apps.  This was quite successful.  This year, I will be able to attach a rehearsal recording to the songs!  Additionally, “collecting” music was as easy as archiving the assignment.
  5. It is quite easy to drop students from a class or to add them, as long as you have the class code handy (the code is for joining the class).  I would keep a list of your codes on hand, so you don’t have to look it up each time.  Then again, I teach in a some what transient community.  I learned to have one Showbie class for each class of my own…putting all my 6th Grade students into one class was not a good idea.  As a side note, Showbie allows you to “copy” assignments from one class to another, which makes my life much easier.
  6. I used Showbie for assessment.  I had students record a section of music, pointing the iPad’s microphone at their mouth.  They all sang together, and made 3 recordings of the same section of music.  I then had them choose their best, and had them delete the other two.  I listened to each, grading on a rubric.  Here is where it gets fun…with a second iPad, I was able to be in the same Showbie account, listening to the assessment on one iPad, and then grading the rubric with the other.  This worked incredibly well–but will be EVEN BETTER next year, as students can record audio on the rubric page, and then i can listen to the assessment that is embedded in the rubric page.  With no lesson time, these assessments were very important to help me get to know each voice.
  7. I had the students make a video at one point in the year, and they uploaded their video in an assignment.
  8. I made some videos for a sub-section of a class, and uploaded them into an assignment, so they could watch those videos from Showbie.  I did not have to send anything to YouTube.
  9. At one point, I had an annotation process for students where they were writing solfége in their scores.  They took a screen shot and submitted it in Showbie as proof that they had done the work.

What I am looking forward to next year is to have the ability to embed audio in a Showbie document, have students play that audio back, and then record themselves while doing so.  As it stands, I cannot do this, as you can record an audio note in Showbie, but you can’t drop an audio file that is pre-existing into a document (I have written asking about the ability to do this).  However…if you are a band and orchestra teacher, and not a choir director, you can simply upload a playing assignment (literally a PDF of the music), and students can open Showbie and record themselves playing, and then you can listen back to those recordings.  You could even have a rubric on the PDF, or you could annotate the PDF while listening to their recording to give them feedback.  Think of it as “SmartMusic” human–you are the computer assessing the performance…but still using technology to do so.

I could also see band/orchestra directors using this feature for auditions.

They have made some progress on multi-platform versions of Showbie, but for all the bells and whistles (including annotation), you need an iPad.  I know they are working hard to address this, as Showbie would even be useful on a Chromebook!

Sure, there are negatives to Showbie, as with all apps.  For example, at the moment, there is no grading feature (it is coming).  I also didn’t like that I couldn’t move students from class to class–they had to join a different class (I wanted to migrate them), as student schedules do change.  I would like to be able to scroll while annotating (two fingers, like in Notability) versus having to switch tools to do so (annotation and scrolling are two different tools in Showbie).  Finally, we had a few days where Internet was not working correctly in our building, which caused many issues–at the same time, all of us were a bit stranded without Internet in a 1:1 iPad school–and that isn’t Showbie’s fault.  We did have a few lost assignments, which Showbie was able to track down and repair–and fix in case it happened to others (it occurs when a student doesn’t click “DONE” after they are done.  It is surprising how often this occurs.  But as you look at those negatives–they are VERY FEW.  And my wish-list keeps shrinking!  As much as I know Schoology is a good product (as I mentioned, our school decided to adopt it for all teachers next year)–I’m not willing to leave Showbie!

As you can see, I like Showbie a lot.  It has a lot of features for free, and even more features for a very low cost per year.  With over 300 students in my program, we’re paying less than $.33 per student per year for the app, and it is worth every penny.

A review from MusicEdMagic of Practice First

Chad Criswell, Iowa music educator and also editor for many of NAfME's articles on technology in music education, has run for years. I have always enjoyed his work–both in NAfME publications and on MusicEdMagic.

He recently posted a video review of the upcoming PracticeFirst program, which is coming from MusicFirst this fall. Ultimately, it is a green note/red note program that is priced at a low rate ($6 per student) and is multi-platform. Chad put the preview version of the program through its paces….with his daughter!

I love the video–Chad is articulate and friendly (as always) and it is fun to see his daughter collaborating, even with a sticking 3rd valve on the trumpet.

Chad mentions that iOS devices don't run the preview…and this is correct. They are hoping to have an iPad version in the fall. Chad also mentioned that the program requires a minimum of 100 subscribers, which could be problematic for small schools that don't have 100 students in music! I need to check with MusicFirst about that, but I would be extremely surprised if they didn't have a solution for smaller schools. And let's be honest…although we have many big schools in the Midwest, you are as likely to have a small school as a large school when you live in this part of the country.

If you aren't following MusicEdMagic, you should add it to your list of regular sites (or to your RSS feed), and I am going to look forward to future video reviews from Chad!


What To Do When You Lose…

Back in 2008, I was part of a planning team of a new high school. We were working full time at our current school, and then putting in many hours outside of the school day as part of the planning team. One of the reasons I went to the new high school was to follow the technology–and quickly became involved as part of the technology subcommittee. While we were tasked to make many decisions, truthfully, only one of our decisions ever came to fruition–the choice of giving teachers laptops versus a desktop in every room. All of the other decisions recommended by the committee or made by the larger team were eventually ignored and decisions were made by the district IT department.

One stunning example was the choice of an interactive whiteboard. The tech committee liked one board (the InterWrite), the planning time chose another (Promethean). Several members of the planning committee even had Promethean boards installed in their classrooms, preparing for the new high school. The IT department decided, out of the blue, to go with SMART instead, without any explanation.

In hindsight, the committee and team may never had actual authority to make that decision, and the principal (of the new school, and head of the building project) may have either thought that we had more power then we did, or it may have been an attempt to just take power. In either case, when someone else is actually the decision maker, and that isn’t communicated from the start–you feel disenfranchised.

What you find is that when you are passionate about something, and then give your life’s blood–time out of your life–to a cause, and then someone makes a decision that invalidates all of your hard work, that you experience a wave of emotions, including shock, anger, and sadness. If it is a major decision, there may even be grieving.

We are seeing many schools go 1:1 these days. Although the adoption of technology may not bridge the achievement gap, no one can reasonably argue that technology is a part of our lives. Although you can try to teach students without technology, there is no doubt that students are going to need to learn how to use technology to succeed in college (or post secondary education!) and life. Chances are that basic technology skills (like many basic skills, sadly), are not being taught at home. So it does fall upon our public schools to provide experiences that help students learn how to use these tools. And in this technology-filled world, it is hard to argue against 1:1 versus “traditional” weekly exposure to computers in the media center.

A big challenge comes when the discussion of 1:1 moves from “should we” to “which device should we pick?” If all options are open, no music educator is going to settle on a Chromebook. While you can use a Chromebook in music education (see my past presentations, and the list of web apps from places like MusicFirst continue to grow), Apple products (iOS and Mac) and Windows are better suited for music education. My personal preference, of course, is the iPad.

But if your district goes 1:1, there are two big questions you have to ask:

  1. Has the decision already been made?
  2. Who makes the final decision?

As I have blogged about in the past, many times the decision for Chromebooks has already been made by district IT and administrators before the discussion is brought back to teachers (and possibly students and parents). The leaders then use a process of a technology committee, surveys, and presentations to build a consensus which is truly meant to have the group arrive at the decision that the leaders have already made (incidentally, this is an incorrect use of consensus). If you were on that committee, advocating for your subject, and you find that your efforts changed nothing, you find yourself hurt, sad, and angry–and it is completely understandable.


In a nutshell, I continue to support the iPad because of its flexibility, especially for non-core classes. Core MIDI has been a part of the iPad since day one. The programs available on the Pad have not been matched on any other mobile device. And the promise of an iPad Pro is exciting (for music teachers–districts will never buy a “pro” for students).


Meanwhile, the Chromebook is a lot like an interactive white board. Most IWBs become digital whiteboards or projection surfaces within 2 years of introducing the technology. Chromebook implementations become, over time, replacement for weekly trips to the media center. Many teachers get “stuck” having their kids write papers on Google Docs and creating presentations in Google Slides. But as long as technology is being “used” in classes, IT and district leaders are happy, even though the level of technology integration is on the shallow end of the pool.


In contrast, most iPad teachers that I have worked with never stop looking for new apps and new ways to implement iPads in their classrooms. I think the device, without the keyboard, forces teachers to keep redefining how to use the device.


If you find yourself in the position where the Chromebook decision was made (from the start), there are things you can do.


  1. After the shock and sorrow (and hurt and anger) wear off, remember that you can use Chromebooks in music education–they just aren’t the first or best solution.
  2. The best source for music education web apps (for Chromebooks) is MusicFirst. Logically, these web apps require subscriptions. Nothing of quality comes for free (Google, for example, sells colletive data to advertisers, although they do not give away personal data). Make sure that the cost of these subscriptions are factored into your school’s Chromebook plan. (One of the attractive aspects of Chromebook implementation is that all of Google’s core services are free to the school). With the money saved by going Chromebook over iPad, there should be funds avaialble for this.
  3. It is never too late to advocate for a set of iPads for your classroom, because music has always been considered “different.” Remember when the music teachers had Macs and everyone else had Windows computers (this was quite common)? This could mean a small set for sectional/practice room use, or a complete set for students in your room. With the money saved by going Chromebook over iPad, there should be funds avaialble for this.
  4. Finally, no one can stop you from using your own iPad (with a 3rd Generation Apple TV, which doesn’t even need a wireless network to work with your iPad). Granted, this isn’t a high level of integration for students–but it does give you the ability to teach with an iPad and the benefits that brings.

Some People are Getting Excited About iOS 9

Last week at WWDC, Apple's developer conference, Apple introduced major changes that will be happening with the operating systems of Macs, iOS devices, and the Apple Watch. Apple immediately released developer betas of these operating systems, and the tech pundits have already put the betas through their tests as they begin optimizing their apps to run with new features embedded in the code.

The number one comment from tech pundits is, “The iPad will become a real device with multi-tasking.”

The main feature causing this reaction in iOS9 is multi-tasking. iOS 9 allows apps to run side-by-side (only on the iPad Air 2 or newer), to use a feature called Slide Over to quickly check something in another app, or to open a video and play it in the corner of the screen.

Some quick thoughts: you can already use split screen on Samsung and Windows tablets. On my Windows tablet, I seldom use this feature, and I wonder how much others use it. Second, Slide Over is not much of a labor-saving maneuver than a quick four-finger swipe to another app and back, something you. An already do on your iPad. Finally, watching videos while you work has never made anyone more productive.

No, I'm not mad that Apple added these features. I will be happy to install them and try them. They represent a nice improvement (as will the ability to use the on-screen keypad as a trackpad for editing text), but none of these features suddenly makes the iPad any better of a solution versus what it previously was–and chances are the feature you want to try most (split screen) won't run on your iPad! Most schools are using 2nd and 4th generation iPads, and not all of these features will run on those devices (although I believe that iOS 9 itself will be able to run on the iPad 2).

While every version of iOS has a few bugs (most that get worked out over time), each version brings some new features that make the experience better. But the biggest impact on the usefulness of the device are the apps that you run, and the functionality/usability of those apps themselves. Logically, most iPad (or Android) apps are not as functional as programs on Windows and Mac operating systems. And if you try to make an iPad into a full-blown computer, you will never be happy.

I have had a lot of success using my iPad as my primary device, and I don't have many complaints. Continual refinement makes my experience better, but it doesn't “finally make my device useable,” as it was already my primary device and has been for 5 years.


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