GarageBand in the Choral Classroom

I have been fortunate to teach in a 1:1 iPad environment this past school year. We used iPads in some way each and every day, whether the student was using an iPad, or I was using an iPad.

Our last concert was held on May 15th, giving me six final days with students after the concert, five with iPads. One of those days was reserved for post-concert activities, and the other four were available for something other than choral singing. I had decided earlier in the year that we would use these last days to experiment with GarageBand.

As of this past fall, GarageBand became a free download for any owner of an iOS device (including iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch). The free version is limited in some ways, coming with only four instruments: keyboard, smart guitar, drums, and audio recorder. The piano and smart guitar only come with a few instruments each. There is an In-App Purchase that allows you to have access all of GarageBand for iOS, but this costs $4.99, and as of now, there is no way for a school or business to make an institutional In-App Purchase. The full version comes with more instruments (smart bass, smart piano, smart strings, sampler, and guitar app) as well as more pianos and two more smart guitars. The free version of GarageBand also includes all 270 standard Apple Loops.

For these last four days, I chose to show clips from a GarageBand training video made by I chose specific scenes which related to the (new) free version of the iPad, each roughly 20 minutes long. After attendance and announcements, this left roughly fifteen minutes at the end of each class session for students to simply mess around on the app and to make music. I invited students to put headphones in their iPad and to follow along with the video; most did this, but some just chose to mess around in the app. For the most part, students were in GarageBand and not on other apps, as they often were throughout the year.

I chose the video purposely; I could teach all of the content, but at the end of the year, after the last concert, they have been accustomed to “shutting down” in the past. This kept them involved, but it also spared them the challenge of trying to listen to me teach the content when my voice had dulled in their ears by the end of the year.

The first video compilation included an introduction to GarageBand, a summary of what you need to know to use GarageBand, and a walk-through of the app and all its buttons.

The second video compilation included a focus on track view, piano, and drums.

The third video focused on smart guitar, song settings, and Apple Loops.

The final video focused on the Jam Session.

As I wrote about a few days ago (a summary of apps we used), I would have liked more time for the students to create music and to show their compositions to each other, but time did not allow this, and by the end of the year, the students were simply “done.” Nonetheless, I feel they had a good introduction to the app, and that they were (overall) interested in the app and learning how to use it. One student whose iPad was taken away from inappropriate use asked to use my school iPad so that he could work on GarageBand, which he did. Students whose iPads were punished and taken away (about 5) did not accomplish much over the four class periods…and some students took the app home and started working on much more complex music.

Apple Loops are certainly a way to get your students composing (or more appropriately, rearrranging audio segments) and a fun way to get them plugged into the app.

It would have been fun to eventually have them create a melody to a song, and to have them record themselves singing their own songs. Next year?

I hope that Apple finds a way to allow schools to make In-App Purchases so that all my students could have access to the full version of GarageBand.

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