Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

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 new song writing app: Tin Pan (Rhythm)

Once again, my friend Paul Shimmons has posted about a new app before I have…this time, about Tin Pan (affiliate link), an app that was released on Monday. Check out Paul's review, as he has different conclusions than I do (although both of us like the app).

The App takes its name from Tin Pan Alley, a segment of New York City that was known for song writers and music stores, from about 1885. The name is appropriate, as Tin Pan is meant to help people write songs, in a format similar to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as GarageBand. The first time you open the app, it runs you through a basic tutorial of how to use the app. There are several steps:

  1. You (eventually) choose the number of measures (4 or 8), tempo, and key.
  2. You select chords (1 measure each) from a triangle of chords which are labeled in Roman Numerals (each represents the chord built off of that step of the scale, if you are not familiar with this). You can set the program to display chord names, but this is not the default setting.
  3. Then you look at a view of all the possible instruments (Piano, Bass, Guitar, Miscellanous Percussion, and Drums), where you can choose different patterns by swiping on the name of the instrument, as well as changing the pattern of melodic instruments by dragging the event of the instrument up and down. You can also adjust the volume of each instrument.
  4. Finally, you can record the segment and then send it via e-mail, Open In, AudioCopy, or SoundCloud.

Setting tempo, number of measures, key, and chord format.

Ultmately, you aren't going to use this app as a stand alone app for writing a complete song, as you cannot paste various sections together in the app itself. You would have to do that pasting with other apps. For example, you can create various loops in Tin Pan which you can then export to GarageBand with AudioCopy.

The idea is that you can play around with different chord progressions and rhythms, coming up with new materials for songs. This is particularly powerful for pop music which is often limited by form (intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, fade).

Export options for Tin Pan

Currently, Tin Pan can't handle different time signatures (3/4 or 6/8, for example), or loops of longer lengths. You are limited to 10 different chords (not including inversions, however), so it is possible you might want to use a chord that doesn't exist. The record feature is a little odd, as it simply records the looped set of measures as many times as you want it. This can result in dead space before the loop begins (bad for importing) or an off-cut off. I would like a simple “export” feature which would export one precise loop to any of the already existing export destinations.

The 10 chords available in Tin Pan in the major mode

The richness of the app, other than the quality of sounds and educational value of teaching about chord progressions (as mentioned by Paul), is the variety of solutions this app adds for users of GarageBand. Are you tired of GarageBand's stock sounds and auto-chord accompaniments? This app adds 56 different styles of piano loops alone as a starting point, and that doesn't include all the options of the other instruments! The variety of combinations is almost (but not) overwhelming, and I hope that a future version of the app could classify types of piano, bass, and guitar sequences to better help a person know where to start (if that is even possible).

The app is easy to use, sounds great, has educational value, and could really be a great addition to your iPad DAW (even GarageBand). At $2.99, I highly recommend Tin Pan and I am excited to see where it goes in the future.


Ningenius Music App – A New Approach to Fingering Charts

I was recently contacted by the developers of Ningenius Music App, and was given a promo code to check out their app. The app itself is a new approach to fingering charts. It is a game that challenges you to name the fingering for a given note, or the note name for a given note. While there are plenty of apps that do the second feature (naming notes), I do not know of any other app that features a game based on fingering. That said, my colleague recently mentioned how many of their middle school students still struggle to name notes (they know the notes as fingering), so it makes great pedagogical sense to have both of these features in the same app.

Basically, after you choose a level, the app shows a note, and then you select the correct fingering or note name for the given note. Meanwhile, every attempt sends a ninja against a wooden beam. Every correct answer damages the beam a little more, while every wrong answer injures the ninja. Get enough wrong answers, and the ninja passes out from injury,

My friend, Paul Shimmons, has reviewed the app at his blog (iPad and Technology in Music Education), and he indicates that his students really like the app.

The app comes in three “flavors” (all are referral links):

I have had a chance to play with the tuba fingerings, and some of the fingerings are a good reminder for someone that hasn't played in a while (and this might be a good way to get back playing if you have put your instrument aside). As with most apps, you will reach a point where this app will no longer be a challenge (you will earn the black belt level on the hardest setting). But at that point, the app will have done its job for $2.99, and if you have the $9.99 or $24.99 app, it will simply keep on giving back to you, year after year.

I would like to see a mode that required you to identify both the fingering and the note name at the same time (press one button in each answer column). My only possible negative about the app is that it is centered around a ninja, and as such all of the sounds and images reflect the Japanese culture–maybe a bit too much. Perhaps I have learned to be over-sensitive, but I think that it is possible that if you have students with an Asian background, someone might be offended by the app. That's probably unlikely, but I still felt it should be mentioned.

As I mentioned before, Paul Shimmons goes into much greater detail about the app (including tracking progress). He thinks the app will be great in his teaching, and I can see this app being a wonderful addition for any elementary or middle school band teacher wishing to have their students drill note fingerings or note names.

You can learn more about the apps at their website, and also in the following YouTube video.


A big day for music technology…

Two major items hit the news today that have the potential to impact our lives as musicians and music educators.

The first is that MusicFirst introduced PracticeFirst, a new system that will allow green note/red note assessment for $6 per student, with additional titles being added for an additional cost (teachers can also provide their own literature, which is what I would do). I haven’t see or used the system (other than some screen shots at, so I cannot tell you how the service compares to SmartMusic or Music Prodigy. I can tell you that the pricing does come very close to affordable for even my current situation where student socio-economic factors are an issue. $6 per year, for the same general ability to assess student pitch and rhythm, versus $40 for SmartMusic and $30 for Music Prodigy, is one heck of a deal. Furthermore, PracticeFirst is web-based (meaning any device, potentially including phones), and it is also supposed to assess tone. I still need to see what Weezic will release in this area. I would still love to see a buy-once app that didn’t have to rely on servers, as $6 per student is still nearly $2000 for my program. That is $10,000 over five years, and $20,000 over ten years. That is a significant investment, and SmartMusic and Music Prodigy would be more! Remember, you aren’t getting much content with PracticeFirst, but with advances in scanning, it is easier than ever to scan music, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be assessing full pieces of music…you should be selectively choosing the measures you will assess. For the cost savings over SmartMusic ($11,000 for my program), I can make my own assessments, plus as a choral director, I always had to make my own literature assessments anyway.

Again, we don’t know how PracticeFirst will compare with other programs, but it will be fun to find out.

As a side note, also check out the resources at for additional green note/red note applications in music. There is a web application called CommunityBand, as well as a Recorder Application, a Music Share Application, and a Duet Maker. All are priced very affordably for music education.

Finally, the handwriting music on a tablet space has really heated up. The Sibelius Blog covered StaffPad, a handwriting app mainly for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Microsoft Surface 3 [The Pro is the better option with the larger 4:3 screen], about two weeks ago. This week, Neuratron announced its pending third version of NotateMe for iOS and Android. Today the Sibelius Blog broke the news about TouchNotation, a new handwriting music app from Kawai (the link is a referral link. If you buy the app from the link, I will relieve a 7% commission from Apple, but the cost is the same, and the company makes the same amount). The app was live in Japan first, and there is a free version available as well. The app is on sale for $7.99 until the end of April, and has various in-app purchases. I have only played with the app for a few moments, but it seems to work well enough, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to add lyrics (not so great for a choir director or general music teacher).

I am intrigued by the entrance of Kawai into the app space. NotateMe remains the app I would recommend on iOS or Android, as it allows for the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, which is worth its weight in gold. And I don’t have a Surface Pro 3 (I would buy myself a new MacBook and an Apple Watch first), so I have not purchased StaffPad (which would not work so well on my Asus T-100 tablet without an active stylus). But it seems that StaffPad has captured the excitement of a number of musicians and executives at Microsoft. I have seen a number of musicians who are buying a Surface Pro 3 just for StaffPad. On a similar note. I know musicians who bought iPads for forScore and unrealBook.

I also hope you didn’t miss the news about the next version of Sibelius (8?) that will also utilize the Surface Pro’s active stylus. It seems that if you are a musician who uses Windows, it is time to buy the Surface Pro 3.

So…that’s the big news today…PracticeFirst,, and Touch Notation, as well as mention of StaffPad, NotateMe 3, and Sibelius. Aren’t options wonderful?

JamStik in the Classroom

I am very excited to see where this goes. Definitely a blog to follow…!jamstik-blog/c17y3


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