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Apps for Beginning Band and Orchestra

It’s no secret; I am a fan of technology in education! All of my 4th and 5th-grade students have school-issued iPads. I enjoy using the iPads in my elementary band and orchestra classes and have found several apps that work well in this setting. While I would never advocate for using technology exclusively in an instrumental music class (they need to play the instruments, right?) it can be a great supplement. Here are my favorite apps for beginning band and orchestra.

Staff Wars

Staff Wars has been around for a number of years but it’s still a teacher and student favorite. In Staff Wars, students play a game racing to name notes correctly. The more notes they get correct, the faster the game moves! It’s quite fun. A relatively new addition is Staff Wars Live, which requires students to play the notes shown on the screen. Staff Wars is available in the treble, alto, tenor, and bass clefs along with the grand staff. It is also possible to set the note range for each clef. Warning – Staff Wars can be quite addicting! I have had success using this with group lessons (4-8 students) by projecting it on the board and having students take turns at my iPad. At times I will also use it as a station, with one or two students playing at a time.

Rhythm Cat

Rhythm Cat is an app I stumbled upon a few years ago when they were doing a free promotion. It reminds me of the video game, “Guitar Hero.” Students must tap (on the iPad) the rhythm as it plays on the screen. Each rhythm gets progressively harder. The background music is cute and the cats are even cuter! I typically use this app during group lessons. I will project the game from my iPad on to the board. Students will take turns tapping on my iPad. Those who are waiting have to play the rhythm on their instruments, and sometimes I’ll have brass players buzz. To take it one step further, with my string players I have used this as a bowing exercise. I’ll put cardboard tubes over the strings and have students practice bowing inside the tube in a straight line. Playing along with Rhythm Cat makes this normally boring exercise much more fun!

Monkey Tones

Monkey Tones is specifically for brass and woodwind students, as it works on long tones! It is amazing how an app can make students want to practice long tones! Essentially the app has students hold a tone for a specified number of beats. If the student plays it correctly, the monkey does a trick on the screen, and the student moves on to the next note in the scale. There are three levels of difficulty (note duration), and you can select the instrument and starting note. The app even has a “Personal Record” setting, where players test how long they can hold a given note. I have used this app in group lessons, either having students play together or taking turns. While it works with multiple students playing, it is more effective when students are playing one at a time.

Essential Elements Interactive

Last year I began using the Essential Elements method book which comes with the great tool, Essential Elements Interactive (EEi). I made the switch to Essential Elements somewhat because of EEi and an interest in moving to a personalized approach with my band and orchestra students. EEi contains the notation and recordings of every song in the Essential Elements book, plus fingering charts, videos, practice charts, and more. The recordings allow the students to play with multiple accompaniments, such as rock, jazz, classical, etc. It also allows the student to play with a metronome or even slow the tempo! EEi even has recording capabilities, which the students can then submit to the teacher directly from the app. The only thing it doesn’t do is assess the students playing (as Smart Music does). The students seem to enjoy it, especially the varying accompaniments, and it makes a difference when they use it for practice. Struggling students are able to get support when practicing with EEi and advanced students feel more confident moving ahead in the method book.

Other Apps for Beginning Band and Orchestra

  • Flipgrid is not a music-specific app, but it’s still one of my favorites. Flipgrid is a video response platform where students can share and view videos of a specific topic. I’ve written about Flipgrid before in these two posts: Using Flipgrid in Instrumental Music and Flipgrid – What’s New.
  • Padlet is also not music-specific, but another great way to give all students a voice in the classroom. Padlet is a digital bulletin board, where users can share text, video, pictures, links, and more.
  • Bandmate Tuner – This chromatic tuner was developed by a music educator. Not only can it be used for band and orchestra, but it also displays the note (transposed) on the staff! This is great for music students of all ages.
  • The Music Rhythm Trainer – This app is designed to help musicians develop their sense of rhythm, improve rhythm reading skills, and identify rhythmic mistakes by ear.
  • NinGenius – This is another app I have not tried, but many people speak highly of it. NinGenius has games to help students learn note names and fingerings on band and orchestra instruments.
  • The Monster Musician – Learn to sight-read music through games! Using a systematic approach, students are taught to first focus on rhythms and get real-time feedback as they progress through the various levels.
  • Note Racer Apps – These instrument-specific apps require students to play notes quickly and accurately as they show up on the screen. Available for all band and orchestra instruments, along with piano and recorder.

Technology will never be a substitute for playing a musical instrument or good pedagogy, but when used appropriately, apps can support and benefit our students.

What are your favorite apps for beginning band and orchestra? Are there any I left out? Leave a comment below and I will add your contributions to this Wakelet collection!

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