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When I first received an iPad for my elementary music room, my immediate reaction was how could I turn this device into an instrument? I felt that it could assist students who had difficulties performing on traditional instruments as well as add depth to our ensembles such as an Orff/virtual instrument ensemble or supplement an instrument that was missing from our school’s grades 4-8 philharmonic. I purchased a small pair of speakers to amplify the iPad, researched some virtual instrument apps, and voila! I had another instrument for my students to perform on in my classroom. As time went on, more iPads surfaced and a four-channel mixer (A Samson Expedition XP308i) was purchased so that I could plug four iPads into the mixer and showcase a virtual/acoustic ensemble in my elementary general music classroom.
To achieve this virtual/acoustic ensemble, I have listed below some of my favorite virtual instrument apps. Please note: I am not suggesting for any elementary music educator to replace acoustic instruments with virtual instruments. I am suggesting to add virtual instruments to your classroom if you feel that it would benefit your students’ learning.
- Autoharp – A virtual autoharp hooked to a decent pair of speakers sounds as good as an acoustic one, without the tuning concerns. Price: .99
- MetaXylo + – This virtual Orff instrument (metalophone and xylophone) allows you to take out the bars, change the keys (yeah!), and use preset pentatonic keys. Price: Free
- Monkey Drum – Think outside of the box and use the create mode for the students to create an ostinato that the monkey performs while the students then improvise on their acoustic instruments. Price: Free – $3.99 (Deluxe)
- Ratatap Drums – This app contains a variety of virtual touch-sensitive drum sets, including dueling drum sets so that two students could perform on this virtual instrument at once. The students can also record his/her drumbeats. The app can also tap into your iPad’s iTunes playlists and the students can perform along with the drumbeats that are found in the songs listed in the playlists. Price: Free (free with ads or $1.99 without ads)
- Erhu – I use this app around the Chinese New Year. The students will learn about the erhu, listen to a performance, and then use the app to experience performing on the virtual erhu. There are times when you would like to have your students experience a cultural instrument but you cannot access one. Utilizing a virtual instrument app gives your students an opportunity to experience an instrument that they might never have had access. Price: $2.99
All of these apps, and many more, are featured in my free ibook that is coming out soon: Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads!
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com