An iPad Masterclass: Mobile Technology in a University Aural Skills Class

December 15, 2014


In 2011, I embarked on a project to incorporate mobile technology into the freshman aural skills class in hopes of bridging the gap between work students did in and out of class. Before receiving iPads, I observed students struggling to find the time and space to practice the skills learned in class; practice rooms were often full and pianos out of tune making it difficult to practice for ear training class. Having a mobile device, such as an iPad, has allowed students easier access to exercises and homework modules through the use of targeted low cost applications, document sharing sites, and virtual keyboards. Examples of how mobile technology has impacted aural skills at Boise State University:

  • Increased student use of Blackboard and online exercises connected to the textbook
  • Increased student composition, performance, and listening
  • Encouraged peer sharing of practice strategies and uses for new applications through discussion boards, wikis, and/or Blackboard
  • Developed in-class exercises for individual supervised practice sessions, instantly creating a virtual piano lab
  • Access to customized dictation homework recordings shared via DropBox for students to work on outside of class
  • Recorded individuals performing sight singing melodies that were uploaded to Dropbox for student self-assessment
  • Access to e-Text Books
  • Helped students personalize and develop their own practice strategies

Getting Started

With a large amount of student buy-in, we began a semester full of trial and error using the iPad in the aural skills class. We were able to blend traditional teaching and learning strategies with the rapidly growing world of mobile technology. The ability to quickly communicate with others is one of the basic advantages of using a mobile device. Early on in the semester, the students and I decided to use Facebook as a way to communicate upcoming assignment due dates or quizzes, make practice suggestions, and post links to informative websites. Students named the group page, Ear Training - iPad Masterclass. Students posted questions regarding general technical issues, as well as questions about homework in Ear Training or Music Theory.

After creating our Facebook page, students uploaded applications (apps) from iTunes to use as part of our ear training studies. In 2011, I was surprised to discover that about half of the students did not have an iTunes account. Now in 2014, I have witnessed a steady increase in the number of university freshmen entering university with a high level of “mobile literacy” and readiness to use mobile devices in class. In the beginning, even though I did my best to help students with questions specific to their iPad or apps in class, it did take away valuable instructional time. I have since created informational handouts that are distributed to students at the beginning of the semester that include helpful online resources, a list of aural skills related apps, an iTunes guide, and Dropbox tutorial.


Apps that have been most useful in Ear Training are Blackboard Mobile, DropBox for Mobile, Facebook, Ear Trainer, Virtuoso Piano Free 3, and Audio Memos Free. Below is a list that includes each app and how it has been used in Ear Training.

Blackboard Mobile: This app connects faculty and students to their online Blackboard site. Blackboard Mobile allows faculty to post assignments, syllabus, schedules, and make class announcements quickly and easily. During this 2011 class, Blackboard Mobile discussion boards were used to generate instant student feedback and/or to ask questions on material presented in class.

DropBox for Mobile: This free version of the app has become an integral element in transforming the traditional aural skills class into a mobile learning environment. Each week, dictation homework related to what is being learned in class is uploaded to the shared class Ear Training folder. DropBox allows sound files to be directly uploaded from the Audio Memos Free app, which students then complete outside of class. On the day dictation homework is due, students share their work on the board, exchange homework with a neighbor, and then grade the work as a group. Grading homework as a class allows the faculty member to assess common student mistakes and make corrections while reinforcing course material.

Facebook: As mentioned earlier in this article, in 2011, Facebook was the primary mode of communication and it helped build a sense of community within the class.

Ear Trainer: This app has nine different categories; within each category there are 10- 25 different levels for the student to practice and achieve a passing grade. The categories are: Interval Comparison I; Interval Comparison II; Interval Identification; Chord Identification; Chord Inversions; Chord Progressions; Scales; Note after Chord; and Relative Pitch. Throughout the 2011 semester, exercises from the Ear Trainer app were chosen that complimented material in the textbook; pairs of students were then given 10-15 minutes of in-class time to practice assigned categories. The only missing element of this app is the ability for faculty to access and collate student scores on each exercise.


Shown in this picture are Boise State University ear training students working on harmonic dictations using the Ear Trainer app.

Virtuoso Piano Free 3: This app was the primary reason for requesting iPads for Ear Training II class. Having a virtual piano keyboard available to students 24/7 allowed them to: 1) practice for class when it was easiest for them; 2) check their homework before turning it in; and 3) use specific ear training apps for extra practice.

Fig. 2:

Shown in this picture are Boise State University ear training students using the Virtuoso Piano Free 3 app to check their melodic compositions.

Audio Memos Free: An important component in elevating this class to a mobile-learning environment has been the ability to record assignments using Audio Memos and to share them with students via DropBox.

Teaching with ONE iPad

Since 2011 spring semester, my ear training courses have not provided students with access to personal iPads. Currently, I encourage ear training students who do have access to mobile devices to upload the apps listed above. That being said, in a traditional classroom environment I have effectively adjusted my teaching to continue incorporating “mobile” instructional techniques the iPad offers: 1) DropBox as a shared folder to upload recorded homework exercises; 2) student self-assessment of solo sight singing during class that I record and share; and 3) Facebook page for communication. Students still have access to the material on their mobile device, laptop, or in computer lab - whenever they need it and wherever they need it.


Here are a few suggestions that may help you incorporate mobile technology into academic music classes:

  • Write “how to guides” for iTunes, DropBox, and iPad support
  • Have one or two outside class sessions to answer questions and try out apps
  • Research apps that you want to use before asking students to buy them
  • Make specific assignments related to apps and course content
  • Encourage students to share their experience and knowledge with you


I do not consider myself a “techie,” I am simply someone who continues looking for effective ways to help student achieve optimal learning and success in the classroom. Teaching with a mobile device has allowed me to be more available to my students outside of class. I encourage readers to find new ways of using mobile technology in the university music class, and to share them with others. Boise State University’s Educational Technology and Center for Teaching and Learning sponsored a student from the Broadcasting/Communications department to help create a professional video documenting the spring 2011 Ear Training class.

5265 Last modified on March 7, 2019