Musical iPad: Performing, Creating and Learning Music on Your iPad, by Thomas Rudolph and Vincent Leonard

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MusicaIPadMusical iPad: Performing, Creating and Learning Music on Your iPad, by Thomas Rudolph and Vincent Leonard.
Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Books, 2014.
ISBN-10: 1480342440. 

Music performers and educators alike face increasing demands to keep up with the constant evolution of music-related technology, as well as the potential efficacy of that technology for both the stage and music classroom. Musical iPad: Performing, Creating and Learning Music on Your iPad by Thomas Rudolph and Vincent Leonard is a resource for just such a task. Both authors are well versed in music-related technologies, having collaborated previously on guides to both Finale and Sibelius. Organized and presented much like the “for Dummies” how-to series, Musical iPad serves as a reference tool, an encyclopedic catalog of hardware and apps. Its potential uses include a technology-minded music education class or an introductory course in an audio engineering or music technology program. Its audience seems to encompass these classrooms as well as the gigging musician who desires to incorporate more technology into their music reading, organization, and sound production itself.

The book’s focus from the preface states that it “is meant to be a resource for using the iPad in music and music education. It guides you step by step through the most popular and productive music apps…. Musical iPad provides guidance for using the best iPad music apps and demonstrates how to apply them in your musical life…. It focuses on apps that run on the iPad self-contained as opposed to apps that are meant to control external gear” (xv). This opening statement sells the book slightly short, as there are also a number of helpful tutorials on incorporating external gear such as MIDI keyboards as well as using the iPad as a controller for external computer programs such as Logic. As a whole, Musical iPad is primarily a beginner level, software-driven list of iPad apps that may be more helpful to the novice than the experienced iPad user. It leaves room for much expansion in the area of pedagogical and practical use of these apps within the academy. That being said, it is a useful resource for those curious as to what apps are available and how some of them may be used collaboratively with each other as well as with external hardware. It is certain that these apps have much potential for enhancing instruction within classrooms of all levels.

Musical iPad is organized by topics, beginning with a brief introduction to the world of iPads, digital music, and cloud-based, wireless computing. The first two chapters familiarize the user with Apple products themselves, from the iPad and its accessories to iTunes and other music streaming apps such as Pandora and Spotify. They are much more directed at the general user than the practicing musician. While this approach could seem belabored to those familiar with these products and services, it may be worthwhile in classroom use to establish a common starting point for all users.

The chapters following this introduction include these topics: how to make sounds, how to read music, how to record sounds, and how to notate those sounds on the iPad. These chapters are really a collection of hardware compatible with the iPad and apps that enable these processes. The guides on using the iPad with the complimentary hardware are quite helpful and well organized. For example, the chapter on live performance discusses the practical uses of the well-known app, GarageBand, as well as a similar app, ThumbJam. The chapter progresses through uses of GarageBand for all ability levels from presets such as “Smart Keyboard” and “Smart Drums” that allow the user to play chords or drum patterns in groups without full awareness of playing the keyboard or drums, to more advanced uses such as creating and recording accompanimental tracks for future improvisation and performance sessions. The authors note that Thumbjam has a vastly greater array of scale settings and options such as vibrato and panning from left to right, and they recommend Thumbjam over GarageBand for live improvisation using the iPad itself as an instrument. After a discussion of more specific instrumental apps such as synthesizers (including apps that replicate the sounds of Moog, Korg, and Roland synthesizers) and other apps for specific wind and string instruments, the chapter has a particularly useful set of instructions and demonstration videos for the practical aspects of live performance, such as connecting a MIDI keyboard and other interfaces to the iPad.

The chapter on music reading apps includes general PDF reading apps such as forScore and apps that serve dual purposes for sheet music reading and purchasing such as Sheet Music Direct and Musicnotes Sheet Music Viewer. The introductions to Scorch for viewing Sibelius files and SongBook for viewing Finale files are especially useful for music educators. As found throughout Musical iPad, helpful videos are included to instruct readers on the use of these apps. This chapter also contains instructions for converting files to PDF format as well as scanning and creating PDFs of music. Notably absent, however, are general apps not created explicitly for musical uses such as apps for scanning and PDF-marking. Such apps can be great assets for both class preparation and content delivery. The chapter closes with suggestions for music stands for the iPad—both desktop and standalone versions—as well as footswitch-based page-turning hardware.

The chapter on recording is equally strong with introductions to single-track recording apps such as WavePad HD and Røde Rec by Røde Microphones as well as multi-track recording apps including MultiTrackDAW and Auria, the latter that they describe as “the ProTools of the iPad.” (99) The authors return to GarageBand in this chapter as an iPad-based source for all musical needs, including recording. GarageBand allows users to record and edit up to eight mono or stereo tracks, using recording loops, the instruments included with GarageBand, or expanding them through a MIDI keyboard or additional apps such as Audiobus. After discussing these recording uses for GarageBand, the authors turn to Cubasis, “the first of the major DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] desktop apps to have an iOS version available.” (106) Cubasis allows users to record up to 64 tracks. They also recommend FL Studio Mobile HD and NanoStudio. Always focused on the practical, the authors mention SoundCloud and iTunes as venues for promoting your recordings and include instructions for accessing these venues. As the iPad’s storage capabilities are limited, instructions are also included for storing all of this new data in the cloud or on a computer via iTunes sync.

In discussing notation software for composing on the iPad, Musical iPad points out that neither Finale nor Sibelius have an app for editing their documents. The authors mention a few rudimentary note entry apps such as Scorio and iWriteMusic that appear comparable to Finale Notepad, currently available as a free download and often used in music classes requiring basic note entry for assignments. For more complex note entry, Notion is recommended, which has the ability to import and export both MIDI and MusicXML files and thus to share files with the current versions of Finale and Sibelius. Notion has both an iPad and computer version and is also substantially cheaper than either Finale or Sibelius. The chapter includes helpful tutorials on using Notion and printing wirelessly from the iPad. As the topic of notating and arranging music potentially encroaches on copyright issues, the authors also include a series of links to websites for more information on common copyright topics such as copyright permissions, public domain, fair use, and Creative Commons public licensing.

The second portion of the book progresses through apps for learning music, apps for use in the classroom, and a final chapter that consists of an odd assortment of apps for which the authors seem to have not found a place. This portion of the book is mostly focused on education, broadly prescribed for all types of music purposes. It covers music theory and aural skills, music history, apps for specific instruments, practice and performance, and apps for use in the music classroom. As a whole, these chapters are not as developed as are the first six chapters of the book.

The chapter on “Learning Music” paints a very broad, generalist perspective on the process of learning music. For music theory, Musical iPad recommends the Tenuto app, a mobile version of the popular website, Tenuto is useful for all levels of music theory and aural skills training, up to the core undergraduate theory curriculum. They also mention several theory apps centered on the guitar and the musical syntax of popular music. The history apps offered focus on rock and jazz history as well. Classical music is presented through Esa-Pekka Salonen’s new app, The Orchestra, which is perfect for the general music and music appreciation classroom but is really not a repository of information on classical music history. Apps for learning to play the guitar and piano receive a substantial amount of coverage, but seem simplistic and unnecessary for a book directed toward practicing musicians and teachers. Their apps for practicing vary from virtual practicing apps for the trumpet, trombone, and horn, which obviously fall somewhat short of practicing on an actual horn, to an iPad version of SmartMusic, a computer program that provides feedback on your performance of music that scrolls across the screen. The other two apps mentioned for practicing and performance are oriented toward popular music genres, but allow the editing of chords, instruments, and styles to facilitate greater creative variety. In particular, chord charts created in iReal B can be saved as MusicXML files for future editing in notation software.

Portions of the chapter on music education are tremendously helpful as they provide instructions for projecting images from the iPad both wirelessly and via traditional VGA cables already present in many classrooms. Presentation apps for both Keynote and PowerPoint are shown, as well as an app called A.P.S. MusicMaster Pro that is an “all in one” app for music teachers. The app includes everything from a tuner, metronome, and audio recorder to a PDF viewer and annotator—truly everything a music educator might need whether in the classroom or the private lesson studio. The apps for students in this chapter include three apps, Music for Little Mozarts, AtPlayMusic Recorder, and 4Music Rooms, all directed at elementary school music students. With the broad number of music apps on the market, this seems somewhat narrow in scope for the broad category of “Apps for Students.”

The closing chapter of the book is an odd and seemingly unnecessary assortment of apps, some of which are unrelated to the book. Along with a few apps on playing with accompaniment that seem applicable to the earlier chapter on live performance, there is a collection of apps for the gigging and touring musician. These apps include “tour support” apps that address TSA regulations, information on flights and traffic, a mileage tracker, and Band Manager for tracking gig income. Oddly, there are also several flashlight apps, which seem like a slight non sequitur, but fit obscurely with the unnecessary inclusion of Angry Birds and a dual-purpose iPad stand/toilet paper holder “for just plain fun” (183). Perhaps an attempt to be whimsical, much of this last chapter serves to lessen the authors’ authoritative appearance for the preceding portion of the book.

In addition to the text, an abundance of pictures and helpful video introductions and tutorials greatly enhance Musical iPad’s clarity and effectiveness. The videos can be accessed via the included DVD or via QR scan on your mobile device or tablet. A link to a recommended QR scanner is even included for those not familiar with this technology. The videos range from demonstrations by the app programmers to tutorials by the authors of Musical iPad. As some apps, such as Auria ($49.99) are more expensive than others ($.99 or free), the videos serve as helpful tastes of each app that can aid the reader in decisions prior to purchasing the app. Unfortunately, several QR links throughout the book were found to be faulty, such as the QR code for SmartMusic which leads to a YouTube video that is no longer available. The video file is also lacking from the DVD included with Musical iPad, and a large number of videos are missing from the DVD, including all of “Chapter 6: Composing and Songwriting with Notation” and 18 of a possible 21 videos in “Chapter 7: Learning Music.” These missing videos are unfortunate as they are otherwise one of the strengths of the book. It is also a bit odd to include a DVD with a book about a newer technology on which the DVD cannot be played.

Despite these faults, Musical iPad provides an excellent introduction to the world of music creation and manipulation on the iPad. Its topical organization allows the reader to quickly scan for instructions connected to a specific task. Musical iPad serves as a great introduction to new technological possibilities available for the music classroom and music production alike.

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Last modified on Thursday, 07/03/2019

Nathan Fleshner

Nathan Fleshner is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research focuses on Schenkerian theory, psychoanalysis and music, popular music, and iPad apps for both theory pedagogy and music cognition.

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