Composing with iPads in the Classroom

In this episode we are going to show an example of how the composing and music-making with iPads may look like in the classroom. The iPad offers excellent opportunities to inspire young people for music composition.

A student iPad composition

The following video is the result of a one week project, which was carried out by students at the State Vocational School of Weimar.

Compositional structure

The harmonic base of the whole composition consists of only four chords. From the point of the tone material all four chords are major and minor triads. But the two inner chords are constructed so, that it become tension chords. This makes the composition more emotional.

The musical composition shall show, that already a minimal harmonic base is sufficient, to compose well sounding music. Thus the piece starts with a classical string ensemble, followed by a rock guitar riff and then ends back in classical style.

Both parts are roofed by melodic motifs, one time in the form of a melodic soprano voice and another time in the form of a electric guitar sole. The latter consists of two parts again, namely a melodic phrase and a tapping part.


Due to its purely melodic structure the soprano was recorded using the melody app ThumbJam. Principally this would also be possible for the guitar solo. But the contained chordal tapping part can be played particularly well with SoundPrism. Here you can see that different composition tasks require different music apps.

Its rhythmic character receives the piece through the animated string sound and the rock guitar riff. Both first was created using the animator of Native Instruments Session Strings. The arpeggio of the guitar riff was programmed using Spectrasonics Omnisphere. The drum track of the piece was created using Spectrasonics Stylus RMX.


Work with students

For creating the composition and practicing the live performance showed in the video above we had only four days. Particularly as musician one easily underestimates the hurdles people without musical experience have to overcome. In our experience non-musicians often shy away from playing around and trying out. The fear of doing something wrong is often there. Therefore we decided  to reduce the musical piece only to the four chords mentioned above. This gave the students more time to for practicing and become familiar with the chords.

Furthermore we recommend to teach musical novices a simple but well sounding musical motif first. This creates an experience of success, self-confidence and encourages the student to leave predefined paths and to develop own musical ideas. Despite of this much encouragement is needed.

Another great help were large print-outs of app screenshots. The students could use these screenshots to mark and remember the playing points. This made it easier for them to play the same phrase again and again. Additionally we recorded the phrase and played it back as a loop. Thus the students could check if they were playing the phrase right.


Technical hurdles

The created composition lives of rhythmic sounds. Present it is quite hard to synchronize different music apps, iPads or VST-Plugins without having deeper technical knowledge. For example we had difficulties to synchronize the Omnisphere guitar riff with the Session Strings ensemble. We are going to solve this by a future AudioBus extension.

Another difficult thing is the connection of multiple iPads with the sound Laptop via MIDI WIFI. At first glance, this looks very tempting because it saves a lot of cabling. But in practice we lost the WIFI connection very often. A part of the used iPads worked quite well, while other iPads were very bad. This difference is hard to understand. We recommend to connect the iPads not over WIFY but via hardware like the  iConnectMIDI4plus.



  • There are many many apps for iPad, which can be used to solve specific compositorial tasks. Skillful use of musical knowledge helps to create well sounding compositions by utilizing simple means.
  • Musical unexperienced people often shy away from playing straight on. This difficulties can be reduced by giving them simple motives that can be easily replayed. After that students should be encouraged to create something own.
  • Technically iOS has not yet matured enough to connect and synchronize multiple iPads easily. Thus many teachers will have difficulties to run a setup like the one used in the composition presented here.
  • To open up the iPad for a broad application in classroom music composition several technical obstacles have to be reduced. We are going to work on this.

6 thoughts on “Composing with iPads in the Classroom”

      1. Hi Natalie,I see, what you refer as sprite sheet (.h and .m) is what we nomllray call a class. Yes, I would recommend to make each sprite type its own class handling its own touches. So if you have kids and teachers, you would make two classes, a teacher class and a kid class. That all depends on what type of behavior you want. I am supposing above that teacher behaves differently from kids, and that the kids behave similar to each other. But if it is not so, for instance the girls behave differently from the boys, then you would have three classes. Suppose that the girls behave 90% as the boys do and 10% differently. Then you would make a kids class, and subclass it into two subclasses, boys class and girls class. the same behavior would go into kids class and the different behavior would go into girls class and boys class. For instance in the GalaxyFighter course there is a FlyManager class, where I collect all the behavior that is common among the flying objects like, MeteorManager, AlienManager, PlanetManager and so on. Study that code carefully and you will see the possibilities!thanksBob

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  1. When you pick a drum beat from MoDrum and then play a song in SoundPrism, how do you end the song? Coz the drum beat goes on even after the song. Is it not possible to actually have the drum beat start after you finish the first verse of a song?

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