Composing Music with Apple Pencil

Over the past year, I have been using Apple Pencil mainly for note taking, sketch notes and drawing within Keynote. Every day I am inspired and amazed by the work created in my school’s Faculty of Art and Design, which all look professional and something you could only imagine created by a very experienced artist, let alone students!


Working with primary school students to draw with Apple Pencil


I have only ever thought of Apple Pencil being used to draw pictures or write words, but recently I have found a new use which works perfectly when teaching music composition.

As an educator is who is very passionate about using Apple technology in the classroom, I am constantly trying to innovate and create new tasks that involve iPad. I teach music at all Key Stages and I am constantly looking for the latest app to improve last year’s task or to completely redefine it.

Since September, I have been using the Everyone Can Create Music book which has given me so many more task ideas and developed my lessons so that GarageBand is now the main tool used for all of Key Stage 3.

I have just started a new unit of work with my Year 7 classes called ‘Graphic Scores’. This involves using different shapes or symbols to act as a visual representation of the music. So far, the students have performed pre-drawn shapes and have also started to draw their own shapes using graphic design or sketch note apps on their iPad devices.

When drawing the shapes, the main elements of music are pitch, duration, dynamics and texture. The direction or height of the shape represents pitch (high or low), the length of the shape represents duration (long or short), the size of the shape represents dynamics (loud or soft) and the number of shapes on top of each other represents texture (thick or thin).

When I did this unit with Year 7 last year I used a third party app for iPad, which did the job but it was unable to save the work and it was not compatible with GarageBand. Having used GarageBand as the main classroom tool since September, I had to find a way to use it in this unit of work when composing graphic scores.


Using Apple Pencil to manually draw in musical notes within GarageBand

When using the ‘Tracks’ option within GarageBand, you are able to edit the instruments’ notes within the green track regions. By clicking on the region, this will then open the note edit window which enables you to adjust the individual parts by moving notes, stretching notes and drawing extra notes in. Being able to draw notes gave me the idea to create a graphic score within GarageBand.

When in the edit window, you have an option to draw notes in by sliding the red pencil button across at the top left-hand corner. This is the perfect way to compose and create graphic scores because the students can visualise the sound of the music. They can draw the pitch of the note by referring to the piano keyboard on the left of the screen, they can draw the duration of the note by making it as long or short as they wish, they can create thick textures by adding notes on top of each other to create chords. The students can then create a new track and develop other parts within the piece.

Once the students have their parts drawn in and they have finished composing, they can add effects, add Apple Loops or record their voices singing over the top. They can then mix it so it sounds well balanced and then export as an Mp3 file for sharing.

I never thought that Apple Pencil would enable students to compose music and work so well within GarageBand. I’m very excited to hear the students’ final results and if you would like to follow their progress,  follow me on Twitter (@HopkinTeach).

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