How to Practice Piano Using Your iPad

If you have both a piano and an iPad but aren't using them together, you're missing out! Tablets and mobile phones have revolutionized the way we manage so many of our work and leisure activities, and music is no exception.

Next week's blog will look at some specific apps that can help you learn. For this article, we wanted to give an overview of the ways in which your iPad can become your all-purpose practice companion:

1. keep track of what you're doing

For years, piano teachers have been using paper notebooks to help their students keep track of short-term and long-term goals. In the case of children, notebooks also help teachers communicate with parents, and serve as a point of reference for all questions about what the student should be doing in a given week.

Even self-taught students often benefit from keeping a record of what they've practiced. It's important to stay organized and stick to a routine if you want to make progress, and a notebook can be a useful tool for keeping yourself on track (and reminding yourself of the progress you've made!)

The iPad is a way to keep all your notes - about everything, not just piano practice - in one place. There are a number of powerful note-taking apps for iPad, many of which are free. If you don't love entering text with the iPad's touch keyboard, you might consider buying a stylus (which can range anywhere from $5-$100+), and using a app that lets you write notes by hand.

Where the iPad really excels over paper notebooks is:

  1. Searchable notes. Everything you've noted about your practicing, all the ideas you've had, all the websites you've found, all the things you've learned...if you have any idea of what words you used to record them, you can search all your notes. Over time, this can become an amazing resource. 
  2. Flexible notes. Many note-taking apps are incredibly flexible in terms of what you can include in a "note" - sound recordings, images, and PDFs (such as music scores!) can often appear alongside your written notes. Of course, website URLs can also be easily pasted into a note on your iPad, and opened directly from the note itself. 
  3. Sharable notes. Many apps sync your notes to a server, meaning that you can access them on all your devices, including your computer and your smartphone. Even more than that, though - it often means that you can share notes with others, even give them the ability to add to and edit your notes. This opens new possibilities for establishing ongoing lines of communication between teachers, parents and students.

2. keep all your sheet music in one place

It's not just notes - it's actually surprisingly easy to read sheet music off an iPad. So many musicians are now doing this that a range of accessories have popped up to support the process, from music stands made to hold your iPad securely, to pedals that let you turn "pages" with your feet!

The benefits of using your iPad as a sheet music reader are similar to using it as a notebook: all your music always at your fingertips, wherever you go. Also, page-turning is less fiddly - a simple swipe is easier than a paper page turn (or you could buy the pedal described above!). Some apps - including Singspiel - will actually turn pages for you as you play.

3. refer to your favorite websites

There are a ton of online resources for piano learners. If you're taking advantage of them you may want to refer to websites and videos while you're at the piano. The iPad lets you take the Internet anywhere that wi-fi can reach, and sits comfortably on your piano's music stand.

If you haven't already, we highly recommend exploring the piano tutorials available on YouTube. Whether you use them in conjunction with face-to-face piano lessons, or as a guide for self-study, these videos can be a great source of ideas and inspiration. If you're not sure where to start, Andrew Furmanczyk offers an excellent series of free online piano lessons on his website.

The one issue you may have with websites - especially older websites - is that they're not always designed for easy iPad viewing. Certain types of interactions may flat out not work on a tablet. However, with more and more people accessing the Internet on their mobile devices, websites that are designed to work well on multiple screen sizes are much more common than not. YouTube videos will always play well on your iPad, and most personal blogs are easy to read on the device.

4. Record yourself playing

This is an incredibly valuable learning tool that lets you step back and focus on listening to yourself. All piano learners should do this, and do it often! There are many iPad apps that let you record sound (including many note-taking apps). Recording a video is also valuable, although setting the iPad up to record yourself can be tricky - you may want to enlist a second person to help you out here.

There are at least 3 benefits to recording yourself:

  1. You'll hear what still needs to be done. If you have specific goals for developing your musical ability - and you should - this process can really highlight what still needs improvement. Listening critically is an important step towards understanding what you want your music to sound like, and how to get there.
  2. You'll hear progress over time. If you keep your recordings over time, you can review them and hear how you've improved. It's a lot easier to stick to your practice routine if you have solid evidence of the progress you're making!
  3. You may sound better than you think! While listening to a recording of themselves may be a constructive reality check for overconfident students, the under-confident ones are often pleasantly surprised by how nice they sound!

Listening to a recording of yourself play is a very different experience than listening as you play. Whether it helps you identify areas for improvement, gives your confidence a bit of a boost, or both, it's a great idea to incorporate it into your practice routine.

5. drill your music theory

Whether you're still learning to recognize single notes on a staff, or are learning to identify more complex constructions like chord progressions, there's a lot of music theory to know. And ideally, you should know it fast. 

In the old days, flash cards were a great way to develop this kind of quick recognition. Now, your iPad has access to a range music theory games and resources that perform the same function. They often have the advantage of being more fun and engaging, too, and may keep younger students practicing their theory concepts with little to no prompting.

6. compose your own music

If this sounds beyond the reach of you or the piano learners you know...well, you might be surprised. Digital tools for music creation are becoming increasingly accessible, and many have made it to the iPad.

When you think of music composition, you may think of scores - and yes there is an app for that (several, actually). While computer-based programs for creating score have traditionally been a nightmare to learn, the iPad's touch interface opens up new possibilities. Apps like Symphony Pro are a reasonably intuitive way create music scores - and even if you're still just beginning to learn your way around the staff, there's no reason you shouldn't be experimenting in this area!

Then there are apps like Apple's own Garage Band - available for free if on newer iPads. These apps don't make scores, but they do allow you to create and edit multiple tracks, using live recordings, synthesized sounds, or a combination of the two. 

If you use or have access to an electric piano or keyboard, chances are there's a way to connect it directly to a computer or - with the help of a USB adaptor - to your iPad. This means you can use the keyboard to experiment with a range of sounds in Garage Band, which is a fun way to get your creative juices flowing and put your piano skills to work in interesting ways.

If this type of music composition is your cup of tea, you'll find a large online community of music-makers who love to exchange and modify one another's electronic music tracks. 

So if you own an iPad, look at ways to use it to make your piano practice more organized, more effective, and more fun. If you don't own an iPad but are considering buying one - do it! Few tools are more versatile, and you'll find yourself using it every day.

Learn More About How an iPad Can Help Your Piano Playing

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