Let’s face it, there’s nothing unusual about iPads in schools any more. However, put a few in the hands of a teacher with skill and a creative vision, and they can be used to do some pretty special things.
Take the music teacher at my school, Tom. As well as teaching children across our school to play a vast range of instruments – from steel drums to guitars – he has also been using iPads in some of his lessons with Years 5 and 6 over the past year or so.
Recently, I was lucky enough to hear the fruits of his labour.
Tom was asked to get a group together for the Royal Greenwich Instrumental Gala at Blackheath Halls, south-east London, so he approached me, asking if he could get a group of Year 6 children from my class together to perform on the night, using iPads as the instruments. That’s right, just iPads.
Over the next few weeks, I heard snippets on a Friday afternoon during their rehearsals, but it wasn’t until it all came together on the night that I fully appreciated what could be done with iPads and music.
Using nothing more than the GarageBand app on 10 iPads, Tom and his band of Year 6 children simulated a full ensemble. Each child took on the part of an instrument and “played” it on their iPad: first violin, second violin, cello, double bass, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano and organ, piano and rhythm section.
What they created was nothing short of magic: a beautiful performance of Elbow’s One Day Like This.
When you hear it, it’s hard to believe that the sound being created is from children on iPads. The reaction on social media confirmed that it wasn’t just me being an immensely proud and biased teacher. Tom had used what is increasingly becoming a ubiquitous bit of school kit to do something completely different.
Where did the idea come from? Well, Tom is also a professional musician, and it’s his own experience of working in studios that inspired this whole project. He’s giving children a small taste of what being a musician is like and providing the X Factor generation with a bit more insight into the work that goes into producing a music track.
Not only this, but children also get to work with the sounds of a variety of instruments that they might not otherwise have had an opportunity to get their hands on.
For others wanting to have a crack at getting their own iPad band together, he has two tips: work with a small group (10 maximum) and start with a simple song that has easy chord progression. Other than that, the sky really is the limit.
I’ve loved seeing what this project has turned into and have found it a refreshing reminder that I need to keep exploring how technology can be used in schools in infinitely interesting ways.