iPad and a Christmas Singalong for Seniors

At this time of year, care homes, lunch clubs and community groups often want to have a a good singalong. All too often, though, they don’t have anyone with sufficient confidence to lead one and provide instrumental support. That was the obstacle encountered by the ladies who put on tea parties for the senior members of our parish. For some reason, all those they usually call upon were unavailable and I was asked, at the last minute, to step in. My solution was a simple one that’s available to many carers, so I thought I’d share it here.

We don’t have a piano in the church hall at the moment and, if we did, I would have been reluctant to use it. I know from experience that making eye contact with members of a group and singing, even unaccompanied, engenders confidence and involvement far in excess of anything possible when dividing my attention between direct communication and providing an accompaniment. In the past, when lacking an accompanist, I have kept myself free to facilitate by providing accompaniments through a computer system running professional music software. That was some years ago, though, and the technology has all changed, with the result that many of the Christmas music files don’t play back correctly on my current software and equipment. The old stuff is buried, deep in the garage, underneath the remnants of my old kitchen! Then, “Yippee!!!” – the iPad came to the rescue.



For a singalong, it’s important to be able to quickly adjust the speed and pitch of the music to suit the assembly. On the iPad I used the very simple Jam Player app to do this. The app also allowed me to move very quickly between pieces, which is another important consideration in this context. The accompaniments were nearly all  my own musical arrangements but a less experienced musician could use music downloaded from iTunes or other online sources. Jam Player will load the music from the Music folder into which the iPad automatically saves downloaded music files. My only quibble with this was that the first playback started automatically as soon as the file loaded, so I had to get in quickly and click “Stop”, so that music started at my convenience, not that of the iPad! That isn’t too big a deal, though, in an informal gathering.

I have been looking, without success,  for  equally simple audio playback with pitch and speed options for PC and Android. There are, though, several players for both operating systems and many non-specialists will be familiar with one or more of them and use them to play their own music collections. Some like  Microsoft’s Media Player will allow the user to edit the speed but the controls aren’t all on one screen like Jam Player’s simple knobs. Slightly more tech-savvy folk may be happy to use a separate app like “Amazing Slowdowner” for editing  files prior to use.

On the PC, Full Pitcher’s “MIDIgrid” and “GridPlay” software provides a very simple playback facility for midifiles, where numerous tracks can be presented on a single screen, ready for playback in quick succession. The end-user doesn’t have to know anything about MIDI or music to use this software but can just “click and play”.

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Creating Resources for Non-Specialist Music Teachers

Seeing so many non-specialist teachers struggling to teach music, it is sad that music coordinators, local authority advisors, etc., don’t make extensive use of  professional music software to create the repertoire/ materials  for non-specialists to access, as they require. I guess that the main hindrance is the lack of a suitable playback only version of some of the software. Even where these versions exist, though, they can still be too forbidding for the non-specialist and are mainly notation-based. But a solution has existed for many years, in the form of MIDIgrid. Although it was originally designed as a tool for composers, it is a superbly simple authoring tool and, even though I can play several musical instruments, read music, compose and improvise, I have found it invaluable to have my resource material available through this software. It means any repertoire I might need in a session can be recorded into a single grid. I can play a new backing track, without fumbling through a book or trying to locate a track on a CD and I can give my full attention to interacting with the class, without distraction. Full recordings, constituent tracks, virtual instruments can all be there on a single screen.

MIDIgrid is such a versatile tool that it has proved almost impossible to ‘market’. How do you describe software, the benefits of which are dependent on the user’s imagination? It was originally created at University of York, as part of the Composer’s Desktop Project, and I hassled York for a long time to create a cut-down version for teachers. This they did and, when the York Electronics Centre closed, I offered to publish and distribute it. They also created GridPlay, a playback only version through which I could distribute the resources I had authored.

GridPlay is a great way to put creative music teaching resources into the hands of non-specialist teachers! It treats the computer as a basic classroom resource, providing instant access to backing tracks, virtual instruments, improvisation resources, inclusive activities, etc.. Excepting where it provides virtual instruments for disabled users, the software is not essential to explore most activities described in the ebook included with each set of grids. The software is a limited version of MIDIgrid, without editing/saving. This means that beneath its simple user interface are some sophisticated MIDI facilities for those who know how to use them.  Visit my new blog at gridplaymusic.wordpress.com to learn more.

More Than Notation Software

This year, I think the best new software on the music education scene is PROTÉGÉ , From NOTION Music. This is a program with the emphasis on real music! The range of features and ease of use is quite remarkable for a product in this price range (under £50) and it makes a really useful set of tools available to beginner and expert alike.

PROTÉGÉ  is, first of all, score-writing software. In this respect, it has features one would normally only expect at the top end of the market and shows a real appreciation of composers’ needs. Yet, methods of inputting and playing music are easy to grasp, with the most common requirements conveniently to hand in the initial side-bar setting. Consequently, beginners are not confused by too many options, although these are available to the advanced user. A tutorial is available, designed to enable pupils, including those who have only a minimal aquaintance with standard notation, to learn to use the software when the need arises and they are, consequently, most motivated to do so. It introduces elements of notation, along with the ways in which they are entered into a score, in the order they are most likely to be required.

A big selling point is the set of onboard sounds -instruments played by members of the London Symphony Orchestra and recorded at Abbey Road Studios. For those who don’t have external studio equipment, the package is well worth the purchase price just to have access to sounds of this quality. Dynamics, articulations and performance techniques will play back with the utmost realism.

The NTempo performance feature allows pupils to have real-time control over tempo, including rubato, fermatas and breath marks. This also makes PROTÉGÉ a very useful resource for instrumental teachers, enabling them to provide an accompaniment without distraction from the pupil’s performance.

After my own company’s MIDIgrid and GridPlay software, I consider this to be the most creative music education resource around. Visit www.notionmusic.com to learn more.

Music Technology in the Classroom

Now that the UK Government’s Curriculum Online project has come to an end, most of the easily-located online material giving pointers to good practice in the use of ICT in the classroom, and how to get started, seems to have disappeared with it. Is it considered that the job is done and everyone is now integrating technology with their other resources and confident in its use? If so, it’s a mega case of wishful thinking!


When software products were listed on Curriculum Online’s database, for purchase with the electronic learning credits (making them free to schools) every product had to be tagged to make it clear which aspects of the music curriculum it addressed, so some principles of good usage were implicit in the information about resources made available to teachers. I believe that much of the information about types of resources and how they might be used in the curriculum will eventually be made available in other ways but, in the meantime, many teachers look in vain for appropriate support in terms of pedagogy.


Last year, in my forum, “Music Technology in Education”, I posted a link to a web-page that provided an excellent starting point for those who, for one reason or another, were just getting to grips with music technology. This link now redirects and I haven’t been able to find the information on the new site, even after receiving directions from the QCA helpline. If I, with all my experience of technology and online resources, am unable to locate the appropriate information then there is little hope for the beginner! I have, however, found the following pages on Becta’s site and recommend them to those who wish to consider the principles.


Inspire Me!   (Select “Music” from the left-hand “Curriculum” menu)

 How To Use ICT in Music
(the link is on Page 3 of the “Inspire Me!” examples)

 See also:
Music Technology and Curriculum Access