Informing iPad play with movement in the classroom

This video is an example of music sessions developed through the Exchanging Notes project at Belvue School.  For the past two years I have been collaborating with the school’s music teacher Chris Chambers to work on accessible music activities and support delivery of the music curriculum.  Recently, in collaboration with Ealing Music Service, we’ve also been delivering a Ramp It Up! programme at Mandeville School nearby.  This has provided a great source of inspiration and fresh approaches.

Young musicians use iPads in the Belvue School music room in many ways, from playing “smart chords” in Garage Band to create a backing, through to improvising melodies using Thumb Jam.  Chris has been developing his own take on customising the digital resources (see this blog post for more information), incorporating stickers to match his colourful approach to keyboards, and encouraging playing techniques developed by young musicians in previous years of the project.

One of our biggest challenges has been around encouraging more varied and meaningful ways of playing (moving away from admittedly satisfying swiping gestures), without being too prescriptive.  This is especially important in an improvisational context, but can lead to developing individual style in more fixed pieces as well.  Therefore a running theme in our conversations has been the exploration of larger movements as a group and bringing them onto the instruments – digital or otherwise.

Excerpt of a resource developed for the Ramp It Up! sessions at Mandeville School, encouraging different ways of playing with AMT resources.

I recently found it interesting to note a suggestion in a Sound Beam training document: that facilitators should not model playing the sensor with their hands, hopefully avoiding normalising this as a default type of interaction.  This is quite difficult to achieve with a familiar resource such as an iPad (even if working with a music app is a new experience), but it can be interesting to take a roundabout route to interaction before the more obvious “playing” starts.

In the case of this activity, we used cardboard lily pads to encourage frog-style jumping movements as a group warmup, playing along with a piano.  We took photos of this area and the background image of the Thumb Jam app to create a virtual pond with piano sounds.  The leaping and walking we had practiced with our whole bodies transferred nicely to finger movements, which the young people gradually worked back into more generalised musical gestures.

We’ve been developing this technique in subsequent weeks to work with different pieces. The feedback from young musicians in session has mostly been positive, observable in particular through their actions: volunteering themselves to take roles of conductor as well as soloist (as seen in the video as participants show each other cue cards), helping explain the process to their peers, and bringing in their own interpretations of the gestures.

For more information on using iPads in the music classroom, see these blog posts: