Make your own GarageBand - Ease your Teaching anxieties with your Apple app

by Nick Acton

Music is a difficult subject to teach. It can be loud. It can be expensive. It can be a minefield of different abilities. Not to mention, many teachers still find it to be a terrifying subject due to their own lack of musical know-how. To a certain extent, there is always some aspect of performance when it comes to music. Therefore, if you are even a little bit anxious about the subject, it is understandably stressful to teach.

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Many schools opt to have a ‘music specialist’. I am one such teacher having taught music in schools or many years. However, I do feel a bit conflicted about the very nature of being a ‘music specialist’. From time to time, I do worry that my role sends out the wrong message to the children. Do they believe that music is something that is separate from the rest of their educational journey and that it is ‘specialist’? With that in mind, I am always very keen to try and disperse music across the curriculum. For the less musically confident teachers however, I do recognise that help is needed.

To those teachers and to anyone interested in Music Teaching, I would like to suggest that GarageBand might just be the best Music Teaching Assistant out there. In this blog, I’ll talk through some of the features within GarageBand that can ease the anxieties of a ‘non-musical’ teacher.   

First and foremost, absolutely no musical ability is needed to create something musical on GarageBand. In fact, I would say a mathematical mind is perhaps more useful in certain areas of the app. For example, the easiest way to create music on GarageBand is to use Apple Loops. These are small snippets of instrumental music that can be compiled on to the screen to make a tune. Each loop is either four or eight bars long. Therefore, placing them in intervals of fours or eights will always sound good. 

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Engaging with the various instruments within Apple Loops and placing them in order on the screen, can teach children a huge amount about texture and the structure of music. They can engage in fun musical arrangements without having to pick up an instrument themselves and therefore, none of the musical ability associated with composition is needed.

Of course, you may have children with musical abilities in your class. This can cause a tricky situation. A child potentially knowing more than the teacher in any given subject can be detrimental, no matter which way you look at it. Ultimately, this makes it difficult for a teacher to provide anything that will stretch that child and ensure that they are progressing.
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Thankfully, GarageBand has got that covered. Some children may not need to look any further than the ‘Smart Instruments’ on the app. These instruments look, sound and are played like their non-virtual counterparts. You can find a smart drum kit, guitar, bass guitar, piano and a number of orchestral string instruments. Therefore, a child with some background knowledge of those instruments will be able to produce something tuneful out of them. They can play and record their creations on the Smart Instruments and even have these recordings appear next to their loops. This means that they can add to a composition with their own layers of playing.

Again, the nice thing about all of the features I have mentioned so far is that you, as a teacher, do not need to master them yourself. You just need to know what they are and how they work to aid the children’s own creativity. Likewise, when it comes to physical instrument playing, you might not no your E string from your piano foot pedal. It doesn’t matter, GarageBand can keep the children who play instruments interested as well!

For these musically proficient pupils, the app can capture their physical playing through the microphone. 

The Microphone is its own feature on GarageBand as it essentially opens up the app to limitless musical opportunities. Children can record their instruments into the app or sample all sorts of weird and wonderful things. It means that singers can capture their voices over the top of looped compositions. Children could even read dramatic poetry over the top of their music if they like. The range of functionality within the app means that the differentiation is instinctively built into a ‘GarageBand Music Lesson’. As a teacher, you can facilitate the learning by showing the children these features and the app can become the vessel that carries them through their creative musical journey.
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When the musical project is finished, sharing the work is easy. The children can tap and hold on their project, to reveal a number of sharing options. 
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Choosing to export the composition as a ‘song’, converts it into a file that can be read on a number of different platforms. Children can AirDrop the file to the teacher or add it to an online learning platform such as See Saw or they can email their music. They can even share there file to open music directories like SoundCloud. In this scenario, the learner is essentially publishing their music to the internet for anyone to hear. Overall, the sharing capabilities means that teachers can receive projects from their pupils outside of the classroom walls. GarageBand is, therefore, a tool that can be utilised during this time of home learning.

You might be thinking, this all sounds lovely, but where on earth do I start? The app can ease the pains of musical endeavours but ultimately, it’s a multi-faceted platform with limitless possibilities. I appreciate that this makes GarageBand as scary as it is brilliant!

Apple can help. They have created amazing guides for teachers and pupils called the ‘Everyone Can Create’ series of Apple Books. One of the series of Apple Books (available for free on the Books app) is dedicated to music. It contains a huge range of lesson plans and ideas that solely utilise GarageBand. Step-by-step guides can take you through each aspect of embedding the app into lessons. The book even highlights how GarageBand can be planned into the wider curriculum. So, in answer to the question I posed at the start of this paragraph, the ‘Everyone Can Create Music’ guide is a great place to start.
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The Apple book and the built-in functions within GarageBand can provide a musical experience that is valuable for a young music learner of any ability. Furthermore, if the children are wearing headphones, you’ve got yourself a pretty quiet music lesson. It’s also worth mentioning a GarageBand lesson requires very little setup and set down. Setting up thirty xylophones is not exactly ideal during break time. With the help of Apple Classroom, a teacher can push a class set of iPads on to a GarageBand keyboard with just a few taps. All of these factors can add up to an effective, but stress-free music lesson. For teachers who are worried about the subject in general, my hope is that this kind of approach will ease their anxieties. I hope that it will bring more teachers closer to splicing music into their day-to-day lessons. I hope that music will become less specialist and more seamless. 

About Nick Acton
Nick Acton is an Apple Curriculum Specialist at JTRS as well as being a part-time Computing and Music teacher. Through the creation of bespoke training, Nick specialises in empowering educators so that they can embed Apple Technology into their day-to-day classroom practice.