Friday, August 14, 2020

Mark Reviews Chromebook Piano & Drum Apps for Music Teachers

I try to share some of the most comprehensive tips and recommendations I write up for teachers here. This is one of the most recent. When asked what is out there for music teachers to use with students on Chromebooks, particularly if those students are learning at home, I had to start from scratch. Knowing very little about what was available, I just started with the Piano apps available for Chromebooks, extended it to Android, and then added Web apps that work in the browser, as well. 

The music teacher who contacted me about this also wanted to know what was available in the way of drums and drum kits. So I added that as well. Below, you will find a section for each. If you know of additional web tools or apps that may be good for elementary music teachers (with an emphasis on free), please add your comments and recommendations below.

Piano Apps Reviewed:

Notes: Chrome Music Lab is a free online site that makes learning music more accessible through simple hands-on experiments. 
  • Music teachers have been using Chrome Music Lab as a tool in their classrooms to explore music and its connections to science, math, art, and more. They’ve been combining it with dance and live instruments
  • From the Chrome Music Lab website, here is a collection of some uses they curated from Twitter. 
  • Also included in the Lab is the Song Maker experiment, which lets you make and share your own songs.
Pro: The shared piano is an adequate virtual piano that has no commercials or advertisements involved, and it is also very user-friendly. One teacher I heard from is currently using this in his classrooms, and the students are having a lot of success.

Cons: This Shared Piano isn't quite as feature-rich and powerful as some of the Android apps found below, but it isn't a pay app either, and not having those annoying, nagging pop-up ads is a huge plus. 

Overall: Students can create a shared room, copy the link, and send it to others. The Shared Piano also has multiple sound modes which show up in a pop-up menu, including Synth, Drum Kit (where the keys sound like drums being hit), Strings, Woodwind, and more. When students practice playing songs, these songs can easily be recorded, saved, and shared through a live web link with others. This is a good way to show progress also. Just copy the link and share. That's about as simple as it can get. 

Notes: Installs as a Google Chrome extension and (by default) becomes your Default New Tab page in Chrome, although there is a large Default Chrome Tab button in the top right that can then be tapped to restore the default New Tab page. 
  • This is about as basic as it gets, but Chrome Piano does have what students need: Key Assist, Record, Stop, Play, a Music Sheet button with a lengthy drop-down list of songs that can be played (and the keys highlight when the songs are played), and there is a Tips button to get students started. 
Pros: Its best Pro is also its primary Con: this is very basic. It runs in the web browser as a Chrome Extension (the only one on this list), but it has all of the basic features without any ads
  • Students will be playing the piano in minutes, and recording themselves playing. The basic features all all here, without any ads, and that is extremely rare for any free piano.  
  • Key Assist (labeled keys) can be toggled on or off. 
  • The Music Sheet button at the right is a huge plus, as it gives students a lengthy list of songs to play (anywhere from Beethoven to Beyonce, and Franz Schubert to Forrest Gump. It not only plays these songs on the keyboard, but it also includes the notes in a large text box, so students can follow along with the notes or with the highlighted keys. There is a Play Song and Stop Song button.
Cons: A few minor drawbacks include:
  • It takes a bit of getting used to when first recording. First, you need to tap Record to engage the Recording feature, and then tap Record again to stop recording. Then, the Play and Stop buttons become engaged - for playback and stopping. Once that is mastered, the rest is pretty easy. 
  • Make sure students remember that the piano cannot be played manually by them unless the purple button says Turn Off. If nothing happens, students will need to tap Turn On. This makes sure the piano knows whether it is playing a song from the Music Selections, or being played (and recorded) by students. 
Overall: Simpler is better - in this case. This Chrome Extension piano is usable and easy to learn how to use. Best of all, it has no ads to distract students. Every button does something useful, and it is a full-sized piano keyboard. Recommended. Replacing your New Tab button in Chrome can be turned off with the click of a button. Its default setup also has a Google Search field built-in, so you can use this new tab to search Google as well as play the piano. 

Notes: Installs as a Google Drive add-on, so you can get it to by opening Google Drive and then clicking New>>More and scroll way down to Virtual Piano Black. 
  • You can also open the Virtual Piano Keyboard by bookmarking this site: virtualkeyboard.nsspot.net
  • Notes are saved as Input Codes to the text box below the keyboard. 
  • Notes can also be copied, pasted and erased, and spaces can be added. 
  • There is also an Old Flash version which transforms the piano into an electronic keyboard with various virtual buttons for organ, saxophone, flute, pan pipes, strings, guitar, steel drums, and double bass. The Flash version worked on the Chromebooks when tested, and you can revert back to the Virtual Piano by changing flash=yes to flash=no in the Address Bar above. 
Pros: This piano sounds great and has the option for students to record what they play, and then play it back - using the Record and Play buttons below the keyboard. 
  • Key Assist can be turned On, which gives the keys numerical values.
  • The recording feature is turned on by toggling Recorder/Input Sample On. Toggling it Off makes the recording feature below disappear. 
  • This piano can be played by tapping the keys with the touch-pad, by using the individual Chromebook keys which correspond with the piano key numbers (when Key assist is On), and also by using the Chromebook's touchscreen feature. 
  • There are hundreds of songs in the list.  All you have to do is type the letters from the song and students can be playing piano right away.
Cons: There is a large banner ad and some smaller button ads just above the keyboard which might be accidentally clicked by students. 
  • Additional ads are also found below the keyboard.
  • The keys are somewhat small on the screen and may need to be zoomed-in by students when using the touchscreen feature. 
Overall: It's nice that this is a Google Drive add-on (the only one on the list) and works well and sounds great on Chromebooks. The large banner ad at the top and some smaller ads at the bottom could be a potential problem for some students. 

Songtive Web Piano (aka: Piano for Chrome):  
Notes: This is a Chrome app, which means it is a website. So it works by simply bookmarking the website and returning each day. A few songs are featured at the right. Anything played on the colorfully-labeled keys can be recorded, saved, and played back. When students click on the Save button, they will need to click the Join with Google button to sign in. This creates an account for them on songtive.com where their saved music can be stored. This web app has been around since 2016 and still works. 
Pros: 
  • This is a simple, realistic Web Piano that works on Chromebooks and doesn't require any plugins to be installed. 
  • Keys are labeled - to help students practice piano chords and scales using their keyboard.
  • Songs can be saved into the Songtive web project site (songtive.com) to share with the world. The developer can be contacted by email.
  • Upon further look, there is also a small menu in the top left with +New and Tools buttons. These buttons add advanced features such as a programmable Drumset with programmable, editable sections and sounds (just click the Edit button when Drumset is launched). Additional "tools" include Virtual Piano, Web Tuner, Piano Chord Chart, and Guitar Chords. 
  • Keys can be displayed in 1 Row, 2 Rows, and labels shown or hidden. The Instrument sound can also be switched between Piano, Xylophone, Acoustic Guitar, Cello, and Flute. 
Cons:
  • Not as pretty or deeply customizable as the other apps, and the colorfully-labeled keys could be distracting or confusing for some students, but these labels can be Hidden by tapping the Hide button at the top.  
  • Social media buttons and a printer button at the left could be distracting, along with the large green "Download Now" button at the right. Students will need to avoid these.
Overall: Deceivingly simple but quite useful for Chromebooks, particularly if you don't want the fuss of installing an Android app. This is strictly web-based, which is a big positive. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • The only ad is found along the very bottom, so that is a plus. And this is one of the most realistic-sound pianos in this list.
  • The top of the interface is rather cluttered (for some users) yet it gives a ton of features and settings all in one place, without having to search through multiple menus. Because of this, it makes the buttons/controls rather small to the touch. 
Pros: Only one ad, and it runs along the very bottom. 
  • There are tiny buttons to control the Key Size (important with 88 keys!).
  • The keyboard can be heightened/extended with a tiny up-arrow to virtually eliminate either of the two toolbars on top. 
  • There are also buttons for Piano, Flute, Organ, and Guitar sound modes. 
  • A Music Control drop-down menu has about seven songs that can be listened to, but the keys are not highlighted when the song plays. Tap the Play or Pause button to start and stop these songs.
  • There is also a Record List which flies out and shows what has been recorded. Tap the Record List button again to make this disappear. 
Cons: Clutter is the biggest problem with this app. So many tiny buttons! But if you like your controls all in one place - instead of hidden in multiple menus - this is the best alternative option. 
  • Tapping some of the options, such as playing songs from the Music Control or bringing up the Record List brings up a full-screen advertisement the first time, and that can be annoying. 
Overall: One of the better free Android pianos overall. It is a beautiful-sounding piano with a pretty intimidating and cluttered interface (at first), but once you get used to having all of the controls in one place, it is a pretty nice, powerful piano app. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This is an extremely powerful piano app for Android. When it first opens, there are the following choices: Multiplayer Game, Multiplayer Connect, Records Manager, Piano Circle, Learn to Play, and, finally, Keyboard. If students just go directly to Keyboard, it is quite powerful and easy to use. However, choosing any of the other options will yield far too many distractions, connecting to game servers, enabling video ads, and other unwanted potential messes. 
Pros: The Keyboard does allow recording, with a red Record button at the top. You can also choose to show the labels on the keys or not. 
  • There is a menu at the right for Reverb, Sustain Control; and there is a button at the top that will transform the piano into an Organ, MusicBox, Synth, Rhodes, Bright, and other piano types. 
  • There is also a Metronome button in the top left (next to the Record button). 
  • Record mode can choose between recording in MIDI or from the MIC, and then save the file to your Chromebook or Google Drive. 
  • Students can also use the little arrow buttons to scroll back and forth, focusing on different parts of the piano's keyboard. 
  • When choosing the Learn to Play option, it brings up various pre-loaded songs that can be played with varying choices in difficulty, and saved as Favorites.
Cons: 
  • As long as students stay in Keyboard mode only, this could be a useful app. But if they choose other options than Keyboard, that is where the annoying advertisement trouble lies. 
  • Choosing Multiplayer Game or Multiplayer Connect requires the user to choose from one of two Game Servers. Exiting out of this mode often loads at least one video ad which is not kid-friendly. 
Overall: It is difficult to avoid the full-screen ads in this app; however, the Keyboard mode is quite good and useful. Just avoid using any of the game or multiplayer features - and stay out of trouble. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This app also has ads, but the ad is found only at the very top middle, and it doesn't disrupt the use of the piano. It is probably the easiest piano app to figure out right away, and quite powerful, too. 
Pros: This keyboard lets you record by touching or clicking on the circle button in the top left, and stop recording by pressing the same button again.  
  • When recording (using either the circle or the microphone), there is a timer that runs at the right, telling you how long you've been recording. 
  • Recorded files can be saved as Sample, Track or MIDI. 
  • There is also a mode button which emulates a Grand, Organ, Violin, Synth, Sax, Electric keyboard, Bass, Guitar, Harp, Rhodes, and Harp. 
Cons: 
  • Very few cons with this piano, due to only having one smallish ad in the top middle, above the keyboard itself. 
  • Once switching sound modes, choose Home to return to the default piano mode. 
Overall: This piano doesn't sound as good as some of the others, and you can easily end up with weird-sounding choices, like Synth and Bass, but it's easy to figure out. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • For a 6-minute video tutorial showing all of the features, click here
Pros: The menu at the left allows users to change the keyboard size in both length and width. The Settings cog has various Piano modes: Practice, Perform, Double Classic, Double Mirror and Sheet Music.
  • Also in the Settings is a Magic Piano setting where any key pressed shows the correct note. You can also listen to the song when you select it in the song list. 
  • The Vibration of the keys is turned On by default (and pressure can be increased/decreased), but can also be turned off with a slider in the Settings. 
  • Song Book is a featured revealed by tapping the hidden toolbar arrow at the top.
Cons: 
  • Students should be discouraged not to tap any buttons other than the Menu and the Record/Play/Stop/Settings buttons in the top right corner, and leave the toolbar open. Otherwise, closing the toolbar brings up a floating ad in the top right corner. 
  • The biggest complaint about this app is that it is overly feature-packed and actually overly customizable.
Overall: Kids could spend more time playing with the settings of this app than actually using it, but as a teaching tool, it would definitely serve the purpose. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • A big drawback right away is that it asks the student to log in (an I'm New Here button) with an Email address or Log in with Facebook. This is probably a deal-breaker right away. Then, when/if you get past that point, it asks What kind of things can you play? Nothing yet, some basics, lots of songs, or almost anything... It then asks if you have a piano to practice with: Yes or No. Then there is a free trial. 
Pros: Lots of great reviews, but the trouble of getting past the initial prompts make it too much trouble to use in class. 
  • As a teaching tool, this would be wonderful, and maybe even your best bet overall. But at the recommended 12-month plan at $11.99-13.99/mo. price, No. Move on. 
Cons: Skip this one for in-class learning. It is a great teaching tool but meant for more of a long-term piano class scenario. 
  • Initial prompts require students to sign in with Facebook or an email. Then it is very much like a piano tutor and works as a pay service. 
Overall: Not recommended, due to the multiple prompts just getting started, and the fact that it is basically a pay service.

 
Drum Apps Reviewed:

Notes: This might be the best option for Chromebooks. It has links to Drum Games, Drum Lessons, Advanced Lessons, and Drum Sheet Music. 
  • Just avoid the ads at the top of the page. 9 Exercise buttons are found below the drum kit which take students through various drumming routines.  
Pros: What makes this stand out is its many free drum games for kids and virtual drummers to play with a real-life-looking live drum set.
  • The Drum Games, Drum Lessons, and Advanced Lessons are pretty good, but the Drum Sheet Music must be downloaded individually, which is not recommended on Chromebooks. 
Cons: If students can avoid the multitude of ad buttons at the top and middle of the page (both above and below the drum kit), this is a worthwhile web tool. 
Overall: The ability to play drums online on any device is simply great. Just make sure that students avoid the sponsored searches, which look like they are part of the app. For example, there are small buttons directly under the drum kit which say "play drums," "heavy metal," "drums music," "drum keyboard," and more. These are deceiving and should be avoided at all costs. 

REAL DRUM: Electronic Drum Set 
Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This app is all about learning how to drum. There are quick YouTube videos which load (ads included) and show how to use a drum kit. Lessons are also included which highlight the correct drum to tap at the right time. The drums sound very realistic, and the kit can be re-arranged with the tap of a Refresh button at the top. Everything can also be recorded and played back. 
Pros: 
  • Tapping on the various Drumset button on the toolbar brings up various Kits to choose from, depending on music genre interest. Each is followed by an ad. 
  • Tapping the blue Play button brings up various Loops which play in the background while the student drums along. 
  • Other tabs in addition to Loops are Recordings, Lessons, Songs, and Metronome. Recordings are anything the student has recorded with the red Record button.
  • Lessons are where the drums are highlighted, the student watches first, and then taps the highlighted drum or cymbal from the lesson, so it is Watch and Play format. 
Cons: The problem is the ads. Ads (mostly full-screen) pop up after almost every button is selected. 
  • After a student taps the red Record button to stop recording, a full-screen advertisement loads. Then, the student has to locate the X button in the top right corner to close it, and remember where he/she left off. 
  • There is also a rather large ad in the top right corner of the toolbar, but most students will probably ignore it because they're too busy drumming. 
Overall: The ads that load wouldn't be such a problem, except that they load at the most inopportune times. Mostly when ever an important button is tapped, such as "Stop Recording," playing a lesson or loop, and when loading a different drum kit. Impatient students will find this annoying and frustrating. Just imagine how great the pay version of this app would be (without the ads). 

Notes: This is a Chrome app found at the link above - with very few ads at all, and that is a huge plus. But no more new features will be added to this edition. The Web App, which is also free and compatible with Chromebooks, is found at drumbit.app and it does have some fairly large apps on its left and right sides. 
  • What makes this app different from the rest is that it does not emulate a drum kit at all, but is more of a programming interface, allowing students to plug in cells or squares into a large waffle-looking interface.
  • No actual drums are seen. But students can create their own drumming routines and then save them, play them back, and add to them later. Files are saved in the JSON File Format, which can be read outside of a Chromebook and played back within this web app. 
Pros: Features include 6 demos, 7 room effects, the ability to save as a WAV file, copy/paste between patterns, volume control for each track, and the ability to change the pitch of the sample. 
Cons: Some students simply will not enjoy using a drumming app where you cannot actually see the drums. 
  • Those who like to learn programming and who are creative types will appreciate it and its ability save what they create, but there will be a learning curve to deal with otherwise. 
Overall: This is a tough one to call. It doesn't have the ads which plague most of the Drum apps, but having to manually choose which tom, crash, Hihat, snare and kick does what, and at what time, will be daunting for many students. The various Demos (from the drop-down menu) are helpful though. and quickly show how this works. The various room changes and effects are also pretty cool. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • The default drum kit that loads is only the "Classic" version. Then, each additional set of drums (Hip-Hop, Electro, and Metal) require separate apps to be installed. It is nice to be able to move the drums around (with the tap of a toolbar button), but full-page ads load at various times and have to be closed manually to return. 
Pros: The drums are movable, so students can configure their own kit in various ways. 
  • There is an MP3 button that allows students to record, save and play, so it is also an MP3 player that can play external music files stored on Google Drive or on the Chromebook's hard drive. 
  • The app is optimized for screens of any size, so it can also be used on Android tablets and phones. 
  • Has the ability to not only play, but also to save, play, and loop the playback of your tracks. This would allow a user to play other instruments along with the drum kit.
  • Menus are hidden and so are the ads when doing the drumming. The app has a very realistic look to it. 
Cons: 
  • Another nice app that is bogged down with annoying full-page ads at inopportune times when tapping essential buttons. 
  • Many users have reported a delay, which might make it difficult to play with others.  
Overall: See comment above. Without the ads, this would be a great app. Menus are hidden, which is a plus, but after tapping buttons, they come up full-screen and must be manually closed. It looks and sounds good though.

No comments:

Post a Comment