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Inspiring music made students by using GarageBand on iPads

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Kjell Rune Fjellheim teaches music and religion at Kannik secondary school in Stavanger, Norway. He also writes a blog about music and the use of technology in education. “I came up with many of my techniques while attempting to incorporate assignments, communication methods, teaching resources and assessment tools within itslearning,” Kjell Rune explains. “This presented some challenges, but has far more advantages than disadvantages.”

In this article, Kjell Rune gives us a glimpse of his music production class, in which he teaches students how to read different kinds of notation and how to use GarageBand on iPads. GarageBand is a free music creation app—complete with touchscreen keyboard, synths and percussion instruments. It makes it easy to learn, play and record great‑sounding songs.

itslearning is the “backbone”

In his music production class, Kjell Rune uses the itslearning Planner to provide students with a single place to access notes, learning objectives, videos and assignments. Below is a screenshot of his Planner (in Norwegian):


Blended learning

Kjell Rune combines traditional teaching with internet and video resources. He makes instructional videos and shares them with his students on itslearning. “I’ve unchained myself from the blackboard so that I can spend more time with each student,” he adds. “One advantage of flipping the classroom with video lectures is that students can learn at their own pace.”

His videos explain how to start a project in GarageBand on iPad, how to record instruments using the app and how to deliver final projects. After watching some of the videos, the students’ first assignment is to record the drum track to “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele in GarageBand. The screenshot below is of Kjell Rune’s assignment. It includes instructions, learning objectives and assessment criteria, as well as links to a video and sheet music.


Before posting the assignment, Kjell Rune teaches his students how to read and play different rhythms using helping words (“1 and 2 and”). “This is the method I was taught in my ear training class when I studied music in Oslo,” he explains. The picture below shows how Kjell Rune depicts the drum beats in the chorus of “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, in chart format:


The second assignment is to record different chord instruments (guitar, bass and piano) over the drum tracks that the students already recorded. Kjell Rune teaches them what a chord is, how often to change chords and how to play different instruments. He simplified and transcribed four of the instrument parts in “Rolling in the Deep”. The illustration below shows guitar sheet music with more traditional notation:


“It’s music like this that I, as a freelance musician, have to know how to read. It will be relevant for future musicians as well,” Kjell Rune informs.

Delivering the finished product

Students deliver their GarageBand recordings in two parts: first the drum tracks and then the chord instruments. “In order to make this work, we have to go through a few steps,” Kjell Rune explains. “Since the iPad does not allow you to get files from different apps, we have to use a cloud-based storage site before submitting to itslearning.”

There are many alternatives: Dropbox, Evernote, Google disc, etc. So far, Kjell Rune has been using SoundCloud, but that has presented a few difficulties. He teaches 13 different music classes which share the same 30 iPads. Students have to log in to their individual SoundCloud accounts each time they want to save a track, and then log out when they finish using the iPad. Students often forget to log in and out, so files are “lost” (saved in the wrong place).

This process will get easier when itslearning introduces a built-in Dropbox link for students later this year. Students can use Dropbox folders as portfolios of work to share with friends, parents and future employers. “As an attempt to demonstrate development and learning, the students will be collecting a digital portfolio of their work over a period of three years,” Kjell Rune reports. “Although the future Dropbox integration in assignments solves many of our problems, I’d rather have a SoundCloud-ish service built into itslearning. I find files and folders old fashioned. SoundCloud with embedding is a better way of sharing audio content than any other folder based cloud service.”

Criteria based assessment

“The teachers at our school are active users of criteria based assessment (in the form of rubrics). This means that teachers define success characteristics or criteria in advance for different competence levels. They continuously match students with the most applicable characteristic. It’s now possible to do this in itslearning, which has made me more aware of the fact that I’m working with specific learning objectives,” Kjell Rune informs. “The illustration below shows how I’ve defined my own assessment criteria for the learning objective Basic elements of music.”

“There’s a noticeable improvement in student performance using this teaching method. Students say my lessons are relevant and motivating. Most students get top, or nearly top scores now. They agree that they are much better at listening to rhythms and different drum sounds, as well as reading notes, both charted and traditional,” Kjell Rune reports.

Sharing through the itslearning Community Course Catalogue

One thing that Kjell Rune is great at is sharing. Through his blog and other social media sites, he shares advice to help make teachers’ lives easier, and their lessons more inspiring. This is something that more teachers could do, and should do. As an itslearning user, you can easily share your courses and view other teachers’ courses through the Community Course Catalogue. There are more than 2,500 classes in the catalogue. Kjell Rune made one of them based on his 10th grade music class. As an itslearning user, you can view this course. It’s in Norwegian, but a lot of the material is in the international language of music.

In order to access his course, click on Courses in your itslearning top menu and then click Community Course Catalogue on the upper right hand side of the page. In the Country menu, choose Norway. In the Language menu, choose All languages. In the search field, type the course name Deling av musikkopplegg (which means Sharing music program).


When the course name appears, click on it, then click Join course. You will then see the course in your course content box when you select My dashboard.

Kjell Rune says, “Feel free to use whatever part of the course you wish. Together, we can get even better at this! Comments are welcome on my blog and Twitter account.”

Thanks so much, Kjell Rune, for sharing with us and inspiring us!