Use these 3 criteria when choosing apps for piano lessons


Before we jump into the three things to consider, it’s important to address some burning questions:

What’s the big deal about teaching piano with the help of music apps, a piano is all you need?

How do apps boost learning in a piano lesson?

When should apps be used in a piano lesson?

Which apps are the best for teaching piano?

And, before I answer the questions, here’s the back story of why I don’t—maybe even can’t—teach piano without the help of apps.

Back in October of 2013, I wrote and co-published The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps. The iPad revolutionized my tech-savvy teaching—no more bulky computers, floppy disks and expensive software! Ever since I purchased my first iPad, I’ve enjoyed terrific tools or apps at my finger tips usually around the price of a mocha latte—or less. I just couldn’t help but write about it.


Soon after, the book was published, E.L. Lancaster of Alfred Music offered to distribute it—a dream come true for this wanna-be-author. 

It’s been a while since I paged through my book but, I recently flipped through it thinking the information might be outdated. Although the book was written when iOS 6 was just released, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the apps featured in the book are still available and widely used (by me and many others!) and are actively supported by the developers. 

I firmly believe these apps are still around because they

Are easy to use

Add value to lessons

Are customizable to suit curriculum needs.

Now, back to answering the opening questions

What’s the big deal about teaching piano with the help of music apps, a piano is all you need?

Never “should” on yourself. If you're happy and your students seem happy and are making progress, then stick with what works for you.

If and when you’re ready to learn the advantages of apps, then read on.

How do apps boost learning in a piano lesson?

When you integrate an app to assist your teaching, think of it as a tool just like you’d use flashcards, animal erasers, rhythm sticks, method books, cups, etc. The right apps used in connection with your teaching will can engage students and enhance your toolbox.

Hold on! Concerned about too much screen time? Me, too. Please read…

We teach digital natives who are oblivious to what life was like back in B.S.—before smartphones. It’s the age of “screenagers” and thanks to the power of social media, texting, etc, it’s a struggle to monitor and develop responsible use of screen time.

Let’s be honest; students (and their parents!) are more inclined to forget their music books before they forget their smartphone when they arrive at a lesson! Technology permeates just about every part of our lives, it’s not going away.

And, keep in mind that the best way to teach responsible use of smartphone is by modeling it yourself.

When should apps be used in a piano lesson?

This all depends upon the function of the app. If you need to play a backing track, slow down a tune, drill pitches or leave a decision up to chance, apps will serve you well during a lesson.

If you want to reinforce music terms, develop deeper rhythmic understanding, build sight reading skills and other activities that are hard to squeeze into precious lesson time, then consider adding Off Bench Time to lessons. Learn all about that here.

If you’ve got extremely dedicated students who ALWAYS complete every assignment you give them, then invite your students to use apps for drilling concepts at home—not instead of—but, along with their piano practice.

Which apps are the best for teaching piano?

First, beware…it’s easy to hoard apps because they are cunningly attractive. Stay strong and before you are tempted to download an app, ask yourself:

What can this app do?

 And better yet,

What can this app do for ME?

If you determine the app could benefit your instruction, screen the app again through a filter of three criteria:

Is it easy to use?

Does it add value to precious lesson time?

Is it customizable to suit my needs?

If the answer is yes to all three questions, then get the app. Remember, too many apps can lead to digital overload. Practice restraint and choose to use only the apps that pass your high standards. And, begin by using one at a time and slowly mix in others when ready.

Which apps come highly recommended?

Shortly before The iPad Piano Studio was published, I began a Music App Directory at my old site, I thought long and hard about including the directory here at my new site,, but I decided to rethink the purpose for a “directory.”

A huge list of apps doesn’t necessarily point you in the right direction. A small curated list of tested and approved apps and how I use them in my teaching might be a better way to go.

So, I’m starting a Must-Have App page that will highlight specific apps that pass (you guessed it!) the criteria below.


In addition, these Must-Have Apps must meet one more qualification. They must contribute to students’ learning process or stages of learning. I stumbled upon these stages of learning while listening to a podcast featuring the creators of Hyperdocs from The Cult of Pedagogy. Here’s how I’ve modified the stages so they serve as filters for apps that I use in my studio.

Engage =  Does the app grab pianists’ attention with fun, interesting, quirky and/or gamification features?

Explore = Does the app allow opportunities for pianists to get curious and explore options that leads to a fresh perspective or deeper understanding?

Explain = Does the app introduce, describe or teach a concept and help pianists relate the known to the unknown?

Apply = Does the app provide opportunities for pianists to show what they know?

Share = Does the app give pianists a chance to share what they know or what they’ve accomplished with others?

Reflect = Does the app encourage pianists to think beyond the obvious and help them see how concepts sound, feel and connect to each other?

Extend =  Does the app maximize and further learning by putting a new twist on old concepts?

The graphic below shows how one of my favorite apps called Flashnote Derby which drills pitch recognition performs within the stages.


Flashnote Derby is a default app in my studio and my work at the University of Denver. To learn more about how I use Flashnote Derby and to get a free downloadable Grand Staff map, go to Must-Have Music Apps for Piano Teachers. There are two other apps included on this page that you’ll definitely want to download if you haven’t already. And…stick around as I’ll be adding more of my favorite apps to this page!

Here’s to enjoying your iPad piano studio as much as I have the past six years!