Archive for August, 2012

Tablets PC’s in the Piano Studio

I have always been fascinated with J.S. Bach’s — Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.  This simple baroque folio gives us a glimpse into the methods of one of the first great pedagogues of the keyboard.  Of course, at this time there were no keyboard methods written.  J.S. Bach could’t go down to the local music store and get a copy of the latest Piano Adventures.

To me , I found a couple intriguing observations.  One was that sometimes there was only a part of a composition written.  I gather from this that Bach, and perhaps other teachers of the Baroque, was very interested in teaching not only the mechanics of technique but also the theory of  composition as well.  Another interesting point was that The Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach also had a couple sheets of blank manuscript paper.  A teacher with the gift of improvisation as J.S. Bach would carry on that gift to his teaching.  He was ready at a moments inspiration to write out something he found necessary for his student’s continuing musical education.

This whole idea of Notebooks got me to thinking of possible advantages that we could bring our students in our age when so much is prepackaged for our student’s consumption.  The individuality of each student can easily get lost.  But individuality was NOT lost in the day of Bach.  It seems it was a natural part of the way students were taught music 300 years ago.  The Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach was written for a specific individual — Anna Magdalena Bach.  That in itself is an important point to ponder.


During my research of finding a suitable tablet device and I came across the HP Slate 500 I began to see how I could design an electronic version of  The Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach for each of my students.  Once I saw this was a real possibility, it became the main focus of my research.

With the great portability of a tablet PC; the HP Slate 500 also included a digitizer pen. I could take notes on each of my students without the need of a bulky keyboard or the limited functionality of the screen keyboards found on many tablet computers.

Many times I would end a lesson and the thought would come to me that I needed to go over some musical material at the next lesson.  Maybe I taught the student about scales but I didn’t have enough time to show the relationship between scales and chords.  If I had a file for each student I could write down a note so I have the reminder I needed to teach this at the next lesson I saw with this student.  I found this would be a very doable way of using a tablet PC.

On most lessons I don’t have enough time to cover every book in which I have a student working.  This would be another very doable application because of the portability of a tablet PC.  On the student’s file I just needed to jot down a quick note of any uncovered material that needed to be covered first in the next lesson.

I’ve also found that many students would purposely avoid playing a piece or a book.  Sometimes the student would postpone playing a piece for several weeks.  Writing down all uncovered material in a special file on my tablet PC solves this issue.  Now my lessons would have much better continuity than previously.

Microsoft OneNote and the HP Slate 500

About this time in my research I found that Microsoft has a fantastically flexible piece of software that could be a piano teacher’s dream for creating Student Notebooks patterned after Bach’s Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.  The software is OneNote.  It’s part of the suite of applications found on most versions of Microsoft Office.

The HP Slate 500 comes equipped with a digitizer pen and excellent handwriting recognition software.  It works beautifully in conjunction with OneNote.

First, I made a Notebook for each student.  I saved all my Student Notebooks on Microsoft’s SkyDrive.  I can give each student (and parent) a web address where they can always view my most updated version of their Notebook.  For my parents that are not so computer savvy I can eMail them the contents of their child’s notebook.  OneNote has the built in feature where I can eMail the parents directly from within OneNote.  (As you continue reading this blog you will see how useful this ability can be).

For my students that do not take their lessons at my studio where I may not have access to the internet, I’ve also a copy of each Student’s Notebook on a 32 GB SD card.  (If I chose, I could also store the Notebooks on the 64 GB hard drive that comes standard on the Slate 500.)  Windows 7 also has a feature where I can synchronize all my student Notebooks on my Slate 500 with the Notebooks on the SkyDrive.

The Student Notebooks and using them with the Slate 500

The first thing I should mention is that the Student Notebooks are NOT assignment books.  Assignment books are for the STUDENTS BENEFIT.  The OneNote Notebook is for the TEACHERS BENEFIT, but also has great usefulness to the student.  It’s a tool for the teacher to keep track of what’s going on educationally and digitally with each student.

I organize each Student Notebook into MONTHS.  I create a new page at the first lesson of each month.  I update the REPERTOIRE LIST I create for each student.  The REPERTOIRE LIST contains all the major compositions a student is working on.  I carry over my studio color code system directly into my OneNote Notebooks.  Regular pieces are listed in BLACK.  Memory pieces are marked in RED.  (I use red paper clips in my student’s books to indicate a piece that is to be memorized.) Performance pieces are marked in BLUE.  ((I use blue paper clips in my student’s books to indicate a piece being prepared for a performance.)  As pieces are completed for study I ask the student if they would consider the piece for their yearly Guild Auditions.  If they say YES – I highlight that piece in GREEN.  If they want to be completed with a piece I highlight the title of the piece in GREY.

A REPERTOIRE list may look like this …..


  • Alpine Sonatina – MVT III
  • Funeral March of the Marionette
  • Highland Jig
  • Alpine Sonatina MVT I
  • March of the Migrant Mouse
  • Chit-Chat:Kabalevsky

Having this list gives me, at a quick glance, a quick review of the exact work load of each student.  This is very beneficial to me where I can instantly organize the student’s lesson.

Another very helpful organizational note I can make in a Student’s Notebook is to make a notation as to something I need to cover the next lesson.  For example – If I notice a student is having difficult memorizing a composition I make a notation in the Student’s Notebook.  Like this …..

NEXT WEEK: Give memory techniques for Highland Jig

I often don’t get everything book covered in a lesson.  OneNote is the perfect memory jogger.  A simple notation is all I need.



One of the coolest features of the Slate 500 is that you can add hyperlinks to a Student’s Notebook.  If I’m working with a student on the old English folk song Greensleeves  I can, not only, play it for the student using the Slate 500 by going to YouTube but I can also add the link and make it a part of the Student’s Notebook.  I simply copy the link from my WebBrowser and paste in into the Student’s Notebook.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVWhxoIkHtY  Baltimore Consort:Greensleeves

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0GQceYJPdE&feature=related Greensleeves  (arr. Vaughan Williams)

Another way I can record using the Slate 500 is by recording a mp3 file.  If I record myself within OneNote it will automatically put the link into the Student’s Notebook.  What I can do is simply sent the student’s notebook to the student’s eMail address and the file automatically becomes an attachment.  Click on the attachment and the student can hear the recording.

Many times a student wants me to play a new composition for them so they can hear it.  It takes no extra time to prepare the Slate 500 to make an mp3 recording of their new piece.  Again, OneNote’s recording capabilities are all part of the OneNote package.  There’s no need to exit OneNote to a piece of recording software and then import the mp3 file into OneNote.  This can all be done within OneNote itself!

The eMail client I use is Mozilla’s Thunderbird.  Within OneNote itself I can directly export a Student’s Notebook to their eMail address.  ALL mp3 and videos are sent to my students through attachments.  In our example above the student would not only get my personal mp3 recording BUT ALSO the two versions of Greensleeves!!  All attachments are included in the eMail automatically!

Of course, just like the iPad, the Slate 500 contains two cameras; one for Skyping and another for “stills” and “videos”.

One time I was teaching a student about legato pedaling for the first time.  It is always a bit confusing.  So, I recorded the whole little lecture.  After I recorded the lecture it automatically created a mp3 link in hypertext as part of the student’s OneNote notebook.  The student had this mini lecture for her future reference just by finding the file and playing it again.  I recommend all my students make a special folder in their eMail program called Piano Lessons PLUS for all their correspondence I may send them.

For anyone seriously interested in the Slate 500 I should mention that it comes with a Docking Station.  The Docking Station comes equipped with a port for external speakers.  I purchased a pair of Bose Speakers and the sound quality is excellent.  My students get exceptional sound quality for everything I play for them from YouTube.  One of the greatest features of the Slate 500 is its expandability.

Using HDMI with the Slate 500

HDMI gives the Slate 500 the ability to connect to large screen computer monitors; even large screen TV’s if so equipped with HDMI.  I have my Slate Docking Station connected via HDMI to a 24 inch computer monitor.  When I place the Slate 500 on the Docking Station the screen on the Slate 500 is projected on to the large monitor.  This is a very nice feature when I’m playing a symphonic composition on YouTube.  When I set YouTube to play in full screen mode the 24 inch monitor adjusts to full screen mode too.  Students get an excellent view of the full symphony orchestra.

A really great educational feature of having the HDMI monitor is that I can to “chalk talks” using Windows Paint (a program included with Windows 7.  The Slate 500 comes automatically loaded with Windows 7 Professional).  After I’ve completed the “chalk talk” I can save the “chalk talk” as a .jpeg file and import this directly into the Student’s Notebook.  Where I used to do “chalk talks” on a dry erase board all I could do is  erase them and hope the student remembered the material.  NOW I can import the chalk talk into the Student’s Notebook and when I send this via eMail it can be printed out and reviewed.  Students know that when they go home there’s an eMail waiting for them with valuable information in what they just covered in their private lesson.

The nice thing about Microsoft Paint is that my “chalk talks” are in full color.  This is very handy.  If I am teaching a student about chord inversions, I can always color the ROOT in red and this helps the student easily identify their chords as they are first working through the material. And don’t forget, this is very easily imported into the Student’s OneNote Notebook.

I’ve made several .jpeg files of music staff paper.  If my “chalk talk” requires the music staff, which it often does, I’m ready to go in no time.  When I’m done with the little lecture I simply give the file a new name using “SAVE AS” and the file is ready to import into OneNote.  Actually, OneNote has drawing capabilities, but I find Windows Paint is more powerful for my “chalk talk” needs.

Another thing I have done it to convert all my Method Books into .jpeg files.  I can then import any composition of my method books into Microsoft Paint and make a theory lesson from their Method Book.  This saves a lot of superfluous writing in the students method books.  I think this simulates what J.S. Bach did by only writing out a single part of a composition.  The student could more easily learn their composition “brick by brick“.

Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse

Through one of the three USB ports one can connect a keyboard and mouse if one wants to use the Slate 500 for cleaning up a student’s notebook or for writing a studio wide eMail to all the parents of your student.  If you use Microsoft Office you can do work on any Microsoft Program; Excel, Powerpoint, Word and, of course, OneNote.

This blog only covers how I’m using the Slate 500 in the creation of Student Notebooks using OneNote.  But just this one application alone has brought my teaching fully into the 21st century.  I’m am fully satisfied with my purchase and I hope it has stimulated you into opening up your mind to new possibilities into using tablet computers.

The Slate 500 was specifically designed for professionals in both business AND education.  I think you can see through this blog how the capabilities of the Slate 500 has tremendous hardware capabilities that can enhance the educational possibilities of any music teacher.

I think ol’  J.S. Bach himself would be pleased.


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