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iPhone, iPad apps meld music lessons, video games

Some music experts have dubbed this the "gamification" of music education, a way of making sometimes-grueling practice more enjoyable.

Don’t kid yourselves, guitar heroes: Racking up mega-scores with that fake guitar won’t get you any closer to playing the real thing. But if students really want to learn the guitar or another instrument, a number of apps for the iPad and iPhone can help—and students will feel like they’re still playing a video game.

In fact, some music experts have dubbed this the “gamification” of music education, a means for making sometimes-grueling music learning more palatable and enjoyable.

A handful of apps with St. Paul, Minn., connections are a part of this high-tech music-education surge.

Tone Target, developed by J. Anthony Allen at the McNally Smith College of Music in downtown St. Paul, is a dead ringer for Guitar Hero.

Dots representing tones endlessly flow on an iPad screen, similar to how the video game behaves. Replicate each of the tones on cue using an instrument or your voice, and you become a music titan.

AtPlayMusic Recorder, partly the brainchild of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musician “Skip” James, is a music course with the trappings of a video game. Aimed largely at children, it shows users the basics of playing the simple wind instrument known as the recorder.

The next title in the AtPlayMusic series will tackle the guitar with input from the St. Paul music academy’s co-founder, Jack McNally.

Stillwater, Minn., app developer Troy Peterson, meanwhile, is working on a “Ninja” series of music apps such as Guitar Ninja, Piano Ninja, Mandolin Ninja, and so on. The first in this series, Guitar Ninja, is scheduled to be released in the coming weeks.

Peterson, a St. Paul native, believes such apps and the touch-screen devices they run on will be “ubiquitous” parts of music education in the coming years.

See also:

Ten of the best Apple apps for education in 2012

Game-based learning catching on in schools

Software program allows for smarter music education

“You still need a music teacher,” Peterson said, but he believes that apps and tablets can help music teachers do their jobs better, too.

Many such teaching jobs and music programs at U.S. school districts have been the victim of cutbacks, however. This makes music education ripe for digital disruption with apps and other tools that can be used anywhere, not just in the classroom.

The stakes could not be higher, said Bill Haertzen, vice president of business development at Eden Prairie-based AtPlayMusic.

“A culture that doesn’t have music is a culture that has lost its soul,” Haertzen said. “Music is something that binds people together.”

Recorder for kids

The AtPlayMusic app for teaching children the recorder has its roots in the 1970s, when James had joined the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as a humble fill-in musician who played that simplest of instruments.

Fast-forward to the present, when the now-retired James began to brainstorm with his pal Gary Meyer about how to bring the recorder into the digital age.

“We got to talking about how animation could be used to teach it,” James said.

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