Anytime we try something new, there is always a time of transition.  This year, my students & I embarked on a new way of doing things in our studio.  Granted, we always do something new each year … but, this year it was a BIG one.  Setting up a travelling music lab.

After 3 weeks, I thought I would share the successes, the surprises (good & bad), the tweaks, & lessons I have learnt so far.  Thankfully, overall the transition has been amazingly smooth & overwhelmingly positive.

But, before I get into the transition …. “You really bought another iPad?  I mean you really actually have TWO iPads?”  I had to laugh when it took one of my students up to week 3 to realize that I DID actually have two iPads.  At least he was really engaged during the whole hour.

Setting Up a Music Lab: Lessons Learnt
Setting Up a Music Lab: Lessons Learnt

The Nuts & Bolts (Behind the Scenes):

I use a combination of Foxit Reader, Notability & Google Drive for my lab time prep.  It took quite a while to find the combination that worked, but now it is pretty seamless.

Foxit Reader PDF:

  • During my weekly prep, I use Foxit Reader to type the lab time assignments for each student onto their Student Log (included in “The Music Lab Task Cards” bundle).
  • Lesson Learnt:
    • Must “PRINT” the new file to the PDF reader (I use Foxit PDF Printer).  This ensures that ALL layers are saved into a new document.  Under “Properties”, set “Layout” to “Landscape” for ease of reading for students.
      • Lawyers use this method to save legal electronic documents.  I figure if it works for them …
      • Search “how to flatten PDF” for many articles.  Add your PDF program to find the specific how-to.

Google Drive:

  • Within Google Drive, I created a “Notability” folder where I save all student logs.
  • Within the “Notability” folder, I created sub-folders for each student.
  • Ensures I have access regardless of where I am.
  • Lessons Learnt:  Will only show the ORIGINAL layer of a PDF.  Be sure to flatten all layers before saving so it shows everything you have added.  Adding the date of the lesson to the saved PDF means I have a record for each lesson.


  • I like the flexibility Notability offers, both now & in the future.
    • Students have their own folders.
    • They can write or draw on a page, then save it as a new note.
    • All notes are automatically synced with Google Drive which makes it easy to sync between devices.
    • I do not need to sign up for anything.  (I’m awash in usernames & passwords.  No more, please!)
  • Right now, we are just starting to use Notability & students are not making use of any of the cool features … yet.  Baby steps for now.
    • Currently, they access their folder & pull up the student log before moving into other apps.
    • In the future, I plan to:
      • Save the reflection cards on Notability.  Students can fill out on the iPad & save as a new note.
      • Create new notes that show their learning in different ways.
      • Use this as a portfolio tool for students to show growth.
  • Lessons Learnt:
    • Ensure PDF’s are saved as one layer.  I know I’ve said it before, but this was the BIGGEST headache in setting up this system.
    • I can upload multiple PDF’s from Google Drive at the same time & decide which folder I would like them to go to.  This has save a LOT of time.
      • Would like to streamline this process even further, so if you have any ideas share below!

Nuts & Bolts … During lessons

I have 3 ‘streams’ of students doing music lab:  full lab programming, some lab programming & independent lab programming.  (For more details, read Music Lab Time as a Travelling Teacher.)

This has brought its own challenges, but also some surprisingly easy solutions.

  • Full Lab Programming:
    • Success!  Students are comfortable getting on the iPad, plugging in headphones finding their tasks, & getting into the apps.  They are often doing MORE than what I assigned. (Ear training this week went from naming 8 intervals to anywhere between 34-50 intervals before I stopped them to move on.)
    • Tweaks:  Wait before adding task cards to the iPad.  Ran out of time before lessons to get this done, but think I will wait a few months to get everything else solid.  For now, we will stick with the physical copies of the cards.
    • Learning curve:  Students are getting used to reflecting on their answers independently.  I’ve needed to ensure I check over their task cards & talk with them about their answers.  Sometimes, this is during their independent time but I am confident over time this will move more towards end of independent lab time.
  • Partial Lab Time:
    • Success!  Getting my time management down so we end ‘at-the-piano’ time at the 30 minute mark.  This leaves 15 minutes for students to do 1 of the 2 activities assigned.
    • Tweaks:  I email a copy of the Student Log at the end of  lesson.  Students & their parents have been told NOT to print the page.  Students are expected to copy down the next task on the physical copy of their log.  This has freed up time to do activities IN lesson, rather than copy things down.
    • Learning Curve:  Same as the full lab programming.  Students are getting used to reflecting.
    • Still needs solution:  Some students don’t complete the additional assignments.  They earn points for each assignment completed which can be an incentive.  But, I really do NOT want to spend lesson time on the apps on a regular basis.
  • Independent Lab Time:
    • Success!  Most of my students have the apps downloaded. They are excited about getting to have screen time for piano.
    • Tweaks:  I email a copy of the Student Log at the end of lesson.  Not sure why I thought we would have time in a 30 minute lesson to copy things over.  Live & learn, eh?  Students will copy over the assignments during the week.
    • Learning Curve:  Making time to read student task cards & discuss with students their answers.  Helping them find the words to describe what they are learning has been the biggest hurdle for my students.
    • Still needs solution:  Same as Partial Lab Time … some students are not motivated by the extra points or their parents put off downloading apps or … well, who knows what the reason is.  Thankfully this seems to be a small percentage of my clients, but I am still thinking on a solution.

Unexpected Surprises

These surprises have come from the combined introduction of lab time & getting families to print off the weekly practice page.

  • Students are practicing more than last year.  When asked, they are telling me the new format for practice pages is easier to see what to practice, how to practice, & what is coming next.  (Thanks, Leila!)
  • Students & their parents are printing off the practice pages.  I had thought this would be more of a learning curve, but I have been pleasantly surprised.  Most parents print it off as soon as they get the email, then send the kids to get it from the printer to put directly into the binder.  One pre-teen student had forgotten to print it off this week, but had her iPad at the piano open to the PDF so I’m still considering this a win.
  • Smooth transition into lab time.  I thought the students would need more training, but they have caught onto the routine & procedures really quickly.  I love that at week 3 I can hand off the iPad knowing that they are getting right to work while I start teaching my next student.
  • I am up & about during lesson more than last year.  Last week, Jennifer had written about standing more during lessons.  While I was a bit under the weather this week & didn’t move around quite as much, the previous 2 weeks had me moving around more during lessons.  This had been great for my back & neck … really looking forward to being health next week so I can back into the swing of things.  My body will definitely thank me.
  • More energy for me & my students during lessons.  Going between students has been fun.  It’s ensured that my energy has to stay high the whole time I am teaching.  After all if I have a student wander away from an iPad, I really need to be on top of that. (One my students on the autism spectrum will wander the room rather than ask a question.  This week, I was able to check in with him BEFORE he wandered & it was much more successful.)  The other side of this is that my students are switching activities quite often & stay engaged for the full lesson.  Win-win for all!  Plus, the parents are happy/impressed their kids are staying focused for longer periods of time.
  • How easy it has been to go (relatively) paperless during lesson.  I make practice pages during my weekly prep.  During lesson, I modify anything that needs modifying & send it to my students (or their parents) after lesson.  We are making videos or taking photos in lesson which immediately get sent for practice help during the week.  My binder from last year has been shrunk down to the absolute basics & placed in a plastic folder.  I rarely need to access it during the week … compared to last year when I had a binder, iPad & who-knows-what-all-else on my lap while teaching.  I feel that my students are getting MORE support during lesson & for the week by switching to paperless!

What questions (or solutions) do you have regarding travelling music labs?

There are a few tweaks I still need to make regarding this new type of programming.  If you have an idea for one of the “Still Needs a Solution” sections, please let me know.

Do you have questions regarding travelling music labs that I haven’t answered?  Perhaps procedures for specific tasks, programs, or something else entirely?  Feel free to leave questions below.

While I am going to drink more OJ/ginger & lemon tea in order to get rid of this cold, I really would love to hear from you!

Have a great weekend everyone!

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