How Staffpad Takes Music Education to the Next Level – Guest Post by Andrew Fitzgerald, USA

Last week, it was time for me to teach my beginner groups about Key Signatures. Reading a key signature is a vital skill for any musician, so I want to make sure my students know and understand the concept well. However, not only do I want my students to have the skills necessary to analyze and decipher what they see in a key signature, I want them to understand the purpose. Why are key signatures so important? What effect do they have on the notes they read and the sounds they make with their instruments? What happens when Key Signatures are read and applied correctly, or incorrectly?

When I first started teaching this concept 12 years ago, I used the tools available in my classroom: a whiteboard, a piano over in the corner of the room, and whatever instrument was in my hand. Worksheets for the students? Hardly. I would need to handwrite one out for them. I was able to get the concept through to them, but it wasn’t the best experience. Using the whiteboard is messy, and I would eventually run out of room. My piano chops are not the greatest, so playing it required my attention to be on the instrument instead of my students. The process diminished my students’ cognitive learning experience since they weren’t connecting in real time what I was banging on the piano with what was written on my whiteboard.

Last week was not a problem for me. These days my students receive a better learning experience because I’ve upped my instruction with a Surface and StaffPad. Using these tools, I have improved my prior pedagogical practices, and at the same time they have given me the creative flexibility to create new ones. Together they add a pedagogical harmony to my classroom instruction.

So what makes Surface and StaffPad so great?


I’m creating music the same natural way I learned to back in college, the same way I teach my middle school students. I’m writing it down, and quickly, too. No intimidating interfaces. No big learning curves. I just pick up the Surface pen, write music, and StaffPad magically converts my handwriting into digital music notation.

My Surface is wirelessly connected to my projector and speaker system, turning my Surface into a digital whiteboard that’s projected to the front of my classroom. As I use StaffPad in my instruction, my students are watching and listening to the notation as I write it. I’m activating both their visual and aural cognition channels at the same time. No longer is there downtime from writing notes on the whiteboard and walking over to the piano to carefully play what I had just written down. My students learn better, and I have better classroom management.

Whatever I create in StaffPad, I can export. I can export my work as an audio file, in the MusicXml format, or as an image, giving me the ability to combine what I create in StaffPad with the other software applications on my Surface. Instead of searching for the perfect theory worksheet, now I’m creating that perfect worksheet I need, tailored for my students and instruction. I can export a score straight into my OneNote Class Notebook so my students can take it apart and analyze it. I can create all the musical examples I need and copy/paste them straight into a PowerPoint slide or video editor.

I’m mobile in my classroom, not stuck behind a desktop workstation. Using StaffPad and Surface, I’m connected wirelessly via Miracast to my projector. I’m free to move around my room and teach from anywhere, next to any section I want, making my classroom management a lot more effective. Those talkative sections (*cough* trumpets *cough*) are no longer a problem, as I can go sit in the middle of them and still teach to the front of the room.

The best part is letting my students get their hands on it. I love seeing their faces light up when I hand them my Surface and ask them to write music in StaffPad. There isn’t any hesitation or confusion with the computer or app. StaffPad doesn’t require any pointing or clicking. My students are doing what I’ve already taught them to do, just with a digital pen. The simplicity is wonderful, and they get to immediately hear what they wrote! The whole class gets to! Plus, if they don’t like how it sounds, they can easily erase and start over. My students are using 21st century skills to write music and get the immediate feedback of how it sounds. This was possible before with paper and pencil, but by using Surface and StaffPad I’ve eliminated extra time-consuming steps, giving me more class time for instruction and other activities.

Surface and StaffPad have become an integral part of my instruction. It hits that TPACK sweet spot, the intersection of Technology, Pedagogy, and Content. It’s simple, it’s quick, fun to use with my music students, and makes me a better teacher.

by Andrew Fitzgerald
Instrumental Music & Multimedia Teacher and MIE Expert
Long Beach Unified School District
Long Beach, CA


Watch how Staffpad and Surface empower creativity in music:

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