The Music Educators Guide to the iPod

By James Frankel











If youıve ever walked down Broadway in New York City (or any street in New Jersey) it wonıt take too long to see someone sporting those little white headphones.  The people are usually oblivious to the world around them, although they are often walking to a steady beat.  Odds are, many of those people are the students you teach who have been fortunate enough to receive one from their parents.  Not since Sony first introduced the Walkman in the 1980ıs have so many people been sporting headphones wherever they go.


What Exactly Is An iPod?












An iPod is a small hand-held device that has a number of different functions: digital music storage and playback device (can hold up to 25,000 three-minute songs on the 60GB model), a portable hard disk drive (I personally backup my most important files on my iPod), and now, a digital photograph storage and viewing device.  In a nutshell, you can put lots of songs, pictures, and data files on it and then listen, view and retrieve them.


A Brief History


When Apple Computer first introduced the iPod in October of 2001, it was a complete revolution for the computer industry (it also saved Apple Computer from the brink of bankruptcy).  While mp3 players had been around for some time, the design and features of the iPod made it a very popular product, very quickly.  Apple was also sure to make the iPod PC compatible ­ a smart business move to be sure.  The iPod comes in all colors and sizes ­ the iPod Shuffle, the iPod Mini, the 20GB & 60GB iPod with color screens and photo storing capabilities. Now, in its fourth generation, it is estimated that more than 15 million iPods have been sold worldwide. 

In April of 2003, Apple also introduced iTunes, an online store for legal music downloading, and at the time of this writing, the magic number of 500 million songs (at 99 cents each) has just been reached.  This past summer at the NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) Convention in Philadelphia, Apple introduced iTunes Version 4.9, which brings Podcasting to the masses.  It has been an exciting ride at Apple Computer, and future iPod generations already have rumors flying around them.

At the NECC Convention, I presented the iPod at the Music Technology Playground, demonstrating ways to incorporate the iPod into the music classroom.  What follows is an overview of what I presented at NECC, as well as some further suggestions for getting the most out of your iPod in the music classroom.


The iPod As A Music Storage Device


            You may already have a CD player in your music classroom, and if you are anything like me, you probably have dozens of CDıs in various locations around the room.  Have you ever misplaced the CD that your whole lesson plan revolved around?  Itıs a situation that I try to avoid at all costs, but when it does occasionally happen, it is quite painful. The problem that I have with CDıs (when Iım not losing them) is that when I need to play various listening examples for a class using different CDıs, I waste a fair amount of time ejecting and changing the CDıs, and then searching for the correct track.  If this sounds a little like you, or even if you are a very organized person, the iPod can help.

            With iTunes, you can import all of the CDıs that you have bought for your music classroom, as well as CDs from your own personal collection, into your computer (Mac or PC).  You can also purchase individual songs or entire albums from the iTunes Music Store.  Once you have the desired music in your computer, you can ³sync² your iPod to your computer (through a dock or FireWire connection), which automatically puts all of the songs from your computer onto your iPod (you also have the ability to manually load songs onto your iPod, if there are songs that are on your computer that youıd rather not have on your iPod.)

            Aside from importing songs into iTunes, you can also create ³playlists².  Creating a new playlist is quite simple, and you can put any song youıd like in your playlist, in any order.  Playlists can then be imported onto your iPod.  Once your iPod has all of the music youıd like on it, there are a number of ways you can access it.  You can browse by Artist, Album, Song, Genre, Composer, and Playlists.

One final application of playlists is that you can publish playlists (provided that the songs are available on iTunes) directly to iTunes, so that your students can listen to 30 seconds of each song and even have the option to buy them.  I do this every year with many of the songs that my ensembles are performing, as well as selections from the Talent Show, and 8th Grade Play that I produce.  The students love the fact that they can access the songs from the shows on iTunes.

            The iPod also acts as a hard disk drive, which means that you can store data files, and more importantly, transport them from one computer to another.  When you sync your iPod to a computer, an iPod icon will appear on your desktop.  To transfer data files to your iPod, simply drag the files to the iPod icon and they will be copied.  When you plug the iPod into a different computer, you can double-click on the iPod icon on the desktop, and youıll be able to see the data files that you have stored, and drag them to your hard drive.


Organizing Your iPod


            Playlists are perhaps the most important utility for a music teacher.  What I do on my iPod is make specific playlists for each class that I teach.  For example, I can create a playlist for my 6th Grade General Music Class, and store all of the listening examples that I normally use for the class in a playlist.  You can also store any recordings that you make of your students in specific playlists.  Having all of the recordings that you use for teaching in one easy to use machine makes life a little easier, and who canıt afford to be a little more organized?


Connecting An iPod To A Sound System


            All iPods have a 1/8² stereo audio output jack that can be attached to any stereo, amplifier, or PA system.  For example, at my school I run the annual ³Name-That-Tune² Contest at our Field Day.  In the past, I would shuffle various CDs, quickly looking for each individual track.  This year, I simply made a playlist with all of the tracks that I needed, loaded the songs on to my iPod, and plugged it (with a 1/8² to stereo RCA cable that I purchased at RadioShack) into my mixer of my PA system.  It worked really well, and this is how I will run future contests. 


The iPod As A Recording Device







            There are two devices available that can convert you iPod into a pretty decent recorder.  One is called iTalk ­ (my personal preference) made by Griffin ($39.95), and the Belkin iPod Voice Recorder ($29.95).  While the recording quality on both devices leaves a little to be desired, you can use them to make quick recordings of rehearsals, lessons, etc.  These recordings can then be put into your iTunes Music Library and subsequently synced to your iPod.  I tend to store all of my voice recordings into a specified playlist so that I know where they all are. 




The iPod As AN FM Transmitter










            As it is probably not a very good idea to wear your iPod headphones in the car while you are driving (and illegal), both Griffin (iTrip - $34.95) and Belkin (iPod Audio Kit - $39.95) have made devices that attach to the iPod which allow users to transmit their iPods to an FM radio station.  Simply tune your car stereo to a certain radio station; select the same radio station on your transmitter, and your iPod will play through your car stereo.  This works on any radio, so teachers could easily plug one of these devices into their iPod, select the tuner on the classroom stereo system, and play their iPods through their stereos wirelessly ­ giving teachers the ability to move around the room while playing listening examples for their students. 


What Is Podcasting?


            Podcasting has been around for some time now.  Radio stations like NPR have been saving their on-air programming as podcasts on their websites, and listeners can download any podcast in the archive and load it onto their iPods.  Itıs a great feature if you happen to miss your favorite program.  In the past, podcasting could only be done by either organizations with broadcasting abilities, or advanced tech-type people who were running RSS (Really Simple Syndication) files on their blogs. At the NECC Convention, Apple Computer unveiled iTunes Version 4.9, which allows any user to podcast and publish it directly onto the iTunes Music Store.  What that means is that you can assign a project to your student to create a 10-minute radio program (the content of which can be anything you assign) using GarageBand as the recording software.  Students can then publish those radio programs on the school website (there are detailed directions on the Apple website ( on how to do this).  Itıs a brand new application for music teachers to try out, and I plan on having my students begin podcasting this school year.

Obtaining An iPod For Your Classroom


            iPods are always coming out in different sizes, shapes, and colors.  In addition to these changes, the prices keep dropping as well.  You can get a 20GB iPod for $299 (at the time of this writing) that will store up to 15,000 songs ­ probably enough for most music teachers.  If you buy it for your school, there is an educational discount (usually 10%) available at the Apple Education Store (online at  If you already have an iPod for personal use, I recommend trying out some of the ideas in this article and seeing if it something that is right for your program.


            As always, if you would like any further information, please feel free to email me at or visit my website at:  Have a great school year!