24 Tools for Digital Art and Music Creation | Mix It Up

Librarians Stacy Dillon and Amy Laughlin recommend free or cheap apps and websites that allow kids to create, remix, and experiment with art and sound.

The transition from STEM to STEAM—integrating the arts into STEM education—offers librarians opportunities to showcase accessible digital tools that help foster students’ innate curiosity and creativity.

However, as music and arts budgets shrink, getting instruments and art supplies into the hands of children can be challenging. Though there is no replacement for holding bow to cello or brush to canvas, innovative new technology tools, such as smart apps and websites, allow individuals without access to expensive musical recording equipment and art supplies to explore their artistic passions and interests—and where there is passion and interest, therein lies an untapped artist.

These new tools have adjusted the way in which we are able to play with, explore, and “practice” our creative impulses, offering unique avenues for original compositions and dynamic, collaborative remixes. We hope you’ll embrace and utilize these tools with vigor in your libraries and classrooms. As you and your students explore, a handy playlist available via Spotify may help encourage some of your own creativity to begin flowing. Find that mix at http://bit.ly/sljmix15.

Exploring Art & Design

1601_MIU_butterflyAmaziograph (app: iOS) $.99 | Gr 4 Up

Encourage budding graphic designers with this app that allows users to create symmetrical images, tessellations, and endless patterns. Amaziograph streamlines the pattern- and tessellation-making process, as users do not have to duplicate objects by hand: the app automatically repeats what the creator illustrates. A dynamic way to introduce mathematics-based tessellation designs to eager artists and learners. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_GoogleStreetArtGoogle Art Project: Street Art (website) Free | Gr 7 Up

Take a trip down a rabbit hole of endless art with this virtual exhibit on Street Art from the Google Cultural Institute. View individual pieces from around the globe by hovering over spots on the map, or explore specific audio/video tours of works in New York City, Buenos Aires, and Malmö. The “Stories to Discover” section shows more amazing graffiti from all over the world. There is a section of GIFs for the web as well as one with artist profiles. Beautiful and informative. Good for: instructor resource, solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_IsometricIsometric (app: iOS) $1.99 | Gr 4 Up

Using the humble rhombus shape, users design geometric landscapes by linking rhombi together to create rectangles, squares, and other shapes. Skilled users can manipulate rhombi into M.C. Escher–eque landscapes using cunning color combinations. For such a remarkably simple interface, impressively complex designs can be made with determination and imagination. Who knew that a rhombus could be so cool? Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_MoMAMoMA Art Lab (app: iOS) Free | Gr 4 Up

A powerful app full of proprietary MoMA-related art pieces and artists, Art Lab lets users explore techniques made famous by specific artists, such as Henri Matisse’s cutouts, Elizabeth Murray’s layered graphics, and more. Great for collaborating: kids can pass off the iPad to make “exquisite corpses,” which are communal drawings that require one person to create each piece of a body (head, torso, feet) for a silly end result. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.



From the left: A Beautiful Mess, Fotoffiti, Tales of Us, and WordFoto

 A Beautiful Mess (app: iOS) $.99 | Gr 3 Up

A Beautiful Mess (ABM) provides seemingly endless ways to add text, borders, doodles, phrases, and filters to digital photographs. Users can make invitations, cards, and personal photo messages to share. If Instagram had a “doodle” function crossed with a hipster sticker book, you’d get ABM. Good for: solo exploration.

Fotoffiti (app: iOS) Free | Gr 6 Up

Super easy to use, this app allows users to either snap pictures or use the ones already on saved on their device and add filters, shapes, and text to make them resemble street art. Images can then be saved or shared via Twitter, text, or email. Good for: solo exploration.

Tales of Us (app: iOS) Free | Gr 4 Up

Double-exposing photographs was once considered a photographic mistake, but with Tales of Us (an app designed by Indie singer Goldfrapp), users can craft their own double exposures with thoughtful intention. Photo enthusiasts can layer two pictures and either “enhance,” “tone,” or remove the color for dazzling results. Good for: solo exploration.

WordFoto (app: iOS) $1.99 | Gr 6 Up

Users manipulate images from their camera roll with different filters as well as add word sets that can be applied to the image in a word-cloud style. Images can then be saved to the camera roll, or shared via Facebook directly from the app. Good for: solo exploration.

 Making & Remixing Music

1601_MIU_ChordionChordion (app: iOS) $3.99 | Gr 5 Up

A wide-ranging app that beginners and experienced musicians can enjoy. The beauty of Chordion is that it allows the playing of harmony and melody at the same time. Simply pressing on a hexagon selects a chord, while a keyboard on the right can be played without the possibility of a sour note. Creations cannot be saved in-app, but users can save to Dropbox or via iTunes file sharing. More advanced users will appreciate the drum machine and the ability to change the reverb, envelope, timbre, and much more. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_FigureFigure (app: iOS) Free | Gr 4 Up

Become a DJ with this app that lets users loop sounds, change tempo/speed, and more. Figure is essentially a pocket-sized mixing studio that enables users to explore the myriad ways a song can be enriched and adjusted by sound editing. It anticipates a certain level of musical literacy in order for users to fully take advantage of the mixing functions available; adults should be prepared to provide guidance on what each function does. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_GirltalkGirl Talk in a Box (website) Free | Gr 6 Up

This site provides a powerful way to visualize and manipulate songs. Songs are presented visually in a gridlike formation of small colored cubes. Each cube is a short snippet of the song, which can be played individually. Users select keyboard commands to change the velocity, beats, and more. Originally conceived as a music hack, this is another example of different ways of viewing and remixing music. Users can choose from a bevy of popular songs to chop up and remix, or they can upload their own. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_HookTheory Hooktheory (website) Free and paid versions available | Gr 6 Up

For the more serious music maker, Hooktheory is comprised of several parts: “Hooktheory I” presents a book on musical theory; “Hookpad” is a musical sketch pad where users can create (and save) their own music with chords and melodies; and “Theorytab” allows users to see the musical theory behind popular music via YouTube. A crowdsourced video section provides tutorials on a variety of subjects, and the daily dictation allows users to fine-tune their skills in translating “by ear.” Additional features are available by monthly subscription. Good for: instructor resource, group projects.

1601_MIU_incrediboxIncredibox (website) Free | Gr 2 Up

Talk about instant gratification! Users drag a series of accessories representing beats, effects, melodies, and voices onto the avatar to create a loop. There are currently four versions online and users can create a mix with any of them. Mixes can be recorded, shared, or downloaded (for an additional fee). Kids with DJing and music production aspirations will find Incredibox infinitely entertaining. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_noteflightNoteflight (website) Free for individuals; education plans available | Gr 5 Up

Noteflight allows users to write music, play it back using a variety of instruments, and print out the score. Scores can either be kept private or can be made public. When public, others may add comments. The site contains forums where users can ask questions about composing. Other helpful features include a frequently updated blog and a library of public scores to peruse. Good for: instructor resource, group projects.

1601_MIU_PlaypadPlaypad (app: iOS) Free | Gr 2 Up

Users play the musical stave instead of keys or strings on Playpad. Pressing the lines or spaces results in the playing of corresponding notes, allowing users not only to compose, but to see how the notes relate to the stave. Treble and bass staves are accessible and the letter notes can be visible on the lines and in the spaces as well. A great introduction to theory and sight reading. Good for: solo exploration, group projects, instructor resource.

1601_MIU_Scape_EnoScape (app: iOS) $11.99 | Gr 6 Up

Renowned ambient music producer Brian Eno has created a “generative music creator.” By clicking and dragging differently colored shapes onto a flat background, users can craft a song. The various shapes interact with each other differently, which adds a layer of mystery and intrigue to the music-composing process. Song creations can be saved but will sound different each time they are played due to the randomized nature of the shapes’ interactions. Scape offers budding musical composers an eye-opening view into how orchestral arrangements are pieced together to provide listeners with a pleasing sound. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

1601_MIU_sketchnoteSketch-a-Song Kids (app: iOS) Free | Gr 5 Up

Dragging and tapping is all you need to do to get started with this music-making app. Choose a sketch and then add instruments by dragging up and down along the stave. Each sketch starts with a beat and instruments, and beatboxing can be added from there. Experimenting comes easy, but composing with finesse will take a little more time. Productions can be saved into a “My Songs” folder. Users can also explore the Grooves section to visualize what different styles of music look like in the sketches. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_TakeCreativeVocalRecorder2 Take Creative Vocal Recorder (app: iOS) Free | Gr 6 Up

Touted as a “creative vocal recorder,” Take is the ultimate app for exploring music looping and mixing. Tap out a beat on a drum, desktop, or trashcan lid, loop it, and begin scatting or rapping on top of it. Add in a second voice or instrument and you have yourself a song. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.


1601_MIU_Auryn-InkAuryn Ink (app: iOS & Android) $3.99; .99 | Gr 2 Up

One of the best options for creating believable watercolor paintings on a tablet. A straightforward, simple interface allows users to adjust from wet to dry brushes as well as alter thickness and size of brushes, depth of color, canvas texture, and more. Paintings can be saved and emailed. A mess-free way to explore the nuances of watercolor painting. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_Paper53Paper by 53 (app: iOS) Free | Gr 6 Up

Forget the sketchbook and use this app instead. Vastly more attractive and grown up looking than other sketching app options, Paper allows users to draw either with their fingertips or with a separately purchased stylus (Pencil, by 53). On opening, users can select “books” that are prefilled with starter ideas or blank options. From thin pencil-like marks, to expressive watercolors, digital artists can fill their pages with whatever doodles and sketches they please, no matter their ability level. Good for: solo exploration, group projects.

Sound Experiments

1601_MIU_Toca-BandToca Band (app: iOS) $3.99 | Ages 2 Up

Mix and match a motley cast of musical characters on a three-tiered stage to create a wholly original song. Each character represents some sort of instrument or sound—a stomping spider is a bass drum of sorts, a jolly clock provides a metronome-type beat, and an accordion-type creature plays...the accordion, among other characters. Young users will enjoy being the “conductor” of the mini band and will be tempted to endlessly arrange and rearrange the characters into a seemingly infinite number of bands. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_BebotBebot Robot Synth (app: iOS) $1.99 | Gr K Up

A small singing robot changes pitch as you move your finger along the screen. By double tapping in the lower-right hand corner, users can adjust the sound, pitch, reverb, and effects of the robot. Bebot does not provide much guidance on each function; the user is tasked with exploring and familiarizing themselves with the app’s functionality. Younger users will likely need an adult to show them how to double-tap to access the extra functions before they’ll be able to fully explore Bebot. Good for: one-on-one exploration.

1601_MIU_ArpieArpie (app: iOS) Free | Gr K Up

Arpie opens with a horizontal line comprised of grey boxes similar to a piano’s keys. Tap above one of the boxes and a colored bouncing ball drops up and down; depending on where the screen is tapped, the tone that appears will be repeated quickly or slowly. Multiple taps result in multiple balls making the same tone at different intervals. The line of boxes is set up keyboard style, with lower tones on the left and higher tones on the right. Tapping on the box proper makes the balls landing on it disappear. Simply tap the circular arrow on the bottom right of the screen to start from scratch. A fun entry to musical keyboarding. Good for: solo exploration.

1601_MIU_SounddropSoundrop (app: iOS) Free; $1.99 | Gr K Up

This super easy app will have users making music in no time. Simply tap and drag on the screen and a line appears. The constantly dropping balls bounce off the lines at different angles and make a sound not unlike that of a marimba. The more lines and angles, the more complicated your sound. The pro version allows users to select instruments, add physics, and save games. This can easily be used in a music-making program in place of shakers and bells or as part of a virtual band. Good for: solo exploration, group projects. Spotlight on: Folks and #hashtags to follow on Twitter

Connecting on Twitter

Connect with fellow musicians and music teachers on Twitter, or simply listen in on the conversation using #MusEdChat, which brings together musicians, teachers, and music scholars alike to share stories, ask questions, and connect with one another. Follow the thread to see what topics are being discussed in the industry. Join the #artsedchatwhere art teachers contribute ideas about programs and practice.


@johnstonb: Music Tech for Teachers is the Twitter account of Brad Johnston, music teacher at Yokohama International School in Japan. He tweets (and blogs) about composition and music education.

@drawingX: Get inspired by following this feed that highlights amazing pieces of art.

@lovestreetarts: This feed posts all kinds of street art—from stickers to sculptures.

@HandMadeKidsArt: Jamie brings together art info and projects in her Twitter feed. Great for program/project ideas and inspiration.

Stacy Dillon is the lower school librarian at LREI in Manhattan; Amy Laughlin is a children’s librarian at Darien Library, CT.

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