Interview with Adam Goldberg: Empowering Special Needs Music Making with the iPad and Logic Pro

An iPad + a teacher equals a portable & accessible music classroom. Adam Goldberg,Teacher of Music Tech & Instrumental Music at NYCDOE, explains which tools help Special Needs Students create music.  

Since the arrival of the iPad there have been an increasing number of inspiring stories detailing how it has been used to empower people from all walks of life to express themselves creatively. Here at we are thrilled to learn that the work of Adam Goldberg, Teacher of Music Technology and Instrumental Music at New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) and a member, has been featured in a video by District 75.

Adam provides musical accessibility to students with a wide range of learning disabilities. I remember our conversations on the Logic forums on ways to use Logic's Environment and MainStage 2 as enabling performance tools for his students that have difficulty communicating, moving, reading and engaging with complex technology. Since that time he has done pioneering work using iPads to help teach musical concepts from polyrhythms to dynamics and ensemble playing to those who are often excluded from the creative field. 

Watch this video, shot by District 75, NYC Department of Education to see, how using iPads, Adam has enabled an immersive and inclusive musical experience in his classroom... and read the in-depth interview with Adam on all things iPad, Logic, music accessibility and MPV!

Hands On Music: An iPad Band for Students with Disabilities from District 75 New York City on Vimeo.

Rounik Sethi: Hi Adam! Tell us about your musical background. 

Adam Goldberg: My first instrument has always been piano. I have to say that I was very fortunate to have parents who, although not being musicians themselves, always valued music, and the arts in general. They were always willing to support my musical activities, which for a while included lessons on three different instruments: drums, piano, and trumpet—even though they didn't have much money. I did have to narrow it down though, and I chose to focus on piano, and went to the Manhattan School of Music, majoring in classical piano.

While at MSM, I got more and more into jazz, and wound up touring with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I played in numerous clubs in and around NYC, but eventually got into teaching as a more stable means of supporting my family.

RS: How did you come to combine music with teaching students with learning disabilities?

AG: Before I was hired by my school, P177Q, a School for Special Needs Students in Queens, New York, I had been substitute teaching there, and also at some high schools in the area for a few weeks. I was offered a job teaching music and math at one of the high schools I was subbing at, but at the same time I was offered a job at P177Q.  I asked if I could teach music, they said yes, and that sealed the deal for me. In my brief time subbing there, I could see how difficult it was for many of the students to communicate appropriately, if at all. I thought it would be wonderful for them if they could just play even a few notes together as a group. 

Many of the first classes I taught actually did much better than that, and I then realized the great need and desire these students had to communicate and express themselves, and how music could be an invaluable forum for providing that to them. It was evident to me that the expression of music came freely and naturally to many of these children. They were not shy, inhibited, or self-conscious—things that could often get in the way while trying to teach music. They exhibited sincere joy while making music. But most importantly, the music-making activities themselves created an environment in which they actually were communicating through music, and working together towards a common goal of playing their individual parts in order to create a finished product that could be accomplished only through the cooperation of the entire group! This is what was miraculous about what the music was inspiring the students to do, because cooperation and collaboration in a group setting was not something that was easy at all for many of them outside of the music classroom.   

RS: What software and hardware have you used to best effect in the classroom and why?

AG: GarageBand was the first DAW that I had success using with and for my students. The ease with which you could just drag and drop loops, and record audio and MIDI made it easy for me to incorporate GarageBand into my program. In no time I had my students composing and recording. They loved it! I also had fun creating custom backing tracks for student performances. It was really easy.

It wasn't long before I wanted to expand on the successes my students had using GarageBand in the classroom. So, I started to look into purchasing some Jam Packs. I discovered that Apple was offering Logic Studio for $500 and that it came packaged with all of the four Jam Packs that were available at that time! Well, I couldn't pass that deal up! I knew, however, that Logic Studio was a very deep program, but I decided to take the plunge, and pledged that I would put in the time and effort to somehow learn it.  

That decision led to the biggest transformation of my career. In learning Logic, I discovered the incredible power inherent in the program, and how it could be used to open up a world of sonic richness and resources that the students had not experienced before. And, of course, it was MPV that was—and still is—instrumental in helping me through that process. The vast amount of information provided in the Logic Tutorials, and the very knowledgeable, generous help given by other members and administrators in the forums namely you, Rounik, as well as Steve H., Hamish, Victor Mason, Peter Schwartz, and now Gary Hiebner, gave me the foundation and confidence to explore technology, something I had never really done before. 

I started purchasing various MIDI devices and controllers, and using their appealing and easy to use control surfaces to involve a greater number of students, at a higher level of interest. Music classes were getting more and more enjoyable and accessible for my students. Then, as a result of these positive experiences and the confidence gained through MPV's guidance, when the iPad came out I was eager to delve into that as a music making device as well. The iPad, more than any other device, has provided the most access—and joy—to the greatest number of students in the greatest variety of ways.  

RS: In addition to the apps mentioned in the video, what apps have you found useful?

AG: Oh, wow, there are really so many, but I'll mention a few:

GarageBand for iPad. The Smart Instruments, because it is so easy for many of my students to play chords and melodies with them, provide increased access, especially since the latest update, in which they added the ability to customize chords.  These can also be used as tools for introducing modes and chord voicings to my more advanced students.

Loopseque. This basic sequencing and looping app can serve as a great starting point for teaching composition. And again, in the latest update, some very useful features have been added, including the ability to add and edit your own samples.

Loopseque, while playing a student made composition

Loopseque, while playing a student made composition

• ThumbJamMorphWiz and SampleWiz. The later two apps are developed by Wizdom Music, Jordan Rudess's company. All are big hits with my students. MorphWiz was one of the first apps I had my students use, and they loved it right away. The eye-catching visuals really made it a big hit. All three of these apps allow you to customize the scale and range, making it easier for my students to play the correct notes. SampleWiz is awesome. It is especially good for encouraging students with limited speech to create and play with samples of their own voices.

MorphWiz - visually and aurally appealing.

MorphWiz - visually and aurally appealing

Falling Stars. This app, developed by the same artists (Interval Studios) that created Thicket (now Thicket:Classic), Snowdrift, and their latest, Thicket:SONiC, allows the student to easily create catchy musical patterns from a visually appealing interface of stars and organic elements.

Falling Stars w/ student drawn hearts and stars

Falling Stars w/ student drawn hearts and stars

There are so many wonderful apps. With new ones being created all the time, it's hard to keep up with it all. Here are some that I've downloaded, or plan to download soon, but haven't yet tried with my students: 

Animoog, Addictive Synth (great arpeggiator), MadPadHD, SoundPrism, StepPolyArp, Wi Guitar, Wi Orchestra, MidiBridge, and last but definitely not least, Geo Synthesizer, another great pro quality app from Wizdom Music.

RS: Before the iPad came along Logic / MainStage was your first port of call (choice) for your students. What areas of Logic / MainStage provided musical accessibility? 

AG: Yes, that's true, and it really still is. Logic is still at the center of almost everything I do. I use MainStage as well, but I do a lot with Logic's Environment: Transformers, Chord Memorizers, Delay Lines, Arpeggiators, Cable Switchers, Touch Tracks, etc., so MainStage usually plays a secondary role. But I do use it for its great visual features. I think the best use I've found for MainStage has been to project its GUI on a large screen during a show, so that the audience can get a good visual representation of what the performers are actually playing. 

MainStage in action during a live show

MainStage in action during a live show

I sometimes use it in the classroom as well. I project it onto a SmartBoard to demonstrate to the students how to play their parts to a song they're learning. They get a kick out of it if I put a picture of the student under the Screen Control that represents the device he or she is playing. 

But with Logic, its true power lies in the Environment, and that's where I can create the greatest musical interest for my students. I set up Environment Objects according to the students' abilities so that, for example, a student playing a controller or device can play entire chords, progressions, patterns, melodies, etc., and manipulate sound by just playing a few pads, knobs, or sliders. An example of a typical Environment set-up I would use for this purpose could look like this:

One of Adam's Logic Environments

One of Adam's Logic Environments

For a more detailed look at this Environment, download the zip file here.

In addition to enhancing the sound and content of what students are playing, the Environment has also been a tool for teaching basic melodic and harmonic concepts. Logic has also helped me teach basic signal routing and side chaining. Time stretching, and the use of effects are also taught in student projects. Some of the techniques I teach the students to use can lead to a lot of fun, and are inspired by Hub articles such as this Sound Design article.

“Monster Sounds” student project.

“Monster Sounds” student project.

RS: We're thrilled to know that you're a member. Can you tell us how the Logic tutorial-videos have helped you and your students?

AG: Oh, Thanks! I'm thrilled to be a member, actually. There is no better source for learning about music, video and Apple-related hardware and software than MPV. From the beginner to the experienced user, MPV offers the best value on the best information and resources out there. 

My own personal experience with MPV started with Logic 101. Martin's presentation in this tutorial is so clear and straightforward that I was able to learn a lot about using Logic just from watching, not having the program to try things out on. Yeah, I was so eager to learn Logic that I actually purchased the Logic 101 before I received Logic Studio!  When I finally did receive it, it was easy to start recording and doing MIDI with my classes right away because of the 'logical' (couldn't resist) and memorable way Martin presented the tutorial.

As an aside, I have to mention at this point how lucky I am to work in a school that values music education and music technology the way my school's Principal, Kathy Posa, and the Technology Coordinator, Rick Chiarello, do. They recognized the need for me to have a better machine to run Logic, and very generously ordered a MacBook Pro for me to use for that purpose. Kathy's support of the arts in particular is really exemplary, and should serve as a model, especially in this climate of budget cuts.

Now, back to MPV. Fortunately, I joined MPV during the first year of Steve H.'s 'TNT' series. I remember that I just couldn't wait for each month's installment, as they always contained new revelations for me. His tutorials, being so easy to follow, enabled me to get into some more advanced concepts, and employ them in my classes, even though I was a relative beginner. Steve H delivers the content in his tutorials in a very clear and non-intimidating way. His sense of humor and easy going nature comes through clearly and makes the whole learning experience relaxing and fun. 

Although the MPV tutorials may be difficult for my students to watch, Steve has the distinction of producing the only tutorial I've played for a class. It was a very entertaining one, and I couldn't resist. Although I can't specifically mention which one, I think it had something to do with vocoding a former President's voice. The kids got a kick out of it, and, they learned about vocoding and side chaining, which led to them doing a project involving the vocoding of their own voices as they sang or recited famous quotes in American History. They had a blast!

There are so many other MPV tutorials that have helped me immeasurably in providing a valuable and educational music making experience for my students. Whether it's programming Logic's Software Instruments, using effects plug-ins, incorporating and manipulating samples, using Ultrabeat, or mixing and mastering student projects, MPV has provided great learning tools, and always at great value.  

RS: If you could have an ideal iPad app to use with your students what would it be and how would it work?

AG: Well, I'm not a developer, and I must say that many developers have done an amazing job of coming up with incredibly useful, practical and professional apps that I can use with my students. They seem to be able to come out with just what the user wants, even as the idea is being thought of.  A great example of this is what Wizdom Music has done with enabling Geo Synthesizer to use samples from SampleWiz. Just by choosing the sample in SampleWiz, and tapping the 'S→G' button, it takes you right over into Geo Synth, with the sample selected and ready to load into Geo. I'd like to see more things like that done, so that the user has the ability to have one app interact with others. I've seen that start to happen, but I'm hoping that developers start thinking more and more along those lines.

Transferring a sample from SampleWiz into Geo

Transferring a sample from SampleWiz into Geo

One thing I would love to see in an app like Midi Touch, which I love to use, would be the added ability to use a large variety of fonts to label the screen controls in more interesting ways. The ability to add photos would really be great. That way, a student could be motivated by seeing a picture of him/herself next to the screen controls that they play; or maybe a favorite animal, or the image of an album cover that their favorite song is from. Also, the ability to switch (in a way similar to Fast App Switching) quickly between two or more different saved controller presets would really add even greater flexibility to an already very useful app. 

If Midi Touch were to add these features, and then had the capability to connect with other apps running in the background, thereby allowing the triggering of these other apps via CoreMIDI through the Midi Touch interface, that could come close to being an ideal app for my students at this point.

Midi Touch, all set up for student performance of Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”

Midi Touch, all set up for student performance of Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”

Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in live performance on iPads, Trigger Finger, Axiom 61, and of course Logic Studio.

Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” in live performance on iPads, Trigger Finger, Axiom 61, and of course Logic Studio.

The other thoughts that I think are worth mentioning would be more along the lines of upgrading the iOS. For instance: it would be great if a SmartBoard could interact with iPads the way they can with computers, so that students could use the SmartBoard as a giant multi-touch surface to trigger apps on the iPad. That would create a very interactive, visual music classroom learning environment. 

It would also be a great addition to Apple's wonderful Accessibility features if there was a way to enable or disable certain sections of the iPad's screen. I have some students who inadvertently touch parts of the screen. It may be that they have a need to lean on the touch screen, or don't have the motor skills to keep their hand from contacting parts of the screen that can produce undesirable results. An Accessibility feature such as this could allow more in the Special Needs Community to enjoy positive and productive experiences with the iPad, and app developers could then enable their apps to take advantage of the feature.     

RS: Some great ideas there! Can you explain more about how music tech helps you teach musical concepts in the classroom. Please tell us more… 

AG: Well, that's really a great question, because it's absolutely true that besides what I've already mentioned, the use of music tech can help facilitate the teaching of so many important musical concepts. Whether it's keeping good time, playing rhythms, advanced rhythms, polyrhythms, listening to the whole ensemble while playing, playing at the right dynamic level to create proper balance within the group, just to name a few, music tech has been helpful in my teaching of all of these concepts. 

But to give a specific example, Logic's Environment, and now the iPads, have really helped in teaching my students improvisation. I feel that improvisation is key to the process of learning music. When a student is taught to improvise, they are given the creative key that can enable them to empirically understand how music is composed. The trick is to introduce improvisation in the proper way, so the student learns to choose notes within the proper melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic framework. And that's where these wonderful devices and software come in. 

In both Logic's Environment and many iPad apps, it's quite easy to narrow down the notes a student can choose from to just the notes within a certain key, range, and scale. I can then allow the student to improvise very basic melodic and rhythmic patterns as the first step to having them make their own musical decisions. They feel great about improvising because they're able to start to make their own choices about what they play. This leads to a greater understanding and appreciation when they learn to play pieces composed by others.  

RS: Thanks so much for your time Adam!

AG: You're quite welcome, Rounik! Let me take the opportunity to again thank you, and all at MPV for creating and developing an incredible resource. And, may I also thank Susan Abdulezer, for her very professional video production, and Kathy Posa, Principal at P177Q, as well as Leslie Schecht, Director of Technology for District 75, for giving me the resources and support that allow me to work towards bringing out the best in our students.

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional... Read More


Joe C.
Great article and video. I don't even own an iPad yet, but helping people with disabilities get into music and other aspects of life more easily is one of my favorite things about it.

Point of clarification: ThumbJam is not by Jordan's company, it's by Jesse Chappell (who also makes sooperlooper, the nifty looping audio unit).
Thanks Joe! We've corrected it. To clarify: SampleWiz, MorphWiz and Geo Synthesizer are by Jordan Rudess :)

Can't wait to read more on using iPads and music tech in the classroom from Adam Goldberg.
Hi Joe,

Thanks for that clarification.

It's great to see a company like Apple at the forefront of creating devices that enable all members of society to contribute, create, and benefit.

And Rounik, thanks for the enthusiasm, and the edit.
Wow! An incredible article! I am an elementary music teacher and have some autistic kids in my classes who are incredibly gifted in music. I am excited to look further into some of the apps that Adam has presented here. Thank you MPV, for providing this excelent article!
Hey LaRiGr,

So glad you enjoyed the article. I'm curious, since you too work with Special Needs students, if there are any other resources you know of for discussing or learning about using music technology with Special populations?

I'd appreciate any reply, sent to my personal email, if you don't mind. The email is adam(dot)master(at)gmail(dot)com

Also feel free to ask for any other info on what was discussed in the interview. I'd be happy to help.

Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!