What makes Chromebooks different?

So, you’ve discovered that your school has decided to roll out Chromebooks to students. How can they be used in your music classroom? What exactly can you do on a Chromebook anyway?

Chromebooks are laptops that are a little…well…different.

They are inexpensive to purchase, they are fast and are designed to be used primarily while connected to the internet.

The major point of difference between a Chromebook and a “regular” laptop is that it runs on the Chrome OS (operating system) – not the Windows or Mac OS – which means that the applications you use on a Chromebook must be online or cloud-based.  This comes as a surprise to some teachers who then realise that they can’t install the software they might have used in the past, such as Sibelius, Finale, Audacity, GarageBand, or Mixcraft.

The good news is that nowadays there are many online music applications available and improved internet speed at schools makes the Chromebook a viable device option for students, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.

What exactly is a Chromebook?

  • A Chromebook is a lightweight notebook that only runs the Chrome web browser
  • They have very limited hard drive space
  • You can’t install “regular” software – you’ll need to use online apps
  • They are better suited to elementary and middle school students

Good things about Chromebooks

  • They start up quickly and battery life is good
  • The cost is lower than a regular laptop or an iPad
  • They have a full-sized keyboard for typing
  • If your school is also using Google Apps For Education (GAFE), integration is seamless
  • GAFE includes unlimited online storage for files
  • Software updates happen automatically (which means happy IT staff!)

Be mindful of the following…

  • There will be very limited access to apps and files if your internet goes down
  • There is very limited space on the hard drive (less than your smartphone), so files need to be stored online
  • Generally speaking, web-based audio recording and editing apps are not as “robust” or feature-rich as software you install on a Mac or PC
  • Some websites use Flash which can be blocked at schools  – test this ahead of time and take steps to allow Flash to run if necessary
  • Smooth, trouble-free recording of audio or MIDI on a Chromebook is reliant on decent internet speed.  If you’re having problems or your recordings are “glitchy” it’s likely NOT generally the fault of the app or website you’re using
  • Sort out any software login details ahead of class if possible

The bottom line

Chromebooks can be a fantastic addition to your music classroom.  It’s all about awareness: understand what the device can and can’t do, what the strengths are and how it can do to enhance what you do. As with all technology, make sure you have a contingency plan if anything goes wrong!

How can you utilize Chromebooks in class?

Students can use their Chromebooks to work on documents, compose music notation, record audio and MIDI, demonstrate learning, take quizzes, create videos, perform, read music, drill notes of the staff, learn music theory and more.

Types of “apps” you can use

The term “app” is used quite loosely these days and can be used to refer to any of the following:

  • Web-based software: full-featured apps that require you to log in (so you can save your work). You will often pay a subscription for the education version which provides a COPPA compliant environment for students to work in and also provides a range of sharing and exporting options.  Examples include Noteflight, Soundtrap, Google Docs
  • Interactive websites: lighter-weight music apps which are useful for introducing a topic or reinforcing learning.  There are usually limited saving and sharing options. Examples include Incredibox, the Chrome Music Lab experiments, Beepbox
  • Extensions: “add-ons” for the Chrome browser which expand its functionality.  Extensions can allow you do do cool, ninja things such as record your screen, increase productivity, shorten links or create QR codes easily. Examples include Loom, Goo.gl URL shortener
  • Android apps: some Chromebook models (not all) are able to use Android apps from the Google Play store which work in the same way they would on an Android phone.  Examples include Staff Wars, and Flashnote Derby

Some basic tips

If you’re going to get started using Chromebooks in your music class, here are a few tips:

  • Start small. Try just ONE thing. Do that one thing a few times over until it is working well and then try another thing
  • Focus on your teaching outcomes first and decide whether incorporating Chromebooks can enhance what you’re doing
  • Pick one lesson and consider weaving the Chromebooks into a single activity, or part of an activity
  • Tell your students “We’re going to try something new today and I’d love your help to make it work”. This usually gets students on your side from the get-go when testing out a new tech-related activity!

What NOT to do

Some things to avoid:

  • Don’t go and download a whole list of apps because someone told you they were “must-haves”
  • Don’t attempt to incorporate Chromebooks into lots of classes at the same time. Start small!
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – look around for existing Chromebook music lesson plan ideas

I was using GarageBand/Sibelius/Finale…now what?

Many teachers discover the apps they’ve been using for years don’t work on Chromebooks.

This means you can’t use things like GarageBand, Mixcraft, Sibelius, Finale, Audacity and the other “download and install” software programs you’ve used in the past.

Instead digital audio workstations like GarageBand, Mixcraft, Acid, or Studio One try:

  • Soundtrap
  • Soundation
  • Bandlab

Instead of Sibelius, Finale, MuseScore (and other notation apps), try:

  • Noteflight
  • Flat.io

Best apps for Chromebooks in the music classroom

So what are the best Chromebook apps for music teachers?  Following is a list of great options in a range of categories.

Creative interactive music websites

Great options for creating quickly and easily.

  • Incredibox
  • Groove Pizza
  • Isle of Tune
  • Beepbox
  • Chrome Music Lab

Related: Free lesson plan – Teaching Beatboxing Basics with Incredibox

Related50+ Lesson Ideas For The Chrome Music Lab

Related: Website of the week: Isle of Tune

Learning notes of the staff

If your Chromebooks can install Android apps, these options for learning notes of the staff are available in the Google Play store:

  • Staff Wars
  • Flashnote Derby
  • Music Tutor

Related: 30+ Fun Ways To Teach The Notes of The Staff Using Technology

Digital Audio Workstations

Compose and arrange by recording audio and MIDI or by using existing loops.

  • Soundtrap
  • Soundation
  • Bandlab

Related: 22 Ways To Use GarageBand or Soundtrap in Music Education part 1 and part 2


Compose chord progressions and melodies and analyse songs.

  • Hook Theory


Compose and arrange using notation.

  • Noteflight (Learn edition is best for schools)
  • Flat.io

Record and/or edit audio

Recording and editing of audio files.

  • Vocaroo
  • TwistedWave

Practice helpers & tools

Make practice time more effective and check in on student progress.

  • SmartMusic (red note/green note feedback on playing)
  • PracticeFirst (red note/green note feedback on playing)
  • Sight Reading Factory (library of sight reading exercises)
  • Waves (tuner)

Related: MTT21: Speed up student learning and assessment with Smartmusic

Music Theory & Ear-Training

Teach and reinforce theory and ear-training concepts.

  • Auralia (ear-training)
  • Theta Music Trainer (ear-training)
  • Musition (music theory)
  • MusicTheory.net (music theory and ear-training)


Create tutorial videos, capture student learning and record performances.

  • WeVideo (edit video)
  • Screencastify (record your screen or webcam)
  • Snagit for Chrome
  • Loom (record your screen or webcam)
  • Youtube (view and share videos)

Documents, spreadsheets & presentations

Create presentations and teaching materials.

  • Google Apps for Education/Google Suite
  • Microsoft Office Online

Listen to music

Access your audio music library via a streaming service.

  • Google Play
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music

Digital portfolios and sharing of multimedia content

Share student work, set assignments, collaborate and create multimedia content.

  • SeeSaw (digital portfolios; sharing of work)
  • Showbie (digital portfolios; sharing of work)
  • Class Dojo (behaviour management and digital portfolios)
  • Flipgrid (student responses with video)
  • Book Creator (create interactive multimedia books)
  • Padlet (interactive bulletin board)

Related: MTT33: Interactive music posters, word walls and brainstorming with Padlet


Create quizzes, surveys, exit tickets.  Gather students responses and have the software do the marking for you!

  • Google Forms
  • Kahoot
  • Socrative
  • Quizizz
  • Quizlet
  • Poll Everywhere

Related: MTT03: 4 Fun formative assessment tools for music educators


More useful Chromebook music education links

Want more help? Chromebook lesson plans and online courses

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects.  I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

Learn more and take a sneak peek

Questions? Comments?  Time to weigh in below!