How to make music on a Chromebook

Andy Wolber looks at three apps that turn a Chromebook into a powerful tool for a musician.

Chrome notes

Many music educators prefer iPads to Chromebooks. The iPad handles audio-recording extremely well, without the lag that occurs on some other tablets. As a result, musicians create and record music with iPad apps such as Garageband, Notion, Music Studio, and many more. The iPad is unquestionably a powerful mobile music-making device.

Many educational technology administrators prefer Chromebooks to iPads. From the start, the Chromebook supports multiple accounts. A student logs in to access their apps and files from any Chromebook or Chrome browser. Google Apps for Education offers the administrator powerful browser-based management of both Chrome OS devices and user accounts—not to mention that a Chromebook often costs less than an iPad.

Yet both musicians and admins may not realize how far music apps that work on a Chromebook have advanced. The following three apps let you make music with nothing more than a browser and an internet connection.

Noteflight moved music notation to the browser (Figure A). Create an account, login, and create a score. Listen to your composition played back with simulated instruments. Revise your work from almost any browser or device. Print your score or share it online for others to see and hear. Noteflight supports MusicXML, which makes it easier to transfer music files to and from other music apps.

Figure A

Figure A

Noteflight moved music notation to the browser.

Noteflight works on a "freemium" pricing model. Basic features are free, with advanced features available for a fee. For example, the $49/year individual level expands the number of instruments available and provides for printing of parts (e.g., Violin, Cello, etc.). Noteflight for Teachers allows a teacher to set up a COPPA compliant site for use with students or multiple classrooms of students. adds collaboration to notation. Flat, which remains in beta—and free—as of July 2015, lets you share a score with other people who can co-compose (Figure B). Just as multiple people may edit a Google Doc at once, multiple people may edit a score at the same time in Flat. Create your score, choose "Share," and invite people with "read" or "write" permissions to your score. They'll need to sign up for a Flat account, then your collaborators will have simultaneous, real-time access to your score.

Figure B

Figure B, in beta as of July 2015, adds collaboration to notation. also seeks to integrate with Google Drive and Hangouts. Google Drive serves to save your score or export your files in various formats. For example, save the score as a PDF for print, in MusicXML or MIDI for transfer to other apps, or in .wav or .mp3 formats for listening. Hangouts integration is intended to allow people to video conference while collaborating on a score. (I sometimes saw an error when I tried to access from Hangouts, which may be because Flat is currently in beta.)

Soundtrap takes multi-track recording online (Figure C). Use any of the hundreds of loops to lay down a rhythm track, or record every track live with your microphone. Adjust the volume level for each track to make a mix that fits your style. Cut, copy, crop, split, and/or paste each sound clip in a track with the visual editor.

Figure C

Figure C

Soundtrap takes multi-track recording online.

Soundtrap also encourages collaboration. Invite a friend to collaborate, and (as with they'll need an account. Once they're signed in, your friend can add a track, too. Don't have a friend? Post a "shout" to publicly ask other Soundtrap members for help with your track. You can also search the member directory to find someone who plays the instrument you need for your piece.

Like Noteflight, Soundtrap offers a "freemium" pricing model. Work with up to five projects in the free version. Paid versions, which start at about $48/year, offer more projects, more instruments, and access to more loops. You may also apply for an educational plan that provides a COPPA compliant site to teachers and students.

Create together

Thanks to MIDI and MusicXML, you may be able to use tools sequentially. You could compose something in, export your file as an .mp3, then import the .mp3 into a track in Soundtrap. Or you might collaborate with a colleague in, export your work as a MusicXML file, and import the file into Noteflight.

Tools like Noteflight, Flat, and Soundtrap make me optimistic for the future of music creation on the web.

What browser-based music apps do you recommend? Share your expertise in the discussion thread below.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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