forScore 7.0

forScore just released version 7.0 today. It has all kinds of new features (some that have only existed on other apps until this point). I am most excited about forScore and audio, which includes the ability to record audio as well as to import audio into the local forScore library (importing audio into the music library of the iPad is not allowed by Apple).

As usual, the update is free.

I apologize for not posting very much; there has not been much news on the music technology front, and we are currently finishing our basement, which has taken nearly all my time!

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Filed under iPad Apps

Keynote for iOS gets better for education

Apple released an update for Keynote and several other iWork iOS apps today. When Keynote for iOS was first demonstrated, it had a feature that allowed for annotation, which would be a wonderful tool for education. This is demonstrated in this old video:

The feature didn't make it to the released version of Keynote, for three full years. I even wrote to Tim Cook about the feature and even expressed the importance of the feature to some staff people at Apple.

I'm not saying that I caused this (these discussions were over 2 years ago), but the annotation feature made it to Keynote today. You activate the feature by tapping and holding (which used to bring up a laser pointer) while in presentation mode. If you stay in annotation model your notes stay visible, and if you want to clear the slide, tap and hold the undo button.

Paired with an accurate stylus, such as the Adonit Jot, this feature will forever change the usefulness of Keynote for iOS, which was already my favorite tool to use for presentations. What is even more amazing is that Keynote is now free with the purchase of a new iPad (or iOS device).

The next things on my “Apple to fix list?”

  1. Make audio open on the device. Allow me to import and export from my iPad's audio library (and between apps)
  2. Allow me to embed audio clips into a Keynote presentation (page by page vs. background music which can already be embedded) on iOS.
  3. Allow for in-app purchases with school iTunes accounts (institutional purchase).
  4. Allow screencasting with an iPad without having to mirror via Reflector or Air Server. My one app that allowed this no longer works on iOS 7.1.

Do you see how short that list is getting?


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Ho Hum…Office on the iPad

This afternoon, Microsoft introduced Office for the iPad.  You can download the apps for free and use them to view existing documents in Microsoft’s cloud product, SkyDrive, or you can pay $99 per year to enable the apps to allow for editing when you subscribe to Office 365.

Reviews of the apps themselves are mostly favorable, indicating that they are on par with Apple’s iWork apps, which are now free (to purchasers of an iPad after September 1st).  One educational technology expert that I follow (Fraser Speirs) has already stated that Office for iPad puts Google Apps in a distant third place as usable on the iPad.

Let’s be honest here: I don’t know of many iPad users who have been holding their breath for Office; perhaps they were in 2010 or 2011, most have moved on.  Schools, by and large, have moved to GAFE (Google Apps for Education), and with Apple’s new pricing strategies this past fall, iWork does most of what a normal person needs an office suite to do; on the iPad, on a MacBook, or via iCloud.

And most people aren’t going to spend $99 per year for an office suite when they can get similar functionality free from Google or Apple (or even Open Office) on a Mac or Windows PC.  

It might be a very good app…but that model has expired, and few schools and companies are dependent on Office at this point.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Office for the iPad will be a bust, mainly because of the cost, and the fact that it is a yearly cost.  That’s too bad if it truly is a solid set of apps for the device.

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Presentation from NCACDA: iPads and Choral Music

This past Saturday, I presented a session at the NCACDA Convention entitled, “iPads and Choral Music,” which I consider my introductory presentation to the use of the iPad in Choral Music.  In this presentation, I discuss some of the current models for 1:1 integration, a small bit of theory of technology integration, and ten ways to start (substitute/replace) using an iPad in choral music.  Also included in the presentation was a list of my top ten power apps, as well as my favorite accessories.  You can find a link to the presentation here: iPads in Choral Music.

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Filed under iPad Accessories, iPad Apps

Using iPads and NotateMe for dictation

Many years ago, when I was completing my doctorate, one of the professors at my (first) oral examination asked me, “What are you doing with your choirs for sight-reading?”  I have always taught sight-reading in some form or another (currently, I use the iPad, as we do one exercise each day from “Sing at First Sight” via SmartMusic as a class), so it was very easy to answer that question.  Then the professor said, “Great.  Now how are you teaching dictation?”

I wasn’t.  I think very few of us do.

I liked the challenge of dictation at the college level, although it wasn’t a skill I (or seemingly any other student, other than the kid with perfect pitch) was good at.  But dictating melodies or harmonic progressions is not something I generally consider to be a “good time.”

With that question from the professor, I decided to start including dictation with my choirs, and I have continued to do so over the years at the high school level.  Sometimes as much as two times per week, students would take out staff paper (thank goodness for online PDF staff paper sources, such as this site) and I would write out the clef, key, and time signature as well as the first note of an exercise for my choirs to dictate.  Then I would play the exercise they were supposed to dictate.  Sometimes I would plan this well in advance with Finale, creating JPGs (and even playing the example they were dictating via Finale), and other times, I would just write the exercise on a lined staff board.

We certainly didn’t do dictation all the time, but I don’t think there has been a class since that first oral examination where my choirs haven’t been exposed to dictation (rhythmic or melodic).

Well, I’m teaching middle school now.  Can these kids learn dictation?

Yes.  And the iPad can help.

Using the app NotateMe (the full version), I created a “start” page, using the red pen tool to make notes about what the students would do:

NotateMe Now Dictation 1 Start

Students took out their iPads and went to NotateMe Now (free version).  Then I played the full example over and over again as kids worked through writing down what they heard.  I also asked some leading questions:

  • There are 88 keys on the piano, or 88 different pitches.  How many different pitches do you hear?
  • Not only are there different pitches, but there are a total number of notes I am playing for this exercise.  How many different notes am I playing over these two measures?
  • You can see that we are using a quarter note, and there are no rests.  What other kinds of rhythmic notes are present in this exercise?

Afterwards, I put the answer up on the screen.

NotateMe Now Dictation 1 Answer

Now, this is a REALLY easy dictation exercise, but most of us dress with our underwear before putting on our pants (unless you are Superman, and if that is the case, why are you wasting time with this blog?).  I strongly believe in giving students credit for TRYING to get the dictation right, rather than for being right or wrong.  If they are wrong, I encourage them to look at the answer and to ask themselves, “Why did I do this wrong?,” rather than to simply just say, “Oh well,” and move on.

Some common mistakes:

  • Students didn’t start on the right first pitch, even though it was given to them.
  • Students fail to draw the ledger line equidistant to the other lines of the staff.
  • Students draw noteheads that are too large, causing NotateMe Now to interpret individual notes as chords.
  • Students put all 8 beats in one measure.
  • Even though I reiterated that we were using stepwise or same pitch motion (like our sight reading), many students jumped more than a step on the penultimate note.

All in all, however, this went incredibly well.  A handful of students did not attempt the exercise and did not get credit (these are the same students who do nothing else in choir, which is only a forced elective for them), but otherwise kids bought in to the experience.  Middle school kids who normally freaked out every time we did something new actually just went along with the new thing without panicking.  Either they are getting used to me and the way I do things, or they are becoming numb to change due to our never-ending Minnesotan winter (seriously–three to six more inches of snow last night.  Two years ago, my son was born on March 15th when it was 80 degrees outside).

We’ll be doing dictation once every five days in our choirs, meaning once every two weeks.

NotateMe Now makes this process much easier…there is no paper to lose or tear, every kid has their iPad, and the app gives them some feedback if they do something wrong (such as too many beats in a measure).  As a teacher, you do need the full version of NotateMe (referral link) to be able to use the red pen.

One final thought: apps/programs (I particularly think of ScoreCloud) will make notation (even key/tempo/time signature) out of recorded audio…so in some ways technology will make the skill of dictation less critical than it was (and if so few of us teach dictation in our classes, is the skill that critical in the first place?).  Still, I think dictation is a great thing to do with students, provided that you make it a non-hostile (i.e. detrimental to their grade) and fun activity (change of pace).


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Filed under iPad Apps, Music Notation, Pedagogy

Quiet iPad changes at Apple

Over the last few weeks, Apple has quietly made some changes to the iPads that are available.  They quietly removed the 16GB  iPad 2 (which was selling for $399) and have replaced it with the 16GB 4th Generation iPad (Retina screen) for $399.

This is really an amazing thing; people generally thought that Apple couldn’t sell the Retina iPad at the $399 price point; and others thought that Apple kept the iPad 2 because of education–not so much price but for creating a common device in schools (if you have iPad 2s, you might not want 4th Generation iPads mixed with them).

So, as of today, you can go buy a brand new 4th Generation iPad for $399 in a 16GB configuration.  This is the device that many schools buy for their students (as it is the cheapest).  Refurbished iPad Airs (lighter, faster) are available now on the Apple Store (see this link).  So you can currently buy a refurbished iPad Air, which is twice as fast as a 4th Generation iPad, with 16GB of RAM and a 64 Bit Processor for $419, or a new 4th Generation iPad with 16GB  for $399.

If the iPad is for you, spend the extra $20 for the refurbished model.  Just trust me on this one.  And realistically, get at least the 32GB version for yourself.

Still…for schools that were just spending $499 per 4th Generation iPad this past fall, adding additional (new) models for $399 might be a wonderful thing.

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Filed under Apple Hardware

Busy, busy, busy…

I have been a bit out of touch with the blog over the last month as we produced our musical over the past four weeks…Dear Edwina Junior. This was my first middle school musical, and it was really a rewarding experience. Our middle school is arranged in such a way that students have to take music, and if they aren't in band or orchestra, they are in choir. This means that I obtain not only students that want to take choir, but a number of students that don't want to be in music. This means that it can be really difficult to teach singing, and it is understandable to me why some teachers leave the middle school format (as we have) to teach in a place where choir is elective (other middle school formats or high school). At any rate, I have found that the extra-curricular experiences at the middle school level are incredibly important for both your best singers, and for you as a teacher. In our current middle school model, the closest experiences to a “high school” setting can be found in those extra-curricular groups. And the musical is certainly one of those rewarding experiences.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been a lot of news in the area of music technology in the past weeks. It seems as if the weeks after NAMM and CES, where a lot of new technology is released, everyone takes a deep breath before plunging into the next level of development. In particular, I am still waiting for two iPad accessories that have been delayed. I am not bothered by either delay, as the end result will be a better product. The first is the Miselu C.24 keyboard, which is an octave keyboard that pops out of an iPad case (iPad 3 or 4). It won't work as a case with the “new” iPad air, but two units snap can snap together (and I preordered two on Kickstarter). I am really looking forward to this product, particularly for use with Notion on the iPad.

The second accessory I am waiting for is the Jamstik, which is being made by a company here in Minnesota. It is a pseudo-guitar that is intended to be used with iOS and Mac (I don't know about Windows), and has a real-string/real-fret experience. I am excited about the potential of this device in education.

There are a few other things that should be mentioned: Sibelius 7.5 is “live” and available now. I'm not a Sibelius user, but the .5 upgrade represents a major shift in philosophy for Sibelius owners. In the past, Sibelius users only had to pay to upgrade to “full” versions; Avid has changed this, and 7.5 is an additional cost for existing users. Finale users (until last year) were accustomed to having to pay for annual updates (resulting in a user base that splinters with versions, as some people don't update every year, or even every two years); and some Sibelius users would mock the upgrade pricing for Finale. Well, welcome to the world of keeping a product raising sustainable income, Sibelius users.

If you are looking for influential app updates, there were recent additions to Tenuto (music theory exercises), forScore (pdf music reader), and StaffWars (making the app work on iPhones and iPod Touches, too). I received an e-mail from the developer of StaffWars, and they are working on making a number of their apps available for mobile device, but sadly, it sounds like they cannot bring StaffWars 2 (which “shoots” a note when a student accurately plays the note) to the iPad (at least with the language they have used to make the Mac version).

I also received an e-mail from another company, SCORA, which is developing a system so that an entire orchestra can use digital music, controlled by the director or even by a section leader. There isn't a lot of technical information about the system available on the website (by design), and the system is based around the Android platform. Still, it's a great concept, and whereas NeoScores (which is also out in beta at this point) was used with a Symphony Orchestra, NeoScores was used in a “staged” setting, whereas SCORA was used successfully in a three-day concert series. You can learn more about SCORA at their website, I will be watching their progress with interest.

In terms of Android Apps, I recently learned about Orpheus Sheet Music Reader via AirPlay TV (thanks, Hugh!). Orpheus, as far as I can tell, is the best PDF sheet music reader you are going to find on the Android platform, with nearly all the “basic” functionality you could hope for. In my experience, it is a better solution than MobileSheets or EZ PDF Reader.

I'm currently in the process of finalizing some plans for summer workshops. At the moment, there are sessions planned (again) with the Wisconsin Center for the Arts, as well as with St. Cloud State University, the ISD728 Regional Arts Partner Program, and of course, a week long course with the University of St. Thomas. In other news, I have two technology engagements this month; I am going to be presenting at the NCACDA convention (iPads in Choral Music) and with the Duluth Visual Arts and Music Teachers.

We are also working on forming a Minnesota Chapter of TI:ME, and I have been in contact with a number of current (or former) TI:ME members, the larger music education organizations in our state, and the national organization of TI:ME. I have also heard from some other people willing to help with the organization, and i will wait to talk about that until we have a few more steps completed in this process. I am waiting for some responses from some of these groups, and as soon as I do, we will try to schedule a meeting (virtual or physical).

That wraps up the news from the last weeks, and now we're (my school) on an ill-named Spring Break after a very cold winter. It is 44º here today, which is roughly 60 warmer than it was just a week ago (and it has been an entire winter generally below 0º, and sometimes much, much colder than that without wind chill). I hope this post finds you with warmer weather and the promise of spring.

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Filed under General Musings