A few years ago, Philip Rothman took over the Sibelius Blog as most of the Sibelius team headed to Steinberg (I believe that Daniel Spreadbury, who was a part of that group, used to run the Sibelius Blog). Although the Sibelius Blog was never limited to “Sibelius-Only” items, Mr. Rothman writes about music notation in a broader sense. As a result, if you are a person that uses software from other companies/developers, and you haven't followed the Sibelius Blog, you are missing out.
Last week, as MakeMusic announced its transition to go under the umbrella of Peaksware, Mr. Rothman was also given access to the new CEO over MakeMusic, and was able to ask questions that I had not thought of. As I mentioned, the topic for me became more about the people currently employed by MakeMusic, as I have had the opportunity to get to know a number of MakeMusic's staff over the past years. I was very happy to be able to read Mr. Rothman's information about the news.
Today, Mr. Rothman wrote about one of my favorite iOS/Android apps, NotateMe. He did so with feedback from Neuratron's CEO, Martin Dawe–and I really enjoyed reading about Mr. Rothman's experiment with NotateMe. So, go read the article. And if you subscribe to blog feeds (my latest choice of blog feed readers is Feedly), subscribe to the Sibelius Blog so you can read all of his posts!
I am a music educator, and I specifically teach middle school choir, although I hold licenses for K-12 general music, band, orchestra, and choir. That is what I do for my day job, and the topic of music education and technology is simply an area of interest for me, as well as a hobby. The blog, of course, generates very little revenue (unless you buy a recommended app from a referral link, which will send 7% of the proceeds my direction), and the iBooks I have written also do not generate much income. Ultimately, the goal is to “give back” to the profession.
One of the privileges of writing the blog is the chance to interact with developers and other bloggers. At the same time, in general, app developers seem to value interaction with app users–good feedback can help the app improve, and a positive recommendation (either on the App Store or in person) can result in more sales. Not all feedback is useful, to be sure, but the conversation is important both ways. This is a new concept…in the past, end users had little or no way to express thoughts or ask questions about the programs they used.
Over the last months, I have had the opporunity to visit with Martin Dawe, CEO of Neuratron, about their app, NotateMe (and NotateMe Now), which is available on iOS and Android. It was the first app to allow you to convert music handwriting into digital notation–and as of last month, the app now allows the camera of a device to scan existing sheet music into digital notation. The app costs $39.99, and the in-app purchase is an additional $29.99. While the app environment has trained us to think that a $5.00 app is expensive, the truth is that most apps are underpriced. While $70.00 for that app combination may seem expensive–the truth is that the purchase of a scanner and “full” PhotoScore would be greater than a $300 purchase.
I am fully in support of NotateMe, just as I have been of PhotoScore since I bought the program for my MacBook several years ago. Although scanning music isn't an exact science (there are always issues), I have found PhotoScore to be the best scanning software available for my computer. In my testing, the PhotoScore in-app purchase results in scans that are nearly as accurate as the Mac/Windows version (the full version allows for a number of other features…but my main concern is just getting music from paper to digital with the least amount of errors).
I see a time coming where a number of musicians and music teachers may purchase a tablet just to scan music. If your goal is to simply scan music, what tablet should you buy?
My traditional answer is: an iPad Air or an iPad Mini with Retina Display. However…if you can, wait until November as new iPads should be released for the holiday season. Why the iPad? There are more music apps of higher quality, apps that tap into the iPad's Core MIDI functionality, and more music-specific accessories (including the JamStik, which recently started shipping to Indiegogo backers).
I realize that I am iPad-focused. As I thought about this topic, I decided that I would ask Martin Dawe (CEO of Neuratron) what tablet he would recommend, as he comes at the issue as a developer who works with iOS and Android.
Mr. Dawe suggested Samsung Galaxy Note tablets for use with NotateMe and PhotoScore (he personally owns both a phone and a tablet that are Note versions). This is because the Galaxy Note includes an S-Pen which allows you to write on your screen, is pressure sensitive, and has auto-palm rejection (built into the NotateMe app). If you are using a Samsung Galaxy Note tablet with NotateMe, your music writing experience is going to be better than using any other Android device or an iPad/iPhone.
Additionally, if you are interested specifically in the PhotoScore in-app purchase of NotateMe (I do think this will happen), Mr. Dawe suggested the purchase of a newer Android device with a higher resolution camera (generally, 8 MP versus the current 5 MP version found in iPads) and auto-focus. Not all Android tablets have auto focus, which is needed for accurate scanning.
Incidentally, Neuratron uses a cross-platform tool to program for Android and iOS, so updates are pushed out at the same time for both platforms, and could potentally move to other platforms as they develop/mature.
I recently purchased a 2013 Nexus 7 Tablet so that I could run the latest software from various developers. If I were to spend “big money” on a tablet that wasn't an iPad (I bought the Nexus 7 for $200), I would consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 12.2 (Android $649 starting price) or the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Neither device has the same music app resources as an iPad, but both are stellar machines. Both devices have a larger screen than an iPad, and when it comes to music reading, that is a good thing. The number one thing that could make the iPad better for music educators? A larger iPad as an option for reading music scores and working with music notation (although an S Pen would be a nice addition).
I need my tablet to do a few more things than Android or Windows tablets can currently do (limited mainly by the availability of music apps) such as the features offered by forScore (or unrealBook) and Notion (or Symphony Pro)…so the iPad remains the tablet I would recommend; but if you need a tablet for the purpose of scanning music, consider the advice of Martin Dawe and purchase any one of the recent Samsung Galaxy Note models!
Last year was a huge year of change at MakeMusic. The company was acquired and went private (off the stock market). This was followed by some changes in the leadership team (two VPs were let go, one VP, Michael Good, was brought on the team) and other levels of management were also impacted (both program managers of Finale and SmartMusic were let go). In addition to the changes, SmartMusic (in particular) had a rough first half of the 2013-2014 school year with a number of technical issues.
As with all things in life, a lot of good things happened, too. Finale 2014 was released with a number of new features, a lot of new code, and backwards compatible file formats; SmartMusic continuted to grow in functionality on the iPad, and now SmartMusic also shares backwards compatible files. Michael Good discussed many of these improvements on a recent blog post (link).
Today brought news about another big change at MakeMusic. MakeMusic is coming under the umbrella of Peaksware, Inc. Peaksware was behind the acquisition last year, and MakeMusic will continue to exist as a brand of Peaksware. I had the chance to chat with Gear Fisher, the CEO of Peaskware, for a few moments and to ask some questions about the immediate future of MakeMusic.
Ultimately, this change won’t likely impact the typical Finale or SmartMusic user very much. The biggest change is that the company will be moving from Minnesota to Colorado (plans are to do this in Quarter 1), and the company is assessing personnel right now. A number of employees will be asked to join the company in Colorado, and those employees will have to make a personal decision to move or not. After this past winter in Minnesota, I don’t know why anyone, given the chance to move, would stay here.
I find myself to be sad that MakeMusic will be moving–it has always been wonderful to have MakeMusic (or its predecessor, Coda Music Technology) as a “local company.” At some level, it is a personal sadness, because I would have enjoyed working at MakeMusic as a local company (As part of a blended family and all that entails, we cannot move out of the area). It isn’t often that you find companies filled with good people that are passonate about the meeting point of technology and music education.
Beyond that, Finale will continue to improve, SmartMusic will continue to improve, and the company should be better positioned to exist and compete in the future. This was the ideal time for such an announcement, as all of the turmoil from the acquisition last year has finally settled down and the products are stable. Jobs will be moving (or created) in another state (not outsourced to another country), and I hope that a majority of the development teams–including some leadership–will stay in place, albeit in another location. The end result of today’s announcment is that there won’t be much of a change for the end user, but there will be big changes ahead for all of the 130+ staff employed by MakeMusic.
I wish all of the MakeMusic team the very best. For those that will be moving to Colorado, best wishes for the process of relocation and as you continue to develop and refine MakeMusic products. And to those who choose to stay in Minnesota, best wishes as you search for new positions. To all of you: your work (including those that have worked in the company in the past) has made a significant impact on music and music education. Thank you for your work! And best wishes to Mr. Fisher, as he takes on the role as CEO over MakeMusic through this position as CEO of Peaksware.
One additional note that might be of interest to music educators: I had opportunity to ask Mr. Fisher about his own musical background, and he had been a saxophone player in his school days. He did, however, state that his current experience with SmartMusic comes from his own home, where his 11 year old daughter is learning the clarinet. She is using SmartMusic as part of that process. It is encouraging to know that the CEO of the company–if not using the software himself–is seeing the software used as it was meant to be used. That experience will offer him fantastic insight into the product for years to come.
Yesterday an article entitled “Are Chromebooks or iPads Better for Schools?” circulated across Twitter, showing up in my feed at least ten times. The article, for the most part, describes how the Hillsborough, New Jersey school district, after a year of piloting iPads and Chromebooks, sold all their iPads and distributed 4,600 Chromebooks. Click here to read the article.
As always, I am concerned about how devices can be used in music education and other electives (this blog, as named, is about technology in music education, and that will always be my primary concern).
As you read the article, notice four things:
1. iPads are highlighted as failues in LAUSD and Fort Bend, Texas–as well as directly linked to the disasterous Amplify tablet rollout in the Guilford County Schools (North Carolina)
2. Teachers are interviewed in the article, but did you notice the subject areas they teach? Jennifer Harmsen, Social Studies. Larissa McCann, Science. No music or elective teacher's thoughts are recorded about the subject.
3. Anti-iPad/pro-Chromebook feedback from Hillsborough's IT Director:
While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk — especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.
Another important finding came from the technology support department: It was far easier to manage almost 200 Chromebooks than the same number of iPads. Since all the Chromebook files live in an online “cloud,” students could be up and running in seconds on a new device if their machine broke. And apps could be pushed to all of the devices with just a few mouse clicks.
Hillsborough educators also tend to emphasize collaboration, and they found that Google’s Apps for Education suite—which works on either device—was easier to use collaboratively on Chromebooks.
I have written about these items before: there is nothing wrong with a “fun” device, as long as the teacher simply manages their classroom. A fun device can be used productively, too. New iPad management tools, released as part of the failed LAUSD situation, make the management of iPads MUCH easier. But without a doubt, GAFE work best on a Chromebook, Mac, or Windows computer that has a keyboard. GAFE is centered around the concept of typing (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations). On other other hand, GAFE apps do seem to work better on an iPad than Google's own Android tablet.
4. And most importantly, although hidden in the article:
At Hillsborough, the Chromebooks are currently being supplemented by 3,000 Nexus tablets, handed out by Google as part of a new pilot program.
Did you notice that? The school district was given 3,000 Nexus tablets by Google–I am sure that had nothing to do with their choice of Chromebooks over iPads.
To be fair, there is a positive paragraph about iPads as used by David Mahaley, an administrator and classroom teacher at Franklin Academy in Wake Forest, North Carolina. But the overall message of the article is clear: Chromebooks are the way to go.
I simply urge you to remember that there are other subjects in education beyond social studies, science, or English. Your choice of 1:1 technology needs to be the best fit for all subjects. Please don't forget us! There is more to say on this subject–but as you read stories that are pro/anti devices, make sure to look at all the details and all the angles!
I will be writing more about Feed in the near future, but Feed is an interactive looping app with a unique user interface. I was contacted by the developer about the app, and just downloaded the app. In looking at the app's description in iTunes, I noticed that the app is on sale this week for $1.99, which is 70% off. I may not get a chance to write about the app for the next few days, so I thought I would mention it while it was still on sale. This is a new version of the app (v 2.0), and they are celebrating the latest release with the discount price.
If you are a teacher or musician that uses loops, it may very well be worth your time to get this app. The developer/company has been using the app to teach courses in music education (as well as some programming courses) in the UK…so it is an app that is being field-tested in education as it is being developed.
I will wrote more about this app later! But if Feed interests you, you should buy it while it is on sale.