NeoScores is live

Today, NeoScores went live with their new digital music service. At its core, NeoScores is a HTML-5 based Music XML music reader that can work on any platform. The basic service gives you the ability to upload and use 25 scores; the paid version offers a number of additional tools. You can also upload PDF files to NeoScores, and NeoScores promises a service in the future that will convert PDF files to MusicXML format.

I have uploaded both a MusicXML file and a PDF to NeoScores, and you know what? It works well. After the first “load,” scores load instantly and quickly. You given an annotation tool (mine appears olive green, and I need to see if I can change that setting) which translates across device to device; and of course, the real power is in MusicXML files that can be played back, parts turned off (e.g. A band director could give students a complete score, and have them turn on only their part), and more. Furthermore, you can zoom into a MusicXML file, customizing the size of the notes you can see.

I have tried the new NeoScores website (this is all web based, but it works even without a wi-fi connection after songs are loaded) on my iPad, a Chromebook, my MacBook, and a Nexus 7 Android tablet. The music display works; annotation is less smooth on some platforms than others, and playback (an advanced paid option) has some issues (notes highlight as they play, but do not clear off the screen as pages are turned). You can see the potential, however, and if you use Chromebooks, you can rotate the screen (see my previous post about Chromebooks as music readers) and turn pages (quickly) left-to-right.

The trick here is to get music into that MusicXML format. Again, NeoScores is promising a tool in the near future, but you can also use NotateMe/PhotoScore on iOS or Android; or PhotoScore or SmartScore on Mac/Win. I find that I can convert a standard choral score to MusicXML–with solfege written in–in about an hour. If you are new to the process, it can take significantly longer. You may also want to look at PDFtoMusic Pro (a new update is coming soon) that allows you to take a PDF file created by a notation software package and convert it to MusicXML.

Truly, with all the hard-to-read scores on websites such as CPDL, the MusicXML files look better and offer more flexibility. Is it time to ask people to share all their scores in the MusicXML format as well as a printed format?

If you haven't checked out NeoScores, do so today. I have written them asking for more information about use in schools–including the possibility of using GAFE accounts (Google login) to make accounts at NeoScores.

What in the world is going on at MakeMusic?

This past week, several people provided insight into what has been going on at MakeMusic.

Externally, life has been pretty quiet regarding MakeMusic products. The fall SmartMusic rollout appeared to go rather smoothly, and Finale 2014d was recently released. As a negative, Finale 2012 (and earlier) is not compatible with the latest version of Mac OS (Yosemite)–so individuals like myself that (this far) chose not to upgrade to Finale 2014 are left with the decision to upgrade or to defect to another product. MakeMusic will not be releasing any patches for old versions of Finale, and support for Finale 2011 will cease in January.

The new CEO of MakeMusic (or, more accurately, the existing CEO of MakeMusic’s mother company, Peaksware) wrote a blog post detailing the personnel changes in the company as the transition from Minnesota to wraps up in the next few weeks–and also detailed that there will be no near-future release of a new version of Finale (in other words, if you update now, you will get good use out of your update). There are many new people in leadership roles in the company, some with a long-term relationship with MakeMusic. Only Michael Good, creator of the MusicXML format, remains from the most recent leadership of the company, and none of the leadership from before 2013 is with the company at this point. Think about that–a 100% change in ALL leadership positions (including product leads) in less than two years.

Gear Fisher, CEO, mentioned that 30 people from MakeMusic accepted the offer to transition to Boulder. As a result, there is some continuity in the move–but remember that MakeMusic employed over 130 people in Minnesota, so over 100 former employees are no longer with the company. Over the years, I had developed relationships with a number of MakeMusic employees, and none of them are with the company any longer. So that is certainly a sad thing in the midst of other good news. I am also a bit disappointed that no Minnesota law makers (or the governor) tried to get MakeMusic to stay. At one point, MakeMusic was one of the Top 50 companies in Minnesota.

Ultimately. MakeMusic has a clean slate–whether needed or not (Finale users have mixed opinions on this) to prepare Finale and SmartMusic for the future. One of Mr. Fisher’s goals is to make it easier to pubish works from Finale to SmartMusic, with the idea of SmartMusic also being a publishing platform.

I’ll be honest–I would rather see different pricing tiers. For example, I hardly use any existing literature as a choir director and would make my own content in SmartMusic–so should I pay as much as a band director whose students use SmartMusic for methods books AND band music? Furthermore, in my school where 40% of our population is on free and reduced lunch, a large percentage of our students cannot consider a $40 per year subscription to SmartMusic–even though that $40 doesn’t seem like much. After these two years in my new teaching job, I now know what it means for students to not be able to afford something.

Much like a football fan at the beginning of the season, I am hoping for the best and looking forward to see what will happen with Finale and SmartMusic. Really, there are only two options: improvement or decline.

Michael Good recently wrote about the changes in MusicXML that work with SMuFL, the new notation standard that is being overseen by the Steinberg music notation team–all which lead to a future in the publication of digital (versus paper) music, and that really encourages me. I don’t know the other new VPs and team leads at MakeMusic, but having Michael on board calms my concerns about the company.

Still, could anyone have predicted the changes at Sibelius and Finale while the former Sibelius team inches closer to releasing a brand new notation product? That new product would have struggled against the former strength of Finale and Sibelius–and furthermore, as MuseScore nears its 2.0 release, how is the notation market furth changed? These are crazy times in notation–and highlights the importance of SmartMusic in MakeMusic’s arsenal.

Trust me, you will also want to read Philip Rothman’s (Sibelius Blog) recent article about MakeMusic.

Disco Fingers

Several months ago, a developer contacted me about an iPad app that was in development, and I encouraged the developer to contact me when the app was released. About two weeks ago, that app became available in the App Store, and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

The app is called “Disco Fingers” and the basic app is free, but there are in-app purchases (premium instruments – $4.99, publish music to the cloud – $0.99, and beat boost – $0.99). The premise is that you are given a palette of fingers, which, when placed on a grid, create different tones. The palette is customizable, as each finger has a different sound (or capabilities). Your experimentation with each finger will let you decide which sounds you want to use. Some fingers function as a MIDI percussion-type map, others are actual sounds that represented at different pitches. You can also record yourself as one of the fingers, with the app providing some customization of tone quality.

The grid represents the e minor pentatonic scale, in an eight bar repeated loop, all at the same tempo. Your creations, if you buy the upgrade, can be shared with the world; and you can also listen to creations by others–so there is a social aspect to the app as well.

The app is easy and fun to use; the lack of different keys, overall structure, and tempos does not have any negative impact on the app–but also gives the app room to grow.

This app is a wonderful way to teach about a MIDI piano roll without ever knowing what a piano or a piano roll is (or does). Work on this app would result in a better ability to edit MIDI events on a piano roll (such as in GarageBand).

So–download the free app today; chances are that you will like it so much that you will be willing to pay for the additional services with the app–and the good news is that the free version comes with enough tools that you can actually use the app and feel like you still have a functional app.

Part of their press release appears below:

A Music Composition Tool For The Tone Deaf

The brand new Disco Fingers app aims at getting non-musicians to create and share their own music.

According to the founders, almost everyone who tries the app manages to make music within a few minutes, which separates Disco Fingers from the plethora of other music-making apps.

“We built the app because we couldn’t find any music composition tools that are both simple and fun enough for complete beginners and that also give you a sense of achievement,” CEO Per Harald Borgen claims.

The three-person startup spent nearly a year testing out different solutions, dedicated to finding the best way for amateurs to compose music.

The result is a humorous music toy that looks more like a game than a composition tool. Users interact with the app by placing dancing creatures on a 2D grid, which generates beats that sound surprisingly good.

The app also gives users the ability to record their own voices, which they can process through various pitching and effect filters.

Once users have created their masterpieces, they can broadcast them on Disco Fingers’ internal radio channel, making them available for all other Disco Fingers users.

“One click, and people from all over the world can listen to your song and become your fans,” says Borgen.

The more fans your beat gets, the more it spreads, making it possible to create “viral hits” on Disco Fingers FM.

You can also send your composition privately to a friend, share it through social media, or export it as a ringtone.

“The beta testers have used it to create birthday songs, to send funny messages to their friends, to create fan songs for their favourite football teams, and in many other creative ways,” says Borgen. “Once they have used it for a while, people manage to create music that sounds really good.”

Disco Fingers will be free to download but will cost a few dollars if you want access to its premium features, which include all the instruments and voice filters, the ringtone export function, and the ability to remix beats you hear on Disco Fingers FM.



The Chromebook…as a PDF Music Reader?

My favorite moment at this year's Iowa Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference came during my “Technology for the Rest of Us” session. I was talking about Chromebooks, and I said, “Nobody is going to hold a Chromebook [on its side] like a book to read music.” One of the educators in attendance raised his hand and said, “My students do.” [I should add that another educator also mentioned that they had also tried this with their band students].

I was amazed…it was a GREAT moment. New ideas and concepts in technology really make my day.

That educator is Mark Bjorklund, who teaches Middle School Vocal Music at Miller Middle School and Lenihan Intermediate School in Marshalltown, IA. Their school is a 1:1 Chromebook school, and he is trying to make the most out of the devices he has been given (although he also uses an iPad himself).

He “scans” music using the GeniusScan app with his iPad, then exports the PDF to Notability to make any notations (writing solfege, etc). Then he exports the PDF to Google Drive and uploads it to Google Classroom.

Students simply open the PDF from Google Classroom. Then they hit CTRL + SHIFT + REFRESH on their Chromebooks to rotate their screens 90º. Mr. Bjorklund says that it is a little akward for them to turn pages because they have to “scroll” using the arrow keys. He mentions that the students would rather not use the Chromebooks like this, but it does make a way for vocal music to integrate Chromebooks in class. This would not be as successful for instrumental music, as most Chromebooks cannot open 180º to sit on a music stand.

I have tried this on my own Chromebook, and much like using Notability (iPad) with music, page turning is vertical versus horizontal. The height of the 11″ Chromebook is adequate for music. An app that would all a user to turn pages left-to-right (and perhaps with the trackpad) would be a huge benefit. The ability to “stretch” to fill a screen would also be a nice addition. If anyone knows a Chromebook Web App that would allow for this use, please let me know.

If you have Chromebooks, this might be an option for you! The real answer, still coming in the future, is a convertible Chromebook tablet that would be touchscreen based. However–that is the future, and the Chromebook is in your schools NOW.

Many thanks to Mark Bjorklund for providing my favorite moment from this year's IMEA conference, as well as for following through with sending some pictures (which appear here with permission). Innovative music educators are fantastic!


Presentations from the 2014 Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference

This weekend (Friday), I had the privilege to present three sessions at the Iowa Music Education Professional Development Conference (I usually just call this the Iowa MEA).  If you are in a surrounding state, I really recommend this conference.  It is a smaller conference and most of the vendors are local–but clinicians come from across the country to present on a wide variety of topics.  Don’t let the size of IMEA fool you–it is packed with professional development.

My first session was a summary on the latest with the iPad in Music Education.  (PDF of the presentation: The Latest and Greatest with iPads in Music Education).  In summary: better hardware, better iOS, better [and continually improving] apps, and better accessories for music education.

My second session was an overview of some of the ways you can use devices OTHER than iPads in your classroom (PDF of the presentation: Technology for the Rest of Us).  This was a discussion of web apps for all, Android, Chromebook, and Windows “Tile” Apps.  There was one big surprise about Chromebooks that I will be blogging about soon.  I also recommend Chad Criswell’s post about High Tech options for low-cost budgets:

The final sessions was my core “60 Apps in 60 minutes,” which is more than 60 apps.  (PDF of the presentation: 60 Apps in 60 Minutes).  On the positive side of things, my overall list changes very little over time–but the best apps continue to improve with each passing generation.  As a secondary teacher, it is a joy to be able to recommend Amy Burns’ FREE interactive book, “Help! I am an Elementary Teacher with One or More iPads” to elementary teachers looking for even more elementary-focused apps, applications, and lesson plans.

I love presenting in Iowa–it is a relatively close convention (about a 3.5 hour drive from my house) in a wonderful town (Ames), and Des Moines is only a short drive away.  On Saturday, my wife and I drove down to Des Moines and visited the Iowa State Capitol (it is a beautiful building–if you have not visited it, do so) and then went to blow our own glass Christmas ornaments at Studio Fuzzishü in the West Des Moines area.  We wanted to spend some time in the East Village and perhaps at the Jordan Creek Mall, but parking was an issue in both those places.  We also had the chance to visit some friends of the family that had moved to Southern Minnesota on our way back to the metro area of the Twin Cities.


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