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.

Still the One…

This evening, I have been working with my Android Nexus 7 (2013 version). I am waiting for the latest version of Google Android (Lollipop) to be released for the device. Generally, I use my Android device for one of three things:

  • Playing games (particulary Clash of Clans and Star Wars Commander)
  • Watching Netflix or Amazon Prime (you can install Prime via the Amazon Android Marketplace)
  • Checking music education apps on Android

For some time, I have said that if iOS and the iPad didn’t exist, I could be happy with Android. I still think this is true. But as a person who owns a device from all of the major OSes available on the market, I still strongly feel that the iPad is “still the one” for music education.


Don’t get me wrong–there are some really strong apps on Android, and some wonderful web-based resources that work on nearly any device. Neuratron, makers of NotateMe and PhotoScore, prefers Android over iOS–particularly the Samsung Galaxy Note. And I have recently discovered “Perfect Ear 2″ on Android, which is an incredibly well put-together app that isn’t available on iOS. Online resourses, such as Noteflight, continue to improve.


But when it comes down to a platform that represents the very best for music education, the iPad still is the place to go. At this point in my life, as my far sightedness (literal) requires me to use reading glasses, I would prefer a larger device such as the 12.1″ Samsung tablets. But when it comes down to the list of available apps and available accessories, as well as built in features for music making–such as Core MIDI and MIDI over Bluetooth LE, the iPad is squarely in control. Yes, some apps are on multiple platforms. Some of those are GREAT apps (NotateMe, iReal Pro, ClearTune, StaffWars). But when you need a native music composition app (Notion, Symphony Pro) or a world-class PDF Music Reader (forScore, unrealBook), iOS is the only place to go for those apps. And if you are a musician using a mobile device to mix music–iOS is the only answer.


Read this closely…I feel the battle for the device in education has been lost. I think the Chromebook has won. The simple fact is that you can buy (at least) two Chromebooks for the price of a single iPad, and you can replace an entire Chromebook for the price of an iPad screen repair. Will some schools still choose the iPad? Absolutely, and they will be considered “elite” schools, just as Mac schools were considered special in the 90s (while Apple was making terrible products). But the reality is that the majority of schools will look at the “96% of what a computer can do at a fraction of the cost” and try to get the biggest bang for the buck. It doesn’t matter to most schools that the 4% that is lost are those things needed/used by music education and other elective classes. If you consider Chromebooks on the SAMR model, I don’t think Chromebooks transform education–they generally enhance education. Typing a paper or collaborating on Google Docs is not a transformative task. Schools that adopt Chromebooks should be willing to admit that they are okay with only reaching 50%-75% of the SAMR Model.


With this reality, I think our strategy has to change as music educators. We aren’t going to get developers to spend their time writing Chromebook apps for music education, as schools aren’t spending money on web apps or web services (if you are already penny-pinching in your choice of device, you aren’t going to save money to buy subcriptions to online services), and Chromebooks–as clamshell devices–aren’t going to fit well into our music classrooms.


I think the strategy needs to become this: “Since our district saved ___ million dollars by purchasing Chromebooks for students instead of iPads, our elective classes (music, art, etc.) need to request iPads for our use along with the apps and accessories that are available for our discipline out of some of the money that was saved.” You can ask for devices to be used as musical folders, pit orchestra devices, and as a portable MIDI lab for music theory and music technology courses. You can make a case that several carts of iPads with all needed apps is still less expensive than a dedicated MIDI lab. Don’t forget the usefulness of SmartMusic on the iPad, either. With this approach you can “play along” with a Chromebook initiative, yet have the benefits of iPads in your room. If your district has gone (or is going) “all in” with Chromebooks–I would suggest trying this approach. Music education has always been considered an outlier in education (especially by technology departments), and you might find that the decision makers are willing to consider exceptions for music (and other electives).

iPads in Music Education v. 2.0 underway

I am about to start editing my electronic book, iPads in Music Education, and I expect to wrap up any updates by the end of December. As I look through the book as it exists, much remains the same, but there are some new apps and accesories, as well as a few more resources (such as Amy Burns' FREE electronic book, called “Help, I Am An Elementary Music Educator With One Or More iPads!”).

I know that I want to feature some of the wonderful new (since the last edition) apps such as NotateMe, and that I want to write a new sub chapter on accessibility. Of course, I will also include iOS 8–although I cannot personally use all of the iOS 8/OSX Yosemite features because my MacBook is too old.

I just wanted to ask you–as readers of–is there anything you would like me to discuss or cover in greater detail in the next edition? If you have thoughts, please feel free to send an e-mail to techinmusiced@ g m a i (no spaces).

The plans are to leave any updates of the book free, at least until I hit the 5th year of the book; although new purchasers will have to pay for the book. So again, the update will be free for any existing owners of the book. That said, any apps purchased via the links in the book will help provide some continued financial income from the project.

You might have missed this about GarageBand on iOS…

One of the frustrating things that Apple did last year–in the midst of some wonderful things–was to make GarageBand for iOS free, but then to offer all the features of GarageBand via an In-App Purchase.

Schools were unable to purchase In-App Purchases as a bulk purchase (VPP), and one techinmusiced reader left a comment that Apple only allows five IAPs from a single credit card.  As a result, schools were unable to unlock the full version of GarageBand on iOS for their students.

I watched every minute of the two Apple events this fall, and noted that some functionality was added back to GarageBand on iOS (and GarageBand on the Mac), but I missed the fact that GarageBand on iOS no longer has In-App Purchases.

I am in the habit of contacting Apple when I feel like there is a major problem, and had been interacting with some members of the Apple team last year about the GarageBand IAP issue.  After our discussion, I knew they were aware of the issue.  Just this past week, I contacted one of the members of the same Apple team to let them know about the new mi.1 wireless MIDI adapter (see my previous article), and they asked me what I thought about the removal of the IAPs.  I knew nothing about it.  If I didn’t know, perhaps you didn’t know, either.

Students with existing copies of GarageBand will need to “purchase” the IAPs, but upon checkout, they are free-and I think the iOS 8 version of GarageBand is fully functional.

This is great news for schools, and although GarageBand isn’t the same on iOS as it is on the Mac, and certainly not as fully-featured as other DAWs, you can teach a lot of electronic music/music technology concepts with GarageBand for iOS that are transferrable to other platforms (Mac, Apple, or beyond).

I would not have known that the IAPs were removed until May, when we begin our GarageBand units (my own version of GarageBand for iOS is fully functional, as I originally purchased it when it came out in 2011).

Go enjoy the full version of GarageBand on iOS with your students!  Thank you for listening, Apple!


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