Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

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.

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: http://www.musicedmagic.com/tales-from-the-podium/low-cost-musictechnology-options-for-the-music-education-classroom.html.

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).

A Little Bit About the Choral Director Magazine Article

This past September, I was contacted by Choral Director Magazine, who wanted to ask me some questions about integrating technology into the choral rehearsal. I was happy to answer their questions, and at the end of the interview, I was asked to provide a portrait for the cover of the magazine, and to send some pictures of my choirs using technology.

I wasn't expecting that. I had no idea that I was going to be on the cover of a magazine.

I am extremely honored to be featured in the October issue of Choral Director Magazine. I have been trying to be very quiet about it–but it is a tremendous affirmation that some of my recent career choices have been right for me. As Bach would have written…SDG!

A few other things:

  1. One of my processes have changed since the article. I no longer use Google Forms for collecting daily journal questions/writing prompts. Instead, I am using the Showbie App (paid version), which also allows me to include other kinds of tasks as “bell-ringer activities.”
  2. The actual cover photo was taken at Prescott High School, in their technology office (also the home of their video studio, thus the green screen). I had asked Apple if I could use a local Apple Store as the location of the photo, and was denied (I had contacted a VP who I have gotten to know over the years). I then asked a local Best Buy if I could use their store for a photo–and was told I could by a “manager.” The day we took the photo, I called Best Buy to let them know we were coming in–and was told that the “manager” that had granted permission was not a manager, and that Best Buy could not allow anyone to use their store for a photo without corporate permission. So I tried to call corporate headquarters to get quick approval–and all the Best Buy departments ask you to contact their departments through e-mail, and that they will get back to you on their availability. As a result, we had to find a back-up location where I could be pictured around technology–and thanks to Dallas Eggers, the Technology Director of the Prescott School District, we were able to take the picture. Thanks, too, to December Orpen (www.decemberorpenphotography.webs.com) for her flexibility in taking photos and arranging to take the pictures at Prescott High School. Incidentally, I am not shopping at Best Buy any more. Several employees lied to me, imitated being a manager, and then the person that told me the truth did not offer one ounce of compassion or willingness to help me in any way. I am writing a letter to the CEO of Best Buy about the issue. Had I simply been told, “No,” or “Contact Corporate,” originally, there would have been no later crisis.
  3. I purposely chose objects to be featured in the pictures. This included my iPad in its Gripcase, my Maglus Stylus, my AirTurn page turner, my JamStik, my MacBook, and my Akai L25 MIDI Controller. Several other devices could have been featured, but were (or are) still delayed in shipping/production such as the Miselu C.24 (still waiting) and Quicco Sound mi.1 (article to follow). We also scattered some other technology from the room into the photo (Chromebooks, some PCs, some monitor speakers, a video camera, and a light)
  4. I realize that I speak about “kids” a lot in the article, and I was attempting to speak in a very easy-to-understand way, thinking that I was simply providing information for an article; had I known that I was being interviewed for the “feature article,” I would not have been as informal as I was in the interview. Perhaps the more casual result is better.
  5. It would be exciting if the article led to some other opportunities in the future.

If you haven't seen the article, you can read it here.

 

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