Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

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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Online Tech Courses

One of the leading music technology websites,, by Barbara Freedman, is offering some new courses in the coming weeks…these courses may be of interest to you.

Topics include: Logic X, Soundation, iPads in Elementary Music, SMART Boards in Elementary, and Sibelius. The teachers are some of the best music education technologists in the world (literally) including Barbara Freedman, Amy Burns, and Katie Wardrobe. I can't recommend these teachers/authors highly enough. If you have any interest in these courses, sign up!

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Mobile Devices, Product Refresh Rates, and of course, Apple

This morning, I was looking around church, and you can see the distinctive rounded-corner rectangle of iPhones everywhere. You can also see phablets…but it is clear in our marketplace that iPhones are more common. As a teacher at a middle school, I can also attest that iPhones are also more common with 6th through 8th grade students, especially the new 5c, which so many bloggers insist is a failure.

Note: if people buy it, it isn't a failure. And when parents buy them for their kids because they are the same price as the Android on the shelf, you've done what you intended to do.

Here's the deal: my wife and I have iPhone 5 smartphones, which are only a few months away from being up for renewal. With all the new plans–including T-Mobile–we have thought about them and decided to keep our service with AT&T. We have no hatred for AT&T but brought prejudice against Verizon to AT&T when we moved to iPhones in 2008.

(Long story short, Verizon used to lock down phones, even charging you to move photos off of your phone–$0.25 each!–and we forget about the way that Steve Jobs and the iPhone eliminated so many of the restrictions of cell phone carriers).

At this point, our iPhones are nearly two years old. Here's the thing: they still work, and the only feature they lack (that we would want) are faster processors and the fingerprint technology. Slow-mo video might be fun, too.

Here's the thing: my Dad's iPhone 4 still works reasonably well on iOS 7, too.

When you buy into the Apple brand, you have a guarantee of sorts that Apple will try to keep that device up-to-date with the most recent operating system and features that the device can reasonably handle (you can jailbreak older phones to get “similar” features as newer devices, but doing so often comes with limited functionality or lesser functionality). There are exceptions…the iPad 1, in terms of hardware, became outdated very quickly. That's because the second generation iPad so drastically improved on the original iPad and even added new hardware.

The same thing can't be said about other platforms. If you buy Samsung, there's no guarantee that you will get the next version of Android. I went to Wal-mart the other day! and looked through the “other” tablet aisle. There were four versions of Samsung tablets on sale (All Galaxy!) and other than size, I couldn't possibly tell you what the “best” tablet was, and if that tablet was even current (is there a newer version?).

This is why I like iPhone numbering and why I didn't like the switch from iPad 2 to iPad to iPad Air. I want buyers to be able to quickly discern what model is the latest and best. For many first time iPhone owners, I can easily recommend a 5c, which is a much better phone than my iPhone 5. I just hope that the fingerprint technology shows up on all iPhones and iPads this year. In fact, this is why I did not buy the iPad Air. I'm expecting to buy the next iPad Air or even the rumored iPad Pro this year.

At any rate, there are a lot of people who “need” the latest device to feel okay–but then there are the rest of us. If you buy an iPhone or an iPad right now, you do so knowing that it will be replaced sooner than later, and that Apple will continue to support that device. I think this is part of the appeal of Apple. You know, under a SmartPhone contract, that you will get a new device in two years, and that your device, provided you care for it at some basic level, will last that long. All the apps and all the primary features will be all that you need. You don't get that promise with other devices, as good as they may be.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been trying to crunch the numbers with these new contracts (or lack thereof). I'm not sure T-Mobile gives us the coverage we need for the traveling we want to do; and although you can get service for 4 for $100 per month (versus the $245 we pay for 10GB shared with unlimited calling/texting on AT&T), but if we moved to T-Mobile, we would have to pay $199 up front for each 32GB phone plus $25 a month for each phone. We might get $200 for each phone on trade-in, but we would be paying $200 plus tax for four phones for 500MB LTE and then unlimited “slowed down” speed after that (right now, we are up to 7.5 GB this month with 6 days left. I'm not sure what “slowed down” means. Chances are that equivalent “high speed” LTE in T-Mobile would cost us more. Plus, we can use our phones as a hotspot under AT&T; I'm not sure that is true on T-Mobile. And since we are content with a two-year replacement cycle, there is no point in paying for the “early upgrade” fee.

Well, those are my thoughts this morning…I hope they are helpful to someone considering a mobile device or whether to “make the switch.” There is a lot to consider…best wishes to you as you contemplate what to do.

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NotateMe Now Lesson #2

The second lesson in this series continues to teach music notation by manuscript as well as topics in music theory by students writing their own music to specific parameters.  This second lesson builds on the first, which introduces NotateMe and the concepts of quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes.  This lesson introduces the related topics of quarter rests, half rests, and whole rests.

The materials used in this lesson are created using Notability, and the videos are created with Quicktime and iMovie.

The PDF includes the guide for the theory that is being taught in the lesson, the assignments, and the checklist for the assignment.

NotateMe Now Lesson #2 Assignment and Checklist (PDF)

Here is a link to the first lesson in the series.

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1:1 with iPads at the University Level: Olivet Nazarene University

When you attend a conference or convention, one of the major benefits is networking time with other people in your profession. As music educators, we get tied into our jobs and our location, and we seldom get the chance to work with other music teachers. As a result, I think the vendor area at conventions is just as important for music educators as the sessions themselves. Not only do you get to see the “latest and greatest” from vendors, but this is also where you run into other teachers and can talk to them. The only challenge is if you work in a smaller state with a smaller convention, you will also have a smaller vendor area, and you will likely not have all the “major” vendors represented at your convention. For this reason alone, make a trip to the Texas MEA (largest in the country)…and additionally TI:ME (the technology organization for music education) has been holding its national convention there (San Antonio) in mid Februrary (I cannot attend the convention this year, and let me tell, you in a winter of extreme Minnesota sub-zero weather, how nice it would be to go to San Antonio in a few weeks).

At any rate, one of the special “bonuses” for me at the Illinois Music Education Convention was to be able to talk to the representatives from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnias, Illinois, just south of the Chicago metro area. Olivet Nazarene became the first university this fall to have a music department go all-iPad, as a test pilot for the entire university to consider iPads. I had originally read about Olivet Nazarene in a few blogs this fall, and Hugh Sung at AirTurn had a great video podcast with the chair of the Olivet Nazarene music department, Dr. Don Reddick.

Olivet Nazarene was a vendor at the IMEC, and I had a chance to visit for a few minutes with Dr. Reddick and a few other staff members from the college. As I write about (and talk about in presentations), the number one way to use iPads in music is as a replacement for sheet music. It isn't a terribly advanced concept of technology integration, but for musicians who have to carry sheet music, folders, gig books, and bound scores, moving music from paper to digital is a blessing, both in terms of organization and in limiting what you need to carry. From our discussion, I would say that this holds true with Olivet Nazarene as well, allowing the college to move from paper music to digital sheet music. At their annual performance of the Messiah, they actually used a 21″ iMac for the director to conduct from (a year from now, this might be two iPad Pro models used in conjunction with the dual page turning of unrealBook) while every student used an iPad for their music. The one interesting piece is that all choral singers performed with a bare iPad, because students all had their own cases and they wanted a uniform look for the performance (students bought their own cases).

Their app of choice for music PDFs is forScore, and like many institutions, they are either using music that is in the public domain, or they are buying paper scores in excess of what they will ever use and converting one score to a digital copy. They have sets of AirTurn foot pedals, I believe enough for one ensemble at a time.

I know they are using Notability as a tool as well, but I am not sure how the iPads are being used in other classes such as music theory, ear training, music history, or composition classes. I may ask for permission to visit the college in the Spring, and see for myself. I know I would be incorporating Notion into my composition classes, and all kinds of apps into my music education classes.

I think about my collegiate experience (which I loved) as a double major in voice and tuba. I remember lugging around a rather large portfolio of music which included my vocal books and my tuba music. That portfolio was heavy, and all the stress on the bag also resulted in music that was damaged. An iPad would have been great for taking notes in all my classes, for presentations and projects, and would have been particularly wonderful for my music. Most of my vocal music was already in the public domain. Therefore, I am envious of the resource that has been given to music students at Olivet Nazarene University. I hope they know how lucky they are (I think they do).

Make sure to check out Hugh Sung's interview with Dr. Reddick.


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