Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Some Tablet Thoughts from a Developer (and CEO)

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!



Are Chromebooks or iPads Better for Schools?

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!


SAMR, RAT…how do you actually integrate technology into the music classroom?

I am preparing for my “Technology in Music Education” workshop on Monday and Tuesday, and I am also going through old Feedly “saved” items.

One of the questions I am often asked is, “This is great, but how do you integrate this technology into music education?”  The answer isn’t hard, and it isn’t a sarcastic answer: you do it.

If you have one iPad (your own), you mirror the iPad and you teach from your iPad.  You use apps to SUBSTITUTE or REPLACE things you previously did without technology (e.g. sheet music, audio player, etc.) as well as to AUGMENT what you use to do.  Basically, you are simply ENHANCING your curriculum.  You don’t start trying to TRANSFORM, MODIFY, or REDEFINE what you are doing right off the bat, because you want to make sure that you are using the technology.  As you SUBSTITUTE and REPLACE, you will learn new techniques and you will take new risks.

These are all edu-speak terms that follow the SAMR and RAT models of technology integration.

Additionally, as you integrate technology, expect things to not work from time to time.  Your Windows Notebook, MacBook, or Chromebook may crash.  The wi-fi might go down.  There might be an app update that accidentally breaks the functionality of your app.  Google might, overnight, completely rewrite or replace a service.  This stuff happens all the time.

So as you teach with technology, you always have to have a backup plan in mind, even if you never use it.  And you know what, this isn’t any different than life before technology in your classroom.  You didn’t know if you would have a day where you lost your voice, something major interrupted the school day, or a grade level or class took a trip without reminding the entire staff.

Over the last twenty-four hours, I have seen two videos that exemplify using technology in music education.  The first is a video from my friend Paul Shimmons (who blogs at iPads and Technology in Music Education) which shows a first grade class using the iPad App Flashnote Derby to strengthen their note reading ability.  This is a model of a one-iPad implementation that is an example of Augmentation.  Note how one student is at the iPad, and the rest of the class in 100% engaged in the process.  Flashnote Derby is still a great app, and this could be done with a number of any other apps including StaffWars, which came out this year on the iPad.

The second video was tweeted yesterday by Steven Struhar, the Product Manager of SmartMusic with MakeMusic.  This is a twenty minute video by Dave Faires, the band director of the Willowcreek Middle School Band program in Lehi, Utah.  In this video, Mr. Faires discusses the various apps that they use in their band program.  This includes SmartMusic, TonalEnergy Tuner, Tenuto, Read Rhythm, Sight Reading Machine, iReal Pro, Vic Firth, and forScore (and a few other apps).  At the end of the video, Mr. Faires makes a joke about people lasting through the whole video–but if you are interested in integrating technology in your music program, this video is invaluable as it shows how one director is doing things–again, mainly with levels of SUBSTITUTION, REPLACEMENT, and AUGMENTATION on the SAMR and RAT models.  If you are interested, I wrote a similar post about how students used (free) apps in my middle school choir program this past year.

So again, technology integration isn’t a scary thing, and you just need to move forward and start with SUBSTITUTION and REPLACEMENT.  Set a goal, and go meet it. Expect bumps along the way.  Failure isn’t fatal in this arena, even if it can be annoying…but as we have been told, FAIL=”First Attempt In Learning.”

The Chromebook vs. iPad Debate

Tim Holt is the director of technology for the El Paso school district.  I have been aware of his work for some time as he was one of the first people to show how to make an iPad document camera out of standard school chemistry equipment (you can now buy a fabricated stand or make one out of PVC).  On the 18th, one of Tim’s blog columns was posted on EdSurge, and since that time, I have seen the article posted a number of times on Twitter.  The EdSurge article can be seen here:

Let me make this clear: I, for the most part, agree with Mr. Holt.  I support iPads for music education because they are the one device we can actually fit into our work flow.  If you are familiar with Rueben Puentedura’s SAMR model of technology integration, tech integration begins with Substitution.  Chromebooks (and other clamshell devices) do not fit into our music classooms (no desks!).  That means that if you are a Chromebook school, your music teacher has to jump to levels of M and R (modification and redefinition) to use that technology in their classroom.  That’s terribly unfair, as much of the “core” can “substitute” and show tech integration in their classrooms.  Many of the “elective areas” have the same SAMR problem when it comes to clamshell devices.

That said, the Chromebook isn’t a bad device.  There are a number of different Chromebook devices, and only two models of iPad with different levels of onboard memory).  The iPad itself is probably a better device than half of the Chromebooks on the market, but there are a number of top-of-the-line Chromebooks with hardware on par with the iPad.  Schools buy the inexpensive models of Chromebook, and do not purchase the top of the line models.  My own Chromebook is the common Samsung 303 model, and I am using a Chromebook to type this article (I figured this was the right thing to do when blogging about the Chromebook).

When you need  a keyboard, a physical keyboard is always going to be better than a virtual keyboard–particularly if you learned how to type on a physical keyboard.  That said, some research is showing that students can type faster on an iPad than on a physical keyboard.  I’m not surprised by this–they are accustomed to doing so.  We continue to say that keyboarding skills are important, yet most schools have removed keyboarding as a class!  In our 1:1, we offer keyboards for checkout in the media center.  They were basically left untouched last year.

The Chromebook is better at all the Google “stuff” than an iPad.  If you want to use collaboration in Google Docs, or just Google Docs,  Chrome, or Chrome Web Apps and Plug-Ins, the Chromebook is going to offer a better experience than an iPad.  I still have major issues with educational workflow and Google Docs (or Google Drive).  Perhaps Google Classroom, Google’s new classroom learning system to be released this fall, will solve many of those workflow issues.  I always expect the entire Google experience to be better on a Chromebook than an iPad–they should, as Google controls the OS, the Web-based apps, and many aspects of the hardware.  As much as Google has improved their iPad offerings over the last year, I don’t see this changing very much in the future.  If you are a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education), and you primarily use GAFE tools, the Chromebook MAY make more sense for your school.

There are some new(er) music tools that are available on the Chromebook, such as VexTab in Google Docs, NeoScores (coming out of Beta soon), and of course, Noteflight (not new!).  All of these products, however, mean a departure from the traditional performance/rehearsal based music programs at the secondary level of education in the United States…and where do you put the Chromebooks as you work on them?

The educational technology divide has become Chromebook vs. iPad, much like Apple vs. Windows of the past.   As a pro-iPad person, I have found that some pro-Chromebook educators and tech directors become very territorial and angry in their defense of the Chromebook.  I would imagine that there are iPad people who do the same; but I haven’t met them (perhaps because I am in their camp?  See my last post as an example of some anti-iPad/Apple abuse I was given on Twitter).

I don’t use my Chromebook, Windows 8.1 Tablet, or HP Touchpad running Android very often.  On a similar note, I don’t fire up my Mac very often, unless I have work to do in Finale and PhotoScore.  Nearly all of my work is done on my iPad or iPhone.  I fired up my Chromebook just to write this post; and in typical fashion, it crashed twice as I wrote!  I don’t think my Chromebook’s issues (yes, it has been restored) are common to all Chromebooks.  But I know my Chromebook crashes more often than any other device that I own.

For music education, Chromebooks may become a viable option when  the new(er) touch-screen Chromebooks take the leap to a full-tablet mode (sort of like my Asus Windows 8.1 Transformer–detach the keyboard and it becomes a tablet).  When you get a Chromebook that is a tablet, it can fit into your music classroom,  and it potentially can  match the iPad in functionality.  Until then, I will continue to advocate for iPads in music education.  I don’t know if Google will allow this, as they already have a platform for tablets–Android.  For the most part, Android has not made much of a dent in the educational market.  It is pretty clear at this point that the competition is Chromebook vs. iPad for 1:1 distributions in schools. For that reason, if I were a developer, I would be making apps for the iPad and WebApps for the Chromebook, particularly if I was selling a subscription-based software package.

The ability to run advanced software becomes an issue for the Chromebook.   If your entire philosophy is to provide a computer that can do 90% of what a computer can do, with a fraction of the RAM and relying on web-based apps, there will be a point where developers want to write software/apps that can run on your device, but your device doesn’t have the power to support those apps.  But you can’t make a more expensive “base unit” that schools will purchase, because you would quickly run into the price range of an iPad.  And when your price matches an iPad, which will you choose?  The whole idea of Chromebook was, “Cheap, easy to manage, web-based, low quality parts.”   Do you see a Chromebook running Finale, Sibelius, or even MuseScore?  I don’t–the platform isn’t made to handle that kind of computing.

There are a number of pro-Chromebook IT directors who state that iPads require more tech upkeep than Chromebooks.  This was true in the past, but new developments from Apple (during this year of the LAUSD iPad debacle) have made it very easy for schools to register devices and to distribute them via a MDM, such as Casper.  In fact, with the new DEP (Device Enrollment Program), it might be just as easy to manage iPads as it is to manage Chromebooks.

The other thing to consider is Chromebook repairs.  iPad repairs are costly…It cost me $149 to replace my iPad’s retina screen this past May.  Chromebook repairs are just as costly; it may be cheaper to replace a Chromebook than to replace its screen.  If that is the case, how much of your Chromebook is recyclable?    And what is the mentality of a throw-away technology tool?

I think Mr. Holt’s opinion piece is going to generate a lot of discussion, and there will be a lot of unhappy Chromebook advocates because of the article.  Let me again make my stance clear: I am not anti-Chromebook (in education or in life), but as products stand right now, I am anti-Chromebook in music education.  That could change with new forms of Chromebooks, and I look forward to the day those are offered!

Trains and Motorcycles, Oh My!

Last week, I had the opportunity to take an Amtrack train from St. Paul (Minnesota) to Pasco Washington. My father-in-law was purchasing a motorcycle from his daughter, and I volunteered to go out and ride the motorcycle back to the Twin Cities.

The Amtrack ride was about 36 hours, and was unfortunately about four hours late. As a result, we went through Glacier National Park in the dark–something I wanted to see from the train (I have ridden through Glacier on my motorcycle in the past). I was housed in an extremely smelly coach car–none of the other cars were stinky–so I spent as much time out of the car (in the observation car, mostly) as I could. Train travel hasn’t changed very much through the years–it takes time, cell coverage is better but not rock solid, and you meet all kinds of interesting people.

The ride back from Pasco was intense. I was originally going to spend some time looking at things, but it turns out that the motorcycle–a 1992 Suzuki Intruder 1400–just wasn’t comfortable. It has an extremely low seat height, so when I sit on the bike (and I’m 5′ 10″ tall) my knees are nearly at 90º and flat-footed on the ground. Additionally, the bike only had a small windshield–exposing most of me to the elements. My goal was to simply get back to the Twin Cities as quickly as possible. Thursday featured a leisurely ride to Missoula, Montana (about 330 miles), Friday I dodged rain showers in the mountains and managed to make it to Gillete, Wyoming (about 525 miles). Saturday, going through some of my favorite places in the United States (the Black Hills of South Dakota), I was riding in heavy rain and cold temperatures. My rain gear, about 10 years old, completely failed me and I was soaked through. I had to stop along the way and buy new (warm) clothes for the ride when the rain let up. After a cold, wet morning, I caught up to the weather front in Wall, South Dakota, and then faced brutal side winds (from my left) until Mitchell, South Dakota. At Mitchell, the skies cleared and the winds calmed, and I had a wonderful ride to the Minnesota border. In Minnesota, I caught up with the next storm system, and faced brutal winds from my right, making it all the way to the Twin Cities before the heavens opened up again, where I rode in the dark, pouring rain, basically swimming all the way home for the last fifteen miles. By the time Saturday was done, I had ridden in five varied riding conditions, covering just over 735 miles that day.

I learned a number of things on this trip, and believe it or not, there are connections to technology.

  1. You need to choose the right machine. My 2000 Victory V92C is a bike that I chose, that fits me. It offers unlimited seating positions, and the handlebars are custom bars that I chose. Although I would argue that the Suzuki Intruder 1400 might be a better “runner” than my own motorcycle (the Suzuki only has four speeds, but really drove well at 75 mph), the Victory is just a better fit for me. Likewise, if you are using technology, it is important to choose the technology that fits you.
  2. I am an iPad apologist. I think the iPad is the best device for music education. If you are reading my blogs or interacting with me on Twitter, you have to be okay with that. It is hard when you come across people that aren’t okay with that. I don’t like conflict, I don’t like making people angry, and really am one of the most easy going people (professionally, at least–we’re all a bit different with our families) that you will ever meet. Here’s a story where my pro-iPad stance blew up:
  3. I recently had an exchange on Twitter where a Pro-Google and Chromebook person blew up at me. He was complaining about his iPhone, and I suggested that I haven’t had any problems since iOS 7.1. I reminded him that he had helped me through problems I had been experiencing with my Chromebook, and he tweeted (tweets connected), “I’m sorry I talked about your precious Apple. Logical fallacies are a sign of weakness and desperation. Your continued fight to prove Apple over Google is painful to watch. It wasn’t even about that, but you so can’t help yourself. Have fun and enjoy what you love. I really don’t care. My phone sucks right now. It happens to be an Apple phone. Sorry. You troll to protect and go after anything negative with a redirect back to Google. #tiring. I never claimed either perfect.” I wasn’t trying to attack him or Google…and it is important to note that this is a tech director for a Chromebook 1:1/GAFE school district. I did not block him, but I stopped following him, because clearly, he isn’t interested in conversation or even discussing different strategies–and whatever I respond to clearly makes him angry. Almost all of his tweets are about how great Google is, or Chicago Sports (nothing wrong about either, by the way. I just mention this because we ALL write about what matters to us). I suggested that we meet to have lunch someday so that he could learn who I really am…his response? “mabye” Since that time, that person replaced their iPhone, and I expect and hope they are happy!
  4. Don’t be dissuaded from using Twitter based on that experience. The only other person that I have had such a negative experience with on Twitter was Sean Junkins, a respected ADE and education blogger/tweeter. Some of his tweets (and posters that he creates) oversimplify issues and some statements would hurt the feelings/motivations of non-technologists (e.g. “If you don’t begin integrating, then get retiring”). He also has some specific techniques on Twitter: if you unfollow him, he tweets about you and what a great person you are. This guilts you into re-following him. After I blogged about my thoughts, he blocked me on Twitter. I had favorited a few of his tweets in the past, and because he blocked me, I cannot even “unfavorite” those Tweets! Don’t get me wrong…I have been told that he is a great guy–and I have no reason to not believe that. I was using his work as an example that you won’t agree with everyone on Twitter, and that you can always unfollow them. Clearly my thoughts rubbed him the wrong way enough that he blocked me, and I feel bad about that.
  5. Simply selling one point of view is not my goal with technology, and in fact, I work hard to support people with every type of technology roll out. I’m convinced that the iPad is the best tool for music education, and that most of the other platforms just don’t fit our subject very well (Android is improving, but there is no growth in educational adoption of Android…it is all iPad or Chromebook for the most part). And I have gone through my own technology journey, and as such, I realize that something better than the iPad may eventually come along. That is why I follow people who support all kinds of technology–that way, I can see what is out there beyond my own experience, broadening my own knowledge and expectations for technology.
  6. So…back to the original motorcycle story…choose the bike that fits you and your purposes. That $100,000 custom OCC chopper isn’t a cross-country bike. That Goldwing probably isn’t going to impress your buddies or make you “hip.” So…choose your technology as well…iPad, Chromebook, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, whatever. If you can use it and use it effectively, that’s what it is all about.
  7. The failure of my rain gear reinforced my belief in the need for good accessories. A good accessory can help you adapt for various conditions that your motorcycle was probably not intended for. A good rain suit can make the difference between riding in true discomfort or just under the annoyance of weather. There’s a difference. Boot and glove over-covers can also be a help. Bluetooth helmets can provide audio on your trip (if your bike doesn’t have a stereo–most don’t). A cup holder can keep hydration at hand. An Airhawk seat cushion can save your butt (literally) on a long journey. Crash bars can save your bike in a crash, as well as serve as a mounting point for highway pegs. There are various kinds of bags–leather and fiberglass–that can help you haul items safe and dry!
  8. In a similar way, the accessories you buy for your technology can impact your use of that device. A good case can help keep your device safe from drops (falling) or even water damage! A stylus can change how you use the device (based on the apps you use). Apps themselves can change the very functionality of your device. I am looking forward to the JamStik (guitar device) and C.24 (keyboard case), both which have the potential to change how I will use my iPad, just as my Zagg case (I no longer use the case, but just the keyboard when I have to do a lot of typing, such as this post) changes how functional my iPad can be. Many of these items–cases, keyboards, and styluses are available for many platforms (not just iPad). Make sure to customize “your ride” with the accessories that will make your device a better fit for you. You might find yourself using that device for more than you ever thought you would!

At any rate, those are my thoughts, post-motorcycle journey. I would definitely take the trip again–but hopefully on my own bike, with some new rain gear. I don’t know what the rest of the summer holds–I am still working in my basement (hanging drywall in the main part) and I have a few presentations this summer. I will certainly continue to blog as there are developments in the tech world that impact music education, and as other odd thoughts pop into my head! Enjoy the summer!


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