Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

A Comprehensive Music Education Program

Six years ago, I chose to bid from my current high school position in our district to a brand new high school that we were building. Included in that position that was being a part of a year-long planning team before the school opened. During that year, we taught at our existing school but also met frequently to be involved in every aspect of the new school–and ultimately, I had a large part in defining the entire music program at that school (I also had a band colleague in this process).

Although it may have been my driving opinion, we felt that a modern high school should not simply offer band, choir, and orchestra. As a result, we created a program with the following elements:

  • Traditional Bands, three levels, ability based
  • Traditional Choirs (five), two gender-based “beginner” choirs, and then three abiltity based mixed choirs
  • Guitar, three levels
  • Beginning Music Theory
  • AP Music Theory (music theory level 2)
  • Music in History and World Cultures
  • In my last year, we managed to put a Music Technology course on the program of studies, although the course did not have enough enrollment to run (see below). I became convinced that music technology was a needed (an interesting) element to add to the curriculum.
  • We also wanted to consider adding courses such as Jazz Band, Show Choir, and Drum Line.

We built the music program with the idea of, “Build it and they will come.” Even if the courses did not run, they were on the books and could run when they needed to run.


Over the first four years of the school, we ran a number of these classes; typically two bands, three choirs, occasional classes in music theory, and regular courses at Guitar level 1, and the occasional level 2.


We had a MIDI lab installed when we opened the school, a seventeen seat lab with a computer, MIDI keyboard, microphone, Finale (2010), and other free software (e.g. Audacity). The plan was to use this lab in conjunction with our Music Theory courses.


Ultimately FTE ratios became a challenge. In music courses, the minimum cap number of 25 was usually enforced. Any music teacher will tell you that FTE is a deceptive number. There are always courses where FTE is allowed to dip “below” that magic number of 25, and if the district ratio is at 32.5 (as our is), no one is ever concerned if music or physical educaton teachers have a FTE ratio far above that ratio. Counselors I talked to considered these courses “black holes” where you could place students and lower the FTE for other teachers. Ultimately, if your program is a “favored” program of your administration, the administration runs those courses regardless of FTE. As we opened the school, both the Band and Choir were below the “actual” FTE requirements, partially because we opened under the last year of a four-period day where students were strongly encouraged to take two years of math and two years of foreign language in one year while they still could. Choir began with 35 students and band with 105; by the end of my four years there, choir was at 156 and Band at 88 (there was additional growth for next year). I don't want to make the case that we were overloaded with students, but I do want to point out that an additional class or two could have been added, only further justifying our FTE. One year I taught (under the four period day) three choirs and another course (music theory or guitar). But that only happened in one year (year 2, I believe).


Logically, courses such as Music Theory are intended as a place for your most gifted musicians who want to prepare for college (I also found that a number of guitar players not in traditional band/choir/orchestra would take music theory to learn how to write music). We will run an AP course of 15 students for a high level science or math course for students wanting to pursue those fields in college–but doing so in music was a hard thing for our administration to justify.


Furthermore, it became clear that the MIDI Lab was a poor investment; the MIDI Lab only had 17 work stations, and if you needed a class of 25 to run a course, what do 8 students do while the others work on the computers?


As I have written about in the past, I left that school last year, and have taught this year at a middle school in our district which is 1:1. I will be writing about those experiences in the weeks to come. Yesterday I was visting with another teacher in our district, and wondered if my former schools was going to be offering any of the comprehensive music courses we created. I looked at the district program of studies, and all of our “comprehensive” courses no longer exist at that school.


To be clear: the program of studies is impacted by the staff at each school, and they have input on what courses are offered. It is possible that the new teachers had no interest in offering those courses. Many music teachers consider themselves specialists: “I only teach ______.” Many teachers do not even want to consider teaching theory, history, guitar, or music technology as a separate course. I understand that point of view, but one of the things I have learned in my educational path is that schools need to offer more than band/choir/orchestra. You might disagree, or you might not feel equipped to teach such classes. But the end result is that you CAN teach those classes. You are a music educator–you are first and foremost a generalist, a common practitioner, and a specialist in your field second to that. If FTE is a factor in your teaching position, why wouldn't you want the FTE from guitar or music theory to keep you at 1.0? Sometimes we are afraid that we will lose kids from traditional band/choir/orchestra if we offer other courses such as “guitar.” You might lose some kids to those classes, and you can take steps to protect yourself (don't make guitar meet an Arts credit–making the course a true elective, only offer it to upper classmen, etc.). But generally, my thought has become: if a kid is in music, taught by a music teacher, they are still in music. MENC (now NAfME) used to say, “Music for every child, every child for music.” When 80% (or more) of high school students aren't in music when band/choir/orchestra are the only options, we're missing a lot of kids, and there is huge potential for growth.


Again, I don't know if the new teachers simply didn't want to teach those courses (which didn't always run), but the removal of those courses from the offiicial “program of studies” also shows that the administration of that school did not share the same vision for a comprehensive program in music education. Otherwise, you could simply leave the courses in the program of studies but simply not run those courses. So it is yet a further validation that my decision to move (first and foremost for my family and to work in a 1:1 situation) was the right move.


Let me be clear: I am in total support of band, choir, and orchestra in our schools. I love classical music, and I think those programs are relevant for today; I am not sure that our students (or their parents) always agree with us. So, keep offering those traditional music courses, but also consider offering non-traditional courses for that other 80%. But: would you be willing to teach a theory course, or a guitar course?


iPad Buzzword: App Smashing

One of the big “buzzwords” in iPad assisted education is “App Smashing.” If this term causes you angst, do not allow it to do so. The definition of “App Smashing” is taking the product from one app, using it in another, and perhaps using the product of the two apps in a third app.

Put another way, “App Smashing” is what iPad users do all the time–particularly music educators.

Let me give you several examples:

Scenario 1:

  1. A teacher uses NotateMe to write out a melodic line, and then exports the MusicXML file to Notion.
  2. In Notion, the teacher takes advantage of Notion's music notation, taking a screen shot of the results and exporting the audio.
  3. The teacher takes the audio into iMovie and creates a blank movie, with only the audio file (audio remains a particularly tricky issue on the iPad). That movie is exported to the Camera Roll.
  4. In Keynote, the teacher embeds the screen capture from Notion, along with a movie (with opacity set to 0) to play the example on a Keynote slide for their class.

In this case, four different apps are used to create one Keynote slide, “smashing” NotateMe, Notion, iMovie, and Keynote.


Scenario #2:


  1. A teacher enters a song into Notion with the intent of generating an accompaniment file. That song gets exported to Dropbox.
  2. The teacher uses Dropbox to open the song into forScore.
  3. The teacher links the song to the actual score, and then uses the resulting accompaniment track in their rehearsals.
In this case, three apps are used to create an accompaniment for a PDF in forScore, “smashing” Notion, Dropbox, and forScore.

If you use your iPad for anything other than watching movies, surfing the web, and checking e-mail, you likely already “App Smash” as much as anyone else.


In music education, App Smashing isn't a new concept: we are used to having to use any number of computer programs to create resources for our classrooms, whether we are given Windows PCs, MacBooks, SMART Boards, or Chromebooks. App Smashing is simply a way of life, particularly when no software program or app can do all that we need to do!

All Signs Point to “Pro”

In the past few months, two tablet manufacturers have announced and/or introduced a 12″ tablet; the 12″ Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2, and the new Microsoft Surface Pro 3. The Samsung is still a 16:10 tablet, whereas the Windows tablet is in 3:2.

Many musicians (professionals and conductors) are longing for a larger device than the iPad. Hugh Sung, with AirTurn, is very excited about the Samsung Note (he will probably purchase a Surface Pro 3 down the road as well).

For the musician, there are still compromises when you choose Android or Windows over the iPad. The main compromise is the lack of high quality apps for musicians on Android or Windows. Developers naturally go where the money is, and the money continues to primarily be on iOS. That said, there are now a few different options for PDF Sheet Music on Android (MobileSheets and Orpheus), and MusicReader on Windows. If you are looking for a fully-featured option like forScore or unrealBook on Android or Windows, you won't find it.

It has been fun to watch the development of some apps that exist both on iOS or Android, or may even be considered “Android First.” For example, NotateMe (a music notation via handwritten music app) was developed on both platforms at the same time. The pen input of the Samsung is going to be better than any stylus on the iPad, unless Apple authorizes a sanctioned stylus SDK (software development kit). Steve Jobs wanted no stylus for the iPad when it was released in 2010; but the impact of a smart stylus seems to add a great deal of benefit to a tablet. True, you can work on a tablet without a smart stylus; and the current batch of smart styluses for the iPad don't make a lot of sense because the apps they can be used in “smartly” is limited (to companies that use the SDK of that stylus).

I don't see myself running out to buy either the Samsung or Windows tablet. I may have to buy the next generation of Android tablet as my “hacked” HP TouchPad is feeling its age (and memory limitations). My Asus Windows Tablet allows me to do what I need to do on Windows. And my most-used apps are all iOS, many not available on any other platform.

What I see with the Samsung 12″ tablet and the Microsoft 12″ tablet is the hope that Apple will release a 12″ tablet of its own, soon. I would assume that it would be called the “iPad Pro,” just as there is a “MacBook Air” and a “MacBook Pro.” If 12″ is the “next big thing,” I am hoping that Apple will jump into those waters.

One way or another, this is the year for me to update to the next iPad (I think many owners of 4th Generation iPads chose to skip the iPad Air for one year, as I did). My hope is that an iPad Pro will be released at the same time as the next generation iPad Air.

What could a 12″ iPad bring to the table for musicians? First, a larger screen for reading music, even conductor's scores. Second, more real estate to work on apps that could use more working room, such as Notion, NotateMe, and even GarageBand. Third, the potential for a larger processor and more battery power, with the increased surface area of the device.

A lot of people still argue that iPad owners need a laptop and an iPad; the advances in iPad apps over the last year has really caused me to use my MacBook 95% less than I had to in the past. There are still some things my MacBook does better than my iPad; but my iPad's ability to do most of the things I need it to at a level where it is convenient to do has really grown. In particular, changes in forScore, NotateMe, and Notion have made many of my tasks easier (I will blog about this later–the topic of “App Smashing.”

All of that was a really long way of saying that the new 12″ tablets simply give me hope for a 12″ iPad from Apple–and I hope it comes soon!

Broken Devices…

Several months ago, my stepson was finally allowed to have an iPhone from his father's house. His cell phone has always been something that has been provided by his father. About the same time, he gave us his iPod Touch, which had been damaged (something happened to the home button), and didn't want it any more. I had found a vendor at the Minnesota TIES (our education technology conference) that repaired devices, so I sent the device to them in February. They let me know it would take a while to receive the part, but expected the part no later than early March. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out. After my last bad experience with a device repair center, I decided to take the calm route and e-mail montly to the company about the device. Last week I e-mailed for a third time, and the owner e-mailed back, apologized for the delay, and told me it would be fixed this week. I had not heard from them this week, so I e-mailed yesterday and they responded to let me know that they were unable to repair the device and would be sending a replacement unit.

I'm not sure what happened during this process, but we didn't “need” the device, as we have three iPhones, three iPod Touches, one iPad, and an iPad Mini in our family for five people. So unlike my last bad repair expeirence with Fastfixology where my Mother-in-law's iPad was out for repair and needing immediate service, I could afford to wait on this one.

I don't know why they should have to replace a device they couldn't repair, unless the attempted repairs damaged the device further, or the device itself was destroyed or lost. I'll be certain to post an update to this post when I figure it all out.

Ultimately, the iPad Mini seems to be the device both of my younger boys gravitate towards, so we may be replacing all the iPod Touches in our family in the months to come with two iPad Minis (maybe at Christmas). The iPod Touches also get lost in our house all the time, while the Mini stays visible because it is larger. Updating to larger devices will make our lives easier as parents, and also stop the fighting between kids about who gets to use the iPad Mini.

On to a personal item…

Our second and last concert of the year was held on Thurdsay night, and as I unloaded my truck at the high school where we perform, my gear bag dropped out of my hands, and my iPad fell out of the bag. I had not zipped up the bag, so there was going to be damage one way or another.

The end result is that even though my iPad was in its New Trent Grabber case with the cover on, the impact on the face of the device was enough to knock the cover off and allow the screen to take the impact; a diagonal crack all along the device, and a smashed corner. The good news: the grabber case actually protected the corners of the iPad. The iPad worked well enough for me to use in the concert (both music and audio), but as a person who promotes the use of technology in music education–particularly the iPad–I knew that I had to get the screen repaired…and I will be using it during some of our last 12 days of school.

I didn't want to send the iPad to the place that is still repairing our iPod–this was an urgent repair and I needed my device back in my hands. A former student whose daughter is now in my choir told me about a repair shop that is in our general community. So on Friday, during an open hour, I drove to the shop and left my iPad to be repaired, expecting it today (Saturday). Sure enough, I was called today, paid the $149 repair fee (retina screen iPad 4), and the iPad is back. You can feel that it is a replacement screen…there are some rough (not sharp) aspects to the bezel of the iPad case. I'm not mad about that at all–have you seen what they have to do to remove a screen? If not, go look at some YouTube videos on the subject.

So…I'm back in business. Apple's own cost is $299 for the same repair (the same price as a NEW 4th Generation iPad with 16GB of memory…I own the 64GB model and have had it about 1.5 years). $150 seems to be the going rate, and you can buy the panel itself for $90…but I would suggest that you know what you are doing if you are going to try to repair your own iPad; you can quickly cause more than $60 of damage trying to repair your iPad yourself.

The company here in Minnesota that repaired my iPad is GopherMods, and I do not have a speciic referral code for you to use. They do some referrals that require an order number and it will give you 10% off a repair–if you use them and want my order number for that discount, feel free to send me an e-mail. It turns out our local shop was a trial of a satellite location, and it is closing to move to a permanent site in a nearby community. This company started as a college student fixing devices in his spare time at the University of Minnesota (where I earned my doctorate, incidentally)…and also “modded” PlayStations. Thus the name “GopherMods” (Minnesota Golden Gophers…the most fearsome mascot of all time–unlike the Badgers, Wolverines, or Wolfpack). GopherMods also includes a one year warranty on the part (which does not include breaking). They are considering expanding their operation to other states, and do accept walk-in orders.

I am working on that repaired iPad right now as I write this post.

So…I have had a number of experiences with device repairs over the past years, and it seems that the best solution may be to find a local shop that can turn around your device in a short amount of time. You can mail your device somewhere, even for a good deal (my horrible experience was centered around a repair that was at cost for an iPad screen because of the wait time on a previous repair)–but if you can't walk in and talk to someone, you might be pressing your luck for a repair.

As for this iPad, I will be upgrading this fall to the next iPad (either Air or a Pro, if that model is released) and giving this iPad to my Father-In-Law who is still using my 2nd Generation iPad that I bought in October 2011. That was another reason to have the screen replaced. I'm thinking about moving to the Gripcase. We have a Gripcase on our iPad Mini, and it really does a great job of protecting the device from our kids. I'm sure that if my iPad had fallen out of my bag with the Gripcase, the screen would not have cracked. Although I liked the Grabber case, I can't recommend it in terms of keeping your iPad safe. New Trent no longer manufactures this style of case, and sells an armored “Grabber” case for the iPad Air. I would consider that case if I owned an iPad Air, but I do not.

My hope for you is that you never have to deal with a broken screen–but it happens. If it happens and you are not under warranty (AppleCare covers repair for a period of time with a co-pay), you do have options. And your best bet may be a good case.

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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