Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

Disco Fingers

Several months ago, a developer contacted me about an iPad app that was in development, and I encouraged the developer to contact me when the app was released. About two weeks ago, that app became available in the App Store, and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

The app is called “Disco Fingers” and the basic app is free, but there are in-app purchases (premium instruments – $4.99, publish music to the cloud – $0.99, and beat boost – $0.99). The premise is that you are given a palette of fingers, which, when placed on a grid, create different tones. The palette is customizable, as each finger has a different sound (or capabilities). Your experimentation with each finger will let you decide which sounds you want to use. Some fingers function as a MIDI percussion-type map, others are actual sounds that represented at different pitches. You can also record yourself as one of the fingers, with the app providing some customization of tone quality.

The grid represents the e minor pentatonic scale, in an eight bar repeated loop, all at the same tempo. Your creations, if you buy the upgrade, can be shared with the world; and you can also listen to creations by others–so there is a social aspect to the app as well.

The app is easy and fun to use; the lack of different keys, overall structure, and tempos does not have any negative impact on the app–but also gives the app room to grow.

This app is a wonderful way to teach about a MIDI piano roll without ever knowing what a piano or a piano roll is (or does). Work on this app would result in a better ability to edit MIDI events on a piano roll (such as in GarageBand).

So–download the free app today; chances are that you will like it so much that you will be willing to pay for the additional services with the app–and the good news is that the free version comes with enough tools that you can actually use the app and feel like you still have a functional app.

Part of their press release appears below:

A Music Composition Tool For The Tone Deaf

The brand new Disco Fingers app aims at getting non-musicians to create and share their own music.

According to the founders, almost everyone who tries the app manages to make music within a few minutes, which separates Disco Fingers from the plethora of other music-making apps.

“We built the app because we couldn’t find any music composition tools that are both simple and fun enough for complete beginners and that also give you a sense of achievement,” CEO Per Harald Borgen claims.

The three-person startup spent nearly a year testing out different solutions, dedicated to finding the best way for amateurs to compose music.

The result is a humorous music toy that looks more like a game than a composition tool. Users interact with the app by placing dancing creatures on a 2D grid, which generates beats that sound surprisingly good.

The app also gives users the ability to record their own voices, which they can process through various pitching and effect filters.

Once users have created their masterpieces, they can broadcast them on Disco Fingers’ internal radio channel, making them available for all other Disco Fingers users.

“One click, and people from all over the world can listen to your song and become your fans,” says Borgen.

The more fans your beat gets, the more it spreads, making it possible to create “viral hits” on Disco Fingers FM.

You can also send your composition privately to a friend, share it through social media, or export it as a ringtone.

“The beta testers have used it to create birthday songs, to send funny messages to their friends, to create fan songs for their favourite football teams, and in many other creative ways,” says Borgen. “Once they have used it for a while, people manage to create music that sounds really good.”

Disco Fingers will be free to download but will cost a few dollars if you want access to its premium features, which include all the instruments and voice filters, the ringtone export function, and the ability to remix beats you hear on Disco Fingers FM.

 

 

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.

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!

mi.1 Wireless MIDI Interface

When is the last time you bought something on a whim, and you were happy that you did so?

Several months ago, one of the projects I was backing on a crowdfunding site (I can't remember if it was a Kickstarter or Indiegogo project) sent out an e-mail recommending another project, the mi.1.

The mi.1, if you look at its Indiegogo page or company website (Quicco Sound), is a small device that plugs into existing keyboards, creating a wireless MIDI interface between the keyboard and an iPad. The “cost” of backing was $35 at the time, and I figured that I couldn't go wrong backing the device.

That device shipped out in October, but some issues with the required app for the device kept the company from releasing the app until this week. Now the mi.1 connect app is available on the App Store, and I can finally use my mi.1.

The mi.1 uses Bluetooth LE to connect your keyboard and your iPad (or iPhone). This was the first time I have used Bluetooth LE, and I'm a bit surpised by it. You don't turn anything on in your Settings…the devices simply talk to each other. I'm a little concerned that some harmful things could be transmitted in such a way (not from the mi.1, but from other Bluetooth LE “senders” out in public), but all the old frustrations of Bluetooth pairing are gone.

The first time you connect the mi.1, you are asked to open the mi.1 app, connect to the device, turn Bluetooth off and then back on, and then update the firmware of the mi.1. This is a twenty second process, and you're good to go.

My initial attempts to use the mi.1 with notation software on my iPad failed, but later attempts were successful (I have been using Notion for most of this testing). The video I created shows me entering notes through my keyboard via the mi.1 to Notion. Latency seems to be good…and it seems slightly faster (i.e. “normal” to send data to the iPad than it does to send data from the iPad to keyboard. I haven't figured out how to make Notion (on the iPad) play back via the mi.1/keyboard.

In 2009, we built a new high school with an embedded seventeen seat MIDI Lab. Every computer had a M-Audio Keystation plus a microphone for each keyboard. These computers (and the furniture in the room) were eventually removed to put computers in every practice room as well as the rehearsal rooms, and the keyboards were distributed throughout the district to teachers who needed them. The keyboards were not Core-MIDI compliant and would not work with iPads. (Interestingly, with the termination of Windows XP support, the computers themselves are no longer useable, and the iPads we purchased while I was at that school are now the only way for students to use SmartMusic in the practice rooms. I would have not expected that sequence of events).

The mi.1 changes the usefulness of those keyboards–and all other non-Core MIDI compliant keyboards, plus it gives you a way to connect a keyboard to your iPad without any MIDI cables. I am not sure what the street price of the mi.1 will be, but if the device is priced less than $50, it will be a cheaper solution than the purchase of a dedicated Lightning to USB Camera Kit adapter and a Lightning cable, and it already is cheaper than most MIDI box solutions (iPad or otherwise). At the moment, the mi.1 cannot work with a Mac, but I see no reason why it could not do so eventually.

There is one other item of great promise…Apple included MIDI over Bluetooth LE as a core component of iOS 8 (and I would be willing to bet that it is hiding in Yosemite as well). The mi.1, in a future update, will be able to connect directly to your iPad without the need for the mi.1 app, directly through MIDI via Bluetooth LE.

Are there any problems with the device? Not really. Some thoughts:

  • The company is from Japan, so communication from the company, both on the website and in materials provided by the company, is a little awkward in English. You can tell that the translators are not fluent English speakers, and Google Translate may even be in play. The company would be well-suited to hire some English experts (or even a British, Australian, Canadian, or American team) to re-work all communications intended for English settings.
  • Although the company missed its deadlines and had some issues with their app before releasing the app, they were much closer to reaching their Indiegogo deadline than other items I have backed.
  • Documentation with the device was limited; some people need much more detailed instructions–even for a product that is simple.
  • I don't have the equipment to test latency…which I imagine will improve as the device can accept input from the mi.1 without the middle-man app.
  • There is a coming update that will allow you to attach to multiple mi.1 units!
  • I, of course, focus on music notation apps as a music educator. I would imagine that this device would be very exciting for iOS musicians. For example, it works with GarageBand.

The device isn't available yet for purchase…but when it is, it is worth a purchase if you plan to use your iPad with a keyboard that has traditional MIDI connections. Those connections are 30 years old…and this device makes them relevant again. I didn't think this $35 crowdfunded device would have much of an impact on my life…I think I was wrong. It may be the best $35 I have spent for a while.

 

VitalTuner

I was recently sent a promo code for a new app, VitalTuner. There are a huge number of tuning apps on the market, including popular choices such as ClearTune, TonalEnergy, iStrobosoft, and Teüna. It seems daring to enter a market that is already saturated, but Otreus has boldly entered the market with their new app, VitalTuner. The app is currenty $4.99, which is 20% off. The app promises no in-app purchases.

Included in the tuner:

  • Tuning modes (four of them) for different tuning situation (e.g. advanced, easy, stage, bright stage)
  • 100 tuning temperaments (including historical tunings)
  • 130 tunings for 40 instruments
  • Concert A Calibration
  • Concert Pitch Notation (see the actual pitch in musical notation)
  • Decibel and Peak meter
  • A universal app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (iOS 7 or greater)

In all honesty, I don't have many uses for a tuner these days, as I have been so busy with teaching, family life, and arranging music. I haven't had much time to blog, or a chance to pull out my tuba and to see how this tuner works. I did, however, want to bring VitalTuner to your attention in the event that you are looking for a tuner or additional tuners. See the Otreus webpage for more informaton. As a reminder, a “traditional” Peterson strobe tuner is a $600 purchase (buy the Stretch tuner, and you are in the $800 range). For that kind of money, you could buy a $499 iPad and ALL of the tuning apps listed on this page, and still save money.

(Note: I have been told by a number of band directors that the iPad is as efficient and accurate of a tuning device as a Peterson strobe tuner; furthermore, if you want a Peterson strobe tuner on your iPad, purchase iStrobosoft HD, which is made by Peterson.)

Thank you to the folks at Otreus for the promotional code.

 

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