Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

Do you need large print sheet music, for your tablet or even paper?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from musicians regarding reading music on the iPad is that the music is too small on a 9.7″ screen.

In the world of choral music, the average choral octavo is the same size (or smaller) than the iPad screen, so we don’t have much to complain about; and early band music was printed on music that was even smaller, so sometimes the PDF version of a song on an iPad (such as many songs found in the PDF Band Music Library) is actually larger than the original.

Still, many instrumental parts are printed on music that is much larger than 8.5 x 11 paper (I think this also is meant to discourage photocopying), and if that music is scanned, it appears much smaller than the original.

There is a company, www.largeprintmusic.com, that is solving this problem.  It is currently offering a beta program that scans your original PDF, captures the music, and reorganizes it into large print on a page (printed or digital).  This could be of assistance if you are a person with impaired vision for any reason.  Truthfully, my 41 year old eyes now need reading glasses.  So perhaps this app will be of assistance to you.

Pricing will be announced at the end of January, so now is an excellent time to go and download the application (Windows or Mac only, no iOS or Android) to see if the application works for you and if it can be of assistance in your life!

www.largeprintmusic.com

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Portable Audio for Your Classroom G-Boom

I have been looking for a good substitute for the Brookstone Boombucket for a number of years. The Boombucket is a loud, portable, rugged speaker with an rechargeable battery that was made for iPods BEFORE the iPod Touch. It was a fantastic speaker, and I bought them for both of my previous schools. When we opened my last school (it was a new school), the Boombucket was already discontinued, and we had to find them used on eBay.

The Boombucket existed before Bluetooth speakers were common–and none of those iPods had Bluetooth. You could either leave an iPod inside the Boombucket on the 30 pin adapter, or you could use “Aux In” with a 1/8 stereo cable.

The Brookstone Boombucket--a great device long since discontinued

In the past year, I have looked at a number of Bluetooth alternatives to the Boombucket, including the highly rated Jawbone Jambox and the Vers Audio 1Q and 2Q. These are all wonderful devices, and of these, I like the Vers products for home or office use. Still, they are susceptible to dropping and difficult to carry.

While I was at Target the other day, I noticed a product called the G-Project G-Boom, a $99.00 bluetooth speaker. It is large (about the same height as a gallon of milk), heavy duty (big handle/hard plastic), and it has a rechargeable battery. The device also has “Aux In” (very important–just in case), and a USB port for charging a device from the battery's power. I read some of the reviews of the speaker online and decided to purchase one of these speakers (just one, for now) for my new school out of the booster choir account. The speaker will be used for and by students–which is why the rugged part is essential.

The Bluetooth connection uses the older 2.1 format, which on some speakers has led to poor audio quality, but the reviews of this speaker indicated that the quality was fine. It was given an “A” rating by iLounge, and the average review says, “If you're looking for Bose, this isn't it, but if you want good sound and loud sound, this is the way to go.”

The G-Boom Portable Speaker

The battery lasts up to six hours (therefore, count on less), but the device could be plugged into a wall outlet should power fade.

Considering that the Brookstone Boombucket originally sold for $150, and this device is $99, and includes Bluetooth, that's a win.

You might want this device if you do any activity with iPads (or iPhones, or iPod Touches, or Android Devices) that needs amplification away from a power outlet. I've used them for sectinonals (preparing audio tracks ahead of time, and sending students with devices and a speaker), solo/ensemble preparation, public performances where there is no PA system, tours to feeder schools, and musical rehearsals.

As a warning: the current version of SmartMusic does not work with Bluetooth speakers (Thanks to Paul Shimmons for pointing this out), and the Google Chromebook does not have Bluetooth drivers for audio (or at least my Samsung Google Chromebook does not).

So…$99 for a heavy duty bluetooth portable speaker that could be used in your music program–not a bad find at all.

 

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Filed under iPad Accessories, Other Technology

Essential Elements…for iBooks? Yep!

My blogging colleague Paul Shimmons discovered that Hal Leonard is now making Essential Elements as an iBook, selling on the App Store for $8.99 a copy. You can find his article here:

http://ipadmusiced.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/this-changes-things-band-directors-take-note/

I have not downloaded any of the books yet–I'm not sure I would use a level one book; and I think my 8th grade stepson will be out of book one by this time (trombone).

I think the iBook approach is great, but there are two negatives. First, you can't write in the book, and every music teacher I've ever had has written in my books. I'm not sure how that will go over with music teachers. Second, the iBook lacks the assessment component of SmartMusic for the Essential Elements method books, which is fantastic on the iPad. I believe the Internet version of Essential Elements also has some type of “SmartMusic” functionality, but I do not know if it works on an iPad.

Still, were I a band teacher at a 1:1 school (I'm not–I teach choir), I'd be tempted to encourage my students to buy this version. Then I would go out and purchase a copy of every book and send it away to 1DollarScan to be scanned for my use in lessons.

This is a really interesting decision…choosing to go with a book versus an app. And I'm okay with that. It gives Hal Leonard the freedom to ask $8.99, which is an affordable iBook, whereas that would be a truly expensive app.

Paul Shimmons reports that the iBook uses under 400MB on an iPad (some take over 2GB), so it is also easy on the memory of 16GB iPads 2s that dominate education.

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A New Addition to Our Family (It Isn’t What You Think)

I am starting at a new school (to me) this fall. In fact, I am leaving the newest school in the district to go to the oldest school in the district. I have been spending quite a bit of time this summer preparing my new room for the fall–as this school will be all iPad (one of the main reasons I used our bidding process to move to this school). I have been working extensively in the music library (scanning and ripping of CDs is done; doing a complete inventory of the music library–copy by copy–is about 40% finished). I have also been taking note of things that I will need that the room does not have; and have been getting rid of things that I will not use.

In particular, there is an upright piano in the room. This instrument is of no use to me, as I need a digital piano that I can use with the iPad (for USB MIDI in, as well as audio in to the piano's speakers). My local music tech company, AABACA.COM, recommended the Casio Privia PX-350. I did some research on the digital piano, and it turns out that it is a great instrument–an incredible instrument–for the price. And AABACA's prices are the best you'll find (I did not receive any bonuses or kickbacks to say this).

Several years ago, when we built my former school, we ordered Roland FP-7s for the practice room (also from AABACA.com), as well as Yamaha Digital Grand CP-309 for the choir room's daily piano. We also bought one “serious” piano, the Yamaha CFIIIS, with an original sticker price of $160,000 (we purchased a refurbished model from the met for under $60,000). We bought digi-dollies for the FP-7s (not a bad idea), which made them more mobile. And the FP7 has a 1/8″ (3.5mm) stereo aux in port…perfect for iPad to piano. The problem is that the FP-7 still starts around $1700. The Casio PX-350 is much more affordable that that…and has a few other features. In particular, it has better weighted keys than most digital pianos I have used (including the FP-7 and CP-309 at my old school), and it has a USB port for live recording (I'm not likely to do this, but you may). The sounds of the piano are excellent, particularly if you are using headphones or recording. You can find quite a few reviews of the Casio Privia PX-350 online (including YouTube), and it is hard to find anyone that has anything negative to say about the piano (a few people had customer service issues with Casio directly; and some people reported a buzz in the keyboard–I haven't experienced the buzz at this point).

Our new Casio Privia PX-350

You might be a keyboard purist, demanding an acoustic piano. That's fine…you can pay the maintenance cost of that piano (particularly tuning, which is now $100 at least two times per year), not to mention dealing with the space issues involved (grands take up a lot of room, uprights get in between you and your students). And you won't be able to use the acoustic piano with notation programs or an iPad. The Casio Privia PX-350 comes with a three year warrant, and by the fourth year of the piano, we will have covered the cost of the piano without having to pay at least $200 each year for tuning. After the fourth year, the tuning funds could be put into a separate account towards the purchase of the next digital piano.

I had worked with principal to obtain a PX-350 for the fall, and was even able to sell an old existing digital piano (a 1995 Roland with a 3.5″ floppy drive) to help finance the cost. I'm still waiting for the purchase order to go through for the school's new PX-350 (all of the building accountants are on summer break right now), but I know it will be coming.

As I talked about this piano with my wife, she suggested we purchase one for our home, too…so we did. We drove out to AABACA.com's “Music Barn” today, checked out the PX-350, and bought one–bringing it home today. Now I can work on music notation programs at home (Mac or iPad) with a full keyboard, I can work on choral scores with piano, and even practice my less-than-stellar piano skills (I scanned my old music into PDFs two summers ago). My wife can start using her piano skills again, and we can get my five-year-old started with basic piano.

We had talked about buying a high-level digital piano, such as the AvantGrande by Yamaha…but our needs don't justify the overall cost of such an instrument (roughly $10,000). The PX-350 has a great deal to offer at only a fraction of the cost. We did know that we didn't want a full-sized piano…they take up too much space and require tuning and maintenance. Our PX-350 came with a kit that included the “home stand” and three-pedal bar, although AABACA.com also sells them in a Z-Stand/Bench package.

So, if you are thinking about purchasing a good digital piano, check out the Casio Privia PX-350. And if you have digital piano needs or software needs, I can't recommend AABACA.com enough. I've been using their services for fifteen years–good people and good deals.

 

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Dealing with Audio (CDs, etc.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor to present a workshop for some teachers in the Duluth school district (as well as some other schools, supported by the Perpich Center of the Arts). One of the things that I mentioned was that if you have iPads, and you're still using CDs or Cassettes, you need to stop what you are doing.

With wonderful programs such as forScore and unrealBook, you can link audio recordings that exist in your iPad library directly to songs in forScore and unrealBook. If you are mirroring audio and video in your classroom to an Apple TV, or a computer running Reflector or Air Server, you can then control all of the audio and visual technology in your room directly from your iPad, from anywhere in your room.

For elementary general music teachers–this is a game changer. No more running to the CD player to change tracks, put in a CD, or even using precious time before class to locate and load a CD. And let's not even talk about cassettes!

If you are using cassettes, you need to convert them to a digital format.

I am moving into a new choir program, and I have been taking time this summer to scan the music library, as well as to re-catalog, move, and take inventory of that library. This includes about 175 accompaniment CDs.

I'm a bit of an anomaly for a choral director–I don't mind using choral accompaniments for training purposes (and in fact, I make my own), and in the case of pop music, I don't mind performing with those accompaniments. I think pop music that is intended for a rock band, which is played with only a piano and a choir, doesn't reflect the authenticity of the form. It is actually more appropriate to use a track with a pop song than to use just a piano. The best of all worlds is to create a school rock band to accompany your choir, but I have seldom found time to rehearse with such a group (for a spring pops concert, the level of rehearsal needed would require extra funding–and that isn't going to happen for most schools). So, I have used accompaniment CDs in the past, and I will be using them in the future. The good news is that the quality of accompaniment CDs is also improving over the years–I think part of the bad “rap” of accompaniment CDs is related to the poor quality sounds of those CDs in the 1980s and early 1990s.

So…as I convert these existing CDs into digital audio, I am now using Apple's audio format. There was a time when I converted all audio to mp3s. There are some people who believe that mp3s ruin the audio quality of CDs. Audio compression has improved exponentially over the years, and the limitations of small-bit-rate mp3s are not present in today's larger audio compression files. There are audio purists who insist on the audio quality of certain types of compression (such as OGG), and still others that insist that vinyl records create the best sounds. The fact is that modern audio compression captures all of the audio spectrum.

That said, as I mentioned before, I used to encode everything to a higher rate mp3, with the idea that I wanted mobility of that audio. If I needed audio on a Windows PC, I didn't want to have to deal with the PC not being able to play an Apple format. This belief was started at a time when Apple had the lead in the portable music industry–but there were still legitimate competitors (the Dell DJ and the Microsoft Zune, to name two). And although there are other audio players and music management programs, iTunes and the iPod (iPhone/iPad) monopoly on the market doesn't make it worth recording files in mp3 anymore.

Furthermore, you can quickly convert audio in iTunes to another format. That is another article for another time.

One final note: many of these accompaniment CDs are broken into rehearsal marks that are no longer needed in an “audio slider” era. You can use iTunes to join tracks as you “rip” a CD. Under the latest version of iTunes (11), when you put a CD into your computer, the CD loads into iTunes. On the right hand side of the screen, there is a new “options” button. If you select several sound files, you can then go to options and choose “join tracks.” The only negative is that you will have to go back and rename the resulting audio file when it is in your iTunes library.

In summary, the way we should save, store, and use audio files has changed a lot over the last few years. If you are using an iPad, you should not be using CDs and cassettes anymore. You can convert those older formats into digital formats that can be quickly accessed on your iPad, and linked to printed music that you can show on your screen. You can feel free to use Apple's audio codecs in place of mp3s. And if you have multiple track audio files, you can use iTunes to join those files.

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