Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

Some More Changes At MakeMusic

Last year was a huge year of change at MakeMusic. The company was acquired and went private (off the stock market). This was followed by some changes in the leadership team (two VPs were let go, one VP, Michael Good, was brought on the team) and other levels of management were also impacted (both program managers of Finale and SmartMusic were let go). In addition to the changes, SmartMusic (in particular) had a rough first half of the 2013-2014 school year with a number of technical issues.

As with all things in life, a lot of good things happened, too. Finale 2014 was released with a number of new features, a lot of new code, and backwards compatible file formats; SmartMusic continuted to grow in functionality on the iPad, and now SmartMusic also shares backwards compatible files. Michael Good discussed many of these improvements on a recent blog post (link).

Today brought news about another big change at MakeMusic. MakeMusic is coming under the umbrella of Peaksware, Inc. Peaksware was behind the acquisition last year, and MakeMusic will continue to exist as a brand of Peaksware. I had the chance to chat with Gear Fisher, the CEO of Peaskware, for a few moments and to ask some questions about the immediate future of MakeMusic.

Ultimately, this change won’t likely impact the typical Finale or SmartMusic user very much. The biggest change is that the company will be moving from Minnesota to Colorado (plans are to do this in Quarter 1), and the company is assessing personnel right now. A number of employees will be asked to join the company in Colorado, and those employees will have to make a personal decision to move or not. After this past winter in Minnesota, I don’t know why anyone, given the chance to move, would stay here.

I find myself to be sad that MakeMusic will be moving–it has always been wonderful to have MakeMusic (or its predecessor, Coda Music Technology) as a “local company.” At some level, it is a personal sadness, because I would have enjoyed working at MakeMusic as a local company (As part of a blended family and all that entails, we cannot move out of the area). It isn’t often that you find companies filled with good people that are passonate about the meeting point of technology and music education.

Beyond that, Finale will continue to improve, SmartMusic will continue to improve, and the company should be better positioned to exist and compete in the future. This was the ideal time for such an announcement, as all of the turmoil from the acquisition last year has finally settled down and the products are stable. Jobs will be moving (or created) in another state (not outsourced to another country), and I hope that a majority of the development teams–including some leadership–will stay in place, albeit in another location. The end result of today’s announcment is that there won’t be much of a change for the end user, but there will be big changes ahead for all of the 130+ staff employed by MakeMusic.

I wish all of the MakeMusic team the very best. For those that will be moving to Colorado, best wishes for the process of relocation and as you continue to develop and refine MakeMusic products. And to those who choose to stay in Minnesota, best wishes as you search for new positions. To all of you: your work (including those that have worked in the company in the past) has made a significant impact on music and music education. Thank you for your work! And best wishes to Mr. Fisher, as he takes on the role as CEO over MakeMusic through this position as CEO of Peaksware.

One additional note that might be of interest to music educators: I had opportunity to ask Mr. Fisher about his own musical background, and he had been a saxophone player in his school days. He did, however, state that his current experience with SmartMusic comes from his own home, where his 11 year old daughter is learning the clarinet. She is using SmartMusic as part of that process. It is encouraging to know that the CEO of the company–if not using the software himself–is seeing the software used as it was meant to be used. That experience will offer him fantastic insight into the product for years to come.

MyScript Online Handwritten Notation Converter

Can you remember back to early 2013, when a company announced a revolutionary app that would covert handwritten notation into digital notation? The app was actually a concept–and was a promotional video that went viral in the world of music education technology. Ultimately, it turned out that the commercial was using existing technologies to show a “proof of concept,” with the hopes of generating a crowd-funded app.

The app never reached its required level of funding, and the company changed courses, selling copies of the app in advance as they worked on handwriting analysis, audio sounds, and so on. Sadly, the company announced this past March that their developer had quit and that they were going to attempt to keep working on the product–but would be returning reservations and so on. For all intents and purposes, it was a “the end” letter (see note below).

Meanwhile, another company–Neuratron–introduced a music handwriting recongition app (NotateMe — Now $39.99, and it also scans music for an additional $29.99 in-app purchase–a free one-staff trial version of the app is also available) in January of 2014.

At the time that ThinkMusicTechnology was attemping to fund their app, they had two partners–MyScript, the makers of several handwriting based apps, including MyScript Calculator (it's cool…try it) and Adonit (makers of a good line of precision styluses). I thought that the ThinkMusicTechnology app had a strong chance to make it, particularly because of their relationship with MyScript.

Today, MuseScore (of all organizations) retweeted an announcement about the MyScript music notation HTML 5 web app. It works on all devices, and although audio doesn't play back on the iPad–it works. Go try it out. I wish you could resize the handwriting area–and MusicXML export is a bit odd, as it pulls up a separate page with the actual MusicXML coding (not a downloadable or “open in” file). My guess is that this is the engine that was supposed to be behind the ThinkMusicTechnology app, and since that app is not around, MyScript still wanted to do something with all that work.

So…try it out. Make a bookmark to the page. And to those of you in 1:1 schools, this might be another option for notation (obviously, it will be easier to draw on a touch based machine, which could mean Windows 8.1 devices, Android, or even the rare Chromebook touchscreen computers.

Is this going to replace NotateMe for my workflow? Not a chance, particularly with NotateMe Now available for free (for use with students)–plus NotateMe also has PhotoScore (which is a game changer). However, the HTML 5 approach is a positive development–and perhaps it is something MyScript can license to other programs (Noteflight, perhaps?). And it might be a good time for some of the exisiting notation products (Finale, Sibelius, Notion, even the coming Steinberg program) to consider an acquistion of a platform that works for the “next generation” of notation entry.

These are exciting times—there is always something new out there to try!

 

Note: I have said this before, about Symphony Pro…which was resurrected and is available again. That said, take my analysis with a grain of salt.

 

 

Ear Teacher released for Mac (and soon Windows)

I received notice that a new program, called Ear Teacher (www.earteacher.com) is available for purchase on the Mac platform. I declined a chance to review the program because my educational situation will not be able to take advantage of the program because of cost of the program (we have a $0 budget) and platform (we are a 1:1 iPad school with a limited number of Windows desktops and laptop carts in the school).

Ear Teacher may, however, fit into your model, and if so, check it out! There is a free trial available.

 

Airport Express to the Rescue!

This is the AirPort Express, initially a small wireless router, but it can be configured to extend a wireless network, act as a printer hub, or become a dedicated AirPlay audio receiver.

This is the AirPort Express, initially a small wireless router, but it can be configured to extend a wireless network, act as a printer hub, or become a dedicated AirPlay audio receiver.

At the end of the school year, I was asked to fix the problems with our auditorium’s sound setup.  I won’t get into all the details, but one of the goals was to provide a way to stream audio to the sound system without wires.

My first inclination was to see if anyone makes a pure “AirPlay” receiver (we are a 1:1 iPad school, after all), and although there are such systems in a “traditional” sound system receiver (not what you use for professional audio), there was nothing that was an actual stand-alone AirPlay receiver.  We were looking for ease of operation, so outfitting a Raspberry Pi computer for AirPlay (yes, you can do this) did not make sense.  The device has to be able to be powered on (the rack is not powered all the time) and just work.  When you need things to “just work,” Apple is usually the place to go.

The answer, instead of an Apple TV (which CAN stream audio–not needed in this application) was to purchase an Apple AirPort Express.  The Express can be set to run off your existing network (yes, it IS a fully functional wireless router), and has an audio port (normal 1/8″ stereo mini jack) that can be patched into a system.   I used a stereo 1/8″ to dual XLR cable to connect the device to our Mackie 16 channel sound board. The Airport Extreme basically set itself up–using my iPhone.  I was able to add a password to the AirPort Extreme, and a password to the AirPlay functionality.

There are some Bluetooth modules that can stream audio, and are device agnostic–but I have had mixed experience with Bluetooth receivers (dropping connections, primarily).  We need our streaming audio to be reliable, as it will likely be used for our student musicals (middle school “junior” productions that are performed with a background recording) and talent shows.  We were looking at a new Bluetooth receiver as an option…but that cost $200.  That is twice the price of the AirPort Express.

At the same time that I installed new hardware, I removed the existing DVD/Cassette combo that was in the rack…no one used that anyway!  The AirPort Express is tucked away in the rack itself (it cannot be seen).  And if someone attempts to connect to the AirPort Express, they will not be able to do so without the password.

So…at this point, the auditorium has a fully-working sound system, with a hassle-free audio-only AirPlay connection for iOS devices and MacBooks (and there are some apps that enable Android to send audio via AirPlay as well).  So…the little (same size as an Apple TV) AirPort Express came to the rescue, at a price of less than $99.  That may seem like a lot of money for one function–but it is actually far less expensive than other AirPlay options, small, and reliable.

This is the completed sound rack...two Shure distribution units, six Shure SLX receivers, a power center, a sound processor, a Mackie 16 channel sound board...and a hidden AirPort Express.  The AirPort Express is the cheapest component of the system.

This is the completed sound rack…two Shure distribution units, six Shure SLX receivers, a power center, a sound processor, a Mackie 16 channel sound board…and a hidden AirPort Express. The AirPort Express is the cheapest component of the system.

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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