Category Archives: Other Technology

Other Technology

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

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.

 

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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