Online Tech Courses

One of the leading music technology websites,, by Barbara Freedman, is offering some new courses in the coming weeks…these courses may be of interest to you.

Topics include: Logic X, Soundation, iPads in Elementary Music, SMART Boards in Elementary, and Sibelius. The teachers are some of the best music education technologists in the world (literally) including Barbara Freedman, Amy Burns, and Katie Wardrobe. I can't recommend these teachers/authors highly enough. If you have any interest in these courses, sign up!

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Filed under General Musings

Recorder Interactive: A Magical Method

In late January, Dr. Joanna Sisk-Purvis self-published a recorder book on the iBookstore, entitled “Recorder Interactive: A Magical Method.” The book currently sells for $7.99, and includes over 30 songs. Most songs have two accompaniment tracks (recorder melody and accompaniment), and most pages have interactive material. The book is intended to teach over an octave of notes plus basic playing techniques.

I love this approach, because it makes iBooks into an “app” without needing to know how to program in Objective C and Cocoa Touch computer languages (how iOS apps are created).

Dr. Sisk-Purvis has done a great job in creating this book, and remember, just like the App Store, 70% of a book purchase goes back to the author (of course, as an author, you do have to report this income on your taxes at the end of the year, so a good portion of that goes to your state and local government as well). When you buy Dr. Sisk-Purvis' book, you are buying her a cup of coffee and part of a muffin. Support your independent iBook Authors! Elementary teachers who teach recorder, this is a book for you (which can be mirrored to a screnn for class use) written by a colleague!

Also be sure to check out Dr. Sisk-Purvis' blog.

I will be listing this as a recorder resource in the (short) chapter about recorder on my book about iPads and Music Education on the iBookstore (in the next update which I have not yet started–I am waiting for a bit more new material before starting the update).


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Filed under Elementary Music Education

NotateMe Lessons 3 & 4 and Additional Thoughts

I have wrapped up our NotateMe Now lessons with two more lessons.  This lesson series was used in our classes (6-8th grade) as a way to take these very basic concepts in music theory, and to have students use them using the app NotateMe Now, while also learning how to draw music notation.  NotateMe Now is the free, single staff version of NotateMe, an app that converts handwritten music notation to digital notation (with other features coming in the future).

Lesson 1 introduced the app, as well as quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes.  I blogged about it here.

Lesson 2 covered quarter rests, half rests, and whole rests.  I blogged about it here.

Lesson 3 covered ties, slurs, and dotted half notes (and dotted whole notes).  The video and PDF appear at the end of this post.

Lesson 4 covered eighth notes, eighth rests, and dotted quarter notes.  The video and PDF appear at the end of this post.

The quiz was to complete a task just like the “homework” assignments.  This appears below as an image.

Here are a few things I have learned:

  1. If kids are in choir because they have to be (they don’t play an instrument and have to take music), they aren’t going to apply themselves at a higher level if you go away from singing for a lesson series.
  2. Most kids made very little attempt at completing the exercises, but our school has a formative grading category that only accounts for 20% of their grade, so many students simply choose not to do any formative work.
  3. The kids who tried doing the work generally did very well, and a few pushed against the boundaries I had created for them.
  4. The lesson sequence assumes students know the names of the notes.  We had discussed these and had a quiz on these at the beginning of the year, and I review the note names every time we do a sight reading exercise.
  5. None of these concepts should be new for students; every concept, with the exception of actually DRAWING music, is something these students should have had in elementary school.
  6. I would have liked to have more time to go over student work in class; but with an every-other-day 43 minute choir class, we couldn’t lose that time.
  7. I will continue with this series next year (I plan on a GarageBand series at the end of the year after our last concert), building on the concepts with the students who have already learned these items–and going over these lessons with the new students.

At any rate, it is fun to try new things (and I’m not going to stop trying new things) with my students and to leverage some of this technology that is in their hands.

NotateMe Now Lesson #3 Assignment and Checklist (PDF)

NotateMe Now Lesson #4 Assignment and Checklist (PDF)


notatemenow quiz

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Filed under iPad Apps, Music Notation, Pedagogy

Staff Wars Available on iPad!

Hats off to Katie Wardrobe, author of Midnight Music for mentioning this the other day, but Staff Wars 1 (link to the app) is now available on the App Store for iPad. The app was released on February 8th, so I consider it a brand new app.

Staff Wars is a Star Wars inspired note naming game that was originally (and still is) offered on PC and Mac at There is also a Staff Wars 2, where students play a note on their instrument to “name” the note. Staff Wars 2 is not available on the iPad (at least, not yet).

I attended a session at the Iowa Music Educators Professional Development Conference a few years ago where Chad Criswell, author of Music Ed Magic (as well as technology feature writer for NAfME and its journals, such as Teaching Music), talked about Staff Wars (2) and how much his students loved the program. The Mac and PC apps on are free; but I personally support developers getting into iOS and charging a small fee for their apps (think Ricci Adams, bringing to iOS with Tenuto ($3.99) and Theory Lessons ($2.99)

As a secondary teacher who has been teaching in middle school and high school, I can attest that in general, students don't know their note names–even with the best efforts of their elementary teachers in general music and elementary performance groups. Anything we can do to gameify this process can help.

Use the app to reinforce notes of the treble clef, alto clef, or bass clef. Sorry, tenor clef are out of luck on this one!

The concept of the app is pretty simple: as each note appears, you touch the corresponding letter name. The app works well, and difficulty ramps up rather quickly. I find the letter names hard to work with, such as when completing a “B” (at the end of the row) and then a “C” comes along at a high rate of speed (right now, I have only reached level 13). As you select the right note, a laser emits from the X-Wing and takes out the “Death Star” note (It's a whole note, not a Death Star, but I figured I would reach for it.).

Press the corresponding note name, shoot the note down with a laser.

I think students will resonate with this app, and I know music teachers are hoping that Staff Wars 2 will come out for iPad. At $0.99, the app is inexpensive. Apple recently changed its App Store, removing the ability to check out academic volume pricing for an app without holding an authorized VPP account (I wish they would add this back), so I do not know if the app is available for volume purchase pricing with orders of 20 or more. And yes, as usual, I sent an e-mail to Apple as soon as I discovered this.

Destroy one note, the next comes along.

There are other apps that will serve a similar function as Staff Wars, such as Flashnote Derby ($2.99) and Treble Cat HD ($4.99). However, at $0.99, Staff Wars (if you choose note to use the links, which are referral links, be sure to look for “StaffWars” with no space in the App Store) is undoubtedly the best deal for such a note naming game on the App Store. Also consider pairing this game with Quaver's QAstroNotes (also $0.99) to reinforce subdivision of rhythm with students (Asteroids with musical notes–fun).


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Filed under iPad Apps

TI:ME and Minnesota

This post is primarily aimed at my colleagues in and near Minnesota, but the overall message applies to anyone interested in technology in music education.

Today the Minnesota Music Education Association Mid-Winter Conference begins, and at the same time, TI:ME had its national conference sessions yesterday, and additional TI:ME involvement continues as part of the Texas Music Education Association convention today. I am heading to MMEA today, but believe me when I say that I wish I was with my music technology colleagues in warm San Antonio, too.

If you haven't heard about TI:ME, it was begun as an institute through which to determine technology standards for music education, as well as to offer training and certification in music technology, and to serve as a place for music education technologists to interact with each other. This happened in 1995, as part of NAMM (NAMM originally provided funding). You can learn all about TI:ME at their website,

Many things have changed since 1995, and technology has evolved from being a specialty to an area where every music teacher uses (or needs to use) technology-based tools in education. Although many national and state professional organizations discuss technology in music education, and even have sessions at their conferences on the subject, TI:ME has grown to become the primary professional organization for technology in music education. Put another way, for the existing organizations in our nation and state, technology is a concern but not a primary reason for their existence.

Although TI:ME has members across the world, including Minnesota, its most active members reside on the East Coast and in the Ohio area. At present, it can be difficult to justify a membership in TI:ME in Minnesota because there are no resources at the state level–we have no state chapter.

My proposal, on this first day of MMEA, is that we try to form a state chapter for TI:ME in Minnesota. I can see a number of reasons to do so:

  1. We can develop a nucelus of technology experts who support each other in our state
  2. We can begin a Minnesota music technology newsletter or blog, encouraging new posts or posting member's existing posts (with permission).
  3. We can act as an advisory team to MMEA if they have technology questions (all of us will be members of MMEA anyway)
  4. Perhaps a state chapter of TI:ME could organize or provide feedback about the tech offerings at the MMEA convention (this could be outside the sphere of influece)
  5. We can organize additional training sessions and ed camps in our state to teach both TI:ME materials as well as to address emerging technologies, such as 1:1 integration and applications
  6. The state chapter could collaborate with other state organizations such the Perpich Center of the Arts to help with their technology offerings as well
  7. We can bring some of the wonderful things going on in Minnesota back to the national level of TI:ME

What I would like to ask of my Minnesota colleagues is this: consider joining TI:ME, and join me in my quest to begin a Minnesota chapter of TI:ME. The annual membership is $50, and my hope is that the combined national and (proposed) state resources would make that $50 a worthwhile annual investment.

I will be floating around the MMEA convention the next few days; I invite you to stop by and say hello and let me know if you are interested in helping bring a TI:ME chapter to Minnesota.

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Mobile Devices, Product Refresh Rates, and of course, Apple

This morning, I was looking around church, and you can see the distinctive rounded-corner rectangle of iPhones everywhere. You can also see phablets…but it is clear in our marketplace that iPhones are more common. As a teacher at a middle school, I can also attest that iPhones are also more common with 6th through 8th grade students, especially the new 5c, which so many bloggers insist is a failure.

Note: if people buy it, it isn't a failure. And when parents buy them for their kids because they are the same price as the Android on the shelf, you've done what you intended to do.

Here's the deal: my wife and I have iPhone 5 smartphones, which are only a few months away from being up for renewal. With all the new plans–including T-Mobile–we have thought about them and decided to keep our service with AT&T. We have no hatred for AT&T but brought prejudice against Verizon to AT&T when we moved to iPhones in 2008.

(Long story short, Verizon used to lock down phones, even charging you to move photos off of your phone–$0.25 each!–and we forget about the way that Steve Jobs and the iPhone eliminated so many of the restrictions of cell phone carriers).

At this point, our iPhones are nearly two years old. Here's the thing: they still work, and the only feature they lack (that we would want) are faster processors and the fingerprint technology. Slow-mo video might be fun, too.

Here's the thing: my Dad's iPhone 4 still works reasonably well on iOS 7, too.

When you buy into the Apple brand, you have a guarantee of sorts that Apple will try to keep that device up-to-date with the most recent operating system and features that the device can reasonably handle (you can jailbreak older phones to get “similar” features as newer devices, but doing so often comes with limited functionality or lesser functionality). There are exceptions…the iPad 1, in terms of hardware, became outdated very quickly. That's because the second generation iPad so drastically improved on the original iPad and even added new hardware.

The same thing can't be said about other platforms. If you buy Samsung, there's no guarantee that you will get the next version of Android. I went to Wal-mart the other day! and looked through the “other” tablet aisle. There were four versions of Samsung tablets on sale (All Galaxy!) and other than size, I couldn't possibly tell you what the “best” tablet was, and if that tablet was even current (is there a newer version?).

This is why I like iPhone numbering and why I didn't like the switch from iPad 2 to iPad to iPad Air. I want buyers to be able to quickly discern what model is the latest and best. For many first time iPhone owners, I can easily recommend a 5c, which is a much better phone than my iPhone 5. I just hope that the fingerprint technology shows up on all iPhones and iPads this year. In fact, this is why I did not buy the iPad Air. I'm expecting to buy the next iPad Air or even the rumored iPad Pro this year.

At any rate, there are a lot of people who “need” the latest device to feel okay–but then there are the rest of us. If you buy an iPhone or an iPad right now, you do so knowing that it will be replaced sooner than later, and that Apple will continue to support that device. I think this is part of the appeal of Apple. You know, under a SmartPhone contract, that you will get a new device in two years, and that your device, provided you care for it at some basic level, will last that long. All the apps and all the primary features will be all that you need. You don't get that promise with other devices, as good as they may be.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been trying to crunch the numbers with these new contracts (or lack thereof). I'm not sure T-Mobile gives us the coverage we need for the traveling we want to do; and although you can get service for 4 for $100 per month (versus the $245 we pay for 10GB shared with unlimited calling/texting on AT&T), but if we moved to T-Mobile, we would have to pay $199 up front for each 32GB phone plus $25 a month for each phone. We might get $200 for each phone on trade-in, but we would be paying $200 plus tax for four phones for 500MB LTE and then unlimited “slowed down” speed after that (right now, we are up to 7.5 GB this month with 6 days left. I'm not sure what “slowed down” means. Chances are that equivalent “high speed” LTE in T-Mobile would cost us more. Plus, we can use our phones as a hotspot under AT&T; I'm not sure that is true on T-Mobile. And since we are content with a two-year replacement cycle, there is no point in paying for the “early upgrade” fee.

Well, those are my thoughts this morning…I hope they are helpful to someone considering a mobile device or whether to “make the switch.” There is a lot to consider…best wishes to you as you contemplate what to do.

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Filed under General Musings

Punishing the iPad

In December, I had the opportunity to attend (and present) at the annual Minnesota education technology conference, TIES.  I went to one presentation by Farmington Middle School about their iPad initiative.  While I am at a 1:1 iPad school, there are still things to learn from other schools undertaking the same journey.

The two things I left that session with were:

1) Make the students accountable in the repair process: have them fill out an insurance report and describe what happened, even if no report is actually necessary. 

2) Don’t punish the iPads.

Like all schools, we are just past the 1/2 way point of the year, and in fact, are closing in on the 2/3 point in early March.  Our tech team (of which I am a part) did a survey of our teachers, and two very clear trends emerged:

1) There were a lot of benefits with the iPads

2) Without a doubt, teachers are tiring/have tired with the freedom of the iPads and students not being on task.

One of our district’s goals was to restrict the iPads as little as possible.  We do have some restrictions on websites (the same, in fact, as our public wireless network) and so far have only blocked one app, Snapchat.  Snapchat has no redeemable qualities for education.  But we have given students the freedom to put whatever apps they want on their devices, with the understanding that they can access those apps at appropriate times (before/after school, and even during “free” work times in their classes if their work is done).

The problem is that students are making poor choices, and accessing those other apps when they should be involved in the classroom.

This is nothing new: in the past, they just “zoned out” or wrote notes; the problem is that they now have a device in their hands with which they can actually do something with instead of just gazing into space.

When they are caught, a number of teachers are confiscating or locking down iPads with restrictions.  What this means is that students either do not have their iPads for other (or any!) classes, or they cannot download other apps that other teachers need them to use.  It’s a mess, and the ironic thing is that we’re punishing iPads–and there is almost no penalty for the student.  There is no notification that students have lost their iPad, so there is no way to prepare for that missing in your class (paper handouts, for example).  And it actually punishes other teachers that now have to find paper solutions for kids who should be having an iPad in your class.

I admit it; I had confiscated some iPads earlier in the year, but turned them into the office so the administration could meet with the student, have a discussion, and get the iPad back.  It was never my intent to confiscate an iPad long-term–and we currently have many students with no iPad without any expected return date.  I’m not kidding–months.  And all of the action is by grade level team, and the administration is not even involved.

Right now, I am teaching a series on writing music and composition using NotateMe Now, a free version of the handwriting recognition program for music.  Students without an iPad simply cannot participate in the same way as other students in the class can participate.  Even if they write music on paper, they are not getting the instant feedback on whether their manuscript can be deciphered. 

I’ve seen a lot of trite comments about iPads and engagement that state, “Make your lessons engaging and kids won’t improperly use their iPads in your class.”  And I have said, “How can we expect our students to use devices properly if we as teachers cannot?”  I believe both of these statements, but there is a missing factor in both.

First, engagement can only go so far.  I don’t care if you are the best, most engaging teacher–at some point, some game on an iPad will be more interesting than you; or InstagramFacebook/Vine will be.  Admit it.  Here’s the deal: students have to learn to do what is right, even if they aren’t in a 100% engaging class.  And we should never entertain the idea that it is okay for them to not be engaged even if they don’t have an engaging teacher.  Their futures are going to be full of non-engaging teachers, particularly at the collegiate level where their teachers may never have been trained as “educators.”

Second, I think it is important to acknowledge that we face the same temptations.  One teacher defended herself to me, stating, “Well, I have a better ability to multi-task.”  I don’t agree.  We choose to be distracted in meetings.  But this doesn’t mean that it is right for us, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it is right for students.  My approach is to say, “Look, I get it.  You’re not connected.  For that reason, I have no desire to punish you or your iPad, but you still have to do what is right.” I understand why you want to play Madden 25.  It’s still not right to do so.

My latest approach is to deal with the student and the behavior, rather than to punish the iPad.  I will ask honest questions to the student such as, “Are you aware that you are off-task and not doing what you are supposed to be doing?”  “Why is this game more important to you right now?”  “Are you planning on joining us?”  In severe cases, I will take an iPad for a few moments and delete every game and social media app on their device.  Yes, they can reinstall them, and most of their data stays intact in iCloud.  But they still have to reinstall everything.  It makes a point.  But then they get their iPad back–immediately.

Sometimes you won’t get a good answer.  Just today, I asked a student, “Why are you choosing not to join us?”  The reply was, “My mom tells me that choir doesn’t really count, so it doesn’t matter if I fail.”  There’s little I can do there–it will do me little good to challenge that student further in class*, or to challenge the parent.  The damage to choir has already been done at home and I–nor any other teacher–will be able to repair that damage.  And that’s the world where I live in, where music is a requirement at middle school, and anyone that doesn’t play an instrument is routed to choir.  Of my 216 students, probably only 60% want to be there (that’s up from 30% in the beginning of the year–so I’m celebrating the success).

My vow: I refuse to punish the iPad or to punish the device.  Instead, I will deal with the behavior behind the misuse.


*Note: I did respond to the student with a statement to the effect of, “Here’s the deal, there are other classes that you won’t like or you won’t think are important, but the fact is that there are tasks in your life that are the same way.  Working through things we don’t like is how we learn to handle those activities in the future.  This is a chance to do the right thing and to be the person you want to be, rather than to lose an opportunity to build that character.  Tuning out and refusing to do any work doesn’t help you in any way, either.  Choose the right path.” 

The student’s response?  “Meh.”

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