Big news about MusicXML today

Other sites are carrying this news today (I recommend reading the Sibelius Blog for its coverage on this issue), but as of today, control of MusicXML has been given from MakeMusic to the Music Notation Control Group. Additionally, control of SMuFL (Standard Music Font Layout) has also been given from Steinberg to the Music Notation Control Group.  The creator of MusicXML (Michael Good), the project manager for SMuFL (Daniel Spreadbury), and the CEO of Noteflight (Joe Berkovitz) remain involved as co-chairs of the committee. 

What this means is that these items will become a standard format not owned by a company but still watched over by a governing group.  It is an interesting move for MakeMusic, although posts by Michael Good have hinted that this day has been coming for a while. 

While this news may not seem very important to music education, the role of MusicXML, which allows the transfer of notation between programs, is greatly important to music education (e.g. bringing something from NotateMe to Notion, or from Sibelius to Finale). Also important is MusicXML’s size compared to native files in many music notation apps. SMuFL’s integration with MusicXML will help to make sure that notation moved from one program to another is even more accurate as all possible characters for music notation (SMuFL) are represented in the MusicXML container. 

In other words, this is a bit of background news that will quietly impact your life as you work with notation apps. As I mentioned at my workshop with the WCME last week, a notation app without MusicXML is not an application that is worth using in the modern era. 

A Review of the PUC+, from Zivix (makers of the JamStik)–with Video!

The PUC+ from Zivix

The PUC+ from Zivix

This review follows a post I made on Monday where I reported that Zivix has released a campaign on Indiegogo for their latest product, the PUC+.

Zivix is best known (so far) for creating the JamStik.  One of the challenges Zivix faced was finding a way to connect the JamStik to an iPad (or Mac) wirelessly.  Although some Bluetooth approaches existed at the time, there was no “standard” for Bluetooth via MIDI on any platform.

MIDI is an old standard (established in 1981) that is a way that a digital instrument can transmit information to a computer or another digital instrument.  While there has been a little tweaking to the standard over the years, the core functionality remains the same.  Put another way, the standard was so well written than another standard has not been needed.  As a result of MIDI’s roots in a day where computers were significantly less capable than an Apple Watch, the standard requires a very small amount of data to be transmitted to work effectively.  This makes MIDI a good computer process to implement and transmit over Bluetooth.

Thankfully, Zivix did not create their own Bluetooth MIDI solution and instead developed a way to make a JamStik into a wi-fi hotspot for the transmission of MIDI data from a JamStik to an iPad or a computer.  In the process, the introduced (and fund-raised) for a device called a PUC, which would act as an intermediary between an existing MIDI five pin device and an iPad or a computer.  In other words, the PUC simply adapted the technology that was being created for the JamStik—and if memory serves, the PUC shipped before the original JamStik.

In the fall of 2014, Apple announced a new Bluetooth MIDI standard over Bluetooth LE (low energy) which is found in late-model iOS devices and Macs (my 2008 MacBook is NOT Bluetooth LE enabled).  And while a few Bluetooth MIDI devices have been introduced since last fall (the mi.1 MIDI adapter, the C. 24 keyboard, and the JamStik+), the music technology industry has not been quick to adapt to the technology.  Apple recently joined the Bluetooth standards committee—and I am willing to bet that Apple’s Bluetooth MIDI feature will soon be available to all other platforms.

Integration of Bluetooth MIDI into existing devices is going to take time (likely the update of existing models or all new models).  Zivix (and a few other smaller companies) were uniquely suited to bring these first devices to market.  Some owners of original JamStiks and PUCs are upset that their devices are not Bluetooth—but that was never offered as part of their respective campaigns, and again, there was no Bluetooth MIDI standard at the time.

Zivix was kind enough to send me a PUC+ for review, and although I recorded a video review on Saturday, iMovie was not working on my iPad, so I was unable to edit the video until last night.  In the video, I connected my Casio PX-350 to the PUC+ for the first time.

The PUC+ really couldn’t be any easier to use—twist off the bottom cover, put in two AA batteries, spin the cover back on, hold down the power button until it turns on, and plug in the MIDI cable from your keyboard.

As I have shown with other Bluetooth MIDI devices:

  • Go to GarageBand
  • Go to settings (in GarageBand), choose “Bluetooth Devices,” select the PUC+ (it will start with a name that says “ZX”)
  • Use GarageBand, or minimize GarageBand and use any other Core MIDI app, such as Notion, Symphony Pro, or more.
  • As long as you have connected the device in GarageBand, and GarageBand is in the background, you can use the PUC+ connected device with any Core MIDI app.

While I have been leading workshops at the Wisconsin Center for Music Education this week, I have used the PUC+ in workshops (attaching it to a keyboard at the center), and I even made a trip to Guitar Center to try the PUC+ with several keyboards.

There are several things to keep in mind:

  • The PUC+ is a single-directional device—you are attaching MIDI OUT to your iPad or computer.  There is no MIDI IN back to your MIDI device.
  • Whereas the other MIDI adapter I have shown in the past—the mi.1—is less expensive, the mi.1 does not physically fit in many keyboards.  As it accepts a MIDI cable, the PUC+ will fit with those keyboards.  The mi.1 also requires a powered MIDI pin from your keyboard—many keyboards do not have this pin.  The PUC+ does not require this powered pin to work–but the MIDI device should still be powered.
  • In general, I have found that unpowered MIDI devices do not work well with either the PUC+ or the mi.1.  This includes my USB AKAI LPK25, an unpowered device that can run off my iPad.
  • Batteries on the PUC+, according to Zivix, last about 7 hours.  You can use a USB brick to the PUC+’s micro USB slot if you don’t want to deal with batteries.
  • Some devices, such as my Casio PX-350, worked via USB MIDI to the PUC+ (you will see this in the video).  I couldn’t get some other devices at Guitar Center to do the same.
  • Remember that Bluetooth MIDI allows you to connect a number of devices to one iPad or computer at once.

My only criticism with the PUC+ is that they include a Y adapter (this adapter is shown in the video) for USB connections.  The PUC+ is large enough that they could have included a full-size female USB port in the back (in addition to the micro USB) for people wishing to use a USB MIDI connection.  At the same time, my guess is that nearly every device with a MIDI USB connection has a traditional MIDI out as well, so perhaps an additional port would have gone unused for a variety of people (I have generally learned to trust the designers of hardware and software, and that they know more than I do—but it is still okay to bring up questions).

Do you need a PUC+?  Possibly.  There are a few keyboards on the market (or coming) that will have Bluetooth MIDI integrated into the keyboard itself—right now, that would be the Miselu C.24 ($279) and the Xkey Air 25 (MSRP $199) or 37(MSRP $299), (hopefully) coming this fall.  So, if you want the collapsable C. 24 (which I love), or want to wait for the XKey models—you won’t need the PUC+.

If you have an existing powered MIDI device, you have two options.  The Quicco Sound mi.1 might work for you—but it physically needs to fit, and the MIDI ports from your keyboard need to carry a powered pin (not all keyboards have this).  And I’m not advertising for the mi.1, but it is available on Amazon for $45.  The PUC+ costs more, but there is a peace of mind that it will fit and work with more keyboards.  A powered “pin” from the keyboard’s MIDI port is not required of the PUC+ (the AA batteries provide its power), but you may need to factor the price of batteries or a USB charger and longer micro USB cable into your price calculations (side note: Zivix may want to offer this as a “side kit” for purchase).  I won’t lie to you—if the mi.1 works with your keyboard, the end performance is the same as the PUC+, but that peace of mind might be worth the price difference.  And although I haven’t discussed this with anyone at Zivix, I would be surprised if they wouldn’t be willing to offer a discount of some kind to schools once the product hits the market.

Right now, you can buy a PUC+ at a discount as a part of the Indiegogo campaign, whereas it will cost $130 after the campaign.  These fundraiser campaigns have been the center of a lot of bad press recently, as many products never make it to market.  Zivix has already put three crowd-sourced items on the market (the JamStik, the PUC, and the JamStik+), and again, for the most part, the PUC+ contains the Bluetooth technology from the JamStik+.  I see no reason why they wouldn’t ship the product on time.  You are very safe sponsoring a product from Zivix (The goal is to ship in September).  I also love the fact that Zivix is a Minnesota company.

In closing—if the PUC+ appeals to you in any way—and if you are a music educator with an iPad or Mac, it should—join the Indiegogo campaign today!

PUC+ on Indiegogo NOW!

The PUC+ (image created by Zivix)

The PUC+ (image created by Zivix)

Zivix, the makers of the JamStik (and new JamStik+) are offering the new PUC+ on Indiegogo now.  The original PUC acted as a wi-fi hotspot, allowing you to connect just about any MIDI device to an iOS device or Mac without cords.  The new PUC+ connects using LE (low energy) Bluetooth.

LINK TO THE INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/puc-plus-universal-bluetooth-midi-interface

If you have followed techinmusiced.com, you know that I am in love with Bluetooth MIDI…it changes the game.

Why would you want the PUC+?  Simply to be able to connect a MIDI device your (recent) iPad or Mac using Bluetooth.  Right now, you can support the PUC+ initiative and get a PUC+ for a great price–making your current MIDI device a Bluetooth MIDI device, without having to buy a new device that is Bluetooth enabled.

I have talked about another device, the mi.1, which is less expensive–but works with a much smaller range of devices.

I was sent a preproduction PUC+ and will be writing about it soon–I have had some issues editing the video that will accompany the review.

Really–if you have an existing MIDI device–or devices–the PUC+ is wonderful (review coming soon) and a great buy (Hint: buy one today).

Scanning Software for Mac & Windows Computers

A few days ago, I received a promotional e-mail from Musitek.  The e-mail read:

SmartScore X2 Pro Edition
New Version 10.5.8

This is our most powerful upgrade ever!

Every day for the past 2 years our engineers have been working hard to improve SmartScore X2 Pro recognition, editing, playback and MusicXML export features and functions. All that work has paid off. Now, you can enjoy those benefits and more with one low, discounted upgrade price of just $99 !

Not long ago, Neuratron released its latest version of PhotoScore (now Photoscore and NotateMe Ultimate 8).

I am a Finale user.  That has changed somewhat as I have not upgraded to Finale 2014 and am instead using Notion (iOS and Mac/Win) while waiting for the next version of Finale.  For years, I used SmartScore and bought SmartScoreX Professional Edition to use to recognize music.  I was never really happy with the scanning results (always working with choral music), so I started to look at other solutions.

Finally, I took the plunge and bought PhotoScore Ultimate.  PhotoScore is the scanning software paired with Sibelius.  As a Finale user, I felt that I was “cheating” on the Finale ecosystem–but found that PhotoScore Ultimate simply did a better job of scanning (accuracy) than SmartScore X Professional.  When SmartScore X2 was released two and a half years ago, I downloaded the demo and compared PhotoScore and SmartScore X2.  At that point, PhotoScore had not been updated since 2011.  Even so, I found that PhotoScore still did a better job than SmartScore X2, so I did not buy the update.

I like to continue to give programs a chance to improve.  So with the announcement of SmartScore X2’s latest improvements, I wanted to try the program.  In fact, the e-mail stated:

Want to try before you commit?
Click here to download a free demo of SmartScore X2 Pro, Version 10.5.8

I downloaded the new demo, and when I opened it to run, I was told the demo period had expired.  I e-mailed Musitek, and asked for help, and they responded suggesting that I download and install the actual patch to X2, which I did.  That didn’t work, either.  I e-mailed again, and they encouraged me to buy the upgrade, and they told me would be willing to refund my money if I was dissatisfied.  I didn’t want to do that–$99 isn’t an impulse buy.

I remembered that I had my Windows 8 tablet (last turned on in March), so I charged up that computer and  downloaded the demo on that computer.

I am currently working on making some rehearsal tracks for a musical I am working with in the fall, so I simply took the next piece–which was already in a PDF format–and ran the two programs on it.  The original PDF isn’t mine, as we don’t have the actual scores yet (they show up about a month before the show), so I am using someone else’s scan to get ready for the show.  This particular scan has another language written on top of each line (it was obviously performed and translated in this other language), so not only do the programs have to make sense of the music–they also have to try to make sense of all the text.

The truth be told–I am used to having to delete all the text and enter it by hand regardless of the scanning program that I use.  But still, this is a real life situation.  I’m not throwing a single line instrumental score at these programs, or even a simple (clean) SA choral score.

It s possible that if I used a flatbed scanner, and scanned everything as a .TIFF file that SmartScore X2 prefers (it converts PDFs to TIFF files, where PhotoScore seems to just work with PDFs), I might get better results.  But again, all of my music either is already scanned or will be scanned as a PDF, and if I am going to recognize it with software, I will not do so from yet ANOTHER scan in another format.

My results?  SmartScore is greatly improved, but PhotoScore remains better.  Perhaps the new SmartScore would have resulted in a better scan than the old PhotoScore, but Neuratron upped their game with PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.   You can see an example of each program below, from the 3rd page of the same score.  Both would require clean-up, but PhotoScore gets you further down the road.  Not only does PhotoScore get more notes right, it also does so in the correct voices (i.e. multiple events happening at the same time on the same staff).  Both programs tell you where measures don’t add up correctly.  I have never done much editing in either program–as soon as I can, I import it into a true notation software package and begin clean up.

It is worth saying that SmartScore X2 has Garritan sounds embedded in the program–so if you are looking for a scanning program to play what you see, SmartScore will undoubtedly sound better than PhotoScore.  For me this isn’t an issue–if I want quality sounds, I move to Notion (on the Mac or on the iPad).

I find myself at a place where I can actually recommend either program.  If you are a Finale user, working with PhotoScore does require you to work outside of the Finale environment, as you have to work with MusicXML files.  This isn’t terribly difficult to do, but if using Finale already stresses you out, working with yet another package might push you over the edge.  in that case, you can invest in the SmartScore upgrade knowing that you have a solid program to work with.  For the last few years, I would not have felt comfortable saying that.  But do keep in mind that you still will have more clean-up work to do than if you go with PhotoScore.

If you want the most accurate scanning–again, from PDFs in particular–your best solution is PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8.

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

The scan from SmartScore X2 Demo

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8

Disclaimer: Although I used my own income to purchase SmartScore X Professional and PhotoScore 7 Ultimate, I was given copies of PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate 8 for review purposes; and while I was unable to re-install the demo of SmartScore X2 on my Mac, this did not influence my conclusion in any way.  Had SmartScore proved to be more accurate than PhotoScore, I would have paid the $99 upgrade fee to move to SmartScore X2 this evening.

Looking for Relevance

Whenever I read an article about a successful school, or a successful system (e.g. exemplar tech initiatives), I am always looking for one key component: what about music education?  Too often, a discussion of music and other “elective” classes is missing in such reports.  Yes, I am terribly biased–I am a music educator.  But please don’t tell me how good a school is academically if the music programs at those schools are not thriving, too.  As I get older, “thriving” means something different than it did when I came out of college.  Excellence in performance is wonderful–but not if that excellence comes at the expense of 90% of your school NOT being in music classes.  When I contact authors about these articles, they are often shocked that I even ask about music and the electives.  I am often told to contact the school public relations office directly–something I am not going to do, because those people are hired to never give a direct answer.  Do you think a school district will admit it ignores music and other electives when it comes to technology?

Just today, I was reading an article about the technology initiatives in the Denver Public Schools.  I wasn’t able to gleam anything about technology in music and/or the electives in those schools, but English and Special Education teachers were mentioned as having representatives on a district steering committee for technology.  In fact, the Superintendent said, “Because sure, that’s great tech, but if it doesn’t work for English Language Learners or it’s not awesome for special education, it’s really hard for us to purchase.”  What about if it’s not awesome for music? Family and Consumer Science?  Industrial Technology?  Physical Education?  Visual Art?  Perhaps even Foreign Language?  Oh yes, we don’t really TEST in those subjects, so why mention them?

Just once, I’d love to read, “We make sure that all of our electives are able to use the technology, too.”  Actually–I have seen this in action (A shoutout to the music educators in the Westonka school district–your administration, top to bottom, cares), but those situations are the exception rather than the norm.

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