Wolfie app for iPad, by Tonara

Representatives for Tonara have contacted me a number of times about the Woflie app for iPad, which is by Tonara. Tonara is an app that follows you as you play, turning pages. Literature can be bought via in-app purchases.

Wolfie is geared for piano teachers and students, offering subscription based access to literature ($2.99 a week, $8.99 a month). I have blogged about a few other piano apps in the past (Piano Maestro and Flowkey, for example). While piano goes out of my normal sphere of influence for this blog (as the focus is generally on technology for classroom-based music education), some users may find the app of interest.

Pricing for a Wolfie Premium Subscription

The download of Wolfie is free, and there are a number of resources that are given free to the user. The app is intended to be played with a live piano. There are a number of settings, such as practice, listening (with linked YouTube examples), evaluation, and more. There are levels of gameification, which has the potential to spark more user interest in the app.

Gameification in Wolfie


If you teach piano or know a student that is learning piano, Wolfie is worth examining. Download the app and try the free content. I can't speak to the pricing for the “premium” subscription–you wil have to decide for yourself if the content warrants $9 a month ($108 a year). I worry about subscription plans for any app–they can add up quickly for a user, and materials you use aren't yours to keep. That said, these companies need ways to keep developing apps and to pay the bills.

Some of Wolfie's Free Zone Content

And if you are a piano player, check out Tonara, too.


BIG NEWS…StaffWars Live for iOS

This evening, I heard from The Music Interactive, a wonderful developer that has made a number of free and paid apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. If you haven't checked out their website with programs for Mac and Windows, or what they offer in the iOS and Google Play stores…do so.

One of the wonderful apps they developed for Windows and Mac was StaffWars, a game loosely based on Star Wars, where your job is to shoot notes out of the sky before they hit your clef symbol. Version 1 (Mac/Windows) is a note naming challenge; Version 2 was unique in that students were required to PLAY the correct note to destroy the incoming note.

Several years ago, The Music Interactive began rolling out apps for mobile devices. Version 1 of the desktop version of StaffWars, called StaffWars (iTunes Link) on iOS and Android (only note naming) has been available on iOS and Android for a few years. Now the LIVE version (Version 2 on Mac/Windows) is available on iOS, and is called StaffWars Live. Now your students can PLAY the correct note on their instrument.

Both apps are $0.99, and are a must-buy for any music teacher that wants students to learn the name of their notes. The new app is a must for any instrumental teacher (or student) wanting students to have to play the right notes to the notes on a screen. Gameification is what makes this special.

You have the freedom to choose the instrument (which filters the range appropriately) and to limit the range of notes that a student is required to play. I had fun tonight limiting the app to the Treble Clef, C Major Scale, from C4 to C5, and playing notes on my Concert ukulele.

At conferences, attendees have been asking for this functionality in the app for YEARS. I think it is priced well (I would pay more than $0.99), and both apps (StaffWars and StaffWars Live) are worth having in your iPad “kit.” I was just thinking about how I would have liked to post something else on my blog tonight, but there hasn't been any big news in music education and technology. This app, in my opinion, is a pretty big deal.

I would write more…but I have some more notes to practice on my ukulele.


Technology Resources for Ukulele

54 ukuleles hung on the wall, ready to be used

As my ukulele launch in my middle school choir program draws near (either February 5th or 8th), I have been preparing for that launch. I am choosing to create my own method of teaching ukulele rather than to follow existing methods (e.g. Hal Leonard and Alfred). That said, I do have an eye on those methods as I plan.

While I am preparing, I am finding a ton of digital resources for the ukulele. Here are just a few:

Tuner: Kala Brand Tuner (FREE-created for one of the major manufacturers of all levels of ukulele)

Kala Brand Tuner App on iPad

Creating Ukulele Music: Notion (The most developed music notation app for iOS. For ukulele, creates notes and tablature–does not offer the ability to include chord diagrams for ukulele)

Self-Made Chord Charts: Chord Tunes (Creates lyrics and chords, plus ukulele chord diagrams)

Chords/Fingerings/Tuner: Guitar Toolkit (Guitar Toolkit covers many string instruments)

Ukeoke: Basically the Four Chords app for ukulele (monthly fee)

Futulele: An iPad ukulele app, ideally to be used by students that need accessibility features–thanks to Beth Jahn for the suggestion)

iBooks: There is a lot of ukulele literature on the iBooks Store–for less than what you can buy it in print. Here are just a few titles that are available:

Assessment: I will test most skills in class, but realize that some students will be afraid to test in person. Therefore, we have a few ukuleles to check out overnight. Students can take them home and make a video of themselves (using the stock Camera app) playing the required testing material, and submit the video to me via Showbie. I also use Showbie to create rubrics–allowing me to assess each student–and Showbie's new grading feature allows me to quickly transfer grades from Showbie to our school's student information system.

Web Resources: While there are a TON of ukulele websites out there, I recommend the following sites:

And finally, Amazon. I love music stores–but there are times that the added overhead of a music store cannot be tolerated in the cost of a program. In our case, our entire set of 58 ukuleles (55 to be used in class, 3 to be sent home for practice/performance tests) were purchased from Amazon for under $2000–including setting up a ukulele hanging system with 2x4s and tool hooks. Unfortunately, if we had purchased these through a local vendor, the cost would have been well over $2000. Our ukuleles, Mahalo MK1s are throw-away models if anything serious happens (other than replacing strings). It would be a different situation if we had more expensive ukuleles that would warrant the need for repairs. As a side note, the MK1s do eventually settle into their tuning–and I go through and tune each of the instruments once each day. The instruments I purchased in Novemeber are nearly always in tune. That is a relief–58 continually out-of-tune ukuleles would be a nightmare.

We actually bought 68 ukuleles, as we gave parents the ability to send some extra money to buy their students a ukulele to keep. 10 families bought a ukulele for home. In total, the booster program purchased 28 of the instruments, and parents donated money for 30 of them. Not a cent of this program is on the common tax payer.

I have found out that Amazon's prices fluctuate wildly–the majority of our ukuleles were purchased around $25 each when they were backordered, but the instruments are now $37 each.

This morning, I purchased 2 additional instruments from Amazon: A Caramel (a Chinese brand) Concert and a Caramel Tenor for $75, shipped. I want to give these inexpensive larger instruments a try. It will be nice to have a concert and tenor on hand at school–and also for students that might struggle with the small soprano (thinking about some of the giant 8th grade boys) to try. If the Caramel instruments are any good–I'll certainly blog about them.

I also recently learned that D'Adarrio Ukuele strings are made by Aquilla (considered to be one of the best kinds of ukulele string), so it might be worth buying D'Addario for the savings over Aquilla.

The shift to ukulele is shocking to me–I grew up in the era of Tiny Tim, where the ukulele was a joke to our culture. My training in music education didn't spend one second talking about ukuleles–at any level of my education (K-12, college, or grad school). It appears that the ukulele is as common in many other countries as recorder and guitar are in the United States (although guitar programs are relatively few in number compared to Band, Choir, and Orchestra at the secondary level).

All I can say is this–I have fallen in love with the instrument, and I spend more than an hour each day playing and singing. It has resparked my love of music, and for that I am thankful. I now own two ukuleles (a Makala Concert, and a Kala Banjo Ukulele). There is a good chance that I will be adding a tenor ukulele (or two) to the stable in the near future. We also bought our boys a MK1 Mahalo, with the idea that they will leave my ukuleles alone (they are). When I tune my ukulele, my three year old runs up to me and asks me to tune his, too.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, our integration with the ukulele is right around the corner. I am excited to bring this experience to our students, and to get them singing and reading music in a sneaky way. The possibilities are endless–we'll see what happens!


Creating Video Tutorials for Your Class

My old 2008 MacBook is currently rendering a 20 minute video that I created this evening (really since about 9:30, and it is now 10:40). While I am waiting (I may end up just going to bed), I wanted to blog a little bit about this process.

When our districts went to the middle school format seven years ago, music became a required and every-other-day event for our middle school students. The expectation of the number of concerts per year dropped from 3 (trimesters) to 2 (extra-curricular pay dropped as well, over 40%).

Since I came to the middle school level three years ago, I have used the period of time after my winter/holiday concert and starting of the spring concert literature to meet state standards and do some other tasks.

In past years I have done an extensive composition project (see my NotateMe Now lessons) as well as had students suggest music for our Spring Concert.

This year, we have spent the last 3 weeks doing a major study of the music selection project, which is based on us meeting seven of our state standards. The project includes learning about genre, the functions of music (thank you, Mr. Merriam), researching what music is available for choirs, and actually submitting suggestions. Students wrap up that project today and tomorrow. Some kids are getting a lot out of it, others aren't trying. I have purposely given students time to work in choir–many are choosing not to work. They have the right to choose their desired grade (specific tasks to meet a grade, a way of offering differentiation). I fear I'll be seeing a lot of Ds and Fs–in a school where you automatically earn 50%.

Well, that was the last project. The next project, which I am working on now, is a composition project that asks students to create choir warm-ups. As usual, I create a printed guide that contains everything I am going to teach in class. That document contains answers to big questions, such as, “Why do warm-ups,” and “What is my [as in: me, their teacher] warm-up strategy/order/philosophy.”

I didn't want to give the same lecture to all of my choirs–so I decided to make an instructional video that taught the content about warm-ups, and then a brief tutorial for the app we are going to use.

I was stuck having to go with iWriteMusic Free. I normally wouldn't recommend iWriteMusic to anyone, but we don't have money for apps, and NotateMe Now does not let you write lyrics in the free version. Notion and Symphony Pro are out because they are paid apps.

You can record your iPad on your Mac via a lightning cable (with Yosemite and above) with QuickTime. The problem is that you can choose to record audio from your iPad, or you can choose to record it from your Mac. I wanted both my spoken audio and the iPad's audio (inside iWriteMusic) for students to hear.

What I did was to record my audio on my phone using “Just Press Record” (there is also an Apple Watch application, which is why I have it). Then I imported the QuickTime movie to iMovie, dropped in the audio, and edited out the major bloopers.

What I will have (whenever my old MacBook finishes rendering video) when I am done is an instructional video of 20 minutes that is just about 10 minutes about why and how we do warm-ups, and 10 minutes of how to do the project tasks and use the app. It's a good balance, which will save me endless repetitions–and I can simply drop the video in my paid version of Showbie (another wonderful iPad app…on my “must have” list of apps for iPad educators) so kids can access it any time they need it (or if they are absent…)

Recording the audio separately at the same time as presenting was simply brilliant–I'm sad I haven't thought of this earlier.

I'll see how the kids react to the video. They are so screen minded (especially in a 1:1 iPad school), I am wondering if a video lecture/lesson/demo won't be more interesting to them than if I presented in person. I'll ask them afterwards (and watch them closely).

The end goal is for them to provide warm-ups we can use in choir, and I would even like to share some of them (student names redacted) here on the blog for your use, too. And yes–I need to start work on my warm-up resources again. I can likely do that in the summer, or over Spring Break.

The composition project helps us meet three additional Minnesota State Arts Standards. So there is definitely a method to my madness. There are some “boring” tasks in the process, but in these two projects, students will have suggested literature from an educated standpoint, and experienced composition providing exercises that we can potentially use in our choirs and share with the world.

We have also continued working on our sight singing, even though we're not singing choral literature right now. I'm not worried. If we were already working on our music for late May, they would be incredibly sick of that music by the time of the concert (regardless of their level of performance at the time).

After this short composition project (I'm thinking 2-3 days), we will move to ukulele. I have been having a blast getting instructional materials ready for that, too. If the ukulele is a success, I have some ideas on how we can continue to integrate it into choir even as we return to choir music.

Lots of good stuff to come in the weeks ahead.

When the same ukulele isn’t the same ukulele…

As I wrote about previously (and will do so again), I am working towards a ukulele unit and embedding ukulele in my middle school choir program.

Through past fundraising, I was able to buy 25 ukuleles for the program–very inexpensive Mahalo MK1 models. Parents have funded the purchase of another 30 ukuleles on top of that, giving us enough for every student to use (in class) and to have two spares. While they were backordered on Amazon, I was able to buy the majority of them for less than $25 each. After they came back in stock, the price soared to $36. Thankfully, we only had a few more to buy at that price (I bought additional ukuleles as donations came in).

Most of these ukuleles have arrived and I have started the process of unboxing and tuning. The Mahalos do not come with super strings. That isn't surprising–a good set of Aquilla Nygut strings is at least $9, which is about 1/3 of the cost of these instruments. The current strings will work for now, but in the future we'll have to replace strings, which will also make the instruments sound better. Even so, after a number of turnings (10?) they settle in pretty well, with only slight touch-up tuning required after that point. And to be honest, I don't mind the process of unpacking and tuning 55 ukuleles. There is something therapeutic about it.

I am making my own resources for the beginning unit–loving Notion and its ability to show notes and tabs on the ukulele (yes, also on the iPad). I will write a post about the technology side of the ukulele (and my creation of materials) later. And yes, there will be LOTS of singing. This is a choir class.

What I wanted to write about this morning is how some of the ukuleles are not the same. To this point, we have been buying the butterscotch color–not really attractive–because it has been significantly cheaper. I started thinking about assessment and realized that some kids could take a ukulele home and record video of themselves playing instead of testing in person. Some kids get “freaked out” in person. The problem is that we need all the ukuleles at school for classes–so how would I be able to trust kids to take one home and bring it back in time for the next day of classes, knowing that students are on an A/B schedule and don't think about choir every day? The answer is that I couldn't guarantee that.

We had a little extra money in the choir account (I have to keep some money available for music, for example), so I decided to buy 3 additional ukuleles that could be sent home with students for assessment purposes. At the time, the brown model was $27 versus the $36 butterscotch model, so it made sense to buy some brown ones, with the added knowledge that it would be easy to identify the ukuleles that were loaners.

These ukuleles arrived at my house yesterday (I have been taking advantage of my prime account for free shipping), and I quickly noticed that two of the three brown units were strung differently than the other, and that those two were strung differently than ALL of the butterscotch models we have ordered. Additional inspection showed that the bridge was connected differently on these two brown models (screws versus a rivet)–and they have a different style of fretboard (look at the bottom, near the sound hole).


I actually prefer the bridge and stringing style of these two brown units, and I think they represent OLDER instruments. Both the “unique” brown instruments have serial numbers in the the 239000 range, and all of the other instruments we own are well into the 300000 range. What this tells me is that the slightly older Mahalo MK1s were likely a better instrument and a better deal, even at the low cost range. I am slightly bummed out about that!

The SN of the older Mahalo


The SN of the newer Mahalo

The pictures show the ragged quality of these inexpensive instruments. My Makala Concert Electro Acoustic ukulele ($89) is a much better instrument all around that plays better and sounds better.

Again, these Mahalos are functional $25 to $36 ukuleles that are really meant for beginner players–to get you into the instrument before you purchase something a little more expensive for yourself. Ideally, I would have looked at the low cost Kala models, but they still cost $20 more per ukulele, and with 58 ukuleles in total and that would have been more than $1000 more for the project. If we keep going with ukuleles in the future (I expect we will), we can work towards replacing instruments in the future (and perhaps selling these to students at a discount in the process). But you need to start somewhere first.




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