MusicJot: New iOS Music Notation App

musicjot

Earlier this week, I was contacted by Mona Lisa Sound about their relatively new (January 26, 2017) music notation app, MusicJot.  They offered a promo code, which I was happy to accept, and I have had the chance to work with the app a little bit this week.

iOS is fortunate to have so many quality apps, and there are several music notation apps.  My long-time favorite is Notion, which has most of the features of a desktop program.  In addition, there is Symphony Pro (more like a desktop program), NotateMe (notation by hand), and several other apps such as TouchNotation and iWriteMusic.  On the horizon is Komp, another handwriting based notation app.  In addition to these apps, both flat.io and Noteflight will work on iOS devices.  As a result, MusicJot enters a field that is somewhat already crowded in terms of music notation applications for iOS.  As a disclaimer, I am an unpaid beta tester for Notion and Symphony Pro, and I often am in touch with many of the other programs mentioned in the post.

MusicJot is a handwriting-based music notation app that is being developed in part by a musician and arranger who has arranged over 100 string quartets.  The development team consists of two programmers.  The idea behind MusicJot is to give composers an easy path to entering music, with an eye on the accessibility of StaffPad on Windows Surface devices.  MusicJot utilizes the handwriting to notation engine of MyScript, which hails back to the “original” handwriting to notation app (which failed crowd funding) by Think Music Technology.  Interestingly, Notion, offers this same functionality (from MyScript) as an In-App Purchase for iOS devices, and the feature is included in the desktop versions as well (generally for Windows Surface owners).

My initial thoughts about MusicJot can be summed up in one statement: the app is still young.  It works–you write notes and then click outside of the measure to convert the notes to digital notation.  After the notes are entered, you can play or edit what you have written.  You can also add notes via touch, as well as change settings such as clef, time signature, key signature and so on.  In other words, it has the standard functionality you would expect for a music notation app (missing, however, is ukulele as an instrument, which has become very important to me).  Printing is coming soon, but you can export your notation (in my world, in the preferable Music XML format), but for now you have to e-mail the file to yourself (the actual MusicXML export feature saves the file in iTunes, whereas “Open In” would be a far more useful solution). The app opens with animated tutorial pages, and help is available on every page.

Recognition is fine–I have not been unhappy with any handwriting to music notation app.  As Notion uses the same handwriting backbone,  MusicJot is just as accurate.  I have no complaints in this area.  And yes, the Apple Pencil is supported, but I do not have a device that can use an Apple Pencil at this time (waiting for the 2nd generation 12.9″ iPad Pro).

The copy and paste features of the app seem to be very well thought out, and if you are editing (and have an Apple Pencil for best results), the ability to drag a sequence of notes (for pitch or length) and the ability to drop an octave after pasting is pretty novel.  This just goes to show that every app has excellent features.

I’m not sold on the visual appearance of the app–it is clean (a much less cluttered approach than NotateMe, whose real power is in the PhotoScore In App Purchase anyway), but it also appears–for me–too “basic.”  This is why I say that the app is young–it is missing features and its appearance will mature over time.  To be honest, as it now exists for use, I would rather see the integration of the new SMuFL font in place of MakeMusic’s font.

All that said, I don’t want to be too harsh, as I am in support of every app that can be used to create and teach music.

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The app is clean, but is very basic.  It just looks young.  I have a feeling the look will mature in time.

For my level of music notation, I need apps that can quickly edit (from a scanned score) or create a chart, and as such entering notes by hand is a inefficient use of note entry for me. I much prefer to use handwriting recognition to add diacritical markings after I have entered notes into a score (this is a great use of Notion‘s handwriting IAP). However, if you only need to write short passages of music or don’t want to learn the intricacies of a notation program, apps like MusicJotNotateMe, and the upcoming Komp would be an easy way to get music into digital format, particularly without StaffPad on iOS (can they really be selling enough copies of the app to stay on Windows on one family of devices?).

In summary, when I work on notation projects on iOS, I am still going to go to Notion.  You, however, might be quite happy with MusicJot or any of the other notation apps mentioned in this post.

The app is $29.99 until March 16th, and then will go to $49.99.  I realize that apps are FAR underpriced on the App Store.  Finale is a $650 program (without education discount).  The fact that Notion  for iOS is $16 is crazy–although you of have to spend $30 for ALL the sounds and another $8 for handwriting.  NotateMe is a $40 app, with a $30 PhotoScore scanning In App Purchase.   All that said, I’m a little worried that the $50 regular price of MusicJot will not appeal to the basic user who doesn’t want to deal with the intricacies of Notion (which is pretty easy to use).  At the same time, developers should charge what they want to charge.

So…keep your eye on this app.  If you are intrigued by the app, get it while it is 50% off.

You can learn more about MusicJot. at Mona Lisa Sound’s website (http://monalisasound.com/musicjot.html), what appears on the MyScript website (http://myscript.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/170217-MyScript-Blog-MusicJOT-Case-Study.pdf) and also check out their introductory video (which should appear below):

 

Note: All the app links in this blog post are referral links.  If you buy an app from that link, 7% of the purchase price comes back to me for the referral, out of Apple’s 30%.  The developer still receives their full 70% for the value of the app, no matter how you buy the app.  So…if you choose to buy an app from a referral link, thank you.  My next cup of coffee (or part of a cup of coffee) might be from you!

Music OCR – “What’s My Note?”

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A big thank you to Chad Felton for bringing this app to my attention…

The world of Music OCR (Optical Character Recognition) has really advanced in the past three years.  I have used Music OCR to get music into a digital format for years, with the intent of creating accompaniment files.  I suffered for many years with the poor quality of the (formerly) embedded scanning program in Finale, SmartScore (made by Musitek).  I don’t want to be mean about it–but if you used SmartScore Lite with Finale, you know what I mean.  While the most recent version of SmartScore X2 is greatly improved, some time ago I moved to PhotoScore Ultimate (by Neuratron).  The most recent version of Finale (25) removed scanning as an option altogether.

Some time ago, Neuratron introduced a notation program for mobile devices, NotateMe, and eventually embedded PhotoScore functionality in the app (as an in-app purchase).  The end result was a $70 (overall) app that often scanned as well (or better) than the full version of PhotoScore Ultimate on a computer, which is a $250 purchase.  The most important difference  (to me) is that the computer version of PhotoScore can scan a PDF, while the mobile version requires a paper copy to scan.

A couple of other mobile scanning apps have been released, such as an app by Musitek called “NoteReader” (I really can’t recommend it), and a few apps that scanned music and played it back, such as Sheet Music Scanner.  I didn’t really see the functionality in scanning music to hear it–I need apps to do more than that.  There are also apps like MusicPal and iSeeNotes that don’t offer enough functionality for me to recommend them.

As I have written about in the past, Sheet Music Scanner added the ability to export MusicXML files, and that changed its functionality for me–and opened the door to scanning music for many new people as there is no longer a price barrier.  Better yet, Sheet Music Scanner can open an existing PDF.  The app can’t recognize everything yet–but it is amazing how well it does for less than $5.

Musitek has released a program called “Music-to-XML” for $99 that scans music and exports it to a MusicXML file.  I have not tried this program–I have other programs that do this, and my experiences with Musitek’s products while improved from the past, are less positive than with other products.  Unless I am sent a trial version–I will likely not be trying Music-to-MusicXML.  If you were going to spend $100, I would likely send you towards the $70 NotateMe/PhotoScore solution for mobile devices.

As I mentioned in the open of this post, Chad e-mailed me and asked if I had seen “What’s My Note?”  Basically, this is an app that scans a page of music, and as you touch notes, it plays back your notes.  I bought it (only $1 at the current time) and I tried scanning a couple of things.  I did not tax the program too heavily, but it accurately scanned and played back notes that I touched.  The following video is their promo video from their website:

I’m not overly enthused about the app’s tag line: “A new app for choral musicians who don’t read music well.”  That said, I find myself a little more open to this type of music scanning for playback versus Sheet Music Scanner’s original purpose, as you can touch YOUR note and hear YOUR note in context of the larger score.

Some immediate thoughts: The app makes more sense on an iPad (the larger the better) than on a phone, as you have more room to touch (you can “zoom in” on a phone, but then there is a lot of scrolling).  The bad part about that is that phones have better cameras than iPads.  The app is available for Android, too.  I wish the app allowed you to open existing PDFs rather than having to take pictures of everything.  I also wish that that it would allow the option of playback so you could sing along with the printed notes as an option (Sheet Music Scanner’s original function).  Finally, I wish that you could do something with the recognized music after you had scanned it, such as exporting it.

If you have a mobile device and need the greatest possible accuracy, NotateMe with the PhotoScore IAP is still the way to go for $70.  If you want to try mobile scanning with greater success than used to be possible with SmartScore Lite without breaking the bank, buy Sheet Music Scanner. What’s My Note? takes a different approach to scanning, and and there are likely some choral musicians that will benefit from being able to touch their part to hear it.  I will keep all three of these applications on my devices.

P.S. This video from “What’s My Note?” is fun (and the song is included with the app):

A busy month of presentations

January has been a busy month for presentations!  This month, I have been in Florida, Michigan, and Illinois.

I love presenting, and I try to bring usable, solid information in an energetic and entertaining way.  In particular, I like to keep people laughing.  I have attended too many sessions that are too dry and/or do not bring anything of value to participants.  Even so, I am sure that some people leave disappointed, or in some cases angry.  If that was you, I apologize!

What has been interesting about my trips this month is that I have been traveling without my wife or family, and what I have taken away from my travels this month are new and stronger relationships.

I didn’t really know any music educators in Florida, but I was able to spend a bit of time with Jason from MusicFirst and Don from Sight Reading Factory.  While it is nice to get to know the products that a company represents, it is better to get to know them better as people.  I believe in both of these companies (and SRF is carried by MusicFirst) and what they are doing–but it is better to get to know the people behind the company.

One of the things that I am finding in my “middle age” is that when I meet people beyond a “surface” encounter, I want to know their story.  That is one of the things I like about what we are trying to do on our Podcast.

In Michigan, after seven or eight years of communicating on Twitter, e-mail, and most recently our podcast, I had the pleasure to finally meet and spend time with Paul Shimmons, who blogs at ipadmusiced.wordpress.com.  What is both surprising to say and not surprising at all in reality is that meeting in person was like running into a long lost friend.  I also had a chance to visit again with Jason (MusicFirst), but also Catie (Quaver Music), and a couple of other Twitter users I have followed over the years.

In Illinois, I had the chance to spend some time with Ryan, a fellow ukulele aficionado (he presented the day before I arrived), and to have dinner with David and Nathan and their families, two teachers that I have interacted with during my previous trips to Illinois.  I stayed at Nathan’s house and had a chance to visit with his family–and am so grateful for the conversations and the time we had to spend together.  I also had a chance to see Dr. Alex Ruthmann, who works for NYU with the Music Ed Lab and Dr. Robin Giebelhausen, who is a music education professor in New Mexico.  Dr. Ruthmann presented some of the wonderful things they are doing at the NYU Music Ed Lab like Groove Pizza,  and Dr. Giebelhausen presented a great session on Ukulele and her resources, such as her website and her free iBook.

So while I feel a bit exhausted from my travels over these January weekends, I come home richer from the relationships that were started or strengthened on this trip.

One of the things Paul and I talked about is the world of technology and music education.  Music education, by nature, is filled with a lot of ego, jealously, and dog-eat-dog behaviors.  The sub-climate of technology in music education is filled with a bunch of passionate music educators who don’t get paid for their work, but instead they just want to give back to the professions.  It is really a joy to be involved with all of these people!

Thank you, very much, to everyone who attended any of my sessions this month.  I had the chance to present on ukulele, Chomebooks, and iPads.  PDFs from those presentations can be found on this website in the Past Presentations area.  And as always…if you have questions, new services, new hardware, or new apps, please send me an e-mail!

Shed the Music

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While at the Illinois Music Education Conference, two band teachers introduced themselves and their work.  They have created a website called The Shed, or Shed the Music, a resource that is currently free that features videos about music theory.

While it is wonderful to have resources such as musictheory.net and teoria.com, additional resources in this space are always welcome, and as such, please check out shedthemusic.com!

SMART Boards…and how things change

 

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In just under a year and a half, our existing middle school will turn into a home for our district’s Spanish Immersion Program, and a new building will open for our school.

Compared to the last building project in our district, which I was involved with, staff has had relatively little input on the process.  In the last building, there was a team of staff members who made most of the decisions in the process, with a few exceptions.  That power is firmly in the hands of the district administration this time around.

With the last building, one of the decisions that was placed into the hands of the staff was the selection of the technology that was to be placed in each room.  At the time, we were a Microsoft Windows district, and after spending hours at sales pitches and even having staff beta-test different solutions for months, the team recommended the purchase of Promethean Boards.  The district IT decided that wasn’t the right conclusion, and went with SMART Boards.

As a result, we built a high school with Microsoft Windows laptops, SMART Boards, audio reinforcement systems, and a central control panel for the projector in each instructional space.  About ten staff members (including myself) were trained as SMART trainers (“That was an unexpected result” was a guided response from that training), and we had a three year program outlined for continued training.  The systems were $8000 installed, without the computer.

Due to a lack of continued funding, the training sessions were abandoned after the initial training, and the SMART Boards quickly became glorified whiteboards (no use of the Notebook software), the voice reinforcement systems (not SMART) were useless, and within three years, we switched to MacBooks that didn’t interact well with the SMART Boards.  We were told to not have more than three interactive components in one Notebook presentation as any more might cause the SMART Board to crash.  The Macs did not work well with the Bluetooth connectivity in those SMART Boards, so we had to connect the boards to the Mac with the longest USB cables we could find.  Most of the existing SMART lessons were not of great value to the teachers in our school.  What a mess.

Later, SMART decided to stop offering the latest versions of SMART Notebook for free (which was the way that things worked when we bought the hardware) and required a yearly subscription fee to run the latest software.  Most districts were forced into this plan, as newer computer operating systems couldn’t run the old software any more.  Our district grudgingly went along with the purchases.

Furthermore, with mirroring with the iPad in October of 2011, it became apparent in music education that being able to wirelessly project from a tablet was a huge benefit above and beyond getting up, writing on a (small) SMART Board, and coming back to a piano or podium.

My feelings about SMART Boards were not helped as I had many discussions with SMART representatives at conferences who mocked the iPad .  I know SMART Boards are great for math teachers, elementary music teachers, and music theory–but there seemed to be better solutions for most other educational solutions.

Well, it looks like some things have changed at SMART.  At my current school, we just sat through information sessions where the latest generations of SMART Boards were demoed for us by the local vendor (I would assume that the decision has been already been made).  I do have to admit that I am not the ideal participant in these settings, particularly when the representative makes you get up and touch the panel to see how it works.  If only daggers could shoot from my eyes at those times.

Did you know that SMART was recently bought by FoxConn, who makes the devices for many companies, including Apple?

The new FoxConn-owned SMART is abandoning the “dumb” technology of SMART (all a SMART Board is, in the eyes of your computer, is a large mouse).  Instead, the latest versions are a giant LCD screen, with pen input or no pen input.  While SMART Notebook still requires a subscription, the new pen input screens will work by themselves if necessary (without a computer), and can wirelessly mirror from all major operating systems, including iOS, Mac, Windows, and even Chromebooks.  Large LCD screens are the way to go…more than 50,000 hours of a very bright, clear screen that can be seen in a lit room.

I haven’t had a chance to try a connection with a Mac (a Windows device was used to show the interface), but I am curious to see if all of the interactive components work with a Mac.

While I still think there is great power in mirroring, there are times that interaction with a large screen (up to 89″ diagonal in a model that is coming soon) makes a lot of sense for any teacher.  The interactive activities can be fun for learners at any level (think game shows and Kahoot-like interactions).  And even if the SMART board becomes a glorified White Board, there will be benefits from that white board, such as being able to push out the entire written session, or having a GREAT way to show a video.

I think the new ownership of SMART by FoxConn and the new two models (one is out, one is on the way) are a great tool for education–devices that can operate by themselves, work in connection with a computer, or run with mirroring.  That is promising to me, and for the first time in a long time, I am looking at the SMART BOARD as a product with promise rather than as a waste of money.