Fret Zealot for Ukulele

I have been in touch with Fret Zealot (the company) for some time. The Fret Zealot is a device that you can put on a guitar–and now a ukulele–to learn how to play the instrument. We decided to wait for a review until the product was released for ukulele. Originally I was hoping to simply review a unit installed on a ukulele, but it made sense for the company to send me a unit to install on one of my ukuleles.

The Fret Zealot is a combination of adhesive strips containing wiring and LED Lights, and a control module that connects to the strips and which gets mounted to the ukulele. The strips (3M) are rather permanent (they can be removed), but the control module can be removed at any time–and is charged by a USB mini plug. The control module interacts with an iOS or Android device, allowing you to interact with the Fret Zealot app.

The app has three basic parts…”Play” “Learn” and “Fun.”

“Play” has a library of songs (more about this in a moment), a tuner, and a metronome. The song list is rather long, but not very useful. The notes or chords that show are not connected to a “real” audio file, and there are no lyrics. So to be honest, I wouldn’t spend much time there.

“Learn” is where the power of the Fret Zealot comes into play. You can have the device show you different chords, scales, and notes. Amazingly, there are a few videos–songs and lessons–from Justin Guitar and The Ukulele Teacher that have been “programmed” to work with the Fret Zealot, and this is simply amazing. This is where the future lies with this technology, and Fret Zealot is on the leading edge. I just hope the library of videos continues to grow. There are also partner apps…Guitar 3D, Uberchord (old acquaintances of mine from techinmusiced.com) and Spark. I do not think that any of these partner apps are ukulele friendly.

“Fun” is, for now, a way to have your Fret Zealot show off rather fun display patterns on the LED strips. You can see examples of this at the start of the YouTube review embedded below.

As for the device itself, it works, and I’m excited about the future for Fret Zealot. The whole idea of the Fret Zealot is that you can turn any ukulele into a learning device, rather than having to buy a specialized ukulele.

I do have some criticism about the device, and I’ll share those thoughts, too. My preference is to have action at the 1st Fret to be .5mm. This was too low for the Fret Zealot and caused buzzing on the dual LED strip in the 1st Fret. I had to find a ukulele that had higher action to avoid the buzz–and had to remove an already installed Fret Zealot to do it. This isn’t the Fret Zealot’s fault, but it isn’t a device to be taken on and off at will–you commit to having it on your device until you take it off.

After installing the Fret Zealot on a different ukulele, I found that I really didn’t like the top row of LEDs, a dual strip. The top row represents an “open string,” and the immediate second row represents the 1st Fret. The diagrams for the Fret Zealot all show installation towards the actual (metal) fret, which placed the indicator for the “nut” in the middle of the 1st Fret–and this really threw me off.

As a result, I uninstalled the Fret Zealot AGAIN and moved it as high as I could on each fret, making the first row of LEDs much closer to the nut. Really, I’d love for that first strip to be above the nut, but I don’t know if that is possible.

And the penalty for a movement of the Fret Zealot a third time was that the top corner of the Fret Zealot (the one with the main cable) no longer sticks like it should, and as a result, there was some buzzing where the G string interacted with the top left corner of the Fret Zealot LED strip. I need to say very clearly that this is my fault and no fault of the Fret Zealot. Adhesive materials simply cannot be removed and replaced over and over again with the same results.

As I previously mentioned, the song library doesn’t seem to be very useful to me, and when installed, the Fret Zealot adds significant weight to the headstock.

That said, this is a product I’m really excited about, because it can help people learn how to play ukulele. The ability to sync videos with the Fret Zealot is a game changer, and the only problem is that videos need to be added one at a time, and that takes hours of labor, and thus lots of money. Perhaps Fret Zealot could make a end-user “video sync” app that would allow end users to make videos that could be added to the Fret Zealot library. I also love the idea of connection with other apps, so it would be fun to see what could be done with some other ukulele apps–anything from Kala’s library (and Musopia/Ukeoke) to Monster Chords (which uses or used to use some functionality with Uberchord).

I hope that future versions will be able to reduce the size of the controller, the height of the LEDs, and the cost of the device. But if you are looking for a device that can help you learn how to play the ukulele–making your existing ukulele an “intelligent ukulele,” Fret Zealot is worth checking out. And while there are other “intelligent ukuleles” on the market, if you buy one of those ukuleles, you have to choose from those ukuleles. With the Fret Zealot, you can connect any concert or tenor ukulele that you might have.

You can find the Fret Zealot at fretzealot.com and Amazon.com (look up “Fret Zealot Ukulele” and choose “concert” or “tenor”).

Many thanks to Fret Zealot for sending me a unit to review!


My video review appears below. Honestly, it’s a little scattered as I was trying to record what I was doing with the Fret Zealot app on my iPad while using the Fret Zealot and making a video at the same time. My iPad wasn’t recording all of the interactions with the app, and the part I wanted to demonstrate most–the syncing with The Ukulele Teacher’s video would not record (perhaps this is an iOS copyright limitation). Therefore, I wrote this more concise blog post, which says everything I say in the video.

At the 2019 Wisconsin Music Education Conference (A Look at the Nuvo Recorder + and Dood)

Greetings! I am writing this while looking out at Lake Monona at the 2019 Wisconsin Music Education Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I am using personal days to present two sessions on Ukulele while I’m here, and the sessions were organized/scheduled by Peripole for me.

As I have mentioned, technology in elementary is more immediate to me as I am now teaching elementary. I saw a number of plastic instruments from Nuvo, and decided to buy two of them. The first is the Nuvo Recorder +, which has silicon pads to assist students who may not be able to cover recorder holes with their fingers.

It’s a great idea, and pretty well priced (about $15). It may not sound as good as the Peripole Halo, but it serves a different purpose.

The other item is the Nuvo Dood, a reed instrument with recorder fingerings. The reed is plastic, and I can’t wait to play on it. As a brass player, I have never owned a reed instrument, so this is me to me…and my embouchure needs help!

I made a short video…and uploaded it here on location. I hope it uploaded correctly and the link works!

If you are at the convention, find me and say hello! I have another session tomorrow at 10am in rooms M to P.

At the 2019 Wisconsin State Music Convention

Hello! I will be at the Wisconsin State Music Convention on Thursday and Friday of this week. My topics, for once, will be all ukulele related (sessions on Thursday and Friday), but if anyone wants to find me to talk about technology in music education, please let me know! I will have some free time on my hands between/after my sessions, but I am also looking forward to seeing some of the other great sessions offered at the convention.

A BLE MIDI Recorder on KickStarter…

The cookies that are tracked on my Facebook brought The Artinoise re.corder to my attention the other day (I use Facebook to stay in touch with ukulele and elementary music education resources).

If you look at my previous post, you will see that I just used technology to create a pre-white belt audio sample for Recorder Karate. The only acoustic part of that process was my own recorder playing. It would have been so much easier to use a digital instrument for that process.

The idea of a MIDI wind instrument isn’t new…and several models have been around for quite some time, and there are some BLE MIDI devices as well, such as the Roland AE series. I know some other companies have considered BLE wind instruments, but the cost of such a digital device is REALLY hard to justify. For example, you can buy a very nice plastic recorder for under $15 (far less, but let’s factor in shipping for a single unit). Are you going to want to spend $200 on a digital recorder? Probably not.

When the Re.corder was advertised, I took note. Admittedly, even a year ago, I wouldn’t have paid it that much attention, as I was a secondary teacher. Now that I am teaching elementary, and am currently prepping recorder resources for my 3rd and 4th graders, my priorities have shifted.

The Re.corder promises to be useful as a acoustic wind instrument (to be honest, I’m not putting a lot of faith in tone quality in this mode), to be used as both an acoustic instrument and a digital instrument via BLE MIDI, and to be able to TURN OFF the acoustic mode and simply play via digital instrument.

To be honest, as a teacher, you had me at “And a digital instrument.” As a parent, you had me at “TURN OFF the acoustic mode.” I didn’t reach for my wallet as the KickStarter had not begun, nor was pricing announced.

Well, the KickStarter began today. In fact, here’s the link (and no, I am NOT getting any referrals for the link):

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/888369457/the-recorder-reinvented?ref=89vnoq

The funding video is cheesy. I don’t know any teenager that is going to steal her elementary brother’s recorder–or a father that will do the same. But it does make the point that everyone should like this instrument.

Now that the KickStater is underway, the pricing is intriguing. The company is in Italy, so prices are in Euros, and the Early Bird pricing is 55 Euros for one of the recorders, with standard purchases starting at 62 Euros. Shipping to the US is 12 additional Euros. At the current exchange rate, that’s $75 to $83.

I didn’t know what my threshold would be for what I’d be willing to spend, but now that I see the prices, I think my threshold would have been $100. This is below that amount.

As a teacher, if the instrument can display my fingers on the screen to an entire class, that’s worth it. If any of the instrument’s dedicated app functions can be used with my class playing along on acoustic instruments recorders, that’s worth it. And if I can made digital recordings straight to my own devices without having to go acoustic, that’s worth it. So yes, I signed up to back this device on KickStarter this afternoon.

Furthermore, if a content deal can be reached with Music K8 (e.g. putting all of the Recorder Karate literature, as is, into the included application), that would be a further reason to purchase the device. Please note: this is NOT promised. I’m just “thinking out loud”

I don’t see a teacher buying a classroom set of these. But I do see these as a great potential purchase for a teacher.

Now…to be honest, if I’m a parent…which I am…with another son a year away from starting recorder…I might also be willing to spend $83 to not hear the recorder being practiced at home. I don’t think I’m alone. A parent was a substitute for our school office manager, and she talked to me about how excited her daughter was to start recorder. She said, “We’ll see how I feel about that in a few weeks.” It was said in a humorous fashion, but we all know there is truth to all humor.

And of course, there is this (this was posted on Facebook):

I’m excited about this product, for its potential, and for what seems to be an accessible price point. Sadly, they won’t ship until April 2020 at the earliest…but I’ll be bugging the company and I’ll see if there is anything I can do to check one out before release.

Bringing Recorder to the 21st Century

A couple of years ago, I was a guest on the OokTown Podcast, as the host, Stuart Yoshida, had mentioned in a previous program that the ukulele should replace the recorder. While I love (and I mean LOVE) the ukulele, I had fond memories of recorder, and I see its value in teaching the ability to read notation, to allow people to make music, and to prepare students for the possibility of band. So I wrote Stuart about this, and ended up being on the show, defending the recorder.

Fast forward to Fall 2019…I am now an elementary music teacher, preparing to teach recorder for the first time. I’m thrilled to start recorders soon. We have taken orders for student recorders (incidentally, we’re going with Peripole Halo Baroque Soprano Recorders), they’ll arrive soon, and we’re going to start. While I have heard about the method for years, we’ll also be following the Music K8 Karate Recorder program.

That said, there are some things I wanted to add, and some other resources, such as songs out of Don Muro’s “Easy 8” and “8 More ‘Easy’ Songs” that fit in the Recorder Karate sequence.

What I’m doing is I’m bringing these materials into video format to use in class, with multiple versions of the song in the same video (e.g. demo, performance with moving boxes, performance without moving boxes). I’d love to be able to share the videos–but I cannot as the material is copyrighted and doing so for my personal use is okay–but I cannot share these on YouTube, as I do my ukulele materials. With the ukulele materials, the copyright holder receives the revenue. There is no such format for Music K8 to receive that ad revenue…so this work stays private…and NOT on YouTube at all.

With rare exceptions…

As I am supplementing materials, I am occasionally going to have to write or create my own “song” to fill a need where Recorder Karate or Don Muro’s books have a gap. For example, I wanted some songs to lead up to the first belt of Recorder Karate, and Don Muro’s books introduce rhythms and meters for the note “G” that Recorder Karate does not approach until a later time. I can still use Don Muro’s work later…but I can’t use them when I want to. So I had to write my own song.

And since I wrote my own song, I can publish that on YouTube, so that you can see what I am doing. I wanted students to practice jumping between B, A, and G, so I wrote a little melody using the note values they had been introduced to, created an accompaniment with iRealB on my iPad, recorded myself on the recorder via GarageBand on the iPad (don’t be too harsh on my playing), and made a video. The only thing I included from Recorder Karate is the second slide showing the notes and rhythms, as I wanted the same font for all the videos with this material…but I have modified this material as well.

I am going to have some challenges ahead…I need alternative songs for the religious material in Recorder Karate (When the Saints, Amazing Grace, Ode to Joy) as well. I will give students the choice to play the existing songs in the method or to play an alternative song (I’ll just say that religious songs have been a hot topic behind the scenes in our district as of late).

Music K8 has a ton of great resources…I loved their ukulele song packs as well, and asked them if they would like me to make play alongs of them…and I never heard back. I’d offer them all of the videos I make of Recorder Karate–but I’m not sure they are offering that format.

I’m convinced that the use of video in instruction is essential in today’s world–our students are learning so many things through video, and it meets them where they are at…and videos like these can help bridge them to traditional formats as well. Yes, it takes time to create these videos…but it reaches them where they are at, and also become a force multiplier in the room…I can help students while the others play with a video, or we can even try centers with the videos in the future. There’s even the possibility that they could practice at home with the videos if they were contained in a non-shareable private/walled garden environment.

So…here is my creation of “Jumping Around” which is the last video that I’ll use before my students go for the White Belt of Recorder Karate. Look at the description of the video to know where to jump in the video.

Week 1 of Elementary

Well, I’ve just finished week one of my role as an elementary music specialist. I’m already starting to get an idea of what is going to work for me and what I need to do to structure my lessons. I’m not sure if this is usual, but our district doesn’t have a specific curriculum–only a scope and sequence (itself based on a curriculum we no longer use), and the curriculum I have available is from 2000.

Additionally, I am attempting to weave in Feierabend’s “First Steps in Music,” primarily in Grades K-2 (no pun intended) and to start Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method (MUCH more slowly) with 4th and 5th grade.

What is working so far is just singing…the main song we’ve learned is a theme song shown my Stephanie Leavell (musicforkiddos.com) entitled, “Hey, Hey, It’s Time for Music.” We’ll sing this every day the whole year as an introduction to class–and this week I’ll be recording some classes and dropping the video of the song on SeeSaw, which is now used by our district in grades K-5 (grades 6-12 use Schoology). 4th and 5th grade are DEVOURING the “forbidden pattern game” (S-Cubed), and I’m trying to find my own balance as as teacher. I see twenty different classes twice a week for thirty minutes each class, and travel four days of the week to teach one class in another school. I have seven different preps…K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…and combined K/1 classes in the other school.

There have only been a couple of challenging students so far–and even those are no worse than what I’ve faced for six years at a tough middle school position. It is quite a joy to work with ALL the students (almost all of them are in band or orchestra by choice in 5th grade). The toughest aspects is planning–sorting out what I want and need to do between the dated curriculum that I have, the First Steps, and anything else.

As I use technology in music education, a lot of my prep time is spent preparing music for a projector screen (I don’t want to use books). I’m also using some videos as brain breaks, but I also need to find videos to allow students to settle down again in an enjoyable way. I also plan to use apps as appropriate. My other goal is to find lots and lots of songs for my K and 1 classes to sing.

My goal is to get 3rd grade going with recorder this year; start 4th grade on recorder; and to get 5th grade going on ukulele. We also have a keyboard lab, which I’ll probably use with grades 4 & 5…again, there’s no specific guideline about what needs to be taught on what instruments, other than a scope and sequence which is based on a curriculum we no longer use.

So…it’s a good start to the year, but very, very different for me. I hope you’re having a great start to your school year, too!

What are you looking forward to?

As we prepare for the 2019-2020 school year (and I’m fully aware that some of you have been back with students a couple of weeks already–we start with students after Labor Day), I’m making a major shift to the elementary classroom this fall. To complicate matters, I’ll be a crossover (I understand this is pretty normal), one of my schools is a Spanish immersion school (I’m actually very excited about that), and our district is VERY loose when it comes to music curriculum.

On the positive side, I managed to find the teacher manuals for one of the early 2000’s elementary music curriculums that our district owns, so I have a starting point to plan some lessons at the beginning of the year. Our district does have a curriculum map which outlines what skills are to be taught each year, and we also have a strong commitment to standards based grading.

Last week, my family was on an extended vacation through Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains (a bit of North Carolina and Georgia as well) with my wife’s extended family. One night we spent some time with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and they asked us, “What are you looking forward to this year?”

The question really took me by surprise, as I haven’t really been looking forward to anything, really. Over the last years, my focus has been a combination of survival and project-focus. I haven’t been spending much time thinking about the future, or looking forward to things…it’s been a focus on the present and the urgent.

So, as I start what really is a new career in year twenty-four as a teacher, I’m looking forward to learning how to look forward to things again, and I’m putting that on a list of goals that I’m coming up with. I’m currently focused on WHAT to teach and drawing up some lesson plans, along with my ukulele video work (which is not my actual job). And I also want to make sure that I am spending time with my family. They graciously allowed me to lose myself in my own bubble of ukulele video work this summer, knowing that it brings me joy to make resources that help others, even if I’m not paid to do so. That was how I dealt with my feelings after being displaced from my previous school.

So…I’m learning how to look forward to things again.

How about you? What are you looking forward to this year?