The MET Podcast…what? A new episode?

Episode #014 of the MET Podcast is now available!

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Jamstik 7: A First Look

I was recently sent a Jamstik 7 by Zivix, a music technology company in the Twin Cities area, which is where I live and teach. I have been a fan of the company since I first heard about the Jamstik. This is my “first look” at the device. A video on the same topic follows the text of this blog post.

I should also note that this is my first attempt to use WordPress’s new web-based editor. I’m hoping that every thing will appear as it is intended!

The initial Jamstik was a guitar device that connected via a self-contained wi-fi network, and interacted with iOS devices to provide a MIDI connection to apps such as Jamstik’s own JamTutor app, as well as MIDI apps, such as GarageBand. Zivix had a focus–and remains focused–on meeting educational needs of musicians, although the focus has primarily been on the guitar and individual instruction. They have also created the PUC (you can see a recent review of the PUC and PUC+ on my friend, Paul Shimmons’ YouTube channel) which is a battery powered MIDI adapter that connects a MIDI device (USB or 5 pin) to an iOS device or Mac. The company has also created AirJams, a pick-like device that allows you to control an “air jam” session. Their early devices have been carried in some Apple Stores and some Target Stores, and their crowd-funding efforts have consistently been successful (And they have delivered on every product!).

Not too long after the original Jamstik came into being, Zivix released the Jamstik+, as Apple had introduced Bluetooth Low Energy MIDI. It made sense for the Jamstik to move to this new format. I was shocked at how quickly they moved to the Jamstik+, but it made sense to do so. Since that time, they have made it possible for people to use the Jamstik on other platforms, such as Android, and now universally on Chrome (Chrome had to adopt WebMIDI, and still does when Safari does not!).

This is my opinion, but I don’t know another company that has done so much with Bluetooth MIDI. Zivix is a clear leader in this field. There are a few adapters and (piano) keyboards here and there, but Bluetooth MIDI is underrepresented, and I wish that more companies would adopt it!

Last year, Zivix crowdfunded again for the Jamstik 7 and the Jamstik 12. These are seven and twelve fret versions of the device (the 12 is still in development), and there are a number of changes to the new Jamstik. The Jamstik 7 loses the rechargeable battery of the Jamstik and Jamstik+, trading it for 4 AA batteries. The Jamstik 7 is supposed to last 50 hours on those batteries, and will work with rechargeable batteries (hint: check out Amazon’s rechargeable or regular batteries). The Jamstik 7 also does away with the Jamstik and the Jamstik+ IR sensors, which were used to sense finger placement, and replaces those sensors with an optical sensor. The Jamstik 7 also moves the “D-Pad” to the center of the device, making it more friendly for left-handed players, and completely redesigns how the strap is attached, as well as other accessories, such as a guitar “body” which is available as an accessory. I really like the new strap connectors, and I was always a bit nervous about the old ones on the Jamstik/Jamstik+.

The sensitivity of every string is adjustable. Out of the box, I couldn’t get recognition of my strums on all six strings, so I played with the “presets” for sensitivity until things worked better. I fully admit this may be user error, as I am used to strumming ukuleles with a pick. That said, it seems to me that the Jamstik+ and Jamstik did a better job of recognizing my strums out of the box. I imagine that future firmware updates will continue to adjust sensitivity issues and as previously stated, you can adjust the sensitivity through the iOS app (and I’d imagine, the Android app).

I had better results interacting with the Jamstik 7 with a cable connection to my MacBook Pro, and the Jamstik 7 worked great wirelessly with my iPad Pro (once I adjusted sensitivity settings). The Jamstik app is wonderful, and would be so incredibly valuable in a class guitar setting. If I taught class guitar, I would get a Jamstik and an iPad to use in class, particularly so I could move around the classroom wirelessly and teach. You could use a Jamstik 7 for individualized education (advanced students or students needing remediation). The Jamstik 7 would also be great for creating resources for students, in an app like Notion.

I did a little work on Notion with the Jamstik 7, which did a great job of interpreting individual notes as played into the app; but playing chords resulted in a mess on the tablature. I’m not quite sure how to fix the issue, but I’m sure there is some way to do it.

In talking with the company, I was reminded that the first fifteen lessons or so, included with the JamTutor app or play.jamstik.com, really cover the basics of playing guitar. If you are successful with all fifteen lessons, you can start studying with a human teacher and have a solid foundation for future lessons. Considering that lessons are often $30 to $45 for a half hour, the price of the Jamstik 7 is more than covered through the resources that come free with the device. And at that point, you will want to buy a guitar, and I doubt you’d want to get rid of the Jamstik, as there would be other opportunities to use it (e.g. GarageBand, other MIDI apps, composition, etc.).

In summary, as a part of a “first look,” the Jamstik 7 is a winner. For music education, the Jamstik and Jamstik+ were also winners. The Jamstik 7 packs new technology into an already successful product, and it works great. The only surprise for me was the move to AA batteries, but that is an easy fix with rechargeable batteries.

As I recently posted, Zivix is offering a substantial discount to educators, students, first responders, and members of the military. For more information, check out their post on the discounts (link). Want to learn more about the Jamstik? Visit jamstik.com!



Education and Military/First Responder Discounts on the Jamstik

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As previously mentioned, I was kindly sent a Jamstik 7 by Zivix this past week.  I had a chance to use the Jamstik 7 for a while today, and I am not yet ready to write a full post/review on the device.  It is clearly the next generation of the Jamstik, not only in terms of being the most recent release, but in technological advances.  It is different than the Jamstik and Jamstik+, and I want to spend some more time with the device before writing more about it.

I will say that the Chome-based play portal (https://play.jamstik.com/) works well (I was using it with my MacBook Pro).

The news that I wanted to share tonight is that Zivix is offering special pricing for teachers, students, first responders, and military personnel.  They have a special link set up for the discount: https://jamstik.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360021334732.  Educators will receive a 20% discount, and students will receive a 15% discount.  And I also want people to know this is not a referral link that sends a commission my direction.

Although I no longer teach guitar classes (I currently teach ukulele at the middle school level), when we opened my last school (2009), a high school, we made sure that guitar, music history, music theory, and music technology were courses that existed in the school.  I taught class guitar levels I & 2 each year, and I would have LOVED a Jamstik to teach with.  First of all, the Jamstik is portable (running bluetooth to iOS in particular), allowing a teacher to easily move throughout the room–which is a necessity in a classroom guitar setting.  I bought a Washburn Rover “backpacker” guitar when I was teaching so I could move around the room!  Second, the Jamstik can project over a room’s sound system (via an iOS device attached to the system through the headphone jack).   With such a setup, not only could every student hear what you were playing–you could also use it to help students tune by ear at the start of class.  Third, the Jamstik can show which fingers are being pressed on the fretboard, and then project that on a large screen (again, through the iOS app, or via USB cable and the new Chrome web interface).

And those three aspects do not even discuss the concept of using the Jamstik for differentiated instruction (advanced or remedial work).  However, those three aspects would have made teaching guitar SO much easier.

So–many thanks to Zivix for offering educator, student, first responder, and military discounts.

And more about the Jamstik 7 later!

 

 


Something in the mail…

I received something today…

Our school has an orchestra concert tonight, so I won’t get a chance to interact with this until the weekend. Look for a review in a week or so!


App Update and Happy New Year

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It is New Year’s Eve, and we have had a very mellow day, and we are also going to have a very mellow evening.  We’ll all be in bed long before the New Year arrives.  2018 was a year full of a number of major life moments for me, which I will write about later.  As 2018 closes, I am very thankful for family and friends and the role they have played in my life.

I wanted to post about an App Update to one of the tools that I use with my choirs early in the year.  The app is called “In Tune” and it is a game that asks you to determine whether a second pitch is sharp or flat compared to a first pitch, on an increasing level of difficulty.

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I use Dale Duncan’s “S-Cubed” method for sight singing (highly recommended), but I modify the content using other tools.  For example, I use Sight Reading Factory to generate exercises for my students (based on Dale’s exercises).  This way, I can make a version that plays along with students.  The Sight Reading Factory versions are great for exams, and for dropping online so that students can take a sight reading assessment if they miss an assessment.  I start assessing during this middle part of the year, making sure my students have all had exposure to the method before making it actually “count” towards their grade.

Early in his method, Dale asks teachers to sing sharp and flat notes to their students to help them develop sensitivity to pitch.  This is an area where I don’t follow Dale, because I strongly believe that we should never sing something wrong intentionally in an educational setting.  I substitute three or four days of playing “In Tune” with my choirs in place of demonstrating flat and sharp for my students, and at the end of every two pitches, I ask students to determine whether the notes were flat or sharp (they vote), and we enter the majority’s vote into the app.

The two negatives of the app have been that you can’t replay pitches (sometimes the choirs talk, as the next notes start immediately, and they can’t hear the new pitches and you can’t replay them), and the pure tone can rattle in your skull—finding a correct volume can be a challenge.

The app hasn’t been touched in three years, but was updated this week.  I’m very happy about this, as you will now have the option to buy other sounds as a reference pitch for the app.

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Incidentally, my choirs always improve significantly over three days with the app (we meet every other day), and I think they get the point of “sharp” or “flat” versus singing “on pitch” in a more effective way than if I sing sharp or flat for them.

In the future, I may have students vote online for sharp or flat, instead of raising their hands, using any number of apps or services—including SMART’s new web-based tools (which were demonstrated to us in October and look amazing).

If you haven’t tried In Tune, I recommend it, and if you use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method, I think it is a nice alteration to his methodology.

As a note, In Tune is an iPhone App, so it runs in that odd magnified size on an iPad, and if you want to buy it on an iPad, you have to search for iPhone apps.

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Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2019 is stellar for you!