A big day for music technology…

Two major items hit the news today that have the potential to impact our lives as musicians and music educators.

The first is that MusicFirst introduced PracticeFirst, a new system that will allow green note/red note assessment for $6 per student, with additional titles being added for an additional cost (teachers can also provide their own literature, which is what I would do). I haven’t see or used the system (other than some screen shots at http://www.musicfirst.com), so I cannot tell you how the service compares to SmartMusic or Music Prodigy. I can tell you that the pricing does come very close to affordable for even my current situation where student socio-economic factors are an issue. $6 per year, for the same general ability to assess student pitch and rhythm, versus $40 for SmartMusic and $30 for Music Prodigy, is one heck of a deal. Furthermore, PracticeFirst is web-based (meaning any device, potentially including phones), and it is also supposed to assess tone. I still need to see what Weezic will release in this area. I would still love to see a buy-once app that didn’t have to rely on servers, as $6 per student is still nearly $2000 for my program. That is $10,000 over five years, and $20,000 over ten years. That is a significant investment, and SmartMusic and Music Prodigy would be more! Remember, you aren’t getting much content with PracticeFirst, but with advances in scanning, it is easier than ever to scan music, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be assessing full pieces of music…you should be selectively choosing the measures you will assess. For the cost savings over SmartMusic ($11,000 for my program), I can make my own assessments, plus as a choral director, I always had to make my own literature assessments anyway.

Again, we don’t know how PracticeFirst will compare with other programs, but it will be fun to find out.

As a side note, also check out the resources at www.odogy.com for additional green note/red note applications in music. There is a web application called CommunityBand, as well as a Recorder Application, a Music Share Application, and a Duet Maker. All are priced very affordably for music education.

Finally, the handwriting music on a tablet space has really heated up. The Sibelius Blog covered StaffPad, a handwriting app mainly for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Microsoft Surface 3 [The Pro is the better option with the larger 4:3 screen], about two weeks ago. This week, Neuratron announced its pending third version of NotateMe for iOS and Android. Today the Sibelius Blog broke the news about TouchNotation, a new handwriting music app from Kawai (the link is a referral link. If you buy the app from the link, I will relieve a 7% commission from Apple, but the cost is the same, and the company makes the same amount). The app was live in Japan first, and there is a free version available as well. The app is on sale for $7.99 until the end of April, and has various in-app purchases. I have only played with the app for a few moments, but it seems to work well enough, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to add lyrics (not so great for a choir director or general music teacher).

I am intrigued by the entrance of Kawai into the app space. NotateMe remains the app I would recommend on iOS or Android, as it allows for the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, which is worth its weight in gold. And I don’t have a Surface Pro 3 (I would buy myself a new MacBook and an Apple Watch first), so I have not purchased StaffPad (which would not work so well on my Asus T-100 tablet without an active stylus). But it seems that StaffPad has captured the excitement of a number of musicians and executives at Microsoft. I have seen a number of musicians who are buying a Surface Pro 3 just for StaffPad. On a similar note. I know musicians who bought iPads for forScore and unrealBook.

I also hope you didn’t miss the news about the next version of Sibelius (8?) that will also utilize the Surface Pro’s active stylus. It seems that if you are a musician who uses Windows, it is time to buy the Surface Pro 3.

So…that’s the big news today…PracticeFirst, odogy.com, and Touch Notation, as well as mention of StaffPad, NotateMe 3, and Sibelius. Aren’t options wonderful?

JamStik in the Classroom

I am very excited to see where this goes. Definitely a blog to follow…



One Step Forward…and Two Steps Back

In mid-March, I was happy to receive this e-mail message from Sheet Music Plus:

Sheetmusicplus is finally moving away from the “one-time” digital print model to PDF format, and doing away with their iPad app.

This is a huge win for everyone, from sheetmusicplus to the consumer. I think that sheetmusicplus will experience higher sales, higher customer satisfaction, and lower cost of operations (I had to call in a couple of times when printer issues caused a misprint [even after the “test”] and the print count had to be reset). They also don't have to maintain their app, and their product can be used on ANY platform. As for the consumer, they now have choice when it comes to displaying the music (e.g. using forScore or unrealBook instead of the sheetmusicplus app), and for those wishing to use digital music, they don't need to print it out first and then scan it in again. As a further bonus, since the music is in PDF format, it may be readable with PDFtoMusic Pro, which can convert a PDF generated by a music notation program into a MusicXML file. Most of us want MusicXML files so we can manipulate music or make accompaniment/rehearsal files–most of us are not selling scanned/recognized music on the black market to make a living.

To date, none of my purchased scores have been converted to PDFs. I was going to see if I could convert a sheetmusicplus PDF with PDFtoMusic Pro–but I cannot test that yet.

Again, the move to PDF away from having to print a digital copy or use a proprietary app is a wonderful change in the industry.

And then this e-mail arrived this past week from Alfred, one of the large music publishers:

Alfred went forwards in terms of technology (Hal Leonard has been offering their own system, SheetMusicDirect, for some time) by offering Total Sheet Music, but in terms of usefulness, this model of distribution–print to use or use a proprietary app–is the wrong direction for the industry.

As a teacher in a 1:1 setting, it is hard enough to keep students in the app you want them to use. When each publisher has their own app, a nightmare scenario is created where choir members have to change apps for songs from different publishers. Furthermore, the interaction of every app is different. Most of these services still don't have a way to purchase or distribute a library for students. And from a financial aspect, the companies are still getting face value for the music (when my local music store gives us 10% off on paper music). So as it stands, there is no reward for moving to digital, other than for the company, which gets to keep all of the profit and shares nothing with the local economy. Don't get me wrong–these companies deserve to make money–but when you change the delivery model to a digitial model, the economics change drastically.

I will work on my manifesto for the music publishing industry at another time–but what I wanted to share today was this related news from two different companies in the music publishing industry. I would rather see more of the first news than the second.


JamStik in Education…and the Campaign Continues!

As I said in a previous post, Zivix has always been focused on education, but they have been expanding their mindset from 1:1 guitar instruction to classroom instruction. The video features the MacPhail Center for Music, which is in the Twin Cities (close to the headquarters of Zivix in Minneapolis).

I only have one complaint about the video: it doesn’t go far enough in expressing how the JamStik can change guitar instruction.

As a music educator with licensure in both vocal and instrumental music, I am not afraid to say that guitar should be a part of every high school music program. That doesn’t mean that band, choir, or orchestra doesn’t have a place in the curriculum–but guitar does. This is a scary statement for a lot of music educators, as they fear losing students to a guitar class, or they fear that they will have to teach the class.

The JamStik is uniquely situated as the perfect guitar for classroom guitar classes. To use the device, you do need an iOS Device (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) or a Mac. That said, many schools (even Chromebook schools!) will have a classroom set of iPads or iPod Touches available which can be used with a set of JamStiks.

Once you have a device to link with the JamStik, you have a perfect solution for a guitar class. First, the devices never need tuning. Yes, you eventually need to teach students how to teach a guitar (or do you?). Second, the students are learning with real strings and real frets. Third, the environment is silent, and every student can hear what they are doing, as they would be using headphones to practice their guitar skills. Should you also need to hear what the student is doing, you could use a headphone splitter, or you could look at a solution like the JamHub (no relation to the JamStik) for multiple inputs at one time. Fourth, you can use Zivix’s JamTutor, or you can use other materials, such as GarageBand’s (Mac) guitar lessons, or you can even use a “traditional” guitar book. Fifth, although you need a place to store and charge the devices, the amount of space required is a fraction of what you would need for a set of acoustic guitars (and likely will cost a fraction of the cost of storage units). And last in my list (but not final by any means), the devices are extremely rugged. Our units are showing some scuff marks where you strum the guitar, but are otherwise in perfect condition. One student dropped a JamStik wth the guitar strap in place, and the JamStik landed on the peg that connects the strap to the JamStik. The peg will no longer hold in place on that JamStik, and that is our only mechanical error (and that is because of a student’s mishandling of teh device). Although we bought some extra strings, all of the strings are holding up and show no sign of wear, even though they are being used multiple hours per day.

Another important aspect of “traditional” guitar classes is teaching music literacy, which means reading music on a staff (in addition to reading guitar tablature). When I taught guitar classes, I would always have students who could play guitar and read tabs, but could not read music. Those students actually had to start at the beginning, for a very different reason than other students (learning to read versus learning to play). When they had “down” time, those students would often pull up a tab sheet and play songs from various webpages. The JamStik+ connects via Bluetooth MIDI, meaning that you keep an active internet connection on your device. This means that students will have the ability to access those tab sheets online, as they don’t have to sacrifice their internet connection for the JamStik.

The cost of a guitar and a case for a guitar class is under $200 (make sure to get a guitar with a truss rod…just trust me on that one), and plan extra money for new strings and eventual repairs. Once the campaign is over, I would suggest keeping an eye on Zivix for information on educational pricing, classroom sets, and other solutions. I don’t think Zivix can match “bargain basement” guitar pricing, but I would expect a discount below the $299 MSRP, and the promise of a device that may be more rugged and stand up better over time than a traditional guitar.

In my case, I am not teaching a “traditional” guitar course (specific students in my 8th grade classes are doing an independent study versus singing in choir), but I have taught those courses at the high school level in the past, and I would have loved to have had a JamStik at that time. By the way, every “traditional” guitar class only covers the first 5 frets (or less) of the guitar. There are a few guitar purists who insist that they need more frets (maybe they do), but I would guess that the JamStik’s capo feature would make playing in most keys a possibility.

As an instructor, I bought a Washburn Rover travel guitar so that I could easily navigate a classroom and help students. That guitar was about $120, although they list at $175. How much better would a JamStik have been for those classes…showing fingering using the open play feature on a screen, and walking around the room with even a smaller solution than the Rover.

So again, I have no arguments with the video–I would just love to see an entire guitar classroom, teaching “traditional” guitar classes, outfitted with JamStiks. If you are interested in the JamStik+ for yourself, you can still purchase one at a significant discount through their campaign.


Another iOS Device Repair Recommendation: Dr. Phonez

My family hasn't had a very good record as it comes to iOS repair. There was a Minnesota shop that I used successfully until an iPad wasn't repaired for more than two months, and it took a process to get the (poorly) repaired device back (including daily e-mails & calls that were never answered, BBB reports, and eventually calling the police in that community). That business is no longer in business, I am sad to say.


My previous iPad (4th Generation) suffered a cracked screen that I took to another local place to repair, and that repair was good. However, my iPhone 5 (previous iPhone) speakerphone stopped working, and the company was unable to do that repair successfully. That iPhone eventually was traded in to T-Mobile for our current iPhones. However, I cannot recommend that repair company because it was unable to follow-through on that repair (and follow-up calls were promised and never followed-up on).


We had a faulty iPod Touch, and sent it to a store in Iowa for repair, and that device was damaged by the company and replaced without any request from our part (for the cost of the repair). We felt we were dealt with fairly from that company, but the destruction of the original device makes me hesitant to recommend them for other repairs.


Well, my wife's 1st Generation iPad Mini stopped charging. I tried cleaning the charging port with no change–and even took the device to Apple, who verifed my conclusion, but they were unwilling to try to fix the device. As a result, they would sell us a refurbished unit for $199. Keep in mind you could buy a refurbished 2nd Generation (Retina) 64GB device from the Apple Store for $299, so that wasn't a good option, either. Incidentally, Apple's selling price for a normal refurbished 16GB 1st Generation iPad Mini without a trade in? $199. Not much of a deal there.


I checked locally, and no one was willing to tackle the charging port, but a company in San Antonio, Dr. Phonez, was. They came up with a Google search for “iPad Mini Charging Port Repair.” I bought the repair online ($89.95), sent in the device ($12 with insurance), and about a week later, it came back to us (their shipping/packaging is included in the price). The iPad Mini works and it charges, with all of its original data, for one-half the cost of an Apple replacement. I have looked the iPad mini over, and I can't see how they repaired it. An iPad screen (any kind) is very difficult to take off, and very difficult to take off without breaking. They did it. And there is no way that they replaced the port AND replaced the screen for $89.95.


Again, this was my first repair from them, and we had nothing to lose. If the iPad was unrepairable, it was unusable. So it was an all-or-nothing repair. They did not know that I am a blogger, and I am not receiving any commission for referrals.


But as of today, I can recommend Dr. Phonez. You can find them at www.drphonez.com.




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