My guest post: Stretching Your Technology Dollar

The folks at MakeMusic asked if I would write a post about getting the biggest bang for your buck with technology. I submitted that post, they were kind enough to clean it up, and it was posted yesterday. 

My only regret was that in the midst of daily teaching (ukulele heavy right now), I didn’t get around to taking a photo to be used in the article.

I think these are good tips, and I love that I was able to recommend some other sources as well!

Christmas Carol Book


This may seem a little late, but Muphos’ new iPad app, Christmas Carol Book, is now available in the App Store and it is free for a limited time.  The app apparently was hung up in Apple’s approval process because of Copyright concerns, but that has been resolved.  The app is a collection of carols (and some other holiday-related music like the Nutcracker and Jingle Bells).

You can download Christmas Carol Book for free for a limited time at this link.


2016 in Review, Best of 2016


As we draw near to the end of 2016, everyone is posting their “year in review” summaries.

While 2016 has been a terrible year for many, and while some bad things happened to my family and I in 2016, generally it was a pretty good year, and we end the year counting our many blessings.

The big story of 2016 in educational technology has been the dominance–or the reported dominance of the Chromebook in education.  Chromebooks sessions are the topics people are attending these days, and schools are buying a bunch of them.

If you have Chromebooks, the best solutions are going to cost money in the form of annual subscriptions.  The best Chromebook applications are generally the same applications that have been web-based on Windows and Mac for the past years.  Look at all of the products that are carried by MusicFirst, along with, The New SmartMusic, and SoundTrap.

The best device isn’t a device from 2016–it remains the 12.9″ iPad Pro.  We are awaiting a refresh of this model, but the new large iPad is ideal for music educators, particularly when paired with an Apple Pencil and AirPlay wireless mirroring in the classroom.

My favorite educational apps remain those that I use daily: Keynote, PDF Expert, Notion, forScore, unrealBook, Pages, Numbers, NotateMe (with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase) and GarageBand.

The two apps that I would recommend as “apps of the year” would be newcomers to the scene: Newzik and Sheet Music Scanner.  I have not made the shift to Newzik yet, but they are positioned well as a company that can read PDF files OR MusicXML files.  In other words, Newzik is ready for the next generation of digital sheet music.  Sheet Music Scanner is a game changer, as it is a relatively small app that is being aggressively updated, and does an incredible job scanning music (although it doesn’t scan everything).  As I have mentioned previously, if I have to choose one app for app of the year, it would be Sheet Music Scanner. Sheet Music Scanner completes the ability for me to scan, edit, and export music all from my iPad without having to touch my computer.

In terms of hardware, there haven’t been many new products for music education.  I am glad to see the growth (albeit slow) of devices like the CME XKey Air, wonderful bluetooth MIDI keyboards, and the Yamaha bluetooth MIDI adapters.  For bluetooth foot pedals and iPad stands, I would recommend AirTurn…although there are a few products from IK Multimedia.

In terms of full-blown notation programs, it has been a big year with a new product (Dorico), major updates (Finale 25 and Notion 6), and regular updates (Sibelius, StaffPad, and MuseScore).

And in classroom music, we have seen the introduction of Music First, Jr., and well as the continued growth and support from Quaver Music.

As we close out of 2016, I think we are fortunate to have the devices, accessories, and applications that are on the market.  For the most part, there is very little that I want to do with technology that I cannot do with solutions that are on the market.  It hasn’t always been that way.

I hope 2016 has been a good year for you (even if there have been challenges), and I wish you the best in 2017.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by (or subscribing to) and reading this blog.

As always, app links in my blogs are usually referral links that send 7% of the total purchase price (out of Apple’s 30% of the purchase price) to the “referrer.”  The developer receives the full 70% of the revenue from their app–so when you purchase from a referral link, you financially support this blog whose content remains free and not behind a pay wall.  Thank you for using these referral links!

Some thoughts about Weston Noble

I’m not a Luther College graduate, so I never studied officially under Weston Noble who died yesterday at 94 years of age.

He influenced my life in a number of ways.

My first introduction to Weston was as a college student.  My college choir, the Northwestern College Choir, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Port, sang at a regional ACDA conference. I had been struggling with my choice of Northwestern, as I had passed on going to the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University to go to Northwestern because of finances.  Two things happened at that conference…Lawrence also sang, meaning that my college had achieved the same level of recognition as that other school (you have to audition to be accepted to perform)…and after we sang, Weston came over and gave Dr. Port a huge hug and talked to him for a while.  Other professors from my school made it clear that the interaction we had witnessed was a very special moment.  All of this led to my acceptance of being at my college rather than somewhere else.  This impacted my own happiness and my impacted my openness to learn in new ways.

Over the years as a high school choir director, I had opportunities to see Weston work at the annual Dorian Music Festival and other venues.  Shortly after he retired, one of my former high school students ended up working with him for a year at Carthage College in Wisconsin (she was thrilled). 

I saw Weston direct expressively–and obtain results–from the smallest movement of his index finger.  Some of his warm-ups are still a part of my routine. I wish I could work in an environment where students could be called upon to demonstrate things for each other.  He scared the living tar out of students when he did that–but he always called on people that could handle it.  He was incredibly smart.  He was incredibly kind.  He loved what he did.  He wasn’t full of himself or his program. He lived his faith, and while the world is a lesser place without him, he is with his Lord and Savior at this moment.

When I studied for my Ph.D., I took a course called “The Art of Choral Conducting” at the University of Minnesota, led by Kathy Saltzman Romney.  One afternoon, she had Dr. Craig Kirchhoff (band director) come in to work with us.  He selected a hymn (Amazing Grace) and the class asked me to direct first–confident 32 year old that I was.  I directed it as I normally would–and afterward I stood there for 45 minutes (not joking) as he berated me (and the class) for conducting the hymn to a pattern.  It was a humiliating experience–and no one else would go up to conduct after me.  Maybe Dr. Kirchhoff had a bad day–and he certainly wouldn’t remember me.  Maybe I was just another victim in a long line of conducting analysis.  Simply put, significant damage was done to me (and others in the class) from that experience.

On our last day of the course, the Minnesota Chorale was on hand to work with each of the conductors, and eventually I had to conduct a section of a Faurè’s Requiem.  Our guest clinician was Weston Noble, and after the Kirchhoff experience, I was terrified.  But I pretended to be okay, and I got up and conducted.  The choir sang.  Eventually the movement ended.  Weston turned to me, and said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  Finally, I spoke up, “Is there something wrong?  Is there something I am supposed to focus on or fix?”  Weston looked at me, then at Kathy, then the Chorale, and said, “No.  It is just that your left hand expression is so lovely and so wonderful that I simply want to keep watching it.”

Wow.  The experience, as my colleague Joel Gotz commented, was cathartic.  It completely rebuilt my confidence after the very destructive experience earlier in the week. I do not think that Kathy put Weston up to that.  I still have the video from the experience somewhere.

I cannot discuss this in depth, but later in my life, some individuals (who had studied under Weston) made an effort to derail my career–and my faith, family, and that experience with Weston all helped me to make it through.  I will be forever grateful that Weston was our guest clinician that day, although I am sure he wouldn’t remember me.

Tim Sawyer referred to Weston Noble as the Yoda of the choral world…that was a perfect summary of his role for so many.  A true master and teacher of the craft. And incredibly kind and wonderful man without an ego (incredibly rare in today’s world of conductors ).  And the funny thing is that he was hired without a doctorate, and in today’s world would not even be considered for a job (even at Luther) without it.

To all those mourning Weston Noble, I am with you.  I promise you he is reaping the rewards of his  life this moment.

Sheet Music Scanner Update

Sheet Music Scanner

If you want to scan music on your iOS device (Music Optical Character Recognition), there are only two options worth investigating.  Both represent a minimal commitment versus traditional scanning.

Traditional scanning required a computer, scanner, and specific software in the $250 range.  There are two “major” scanning programs: Neuratron’s PhotoScore (8) and Musitek’s SmartScore X2.  From personal experience, I recommend PhotoScore as the best solution, although SmartScore X2 has improved dramatically.  If you are working with an existing PDF generated by a notation program, you may also want to check out PDFtoMusic Pro, another $250 app, that converts existing PDFs into MusicXML files.

If you have a mobile device, the leader in the category in Neuratron, whose app NotateMe ($40) can be used to write music by hand–but in my opinion, its In App Purchase (IAP) of $30 that adds PhotoScore to NotateMe is a game changer.  In many of my trials, my iPhone scans as accurately as Neuratron’s desktop/notebook program, at 1/3 the overall price.  There is also a free version of NotateMe, called NotateMe Now, which will let you try a single staff, as well as to scan a single staff.  It is also important to mention that NotateMe is also available on Android, and Neuratron really likes the Android platform.

Still, for some users, $70 for an app is too hard to swallow–even it if means a significant reduction in work load.

That is why Sheet Music Scanner took me by surprise when it added the ability to export a MusicXML file.  Sheet Music Scanner is a $4 app that allows you to convert music to be played.  That didn’t really meet any of my needs as a music educator, although I can see how it would be valuable to “amateur” musicians (i.e. musicians without college degrees that had to take years of theory).  This summer, the app added the ability to export data to a number of formats, including MusicXML, and this changed my entire view of the app.  It also turns out that Sheet Music Scanner can scan from photos, or open a stored PDF for scanning.  As of today, Sheet Music Scanner is the only iOS app that can handle recognition of a PDF (NotateMe requires a physical copy to actually take a picture of).

That app was updated today, and now allows for scans of longer documents.  Early on, I tried a 37 page Bach cantata, which crashed.  The program will now handle that document.  Additionally, the app now allows for transposition.  You can change the key on the fly; and furthermore, if you export the transposed song, it will export in that new key, too.  I just tested this on the same cantata–and it worked.  Sure, there are things I need to fix.  I am okay with that.  No matter what program I use, clean-up is required.

Ever have a song that you needed transposed on the spot?  Here’s your solution!

I also love that I can open a document from Dropbox to Sheet Music Scanner to Notion on my iPad.  This is one step closer to a world where a “traditional” computer isn’t needed.

Again, there are things that Sheet Music Scanner does not do yet (e.g. triplets) and may not do (lyrics).  That’s okay.  Most directors that I know want to scan music to do one of three things (they are not avoiding buying music–for people that do that, there is already an existing invention called the photocopier that has been used for the purpose for many years):

  1. Make rehearsal or accompaniment tracks
  2. Re-voice or re-arrange material for students (difficulty, voice change, instrumentation needs)
  3. Create assessments from literature in green note/red note software

If you want to scan with as much accuracy as possible, Neuratron’s products are what you will want to use.  For example, our orchestra teacher needed a bassoon part from a movement of one of Beethoven’s symphonies written for a Bass Clarinet.  With PhotoScore (on my iPhone), I was able to scan that part with a high degree of accuracy, including diacritical markings (accents, staccatos, dynamics), and my editing time was mainly entering multi-measure rests, adjusting some slurs, and adding symbolic crescendo markings.  There were only a few actual notes to correct.  Re-entering the score by hand would have taken hours–I was able to do it in less than 45 minutes with the NotateMe app, Finale, and Notion (I like to mass edit in Finale, and to do final editing with Notion).  This is a very different function than making a set of rehearsal tracks for a choir.

Remember…MakeMusic just removed SmartScore’s scanning out of Finale 25.  You likely need a way to scan music.  And I don’t know about you, but SmartScore lite always resulted in a mess for me.  Here is a $4 solution to replace that program with something that is already better.  Need more accuracy?  Neuratron is available.  I don’t feel bad about endorsing both products–in a world with eight well-known notation programs (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, MuseScore, StaffPad, Noteflight, and and many less known programs, there is certainly room for two or three scanning apps.

If you don’t own it yet, Sheet Music Scanner will be a wonderful tool in your app collection, and it would be my “App of the Year” for 2016.  The developer keeps improving the app and $4 is a cup of coffee in today’s world–go download it today.

As always, app links in my blogs are usually referral links that send 7% of the total purchase price (out of Apple’s 30% of the purchase price) to the “referrer.”  The developer receives the full 70% of the revenue from their app–so when you purchase from a referral link, you financially support this blog whose content remains free and not behind a pay wall.  Thank you for using these referral links!