The importance of MusicXML in the 1-to-1 music education environment

With the release of Notion ($14.99), the usefulness of the MusicXML format has taken on a new meaning for musicians and music education.  There have been a number of earlier iPad apps that have supported MusicXML, such as Symphony Pro ($14.99) and SeeScore ($9.99).  Symphony Pro was the first true music composition application for the iPad, but it has some stability issues (that will hopefully be fixed in the next release of the software), particularly (in my experience) when importing MusicXML files.  SeeScore is a nifty program that displays MusicXML files as “sheet music,” and is scalable for size (to a point) and can adjust the key on the fly.  The latest version of the app scrolls rather than turns pages, which is not a feature I am crazy about (others may be), and it lacks the ability to annotate on the music directly.

Notion brings professional level playback of MusicXML files above and beyond its primary function as a music notation application.

In the past, MusicXML has been one of the only ways to translate music between platforms, primarily Finale and Sibelius.  2011 saw Sibelius 7 finally incorporate MusicXML import and export, and it also saw MakeMusic purchase Recordare, the developers of the MusicXML format.  There is a huge list of programs (over 150) that either read or write MusicXML files.  This list includes the “big composition apps” of Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore (free), and Notion 3.

With Notion for iPad, I can now import a MusicXML file I’ve created in Finale and adjust it on the fly to accompany a choir, singer, or instrumentalist (I currently cannot export an audio recording from Notion for iPad) I can create files in Notion and export them to Finale or any other major notation software.  I can do some of this with Symphony Pro, but stability has been an issue for me (as much as I support their efforts) and Notion’s sound is better–in the format of 1.2 GB of data for the app (mostly sampled sounds).

Further, if every student has an iPad with Notion, they can either import a MusicXML file from our shared Dropbox account, or they can create their own Notion file from scratch.  This means that they can create their own accompaniment track, slowly removing the need for me to make individual tracks, and eventually any track.  Think about it: offering extra-credit to program a score into Notion for the entire choir–benefitting the student in terms of grade, experience, knowledge of the score, and helping peers.

I still remember taking a master’s level course with Mike Smith, former director of the Brainerd High School Choir and current director of the Concordia Chapel Choir, Männerchor, and Cantabile at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota.  In that course, Mr. Smith explained how his choir prepared a Bach Motet from a MIDI practice track made by a student.  How much better is a MusicXML file and the audio samples of Notion than general MIDI sounds of the early 2000s?  Exponentially better.  How much could that impact a choir’s preparation?  A lot.

I had the privilege to meet with another technology-minded person this morning, and much of the theme of our discussion was the shift to 1-to-1 technology-based education, and how students take control of their own learning.  Imagine…students designing their own music resources.

Doesn’t MusicXML offer us this ability in music education?  At any level (Couldn’t a 4th grade student in band figure out how to use Notion?)?  For any instrument?  And can’t any created file be imported by nearly any music program?  And don’t the sounds of Notion encourage experimentation?

MusicXML has the potential to change music as we know it–because of the iPad and this new music composition app.  Yes, MusicXML isn’t new.  But the potential for 1-to-1 initiatives with an app that is relatively inexpensive ($7.49 in volume) that sounds so good changes everything.

Note: Symphony Pro should also have the potential to have this kind of impact in the future.  As I’ve noted before, I like Symphony Pro’s interface over Notion’s (two hands), but it is definitely more “buggy” under its current release–and I doubt the sounds will ever be on par with Notion’s, which is Notion’s selling point.  As I’ve also noted before, I can see myself making MusicXML files specifically to import into Notion for playback or audio file creation (when that ability becomes available).

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