2015 In Review

Hello, readers, and thank you for visiting Technology in Music Education this year. I have not been as active on the blog this year, which is partially because there have been fewer “major” advances in technology, and partially because I have been working my tail off at school. Sadly, even though I am working very hard for my students, I have never felt like I have made less of an impact. I am beginning to open my mind to other possibilities for my future, so if you know of a music technology company that would be interested in a education specialist, or a college position that would be choral/band/music education/music education technology, please send them my contact information!

As we reach the end of 2015, many sites publish “year in review” posts. I have been thinking about 2015 for a while, and here is my list of the Five Major Trends in Music Education Technology in 2015.

#1: The Chromebook Has Won. I have written about this topic a lot, and even published a book (available on the Kindle and iBooks Store) about the Chromebook. Just tonight, I read an article from Google for Education, lauding how much schools can save by adopting Chromebooks. No doubt about it–a school can purchase 3 to 4 Chromebooks for every iPad it could buy with the same money. Google also suggests that you will spend as much supporting an iPad as you will buying it, making it possible to purchase 6 to 8 Chromebooks for every iPad. Here's what the number generator said about my school's iPad rollout:

There is no way we have spent $364,000 on iPad support in our school, and certainly not $89,000 in deployment. I would guess that we have spent closer to $480,000 in hardware (slightly more), which includes apps. We do not have a full-time tech person in our building, and that person does not deal with devices directly. There is no way we have spent $450,000 on support. I would be shocked if we have spent $50,000 on support, or even $100,000 with our JAMF MDM included.

Now, just because the Chromebook is winning doesn't mean that it is a better solution for teachers or students. It just means that it is cheaper, and it is still easier to manage than iPads (Apple has made big strides in management over the past years). And in music education, where a clamshell device is a challenge to fit in our classroom–the Chromebook is at a disadvantage in our field. Most schools will not choose a device simply because it doesn't work the best in music education.

Additionally, the future of Chromebooks is still murky. While Google has promised future support of Chrome OS and new Chromebooks throughout 2016, they have not denied the reports that Android will replace Chrome OS as the single mobile operating system from Google. I have not seen any new Chromebook announcements over the past months. I think Chrome OS is on a timer, and that Android–with all of its issues such as a legitimate App Store and malware–will become the unified OS for all Google mobile devices. And if past Google practice is any example, I do not expect current Chromebooks to be able to be updated to the new Android OS. It will be slightly humorous to watch the reaction of schools that adopt Chromebooks in 2016-2017 when this happens.

#2: Developers Are Focusing on the Chromebook. When you take technology out of the classroom, it becomes easier for music teachers to utilize that technology. This year, we have seen some major development in programs that are coming to Chromebook because of their popularity in schools–but they are hedging their bets by also developing in HTML 5, meaning that their programs can work on any platform. Two examples are flat.io, a web-based music notation program that works with GAFE and SmartMusic, which obtained the company Weezic to be HTML 5 functional by the fall of 2016. While you can use either of these programs in your classroom, students are more likely to use them out of the classroom, and will be able to do so on their Chromebooks or any other device. In contract, MusicProdigy, another player in the green note/red note programs, works on every platform but Chromebooks. Their concept is that students can complete their assignments on their phones (or their parent's phones) if need be. So while Chromebook has been a driver for a lot of change in the industry, these companies will not be hurt at all if Chrome OS becomes Android OS.

#3: Shocking Changes at Hal Leonard. this past year, I was shocked to see John Mlynczak move from PreSonus to Hal Leonard/Noteflight. I didn't understand why he did that until I saw Noteflight Learn. Noteflight was the first online notation program–and while Noteflight was purchased by Hal Leonard, it seemed vulnerable to flat.io. Noteflight Learn was introduced at NAfME's National Conference, and I finally understood why John moved companies. Noteflight learn is going to bring a number of new features to music and music education–and this has the potential of changing everything that we do in music for an affordable cost. The product isn't complete yet–but keep your eyes on the product.

On a similar note, Sheet Music Direct now offers Pass, which opens up thousands of Hal Leonard titles for a monthly or annual rate. Make no mistake about it–this action is connected to Noteflight Learn and what it is going to do for music education.

#4: The Incredibly Slow Adoption of Bluetooth LE MIDI. With iOS 8 in 2014, Apple paved the way for MIDI devices to connect to a Mac or iOS device via Bluetooth LE. I own (and owned) several of these devices, such as the JamStik+, PUC+ (both HIGHLY recommended), Miselu C. 24, mi.1, and the coming CME XKey series. I believe that there is a Korg keyboard with Bluetooth MIDI on the way, and that Windows and Android are going to incorporate Bluetooth MIDI into their operating systems (in 2014, Apple joined the Bluetooth standards advisory board).

I have used these devices (my C.24s were lost in Nashville, along with my PUC+, and the folks at Zivix were unbelievably kind to replace my PUC+) and Bluetooth MIDI is the real deal. No more wires, no more hassle. If you need a keyboard, make sure you have a Bluetooth adapter for it (e.g. The PUC+) or buy one with Bluetooth built in.

At NAfME, a Yamaha representative tried to sell me on the idea that a Yamaha keyboard which generated its own wi-fi network (like the original JamStik and PUC) was the way to go (along with a proprietary Yamaha iOS App). Nope–Bluetooth MIDI is it. As music educators, we need to demand that this simple solution be included with every electronic instrument.

It is important to note that Web MIDI is in development, and will allow HTML 5 programs to interact with MIDI devices.

#5: As Always, Some Wonderful Advancements in Software. If you need to scan music, Neuratron's products are a-ma-zing. I highly recommend PhotoScore Ultimate 8 if you own a Mac or PC, and if you don't, buy the $40 iOS or Android App NotateMe, and then add the $30 PhotoScore add-on. While no program will scan everything perfectly (as a tip, the better the camera on your phone as well as adequate lighting and a while background helps immensely), you will be shocked at the results you get from PhotoScore (either version). I can generally go from score to 99% accuracy digital score in less than an hour, including lyrics. (I scan, import to Finale, edit, and then export to Notion on iOS for export of audio). While I am still not a fan of SmartScore X2, which is the scanning app included with Finale (lite version), the latest version of SmartScore brought it to the level of PhotoScore 7–so that is a huge improvement as well. Avoid the iOS/Android app for now. Just for fun, check out MusicPal on iOS as well.

Quaver Music continues to make in-roads as an elementary curriculum, and it now has a strong showing at every music convention that I present at. If you are a K-8 teacher and you teach general music, you might want to see what they can do. To be honest, in an era where many vendors are scaling back their participation in music conferences (in the vendor area and sponsoring), Quaver has ramped up its efforts, and I love them for that. I still think the vendor area is the most important part of a convention for me, so I can see what is out there, and so that I can visit with representatives, hear questions from other teachers, and simply network in the area.

Music reading on the iPad continues to provide the best experience, particularly with the iPad Pro, which can now adequately show a band/orchestra conductor's score. forScore continues to be the leader in this category, and unrealBook is also highly suggested (have both on your device, just as a back-up. Trust me on this one). For fewer options, try NextPage. forScore now allows the Apple Pencil to be used for annotation without needing to select annotation (I believe the last used tool stays active). For in-rehearsal score annotation, this is going to be wonderful.

While Neuratron's NotateMe has offered music handwriting recognition for two years, StaffPad entered the world of the Microsoft Surface in 2014, and is favorably reviewed by many, including Philip Rothman of the Sibelius Blog. Interestingly, this app is streamlined for the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro. While it can run on other Windows tablets, only the Surface series can take full advantage of the app. With the addition of the iPad Pro, I wonder how long it will take the developers to expand their reach to iOS. There is no way that the Microsoft Surface can provide enough app sales to sustain a business for a category like music notation. This past fall, Notion began offering music handwriting recognition on its iOS app. It is an in-app purchase that is growing in features with every release.

So, in conclusion, it has been a good year for technology in music education. The continued growth of the Chromebook has led to the development of a number of open-platform solutions. There are exciting changes at Hal Leonard, which is the world's largest supplier of paper music. The changes at Hal Leonard should echo with other major publishers. While Bluetooth MIDI has been proven to be a success, hardware providers have been slow to incorporate the standard into new devices. And, as usual, the best apps for music and music educators have simply continued to get better.

At the end of 2015, I still believe that the iPad is the best solution for music educators. While a MacBook or Windows notebook may round out your experience–an iPad continues to be the best all-around solution for what we do. I am excited to get an iPad Pro (I still have much of an iPad Air 2 to pay off) and to see how the larger screen (and faster device) impacts my instruction.

And as I mentioned earlier, if you know of any job leads, I am beginning to be open to such a move in my life. And if you would ever like to hire me to come and lead sessions for your state conference, your local conference, or your school, please feel free to contact me!

I hope you had a wonderful 2015, and I am excited to see what happens in 2016!



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