Bringing Recorder to the 21st Century

A couple of years ago, I was a guest on the OokTown Podcast, as the host, Stuart Yoshida, had mentioned in a previous program that the ukulele should replace the recorder. While I love (and I mean LOVE) the ukulele, I had fond memories of recorder, and I see its value in teaching the ability to read notation, to allow people to make music, and to prepare students for the possibility of band. So I wrote Stuart about this, and ended up being on the show, defending the recorder.

Fast forward to Fall 2019…I am now an elementary music teacher, preparing to teach recorder for the first time. I’m thrilled to start recorders soon. We have taken orders for student recorders (incidentally, we’re going with Peripole Halo Baroque Soprano Recorders), they’ll arrive soon, and we’re going to start. While I have heard about the method for years, we’ll also be following the Music K8 Karate Recorder program.

That said, there are some things I wanted to add, and some other resources, such as songs out of Don Muro’s “Easy 8” and “8 More ‘Easy’ Songs” that fit in the Recorder Karate sequence.

What I’m doing is I’m bringing these materials into video format to use in class, with multiple versions of the song in the same video (e.g. demo, performance with moving boxes, performance without moving boxes). I’d love to be able to share the videos–but I cannot as the material is copyrighted and doing so for my personal use is okay–but I cannot share these on YouTube, as I do my ukulele materials. With the ukulele materials, the copyright holder receives the revenue. There is no such format for Music K8 to receive that ad revenue…so this work stays private…and NOT on YouTube at all.

With rare exceptions…

As I am supplementing materials, I am occasionally going to have to write or create my own “song” to fill a need where Recorder Karate or Don Muro’s books have a gap. For example, I wanted some songs to lead up to the first belt of Recorder Karate, and Don Muro’s books introduce rhythms and meters for the note “G” that Recorder Karate does not approach until a later time. I can still use Don Muro’s work later…but I can’t use them when I want to. So I had to write my own song.

And since I wrote my own song, I can publish that on YouTube, so that you can see what I am doing. I wanted students to practice jumping between B, A, and G, so I wrote a little melody using the note values they had been introduced to, created an accompaniment with iRealB on my iPad, recorded myself on the recorder via GarageBand on the iPad (don’t be too harsh on my playing), and made a video. The only thing I included from Recorder Karate is the second slide showing the notes and rhythms, as I wanted the same font for all the videos with this material…but I have modified this material as well.

I am going to have some challenges ahead…I need alternative songs for the religious material in Recorder Karate (When the Saints, Amazing Grace, Ode to Joy) as well. I will give students the choice to play the existing songs in the method or to play an alternative song (I’ll just say that religious songs have been a hot topic behind the scenes in our district as of late).

Music K8 has a ton of great resources…I loved their ukulele song packs as well, and asked them if they would like me to make play alongs of them…and I never heard back. I’d offer them all of the videos I make of Recorder Karate–but I’m not sure they are offering that format.

I’m convinced that the use of video in instruction is essential in today’s world–our students are learning so many things through video, and it meets them where they are at…and videos like these can help bridge them to traditional formats as well. Yes, it takes time to create these videos…but it reaches them where they are at, and also become a force multiplier in the room…I can help students while the others play with a video, or we can even try centers with the videos in the future. There’s even the possibility that they could practice at home with the videos if they were contained in a non-shareable private/walled garden environment.

So…here is my creation of “Jumping Around” which is the last video that I’ll use before my students go for the White Belt of Recorder Karate. Look at the description of the video to know where to jump in the video.

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Week 1 of Elementary

Well, I’ve just finished week one of my role as an elementary music specialist. I’m already starting to get an idea of what is going to work for me and what I need to do to structure my lessons. I’m not sure if this is usual, but our district doesn’t have a specific curriculum–only a scope and sequence (itself based on a curriculum we no longer use), and the curriculum I have available is from 2000.

Additionally, I am attempting to weave in Feierabend’s “First Steps in Music,” primarily in Grades K-2 (no pun intended) and to start Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method (MUCH more slowly) with 4th and 5th grade.

What is working so far is just singing…the main song we’ve learned is a theme song shown my Stephanie Leavell (musicforkiddos.com) entitled, “Hey, Hey, It’s Time for Music.” We’ll sing this every day the whole year as an introduction to class–and this week I’ll be recording some classes and dropping the video of the song on SeeSaw, which is now used by our district in grades K-5 (grades 6-12 use Schoology). 4th and 5th grade are DEVOURING the “forbidden pattern game” (S-Cubed), and I’m trying to find my own balance as as teacher. I see twenty different classes twice a week for thirty minutes each class, and travel four days of the week to teach one class in another school. I have seven different preps…K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…and combined K/1 classes in the other school.

There have only been a couple of challenging students so far–and even those are no worse than what I’ve faced for six years at a tough middle school position. It is quite a joy to work with ALL the students (almost all of them are in band or orchestra by choice in 5th grade). The toughest aspects is planning–sorting out what I want and need to do between the dated curriculum that I have, the First Steps, and anything else.

As I use technology in music education, a lot of my prep time is spent preparing music for a projector screen (I don’t want to use books). I’m also using some videos as brain breaks, but I also need to find videos to allow students to settle down again in an enjoyable way. I also plan to use apps as appropriate. My other goal is to find lots and lots of songs for my K and 1 classes to sing.

My goal is to get 3rd grade going with recorder this year; start 4th grade on recorder; and to get 5th grade going on ukulele. We also have a keyboard lab, which I’ll probably use with grades 4 & 5…again, there’s no specific guideline about what needs to be taught on what instruments, other than a scope and sequence which is based on a curriculum we no longer use.

So…it’s a good start to the year, but very, very different for me. I hope you’re having a great start to your school year, too!

What are you looking forward to?

As we prepare for the 2019-2020 school year (and I’m fully aware that some of you have been back with students a couple of weeks already–we start with students after Labor Day), I’m making a major shift to the elementary classroom this fall. To complicate matters, I’ll be a crossover (I understand this is pretty normal), one of my schools is a Spanish immersion school (I’m actually very excited about that), and our district is VERY loose when it comes to music curriculum.

On the positive side, I managed to find the teacher manuals for one of the early 2000’s elementary music curriculums that our district owns, so I have a starting point to plan some lessons at the beginning of the year. Our district does have a curriculum map which outlines what skills are to be taught each year, and we also have a strong commitment to standards based grading.

Last week, my family was on an extended vacation through Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains (a bit of North Carolina and Georgia as well) with my wife’s extended family. One night we spent some time with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and they asked us, “What are you looking forward to this year?”

The question really took me by surprise, as I haven’t really been looking forward to anything, really. Over the last years, my focus has been a combination of survival and project-focus. I haven’t been spending much time thinking about the future, or looking forward to things…it’s been a focus on the present and the urgent.

So, as I start what really is a new career in year twenty-four as a teacher, I’m looking forward to learning how to look forward to things again, and I’m putting that on a list of goals that I’m coming up with. I’m currently focused on WHAT to teach and drawing up some lesson plans, along with my ukulele video work (which is not my actual job). And I also want to make sure that I am spending time with my family. They graciously allowed me to lose myself in my own bubble of ukulele video work this summer, knowing that it brings me joy to make resources that help others, even if I’m not paid to do so. That was how I dealt with my feelings after being displaced from my previous school.

So…I’m learning how to look forward to things again.

How about you? What are you looking forward to this year?

NinGenius Music Ultimate App (New)

I’m very happy to announce the release of NinGenius Music Ultimate, a new version of NinGenius that drills notes, fingerings, rhythm, and music theory for all instruments. The app builds off the original NinGenius apps, but adds some features and changes the appearance a little bit. Right now, the app allows for 8 users, and is the type of app that you would want for every student in a 1:1 setting–for $3.o0 (as of 8/20/2019). Looking at the comments, a few teachers are hoping for a version that can be used with unlimited students (as there is such a version for the original NinGenius). This should be coming as an optional in-app purchase in the future for those teachers looking for such a feature.

NinGenius is also in the final steps of preparing a release for Android and Chromebooks that run Android (check with your school district for compatibility), as well as a version that runs on the Kindle Fire. These should be available soon.

The current versions of the app will continue to be available for download and purchase.

There hasn’t been a lot of motion in the world of apps for music education lately, and this is a nice additional app (or improved app) to add to your tool box, certainly for elementary through middle school ages. And to be honest, I think your students will enjoy working with the app.

Summer 2019 MacBooks

A year ago, I was faced with the decision of having to replace my ten year old MacBook. Incidentally, I couldn’t find a buyer for my old MacBook (and didn’t want to place it on eBay), so my 11 year old son is continuing to use it to watch YouTube videos.

Right now, I’m standing in an Apple Store, and I remember how challenging it was to settle on a new MacBook. I wanted the Touch Bar, and 16GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive…pretty much the configuration I would recommend to anyone else (Touch Bar is optional, of course) that wants their MacBook to last until Apple declares it obsolete.

This time of year is a great time to buy a MacBook with the education discount, as well as a discount on Apple Care (I can’t recommend this enough), and a free set of Beats.

I couldn’t bring myself to buy the MacBook at this time of year (I really didn’t need the Beats…I wish Apple would offer other incentives, such as a discount on an iPad or AirPods or something else). So I waited for last summer’s MacBooks to hit the refurbished store, which took a couple of months. I then bought my current MacBook which is great–exactly what I wanted–at a lower cost than the education discount (but perhaps more expensive if you throw in the Beats promotion).

A couple of weeks ago, Apple refreshed their MacBook line up, making things simpler and even dropping a model (the 12″ MacBook).

As I look around, I think the MacBook to buy is the MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM and the 500GB hard drive for $1700. You can’t get into a similar configuration of a MacBook Pro for less than $2200. Or you can wait for these to hit the refurbished store, too. Or buy a 2018 MacBook Pro with TouchPad from the refurbished store, like I did.

If your heart is drawn to the $999 MacBook Air (Education pricing), go for it. It will work fine, but I do think there are benefits to more RAM and storage. And I also think Apple’s 2 TB iCloud storage plan is a pretty good deal…and I expect that value to increase in the future (someday they’ll offer even more storage for the same price). And don’t forget that if you have family sharing enabled, all the members of your family can tap into that 2 TB of data! iCloud had a bumpy start but really works well these days. There is a reason why Dropbox has so drastically changed its user experience!

And if you are a Windows user, I don’t expect you to buy a Mac–I’ve simply migrated to the Apple side of the technology world, and the Apple environment works best for the work that I do.

Some music hardware items: Jamstik Pro and Roli Lumi

One of the joys about the summer is that I have time to catch up on developments that I’ve missed over the last months.

If you are a reader of this blog, you are aware that I am very fond of Zivix (a local company) and their products, the Jamstik and the PUC. Zivix released the JamStik 7 earlier this year, and had promised a Jamstik 12 as part of its last crowdfunding effort. I realized that I had not heard anything about the Jamstik 12, so I went back to the original Indiegogo campaign to see what was up.

In late March, Zivix announced that it was going to stop development of the Jamstik 12 to make a 24 fret “Jamstik Pro” MIDI guitar, upgrading every backer of the Jamstik 12 to the Jamstik Pro when it is released. The Jamstik 7 is available for purchase. While I am sure that Jamstik 12 backers were disappointed by the cancellation of that device, I am sure they will be thrilled to own a Jamstik Pro for the same price, even with the wait.

The prototype Jamstik Pro (right) versus a full size Telecaster-type guitar (left).

One of the things that has always amazed me about Zivix has been their forward thinking approach. They are always thinking about the next device while completing the current device. They were one of the first–if not the first–companies to adopt Bluetooth LTE MIDI. So it isn’t surprising to me that they looked at the 12 fret Jamstik, and thought, “You know what, these extra five frets don’t really do that much more than the Jamstik 7. Let’s simply go ahead with our long-term plan of making a full size, 24 fret guitar.” I have no doubt that they will deliver on that new goal.

Guitar isn’t a primary instrument in my life–but it has been wonderful to have different versions of the Jamstik to use over the years. And as I’ve said over and over again, I wouldn’t teach classroom guitar again without one. When the Jamstik Pro comes out, I’ll do my best to visit the company and try it out (their product specialists are light years more capable players than I am), but I would think that guitar players would be ecstatic about this instrument and what it promises to provide. It will take some people by surprise to learn that they don’t need to tune a Jamstik Pro!

As Zivix has music education in its DNA, I fully expect that they will continue to develop devices that are affordable and accessible for schools and individuals just wanting to learn music. The JamStik 7 is already affordable, and the company offers special purchase prices for teachers, military, and first responders. And I’ll continue to ask where the Zivix ukulele is in the development process (I can’t help it…I bought two ukuleles this month).

The other interesting development in the music technology hardware world is a new keyboard on Kickstarter from Roli, called the Lumi. Roli has had some really amazing hardware over the last years, but it has always been out of the price range that I wanted to pay for it. They have the Seaboard and its various iterations, as well as their Blocks. The Garage Band Block is really intriguing–but it is a $650 purchase. That’s a lot to spend on an iPad or MacBook accessory!

The new device is Roli’s first geared specifically towards education–removing the barriers for a an individual to learn music–a kindred product to Zivix’s Jamstik. Just as the Jamstik offers JamTutor and integration with other apps, the Lumi will do the same for piano. The Lumi is still pretty expensive…$186 as a Kickstarter, but that is a fraction of the cost of a Seaboard, and the Lumi features very cool keyboard lighting (some people are going to buy it just for that, I’m afraid) and what appears to be solid software integration. The ability to link keyboards together brings me back to Miselu’s product C.24, which just seemed to disappear after it shipped (and whose modules never were developed).

The XKey Air (37 key) is still available for $300 (the 25 key sells for $199); and there is also Korg MicroKey units with up to 61 keys for about $200 (or less). For the budget minded, it’s hard not to choose the Korg MicroKey Air 49 for $180. The Roli Luma is at the higher end of the price tier (even as a Kickstarter) for a 24 key Bluetooth MIDI keyboard (not as much as the Seaboard Block for $350, however)…but you do get the cool light effects and what appears to be great software. If you’re interested in the Roli Lumi, you can back it on Kickstarter now!

Are you a Windows user? Here are a couple of apps for you to consider!

There was a time when I was quite literally anti-Apple in my life. That part of my past actually helps me when I meet people that are currently Anti-Apple. There was a also a phase in my life when I was trying to keep devices that ran all operating systems in my house, so I could help other teachers regardless of what technology they used. I don’t do that any more, and my time is spent on my iPhone, iPad, and 2018 MacBook Pro. I realize that I could install a virtual Windows machine on my MacBook Pro–but I have no need to do that.

Quite a while ago, I received information about a couple of Windows based music notation applications that are not available for iOS or MacOS. I thought I would let you know about them.

The three programs are Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora. The ultimate version of Forte includes all three applications. I have linked their YouTube introductions below (yes, there is English overdubbing, as the videos are originally in German). You can also buy each program individually. ScanScore will export to MusicXML, which makes it useful for just about any existing notation program, not just Forte.

You might ask, “Why, in the world of so many music notation programs would I want to buy another program?” The simple answer is: for ease of use and choice. The developers of Forte are trying to make Forte a very easy to use program, and choice is a great thing in the marketplace. And I will add that it is becoming a rare thing to embed a scanner in a music notation program.

The company has also developed iOS and Android apps that work with the Forte platform, including a scanning component for ScanScore, a Forte music reader, and a PlayAlong Orchestra that works with Forte files. Note: all of these iOS and Android apps are not stand-alone apps…you need Forte (and/or ScanScore) on your Windows computer to use them.

I can’t comment on how easy Forte is to use, or how ScanScore operates compared to other options on Mac or iOS, as I no longer have a Windows device…but if you are a Windows user, there are trial versions of the software which would allow you to see how Forte, ScanScore, and Bandora work for yourself. Forte Premium, at the time of writing, is $229, which is a great bargain if you find that you can work easily in Forte, and if the scanning features work well for you. The closest paid notation app I can think of is Notion, which does not include scanning software (I have not heard anything about StaffPad for a LONG time). If you try Forte, send me a note and tell me how the product works for you.

Forte Notation: https://www.fortenotation.com/en/

ScanScore: https://scan-score.com/en/