Populele Review


For anyone interested in the world of technology in music education as it pertains to ukulele, I was given the opportunity to review the Populele, an acoustic ukulele with an LED fretboard that connects via Bluetooth to a mobile app (iOS or Android). That review is on my ukulele blog (link).


PlayScore Pro

One of my long-term tools when it comes to dealing with MusicXML files is SeeScore, which is a (paid, but there is a lite version) app that is a MusicXML reader. When I have an issue with a MusicXML file, I often need to determine whether the problems are created by the program that creates the MusicXML, or the program that is opening the MusicXML. If a score opens cleanly on SeeScore, I know that the problem lies with the app trying to open the MusicXML file; and if SeeScore doesn’t display it correctly, the problem was with the program that generated the MusicXML file.

You might wonder why you would ever need this ability–but when it comes down to contacting a company for technical support, it is best to have all possible information available to you.

In my opinion, SeeScore is the best MusicXML viewer on iOS…but it lacks features that would make it a replacement for apps like forScore and unrealBook, as well as the new generation of MusicXML and PDF viewers, such as Newzik and Gustaf. I do believe that the engine from SeeScore can be licensed by the company and used by other programs, much like the handwriting feature used by MusicJot and Notion.

The company that makes SeeScore is Dolphin Computing, and they were kind enough to contact me a while ago and ask me to look at their scanning app, PlayScore. PlayScore comes in two versions…a Lite Version and a Pro Version. It is also available on Android Devices, much like NotateMe. You can find the PlayScore website at http://www.playscore.co.

The app can use a picture that you take, or select a photo from your camera roll, recognize it, and play it. You can adjust the tempo, and you can even create a playback loop on the screen. There is also an accompaniment mode (great for singers) that ignores a melody line and only plays the accompaniment. In my trials using my iPhone 6S, the playback is very accurate. PlayScore does not seem to recognize repeats or multiple endings, nor does it attempt to recognize lyrics.

Now, however, I have to talk about my use of scanning software, and in that context, where PlayScore needs to improve to be a solution for me. I recently prepared rehearsal tracks for our high school choir programs to use this fall. My tool Music Optical Character Recognition of choice is usually NotateMe, on my iPhone, as it scans music (with the camera) and pulls in most diacritical markings AND lyrics. It is incredibly accurate, even with large scores. There is clean up to do–but I am spared hours of entering things into a notation program. NotateMe is a $70 when you add the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, but it is a purchase that pays itself back in time within a few uses. Once I am done scanning, I can export the scan via MusicXML to Finale or Notion (ultimately, I use both) and I can honestly say that NotateMe is on my essential tools list. In truth, NotateMe didn’t arrive as a scanning app, but its scanning component is far more valuable to me than its notation component.

PlayScore has potential, but it is lacking in three areas that I hope that Dolphin Computing will address in future versions.

First, it can only work with one page at a time. Time is essential to me, so an accurate scan is important…but I typically want to scan, edit, clean-up, and then produce. I don’t want to keep going back between scanning and editing on the same song.

Second, you have to use iTunes to copy files from PlayScore to anything else…and to be honest, many users don’t even connect their devices to iTunes any more. When you have Apple Music (or Spotify) for any kind of music you would ever want, and you buy streamed movies from iTunes or Amazon…why would you need to connect to iTunes? (Side note: if you still use iTunes, don’t feel bad…but many people don’t). PlayScore should be able to export directly out of the app to another app, AirDrop, or e-mail.

Third, there is another app, Sheet Music Scanner, which is less expensive, and while it does not scan everything (e.g. Triplets, lyrics) you do get multi-page scanning, as well as the ability to import PDF files. I would like to see PlayScore add more features. If Dolphin does so, I will certainly follow up with another post.

In conclusion, PlayScore is a photo-based scanner that scans one page at a time with great accuracy–but needs some more features before I could use it in my work flow. PlayScore would work well for someone like my dad (now 72) who sings in a male chorus and does not play piano. He likes to practice his part, and could use his iPhone and PlayScore to work though a score and practice on his own. You may recall that I reviewed the app What’s My Note, which is another intriguing app that scans music and allows you to play any note by touching it. PlayScore would be a better fit for someone who wants to hear all the parts at a set tempo. PlayScore might be the app you are looking for–and if so, you can buy it today on the Apple App Store or the Android Play Store.

Reeling a little this evening…

Today I presented on the subject of iPads in Music Education for the Wisconsin Center for Music Education. We covered a lot of territory today, and as usual, the later afternoon becomes a challenge with planned work/reflection time. I am very thankful for those that attended today's session (tomorrow is Chromebook day)…all of them elementary music educators. I have no problems presenting…but part of me wished that I could have flown out Amy Burns for the day…I heavily recommended her resources as well as Katie Wardrobe's resources!

I was thrown completely off my game when one of the workshop attendees mentioned that a bunch of my elementary music apps were no longer on the App Store.

As I have mentioned before, I plan to update all of my books when iOS 11 comes out. That is when I will painstakingly go through every link to make sure that apps are still available. I do have a list of apps on my website…and it was just shocking to realize that so many apps were just…gone. One of the iPad's strengths has been the abundance of quality apps, many at no cost or low cost. Granted, plenty of web apps have disappeared, too (do any web apps from the original iPhone still exist?).

Don't get me wrong…there are still plenty of wonderful resources for the iPad (and Chromebook), and some stellar resources, such as forScore. I still think that forScore (or unrealBook) can completely change the instruction in any music class.

Still–the unannounced disappearance of apps unsettled me. I think it might be related to the upcoming iOS 11 and companies deciding to abandon a product instead of updating it. #sad. I need to update my web list!

A few minutes after the workshop closed, I received notice that none of my TMEA sessions were accepted this year (One on iPad, one on S-Cubed, two on ukulele). That is disappointing, but I have been accepted at TMEA several times (including sessions that I had to decline last year as I presented a number of sessions at the Maryland Music Educators Association the same weekend), and I have previously been declined at TMEA, too. The only sad part is that I have scaled back my presentations as my school was no longer giving me days off to present (they have never been asked to pay for travel, housing, or registration fees), and I was not sure what our new principal would think–so I had only applied at TMEA this year. If you had hoped to see me somewhere in 2017-2018, you'll have to come visit me at my school in Minnesota.

And now…I just received an e-mail from Chromatik that they are closing their services on Monday. That adds to my "reeling." Chromatik started off as a service that would display (and sell) sheet music, as well as offer annotation and group distribution. Funding was made possible with angel investors. It was used on "American Idol," and I had high hopes for the service. They even offered a promo that if you had a certain number of students sign up, they would send you an iPad 2. I did that at my prior school, and that iPad is still in use. Later, Chromatik took a turn, offering sheet music linked with video for all kinds of tunes, with a subscription model. It became a web-based service, and I had continued to talk about it–although I didn't use it very often myself. I still wish it would have continued to exist and improve in its original form, as nobody still has the group distribution model worked out (although Newzik and forScore have some elements of those models). People at Chromatik, thank you for making a "go" of it, and I wish you all the best in your futures.

The other day I wrote a tweet and said this:

Here is the challenge as a music education technologist: there is little new to report on, yet the profession, as a whole, hasn’t adopted the old stuff.

I really feel this is true. The iPad is no longer the "hot commodity" in music education, yet it is about to undergo a major transition with iOS 11 making it easier, better, and faster. The apps are still world class, and some of them exceed or improve on the abilities available on other platforms, often at a better price point. I still believe that the iPad is the best platform for music educators (note: not the only platform), and I would love to see every music teacher (that wanted one) have an iPad (preferably the 12.9" iPad Pro) for their instruction, regardless of what their students have or or are given. Again…forScore (or unrealBook) alone justifies the device. Having apps like Notion, Sheet Music Scanner, Notate Me, Luma Fusion (and more) just sweetens the deal.

Tomorrow is Chromebook day. I'm not against Chromebooks, and I want to help teachers use whatever device they or their students have. The Chromebook has improved a lot, and is so much more useful in music classes. Most of this is thanks to paid services (education versions), such as Noteflight, flat.io, and SoundTrap (and many others carried by MusicFirst, which is also brilliant). Android is coming (in fact, it is already on many Chromebooks), although there are issues to work out in an educational model.

That said, Android isn't iOS when it comes to music education, and neither is Chromebook. The iPad still has a very important place–and not just because I like it. It just does more and it does it better. I just have to hope that we don't ignore it as a profession, as most music educators still haven't had a chance to see what it can really do!

Bandmate Chromatic Tuner

Every now and then, I get an e-mail from a developer about their app (as a note, when the e-mail comes from the developer and not a PR firm, it makes me more likely to pay attention to the app. There are four of five blogs [in total] that discuss apps for music education, and all of us link to each other. It doesn't take that long to reach out to us). Not all apps are easily applicable to music education, and I choose not to blog about some apps, particularly when I don't see the connection to classroom music (which to me also includes band, choir, and orchestra).

The app I would like to bring to your attention today IS an app that is applicable to music education, and it is free without ads. It is a tuner called Bandmate Chromatic Tuner.

From the developer:

My name is Justin Dickson. I am a middle school band director in North Carolina. I wanted to tell you about an app that I designed. It is called Bandmate Chromatic Tuner, available for iOS and Android. It is free, with no ads so it is safe for classroom use. It is a chromatic tuner that displays your note on a music staff. It is the only tuner that does this. Since launching in August, it has had over 36,000 downloads. It has been a game changer with my beginners. Being able to see what note they are playing has made it so much easier to learn how to read music and play the correct notes on their instruments. Bandmate is set up for every instrument that you find in school bands and orchestras, and handles transposition without the user even needing to know what transposition is. In other words, Bandmate is an app that you can use on your first day of beginning band / orchestra with basically no explanation or set up time from the teacher. Download it, turn it on, and go with your lesson.

The unique element of this app is that it is a tuner that visually shows the pitch that is being played on the staff (with transposition in mind), unlike other tuners that show only the frequency. The only other app that comes to my mind that shows the pitch that is played is Magic Stave MIDI Recorder (or Magic Stave Free), but that app isn't a “tuner first,” are still iPhone apps (universal iOS versions are coming), and the free version is ad supported.

I know there is a HUGE following for TonalEnergy Chromatic Tuner and I am NOT suggesting that you “bail” on that app. Sometimes it is nice to have multiple tools in the toolkit, and Bandmate is a nice addtion that is straightforward for beginning students (and beginning technology users) [As a side note, also check out Band Tools].

So…if you tune instruments…go download Bandmate Chromatic Tuner!


More on the iPad vs. Chromebook Debate

Tim Holt’s recent article on EdSurge resulted in a lot of debate, including this recent rebuttal (pro-Chromebook). You can find the rebuttal by Joshua Kim at https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-06-30-3-reasons-why-chromebook-beats-ipad-in-1-1-programs

Here are Kim’s main points:

Reason 1: Chromebooks are for Creating, iPads are for Consuming

Kim’s main point is that the Chromebook has a keyboard attached to it, again, something that makes the device generally useless for most music programs.

And knowing the number of apps that can be used for music creation, where doing so is very limited on a Chromebook, music education lives in a reverse parallel universe from the rest of education. But then again, any subject without desks would feel the same way.

In truth, the argument that iPads are for consumption is tiring; and if I was a Chomebook apologist, I would be upset that it was implied that the Chromebook wasn’t good for consumption either (Yes, you can use Netflix on a Chromebook, too). Addtionally, the first touch screen Chromebooks are out, too, which may lead to similar ways of interacting with apps on a Chromebook as on an iPad.

Reason 2: The App Versus the Web

Kim argues that the web ecosystem is better for education. HTML 5 apps are still not mature, meaning that can make more developed apps for iOS or Android, versus what can get on a web app. Furthermore, web apps eventually need to be profitable, meaning that they need to sell annual subscriptions (most common) or be ad driven (dangerous at school…how do you control what apps are seen?). Most iPad apps…in music education…are buy once, use forever (or at least for multiple years–usually at a 50% discount). iOS developers are also very open to feedback, meaning that they are willing to add features at the request of paying users whereas web developers may not. Again, in music education, the app ecosystem is better…and web ecosystems that run on a Chromebook tend to also run on an iPad (e.g. NoteFlight).

Reason 3: The Google Ecosystem for Collaboration

Kim’s argument is that Chromebooks are better for collaboration. iPads can, for the most part, be used in every collaborative way that a Chromebook would be used. Furthermore, iPads can be mirrored via a dongle, Apple TV, or computer program…with new peer-to-peer mirroring without wi-fi this fall. I was never much of a fan of group projects in school, as I usually ended up doing the work for the entire group (to save the grade) or in self-selected groups, we would finish days before other groups. Music is collaborative in a others sense–everyone interacting with each other to create musical excellence, which at its core doesn’t even require technology.

Again, until we see a Chomebook tablet (again, unlikely as Google is still committed to Android tablets), a choice of Chromebooks in your school is a statement that the “core” matters, and that music and other “electives” don’t need technology integration in your school. I do support a hybrid model of Chromebook carts and 1:1 iPads, with the option of students checking out Chromebooks overnight. My guess is that many students would not take advantage of that opportunity with 1:1 iPads.

Sadly, Mr. Kim’s article focused on (hard to believe that. I would use this terminology, but it is accurate) old technology stereotypes, and ignored some of the existing positives of Chromebook, such as IT management, cost, and upcoming features and connections with between Chromebooks and Android L.