Category Archives: Cross-Platform

Cross-Platform

30 Song Videos in 30 Days

As with most music educators, the end of the school year, following the last concert, is an easier time of the year.  Not with classroom management, perhaps, but that was particularly true for me this year.  Instead of trying to find worthwhile activities for the last days, we went back to ukuleles and played through various songs.   This worked tremendously well.

 

Brian Ellison, a middle school Band and general music teacher, recently posted this tweet about using ukuleles…

Ultimately, this is what it is all about.  I have up to 60 students at a time on ukulele…but the involvement is the same.  And the bonus is that KIDS SING ALONG.  Watch the video again if you need to…you will see it.  Robin Giebelhausen (https://soundeducators.org) talks about the power of fooling middle school students into singing.

Some people are even using these songs with adult ukulele jam sessions!

If you are going to use these…I suggest planning ahead, downloading the videos you want (www.keepvid.com, but don’t get fooled by the misleading download options) rather than relying on Wi-Fi in a presentation!

About copyright…YouTube notifies us that songs are under copyright, they cannot be monetized (not the goal anyway), and any advertisements you see generate income for the copyright holder.  Only one song that I created (Faith! From “Sing”) was banned…and another educator created a version which is being allowed.  Who knows.

I have made a few of these videos in the past…and have been trying different approaches in doing so.

Early on, I was trying to make scrolling “sheet music” with accompaniments made with iReal Pro and Notion.  Later, I was using lyric videos from YouTube (see Dr. Reese’s “How To” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2n1Lb9TL9Q).

After our concert, I started making a few new songs and then just kept going.  I made videos of songs that my choirs had sung.  I made videos of songs that came to my attention that were fun (and sometimes challenging).  Eventually, I stopped using lyric videos and made my own Keynotes of lyrics and chords.

I have been working with John Baxter from ukefarm.com to develop some ukulele chord resources for music education.  Coming soon: Chordette for Education which is a program that allows you to use ukulele fonts in documents, keynotes, etc.  You can even do this on an iPad!  One of the fonts features colored strings to match the Aquila KIDS strings.

One of the challenges with ukulele is that many songs were written for ease of playing on a guitar.  E is a great key for Guitar.  It is a crummy key for ukulele.  Therefore, a lot of songs need to be “tweaked” up or down a half step or a whole step to be more accessible on ukulele (more than that, and the original audio really starts to suffer).  Sometimes the original key was OKAY, but a transposed key was more accessible.  In those cases, I started making two versions of a play along.

Pretty soon, I had a bunch of songs going with my format, and if the song was easy, I could make a video in an hour.  I had a new goal…make 30 unique videos (not counting multiple keys) in the month of June…one a day.

The songs have different purposes.  Some are standard ukulele jam songs.  One of the benefits of this approach to teaching ukulele is that you can teach kids with THEIR music.  However, they should also learn some of the standard songs used in ukulele jams so they can play along with players in other places (and in other age groups).  And as I said, some are songs that I like.

I wrapped that project up this evening with my 30th unique song of the month (June 22nd…ahead of schedule).   There are some special things in the last 30 days, such as a GREAT song by the Jive Aces called “Bring Me Sunshine,” jeremy messersmith’s “Everybody Gets a Kitten,” “Another Day of Sun,” me singing on a version of “The More We Get Together,” and tonight a very special video using the Bacon Brother’s recent video of a ukulele song they sang on their tour bus (had to figure out all the chords for the song…and included the original video).  The only dud, in my opinion, is Heart and Soul, but even that is okay…and it is interesting to hear the whole song…not just what kids play on the school piano all the time.  As always, if something isn’t of interest to you, don’t spend much time with it.

So, Ukestuff Play Along Songs (some have been around longer than this month).  The titles are clickable links to each of the songs I have created.  In the future, this PDF will be in the “Videos” page and regularly updated.  This version will remain static to 6/22/2017.

I also started another side project, which was to make an index of ALL the ukulele play along songs in this style…168 of them so far.  I am going to share that index as soon as I share it with the creators first.

What other songs are needed?  Religious and non-religious holiday music play alongs.  And then any other songs that you might want created.  Have a suggestion?  E-mail me.  If there is a YouTube video with the music, please reference that video–and of course, chord charts are useful, too.

I am not setting a goal of another 30 songs in July…but I will make some new videos…and there are some other projects that I want to get to.

Some might ask: aren’t you worn out from the year?  The answer is YES, and I will blog about that later.  That said, doing things like this renew my spirit and cause me to think deeper musically than I generally get a chance to do all year.  I have also had a chance to spend time with my kids, play ukulele at a Veteran’s Home, and participate in some local ukulele jam sessions.

This video will be cross-posted on ukestuff.info

 

 

Full Review: CME XKey Air and CME WIDI BUD


This is a long review, and I apologize for the length, but I am very fond of these items and they deserve some coverage.  If you want to read a very quick summary, check out my last post. I also had to publish an incomplete draft in order to add in-document links, so if you received e-mail notification about the post and it was incomplete, I apologize.

I love technology, and I love teaching others about technology in relation to what they are doing in their classrooms. I have a special affinity for technology that “changes the game” and makes technology easier to use or easier to incorporate into our lives. As a music teacher and a musician–there are few occurrences where I am bursting with excitement about a product. This is one of those situations.

This review is going to look at a CME’s XKey Air and the CME WIDI BUD. You can click on either of those last two links to skip to the section about that product, and there is a (20 minute) video at the end of the review.

If you want to buy these devices, visit the CME Website.  Whie the WIDI BUD website is “live,” at the moment, the only place to buy the WIDI BUD is B&H (This will change over time).  Special thanks to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for making these products available for this review and for the sessions that I will be presenting in the 2016-2017 academic year.

CME XKey Air (25 Key Model $199, 37 Key Model $299)

CME XKey Air 25

The XKey first came to my attention in late 2014, as a representative from CME (or more specifically, their distributor in the United States) contacted me about the product and their coming attendance at TMEA. While the company has been around since 1993, the current CME was formed in 2012. After reading some reviews on the Internet, I can’t tell when the original XKey came out (my best guess is 2014) as a high quality portable MIDI keyboard. The features of that keyboard included high quality materials, full sized keys, function buttons (instead of wheels), velocity-sensitive keys, and low-travel keys. While the keyboard can be used for performance, the target was portable studio and notation work–something it is perfect for.

I remember stopping by CME’s booth at TMEA, seeing the XKey for the first time, and showing them the Miselu C.24 keyboard. I asked them to consider BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) MIDI with their keyboard. At the time, my C. 24 was one of the few of those devices “in the wild” as they sent it to me early so that I could show it at various music education conferences. Just a word about the C.24–I lost mine in Nashville at NAfME. The C.24 was an exciting device as it was the first BLE MIDI device on the market. It promised to be a device that could be used as an iPad cover, and featured the ability to “flip” the device into form to make a playable keyboard that worked with magnets (not springs). You could combine multiple units to make a longer keyboard. The keys were scaled on an old model of a “woman’s” piano (apparently, piano keys used to be a relative item, based on the desires of the purchaser versus an industry standard). The C. 24 works, and is still available from Miselu at a (now lower) cost of $149. I do worry about the durability of the C. 24 (all the moving parts to flip open the device) and the future of the company (it still hasn’t released a promised control module to backers)–plus the function of the case changed when Apple changed the design of the iPad and the C.24 could no longer be used as an iPad case. This means that the market is still open to a high quality BLE MIDI portable keyboard, and the XKey Air fits the bill.

The CME is engraved in the final key. I wouldn’t mind if the Bluetooth sitcker were actually a permanent item on the keyboard (it is a sticker)

In addition to my feedback, CME heard that same feedback (“Please add BLE MIDI”) from a number of users, and ran a Indegogo Campaign to provide the capital to start that product. That project was funded by August 2015, and started shipping this spring.

In form, the XKey Air and the original XKey are identical. In fact, the only difference would be a Bluetooth sticker on the XKey Air, as well as multiple LED indicators and a power button on the Air. In my video review, I talk about the packaging of the XKey Air, which may seem irrelevant. After all, why does the packaging matter? I don’t know why, but it does. Part of the joy of buying an Apple product is the unboxing experience, which was carefully designed for the user. The XKey Air comes packaged in the same thoughtful way as an Apple device, and would fit perfectly on the shelves of an Apple Store. There are a couple of instruction sheets in the box, as well as a labeled micro USB cable. If you have other micro USB cables in your house, you can use them with the XKey Air–but I like having cables labeled so you know what device they came came with.

The finish of the XKey Air fits perfectly with aluminum computers like the MacBook or even my Asus Chromebook Flip

As for the keyboard, it is a joy to use. It pairs effortlessly with BLE MIDI on the iPad. As with most BLE MIDI devices, it is instantly detected by the iPad and connects with a single touch. While the keys do not have the tradition “travel” of a piano keyboard, they are pressure sensitive and every button works as it should. Some reviews of the original XKey longed for a way to attach a sustain pedal to the keyboard (instead of pressing a key on the XKey Air), but this is a portable keyboard–attaching cables and secondary pedals defeats the portable purpose of the keyboard. The low-travel keys should make the keyboard more resilient to throwing it into a backpack and running along. I had issues with other previous portable USB keyboards that I have used over the years (One example was an M-Audio 25 key unit that did not stand up to portable use).

Like traveling? The XKey series of keyboards has low travel compared to a tradtional keyboard. The travel isn’t neededd for this kind of work.

My only complaints about the XKey Air are minor. First, the 25 key model costs $199, and the 37 key model costs $299. The original 25 key XKey is $99, and the 37 key XKey is $199. As both a consumer and a music educator, I would love to see the price point drop on these models. That said, if you have an original XKey, you can attach a Zivix PUC+ to it and make it a portable BLE keyboard for the same cost of $199. In other words, the price point isn’t terribly inflated, but I would still love to see a small price drop . I would imagine that some kind of education pricing (for the original XKey or the XKey Air) could be obtained if you reached out to the company. My other complaint is that it would nice if the XKey Air included a light bag of some kind to offer protection as you throw it into a backpack.

Is it worth buying the XKey Air for $100 more than its equivalent XKey?  It depends on what you want to use it for.

The XKey Air is an ideal device for anyone wanting a portable MIDI keyboard interface without wires. When I am working with my iPad or my MacBook, I prefer not having to deal with cables. Additionally, an iPad needs a USB dongle (an additional $29 purchase) to work with a a USB MIDI keyboard.

If I were creating a school MIDI lab with fixed computers, I would consider the original XKey (even above a comparable M-Audio product). They are going to look great in your lab and will hold up to the rigors of daily use. This would also be true if I was teaching with Chromebooks…you probably are not going to buy a WIDI BUD (more on that in a moment) for each Chromebook.

However, if I needed keyboards for a 1:1 iPad school where student iPads were the MIDI lab (not a separate room), I would consider the XKey Air (even at $100 more per device). Why not go truly mobile with your lab? Also, if I was the teacher and I did any work at all in GarageBand (SoundTrap, Soundation) or notation programs, I would want a portable keyboard, particularly if the device I was using was a portable device (MacBook, iPad, Chromebook). As a warning, in a 1:1 scenario, each XKey Air has a unique MAC Bluetooth address, but show up as “XKey Air 25 BLE” on the Bluetooth MIDI interaction panel. This would make connecting difficult–much as we found with our Bluetooth QWERTY keyboards in our 1:1. If every device has the same name, how do you know which one you are using? Zivix has a unique identifier with every name, so I know it is possible to uniquely identify each BLE MIDI device, and I hope that CME is able to add this functionality in a future firmware update (if it isn’t there already, which I may have missed while looking through they XKey app).

In short, I think both CME XKey keyboards are wonderful. They are high quality portable keyboards and a far better solution (in my opinion) than mini keyboards like my old Akai LPK 25, my old M-Audio key stations, and even the Miselu C.24. Do you need the BLE MIDI feature? That’s up to you–I would say, “Yes,” because if you want to add it later, you can (Zivix PUC+) for relatively the same price-but then you again need cables (of a sort) to use the feature. It is wonderful to be able to connect without wires to your iPad, MacBook, Windows laptop, or Chromebook. I do wish the pricing was a bit lower on the XKey Air ($150), but $199 isn’t terribly out of the ballpark. When I spend money on devices, I have to ask if they save me time and frustration in the long run over doing things another way. In the world of iPad, the XKey Air allows me to connect to my iPad without a dongle (as it would to a newer Mac [2012?] than may 2008 Aluminum MacBook) which is a separate $29 purchase. It means less time to connect and take down, and less things to forget going from place to place. So if you are going to use a keyboard with your computing device–in terms of convince, it simply may be the best option to spend an extra $100 for the Bluetooth capability.

So yes, if you are interested, either the XKey or the XKey Air is a “consider buying” item.

WIDI BUD

The WIDI BUD in its blister packaging

When I opened the package from CME, my initial reaction to the WIDI BUD, packaged in a small blister card with minimal instructions, was, “HO HUM.”

That initial reaction was really, really, really wrong. It is going to be a while until BLE MIDI is packaged with every device.  If you have a newer iPad or MacBook, you have it already–but old Apple devices, many Windows devices, most Android devices, and most (all?) Chromebooks do not have BLE MIDI capability.

This little dongle, which looks like a newer flash drive, gives BLE MIDI capability to nearly every device.

This means that you can use an XKey Air with an older iPad, MacBook, Windows computer…you get the idea. There are limitations (you have to be running Windows XP SP3, Ver 4 of Android, iOS 4.2, Chrome 43.0) but generally, if you have a modern device, the WIDI BUD can add BLE MIDI to your computing device if it does not have it.

Last summer, Web MIDI was announced, and over the last year, programs have been adding it: Noteflight, Flat.io, SoundTrap to name a few.

With this dongle, you can make a Chromebook into a BLE MIDI device, utilizing Web MIDI on these programs. Sure, you can also add a wired USB connection, which is what you would do for students (you would have a stack of physical keyboards that they would check out, use, and return). But for YOUR use…go wireless. Trust me on this one.

What is amazing is that the WIDI BUD makes a connection with a BLE MIDI device on its own. I haven’t tried having two BLE MIDI sending devices turned on at the same time, so I do not know how the device would respond to two competing devices for its attention–but plug in the WIDI BUD, and turn on the XKey Air, and it works. That’s it. The WIDI BUD will remember that connection until it loses power. So, if you want to connect another BLE MIDI device (such as the JamStik+ or the PUC+), turn off the XKey Air, turn on the JamStik+, and plug in the WIDI BUD.

So yes…the WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device.  (See note)

Let me copy and paste that again…

The WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device. (See note)

So…the JamStik+, the PUC+, the Korg MKey Air, and the few keyboards sold with BLE MIDI…should be able to  work with the WIDI BUD.

Note: This statement was not true.  It turns out that the Quicco Sound mi.1.  See more at my follow-up article.

The WIDI BUD in use, in a Chromebook. Check out the video…it works!

I have now said this for over a year…reliable MIDI interaction with a BLE MIDI device is a game changer in ease of use and functionality.

Chromebooks being able to use MIDI keyboards over a wired USB connection is a major step forward, and it means that I could teach Music Theory (mostly with Noteflight or Flat.io) with Chromebooks, and I could teach a Music Technology class (SoundTrap, Soundation, Noteflight, Flat.io) using Chromebooks. But to be able to connect wirelessly means that using those programs for my own use (not just in teaching) becomes a possibility.

Being able to use any BLE MIDI device with just about any host computing device is a game changer, too. At that point,  you are only limited by the apps and programs that are available on your computing device. And remember…on Chrome OS, the best apps require a subscription to get all of the features that you want to use (Noteflight requires a subscription to even use MIDI recording). I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, because companies deserve to earn money. But it is something that we need to teach IT departments as they typically don’t plan for annual subscriptions.

My only complaints about the WIDI BUD are the size of the device (it has to be that small, but people will lose them), and they are a TIGHT fit in your USB port (which is probably intentional so that you leave it plugged in). I am leaving this WIDI BUD in its package after I use it, so that I can keep track of it.

My only other complaint is that I can’t find the pricing for the WIDI BUD on CME’s website, so I am hoping that it is released soon and will be affordable!

As you can tell, if you have a computing device that does not have BLE MIDI, I think the WIDI BUD is a must buy. I don’t know anything else like it on the market.

Thanks again to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for allowing me to review and show off these devices.  A video appears below.

Lots of great things coming for Chromebook and Google Apps for Education

ISTE just wrapped up–a conference that I hope to present at and attend in the future.  ISTE is the “big dog” conference of education technology, just as Winter NAMM is the big conference for music.  

ISTE released new standards for students, revising their 2007 standards.  The standards don’t deviate that much from the previous versions, but there is a hope on ISTE’s part that teachers are doing more than just occasionally using technology these days.  The new standards reflect a world that is more highly connected and a world where 1:1 programs are becoming standard place in our culture.

If you missed the earlier news, Chromebooks are going to run Android apps in the very near future.  This opens Chromebooks beyond the relatively constrained supply of apps avaialble on Chrome OS to the huge variety of apps on Android.  It turns out that my Asus Flip, in the developer channel (nothing special, you simply turn it on) can run the early version of the Android functionality.  I have been working with the new feature, and things aren’t working so well for the applications that I would use.  However–it is early in the game, and this is only going to get better.  Mobile Sheets is perhaps the best sheet music reader for Android, and it sort-of runs on Chromebook.  Every time I exit the app, everything stored in the app is lost.  

That’s all okay–you can see where things are going.  This is why the Wall Street Journal (rightly) predicted the end of Chromebooks–I fully expect that we will see Android become “unified” with Chrome within two years.

Now here’s the big question: Android on Chromebooks will make “flip” models a much more useful tool in schools (and for any other location).  Will your school drop the additional $50 to $100 per device to obtain this functionality the next time Chromebooks are refreshed?

The other two big items were in relation to GAFE (Google Apps for Education) tools.  Google Forms now offers a quiz option that allows teachers to make quizzes out of Google Forms.  Yes, an add-on called Fluabaroo has done that for a while, but Flubaroo requires an extra bit of set-up that some teachers were unwilling to undertake.  Now you can make a quiz with a single button option.  If you are using Google Classroom–this will be incredible.

Second, Google is going to offer a Chromecast for GAFE that allows students to send their materials to a teacher’s computer screen (which would ideally be connected to a computer).  In my own tests, Chromecast is significantly slower and latent versus Apple’s AirPlay, but someone lost in the desert can’t complain about what kind of bottled water they are given.  In other words, this is a solution for Chromebook schools that don’t have a solution, so it should be celebrated.

Yes, I remain an “iPad” guy, but things are starting to change with Chromebooks in a way that offers hope for those of us who don’t teach with desks in our rooms or need keyboards (at least all the time).

Flat.io also had a strong presence at ISTE, which is wonderful.  I hope they can make it to some of the larger music education conferences in the United States in the future (the company is located in France, so conference involvement represents a significant investment in capital).

A review from MusicEdMagic of Practice First

Chad Criswell, Iowa music educator and also editor for many of NAfME's articles on technology in music education, has run MusicEdMagic.com for years. I have always enjoyed his work–both in NAfME publications and on MusicEdMagic.

He recently posted a video review of the upcoming PracticeFirst program, which is coming from MusicFirst this fall. Ultimately, it is a green note/red note program that is priced at a low rate ($6 per student) and is multi-platform. Chad put the preview version of the program through its paces….with his daughter!

I love the video–Chad is articulate and friendly (as always) and it is fun to see his daughter collaborating, even with a sticking 3rd valve on the trumpet.

Chad mentions that iOS devices don't run the preview…and this is correct. They are hoping to have an iPad version in the fall. Chad also mentioned that the program requires a minimum of 100 subscribers, which could be problematic for small schools that don't have 100 students in music! I need to check with MusicFirst about that, but I would be extremely surprised if they didn't have a solution for smaller schools. And let's be honest…although we have many big schools in the Midwest, you are as likely to have a small school as a large school when you live in this part of the country.

If you aren't following MusicEdMagic, you should add it to your list of regular sites (or to your RSS feed), and I am going to look forward to future video reviews from Chad!

 

Another use for PDFtoMusicPro

After my session in Salt Lake City, a choir director came up to ask me if I knew about PDFtoMusic Pro.  I do know about PDFtoMusic Pro, and I will use it from time to time.

PDFtoMusic Pro can be purchased from MyriadOnline, and costs $199.  The program runs on Windows and Mac computers.  It reads PDFs generated by a computer, and then converts them into MusicXML files.  It also plays AND SINGS (emphasis intended) what is on the score.  If you scan your music (most music is not available in MusicXML files or computer-generated PDF scores), this program typically isn’t of much use to you.  However, if you use a lot of music from the Choral Public Domain Library or can get a computer-generated PDF from a publisher, PDFtoMusic Pro can save you hours of work.

The choir director that recommended the use of PDFtoMusic Pro had another suggestion, which I had not considered.  As PDFtoMusic Pro sings back a part, he scanned his music with another app (I believe Sharp Eye, which is a Windows-only software package), edited the scan in Finale, and then saved his song as a PDF specifically to open in PDFtoMusic Pro.  PDFtoMusic Pro then creates rehearsal files for his choir members with its synthesized voice.

I just tried this process with Rollo Dilworth’s “Everlasting Melody” which I am studying with my 6th Grade students in the next months.  I scanned the music with PhotoScore Ultimate, then edited the music with Notion for iPad.  I then exported a PDF and tried opening it with PDFtoMusic Pro.  The result was okay–but PDFtoMusic Pro didn’t like the Notion-created PDF.  For example, it didn’t play ties (over barlines) correctly.  Next I exported the Notion file as a MusicXML file to Finale, and then saved the Finale file as a PDF, opening it in PDFtoMusic Pro–and PDFtoMusic Pro worked just fine with the Finale-generated file.

So what I’ve learned so far is that if you want to follow this path to make rehearsal accompaniments, generate PDFs from Finale.

I have made rehearsal/accompaniment tracks for some time, and I usually prefer to do so from Notion (on the iPad) because it is so easy to use the “mixing board” to elevate one part and mute/lessen others and then to export audio.  Of course, this means that choir members have no actual “voice” to follow other than a piano sound.  As a result, this PDFtoMusic Pro solution for $199 might be worth its weight in gold for some people.

It also leads me to wonder why the notation programs haven’t included this technology in their software–if Myriad can do it, certainly others could (or the technology could be licensed).  Wouldn’t that be a great feature in the next Finale/Sibelius/Notion/MuseScore?

If you would like to hear what this sounds like, I have embedded a couple of SoundCloud clips below: one of “Everlasting Melody” generated soprano-strong from Notion, the other generated from PDFtoMusic Pro.