A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from MakeMusic, letting me know that they have changed the pricing structure of subscriptions to SmartMusic. They were concerned that an old post on this blog had old pricing information.
I just wanted to add a couple of items regarding the blog, as well as my instructional shift.
First, blog posts on this channel become “historical artifacts.” Technology is ever changing (even if the pace of technology advancement in music education has been snail-paced for the past three years), as are subscription methods and so on. If you are interested in the latest versions and pricing for any hardware or software, please visit those sites directly for the latest information.
One of the powers of the “blog” is that we record where things are at the present—both in terms of facts and opinions—which later gives perspective. I still remember my commitment to the netbook Windows PC format. I thought it was going to be a hit, and it was a colossal flop. Windows itself was the culprit, making the speed of those devices crawl.
Where I wasn’t wrong was the format, as the Chromebook today is everything the netbook was not. I just bought my first new Chromebook in over 4 years. I still love my iPad and Mac (I’m typing this on my iPad), but the Chromebook has come a long way, mainly because there are better web-based services. There are still many things that iPads and computers do better…but touchscreens, flip Chromebooks, and active styluses change the game a bit, along with those better services.
The other thing I wanted to discuss is that my personal shift from secondary to elementary education has resulted in my focus on some other issues. While I keep an eye towards the broader changes in the profession (e.g. NoteFlight adding many features available in SmartMusic), my use of some systems, such as SmartMusic, have lessened. While SmartMusic might be very useful to teach recorder with 3rd and 4th grade students, I am not going to get funding from my district at this time to purchase it for them. So I have put my focus in other directions, such as making play along videos for recorder and so on. That’s not to say that SmartMusic (or NoteFlight, or MusicFirst) aren’t worth buying or pursing—they just don’t fit into my work flow at this time, and therefore I don’t write much about them.
And really, I don’t think much has changed with these programs. Now that the main approach is web-based with most of these services, they all offer an ever-increasing library of content, with ever-increasing levels of accuracy of assessment, and ever-increasing clarity of communication of the results to students. If you are considering purchasing a red-note/green-note (my term for the playing assessment/training services), I would strongly encourage you to contact SmartMusic/MakeMusic, NoteFlight, and MusicFirst, ask for a demo, and compare the available libraries, methods of uploading exercises (if something isn’t in the library), accuracy of assessment, quality of feedback, and of course, cost per student. Rate each category, and choose what you think is best for you and your students.
I love Showbie. As a 1:1 iPad school, Showbie allows me to manage the “paper” aspects of my classroom. I love that I can share music in a folder (e.g. “6th Grade Spring Concert Music) to a class, give students access to that music, and then hide or delete that folder after the concert (collect the music with a couple of clicks). While in Showbie, students can turn pages left to right (something that a surprising number of PDF applications do not allow), and students can write in their music. Simply put, Showbie is worth the annual fee simply for music management for 350 students.
Our school adopted the enterprise version of Schoology last year, so when there are tasks where I can use Schoology, such as submitting audio or video for assessment, I use Schoology where I used to use Showbie for those tasks.
Our choir program has paid for a subscription to Showbie the past years; as we will no longer be fundraising for our program, we may have to adjust how I use Schoology, adopting the free version and creating grade level “classes” instead of classes by hour/section as I have in the past. Showbie has both free and paid tiers.
There are other benefits of Showbie–it can be a great way to share almost any kind of file between iPads, particularly if your district has restricted other means of sharing (e.g. AirDrop). The company has added many features to their web-based program, and it is now approaching the functionality of the iPad version.
I was an ambassador for Showbie in the past years–and I remain a user and supporter–but I couldn’t find the time needed to support Showbie fully as an ambassador.
So, if you haven’t noticed, I think Showbie is brilliant.
A couple of days ago, Showbie announced that they will be partnering with Socrative, which is a multi-platform assessment program. I’m not sure if Socrative will continue as its own service or if it will be absorbed into Showbie, bur I do know that the one area were Showbie lacked as a program was assessment tools. Showbie has a rather effective quick grading tool, but was far behind other Class Management Systems when it came to assessment. While I am sure there will be some bumps in the road along the way, the merging of Showbie and Socrative should lead to a much more useful tool, and a more competitive tool to other programs in the educational CMS space.
It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Showbie + Socrative!
Last year, my 1:1 iPad School decided to have every teacher use the free version of Schoology. The free version lacks a number of features–and as such, I kept using Showbie in my classroom even as I used Schoology.
This year, our district is piloting the full (enterprise) version of Schoology, which has a greater number of features. I am still using Showbie in my classroom–but at a much reduced level.
Showbie now calls itself a “light” learning management system. Originally an iPad app (and growing device agnostic year by year–a growing solution for Chromebooks, too), Showbie allows you and your students to share all kinds of documents–as well as to invite parents to see them. You can grade submissions in Showbie using a quick grading tool (I still had to transfer grades into Infinite Campus by hand). If a PDF is used in Showbie, either the student or teacher can annotate the document–which is a wonderful feature (Schoology currently only allows teachers to annotate). Showbie can also accept audio, video, GarageBand, and more file formats. Someone asked how a GarageBand file could be shared by a student or teacher…and Showbie is an option for that. There is a free version of Showbie, as well as a paid version. I have paid for the program for the past three years, with a renewal coming soon.
In my early days, students completed worksheets in Showbie, I used Showbie for their music (you can create a folder that only class members can access and upload music–and page turns are left/right and allow for annotation), and I eventually used Showbie for audio and video assessments. I would upload a PDF of a rubric and have students submit audio or video recordings (most recorded in class during an ensemble rehearsal), and later grade them using the rubric. I even had students assess themselves on a rubric (I cannot figure out how to do this on Schoology). I call this methodology a “light” approach to red note/green note software–my friend Paul Shimmons at ipadmusiced.wordpress.com uses SeeSaw and Google Classroom in a similar way.
Last year I moved away from having students write answers to daily questions in Showbie (from the S-Cubed Sight Reading Method) and instead used Schoology’s quiz feature (self grading). And this year, Schoology’s enterprise version allows students to submit audio recordings, and rubrics on Schoology work great (we are also using Schoology as a grade book and only copying end of term grades to Infinite Campus, our actual student management system). This year, rather recently, I have temporarily abandoned the written part of S-Cubed (sticking with the content and tasks)…so I am not using any system to grade written work.
I am still using Showbie for student music–and it is worth every penny of the annual subscription ($125?). Admittedly, for my current use, I wouldn’t need to pay–but the service is so useful (and we use it with so many students) that I want to make sure we are supporting the company. With Showbie as our music folders, I can easily send out new music, delete music (or an entire folder), and students still can flip left/right and annotate their music. Schoology can’t do that–yet.
How do I make sure students are using Showbie instead of messing around on their iPads? That’s a tricky question–but generally the answer is that I use Apple Classroom to monitor their app use. I could look at screens…but I figure if they are in the right app, that’s most of the battle. Some kids doodle throughout the hour on Showbie…but they would be doing the same with paper music.
Some readers may wonder why I wouldn’t use forScore, unrealBook, NextPage, Newzik, or PiaScore (free) with my students. There are two reasons. Showbie only allows my students to see their music, turn pages, and annotate. All of the other programs include too many options for my students–they press every button. Cost is also a factor. If forScore is $9.99 (worth every penny), it would cost 50% of that for an educational version of the app which can be withdrawn and reassigned). For my 300+ students, it would cost $1500 to get forScore on every iPad. Showbie is $125 per year. And finally, I love being able to quickly assign and withdraw music from a classroom “assignment” (it is really a folder). No other app has this level of management (although forScore has played with groups and Newzik is working on solutions). I should also add that Showbie is super-simple for students to use and to figure out. It isn’t surprising that Showbie is popular for all grades, K-12 (I don’t know a single math teacher would wouldn’t love Showbie). All of this may change if Schoology offers annotation and left/right page turns in the future.
With the enterprise version, our Google accounts work for Schoology–removing a barrier–and Showbie still works with GAFE accounts. The non-enterprise version to Schoology was a mess with e-mail accounts and passwords.
Ultimately, what I want to convey is that we are in our 5th Year of 1:1 iPads, and due to external influences, my workflow continues to adapt to both available resources and the expectations of my school/district. If you have the enterprise version of Schoology…try in-class or out-of-class (band/orchestra) use of the audio recorder and a rubric for assessments. And if you are in need of a super-easy solution to digital music (not perfect, as page turns require swipes and there are no “hot spots” to allow for repeats or DC/DS markings) look at Showbie.
Are posts on techinmusiced.com helpful to you? If so, consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/cjrphd
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 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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.