If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been…


It has been quite a while since I have written a blog post. There are a number of reasons for that, and I will have a few posts coming in the near future. But I did want to give some insight into where I’ve been lately.

Ultimately, I haven’t blogged very much. This hasn’t stopped companies from sending PR materials to the address on this blog (there are only a few active music technology blogs these days…and this one has not been very active); and I occasionally get a request for guest posts (people looking to be paid to write content). As I have to explain to both companies and aspiring writers, this is a personal blog that reflects my use of technology in music education. The blog generates no income (if you see advertisements, they are generated by WordPress to provide the free hosting). In fact, I pay (for the domain name) to offer the blog.

I also get an e-mail from time to time from a company asking me to revise the content in an old post to reflect price changes, names of companies or software, and so on. I consider posts to be an archive of past information—a glimpse into the way things were at a point of time. Also, if people are getting current information about your product (pricing or features) from a post I wrote five years ago, instead of from your website…that company has an issue. As a result, I don’t go back and change old posts, unless the post is current and I have incorrectly stated information about a product.

So, all that said, where have I been? Well, I’m here, and I am actively using technology. But life is different1

  • In 2013, I moved from high school choir to middle school choir. Middle school choir, in our district, is a tough assignment (students have to take music in grades 6 & 7, and if they don’t want to be in band or orchestra, they are placed in choir)
  • In 2016, I adopted the ukulele to teach during part of the year that my middle school students didn’t have a concert. As a result, I started making resources for ukulele.
  • In 2019, I was moved to an elementary position, and while I continued to use the ukulele, I also needed to make all kinds of content for my students (recorder and piano). Much of this content cannot be shared as it is based on published materials that I create for my own classroom.
  • The pandemic hit in 2020, and my priorities changed somewhat as a result. We were all trying to survive teaching in a distance format…although I will say that my skills and experience— including the ukulele work—made that transition easier for me, and I heard A LOT of positive feedback from parents who would watch my lessons with their students!
  • The Chromebook won. I still use my iPad as my primary device, and each version of the iPad and each version of Pad OS offers more and more functionality and power. Students in my school have iPads in grades K-2, and Chromebooks in grades 3-5. And all students in grades 3-12 use Chromebooks in our school. As a result of this victory, cloud-based apps that run on Chromebooks have improved (e.g. NoteFlight, MusicFirst apps, Flat.io, etc.) while developments for other platforms have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary as they were around the introduction to the iPad.
  • Many technology sessions are no longer of interest to those that schedule music education conventions/conferences.
  • While I have stated my creation of content for ukulele, I have understated its impact; my play along channel has nearly 100,000 subscribers and generates no income. I struggle with the amount of time it takes to create content with the lack of any financial incentive to do so.
  • And most importantly, I currently have my health under control. During the pandemic, I went on a plan called OptaVIA, which is a controlled calorie deficit program, and lost 140 pounds between April of 2021 and February of 2022. I’m still doing great eight months later, and have a completely different relationship with food. But as a result, I will often choose to go for a walk or bike ride (inside or outside) instead of creating content or writing blog posts; and I don’t really watch anything (e.g. Andor; Rings of Power, SportsCenter) without being on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical.

So with all that in mind, there hasn’t been a lot that I have felt the need to write about, which is why I appreciate the continuing efforts of both Robby and Amy Burns (not related) in this field; the rest of us just haven’t had a lot to say, and many formerly active bloggers just aren’t writing any more.

You’ll still see blog posts here from time to time; and one of the things that I need to remember is that the tools I continue to use on a daily method are not being used by most of my colleagues, and collegiate students are still not being taught how to use technology in their teaching. I don’t know how to change this, particularly if technology sessions are not of great interest at most music education conventions/conferences. If you know of a conference looking for technology content, have them contact me; I can be brought in to provide multiple sessions at various skill levels at a very economic cost.

Thanks for reading this post and checking in with the blog; watch for some new articles soon!


Updated Pricing Structures for SmartMusic AND thoughts about old blog posts

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.

You can find the updated pricing information (as of November 19, 2021) at: https://www.smartmusic.com/pricing/

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.

Fender Acquires PreSonus

News came out earlier this week that, pending Federal approval (and let’s be honest…why would they care?), Fender is going to acquire PreSonus.

I have no idea, at this time, how this is going to go. I was concerned when Soundtrap and MuseScore were purchased by other companies, but to date, both of those products continue to go strong on their own. There are other cases, such as MakeMusic, where I’m still not 100% convinced that a buy-out was in the best long-term interest of the company (though MakeMusic continues to improve and add features over time).

Fender, is, of course, a well-recognized company of music instruments, accessories, and software. A former colleague raved about Fender’s approach with their Guitar/Ukulele app. As long as Fender continues to carry PreSonus’s hardware and software (even if rebranded, updated, or redesigned), that’s a good thing for everyone.

I don’t have a lot of contacts at PreSonus, but the comments I have seen from PreSonus employees are positive about the acquisition. I have no reason to doubt those statements.

All I know is that Notion on iPad remains a massively important part of my workflow as a teacher; that said, if I had to leave Notion, Dorico for iPad would become my main tool. So, I hope that Studio One, Notion, and the wonderful hardware made by PreSonus will continue…and I am choosing to be optimistic about this merger. We’ll see how things play out in the coming months and years!

InTune Intonation Trainer Update!

It has been a while since I have blogged here. There have been a few big changes in the world of technology, particularly the new M1 Mac computers…but we’re a good distance from those changes impacting music education.

And while I’m at it…it is December…so a very Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate Christmas!

One of the tools that I used as a middle school teacher–that I would also use as a high school teacher–was Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed Sight Singing Method. I highly recommend it (and S-Cubed is also included with MusicFirst’s Practice First, I believe).

One part of S-Cubed that I was never comfortable with was Dale’s approach to helping students hear the difference between sharp and flat. I don’t deny that students need to learn how to sing in tune–I just never wanted to demonstrate singing flat or sharp. I come from a school of thought that you never want to practice something wrong, as practice makes permanent.

So instead of singing sharp and flat for my students in that phase of S-Cubed, I used an app, as a game, for the whole class…and that app was InTune. Basically, it plays a note sharp or flat…and you tell the app which you think it was. You get three chances to be wrong…and I’d track both the level and score that my classes obtained, and post them. This was only over three of four classes, as S-Cubed moved on to other topics. Students responded well to this approach, and scores always went up in each class over the days we played the game. This wasn’t InTune’s intent, to be sure, but it worked.

As for the app itself, the description says this:

InTune began as a way for researchers to test pitch discrimination, the ability to differentiate pitches that are close together. But then researchers discovered that musicians improved the more often they played – 3x faster than those who didn’t. Download for free and see if InTune works for you!

I don’t doubt it, and quite honestly, why not have your students of any age try the app?

InTune has just undergone a significant update. This includes a new look, improved sounds, the ability to shake the device to hear the sounds again (two pitches played one after the other), and new languages.

Multiple instruments are offered as an in-app purchase. This would be great for a musician who played that particular instrument.

The app itself is free…so download it today (look for InTune on the Apple App Store (I do not believe that it is available on Android). And if you like the app, buy one of the instruments (at least) as a way to thank the company for the app!

Follow-Up on “Old Technology”

While I did a search yesterday for the updated scanning program from Canon, it became clear that there are many people out there whose scanners no longer work because of Mac OS X Catalina. That’s a big problem, and I’m not sure who to blame…Apple or the hardware companies (such as Canon). Maybe there shouldn’t be any blame.

I ended up going to the Apple Store yesterday as I had an issue with my newer Apple Pencil. My original Apple Pencil died suddenly in September (I personally think the battery gave up after a lot of use) and I grudgingly bought a new Apple Pencil. That Pencil suddenly stopped working yesterday, so I first attempted to get support via iMessage…and was eventually told to go to an Apple Store. I was able to book an appointment (highly recommended rather than showing up and seeing if you can get help) for later in the afternoon.

While I was at the Mall of America, I heard from Shirley Lacroix, who mentioned that she had found a way to keep using her Canon P-150 scanner. When I came home (with a replacement Apple Pencil), I did a broader search and found VueScan. And later yesterday evening, Shirley e-mailed again to let me know her solution was VueScan.

VueScan has made a 64-bit application (runs on Catalina) with a bunch of reverse engineered drivers for old scanners, like the P-150. So, for $89, you can buy the program giving you access to your scanner’s feature set (e.g. duplex, sheet feeding), without having to buy a new scanner.

My little P-150 still works just fine, and it looks as if Canon isn’t going to update its software (I was able to log into their website today…it just must have been a coincidence that the USA website was down yesterday when I was looking for drivers). So if you want to use your scanner…you send $89 towards VueScan. I’ll be honest…if it was $50 I’d feel a lot better…while VueScan is offering a great service, it also feels like they are setting a pretty hefty price for you to use old hardware.

As for the program itself, it works. It isn’t as nice as Canon’s software was, but the scanner now works and I don’t need to take it to a recycling center.

So…many thanks to Shirley for the e-mail about the P-150. It was much appreciated!