Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Technology Resources for Ukulele

54 ukuleles hung on the wall, ready to be used

As my ukulele launch in my middle school choir program draws near (either February 5th or 8th), I have been preparing for that launch. I am choosing to create my own method of teaching ukulele rather than to follow existing methods (e.g. Hal Leonard and Alfred). That said, I do have an eye on those methods as I plan.

While I am preparing, I am finding a ton of digital resources for the ukulele. Here are just a few:

Tuner: Kala Brand Tuner (FREE-created for one of the major manufacturers of all levels of ukulele)

Kala Brand Tuner App on iPad

Creating Ukulele Music: Notion (The most developed music notation app for iOS. For ukulele, creates notes and tablature–does not offer the ability to include chord diagrams for ukulele)

Self-Made Chord Charts: Chord Tunes (Creates lyrics and chords, plus ukulele chord diagrams)

Chords/Fingerings/Tuner: Guitar Toolkit (Guitar Toolkit covers many string instruments)

Ukeoke: Basically the Four Chords app for ukulele (monthly fee)

Futulele: An iPad ukulele app, ideally to be used by students that need accessibility features–thanks to Beth Jahn for the suggestion)

iBooks: There is a lot of ukulele literature on the iBooks Store–for less than what you can buy it in print. Here are just a few titles that are available:

Assessment: I will test most skills in class, but realize that some students will be afraid to test in person. Therefore, we have a few ukuleles to check out overnight. Students can take them home and make a video of themselves (using the stock Camera app) playing the required testing material, and submit the video to me via Showbie. I also use Showbie to create rubrics–allowing me to assess each student–and Showbie's new grading feature allows me to quickly transfer grades from Showbie to our school's student information system.

Web Resources: While there are a TON of ukulele websites out there, I recommend the following sites:

And finally, Amazon. I love music stores–but there are times that the added overhead of a music store cannot be tolerated in the cost of a program. In our case, our entire set of 58 ukuleles (55 to be used in class, 3 to be sent home for practice/performance tests) were purchased from Amazon for under $2000–including setting up a ukulele hanging system with 2x4s and tool hooks. Unfortunately, if we had purchased these through a local vendor, the cost would have been well over $2000. Our ukuleles, Mahalo MK1s are throw-away models if anything serious happens (other than replacing strings). It would be a different situation if we had more expensive ukuleles that would warrant the need for repairs. As a side note, the MK1s do eventually settle into their tuning–and I go through and tune each of the instruments once each day. The instruments I purchased in Novemeber are nearly always in tune. That is a relief–58 continually out-of-tune ukuleles would be a nightmare.

We actually bought 68 ukuleles, as we gave parents the ability to send some extra money to buy their students a ukulele to keep. 10 families bought a ukulele for home. In total, the booster program purchased 28 of the instruments, and parents donated money for 30 of them. Not a cent of this program is on the common tax payer.

I have found out that Amazon's prices fluctuate wildly–the majority of our ukuleles were purchased around $25 each when they were backordered, but the instruments are now $37 each.

This morning, I purchased 2 additional instruments from Amazon: A Caramel (a Chinese brand) Concert and a Caramel Tenor for $75, shipped. I want to give these inexpensive larger instruments a try. It will be nice to have a concert and tenor on hand at school–and also for students that might struggle with the small soprano (thinking about some of the giant 8th grade boys) to try. If the Caramel instruments are any good–I'll certainly blog about them.

I also recently learned that D'Adarrio Ukuele strings are made by Aquilla (considered to be one of the best kinds of ukulele string), so it might be worth buying D'Addario for the savings over Aquilla.

The shift to ukulele is shocking to me–I grew up in the era of Tiny Tim, where the ukulele was a joke to our culture. My training in music education didn't spend one second talking about ukuleles–at any level of my education (K-12, college, or grad school). It appears that the ukulele is as common in many other countries as recorder and guitar are in the United States (although guitar programs are relatively few in number compared to Band, Choir, and Orchestra at the secondary level).

All I can say is this–I have fallen in love with the instrument, and I spend more than an hour each day playing and singing. It has resparked my love of music, and for that I am thankful. I now own two ukuleles (a Makala Concert, and a Kala Banjo Ukulele). There is a good chance that I will be adding a tenor ukulele (or two) to the stable in the near future. We also bought our boys a MK1 Mahalo, with the idea that they will leave my ukuleles alone (they are). When I tune my ukulele, my three year old runs up to me and asks me to tune his, too.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, our integration with the ukulele is right around the corner. I am excited to bring this experience to our students, and to get them singing and reading music in a sneaky way. The possibilities are endless–we'll see what happens!

 

Creating Video Tutorials for Your Class

My old 2008 MacBook is currently rendering a 20 minute video that I created this evening (really since about 9:30, and it is now 10:40). While I am waiting (I may end up just going to bed), I wanted to blog a little bit about this process.

When our districts went to the middle school format seven years ago, music became a required and every-other-day event for our middle school students. The expectation of the number of concerts per year dropped from 3 (trimesters) to 2 (extra-curricular pay dropped as well, over 40%).

Since I came to the middle school level three years ago, I have used the period of time after my winter/holiday concert and starting of the spring concert literature to meet state standards and do some other tasks.

In past years I have done an extensive composition project (see my NotateMe Now lessons) as well as had students suggest music for our Spring Concert.

This year, we have spent the last 3 weeks doing a major study of the music selection project, which is based on us meeting seven of our state standards. The project includes learning about genre, the functions of music (thank you, Mr. Merriam), researching what music is available for choirs, and actually submitting suggestions. Students wrap up that project today and tomorrow. Some kids are getting a lot out of it, others aren't trying. I have purposely given students time to work in choir–many are choosing not to work. They have the right to choose their desired grade (specific tasks to meet a grade, a way of offering differentiation). I fear I'll be seeing a lot of Ds and Fs–in a school where you automatically earn 50%.

Well, that was the last project. The next project, which I am working on now, is a composition project that asks students to create choir warm-ups. As usual, I create a printed guide that contains everything I am going to teach in class. That document contains answers to big questions, such as, “Why do warm-ups,” and “What is my [as in: me, their teacher] warm-up strategy/order/philosophy.”

I didn't want to give the same lecture to all of my choirs–so I decided to make an instructional video that taught the content about warm-ups, and then a brief tutorial for the app we are going to use.

I was stuck having to go with iWriteMusic Free. I normally wouldn't recommend iWriteMusic to anyone, but we don't have money for apps, and NotateMe Now does not let you write lyrics in the free version. Notion and Symphony Pro are out because they are paid apps.

You can record your iPad on your Mac via a lightning cable (with Yosemite and above) with QuickTime. The problem is that you can choose to record audio from your iPad, or you can choose to record it from your Mac. I wanted both my spoken audio and the iPad's audio (inside iWriteMusic) for students to hear.

What I did was to record my audio on my phone using “Just Press Record” (there is also an Apple Watch application, which is why I have it). Then I imported the QuickTime movie to iMovie, dropped in the audio, and edited out the major bloopers.

What I will have (whenever my old MacBook finishes rendering video) when I am done is an instructional video of 20 minutes that is just about 10 minutes about why and how we do warm-ups, and 10 minutes of how to do the project tasks and use the app. It's a good balance, which will save me endless repetitions–and I can simply drop the video in my paid version of Showbie (another wonderful iPad app…on my “must have” list of apps for iPad educators) so kids can access it any time they need it (or if they are absent…)

Recording the audio separately at the same time as presenting was simply brilliant–I'm sad I haven't thought of this earlier.

I'll see how the kids react to the video. They are so screen minded (especially in a 1:1 iPad school), I am wondering if a video lecture/lesson/demo won't be more interesting to them than if I presented in person. I'll ask them afterwards (and watch them closely).

The end goal is for them to provide warm-ups we can use in choir, and I would even like to share some of them (student names redacted) here on the blog for your use, too. And yes–I need to start work on my warm-up resources again. I can likely do that in the summer, or over Spring Break.

The composition project helps us meet three additional Minnesota State Arts Standards. So there is definitely a method to my madness. There are some “boring” tasks in the process, but in these two projects, students will have suggested literature from an educated standpoint, and experienced composition providing exercises that we can potentially use in our choirs and share with the world.

We have also continued working on our sight singing, even though we're not singing choral literature right now. I'm not worried. If we were already working on our music for late May, they would be incredibly sick of that music by the time of the concert (regardless of their level of performance at the time).

After this short composition project (I'm thinking 2-3 days), we will move to ukulele. I have been having a blast getting instructional materials ready for that, too. If the ukulele is a success, I have some ideas on how we can continue to integrate it into choir even as we return to choir music.

Lots of good stuff to come in the weeks ahead.

Confessions: Ukulele and Guitar

One of the results of my experience with graduate school is that I have become more of a music educator than a “pure” choral musician. While I still love choral music and miss working with high level choirs, I find myself at a place in life (professionally) where I care about what students know and can do, perhaps even more than how well they sing. This can be blasphemy to many “pure” choral educators.

My current teaching “gig” also has stretched my philosophy of music education. As I have stated in the past, music is required in our middle school. We have no general music class, so if students aren't in band or orchestra, they are in choir. Students that don't make it in band and orchestra also end up in choir. As a result, I get a mixture of students that want to be in choir, and those that are forced to be there. This wouldn't be a bad thing if students that didn't want to be in choir would simply go with the flow. Many do–but there are a number of students, the high flyers throughout the school, that seem to thrive on disrupting classes. Choir gets nearly all of these students, as does Physical Education and Art. There is a clear message in our school that our classes “don't really matter,” sometimes even from other teachers in the building.

So yeah, teaching is tough in the environment. I knew this coming in–but I was foolish enough to think that I could make a difference. Three years in, and although I have restored order to a program that had lost order, there is a point at which–regardless of how hard you work–things aren't going to get any better.

Even with the tough job, I don't stop trying to give our students different experiences–and I don't shy away from focusing on our state standards. When our district adopted the middle school model, music moved to an every-other-day subject, flipping with Physical Education. The middle schools then scaled back the number of concerts from three per year (one per trimester) to two per year, based on the loss of rehearsal time (extra-curricular pay was scaled back at about the same time).

What this means is that we have a gap in the middle of the year where there is no pressing concert, and you really wouldn't want to work on music for May in January, as the music would tire out long before the snow thawed.

In the past years, I have held an annual composition project (look at the NotateMe projects from the past), as well as had students help find music for the spring concert.

This year, I have expanded the “music search” project to meet a few more state standards (focusing on genre and functions of music in addition to selecting repertoire). I am shortening the composition project and trying flat.io, having students write choral warm-ups. And we are going to do a ukulele unit.

Yes, our Title I school in a generally underfunded district (although we did pass an operating levy AND we are building a new school to replace my current school) is going to have a ukulele unit. Not a single cent is being provided by the district, even though I did ask for support (I didn't ask my own principal, because I know the budget has no wiggle room).

We hold a few fundraisers each year. We sell a local set of restaurant cards in the fall, and coffee/chocolate right before the holidays. I sell lollipops from the choir office before school (Ozark Delights), and kids stop in before and after school to buy them (Did you catch that? They come to me). And we collect, very causally, donations at our concerts. With about 320 performing students, we take in between $200 and $350 at a concert. I used some of this money to buy 25 ukuleles, and parents have donated money for us to buy another 30 (My largest class size is 53).

Ukuleles have become an interest of mine in the past six months. I never really paid attention to the ukulele (and considered it a toy like many people and musicians). However, I kept seeing articles about ukuleles and education. I decided to buy a few ukuleles in October to see how they would hold up in our school environment, and I was hooked. I just watched the documentary “The Mighty Uke,” and I am even FURTHER hooked!

I am not a great guitar player. I like guitar a lot and I love my JamStik. I think guitar should be offered at every high school (I really do–and wouldn't mind seeing it being offered via the JamStik even in independent study cases). I have taught guitar at the high school level with success.

The ukulele offers a whole different experience than the guitar. With its four nylon strings, small size, and small cost, it isn't threatening at all. While I am nowhere near a ukulele expert, I was playing songs on one of the school's ukuleles within minutes of picking it up. I think I could get good at it. And while I have had methods classes involving nearly every instrument–I don't think my skills are that far above any other person's.

What I found out about the ukulele, after doing some research, is that you can get into one very cheap, there are a ton of free resources on the web (from music to videos), and that it isn't a toy–it is a real instrument. There are true virtuosos of the ukulele. It doesn't hurt that the ukulele is incredibly popular in folk music right now, either.

I'm kind of hooked, and I think my students will be, too. The other day one of my worst students asked to hold and look at a ukulele–and I very hesitantly handed one over to him. I was afraid that he would smash it (this wouldn't be out of the question). Instead, he held it very gently and examined it closely before handing it back to me. I was shocked–it was a bit like experiencing the ending of the “Greatest Christmas Pagent Ever” in person.

Granted, there will be challenges ahead. While true of all students, students at our school are exceptionally talented at giving up on things once hard work and commitment are concerned. There is a point where the ukulele will require work (changing chords, for example). But I am hoping the instant playability of the ukulele will translate to a new experience with our students.

Do I want choir to turn into full-time ukulele class? No, of course not. First of all, we follow Dale Duncan's S-Cubed sight reading method every day (except for concert week). Second, we will get to our spring music eventually (the goal is the beginning of March). At the same time, one of the other qualities of ukulele is that people usually SING with them. So we will be doing that, too–and may even have a chorus of ukulele players accompany one of our songs in the spring concert. And on any day that gets weird (shortened schedules, large number of kids gone for an activity), we can pull the ukuleles off the wall and get playing.

And I'm already thinking that with only 4 strings, and soft nylon strings, ukuleles are a better match for middle school than guitar. While the exact chords may not translate to guitar, the interaction with frets and finger positions would allow many students to transfer to the guitar at a later time (sadly, our high schools do not offer guitar any longer now that I am no longer in a high school position).

We will be hanging the ukuleles in the back of the choir room off of 2x4s. We have about 40 feet of back wall space, which is split by an electrical conduit (the room was built with 2 outlets, and sometime they added a few more with conduit). So I can do two 18-foot runs of 2×4's. Menards sells “U” tool hooks (2 for $1.50) that can be screwed into the 2x4s to hold ukuleles. Each ukulele requires 8″ of space (giving it plenty of side room), meaning that I can hang 54 ukuleles, and have one ukulele to spare. I am buying the 2x4s (two 10 foot, two 8 foot), and our awesome custodian will mount those to the concrete wall for me (I don't have a hammer drill). Then I'll do the drilling and installation of the U tool hooks. For less than $100, we will have a very functional ukulele storage system, which could be painted at a later date.

As for the ukuleles, I am convinced that Kala makes the nicest entry level ukuleles, although I am far from an expert. That said, the Kala Sopranos start at $55, which was out of our budget. As a result, we are going with Mahalo MK1 models–which have been $26 each (plus tax) or less from Amazon. I ordered them on back order, and most of them are arriving in the next two days. The four “trial” MK1s have held up well, and after a few days of string stretching, have held up their tuning. I am also thinking about buying a large humidifier for the choir room (in Minnesota, we only really need it in the winter months). The entire cost of all 55 ukuleles will be less than $1,500–significantly less than many individual large band instruments!

[Side note: Amazon has had crazy pricing. Last week the MK-1 was $23.26. Eariier today it was $24.75. Right now, it shows as $36.69. Before Christmas break, they were $37 each. We still have 6 ukuleles to order–waiting for money to come in from parents–and $12 per ukulele is a huge difference.]

I had vinyl decals of the choir logo made last year, and we will put those decals on the back of each ukulele, and each will be numbered as well.

The only eventual need will be replacement strings for the ukuleles, which are slightly less than $10 each. So at some point, we'll need another $500 for strings–which may be an annual cost.

How often have you brought a potential program-changing project to your students for less than $2000?

So…my confession is that we're going to be using ukuleles in choir. In the process we will be meeting state and national standards–and we'll be singing choral lit (eventually) and singing along with the ukuleles; and we might just hook a few more kids into “music” for their lifetime, even if they normally hate choir.

I can live with that.

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

P.S. I stopped by our local music store tonight and they had a Kala Concert Banjo Ukulele in stock. I immediately fell in love. I don't think a musical instrument has ever called to me like this–the only thing I can compare it to is the draw that Apple products have for me, and if you know me, that's a strong statement. I already have the Kala MK-CE coming for my use; how do I make an extra $300 to buy a banjo ukulele?

 

 

 

All I Got for Christmas…

Sadly, Christmas 2015 has come and gone, and like many of you, we have a few days off of school before returning to the grind (I often consider these the toughest months of the year, in the dead of winter and before another long break).

I received a few tech gifts this Christmas (not the iPad Pro), and I thought I would write about them.

My parents bought our family its third Nest Protect smoke/CO2 detector, which is now in its second version (basically it is thinner). We now have a Nest Protect on each level of our house, and having them also results in a discount with our insurance. We still have five “standard” detectors that we will eventually replace with Nest Protects, too. They also work in conjunction with our Nest Thermostat (now available in its third generation, but we have the 1st gen). One note: make sure to order the right kind of Nest Protect. They come in battery powered and wired formats. Wisconsin building codes have called for wired detectors for years–you should not replaced a wired detector with a battery powered one.

I bought a box of Tiles (4 Pack) for our family. We have placed one on our key rings, and also put one in my son's backpack. Tiles use Bluetooth LE to track items, and they can play a tone when needed. At one point this year, both my wife and I lost keys (We're pretty sure our three year old was to blame) and we didn't want to go through that again (a keyless entry key can be a $400 replacement). As a result, we now have some Tiles around the house.

My parents also answered my single tech wish, buying me the Adonit Jot Dash, which is a battery operated stylus. I have had a number of styluses over the years, including two Adonit Jot Pro styluses, as well as my Maglus stylus. I have had issues with the “discs” of the Jot Pro (over time), as they separate and become unresponsive with continued use, and the mesh tips of the Maglus have always pulled out of their housing. I have been looking for an accurate stylus that isn't a rubber-nib stylus, and the Adonit Jot Dash fits the bill. I am not a fan of rubber-nib styluses as they catch on a slightly dirty (i.e. Real world) screen. There is one caveat to the Jot Dash…if you draw a diagonal line, it becomes wavy if you draw too slowly. This is apparently an issue with the sensors in an iPad. The iPad Pro has more sensors, and of course, you would buy the Apple Pencil and not the Jot Dash. However, for note taking and writing music (Noteshelf, Notion, or NotateMe), the Jot Dash will work incredibly well.

My wife also bought me a new winter hat. Two years ago, we found a unique Norwegian-themed hat at a store called the Uffda Shop in Red Wing Minnesota. It is called an “envelope hat”. My previous hat was black with tan symbols; since that time I bought a blue winter jacket. So my wife bought me a blue hat to match. If the store doesn't have the hat, they will order a hat (they are made by a local weaver). It turns out that my wife was able to get me this hat, even though the weaver was booked through early January. I love this hat–and it has nothing to do with technology at all.

 

2015 In Review

Hello, readers, and thank you for visiting Technology in Music Education this year. I have not been as active on the blog this year, which is partially because there have been fewer “major” advances in technology, and partially because I have been working my tail off at school. Sadly, even though I am working very hard for my students, I have never felt like I have made less of an impact. I am beginning to open my mind to other possibilities for my future, so if you know of a music technology company that would be interested in a education specialist, or a college position that would be choral/band/music education/music education technology, please send them my contact information!

As we reach the end of 2015, many sites publish “year in review” posts. I have been thinking about 2015 for a while, and here is my list of the Five Major Trends in Music Education Technology in 2015.

#1: The Chromebook Has Won. I have written about this topic a lot, and even published a book (available on the Kindle and iBooks Store) about the Chromebook. Just tonight, I read an article from Google for Education, lauding how much schools can save by adopting Chromebooks. No doubt about it–a school can purchase 3 to 4 Chromebooks for every iPad it could buy with the same money. Google also suggests that you will spend as much supporting an iPad as you will buying it, making it possible to purchase 6 to 8 Chromebooks for every iPad. Here's what the number generator said about my school's iPad rollout:

There is no way we have spent $364,000 on iPad support in our school, and certainly not $89,000 in deployment. I would guess that we have spent closer to $480,000 in hardware (slightly more), which includes apps. We do not have a full-time tech person in our building, and that person does not deal with devices directly. There is no way we have spent $450,000 on support. I would be shocked if we have spent $50,000 on support, or even $100,000 with our JAMF MDM included.

Now, just because the Chromebook is winning doesn't mean that it is a better solution for teachers or students. It just means that it is cheaper, and it is still easier to manage than iPads (Apple has made big strides in management over the past years). And in music education, where a clamshell device is a challenge to fit in our classroom–the Chromebook is at a disadvantage in our field. Most schools will not choose a device simply because it doesn't work the best in music education.

Additionally, the future of Chromebooks is still murky. While Google has promised future support of Chrome OS and new Chromebooks throughout 2016, they have not denied the reports that Android will replace Chrome OS as the single mobile operating system from Google. I have not seen any new Chromebook announcements over the past months. I think Chrome OS is on a timer, and that Android–with all of its issues such as a legitimate App Store and malware–will become the unified OS for all Google mobile devices. And if past Google practice is any example, I do not expect current Chromebooks to be able to be updated to the new Android OS. It will be slightly humorous to watch the reaction of schools that adopt Chromebooks in 2016-2017 when this happens.

#2: Developers Are Focusing on the Chromebook. When you take technology out of the classroom, it becomes easier for music teachers to utilize that technology. This year, we have seen some major development in programs that are coming to Chromebook because of their popularity in schools–but they are hedging their bets by also developing in HTML 5, meaning that their programs can work on any platform. Two examples are flat.io, a web-based music notation program that works with GAFE and SmartMusic, which obtained the company Weezic to be HTML 5 functional by the fall of 2016. While you can use either of these programs in your classroom, students are more likely to use them out of the classroom, and will be able to do so on their Chromebooks or any other device. In contract, MusicProdigy, another player in the green note/red note programs, works on every platform but Chromebooks. Their concept is that students can complete their assignments on their phones (or their parent's phones) if need be. So while Chromebook has been a driver for a lot of change in the industry, these companies will not be hurt at all if Chrome OS becomes Android OS.

#3: Shocking Changes at Hal Leonard. this past year, I was shocked to see John Mlynczak move from PreSonus to Hal Leonard/Noteflight. I didn't understand why he did that until I saw Noteflight Learn. Noteflight was the first online notation program–and while Noteflight was purchased by Hal Leonard, it seemed vulnerable to flat.io. Noteflight Learn was introduced at NAfME's National Conference, and I finally understood why John moved companies. Noteflight learn is going to bring a number of new features to music and music education–and this has the potential of changing everything that we do in music for an affordable cost. The product isn't complete yet–but keep your eyes on the product.

On a similar note, Sheet Music Direct now offers Pass, which opens up thousands of Hal Leonard titles for a monthly or annual rate. Make no mistake about it–this action is connected to Noteflight Learn and what it is going to do for music education.

#4: The Incredibly Slow Adoption of Bluetooth LE MIDI. With iOS 8 in 2014, Apple paved the way for MIDI devices to connect to a Mac or iOS device via Bluetooth LE. I own (and owned) several of these devices, such as the JamStik+, PUC+ (both HIGHLY recommended), Miselu C. 24, mi.1, and the coming CME XKey series. I believe that there is a Korg keyboard with Bluetooth MIDI on the way, and that Windows and Android are going to incorporate Bluetooth MIDI into their operating systems (in 2014, Apple joined the Bluetooth standards advisory board).

I have used these devices (my C.24s were lost in Nashville, along with my PUC+, and the folks at Zivix were unbelievably kind to replace my PUC+) and Bluetooth MIDI is the real deal. No more wires, no more hassle. If you need a keyboard, make sure you have a Bluetooth adapter for it (e.g. The PUC+) or buy one with Bluetooth built in.

At NAfME, a Yamaha representative tried to sell me on the idea that a Yamaha keyboard which generated its own wi-fi network (like the original JamStik and PUC) was the way to go (along with a proprietary Yamaha iOS App). Nope–Bluetooth MIDI is it. As music educators, we need to demand that this simple solution be included with every electronic instrument.

It is important to note that Web MIDI is in development, and will allow HTML 5 programs to interact with MIDI devices.

#5: As Always, Some Wonderful Advancements in Software. If you need to scan music, Neuratron's products are a-ma-zing. I highly recommend PhotoScore Ultimate 8 if you own a Mac or PC, and if you don't, buy the $40 iOS or Android App NotateMe, and then add the $30 PhotoScore add-on. While no program will scan everything perfectly (as a tip, the better the camera on your phone as well as adequate lighting and a while background helps immensely), you will be shocked at the results you get from PhotoScore (either version). I can generally go from score to 99% accuracy digital score in less than an hour, including lyrics. (I scan, import to Finale, edit, and then export to Notion on iOS for export of audio). While I am still not a fan of SmartScore X2, which is the scanning app included with Finale (lite version), the latest version of SmartScore brought it to the level of PhotoScore 7–so that is a huge improvement as well. Avoid the iOS/Android app for now. Just for fun, check out MusicPal on iOS as well.

Quaver Music continues to make in-roads as an elementary curriculum, and it now has a strong showing at every music convention that I present at. If you are a K-8 teacher and you teach general music, you might want to see what they can do. To be honest, in an era where many vendors are scaling back their participation in music conferences (in the vendor area and sponsoring), Quaver has ramped up its efforts, and I love them for that. I still think the vendor area is the most important part of a convention for me, so I can see what is out there, and so that I can visit with representatives, hear questions from other teachers, and simply network in the area.

Music reading on the iPad continues to provide the best experience, particularly with the iPad Pro, which can now adequately show a band/orchestra conductor's score. forScore continues to be the leader in this category, and unrealBook is also highly suggested (have both on your device, just as a back-up. Trust me on this one). For fewer options, try NextPage. forScore now allows the Apple Pencil to be used for annotation without needing to select annotation (I believe the last used tool stays active). For in-rehearsal score annotation, this is going to be wonderful.

While Neuratron's NotateMe has offered music handwriting recognition for two years, StaffPad entered the world of the Microsoft Surface in 2014, and is favorably reviewed by many, including Philip Rothman of the Sibelius Blog. Interestingly, this app is streamlined for the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro. While it can run on other Windows tablets, only the Surface series can take full advantage of the app. With the addition of the iPad Pro, I wonder how long it will take the developers to expand their reach to iOS. There is no way that the Microsoft Surface can provide enough app sales to sustain a business for a category like music notation. This past fall, Notion began offering music handwriting recognition on its iOS app. It is an in-app purchase that is growing in features with every release.

So, in conclusion, it has been a good year for technology in music education. The continued growth of the Chromebook has led to the development of a number of open-platform solutions. There are exciting changes at Hal Leonard, which is the world's largest supplier of paper music. The changes at Hal Leonard should echo with other major publishers. While Bluetooth MIDI has been proven to be a success, hardware providers have been slow to incorporate the standard into new devices. And, as usual, the best apps for music and music educators have simply continued to get better.

At the end of 2015, I still believe that the iPad is the best solution for music educators. While a MacBook or Windows notebook may round out your experience–an iPad continues to be the best all-around solution for what we do. I am excited to get an iPad Pro (I still have much of an iPad Air 2 to pay off) and to see how the larger screen (and faster device) impacts my instruction.

And as I mentioned earlier, if you know of any job leads, I am beginning to be open to such a move in my life. And if you would ever like to hire me to come and lead sessions for your state conference, your local conference, or your school, please feel free to contact me!

I hope you had a wonderful 2015, and I am excited to see what happens in 2016!

 

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