Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

WIDI BUD Follow-Up

I received an e-mail from a reader who has a WIDI BUD and they wanted to bring up some specific issues with the device, and I thought it would be good to share their observations with you, as well as a few of my own after my own extended testing today.

In my last post about the XKey Air and the WIDI BUD, I talked about how the WIDI BUD can link to other BLE MIDI devices.  This is not always true.  I was able to connect Zivix products to a WIDI BUD on Mac, Chromebook, and Windows with no problems.  I did not try the Quicco Sound mi.1 MIDI to BLE MIDI dongle that I have in my home, and I can verify that the mi.1 does not connect to the WIDI BUD at this time.  Likewise, the reader mentioned that the Yamaha MD-BT01 and the Yamaha UD-BT01 do not connect to the WIDI BUD (Also, these were new devices to me that came out at NAMM in January).

I don’t know why this is the case–but if you have those specific BLE MIDI devices, the WIDI BUD will not work for you at this time. I do not know if a future firmware update can solve the problem, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

The other item that the reader wanted to bring to your attention is that there are some apps that modify the functionality of the WIDI BUD available for download directly off of CME’s website.  They also wanted to highlight that documentation for the WIDI BUD and its accompanying software leaves much to be desired.

In terms of my own personal tests today, I wanted to share one additional observation, which is how easy it is to use MIDI devices with various platforms.  For the record, I have not tried to do so with my Android tablet, but I have tried using my MacBook (without BLE MIDI), my Chromebook, and my “now” old Asus T-100 Windows transformer.  

Interacting with wireless MIDI in iOS is the best experience.  That is followed, incredibly, by the Chromebook, as it is just plug and play.  The MacBook is next on my list of ease, and my Windows device fought me the entire way.  With my windows device, I found that if a BLE MIDI device also had a way to connect via USB MIDI, it was beneficial to connect with the Windows device via USB first, then unplug and connect via the WIDI BUD.  That could be my machine’s issues–but if it worked for me, it might also work for you.  I don’t run a lot of software on that machine, so I was testing BLE MIDI using MuseScore.

I am not troubled by this issue at all..BLE MIDI is still a relatively new feature, and I am hoping future firmware updates can solve these problems.

MakeMusic to discontinue scanning in Finale:

Granted, SmartScore lite was never the best option, but they were going to greatly increase its functionality. 

From the Sibelius blog:

My response:  ARRRRGGGHHH!

Instead of making an easier path to legally obtain copyright at prices that reflect school budgets and allows for best practice use of technology, this potentially leads to a more restrictive future with higher prices and more difficultly in using technology. 

What a sad day. 

MakeMuaic will incorporate scanning into SmartMusic, which will be of value to music educators (I’m not sure how you would edit scanning errors), but to those that use Finale, another path of music OCR will be needed. 

*8:20pm edited to reflect that scanning will be a part of SmartMusic. 

Newzik: an iOS Music Reader


If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I am in full support of the use of tablets (particularly the iPad) as a music reader–a function that can be used in any discipline of music education, particularly with the introduction of the 12.9″ iPad Pro last November.

My go-to apps haven’t changed since the iPad was introduced in 2010…forScore and unrealBook are the best PDF music readers available on the market.  PiaScore has been the best free option (although with too many distractions for middle school students); NextPage has been a great solution for a forScore/unrealBook “lite” version; and Showbie has worked relatively well for me as a music folder for my students (and has made the act of distributing and collecting music 100% easier).

Newzik was an app released this past January, and I cannot remember if they contacted me about their app, or if Paul Shimmons (band director, fellow blogger, and friend) had told me about it.  Their latest version of the app came out a few days ago and it is amazing.

Do I still love forScore, unrealBook, NextPage, and Showbie?  Of course.  Newzik takes  a different path towards music reading, and opens up sheet music to MusicXML files and PDF files.

There have been a few programs that use MusicXML files, such as SeeScore, and apps like MusicProdigy (red note/green note) rely on MusicXML files.  But to incorporate both PDF and MusicXML is a new idea.

I believe that the primary need for a tablet music reader, beyond showing music, is annotation.  Newzik has it…and you can annotate on a PDF or a MusicXML.  Writing on a MusicXML is a pretty radical idea, and the only time this becomes a problem is if you want to transpose the MusicXML to another key (it makes you make a copy of the song or delete the annotation).  In addition to annotation, you can link multiple files (PDF, MusicXML, audio, etc.)  to a single file, organize your files in playlists, and use a wireless page turner.  You can also share music with band members (additional cost per month), and 30 scores are included free–more than 30 requires a full purchase ($20).

The transposition feature worked amazingly well from a ukulele song I created in Notion for iOS, uploaded to Dropbox (Notion still doesn’t allow “Open In” like many iOS apps), and then into Newzik.  I changed the song from the key of C ro the key of F–and everything switched correctly…lead part and chords.  That is the power of MusicXML.  I was also able to load a recording of that song that I had created from GarageBand into Newzik.  That way, I can play the MusicXML file, or I can play the m4a audio file.

Just imagine if iReal Pro would marry its functionality with Newzik…full generated accompaniments behind the literal sheet music or MusicXML file?  Wow.

Newzik is still pretty young, so some key features (for music) are missing, such as dealing with repeat signs, DS/DC/Coda markings, and “hot spots” or “links.”   But in the world of digital music, who needs these markings any more?

Furthermore, it is getting easier and easier to get music into MusicXML format (here’s hoping that it will simply be available as such from publishers someday) with apps such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP), PhotoScore, and SmartScore (Finale is advertising the ability to import directly from a PDF in the next version).  There are even some web sites offering free PDF to MusicXML conversion–and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see MuseScore develop its own scanning component (they have everything else, why not that).

Once your score is in MusicXML and accurate, and if you have a program like Newzik that can transpose on the fly, show a single part, play back, zoom in (for smaller screens), and annotate, why would you even want the paper version or PDF version?

The app also shows chords (on a MusicXML file) on a guitar neck or on a keyboard.  As a ukulele player, that isn’t super helpful (perhaps ukulele can be added), but it makes Newzik as functional for a rock musician as it does for a member of the New York Choral Society (Loren–shout out!).

Sure, there are things to fix and improvements to come–but this is an app that has been out since January, and it is really worth installing on your iOS device.  No, it isn’t going to replace forScore or unrealBook on my device…but it is going to remain on my device, particularly as I create more and more MusicXML files in the future.

Grace VanderWaal on America’s Got Talent

One of my friends at school came in to tell me about a girl on America’s Got Talent who played the ukulele.  Knowing that I had started a ukulele initiative at the school, she immediately thought of me.  I never see broadcast television (live, anyway), so I didn’t know anything about it.  YouTube to the rescue:

As I just posted on my (personal) Twitter feed, there is a lot to love in the video, and a few questions as well.

I love the girl’s personality.  I love that she is a middle school student (likely grade 6 or 7) and she is writing and singing her own songs.  I love that she has her own YouTube channel with a lot of other songs.  I love that she has her own style.  I love that she is using a ukulele–and a “entry level” ukulele at that (the Luna Tatoo is better than your cheapo ukulele, but it is still an entry level ukulele).  I love that my kids (my own boys and my students)  can see this video and realize that they, too, can create authentic music experiences and even have the ability to write their own songs.  And I love the fact that she uses a capo (and seems to regularly do so in many of the other YouTube videos on her channel).

There’s nothing bad here, but I do have a few questions.  I do wonder if she has a voice coach, as her voice has a breathy quality and she seems to sing in the lower register of her vocal range.  As a choir teacher, I hope someone is building the upper range of her voice even if she will be known for the lower range of her voice.  Right now, she has a Nora Jones factor to my ear–and I would love to hear a voice that can do that and more.  

Many young artists, particularly in this genre of TV show, amaze with one song and then cannot provide that same wonder with a second or third performance at those next levels of the show.  Having seen her YouTube channel, she will very likely keep playing the ukulele and singing–likely more of her own music.  I think she’ll be okay, even if she doesn’t win.  Several ukulele manufacturers should be seeking her out for a contract right now.

Finally, I worry about the future of teen and pre-teen stars.  Although they may be happy with their lives, I look at the examples of child stars and what they do as grown-ups.  Think about Macaualy Calkin, Miley Cyrus, and even Charlotte Church.   It looks like VanderWaal’s parents are active in her life and that the family dynamics are strong (but again, this is television, so you don’t know).  Hopefully that will help her fight the challenges that seem to want to take down young stars in our culture.

I’m excited to see how far Grace VanderWaal can go in this competition.

A Personal Post

It has been a tough year in the classroom, and something happened last week that summarized my year in a single event.

It was about 7:45am, and I was in my office, getting ready to teach, and we were three days away from the concert.

As I was working on my iPad, preparing warm-ups for the day, some students ran into my office.  They said, “Dr. Russell, do you have a red car?”  I answered that I did.  They quickly responded, “You don’t any more.”

Surreal moment.

I went to find my principal, and let her know that something likely had happened to my car, and we went out to look at my car.

A few staff members who teach on the far side of our building (like myself) park on the street outside of our school, which is legal.  I usually end up parking behind our gym teacher, who has a Suburban.

Well, around 7:40 or so, a person who was an ex-felon and driving on an expired license, crashed into my car while parked, and then crashed into the suburban in front of my car.  They then backed up our of my car, losing a wheel, and drove off, eventually ditching their vehicle.  My car was totaled and pushed up over the curb; the Suburban was knocked forward (breaking its PARK mechanism) and ended about 100 yards down the road.  As it was a beautiful spring day, a lot of kids were outside of the school and saw the accident–as did at least one bus driver. Thankfully, no kids were crossing the street when the crash occurred.  The entire incident was caught on our school’s security cameras.

The police eventually caught the person, who did not offer any reasonable explanation for the accident and declined a sobriety test.  The police simply cited the person.

I handled the situation well–I kept a positive attitude, and was able to show our students how to respond to an unfair situation in life.  The gym teacher and I should have been sent home to deal with things (we were not given that chance).  In addition to a busy schedule with Memorial Day camping and a concert the day after Memorial Day, it was tricky to find a used car that fit what I wanted in a newer used Prius (finding a 2010-2015 with a backup camera and Bluetooth audio is a little more complicated than you would think), and sadly, my insurance company gave me a value for my car that is slightly higher than KBB values, but lower than what you could replace the same car for.  The level of detail that the insurance company used to assess the car was shocking…nitpicking every possible flaw on a car that was not going to be replaced. My car wasn’t new…I bought it in 2014 with 160,000 miles, and had just over 208,000 miles on it.  I was content with the car (my 8 year old kept asking when we would buy a new car, and I kept telling him that we didn’t need one) and I fully expected that car to last to 300,000 miles.

Again, it was a blessing that I wasn’t in the car (some days I sit in the car, listening to the radio and finishing my coffee before facing the day), or that it didn’t happen while my family was in the car.  The cabin was safe, but there would have been some physical damage from the impact.  I am also thankful that no kids were hurt in the accident, and that I could use the opportunity to teach students how to respond to yucky situations, and to teach them about how insurance works and why we need it.

Oh…and here is the replacement car I chose: a 2010 Prius Level III with Backup Camera and Bluetooth Audio.  Sadly, this now puts us another 5 years in car debt.


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