Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Presentations in Wisconsin next week…Chromebook question for blog followers.

Next week, I am presenting sessions at the Wisconsin State Music Conference.  One is on S-Cubed, Dale Duncan’s fantastic sight-reading method for middle school; the other is on Chromebooks in music education.

I have a pretty good grasp on Chromebooks in music education…but are there any recent developments that you have seen that I might not know about?  I am fully aware of the “big” programs, such as SmartMusic, Noteflight,, SoundTrap, the MusicFirst products, and all the “general” websites such as Quizziz, Kahoot, and so on.

I also know about the WIDI Bud and the Chromecast, as well as Chome mirroring to Reflector and Air Server.

That said, there might be something good out there that I don’t know, or new hardware that I might not know.  If you know of anything, please send me an e-mail and let me know about it so I can share it with others.

Copies of the presentations will be up in the “Past Presentations” area by Thursday.


Non-linear Finale Work

Some time ago, Mark Adler (now the Notation Product Manager) from MakeMusic posted a re-creation of William Billing’s Connections on the Finale Blog.  I have never needed to create such as score, so I filed the information in the back of my mind.

This summer, I ran into Pete Mai, who runs Bonanza Ukuleles.  His wife fell in love with the ukulele, and he was a cabinet maker, so he thought: I can make my wife ukuleles!  So he did, and they realized that they could actually make their own ukuleles out of laminate countertops.  This summer, they started making hardwood ukuleles.  When I saw them at the Silver Creek International Ukulele Festival in August (near Two Harbors, Minnesota), they had the new ukuleles on hand, and it turns out that they can laser etch logos into the ukuleles.  This includes engaging a rosette.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would like to commission a ukulele for our choir’s program–which would have the choir logo as well as the school song around the sound hole.

And at that moment, Mark Adler’s post from 2012 came to mind.  I haven’t had time to work with the idea until today.  We are off school, and following Murphy’s law, I am fighting a cold that settled in on Wednesday after school (how wonderful to spend vacation days laying low because you’re sick).  Today I opened up Mark’s existing file and got to work.

Basically, the entire song utilizes the custom line tool in smart shapes, and was generally pretty easy to do.  Two things threw me for a “loop” (pun intended).  First, the text had to be edited within the custom line tool.  Second, there were a few shops and lyrics that just wouldn’t line up very easily.  I did send Mark a few e-mails during the course of the day, which helped me along the path.  One other tip…to align words, add another circle as an expression as an alignment line.  A special thank you to Mark for his help today!

The end result was our school song (tune is the Minnesota Rouser) in two formats: one with words, the other without.  I am going to use the one without words on the custom ukulele; I am going to use the one with words as a large poster and perhaps on concert programs, with the choir logo in the middle.

I would guess that 99% of Finale users will never attempt to make a circular score…but it is great to know that Finale can handle it!


After our recent podcast interview, Aron Nelson (developer of unrealBook) created a forum for PDF music readers at  While unrealBook will be a topic, discussion of all apps and aspects of the music reading process are welcome, and I believe discussion of musicXML readers like Newzik, Gustaf, SuperScore, and SeeScore would also be welcome.

Please spread the word!

Educational Gurus and “One Size Fits All” Advice

This weekend, I ended up in a Twitter battle, of sorts, with a “major” educational guru.  Educational gurus often post “one size fits all” solutions on the Internet (including social media)…and often respond to alternative replies by doing the equivalent of killing a fly by smashing it with a Buick.

In this case, the guru stated, “When you show kids how to click on stuff…what percent of the class could have figured it out without you?

I have taught three full years (in my fourth) of teaching in a 1:1 iPad school, and I have pushed boundaries with the use of technology in music education.  I have learned a lot in these last few years, and I can tell you this: If you don’t show students what to do and how to do it, they don’t know how to do it, and will not figure it out on their own.  Even when you do show them what to do, there is a percentage that still will not “get” it.

True, 10%-20% of your class can do it without you.  That is all wonderful and good.  But what I have found out is that those kids don’t really want to help their peers–these are the kids who have been burned by their peers in a number of settings, and they are quite content to let the others live in bewilderment.  They do help kids that have special needs…but they let the other percentage of the population that just doesn’t follow directions just hang out on a limb.

If you want to make good use of classroom time, you have to show kids how to sign up for a service, how to start an account, and then show them the basic tools to use that account. If you do not do so, 60% will have no idea what to do, and the other 20% will not have even signed up for an account.  At that point, you might as well not even use the technology.

Even if you provide written directions, or even a video, there has been a good chance that 60% of my students will not complete a task or project.  I have to go step by step to get 80% of them with me.

I had my 8th Grade students sign up for the S-Cubed component of MusicProdigy this last Friday.  When you create an account, there is a little link to create an account in the log-in page.  I walked my classes through the process, and I still had 20% of the students fail to follow the process and find themselves in the normal “log in” process versus creating an account.  It takes time to go back and walk those students back through the process they didn’t follow in the first place.  I would not be able to keep up with the 1:1 process if I just said, “Go to Music Prodigy and create an account.”

Incidentally, you know the same is true with the staff in your building every time you introduce a new technology tool.

It doesn’t help that when I introduce things, I am doing so with groups of 35-60 six to eighth grade students in a subject they do not feel is as important as their “core” classes.  The term “encore” is applied to music, art, business education, language, and physical education.  There is a different mindset towards our classes…and admittedly, our classroom set-up is significantly different.

When I expressed that I didn’t think the guru’s idea of “self-exploration” was realistic, I was reprimanded: “Of course they can get it.  Change the culture of your class, break the learned helplessness.  I will believe in your students and you will think they can’t.”

As I have grown older, have earned advanced degrees, have taught for more than 20 years, and am now a parent, I am no longer the self-inflated egotistical person I was following my undergraduate degree.  I think it is good that we graduate from undergraduate college thinking we alone can change the world by sheer willpower alone. Life has tempered that mindset in me.  I avoid absolute statements in my role with technology integration, and I try not to insult anyone.  I don’t want to close doors with anyone–I want to build them up and help them along their path.

I do have strong beliefs, and there only a few things I believe strongly enough to be flippant about them.  For example: Always have a backup plan in case technology doesn’t work OR make sure your personality can deal with a very sudden change in plans.  

Beyond that, I make suggestions, and frequently say that it is up to you whether you take my advice or not.

As for the original topic, I think you are inviting disaster if you don’t lead your students through things step-by-step.  Sure, you will have kids that instantly “get” it.  You always will.  And you don’t have to show every feature of a program (advanced users can figure those out on their own).  But you DO need to show them and walk them through what you expect as a minimum, or you won’t even get your minimum expectations from a majority of students.

This all goes back to the myth of the digital native.  I don’t believe in the digital native.  I believe that we can all learn basic digital skills, but the task of using technology and integrating it into our learning (and teaching) is something that requires intention, purpose, and planning.  Students need to be taught how to use technology in their learning.  

“Are you still blogging?”


I am still here, absorbing news, developing opinions, and still working full time as a middle school choir (and a bit of technology general music and ukulele teacher), plus dealing with my responsibilities as a husband and as a dad.  I’m also gearing up for six (!) music education conferences over the next four months, which include Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland.

I have been waiting for something exciting to happen before blogging on the webpage, but to be honest, everything is pretty quiet following the release of iOS 10 and Mac OS Sierra.  There have been a number of updated apps, but all of the updates haven’t really brought new functions to any of the apps that I use.

Paul Shimmons and I have begun a podcast, and we cover news issues there–but the fun part is talking to other people and hearing about their stories and how they are connected to the larger issue of technology in music education.  Paul and I will be getting together soon to record podcast #4. We’re also very excited to have a sponsor, UberChord, that has picked up the hosting costs for the podcast.

The development I have my eye on at the moment is the current trend of long-time web-based apps that are releasing stand-alone versions on the iPad.  Chromebook momentum would have you believe that apps would be going the other way.  From what I understand, iOS apps bring in significantly more revenue than other platforms, so it makes sense.  I still believe that iPad is a better solution for music education (pretty much any level, PK-college) than any other device; yet schools are still investing heavily in Chromebooks.  Things are better all the time on Chrome, but it still isn’t the device that I would choose for my program.  So the shift of web app to iOS app (SoundTrap, Kahoot, Gustaf) is an interesting trend that seems to have “legs.”

Meanwhile, I am waiting for news on new Macs and new iPads.  There is some talk about these things happening this month (they have to, paritcularly iPad, if new iPads will be a part of the shopping experience for the holiday season).  This impacts me as I am in the market for both an iPad Pro (12 inch) and potentially MacBook.  

Other than that, I have been having a pretty good year (not that the overall situation has improved, but my mindset and attitude has) integrating ukulele into all of my teaching (I haven’t touched the piano ONCE this year (Still working on barre I, IV, and V chords for warm-ups).  Last weekend I attended a ukulele festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had a chance to meet some of the major vendors and artists on the “mainland (in particular, Mainland Ukuleles, Lil’ Rev, and Danielle Ate the Sandwich.”).  Most of the other “major” ukulele performers and pedagogues are in California, Hawaii, or Canada.  It is funny to think about how far I have come with this instrument in 10 months and how much joy and passion it has brought back into my life.  I am also fortunate that I teach in the situation where I teach, where I have the freedom to depart from traditional choral music to approach choir in different ways.  I am pretty sure that what I am doing would be successful just about anywhere–I doubt that most teachers would want to learn/teach ukulele to do it.  And I am certain that my students will be tremendously prepared for the next level–either high school choir or just to enjoy playing and singing music for the rest of their lives.

I hope you have had a fantastic start of the year.  After another month or two, I’ll write a bit about the philosophy that has been keeping me afloat this year…it might help some of you, too.  I just need to make sure that it isn’t something I lose after another month goes by.  I might just wait until the holiday concert has come and gone before writing that post.