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!

Jamstik Studio MIDI Guitar

One of my favorite companies when it comes to technology and music education is Zivix. Zivix is located in the Twin Cities (not too far away from where I live) and they have released a number of products over the years, including the Jamstik (different versions), PUC (different versions), and Air Jamz. They have been industry leaders in the development of wireless MIDI and BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) MIDI applications.

Zivix has always had education on its mind as it creates products…with a main focus of introducing people to music through the use of technology. And over the years, they have dabbled in the area of music in the classroom in addition to their work for individuals who want to learn how to play music.

For a long time, I have said that if you teach guitar in a classroom setting, you need a Jamstik–and I think that’s still true. I don’t teach guitar any more…but if I did, I would be using my Jamstik all the time.

Professional guitarists have had a different relationship with Zivix…they have seen the technology (and how well it works), but have consistently asked for a full size guitar…not just five or seven frets.

Zivix had been working on a larger Jamstik, but decided to abandon that project (mid-stream) to make a full size studio MIDI guitar, as they decided it was the right time to do so. Well, they just introduced the studio guitar to the public at Winter NAMM (2020), and preorders are now available. $600 secures a place in the limited pre-order. The instruments start shipping in April 2020…and Zivix has had a great track record of actually releasing products (unlike some other companies).

Admittedly, I’m not their intended audience for this project…the Jamstik 7 does all I would ever need it to do, and ukulele has taken over my life…but I know that there are a LOT of guitar players who will make great use of this technology. $600 may seem like a lot (especially to a ukulele player), but it seems to me to be a great price for the technology in the world of a full-size guitar. If you are a guitar player who works with digital music…go visit their website and find out more about it. If guitar and digital music are your thing–this might very well change your life.