Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Reeling a little this evening…


Today I presented on the subject of iPads in Music Education for the Wisconsin Center for Music Education. We covered a lot of territory today, and as usual, the later afternoon becomes a challenge with planned work/reflection time. I am very thankful for those that attended today's session (tomorrow is Chromebook day)…all of them elementary music educators. I have no problems presenting…but part of me wished that I could have flown out Amy Burns for the day…I heavily recommended her resources as well as Katie Wardrobe's resources!

I was thrown completely off my game when one of the workshop attendees mentioned that a bunch of my elementary music apps were no longer on the App Store.

As I have mentioned before, I plan to update all of my books when iOS 11 comes out. That is when I will painstakingly go through every link to make sure that apps are still available. I do have a list of apps on my website…and it was just shocking to realize that so many apps were just…gone. One of the iPad's strengths has been the abundance of quality apps, many at no cost or low cost. Granted, plenty of web apps have disappeared, too (do any web apps from the original iPhone still exist?).

Don't get me wrong…there are still plenty of wonderful resources for the iPad (and Chromebook), and some stellar resources, such as forScore. I still think that forScore (or unrealBook) can completely change the instruction in any music class.

Still–the unannounced disappearance of apps unsettled me. I think it might be related to the upcoming iOS 11 and companies deciding to abandon a product instead of updating it. #sad. I need to update my web list!

A few minutes after the workshop closed, I received notice that none of my TMEA sessions were accepted this year (One on iPad, one on S-Cubed, two on ukulele). That is disappointing, but I have been accepted at TMEA several times (including sessions that I had to decline last year as I presented a number of sessions at the Maryland Music Educators Association the same weekend), and I have previously been declined at TMEA, too. The only sad part is that I have scaled back my presentations as my school was no longer giving me days off to present (they have never been asked to pay for travel, housing, or registration fees), and I was not sure what our new principal would think–so I had only applied at TMEA this year. If you had hoped to see me somewhere in 2017-2018, you'll have to come visit me at my school in Minnesota.

And now…I just received an e-mail from Chromatik that they are closing their services on Monday. That adds to my "reeling." Chromatik started off as a service that would display (and sell) sheet music, as well as offer annotation and group distribution. Funding was made possible with angel investors. It was used on "American Idol," and I had high hopes for the service. They even offered a promo that if you had a certain number of students sign up, they would send you an iPad 2. I did that at my prior school, and that iPad is still in use. Later, Chromatik took a turn, offering sheet music linked with video for all kinds of tunes, with a subscription model. It became a web-based service, and I had continued to talk about it–although I didn't use it very often myself. I still wish it would have continued to exist and improve in its original form, as nobody still has the group distribution model worked out (although Newzik and forScore have some elements of those models). People at Chromatik, thank you for making a "go" of it, and I wish you all the best in your futures.

The other day I wrote a tweet and said this:

Here is the challenge as a music education technologist: there is little new to report on, yet the profession, as a whole, hasn’t adopted the old stuff.

I really feel this is true. The iPad is no longer the "hot commodity" in music education, yet it is about to undergo a major transition with iOS 11 making it easier, better, and faster. The apps are still world class, and some of them exceed or improve on the abilities available on other platforms, often at a better price point. I still believe that the iPad is the best platform for music educators (note: not the only platform), and I would love to see every music teacher (that wanted one) have an iPad (preferably the 12.9" iPad Pro) for their instruction, regardless of what their students have or or are given. Again…forScore (or unrealBook) alone justifies the device. Having apps like Notion, Sheet Music Scanner, Notate Me, Luma Fusion (and more) just sweetens the deal.

Tomorrow is Chromebook day. I'm not against Chromebooks, and I want to help teachers use whatever device they or their students have. The Chromebook has improved a lot, and is so much more useful in music classes. Most of this is thanks to paid services (education versions), such as Noteflight, flat.io, and SoundTrap (and many others carried by MusicFirst, which is also brilliant). Android is coming (in fact, it is already on many Chromebooks), although there are issues to work out in an educational model.

That said, Android isn't iOS when it comes to music education, and neither is Chromebook. The iPad still has a very important place–and not just because I like it. It just does more and it does it better. I just have to hope that we don't ignore it as a profession, as most music educators still haven't had a chance to see what it can really do!

Books Update

I have been busy working on my ukulele video resources this summer, and on the side I have been watching the technology news.

Amy Burns posted about her iBook which is entitled, “Help!  I am an elementary music teacher with a SMART Board!”  SMART recently updated its main program (SMART Notebook), changing some things and removing some older components.  Amy updated the exercises in her book so that activities can be used with the latest software.

This made me think about my own iBooks (and eBooks).  All of them are dated at this point, and I don’t intend on updating anything until after iOS 11 is released in the fall.  I don’t really suggest buying them right now, and when I do update them, I am going to reconsider pricing, etc.

I think a quick summary of my positions with music technology are worth stating in the meantime.

  1. I still think the iPad is the most flexible solution for music education–for teachers or students.  It will fit in any teaching situation, there are incredible apps for the platform, there are a number of quality accessories for the device, and the “new” 9.7″ iPad is in the same general price range as many Chromebooks.  The old argument about price being the determiner of Chromebook vs. iPad is over…it now becomes a question of philosophy and allegiance to a physical keyboard.
  2. Chromebooks are improving, and I really liked Michelle Mastin’s (ViolaJack) recent blog posts where she is using a “flipping” Chromebook in performance settings via Android.  The problem is that schools are not buying these more flexible (and less rugged) devices.
  3. Web-based programs keep getting better.  Noteflight, Flat.io, and Soundtrap are awesome solutions that now work together–and all of these services are offering better solutions for Google Apps schools (note…iPad schools can be Google Apps schools, too).  And of course, there is the New SmartMusic and all of the MusicFirst catalog including Sight Reading Factory.
  4. Two challenges remain for web-based apps.  First, they (rightly, fairly) cost money for annual subscriptions, and integrating them INTO secondary performance-based music education requires less time with performance, or integrating assignments OUT of the classroom.  Some of the web-based services, such as Noteflight, are including fund-raising opportunities to help schools raise money for resources.
  5. I don’t agree that web-based solutions are the only way to go.  If you are at an iPad school, for example, you may have a better experience with native apps such as Keynote, Notion, or GarageBand.  Yes, web-based solutions (should) work on every platform–but there are some things that are better on a specific platform.  I am sure that high school music technology teachers would insist on a Mac with Logic Pro or GarageBand.  However, if you are not at a device-specific school, it is pretty amazing how many quality solutions are available.  Don’t fail to look around and see the wreckage of web-based services that didn’t make it.  Or those that might not (SoundCloud).  [Note: We’re not sure what we will do with our podcast if SoundCloud folds]
  6. I still feel that the most natural way to use technology in music is as a replacement of and improvement on paper music.  One of the web-based digital music services recently questioned my continued support of PDF based technology such as forScore and unrealBook (iPad).  I can see where the future is going with Newzik and Gustaf, and if I didn’t have forScore and unrealBook, I would be able to use those solutions.  As it stands, the PDF music readers still offer a huge variety of tools that are not yet included in the MusicXML-based solutions.  Those features will continue to be added, and eventually all of us will move to those solutions.  I still love using Showbie in our 1:1 iPad scenario as a way to securely distribute music, allow students to interact with the music, do live assessments with music, and still not have too many tools in their hands (don’t give a middle school student a Swiss Army knife like forScore as a music reader.  They will be distracted by all the tools and find themselves plucking someone else’s hair our with the tweezers instead of simply cutting a rope with the knife).
  7. Ultimately, I feel like we are on the edge of a major distruption in technology in music education.  It is sort of like Moana standing at the edge of the water (sorry, I have young boys).  Things are about to change, but I can’t quite see where they are going.

This is going to be an expensive year for me in terms of technology.  I just replaced my iPad, my iPhone will be updated in the fall, and at some point this year, I will buy the new MacBook, as my current MacBook can no longer run the latest versions of the productivity software from Apple.  I encoded a video on my MacBook a couple of days ago–something I haven’t done since purchasing Luma Fusion (see my previous post).  All I’m going to say is this: my new iPad Pro can process a similar video in a fraction of the time it takes my 2008 MacBook to achieve…with more features.  I never thought I would see that occur.

One other note: Paul and I interviewed the CEO of UberChord a couple of weeks ago and have not found a common time to record the intro for that podcast.  We’re both on family vacations for the next weeks, so be aware that something IS coming.  (And that is NOT a reference to Game of Throne, Season 7, which premieres tonight).

Luma Fusion iOS App


Every now and then, an app comes along that changes your workflow.

For years, the easiest way to create movies was to use iMovie for Mac.  Sorry, Windows users (I was one), but Windows Movie Maker didn’t cut it.  Chromebook friends, WeVideo is NOT in the same league.

A lot of my energy has been put into making ukulele play along videos over the last month.  I owe a lot to the ukulele–it has reignited my passion for and interest in music.  It has allowed me to tweak my choir program at school to make the program slightly more interesting to more students.  And it has given me the opportunity to flex my musical brain, from creating arrangements to analyzing audio tracks for chord progressions, to modulating keys of audio files, to creating play along videos.

In the midst of some very dark years of teaching, the ukulele has truly been a ray of sunshine in my world.  (And yes, I’ll point you to this fun play along video that I put together: https://youtu.be/tZOzIAn2FAo).

The process of making these videos has been in a state of flux for me.  As of late, I create lyric and chord slides in Keynote, time them to the audio, export that as a movie, bring the movie into iMovie where I then re-sync audio and add a transparent PNG for a “bouncing ball.”  I had to do almost all of this work on my Mac, as iOS apps wouldn’t allow it…and iMovie on iOS is crippled versus its desktop version.

[Incidentally, Apple has made movie making even simpler and less complex with Clips…whereas I would want to see iMovie add more functionality.]

Last night, 9 to 5 Mac had a feature on Luma Fusion, which brings nearly the full spectrum of video editing to iOS.  The video capability that I wanted to use is to be able to add a transparent PNG file to a video, and then position that PNG file anywhere on the screen.  It wasn’t straightforward in the app’s listed capabilities, but spending a little time on their forum showed that the app could do that.  It was a $20 app…but I had a gift card, so I bought it.

While I did play around with the app a little last night, I went to work this morning.  I understand that I’m a little faster with technology than the average bear–so when I use a new software package, the amount of time that I have to spend to learn it–or the amount of time that I find myself frustrated–yields itself three or four times for the average user.  

What I found out was that I could make an entire ukulele play along video on my iPad.  In some ways, with better results than my previous videos.  Check it out: https://youtu.be/AM__0nYC_n4

Some general observations:

1) If you know how to edit a movie in iMovie, editing in Luma Fusion is very similar.

2) I was amazed to be able to make multiple font text overlays, and then to be able to make a template of that overlay…saving me a lot of time making slides

3) Cut and paste (lyrics) is still a mess on the iPad (not Luma Fusion‘s fault).  Maybe iOS 11 will fix this.

4) There are some things missing in Luma Fusion that will make my life easier in the future.  I couldn’t copy and paste a series of existing PNG images…meaning that every one had to be cloned and dragged.  This will change in the future.  I also missed iMovie’s default behavior of placing a transition on every PIP (picture in picture) image…and had to apply those manually.  This will also be addressed in the future by Luma Fusion.  There are currently no alignment guides.  They are coming in the future.  There is no iCloud Drive integration…and this, too, will come in the future.  I can work without any of these.  It will be nice to have all of them.

5) I had a couple of questions and feature requests for the developer.  They responded very quickly.

6) The iPad makes working with transparent PNG files a bit of a challenge…it can be done.

Overall, I am shocked right now…I have one less reason to use my MacBook…and once again, a small development team creates a program that large companies cannot.  I love that aspect of the App Store.

Do you do any video editing?  Or do you have any interest in making a ukulele play along video?  If so, check out Luma Fusion for $20.  It is an incredible app.  I did not receive a trial version of this software, and hours after starting to work with the app, I am pleased with the purchase.

P.S.  The company’s name is Luma Touch…the app is called Luma Fusion.

You Better Have an Answer…

I’m fired up right now.  Every now and then, the educational gurus on Twitter post statements that are detached from reality, throw blame (and guilt) at teachers, and offer an over-simplistic solution to a complicated issue.

This morning, a well-meaning educator reposted a statement from a conference they are attending.  They wrote:

If a student asks, “When am I ever going to use this?” we better have a legitimate answer.

On the surface, this is a wonderful statement.  Shouldn’t every activity we do in school have a legitimate purpose for and direct impact on our lives?

There is a problem that exists here, which is that we use this reasoning to punish teachers and to falsely enable students.  Punish teachers?  Oh, yes.  These statements are of hidden as “statements of encouragement,” but in reality are meant to move those “stubborn” teachers off their mark.

Back to the idea of having a legitimate reason/use for learning anything, we have all seen the statement about, “Why I teach music” (nod to Katie Wardrobe at http://midnightmusic.com.au who created this graphic):

Why I teach music

What do we do if a student says that they don’t care about being human, recognizing beauty, being closer to an infinite, having something to cling to, having more love, having more compassion, having more gentleness, or having more good?  Or that they can learn these things elsewhere? (reality check: they can–in lots of places).

I have to admit: this strikes close to home.  I have three school age students, and my oldest is failing classes with the reasoning, “When am I ever going to use this?”  We have empowered students to think that if something they are doing does not have a direct impact on their future lives, they shouldn’t have to learn it.  Adding to this, every adolescent knows everything (so did I, and so did you), and it doesn’t matter if you talk about the value of learning how to think, how to approach problems, or how to handle situations in life where you have to do something you don’t want to do.  Logic from my oldest: “That is AWFUL.  Why would I do something I don’t want to do as an adult?

I hated changing diapers.  I still had to do it.  There are lots of things that fall into this category for me…even going to school some days!  If I stop doing them…we’ll be on the streets as a family with no roof over our heads, no food, and no possessions.

This style of thinking also creates a false form of logic that says that only my happiness is important.  In terms of philosophy and religion, this is called hedonism.  At some point, this form of reasoning becomes hurtful to others, as we put ourselves and our own pursuit of pleasure above all else.

I don’t know about you, but I find my greatest meaning in life when I am doing things to help others.  Truthfully, that is one of the reasons why I write this blog and the other vocational (profession related but not a part of my paid job) tasks that I pursue on my free time.

As students are empowered to only do tasks that matter to their interests, it is any wonder that business owners talk about how hard it is to find workers with strong work ethics these days?

A good percentage of parents believe this way of thinking, too.  They don’t think their students should have to learn anything that they don’t want to, or that they shouldn’t have to learn anything that doesn’t have a direct impact on their future lives.

I don’t know about you, but I learned all kinds of things that have had no direct impact on my life today…but I don’t mind that I learned them.  I was forced into honors classes in high school (I tried to register for “standard” classes, but school counselors wouldn’t let me) and I learned plenty of things that I have never used in my adult life.

This thinking also strikes close to home in my profession where 50% of my students are forced into my class having to take a music class.  It doesn’t matter if I try to give them broad experiences in music beyond singing (ukulele, GarageBand) or even make the case that I want them to be able to sing in public (church, karaoke) or private (lullabies) at any point in the future with confidence and accuracy to pitch and rhythm.

With all sincerity, I can’t look at a student and say that their life will be a failure if they can’t sing a note, sight read (talk about an important skill in music that has limited impact outside of music making), or play chords on a ukulele.  I can’t say that they will use any of those topics as an adult.  I can tell you the benefits of all of them–but I can’t promise that you will use them as an adult.

I think a more reasoned approach is to make sure that we talk to our students about learning and how ALL learning molds us and shapes us, even if specific tasks are never used in adulthood.  Teachers used to talk about this all the time.  Parents (generally) held their kids accountable to behave decently and to make an effort to learn things.  And students (generally) respected the role of the teacher and tried to learn.  Sure…there were exceptions.  And the majority of teachers aren’t “super teachers” (there is another myth that every teacher has to be a super teacher).  Most teachers loved the subjects they are teaching, and wanted to invest in the next generations of humanity, so that those students could be human, recognize beauty, be closer to an infinite, have something to cling to, have more love, have more compassion, have more gentleness, and have more good.

Regardless of your political stance–the world desperately needs these things–which was true even before the most recent presidential election in the United States.

Please…be careful with those words of sage advice on Twitter.

Technology in Action: Pano Tuner


Several years ago, my respect for technology in music education experienced a quantum leap.

After a presentation, a person who attended the session e-mailed and asked, “If I had a student with no arms…she could use forScore and a bluetooth pedal to gain independence in choir, couldn’t she?”

The answer, of course, is YES.  

I never thought about this, as I have two arms, and every student in my program–every student I have ever had–has had two arms.

We don’t think about the life changing impact of technology for people with disabilities, until we have to, or someone else brings it to our attention.  An iPad that is just used for watching Netflix could be changing someone else’s life.

At any rate, a deaf person competed on America’s Got Talent a couple of weeks ago. Her name is Mandy Harvey, and various YouTube links show that she has been performing as a singer for the past years, even though she is deaf.  How does she sing on pitch?  She uses a tuner app (Which appears to be Pano Tuner) while she is learning her music, and then memorizes the feeling of that pitch to be able to recreate the music away from the tuner.  I was initially interested in the video because she plays the ukulele (another Kala player).

Incidentally, this is the first time I have seen people ignore the ukulele (e.g. Last year, Grace VanderWaal was the kid with a ukulele).

While Mandy acknowledges in other interviews that she always had a strong sense of pitch–I can’t imagine doing what she is doing.  I shared the video with my students before the end of the year.  I can’t help but think about the challenges she is facing in this industry, and how hard it must be for your entire future career to disappear as an option…yet she continues on.

Most of us would listen to Mandy having no idea she was deaf.  It would have been better for AGT if they would have had her sing and THEN let everyone know she was deaf.

And how wonderful is it that she can continue her singing career, in part, due to an inexpensive tuning app?

We truly live in amazing times.  The AGT video follows: