Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Some Potential Christmas Gifts for the Music Educator


It is December 3rd, just a couple days away from St. Nicholas Eve, where a Wisconsin tradition (going back to roots in Germany) has children put their lists to Santa in their stockings, so that Santa can stop by and get their lists, and leave them candy and small toys OR coal, with coal being a warning to get their act together so that Christmas can still be “good.”

I like that tradition.

So…if you have a music educator in your life, what kinds of Christmas gifts could you get them?

  1. If you have a bit of money available, I would suggested a used iPad Pro 12.9″ device–the 128GB or 256GB versions (stay away from the 32GB model).  Make sure that you pay no more than $700 for a 128GB ($850 for the cell version) or $850 for the 256GB version ($925 for the cell version).  A device refresh is coming up [likely in March], so I would not buy a new one.  If you buy from someone in person, make sure that you can log into the iPad and register it to you before handing over cash.  Since iOS 8, if “Find my iPhone” is enabled on a device, you cannot register it again until that setting is removed.  Sometimes sellers don’t know this–and sometimes they are selling stolen items.  Again…make sure everything works before handing over those hundred dollar bills!
  2. If your music educator already owns an iPad Pro (12.9″ or 9.7″), get them an Apple Pencil ($100).  They will not be disappointed.
  3. If your music educator is on the iOS platform, an iTunes Gift Card is always a nice gift.
  4. Take a look at the JamStik ($299) as a bluetooth MIDI guitar interface, or the CME XKey Air ($199) bluetooth MIDI piano interface.
  5. If you know someone that does recording on an iPad, consider an external microphone, such as the Blue Snowball ($50), the Shure MV5 ($100), the Blue Mikey ($90), or the Shure MV88 ($150).
  6. The ukulele has brought a lot of joy into my life, while we are buying Caramel ukuleles for our school, they will never arrive in time for Christmas.  I would suggest the Outdoor Ukulele Tenor models ($150) for a ukulele that literally can go anywhere; or for a high quality, low priced ukulele, I love all of the products at Mainland Ukuleles ($200-$400).  I am particularly fond of the Cedar/Redwood Tenor.  If you buy a Mainland, make sure to order a case and a humidifier, as solid wood ukuleles require basic maintenance with humidity; I also suggest getting 2 shoulder straps on any Concert or larger ukulele (one on the bottom, one on the heel–although Outdoor Ukulele installs them elsewhere), and if you plan on amplifying your ukulele, order a pickup with the instrument.  The Outdoor Ukulele only has one option; order a MiSi with the Mainland if you choose to buy a pickup.

iOS users who use music apps are fortunate…

As this Thankgiving Day draws to a close (and a very late “Happy Thanksgiving” to everyone), I was reminded this evening how fortunate iOS users, who use music apps, truly are.  Perhaps I could pen that sentence in a better way, but I think I am going to leave it.

This afternoon, I purchased some ukulele Christmas tab books from The Ukulele Hunt.  When we arrived at home, I wanted to put those PDFs on my iPad and started playing.

My usual PDF app is forScore.  forScore recently issued an update, and I cannot get the app to install on my iPad.  Therefore, it is sitting unusable on my device.  I’m not mad about this, and it wouldn’t cause me to tell people to not buy forScore.  Instead I fired up unrealBook, imported the PDF files from Dropbox, and was playing ukulele in no time at all.

Here is where iPad users are fortunate: we have devices that work VERY well for music reading, in a number of configurations, including a 12.9″ iPad.  At the same time, we have a number of accessories that make interacting with the music easier (AirTurn pedals, AirTurn iPad mounts, Apple Pencil (for pro models), and Adonit Jot Dash and Adonit Snap styluses), and a bunch of great apps that other platforms can only dream about.

Beyond forScore and unrealBook, which I recommend the purchase of both to everyone, there are many more PDF music readers, such as NextPage and even the (generally free with IAPs) app, PiaScore.  There is also another generation of music readers, such as Newzik, SuperScore, and Gustaf that combine the possibilities of MusicXML as well as PDF files.  And in a pinch, many other PDF apps can work very well, where other platforms lack a single good app.

I don’t want to talk down other platforms, and iOS has its issues, too.  But I am still amazed at my iOS devices and how they have seamlessly integrated into my daily life and my teaching–and I cannot imagine my life without these devices.  They improve the quality of my life (and allow me to invest my time in the things that interest me) and they help me in my profession.  The combination of ease of use and quality apps, along with core functionality (e.g. Core MIDI, BLE MIDI) make my iOS devices a essential element of my existence…and I am thankful for them today.

Again, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Check out my friend’s, Paul Shimmons, web page for a bunch of music apps that are on sale for Black Friday! 

The Most Expensive App? And expiring apps?


Years ago, when the App Store was a new thing, an app made the news by being expensive…$999.  It was entitled, “I Am Rich,” and only showed a glowing ruby on the screen.  We’re not sure if the “I” referred to the buyer, who clearly had a lot of money, or the developer who would quickly make $699 per sale.  The problem is that a number of people bought the app, thinking it was a joke or a typographical error–and found themselves out of $1000.  Apple quickly pulled the app, and then refunded money to purchasers.

Several years ago, a person came to me at a show and showed me a $700 app for piano tuners.  I couldn’t remember the name, and a search for tuners didn’t result in a quick find–and I didn’t want to spend much time looking for it.

This weekend, I was shown that app at a music convention…it is “Cyber Tuner” and it now sells for $999.  It is a professional app for piano tuners that is made for their needs.  It also represents one heck of an investment.  That said, the app has incredibly positive feedback from purchasers.  Furthermore, it is an “iPhone” app and not a universal app for iPad (it runs on the iPad, but has not been designed specifically to work on the iPad).  Please, if you choose to buy Cyber Tuner, use my referral link, and send 7% of the purchase price (which comes of out Apple’s 30%) to my referral account!

I do wonder what a $999 app can do in terms of tuning that a $3.99 app cannot (such as TonalEnergy Tuner, a favorite of instrumental music educators).  So I opened up TonalEnergy Tuner, and this warning appeared:


I have been seeing this warning from a number of apps as of late, and am thankful for it.  Many developers stop developing a product, when every app should be tweaked for the latest OS at least once a year.  This warning might force developers to update on a yearly basis.  I just read an article this morning that Apple is beginning to purge outdated apps throughout the App Store in a very rigorous fashion.   I am not sure if developers are being warned, or if the apps require a certain date for their last update, or if they are looking at compatibility/last OS that it was developed for.


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!