Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

My guest post: Stretching Your Technology Dollar

The folks at MakeMusic asked if I would write a post about getting the biggest bang for your buck with technology. I submitted that post, they were kind enough to clean it up, and it was posted yesterday. 

My only regret was that in the midst of daily teaching (ukulele heavy right now), I didn’t get around to taking a photo to be used in the article.

I think these are good tips, and I love that I was able to recommend some other sources as well!

2016 in Review, Best of 2016


As we draw near to the end of 2016, everyone is posting their “year in review” summaries.

While 2016 has been a terrible year for many, and while some bad things happened to my family and I in 2016, generally it was a pretty good year, and we end the year counting our many blessings.

The big story of 2016 in educational technology has been the dominance–or the reported dominance of the Chromebook in education.  Chromebooks sessions are the topics people are attending these days, and schools are buying a bunch of them.

If you have Chromebooks, the best solutions are going to cost money in the form of annual subscriptions.  The best Chromebook applications are generally the same applications that have been web-based on Windows and Mac for the past years.  Look at all of the products that are carried by MusicFirst, along with, The New SmartMusic, and SoundTrap.

The best device isn’t a device from 2016–it remains the 12.9″ iPad Pro.  We are awaiting a refresh of this model, but the new large iPad is ideal for music educators, particularly when paired with an Apple Pencil and AirPlay wireless mirroring in the classroom.

My favorite educational apps remain those that I use daily: Keynote, PDF Expert, Notion, forScore, unrealBook, Pages, Numbers, NotateMe (with the PhotoScore In-App Purchase) and GarageBand.

The two apps that I would recommend as “apps of the year” would be newcomers to the scene: Newzik and Sheet Music Scanner.  I have not made the shift to Newzik yet, but they are positioned well as a company that can read PDF files OR MusicXML files.  In other words, Newzik is ready for the next generation of digital sheet music.  Sheet Music Scanner is a game changer, as it is a relatively small app that is being aggressively updated, and does an incredible job scanning music (although it doesn’t scan everything).  As I have mentioned previously, if I have to choose one app for app of the year, it would be Sheet Music Scanner. Sheet Music Scanner completes the ability for me to scan, edit, and export music all from my iPad without having to touch my computer.

In terms of hardware, there haven’t been many new products for music education.  I am glad to see the growth (albeit slow) of devices like the CME XKey Air, wonderful bluetooth MIDI keyboards, and the Yamaha bluetooth MIDI adapters.  For bluetooth foot pedals and iPad stands, I would recommend AirTurn…although there are a few products from IK Multimedia.

In terms of full-blown notation programs, it has been a big year with a new product (Dorico), major updates (Finale 25 and Notion 6), and regular updates (Sibelius, StaffPad, and MuseScore).

And in classroom music, we have seen the introduction of Music First, Jr., and well as the continued growth and support from Quaver Music.

As we close out of 2016, I think we are fortunate to have the devices, accessories, and applications that are on the market.  For the most part, there is very little that I want to do with technology that I cannot do with solutions that are on the market.  It hasn’t always been that way.

I hope 2016 has been a good year for you (even if there have been challenges), and I wish you the best in 2017.  Thanks, as always, for stopping by (or subscribing to) and reading this blog.

As always, app links in my blogs are usually referral links that send 7% of the total purchase price (out of Apple’s 30% of the purchase price) to the “referrer.”  The developer receives the full 70% of the revenue from their app–so when you purchase from a referral link, you financially support this blog whose content remains free and not behind a pay wall.  Thank you for using these referral links!

Some thoughts about Weston Noble

I’m not a Luther College graduate, so I never studied officially under Weston Noble who died yesterday at 94 years of age.

He influenced my life in a number of ways.

My first introduction to Weston was as a college student.  My college choir, the Northwestern College Choir, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Port, sang at a regional ACDA conference. I had been struggling with my choice of Northwestern, as I had passed on going to the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University to go to Northwestern because of finances.  Two things happened at that conference…Lawrence also sang, meaning that my college had achieved the same level of recognition as that other school (you have to audition to be accepted to perform)…and after we sang, Weston came over and gave Dr. Port a huge hug and talked to him for a while.  Other professors from my school made it clear that the interaction we had witnessed was a very special moment.  All of this led to my acceptance of being at my college rather than somewhere else.  This impacted my own happiness and my impacted my openness to learn in new ways.

Over the years as a high school choir director, I had opportunities to see Weston work at the annual Dorian Music Festival and other venues.  Shortly after he retired, one of my former high school students ended up working with him for a year at Carthage College in Wisconsin (she was thrilled). 

I saw Weston direct expressively–and obtain results–from the smallest movement of his index finger.  Some of his warm-ups are still a part of my routine. I wish I could work in an environment where students could be called upon to demonstrate things for each other.  He scared the living tar out of students when he did that–but he always called on people that could handle it.  He was incredibly smart.  He was incredibly kind.  He loved what he did.  He wasn’t full of himself or his program. He lived his faith, and while the world is a lesser place without him, he is with his Lord and Savior at this moment.

When I studied for my Ph.D., I took a course called “The Art of Choral Conducting” at the University of Minnesota, led by Kathy Saltzman Romney.  One afternoon, she had Dr. Craig Kirchhoff (band director) come in to work with us.  He selected a hymn (Amazing Grace) and the class asked me to direct first–confident 32 year old that I was.  I directed it as I normally would–and afterward I stood there for 45 minutes (not joking) as he berated me (and the class) for conducting the hymn to a pattern.  It was a humiliating experience–and no one else would go up to conduct after me.  Maybe Dr. Kirchhoff had a bad day–and he certainly wouldn’t remember me.  Maybe I was just another victim in a long line of conducting analysis.  Simply put, significant damage was done to me (and others in the class) from that experience.

On our last day of the course, the Minnesota Chorale was on hand to work with each of the conductors, and eventually I had to conduct a section of a Faurè’s Requiem.  Our guest clinician was Weston Noble, and after the Kirchhoff experience, I was terrified.  But I pretended to be okay, and I got up and conducted.  The choir sang.  Eventually the movement ended.  Weston turned to me, and said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  So I did.  Weston said, “Do it again.”  Finally, I spoke up, “Is there something wrong?  Is there something I am supposed to focus on or fix?”  Weston looked at me, then at Kathy, then the Chorale, and said, “No.  It is just that your left hand expression is so lovely and so wonderful that I simply want to keep watching it.”

Wow.  The experience, as my colleague Joel Gotz commented, was cathartic.  It completely rebuilt my confidence after the very destructive experience earlier in the week. I do not think that Kathy put Weston up to that.  I still have the video from the experience somewhere.

I cannot discuss this in depth, but later in my life, some individuals (who had studied under Weston) made an effort to derail my career–and my faith, family, and that experience with Weston all helped me to make it through.  I will be forever grateful that Weston was our guest clinician that day, although I am sure he wouldn’t remember me.

Tim Sawyer referred to Weston Noble as the Yoda of the choral world…that was a perfect summary of his role for so many.  A true master and teacher of the craft. And incredibly kind and wonderful man without an ego (incredibly rare in today’s world of conductors ).  And the funny thing is that he was hired without a doctorate, and in today’s world would not even be considered for a job (even at Luther) without it.

To all those mourning Weston Noble, I am with you.  I promise you he is reaping the rewards of his  life this moment.

Digital natives?


I am not a fan of the term, “Digital Native.”  This implies that today’s students (including college students) are SO familiar with technology that they need no training.  After all, they grew up with the technology, so they know how to use it, right?

Well, they know how to do recreational things.  They know how to use social media and how to play games.  But when you ask students to use technology for academic purposes–they struggle.  They still need to be taught.

A couple of months ago, a very popular technology guru “put down” a teacher because they showed them every step to do something.  “Let them figure it out on their own,” was the sage advice.  I interceded for the teacher, saying that my own students seem to be incapable of following CLEAR directions (written or spoken), and do not have the initiative to figure it out on their own.  The guru then attacked me, saying, “I will believe in your students even if you don’t.”

So I put it to the test.  With the limited time we had with ukuleles, students only learned the C and F chords through late October (10 minutes, maximum, every-other-day).  I decided to test their ability to play these chords by having them make an instructional video to teach others how to play the chord.  To earn a specific grade, they had to complete specific tasks.  One of the tasks at the A Level was to use picture-in-picture or split screen to show a closeup of specific chords when they were teaching how to play those chords.

Every student has access to an iPad and iMovie.  How do you use split screen or picture-in-picture?  Ultimately, you move your cursor in the iMovie project to where you want to add the picture-in-picture or split screen.  Then you choose a second video (or the same video) to drop into place, and a “…” option allows you to choose how you want to embed that video.  After the video is in place, you can reposition a picture-in-picture box, and you can even resize the image to zoom in.

How did I learn this?  A 20 second search in YouTube for “picture in picture iMovie iOS.”

I didn’t give these instructions–these are digital natives, who can read the instructions, and can search using Google and YouTube, right?

I have nearly 400 students in choir.  Do you know how many were able to do picture-in-picture or split screen in iMovie on iOS?  NONE.  I had one student that spent $6 to buy another program that would allow her to do it (and she earned an A). Otherwise, students were quite content to earn a B, as it did not require extra work or effort.  400 digital natives–and not a single one could figure it out.  That educational guru sure was right!

As we continue with the ukulele in the coming months, I will show them how to do picture-in-picture and split screen in iMovie, because I want them to be able to make instructional videos not just for ukulele–but for other things they are passionate about.  And I also want them to know the work that others do to prepare those videos. But I have to SHOW them, because they will not figure it out on their own (or tap into the knowledge of others on their own initiative).

Interested in using the video assessment idea to use with your own classes?  (Ukulele, recorder, playing tests)? Here is a PDF of that assessment.

Note: The photo is of my now 8 year old son, who started using our iPhones in a significant fashion at just over one year (this would be about 2 months after that).  And yes, even my own children struggle to use devices appropriately, particularly in education.

If you are at MidWest…

This is the week of MidWest.  I have never been to MidWest, although my high school band (when I was a senior) recorded the audition tape that sent the NEXT year to perform at MidWest (I attended Oconomowoc High School–a long tradition of band excellence, and was the tuba section leader).

If you are a band or orchestra director, MidWest is the key professional conference you can attend.  As a result, a lot of technology companies and products are there to reach potential customers.

Technology Vendors you want to visit:

  • MakeMusic: Finale, SmartMusic, New SmartMusic
  • Hal Leonard (Noteflight)
  • Charms Office Assistant
  • Newzik
  • MusicFirst
  • Olivet Nazarene College (Not a company, but they are a 1:1 iPad College)
  • Quaver Music
  • Pyware
  • Presonus

I am sure there are others that I missed from the vendor list..but this is a good start.  In particular, this will be a rare Stateside appearance for and Newzik, both French companies.  So…to those of you headed to Illinois…stay warm!