Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

Reinventing your old MacBook

Back in 2008, I generally stepped away from Windows computers in my home.  Our school district was still Windows-based (at the time), and I eventually bought a small Asus T-100 to use when helping teachers (through the blog) with Windows issues.

As I have mentioned recently, I have to retire the Asus as it is a 32-bit computer and too many programs require 64-bit operation these days.

My MacBook dates back to November 2008.  I originally bought it to make iPhone apps.  I quickly learned that Cocoa, Objective C, and Xcode were things that I would need significant training with to be able to program…and I didn’t have the time as a teacher and parent to learn them (I would still like to, and if I won the lottery, I would want to be an adjunct professor at some college and then a programming student).  My MacBook was $1700 with the included Apple Care (I do recommend it on a MacBook), and it was a tough price to pay.

Eight years later, I am still using that machine.  I have put in a couple of traditional hard drives over the years, had the DVD drive replaced under warranty, and put in the maximum amount of memory.  Until this fall, this MacBook has been supported by Apple OS upgrades, so it is running the latest version of OS X (El Capitan).  Sadly, Apple has announced this will be the last version it can run–it is just too old.  Early in its life, I dropped the MacBook (while in a bag) and there is a good dent in the corner, and there are lots of other scratches on the machine.  But the machine was slow, and it does lack some features that come with newer MacBooks.

All that said, I breathed new life into my MacBook, which will keep me from having to buy a new MacBook (one is coming, but this extends its life further).  First, I was sent the WIDI Bud by CME for a review, and now my old MacBook has BLE MIDI (Bluetooth MIDI).  Second, I bought a SSD Drive from Amazon on Amazon Prime Day–a 480GB Drive for $92.

Let me be clear about this: If you have a MacBook that uses a traditional drive, an SSD drive will make your machine into a completely different device.

On this older MacBook, replacing a hard drive is relatively easy…with newer MacBooks, it is possible, but requires a little more work to do.  You need to have an enclosure for a new drive (take a look at those offered by OWC, or just buy the kit containing drive and enclosure).  Then you install the new drive in the enclosure, connect it to the MacBook, and run a cloning program.  I recommend Carbon Copy Cloner, which has worked for me every time I have cloned my Hard Drive.

When that program is done, you turn off your computer, make sure you ground yourself (avoid static electricity), disassemble your computer, remove the old drive, install the new drive, put everything back together, and start up the computer.

You will be left with a MacBook that is exactly the same, but incredibly faster.

If you have a MacBook Air, you already have an SSD drive.  So do the new MacBooks.

All that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a used MacBook from 2009 or 2010 (which should still be eligible for Mac OS Sierra) on the cheap, buy a new SSD drive, and walk away with a computer that will last for years.

The real “line in the sand,” however, is 2012.  2012 was the year where MacBooks could communicate via AirDrop with iPads and iPhones, and when BLE was integrated into the device.  So for a machine that will last even longer, look for 2012 or newer.

I’m not sure how much longer I will be using this MacBook.  It still has cosmetic damage and the battery just doesn’t last (it is on its 3rd battery).  But it works with everything that I throw at it, and even programs that used to struggle (e.g. Finale 2014.5), it can run those programs without an issue thanks to a speedy SSD drive.

Of course, if you are terrible with electronics and struggle to use a screwdriver or to run a program on a computer–don’t try to replace your hard drive.  Find someone else that can do it with you or for you.

But if you are a MacBook user whose computer is old and slow…putting in a new drive is a great way to breathe new life into an old purchase.

If you are a Windows user, you’ll need to check forums to see what options exist for your machine.

One other thought: make sure that your SSD drive is TRIM capable, and after your new drive is installed, make sure to turn on TRIM support.  TRIM allows the Mac OS to properly manage the new SSD drive to make sure that data is stored and erased properly for the maximum life of the drive.

 

A new “sister” site: Ukestuff

I have written a little about my experiences in incorporating ukulele into the choir curriculum at my middle school.  As this school year approaches, I am changing the definition of choir into a program with three areas of emphasis:

  1. Sight Reading (with Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed program)
  2. Singing
  3. Ukulele

What we did with the ukulele last year was a tremendous start, and it is time to create this new hybrid approach.  I believe that students that come out of my program will be able to sight read better, have better developed ears, have a better understanding of music (chord progressions), and have the ability to succeed at the high school level in “real choir.”  My students will be missing the experience of singing in three and four part choirs through 8th grade–but they will have the ability to accompany their own singing on an instrument than pretty much any person can purchase.  Those students that don’t continue in high school choir (70-75%) will have a skill that they can use the rest of their lives, or a skill that transfers somewhat easily to guitar.  This is a win-win and a no-brainer.

Over the last weeks, I have been arranging music for voice (unison or two part) and ukulele–all of it intended for a holiday concert.  I will post some of these arrangements–particularly those that are in the Public Domain.  Choosing repertoire is a little tricky as sacred music is “out” for choir in my school.  Even so, I have come up with thirty-two songs that refer to Christmas (or Hanukkah) in terms of a secular season versus a religious holiday.  Sacred music, in our school, needs to be in extra-curricular ensembles (where people choose to be and are not required to be), or just out of school in general.  I am thinking of offering an extra-curricular ukulele choral ensemble that will play sacred holiday music (e.g. “Silent Night”) at local retirement homes (and so on).  And to those of you who are wondering–this is NOT worth the fight.  Our high schools can still pursue sacred music, and if my willingness to avoid it makes it possible for them to pursue it–that is worth the cost.  And you know what?  There is a LOT of music out there, even “secular” holiday music.  Some of that music is surprisingly difficult to play/sing/arrange!

All that said, ukulele is out of the focus and scope of this blog, which is focused on technology in music education.  While this is “my” blog, it does have a theme.  Technology does play a part in all of my teaching (and all three areas of emphasis noted above), but the ukulele content needs another location–and as far as I know, no other school or teacher in the country is creating a hybrid choir/ukulele program.

As a result of all this, I have created a new blog for that ukulele content.  If ukulele content interests you, check it out: https://ukestuff.wordpress.com.  There are already a number of posts on the blog (I wanted something there before making things public).

And if you are a teacher that uses ukulele and would like to write something but not commit to a regular blog, let me know.  I would be happy to include a post from a guest.

 

WIDI BUD Follow-Up (Updated 8-3-16)


I received an e-mail from a reader who has a WIDI BUD and they wanted to bring up some specific issues with the device, and I thought it would be good to share their observations with you, as well as a few of my own after my own extended testing today.

In my last post about the XKey Air and the WIDI BUD, I talked about how the WIDI BUD can link to other BLE MIDI devices.  This is not always true.  I was able to connect Zivix products to a WIDI BUD on Mac, Chromebook, and Windows with no problems.  I did not try the Quicco Sound mi.1 MIDI to BLE MIDI dongle that I have in my home, and I can verify that the mi.1 does not connect to the WIDI BUD at this time.  Likewise, the reader mentioned that the Yamaha MD-BT01 and the Yamaha UD-BT01 do not connect to the WIDI BUD.  (Update 8/3/2016)  Yamaha was gracious enough to send me the UD-BT01, and I was able to connect it to the WIDI Bud on both my old Mac (without BLE MIDI) and my Chromebook.  So far, I am not able to get the WIDI Bud to work with my old Asus T-100 Transformer Windows computer.

I don’t know why this is the case–but if you have the mi.1, the WIDI BUD will not work for you at this time. I do not know if a future firmware update can solve the problem, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

The other item that the reader wanted to bring to your attention is that there are some apps that modify the functionality of the WIDI BUD available for download directly off of CME’s website.  They also wanted to highlight that documentation for the WIDI BUD and its accompanying software leaves much to be desired.

I am not troubled by this issue at all..BLE MIDI is still a relatively new feature, and I am hoping future firmware updates can solve these problems.

MakeMusic to discontinue scanning in Finale:

Granted, SmartScore lite was never the best option, but they were going to greatly increase its functionality.

From the Sibelius blog: http://www.sibeliusblog.com/opinion/makemusic-pulls-pdf-importing-and-scanning-from-finale/

My response:  ARRRRGGGHHH!

Instead of making an easier path to legally obtain copyright at prices that reflect school budgets and allows for best practice use of technology, this potentially leads to a more restrictive future with higher prices and more difficultly in using technology.

What a sad day.

MakeMusic will incorporate scanning into SmartMusic, which will be of value to music educators (I’m not sure how you would edit scanning errors), but to those that use Finale, another path of music OCR will be needed.

*8:20pm edited to reflect that scanning will be a part of SmartMusic.

Newzik: an iOS Music Reader

Newzik

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I am in full support of the use of tablets (particularly the iPad) as a music reader–a function that can be used in any discipline of music education, particularly with the introduction of the 12.9″ iPad Pro last November.

My go-to apps haven’t changed since the iPad was introduced in 2010…forScore and unrealBook are the best PDF music readers available on the market.  PiaScore has been the best free option (although with too many distractions for middle school students); NextPage has been a great solution for a forScore/unrealBook “lite” version; and Showbie has worked relatively well for me as a music folder for my students (and has made the act of distributing and collecting music 100% easier).

Newzik was an app released this past January, and I cannot remember if they contacted me about their app, or if Paul Shimmons (band director, fellow blogger, and friend) had told me about it.  Their latest version of the app came out a few days ago and it is amazing.

Do I still love forScore, unrealBook, NextPage, and Showbie?  Of course.  Newzik takes  a different path towards music reading, and opens up sheet music to MusicXML files and PDF files.

There have been a few programs that use MusicXML files, such as SeeScore, and apps like MusicProdigy (red note/green note) rely on MusicXML files.  But to incorporate both PDF and MusicXML is a new idea.

I believe that the primary need for a tablet music reader, beyond showing music, is annotation.  Newzik has it…and you can annotate on a PDF or a MusicXML.  Writing on a MusicXML is a pretty radical idea, and the only time this becomes a problem is if you want to transpose the MusicXML to another key (it makes you make a copy of the song or delete the annotation).  In addition to annotation, you can link multiple files (PDF, MusicXML, audio, etc.)  to a single file, organize your files in playlists, and use a wireless page turner.  You can also share music with band members (additional cost per month), and 30 scores are included free–more than 30 requires a full purchase ($20).

The transposition feature worked amazingly well from a ukulele song I created in Notion for iOS, uploaded to Dropbox (Notion still doesn’t allow “Open In” like many iOS apps), and then into Newzik.  I changed the song from the key of C ro the key of F–and everything switched correctly…lead part and chords.  That is the power of MusicXML.  I was also able to load a recording of that song that I had created from GarageBand into Newzik.  That way, I can play the MusicXML file, or I can play the m4a audio file.

Just imagine if iReal Pro would marry its functionality with Newzik…full generated accompaniments behind the literal sheet music or MusicXML file?  Wow.

Newzik is still pretty young, so some key features (for music) are missing, such as dealing with repeat signs, DS/DC/Coda markings, and “hot spots” or “links.”   But in the world of digital music, who needs these markings any more?

Furthermore, it is getting easier and easier to get music into MusicXML format (here’s hoping that it will simply be available as such from publishers someday) with apps such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP), PhotoScore, and SmartScore (Finale is advertising the ability to import directly from a PDF in the next version).  There are even some web sites offering free PDF to MusicXML conversion–and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see MuseScore develop its own scanning component (they have everything else, why not that).

Once your score is in MusicXML and accurate, and if you have a program like Newzik that can transpose on the fly, show a single part, play back, zoom in (for smaller screens), and annotate, why would you even want the paper version or PDF version?

The app also shows chords (on a MusicXML file) on a guitar neck or on a keyboard.  As a ukulele player, that isn’t super helpful (perhaps ukulele can be added), but it makes Newzik as functional for a rock musician as it does for a member of the New York Choral Society (Loren–shout out!).

Sure, there are things to fix and improvements to come–but this is an app that has been out since January, and it is really worth installing on your iOS device.  No, it isn’t going to replace forScore or unrealBook on my device…but it is going to remain on my device, particularly as I create more and more MusicXML files in the future.