JamStik now works in Chrome

If you have a JamStik, or teach on Chromebooks, you may want to look at the latest announcement from Zivix, the creator of the JamStik.  They have created a web platform that runs the JamStik in Chrome.  I haven’t tried this yet, but it is a really exciting possibility, particularly for schools that are 1:1 with Chromebook.

To learn more, visit: https://play.jamstik.com/

Sale on Uberchord Yearly Subscription

uberchord
Disclosure: Uberchord sponsored the hosting fees for the first year of our podcast (ME&T Podcast).

Just a quick news item: Uberchord is currently offering a special discount for a yearly subscription to their “Essential Plan,” normally $9.99 per month.  The normal yearly rate will be $99, but they are offering a year subscription for $59.99 (50% the monthly rate for a year, which would be $120).  The special pricing ends June 1, 2017.

If you are interested in learning guitar–or improving your guitar skills (no ukulele–yet), check out Uberchord.   Also: if you already subscribe to Uberchord, it would be a great idea to subscribe for the yearly plan!

Monoprice and Pro Audio

One of my favorite sources for cables and miscellaneous audio products has been Monoprice (www.monoprice.com). I finally realized–today–that they are into all kinds of pro audio, including guitars and MIDI controllers. Most of my personal pro audio needs have been met through Carvin products, or by simply calling Full Compass Audio in Madison. And if I need local help (Minnesota), I go to Metro Sound and Lighting.

Carvin has traditionally been inexpensive but rugged. From my experience with other Monoprice products, I bet that Monoprice will often beat other vendors with their product–IF–it happens to be in stock.

I have used Monoprice HDMI cables, VGA cables, lightning cables, iPad cases, and more. Everything is inexpensive, but it all works. So it might be worth checking out Monoprice for other pro audio needs.

 

JamStik in Education…and the Campaign Continues!

As I said in a previous post, Zivix has always been focused on education, but they have been expanding their mindset from 1:1 guitar instruction to classroom instruction. The video features the MacPhail Center for Music, which is in the Twin Cities (close to the headquarters of Zivix in Minneapolis).

I only have one complaint about the video: it doesn’t go far enough in expressing how the JamStik can change guitar instruction.

As a music educator with licensure in both vocal and instrumental music, I am not afraid to say that guitar should be a part of every high school music program. That doesn’t mean that band, choir, or orchestra doesn’t have a place in the curriculum–but guitar does. This is a scary statement for a lot of music educators, as they fear losing students to a guitar class, or they fear that they will have to teach the class.

The JamStik is uniquely situated as the perfect guitar for classroom guitar classes. To use the device, you do need an iOS Device (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) or a Mac. That said, many schools (even Chromebook schools!) will have a classroom set of iPads or iPod Touches available which can be used with a set of JamStiks.

Once you have a device to link with the JamStik, you have a perfect solution for a guitar class. First, the devices never need tuning. Yes, you eventually need to teach students how to teach a guitar (or do you?). Second, the students are learning with real strings and real frets. Third, the environment is silent, and every student can hear what they are doing, as they would be using headphones to practice their guitar skills. Should you also need to hear what the student is doing, you could use a headphone splitter, or you could look at a solution like the JamHub (no relation to the JamStik) for multiple inputs at one time. Fourth, you can use Zivix’s JamTutor, or you can use other materials, such as GarageBand’s (Mac) guitar lessons, or you can even use a “traditional” guitar book. Fifth, although you need a place to store and charge the devices, the amount of space required is a fraction of what you would need for a set of acoustic guitars (and likely will cost a fraction of the cost of storage units). And last in my list (but not final by any means), the devices are extremely rugged. Our units are showing some scuff marks where you strum the guitar, but are otherwise in perfect condition. One student dropped a JamStik wth the guitar strap in place, and the JamStik landed on the peg that connects the strap to the JamStik. The peg will no longer hold in place on that JamStik, and that is our only mechanical error (and that is because of a student’s mishandling of teh device). Although we bought some extra strings, all of the strings are holding up and show no sign of wear, even though they are being used multiple hours per day.

Another important aspect of “traditional” guitar classes is teaching music literacy, which means reading music on a staff (in addition to reading guitar tablature). When I taught guitar classes, I would always have students who could play guitar and read tabs, but could not read music. Those students actually had to start at the beginning, for a very different reason than other students (learning to read versus learning to play). When they had “down” time, those students would often pull up a tab sheet and play songs from various webpages. The JamStik+ connects via Bluetooth MIDI, meaning that you keep an active internet connection on your device. This means that students will have the ability to access those tab sheets online, as they don’t have to sacrifice their internet connection for the JamStik.

The cost of a guitar and a case for a guitar class is under $200 (make sure to get a guitar with a truss rod…just trust me on that one), and plan extra money for new strings and eventual repairs. Once the campaign is over, I would suggest keeping an eye on Zivix for information on educational pricing, classroom sets, and other solutions. I don’t think Zivix can match “bargain basement” guitar pricing, but I would expect a discount below the $299 MSRP, and the promise of a device that may be more rugged and stand up better over time than a traditional guitar.

In my case, I am not teaching a “traditional” guitar course (specific students in my 8th grade classes are doing an independent study versus singing in choir), but I have taught those courses at the high school level in the past, and I would have loved to have had a JamStik at that time. By the way, every “traditional” guitar class only covers the first 5 frets (or less) of the guitar. There are a few guitar purists who insist that they need more frets (maybe they do), but I would guess that the JamStik’s capo feature would make playing in most keys a possibility.

As an instructor, I bought a Washburn Rover travel guitar so that I could easily navigate a classroom and help students. That guitar was about $120, although they list at $175. How much better would a JamStik have been for those classes…showing fingering using the open play feature on a screen, and walking around the room with even a smaller solution than the Rover.

So again, I have no arguments with the video–I would just love to see an entire guitar classroom, teaching “traditional” guitar classes, outfitted with JamStiks. If you are interested in the JamStik+ for yourself, you can still purchase one at a significant discount through their campaign.

 

An introduction to the JamStik, and a review (Video)

If you want to see the video without reading any of my additional thoughts, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Let me make it clear that I do not consider myself a guitarist. I know a good number of chords, I know individual notes when I refresh my memory, I know some strumming and plucking patterns, I have led worship with only guitar (it has been a while), and I have taught classroom guitar at the high school level. I’m horrible at barre chords, and with a real guitar, I often use a capo to change keys to avoid those barre chords.

I think it is safe to say that I know all the I need to know to teach guitar and to enjoy picking up the guitar from time to time.

My last post shared my first thoughts on the JamStik–and I had promised that I would post a video I had made earlier that day when I had finished editing it. Well, the editing is done.

This isn’t a great video. It turns out that my audio on my MacBook was set too high. I was filming the video in just one take, so there are a bunch of edits that are clearly edits after editing, and I never really “closed” the video. When I filmed the video, I had just downloaded Jam Tutor (one of Zivix’s free apps that comes with the JamStik) and started playing with the app…and I simply lost interest in filming the end of the video and just played with the app (for example, Jam Tutor wouldn’t recognize a D7 chord, which simply amazed me, when so many other chords are programmed in). As a result, the video ends with a Star Wars scroll.

Otherwise, the video effectively captures my thoughts…how to set up the JamStik, how to use it with other apps, the couple of flaws I can see (the strings aren’t tuned to guitar pitches, so if you play you can hear “wrong” notes on the strings, even though the right notes play through the iPad), and there’s no way (right now) to “Capo” (can that be a verb?) the device. A fellow JamStik purchaser (I think his is arriving soon), Kevin James Stafford, recently mentioned (on Twitter) that he had been in touch with Zivix and that the capo ability should be coming in a future firmware release.

Another JamStik purchaser, Joseph Argyle mentioned (again, on Twitter), that the JamStik can’t be used for hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. I don’t know if I will ever need these, but it’s clear that the JamStik isn’t meant to be a pure replacement for a guitar. Or at least not this first model. I would imagine that harmonics are also impossible.

At the same time, here’s a way for guitarists to get MIDI data directly into a computer, with no compromises. I loaded up Notion for iPad, and sure enough, it interprets data directly from the JamStik. Were I PreSonus, I’d been inking package deals with Zivix right away (or vice-versa). If you are a guitar player and only a guitar player, you might find that PreSonus’s Progression is a better app to purchase for notation purposes. Remember that guitar is at the heart of PreSonus’ Notion products, and Progression is guitarist’s version of Notion.

I have not yet tried the JamStik with my MacBook (there is a free download available via the JamStik website), but I have no doubt that the JamStik will work perfectly with my MacBook.

At any rate, in terms of music education, a classroom guitar with case costs $150 or more (probably more–from personal experience, don’t buy a classroom guitar without a truss rod. The JamStik, incidentally, has two), plus there are upkeep fees, need for storage, and other costs. In comparison, the $299 price tag of the JamStik isn’t far off from what you would expect to pay for such a device. A decent backpacker guitar (I bought one of these for teaching guitar…it simply isn’t as unwieldily in the classroom) is in the $200 range (sometimes more, sometimes less). For a device with IR sensors and a Wi-Fi hub embedded inside of it, I see the JamStik as a fairly priced product, although I hope there can be an educational discount in the future. I also need to find out what happens when several JamStiks operate in the same room (do they all share the same embedded network name and channel), and if the JamStik can be operated by USB connection if necessary (all future tasks to try).

As a side note, I also just came across a product called PocketStrings, which is simply a portable guitar neck (4 or 6 strings), and I see this as a possible solution for practicing without a JamStik at home (for example, if you had a classroom set of JamStiks that you wouldn’t send home with students).

I think this device has huge potential for music education, and I am curious to see what “real” guitar players think, and how it can be incorporated into a “traditional” guitar classroom.