Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

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.


Happy Birthday, forScore!

I was so thrilled about forScore back in 2010. Coming from the Music Pad Pro, forScore was amazing, although it lacked features. Later, unrealBook came into my world, and I spent a lot of time comparing the apps, trying to figure out which was better. I also made a couple of other app developers mad with My conclusions.

Five years later, I still think it is good to have those two PDF music readers in your iPad quiver. Five years later, there is still no comparable app for the best two PDF music readers on the iPad on any other platform.

Five years later, I am still wishing for an iPad Pro. And I just bought the iPad Air 2.

forScore is so important in my workflow that I am presenting on its use at both the Wisconsin MEA conference and at the NAfME conference this October (I haven't even shared that with the developers of forScore yet). The app has developed so many features that most users don't know how to take advantage of them–thus I am presenting my first sessions based on a single music iPad app–and those sessions have been accepted by organizations. And no–forScore is not sponsoring the sessions or travel.

Happy birthday, forScore! Here's to the next five years!

A Series of Rants…#1: Economics and Green/Red Note Apps

I try not to be a negative person, but from time to time, we need to express the truth, even if it is negative, particularly if it will help other people. I have a series of such items that I have been thinking about, and I would like to take some time to express those thoughts.

My first “rant” is about economics and green note/red note applications.

For the record, I am talking about apps/programs/services such as SmartMusic, Music Prodigy, and the coming services of Weezic (although pricing is still not known for Weezic).

I am fortunate to teach in a 1:1 (which in and of itself is deserving of a rant or two). I wholeheartedly support 1:1 programs of any kind, and I support iPad 1:1 programs. There is tremendous potential in such programs.

One of the wonderful aspects of green note/red note applications is that they can be used to help students learn their notes, and to keep them accountable to their learning in a way that is understandable to them AND their parents. I recently blogged about a director who felt that the majority of their work was done with phrasing and shaping of vowels–not right or wrong notes and rhythms. That hasn’t been my experience. Even with my best efforts and the efforts of my colleagues in my school district, the hardest aspect about putting music together has been for students to learn the right notes and rhythms. Remember–I am a choir director, and sight reading is generally atrocious in choral music. There are exceptions, and I am happily working through the method of Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed Sight Reading Method (started in March). The skill of sight-reading just isn’t there, and if kids can’t sight-read, the majority of your time will be spent pounding out notes and rhythms.

Technology can be used to help this, in many ways. It can be used for formative and summative assessments that keep students accountable to the skills they are supposed to be learning (let’s be honest…the number one issue with sight-reading, particularly in choir, is that it is so hard to keep students accountable with assessments…and assessments take so long to correct!). The green note/red note applications that are available are an ideal solution to this process. But what I have learned is that they all cost too much.

A few years ago, I worked at the newest high school in our state, and for the majority of my students, finances weren’t an issue. We also had practice rooms with computers, and students could complete assessments at school (before school, at lunch, after school, from another class) if they couldn’t afford a subscription to a program at home. My current school doesn’t have that scenario.

Don’t get me wrong…I think SmartMusic’s $40 annual fee and Music Prodigy’s $30 annual fee are really amazing–in my last audition with the Minnesota Opera (eight years ago–I stopped when I was married and started a family) I paid $55 for a thirty minute rehearsal with a pianist plus their performance at my audition. If I use any of SmartMusic’s (limited for vocal/choir) literature, or I enter my own Finale files as an accompaniment, $40 for a year of a piano player that follows me for rehearsal (or even performance) is a bargain. If I had a student in Hockey, $40 wouldn’t cover a single glove. It seems like a bargain. When SmartMusic considered asking $8 per student for a practice room subscription, I thought that was fair–my students at my former school would have paid that. I didn’t understand the outrage expressed by many teachers using SmartMusic.

But then I started working at my school, where 40% of our students are on free & reduced lunch, and well over 20% of my choir students needed a donated t-shirt for our concert apparel because they couldn’t afford $8 for a t-shirt. Other students paid $8, but their families may not have eaten that night (lots of people fake afluence).

To add to the problem, we don’t have practice rooms, either. But every student has an iPad, and most students have Internet access at home, either their own, provided free by the community, or off of someone else’s Comcast Xfinity account and wireless router in their neighborhood.

But we can’t ask our students to pay $40 per year for SmartMusic, or even $30 per year for Music Prodigy. They have iPads, but we can’t leverage their use in choir for accountability. Or band. Or orchestra. And to be honest, a price point of $40 or $30 in choir bothers me as well, as that provides little or no literature that we can use–the literature in the program has to be created (or scanned and edited) by me. It isn’t the same as a band student that can use SmartMusic as their method book, justifying $8 of that $40 per year right off the bat, or a band director that can program their entire concert based on SmartMusic’s band catalog.

Truly, this irritates me to no end. It is frustrating to be so close to a solution (1:1) but hampered by economics. Our district is reducing nearly $8 million next year, so we’re not going to be looking to provide SmartMusic for our students. I currently have over 300 students…SmartMusic for each of my students would be $12,000. I am relatively certain that our six secondary schools combined provide less than $12,000 for sheet music for the entire secondary music program (my budget is $0). Either way, the choir program raised about $3000 with fundraising this year, most of it going back to music purchases or t-shirts.

Perhaps it is an issue with funding from our school district, or perhaps it is just the tough breaks of the economics of area. But what I have learned is that more schools are in my current position (1:1 with no money for additional apps) or worse (not 1:1, and still no money).

And it isn’t just green note/red note programs that are the problem–this also applies to any subscription service (e.g. MusicFirst products). I don’t hold any grudge against any of these companies…they deserve to be paid for what they do. But those companies need to know (and probably realize) that many of us are locked out of their services, even with attractive pricing. We KNOW their pricing is affordable, yet we KNOW it isn’t affordable for many of our students or our schools.

This is why apps are so attractive on the iPad–buy them once and keep upgrading for free, or freeze with the last version that works with your OS. A “true” app isn’t a recurring expense. You can pay $3 for an app, knowing that you can use it again (thank goodness for that change). So a $900 expense is diluted over a number of years.

So…here’s the question…can someone make a green note/red note app that can be purchased ONCE and then run on the iPad (versus a server that requires upkeep), and then find some way to have students beam their scores to a teacher version via Bluetooth? Can we change the paradigm of a server-based green note/red note service? Can we make this type of program accessible to all, while still allowing someone to make some money off of the concept? Yes…content would have to be provided by the teacher/director (get out of the royalties business), but in truth, assessments should be short (no more than 30 seconds) and specific to either develop a skill or to assess a skill. And the assessment should be based on MusicXML, so it can be created in any app and uploaded to the program. And if anyone wants to go into business on such a venture, send me a note. I’d be happy to partner with you. I just don’t have the programming skills myself to make it happen.

Five Years of iPad

It seems that April 3rd is considered the birthday of the iPad. I remember standing in line to buy my first iPad, at the Richfield, MN Best Buy, which is literally in the shadows of Best Buy Headquarters (I had a bad experience with Best Buy last fall, and I have not been in a Best Buy since). If you want to read about my first iPad, you can read this old post.

Since that April date, an iPad has been my main tool at school, thanks to a number of apps including forScore, unrealBook, Notion, and Keynote. In the past five years, I have personally owned four of the six models that have been released…the iPad 1, the iPad 2, the 4th Generation iPad, and just a couple of weeks ago, my iPad Air 2.

So much has happened in the past five years, including wireless mirroring. I remember how excited I was in the fall of 2011 to stream from iPad to a screen without wires. Now there are ten ways to do that!

Many of the technology blogs are celebrating the iPad today, while declaring that “tablets need to take the next step.”

I'm not sure what that next step is. Certainly, a larger iPad (the iPad Pro) would be a welcome addition, and there is always room for improvement in apps (ask any developer, they will quickly admit that they can and will improve their app over time). But as I work on this iPad Air 2, I'm not sure what else the hardware itself can do, and in fact, Apple has packaged more hardware in the last few generations of these devices than the accessory makers can take care of–example? Bluetooth MIDI. The device has been physically capable of this for more than two years, but iOS allowed for it last fall, and there are only a handful of accessories that can take advantage of it.

Sure, a true active stylus, such as the Microsoft Surface, would be a nice addition. That said, I wouldn't want to be tied to any stylus, either. But if you think back to the time where everyone complained about the iPad's lack of a USB Port–the combination of Bluetooth and Cloud computing has taken away much of the need for USB devices (including storage). The greatest flaw in the current iPad line is the existence of the 16GB iPad…no one should ever buy an iPad with only 16GB, and Apple should not be selling that device. Every iOS device should start with 32GB. Period.

By the way, until I can purchase the Zagg Rugged Case for my iPad Air 2, I am using a Finite case that I found on Amazon for $10 (the cost of a replacement screen for the Griffin Survivor cases that we use with our school 4th Generation iPads). My previous case for my iPad, the strange looking but extremely useful Gripcase, is not avaialble for the iPad Air 2. While the Zagg case appeals to me, this Finite case will last for some time.

Five years with the iPad…it is hard to believe it has been that long…but I can't imagine teaching without it. Although I am at a 1:1 where students often take their devices for granted (and some actually complain about the iPads), I wouldn't trade my iPad for any other device in my classroom.

The JamStik+ Campaign Continues

I have talked a lot about my JamStik, and Zivix, the makers of JamStik, is offering a KickStarter campaign to produce their latest JamStik, the JamStik+, which has all the goodness of the original JamStik plus a pick-up and Bluetooth MIDI. I blogged about this the other day, and they are offering discounts off the eventual MSRP of $299. The original JamStik was sold in Apple Stores, and I would guess that this updated device will be, too. The early bird deals are gone, but good discounts remain for the next 36 days.

Zivix was trying to raise $50,000. Their original JamStik camaign on Indiegogo raised $190,000.

Currently, the JamStik+ has over 1,000 backers and has raised over $250,000. Wow. And for each 15 JamStiks sold, 1 will be donated to an educational organization.

I am using JamStiks with some of my alternative students in my middle school program, and kids are interested in the devices. The new JamStik will solve some of the minor issues that we have faced, and the high level of funding should allow Zivix to put some more emphasis on app development–both existing and future apps.

If you want to contribute, or to get a JamStik+ at a discount, join the campaign:

The best part about this campaign? This isn’t a vaporware campaign…the original JamStik is on the market, and you KNOW you will receive your item, on or very close to the proposed timeline.


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