Say It Ain’t So…

A number of the Apple Blogs are announcing the impending death of Music Memos, a wonderful little app that was created for musicians. I have had a lot of fun demonstrating the app at music education conventions.

It was created by Apple as they realized that a lot of musicians were recording ideas in Voice Memos. The Apple team thought they could provide a better resource in Music Memos.

Not only does the app act as a recorder, but it also analyzes the chords you are playing and adds bass and percussion to your playing. You can edit the chords later to match what you actually played if the app makes mistakes. And at the end of it all, you can export your recording to GarageBand.

I hope that the analysis and bass/drums features of Music Memos are absorbed into something else, such as Voice Memos or GarageBand (iOS). I actually e-mailed Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) today to ask for that every thing.

I have had some fun making some ukulele play alongs with the app, adding bass and drums. Things don’t always line up, but that was part of the j0y of the experiment/experience. I was going to make a whole series, but life has been a little crazy in 2020. Here are a couple of examples. I decided to use Public Domain songs to avoid all the licensing issues.

I would guess that most people didn’t know this app existed–and it simply wasn’t used as Apple thought it would be used. Eventually you decide to stop funding the development of a project, regardless of how cool it is.

I’m going to miss this little app!

XYZ Synth (New App)

It’s been pretty quiet here on techinmusiced.com. There really hasn’t been a lot of big news as of late–I think most music educators are buckling up or have started the roller coaster ride of the 2020-2021, surviving teaching in a pandemic where distance learning is the last choice of many administrators, school boards, and vocal community members. We begin our own journey into a hybrid model (alternating days) on September 8th.

The other big news lately was the introduction of Staffpad on iPad (no longer “new”), an update to Dorico, and just so you know, Dorico is on sale for 50% right now with a competitive trade-up price. That’s even better than the normal education pricing.

Every now and then I hear about new apps, or a developer will contact me. Some time ago, mid-April in fact, I was contacted by the developer of XYZ Synth, a new Synth that uses the accelerometer of an iPhone to make different sounds. You can install it on an iPad, but the iPhone does make a better controller.

You can find the website of XYZ Synth, and some videos of the video in use, here (link). The app can also be used as a MIDI controller.

I installed the app, and it works as described. I have to be honest, however, and admit that my main interest in music technology is to bridge the gap between traditional music education and the use of technology in that field; and there is an entirely different group of musicians (and educators) that focus on electronic music (which also falls into the discussion area of technology in music education). So, if I’m honest, XYZ Synth isn’t an app that I would likely ever buy for myself–but there are electronic musicians and teachers who teach electronic music who will be very excited about the app. If an accelerometer-controlled synthesizer and MIDI controller is of interest to you, check out XYZ Synth.

You can find the app in the iOS App Store, for $4.99.

NinGenius Music Ultimate App (New)

I’m very happy to announce the release of NinGenius Music Ultimate, a new version of NinGenius that drills notes, fingerings, rhythm, and music theory for all instruments. The app builds off the original NinGenius apps, but adds some features and changes the appearance a little bit. Right now, the app allows for 8 users, and is the type of app that you would want for every student in a 1:1 setting–for $3.o0 (as of 8/20/2019). Looking at the comments, a few teachers are hoping for a version that can be used with unlimited students (as there is such a version for the original NinGenius). This should be coming as an optional in-app purchase in the future for those teachers looking for such a feature.

NinGenius is also in the final steps of preparing a release for Android and Chromebooks that run Android (check with your school district for compatibility), as well as a version that runs on the Kindle Fire. These should be available soon.

The current versions of the app will continue to be available for download and purchase.

There hasn’t been a lot of motion in the world of apps for music education lately, and this is a nice additional app (or improved app) to add to your tool box, certainly for elementary through middle school ages. And to be honest, I think your students will enjoy working with the app.

PlayScore 2: Another Tool To Buy

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about PlayScore Pro, an app that had a lot of promise, but didn’t work for my personal work flow. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the creators of PlayScore Pro, which is owned and operated by Dolphin Computing Ltd and Organum, Ltd. There is a new version of PlayScore 2, which answers the difficulties that I experienced trying to get PlayScore Pro to fit into my workflow.

As a side note, I have to mention that I don’t think the creators of PlayScore 2 were worried about my individual work flow…the improvements to the new version just happen to address them.

PlayScore 2 works very similar to PlayScore Lite and PlayScore Pro (which are also still available, and might add some confusion) in that you can take pictures of your score and the app recognizes the music, making it able to play your music or to export it as a MusicXML file to another app (or using AirDrop, to your Mac).

PlayScore 2 now adds the ability to import a PDF directly into the app, and to recognize all the pages of a score at the same time.

The selling points of PlayScore (Lite, Pro, or 2) have always been speed and accuracy—including pulling in additional markings (diacritical markings like staccato and accents, crescendos, and dynamics). PlayScore 2 does not import lyrics or text—but their website (PlayScore.co) indicates this is in development (with no specific timeline).

In a moment of transparency, the first version of PlayScore 2 that I used “hung up” on a choral score that had staves that appeared and disappeared along the way (very common in choral scores). The developers were aware of the issue, and this morning (as I write this post) a new version of the app came out that solved that problem.

The suprise for buyers will be PlayScore 2’s purchase options…the use of all features requires a subscription. You can get a subscription for $4.99 a month or $15.49 a year. Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and Robby Burns (www.robbyburns.com/blog/) were just talking about subscriptions a few weeks ago on Twitter. I think we all see subscriptions as an evil necessity (although Paul is reluctant to buy apps that require them). The idea of a buy once-use forever app is hard to justify. We’re close to nine years with the iPad, and I’m still using the original purchase of forScore that I bought for $0.99 at that time. I’m more than ready to buy “forScore 2” to make sure that the company can continue to stay in business!

All that said, I think a $16 annual charge for the ability to scan your music, importing from a PDF, is a fair price. It takes time to enter any song into a digital format, whether note by note (how did I ever do that for hundreds of scores?) or simply playing into a digital piano and recording it to create an audio track. If the app saves you one hour of time during the year, and you earn at least $25 an hour, the app has already saved you money. If you are scanning a bunch of scores, the app will likely save you tens or hundreds of hours of time. It doesn’t take long to prove that the old axiom is true…“time is money.”

There are now three reliable scanning apps on the Apple App Store. The first is NotateMe with the PhotoScore in-app purchase, which sells for about $70 all together. NotateMe is just about as accurate as the PhotoScore Mac/Win version, although it won’t read PDF files (the Mac/Win version does). The second is Sheet Music Scanner, a $4 app that does a good job of importing notes, but there are some things it does not do (triplets). And now there is PlayScore 2 which I can recommend as well. If you are scanning a piece to use purely as accompaniment, PlayScore 2 might be the best starting point, as it attempts to import (and play) expression.

In terms of my own work flow, I will now try to scan a song with Sheet Music Scanner and PlayScore 2 to see which does a better job with that score (the results are never the same) and then export that scan to Notion or Finale to finish editing the score. I don’t generally use NotateMe/PhotoScore on my iPad/iPhone because it doesn’t import PDF files. If Sheet Music Scanner or PlayScore 2 don’t do a good job, I will then go to my MacBook and use PhotoScore to scan the PDF. And if the PDF was generated by a notation project, I will use PDFtoMusic Pro (on my Mac) to decode the file into a MusicXML file. PlayScore 2 does not appear to be available on Android yet, and neither is Sheet Music Scanner, but you never know what the future will hold (NotateMe is available on Android).

Incidentally, NotateMe on iOS/Android works very well if you have sheet music on hand, and attempts to import lyrics. PhotoScore has been the gold standard for scanning for long time—the app just can’t handle PDF scores, and that is where I live most of the time.

In summary, I have a number of tools on my devices to help me scan, and it doesn’t take long to see which one is the best tool to use.

I continue to scan every score that I use, so that I can have it on my iPad, and I purchase a digital copy when they are available (even if I have to buy five copies of a choral score). A notation-created score will be smaller (it uses a font instead of an image) and can usually be decoded by PDFtoMusic Pro to help me make accompaniment or rehearsal files.

This is a good day, everyone—I’m pleased to be able to recommend PlayScore 2 to you as an additional tool to add to your tool kit. I’d recommend the annual subscription due to the cost savings (only three months of a monthly subscription).

Jamstik 7: A First Look

I was recently sent a Jamstik 7 by Zivix, a music technology company in the Twin Cities area, which is where I live and teach. I have been a fan of the company since I first heard about the Jamstik. This is my “first look” at the device. A video on the same topic follows the text of this blog post.

I should also note that this is my first attempt to use WordPress’s new web-based editor. I’m hoping that every thing will appear as it is intended!

The initial Jamstik was a guitar device that connected via a self-contained wi-fi network, and interacted with iOS devices to provide a MIDI connection to apps such as Jamstik’s own JamTutor app, as well as MIDI apps, such as GarageBand. Zivix had a focus–and remains focused–on meeting educational needs of musicians, although the focus has primarily been on the guitar and individual instruction. They have also created the PUC (you can see a recent review of the PUC and PUC+ on my friend, Paul Shimmons’ YouTube channel) which is a battery powered MIDI adapter that connects a MIDI device (USB or 5 pin) to an iOS device or Mac. The company has also created AirJams, a pick-like device that allows you to control an “air jam” session. Their early devices have been carried in some Apple Stores and some Target Stores, and their crowd-funding efforts have consistently been successful (And they have delivered on every product!).

Not too long after the original Jamstik came into being, Zivix released the Jamstik+, as Apple had introduced Bluetooth Low Energy MIDI. It made sense for the Jamstik to move to this new format. I was shocked at how quickly they moved to the Jamstik+, but it made sense to do so. Since that time, they have made it possible for people to use the Jamstik on other platforms, such as Android, and now universally on Chrome (Chrome had to adopt WebMIDI, and still does when Safari does not!).

This is my opinion, but I don’t know another company that has done so much with Bluetooth MIDI. Zivix is a clear leader in this field. There are a few adapters and (piano) keyboards here and there, but Bluetooth MIDI is underrepresented, and I wish that more companies would adopt it!

Last year, Zivix crowdfunded again for the Jamstik 7 and the Jamstik 12. These are seven and twelve fret versions of the device (the 12 is still in development), and there are a number of changes to the new Jamstik. The Jamstik 7 loses the rechargeable battery of the Jamstik and Jamstik+, trading it for 4 AA batteries. The Jamstik 7 is supposed to last 50 hours on those batteries, and will work with rechargeable batteries (hint: check out Amazon’s rechargeable or regular batteries). The Jamstik 7 also does away with the Jamstik and the Jamstik+ IR sensors, which were used to sense finger placement, and replaces those sensors with an optical sensor. The Jamstik 7 also moves the “D-Pad” to the center of the device, making it more friendly for left-handed players, and completely redesigns how the strap is attached, as well as other accessories, such as a guitar “body” which is available as an accessory. I really like the new strap connectors, and I was always a bit nervous about the old ones on the Jamstik/Jamstik+.

The sensitivity of every string is adjustable. Out of the box, I couldn’t get recognition of my strums on all six strings, so I played with the “presets” for sensitivity until things worked better. I fully admit this may be user error, as I am used to strumming ukuleles with a pick. That said, it seems to me that the Jamstik+ and Jamstik did a better job of recognizing my strums out of the box. I imagine that future firmware updates will continue to adjust sensitivity issues and as previously stated, you can adjust the sensitivity through the iOS app (and I’d imagine, the Android app).

I had better results interacting with the Jamstik 7 with a cable connection to my MacBook Pro, and the Jamstik 7 worked great wirelessly with my iPad Pro (once I adjusted sensitivity settings). The Jamstik app is wonderful, and would be so incredibly valuable in a class guitar setting. If I taught class guitar, I would get a Jamstik and an iPad to use in class, particularly so I could move around the classroom wirelessly and teach. You could use a Jamstik 7 for individualized education (advanced students or students needing remediation). The Jamstik 7 would also be great for creating resources for students, in an app like Notion.

I did a little work on Notion with the Jamstik 7, which did a great job of interpreting individual notes as played into the app; but playing chords resulted in a mess on the tablature. I’m not quite sure how to fix the issue, but I’m sure there is some way to do it.

In talking with the company, I was reminded that the first fifteen lessons or so, included with the JamTutor app or play.jamstik.com, really cover the basics of playing guitar. If you are successful with all fifteen lessons, you can start studying with a human teacher and have a solid foundation for future lessons. Considering that lessons are often $30 to $45 for a half hour, the price of the Jamstik 7 is more than covered through the resources that come free with the device. And at that point, you will want to buy a guitar, and I doubt you’d want to get rid of the Jamstik, as there would be other opportunities to use it (e.g. GarageBand, other MIDI apps, composition, etc.).

In summary, as a part of a “first look,” the Jamstik 7 is a winner. For music education, the Jamstik and Jamstik+ were also winners. The Jamstik 7 packs new technology into an already successful product, and it works great. The only surprise for me was the move to AA batteries, but that is an easy fix with rechargeable batteries.

As I recently posted, Zivix is offering a substantial discount to educators, students, first responders, and members of the military. For more information, check out their post on the discounts (link). Want to learn more about the Jamstik? Visit jamstik.com!