Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

JamStik+ Review (plus Video Link)


On Friday, my JamStik+ arrived from Zivix.  The JamStik is a small guitar that connects to your iPad or Mac.  The original JamStik was sponsored in part by a Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, and the JamStik+ was sponsored by a very profitable KickStarter campaign.

From a distance, the JamStik and JamStik+ look identical.  The original JamStik connected to your device via wi-fi (the JamStik itself became a wi-fi hub).  Since the time the original JamStik shipped (a year ago), Apple introduced a new Bluetooth MIDI standard for iOS and Mac OS. Zivix quickly moved to make their wi-fi products into Bluetooth MIDI products.  The JamStik+ brings Bluetooth MIDI to the JamStik, as well as an additional pickup.  These changes result in a device that is easier to connect (although the wi-fi version was not difficult) and more sensitive.  The fretboard finger position sensors (IR sensors) remain unchanged.

If you follow this blog, you know that I am 100% in support of Bluetooth MIDI, and I expect most platforms to adopt this standard as Apple is now on the international Bluetooth advisory board (they also recently joined the USB board).  Compared to the old days of MIDI (a more than 30 year old standard), Bluetooth MIDI is truly “turn on and play.”  The hardware and software take away all of the old challenges of MIDI.

In my playing of the JamStik and JamStik+, both devices feel the same.  It is simply easier to connect to the JamStik+, and the JamStik+ is slightly more accurate as I play Zivix’s JamTutor, which is a free app available to JamStik owners. For the record, the original JamStik uses an app called “JamStik Connect” to establish the MIDI connection, while the JamStik+ uses the “JamStik+” app to simply turn on the Bluetooth MIDI connection and to provide audio events (sounds/instruments).  Once you have that MIDI connection (wi-fi on the original JamStik, or Bluetooth on the JamStik+), you can use the JamStik with any Zivix app, or with any of hundreds (if not thousands) of Core MIDI apps on the market.

It is worth mentioning that “real” guitar players still complain about the device and the fact it isn’t a “real” guitar.   A quick look at the device should have told them it isn’t a “real” guitar, as it only has five frets.   In truth, this device really isn’t for them–except for the fact that it can be used as an input device into apps like Notion.  This means that a guitar player who does not play piano could now use the guitar an a entry method.  I would think that would be appealing to “real” guitar players.  I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Zivix make a full size JamGuitar some day, since they have the basic technology figured out already.

One of the things I have seen with guitar players in guitar classes is that many players come in unable to read music–but they can read tablature.  They like to look up tablature on the web.  If your JamStik is connected to your iPad via wi-fi, you can’t look up tablature.  If you have a JamStik+, it connects via Bluetooth, meaning students can still use wi-fi on their device (JamStik+ will operate in the background).

Both JamStiks bring a number of features to education: real strings, no tuning required, and a small footprint.  You can use Zivix’s JamTutor apps (one is available, another is coming) for individualized instruction, or you can use an existing guitar method, as all of those methods only use the first  five frets (if that) of the guitar.  Zivix recently reached a distribution agreement with Hal Leonard, and I am hoping that some of Hal Leonard’s guitar methods find themselves embedded in future Zivix apps.  Wouldn’t it be great to have an app that taught student guitar via gameification, but taught notation/literacy in addition to tablature?

If you adopt JamStiks, you do have to figure out a plan for charging instruments, and I keep bothering the folks at Zivix to provide a lab set of JamStiks for schools that would include a storage cart, extra batteries, and strings.  I had a set of nine (original) JamStiks to use with some students last year, and under daily use, the devices hold up well.  We have not suffered a broken string, and battery life is still good.  If you do use JamStiks, I encourage writing down each device’s Bluetooth or wi-fi identifier, and then printing that identifier on a label (P-Touch?) so that students know what device they are connecting to.  Tony Strand used (original) JamStiks with his guitar program and had good results.

Original JamStiks can be bought at the Zivix website ( for $199 (probably while supplies last) and the new JamStik+ can be purchased for $299.  This is within striking distance of a quality school guitar (plus case).  If you are interested in a classroom set, I would contact Zivix directly and inquire about education pricing.

As you can tell, I love this device and its potential for music education.  I love the updates to the JamStik that are found in the JamStik+.  If you are a music educator and you have any dealing with guitar–I have a suspicion that you will like this device, too!

flowkey…a piano app

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 1.34.29 PM

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the development team of flowkey, which is a new app on the App Store.

The goal of flowkey is to be a “grown up” solution to learning piano.   The app tracks your progress, but not in a  traditional “gameification” way.The app has several modes for learning music, which include “flow” (it listens for correct notes as you play the piano–both hands or a single hand), slow, and practice modes (full speed, no active listening/pausing on the part of the iPad).  In the flow mode, the goal is to get each note right before you move to the next note.  You set the iPad on your piano (in my case, a digital piano), and you play. In every mode, there is a video of the piano that shows all 88 keys and which keys should be pressed. There is no on-screen piano keyboard to play on the iPad (like some other piano apps), although the company is examining the use of Core MIDI in the future (think in terms of attaching a keyboard to the iPad rather than setting the iPad on a piano).

I am not a fantastic piano player, and as such, I am probably part of the target audience for this app.  Most of the scores were playable at my novice level of playing.  I experienced some issues when the program wouldn’t hear a note, and I would have to play it repeatedly to get the program to move on (remember the days of SmartMusic when it wouldn’t hear a specific note to move on?).

The app is a free download and comes with some free content, but full access is subscription-based.  From the App Store description:

flowkey is free to download and use. There are several songs included in the free version. Get access to all songs and new songs every month with flowkey Premium, which is available through an auto-renewing subscription. A one month subscription is $19.99, a three months subscription is $38,99 and a yearly subscription is $119,99. If you choose to subscribe, you will be charged a price according to your country which is shown in the app. The subscription renews automatically unless auto-renew is turned off at least 24 hours before end of the current subscription period. Your iTunes account will be charged for the next subscription period within 24 hours prior to the end of the current period. The current period of in-app subscriptions cannot be canceled. You can turn off auto-renew at any time from your iTunes account settings.

I think flowkey is, at the least, worth a download and checking out, particularly if you find apps like PianoMaestro or Piano Dust Buster not challenging enough or are looking for a touch more “grown up” solution.  I can’t speak to the subscription model, as I do not take piano lessons nor do I buy piano music.  As such, perhaps $120 a year is a fantastic bargain.  My fear is that many users that are accustomed to $5 iPad apps will be scared away at that price.

In my interactions with the company, I suggested the possibility of uploading a MusicXML file and having a digital pianist (like a player piano) show hand positions (or just correct keys) with an uploaded song, which would make the app even more useful (scan your music, and then practice with flowkey as a rehearsal tool).

Over the years, I have had a lot of requests from piano teachers for apps, and the list has always been small (and sometimes those apps have gone away, like Pluto Learns Piano).  That is why it is wonderful to be able to bring flowkey to your attention.  Again, it is a free download and worth trying–perhaps you will find that it is worth a longer subscription.

Ningenius – School Edition Price Reduction


Earlier this year, both Paul Shimmons (Post #1 and a follow-up Post #2) and I (Post) talked about Ningenius, a relatively new app that allows students to practice fingerings and note names using gamefication.  If you are a band director, particularly of younger players, your students will love the app, and it will be a great way to reinforce both fingering and note names.

The only confusing thing about Ningenius is that it comes in 3 different versions…a student version (one instrument with one user), a studio version (one instrument with unlimited users), and a school version (all instruments, unlimited users).  Many apps would offer only the student version and allow for studio and school functionality with in-app purchases.

The school version was originally $24.99.  The developers sent an e-mail earlier this summer announcing a price drop of the school edition to $17.99.  While this may seem expensive in a world filled with sub $5 apps, Ningenius gives band directors a wonderful tool to use with their students in lesson settings (or like instrument sectionals).   I delayed announcing this as the next school year was a long way away–but many schools in other parts of the country start school next week, so I wanted to get this news out to you.

Just as a note: the student version is offered through the Education Volume Purchase Program for $1.49 per copy (with an order of more than 20), at which cost the student version is even more accessible to students.  If you are at a 1:1 school that has a MDM (Mobile Device Manager/Mass Device Manager) that can distribute (and collect) apps, purchased apps can be used year after year, and not “burned.”   As a reminder…volume purchases have to be arranged through your school district and do not require the use of a MDM (an MDM is required to be able to “recall” apps, however).

New version of Notion for iOS

We have been traveling and my access to the Internet has been limited–but I haven’t seen this news posted anywhere, so I wanted to mention that you can–right now— download/buy a version of Notion for iOS which is a universal binary–meaning that it can be used on iPhone and iPad. 

Notion is a big app (in terms of download size 140 MB before sounds)–but it comes with a great selection of sounds, plus a chance to buy more sounds for pennies on the dollar (versus any other computer notation app or even Notion’s computer app).  

Notion is one of my “must buy”‘ apps for iPad–and it now works the iPhone.  There are also a number of interface changes with the app, including a new look and use of iCloud.

I have been a beta tester for Notion, and as such, I could not say anything about the app until it was released. PreSonus remains committed to the Notion products, and the app will continue to be developed. Some early adopters of this version are experiencing some crashing (seen in the App Store reviews)–but I am sure that PreSonus will address those crashes with an update in the very near future. 

On a related note, Symphony Pro, the other true music notation app for iOS is also providing more information about its new version, which is coming soon (target date of September). One of Symphony Pro’s new features will be the ability to use a Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard for shortcuts (to my knowledge, nobody has done that with an iOS music app before, and it makes sense.  I wouldn’t mind seeing some of Notion’s computer program shortcuts included in a similar way). 

MakeMusic Acquires Weezic

Weezic Logo

In May of 2011, I had a rather direct conversation with a VP of MakeMusic about the iPad.  At the time, the iPad was relatively new (the iPad 2 had just been released), and I was arguing for SmartMusic on the iPad.  At several music conferences that year, MakeMusic representatives had discussed (with me) whether it made sense to have a web-based SmartMusic platform, or to go device specific.  In the end, MakeMusic chose the iPad, and it didn’t choose wrong.  The iPad is a wonderful platform for SmartMusic, and thousands of students are using SmartMusic on their iPads.

But none of us expected the impact of the Chromebook in education.  As you can see from various posts on my blog, if you have a choice, the Chromebook is the wrong device for music education.  Chromebooks are the result when a district chooses the device, or a music teacher can’t afford iPads (With all sincerity, a MacBook or Windows computer is a better option for music than a Chromebook).  This doesn’t mean I am anti-Chromebook, but we have to be honest and admit that they are not the best device for music.

That hasn’t stopped thousands of schools from adopting Chromebook 1:1.

If every student has a Chromebook, what do you do about SmartMusic?  Nothing.  You either have to have students with access to Mac/Windows/iPad, or they can’t use it.

Meanwhile, a number of other players have entered the field of green note/red note programs.  One of those programs, which won an award at NAMM this past January was Weezic.  Weezic is a French company which has offered green note/red note feedback, provided a library that sold songs individually, gave users the ability to purchase a song to be put into Weezic’s format, and recently was moving towards letting users upload their own MusicXML files, as well as audio and video files that–using Weezic’s proprietary algorithms–would sync the visual music created by the MusicXML file to the uploaded audio and video.  Furthermore, Weezic was promising to have a conservatory feature (school mode).

The crowning achievement (if this wasn’t already enough)?  The latest version of Weezic, although already an iOS app, was running on ALL platforms with HTML 5.  Had Weezic come out this fall, MakeMusic would have had a lot of competition for SmartMusic (along with new multi-platform solution, PracticeFirst).

Although I have been aware of Weezic for a long time, it was not a solution for me as it didn’t have the literature I needed, and I didn’t want to pay someone else to convert literature for me.  However, as Weezic announced new features early this winter (allowing you to bring your own materials into Weezic), I made sure to visit their booth in February at TMEA, and saw most of these features in action.   I felt, at the time, that Weezic had the best chance to be a SmartMusic competitor, particularly if it was priced right.  However, after building up a lot of steam in February, the company had gone quiet, and today’s news explains why.

The news from SmartMusic today is that they have acquired Weezic, and it just makes sense.  In doing so, they eliminate a competitor while incorporating their technology, meaning that we will see a platform-agnostic version of SmartMusic sooner than later.  Earlier this year (before today’s news), an reliable source told me that MakeMusic would be (at least) several years away from releasing a web-based version of SmartMusic.  I wouldn’t expect to see a web-based version of SmartMusic any time soon (think fall of 2016, perhaps), but MakeMusic now has the technology in hand to make this happen.

This is a great acquisition–the best I have seen from the company since it brought Michael Good on the staff; and in fact, it is the first “major” good public news in a long time.  It shows that MakeMusic was able to assess the market (i.e. Chromebooks), realize they couldn’t react to the market while continuing to develop and support their existing products, so they acquired Weezic for their staff and technology.  Unless the web version is a “knockout,” I would expect to see continued development of the Mac/Windows/iPad versions, although a web-only product could be an end goal for the company.

Do you remember how long it took for the iPad version to come out?  Expect a similar length of time for a web-based SmartMusic, and perhaps a product that slowly adds functionality (just as the iPad version did).

MakeMusic is also opening an office in Europe, which is a good sign for the future of MakeMusic as it attempts to make a stronger effort in the European market (a place where Sibelius has reigned supreme).

The only negative part about this acquisition is that some Weezic users will lose access to the songs they have been using (and perhaps purchased).  It would be nice if all of Weezic’s library could be rolled into the new SmartMusic (whenever that comes) for those users in particular.  I would also like to see Weezic’s ability to connect audio and video to a MusicXML file brought to SmartMusic.

In closing, this is great news for MakeMusic, and it will be exciting to see the changes in SmartMusic as a result of this accession.


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