Category Archives: iPad Apps

iPad Apps

A new song writing app: Tin Pan (Rhythm)

Once again, my friend Paul Shimmons has posted about a new app before I have…this time, about Tin Pan (affiliate link), an app that was released on Monday. Check out Paul's review, as he has different conclusions than I do (although both of us like the app).

The App takes its name from Tin Pan Alley, a segment of New York City that was known for song writers and music stores, from about 1885. The name is appropriate, as Tin Pan is meant to help people write songs, in a format similar to Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) such as GarageBand. The first time you open the app, it runs you through a basic tutorial of how to use the app. There are several steps:

  1. You (eventually) choose the number of measures (4 or 8), tempo, and key.
  2. You select chords (1 measure each) from a triangle of chords which are labeled in Roman Numerals (each represents the chord built off of that step of the scale, if you are not familiar with this). You can set the program to display chord names, but this is not the default setting.
  3. Then you look at a view of all the possible instruments (Piano, Bass, Guitar, Miscellanous Percussion, and Drums), where you can choose different patterns by swiping on the name of the instrument, as well as changing the pattern of melodic instruments by dragging the event of the instrument up and down. You can also adjust the volume of each instrument.
  4. Finally, you can record the segment and then send it via e-mail, Open In, AudioCopy, or SoundCloud.

Setting tempo, number of measures, key, and chord format.

Ultmately, you aren't going to use this app as a stand alone app for writing a complete song, as you cannot paste various sections together in the app itself. You would have to do that pasting with other apps. For example, you can create various loops in Tin Pan which you can then export to GarageBand with AudioCopy.

The idea is that you can play around with different chord progressions and rhythms, coming up with new materials for songs. This is particularly powerful for pop music which is often limited by form (intro, verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, fade).

Export options for Tin Pan

Currently, Tin Pan can't handle different time signatures (3/4 or 6/8, for example), or loops of longer lengths. You are limited to 10 different chords (not including inversions, however), so it is possible you might want to use a chord that doesn't exist. The record feature is a little odd, as it simply records the looped set of measures as many times as you want it. This can result in dead space before the loop begins (bad for importing) or an off-cut off. I would like a simple “export” feature which would export one precise loop to any of the already existing export destinations.

The 10 chords available in Tin Pan in the major mode

The richness of the app, other than the quality of sounds and educational value of teaching about chord progressions (as mentioned by Paul), is the variety of solutions this app adds for users of GarageBand. Are you tired of GarageBand's stock sounds and auto-chord accompaniments? This app adds 56 different styles of piano loops alone as a starting point, and that doesn't include all the options of the other instruments! The variety of combinations is almost (but not) overwhelming, and I hope that a future version of the app could classify types of piano, bass, and guitar sequences to better help a person know where to start (if that is even possible).

The app is easy to use, sounds great, has educational value, and could really be a great addition to your iPad DAW (even GarageBand). At $2.99, I highly recommend Tin Pan and I am excited to see where it goes in the future.


Ningenius Music App – A New Approach to Fingering Charts

I was recently contacted by the developers of Ningenius Music App, and was given a promo code to check out their app. The app itself is a new approach to fingering charts. It is a game that challenges you to name the fingering for a given note, or the note name for a given note. While there are plenty of apps that do the second feature (naming notes), I do not know of any other app that features a game based on fingering. That said, my colleague recently mentioned how many of their middle school students still struggle to name notes (they know the notes as fingering), so it makes great pedagogical sense to have both of these features in the same app.

Basically, after you choose a level, the app shows a note, and then you select the correct fingering or note name for the given note. Meanwhile, every attempt sends a ninja against a wooden beam. Every correct answer damages the beam a little more, while every wrong answer injures the ninja. Get enough wrong answers, and the ninja passes out from injury,

My friend, Paul Shimmons, has reviewed the app at his blog (iPad and Technology in Music Education), and he indicates that his students really like the app.

The app comes in three “flavors” (all are referral links):

I have had a chance to play with the tuba fingerings, and some of the fingerings are a good reminder for someone that hasn't played in a while (and this might be a good way to get back playing if you have put your instrument aside). As with most apps, you will reach a point where this app will no longer be a challenge (you will earn the black belt level on the hardest setting). But at that point, the app will have done its job for $2.99, and if you have the $9.99 or $24.99 app, it will simply keep on giving back to you, year after year.

I would like to see a mode that required you to identify both the fingering and the note name at the same time (press one button in each answer column). My only possible negative about the app is that it is centered around a ninja, and as such all of the sounds and images reflect the Japanese culture–maybe a bit too much. Perhaps I have learned to be over-sensitive, but I think that it is possible that if you have students with an Asian background, someone might be offended by the app. That's probably unlikely, but I still felt it should be mentioned.

As I mentioned before, Paul Shimmons goes into much greater detail about the app (including tracking progress). He thinks the app will be great in his teaching, and I can see this app being a wonderful addition for any elementary or middle school band teacher wishing to have their students drill note fingerings or note names.

You can learn more about the apps at their website, and also in the following YouTube video.


A big day for music technology…

Two major items hit the news today that have the potential to impact our lives as musicians and music educators.

The first is that MusicFirst introduced PracticeFirst, a new system that will allow green note/red note assessment for $6 per student, with additional titles being added for an additional cost (teachers can also provide their own literature, which is what I would do). I haven’t see or used the system (other than some screen shots at, so I cannot tell you how the service compares to SmartMusic or Music Prodigy. I can tell you that the pricing does come very close to affordable for even my current situation where student socio-economic factors are an issue. $6 per year, for the same general ability to assess student pitch and rhythm, versus $40 for SmartMusic and $30 for Music Prodigy, is one heck of a deal. Furthermore, PracticeFirst is web-based (meaning any device, potentially including phones), and it is also supposed to assess tone. I still need to see what Weezic will release in this area. I would still love to see a buy-once app that didn’t have to rely on servers, as $6 per student is still nearly $2000 for my program. That is $10,000 over five years, and $20,000 over ten years. That is a significant investment, and SmartMusic and Music Prodigy would be more! Remember, you aren’t getting much content with PracticeFirst, but with advances in scanning, it is easier than ever to scan music, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be assessing full pieces of music…you should be selectively choosing the measures you will assess. For the cost savings over SmartMusic ($11,000 for my program), I can make my own assessments, plus as a choral director, I always had to make my own literature assessments anyway.

Again, we don’t know how PracticeFirst will compare with other programs, but it will be fun to find out.

As a side note, also check out the resources at for additional green note/red note applications in music. There is a web application called CommunityBand, as well as a Recorder Application, a Music Share Application, and a Duet Maker. All are priced very affordably for music education.

Finally, the handwriting music on a tablet space has really heated up. The Sibelius Blog covered StaffPad, a handwriting app mainly for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and the Microsoft Surface 3 [The Pro is the better option with the larger 4:3 screen], about two weeks ago. This week, Neuratron announced its pending third version of NotateMe for iOS and Android. Today the Sibelius Blog broke the news about TouchNotation, a new handwriting music app from Kawai (the link is a referral link. If you buy the app from the link, I will relieve a 7% commission from Apple, but the cost is the same, and the company makes the same amount). The app was live in Japan first, and there is a free version available as well. The app is on sale for $7.99 until the end of April, and has various in-app purchases. I have only played with the app for a few moments, but it seems to work well enough, although there doesn’t seem to be a way to add lyrics (not so great for a choir director or general music teacher).

I am intrigued by the entrance of Kawai into the app space. NotateMe remains the app I would recommend on iOS or Android, as it allows for the PhotoScore In-App Purchase, which is worth its weight in gold. And I don’t have a Surface Pro 3 (I would buy myself a new MacBook and an Apple Watch first), so I have not purchased StaffPad (which would not work so well on my Asus T-100 tablet without an active stylus). But it seems that StaffPad has captured the excitement of a number of musicians and executives at Microsoft. I have seen a number of musicians who are buying a Surface Pro 3 just for StaffPad. On a similar note. I know musicians who bought iPads for forScore and unrealBook.

I also hope you didn’t miss the news about the next version of Sibelius (8?) that will also utilize the Surface Pro’s active stylus. It seems that if you are a musician who uses Windows, it is time to buy the Surface Pro 3.

So…that’s the big news today…PracticeFirst,, and Touch Notation, as well as mention of StaffPad, NotateMe 3, and Sibelius. Aren’t options wonderful?

JamStik in the Classroom

I am very excited to see where this goes. Definitely a blog to follow…!jamstik-blog/c17y3

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.



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