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.
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).
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!
It is New Year’s Eve, and we have had a very mellow day, and we are also going to have a very mellow evening. We’ll all be in bed long before the New Year arrives. 2018 was a year full of a number of major life moments for me, which I will write about later. As 2018 closes, I am very thankful for family and friends and the role they have played in my life.
I wanted to post about an App Update to one of the tools that I use with my choirs early in the year. The app is called “In Tune” and it is a game that asks you to determine whether a second pitch is sharp or flat compared to a first pitch, on an increasing level of difficulty.
I use Dale Duncan’s “S-Cubed” method for sight singing (highly recommended), but I modify the content using other tools. For example, I use Sight Reading Factory to generate exercises for my students (based on Dale’s exercises). This way, I can make a version that plays along with students. The Sight Reading Factory versions are great for exams, and for dropping online so that students can take a sight reading assessment if they miss an assessment. I start assessing during this middle part of the year, making sure my students have all had exposure to the method before making it actually “count” towards their grade.
Early in his method, Dale asks teachers to sing sharp and flat notes to their students to help them develop sensitivity to pitch. This is an area where I don’t follow Dale, because I strongly believe that we should never sing something wrong intentionally in an educational setting. I substitute three or four days of playing “In Tune” with my choirs in place of demonstrating flat and sharp for my students, and at the end of every two pitches, I ask students to determine whether the notes were flat or sharp (they vote), and we enter the majority’s vote into the app.
The two negatives of the app have been that you can’t replay pitches (sometimes the choirs talk, as the next notes start immediately, and they can’t hear the new pitches and you can’t replay them), and the pure tone can rattle in your skull—finding a correct volume can be a challenge.
The app hasn’t been touched in three years, but was updated this week. I’m very happy about this, as you will now have the option to buy other sounds as a reference pitch for the app.
Incidentally, my choirs always improve significantly over three days with the app (we meet every other day), and I think they get the point of “sharp” or “flat” versus singing “on pitch” in a more effective way than if I sing sharp or flat for them.
In the future, I may have students vote online for sharp or flat, instead of raising their hands, using any number of apps or services—including SMART’s new web-based tools (which were demonstrated to us in October and look amazing).
If you haven’t tried In Tune, I recommend it, and if you use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed method, I think it is a nice alteration to his methodology.
As a note, In Tune is an iPhone App, so it runs in that odd magnified size on an iPad, and if you want to buy it on an iPad, you have to search for iPhone apps.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2019 is stellar for you!
I just saw that two apps, neither new, have been updated recently. Treble Cat (and Treble Cat HD), a note reading game, has been refreshed in look and style (I assume we’ll see a similar update to Bass Cat and Rhythm Cat in the future).
I also noticed that Music Memos has been updated. Music Memos remains one of the apps that surprises people the most as I present sessions. Music Memos was invented by Apple to replace the need for musicians to use Voice Notes to “jot down” musical ideas (this was quite common). Music Memos takes a musical recording and analyzes the key, tempo, and harmonic structure–and adds bass and drums to the recording. Ever need to make a quick accompaniment for an ensemble? Try Music Memos. You can also export the final project to Garage Band (Mac only…hoping for iOS integration in the future), or you can export audio as an audio file. Yes, you can edit the program’s interpretation of the chords. When I show this app to audiences, there is always a gasp of awe–even with collegiate students. If you haven’t tried Music Memos, do so–and it is FREE…another wonderful gift for musicians and music educators from Apple.
I love Showbie. As a 1:1 iPad school, Showbie allows me to manage the “paper” aspects of my classroom. I love that I can share music in a folder (e.g. “6th Grade Spring Concert Music) to a class, give students access to that music, and then hide or delete that folder after the concert (collect the music with a couple of clicks). While in Showbie, students can turn pages left to right (something that a surprising number of PDF applications do not allow), and students can write in their music. Simply put, Showbie is worth the annual fee simply for music management for 350 students.
Our school adopted the enterprise version of Schoology last year, so when there are tasks where I can use Schoology, such as submitting audio or video for assessment, I use Schoology where I used to use Showbie for those tasks.
Our choir program has paid for a subscription to Showbie the past years; as we will no longer be fundraising for our program, we may have to adjust how I use Schoology, adopting the free version and creating grade level “classes” instead of classes by hour/section as I have in the past. Showbie has both free and paid tiers.
There are other benefits of Showbie–it can be a great way to share almost any kind of file between iPads, particularly if your district has restricted other means of sharing (e.g. AirDrop). The company has added many features to their web-based program, and it is now approaching the functionality of the iPad version.
I was an ambassador for Showbie in the past years–and I remain a user and supporter–but I couldn’t find the time needed to support Showbie fully as an ambassador.
So, if you haven’t noticed, I think Showbie is brilliant.
A couple of days ago, Showbie announced that they will be partnering with Socrative, which is a multi-platform assessment program. I’m not sure if Socrative will continue as its own service or if it will be absorbed into Showbie, bur I do know that the one area were Showbie lacked as a program was assessment tools. Showbie has a rather effective quick grading tool, but was far behind other Class Management Systems when it came to assessment. While I am sure there will be some bumps in the road along the way, the merging of Showbie and Socrative should lead to a much more useful tool, and a more competitive tool to other programs in the educational CMS space.
It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Showbie + Socrative!