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).

App Update and Happy New Year

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2019 is stellar for you!