Some music hardware items: Jamstik Pro and Roli Lumi

One of the joys about the summer is that I have time to catch up on developments that I’ve missed over the last months.

If you are a reader of this blog, you are aware that I am very fond of Zivix (a local company) and their products, the Jamstik and the PUC. Zivix released the JamStik 7 earlier this year, and had promised a Jamstik 12 as part of its last crowdfunding effort. I realized that I had not heard anything about the Jamstik 12, so I went back to the original Indiegogo campaign to see what was up.

In late March, Zivix announced that it was going to stop development of the Jamstik 12 to make a 24 fret “Jamstik Pro” MIDI guitar, upgrading every backer of the Jamstik 12 to the Jamstik Pro when it is released. The Jamstik 7 is available for purchase. While I am sure that Jamstik 12 backers were disappointed by the cancellation of that device, I am sure they will be thrilled to own a Jamstik Pro for the same price, even with the wait.

The prototype Jamstik Pro (right) versus a full size Telecaster-type guitar (left).

One of the things that has always amazed me about Zivix has been their forward thinking approach. They are always thinking about the next device while completing the current device. They were one of the first–if not the first–companies to adopt Bluetooth LTE MIDI. So it isn’t surprising to me that they looked at the 12 fret Jamstik, and thought, “You know what, these extra five frets don’t really do that much more than the Jamstik 7. Let’s simply go ahead with our long-term plan of making a full size, 24 fret guitar.” I have no doubt that they will deliver on that new goal.

Guitar isn’t a primary instrument in my life–but it has been wonderful to have different versions of the Jamstik to use over the years. And as I’ve said over and over again, I wouldn’t teach classroom guitar again without one. When the Jamstik Pro comes out, I’ll do my best to visit the company and try it out (their product specialists are light years more capable players than I am), but I would think that guitar players would be ecstatic about this instrument and what it promises to provide. It will take some people by surprise to learn that they don’t need to tune a Jamstik Pro!

As Zivix has music education in its DNA, I fully expect that they will continue to develop devices that are affordable and accessible for schools and individuals just wanting to learn music. The JamStik 7 is already affordable, and the company offers special purchase prices for teachers, military, and first responders. And I’ll continue to ask where the Zivix ukulele is in the development process (I can’t help it…I bought two ukuleles this month).

The other interesting development in the music technology hardware world is a new keyboard on Kickstarter from Roli, called the Lumi. Roli has had some really amazing hardware over the last years, but it has always been out of the price range that I wanted to pay for it. They have the Seaboard and its various iterations, as well as their Blocks. The Garage Band Block is really intriguing–but it is a $650 purchase. That’s a lot to spend on an iPad or MacBook accessory!

The new device is Roli’s first geared specifically towards education–removing the barriers for a an individual to learn music–a kindred product to Zivix’s Jamstik. Just as the Jamstik offers JamTutor and integration with other apps, the Lumi will do the same for piano. The Lumi is still pretty expensive…$186 as a Kickstarter, but that is a fraction of the cost of a Seaboard, and the Lumi features very cool keyboard lighting (some people are going to buy it just for that, I’m afraid) and what appears to be solid software integration. The ability to link keyboards together brings me back to Miselu’s product C.24, which just seemed to disappear after it shipped (and whose modules never were developed).

The XKey Air (37 key) is still available for $300 (the 25 key sells for $199); and there is also Korg MicroKey units with up to 61 keys for about $200 (or less). For the budget minded, it’s hard not to choose the Korg MicroKey Air 49 for $180. The Roli Luma is at the higher end of the price tier (even as a Kickstarter) for a 24 key Bluetooth MIDI keyboard (not as much as the Seaboard Block for $350, however)…but you do get the cool light effects and what appears to be great software. If you’re interested in the Roli Lumi, you can back it on Kickstarter now!

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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!


Education and Military/First Responder Discounts on the Jamstik

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As previously mentioned, I was kindly sent a Jamstik 7 by Zivix this past week.  I had a chance to use the Jamstik 7 for a while today, and I am not yet ready to write a full post/review on the device.  It is clearly the next generation of the Jamstik, not only in terms of being the most recent release, but in technological advances.  It is different than the Jamstik and Jamstik+, and I want to spend some more time with the device before writing more about it.

I will say that the Chome-based play portal (https://play.jamstik.com/) works well (I was using it with my MacBook Pro).

The news that I wanted to share tonight is that Zivix is offering special pricing for teachers, students, first responders, and military personnel.  They have a special link set up for the discount: https://jamstik.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360021334732.  Educators will receive a 20% discount, and students will receive a 15% discount.  And I also want people to know this is not a referral link that sends a commission my direction.

Although I no longer teach guitar classes (I currently teach ukulele at the middle school level), when we opened my last school (2009), a high school, we made sure that guitar, music history, music theory, and music technology were courses that existed in the school.  I taught class guitar levels I & 2 each year, and I would have LOVED a Jamstik to teach with.  First of all, the Jamstik is portable (running bluetooth to iOS in particular), allowing a teacher to easily move throughout the room–which is a necessity in a classroom guitar setting.  I bought a Washburn Rover “backpacker” guitar when I was teaching so I could move around the room!  Second, the Jamstik can project over a room’s sound system (via an iOS device attached to the system through the headphone jack).   With such a setup, not only could every student hear what you were playing–you could also use it to help students tune by ear at the start of class.  Third, the Jamstik can show which fingers are being pressed on the fretboard, and then project that on a large screen (again, through the iOS app, or via USB cable and the new Chrome web interface).

And those three aspects do not even discuss the concept of using the Jamstik for differentiated instruction (advanced or remedial work).  However, those three aspects would have made teaching guitar SO much easier.

So–many thanks to Zivix for offering educator, student, first responder, and military discounts.

And more about the Jamstik 7 later!

 

 

JamStik 7 & 12: Final day of Indiegogo Campaign

Yes, I have posted about this before. That said, it is the final day of the JamStik 7 & 12 campaign on Indiegogo…you’ll be able to buy one when they officially go “on the market” in a few months, but if you would like to save some money, this would be a great time to join the campaign.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-new-jamstik-guitars-for-learning-creating-iphone-bluetooth/

If I were teaching guitar (I currently teach ukulele), I would want the JamStik for myself–to walk around the room easily (instead of hauling a guitar) and projecting JamStik+ (an app) on a screen. As the JamStik senses and shows where your fingers are–it is GREAT for teaching. I would also want one or two JamStiks for students who either needed remedial work on guitar, or for those students needing an additional challenge (being ahead of the class). You COULD have a classroom set of JamStiks–but I don’t know how many settings are 1:1 with devices that could support such an initiative.

JamStik 7 and 12 Indiegogo Campaign Now Live

I have been a supporter of Zivix products for a long time. Zivix brought the JamStik (wi-fi), Puc (wi-fi), JamStik+ (pickup and Bluetooth MIDI) and Puc+ (Bluetooth MIDI) and AirJamz to market–using crowdfunding a good percentage of the time.

Each generation of Zivix’s devices have addressed customer suggestions and concerns, and have incorporated newer technologies. The company has continued to improve its software and has expanded to Android applications as well. Examples of continuing improvement was their early adoption of Bluetooth MIDI and the addition of a pickup in the JamStik+.

The existing JamStik is a five-fret wireless Bluetooth MIDI device, using real metal strings in a portable format. New players can use the JamStik with the JamTutor app to learn to play the guitar while existing guitar players can use the JamStik as a way to interact with digital audio workstations and notation software. The newest JamStik models will use new “FretTouch Finger Sensing Technology” and “Infrasense Optical String Pickups.” I am excited to see how this new technology works. Seeing as the previous models worked very well–I know the 7 fret and 12 fret models of the JamStik will be an improvement.

This is also the first new Bluetooth MIDI device I have seen on the market for some time. Bluetooth MIDI is wonderful–and I simply believe that most music educators (and musicians) simply do not know it exists!

As a bonus, Zivix is a “local” company for me, located near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

When I started following Zivix, I was teaching high school guitar classes. Since that time, I moved to the middle school level and have introduced the ukulele to my middle school students. Admittedly, I play ukulele a lot, and I simply do not play guitar very often (this is quite common). I do bring the JamStik with me to conventions and professional development sessions to show to others.

Beyond Zivix’s own focus to help people learn music through their products, I have used JamStiks in an educational setting. I have done so in both a 1:1 setting with a small class of difficult students and have also used the JamStik as an instructional tool in a guitar classroom. The JamStik is far easier to carry around a classroom than a full sized guitar or even a backpacker guitar (which I purchased to use in the classroom before the JamStik came out)–and your finger position on the JamStik can be shown to the whole classroom via the JamStik+ app. I would not want to teach a guitar class without a JamStik–and if you teach guitar in a school–I can’t recommend it highly enough–either for your use or for 1:1 situations where a student would learn better through a digital experience or through additional enrichment.

Earlier this year, Zivix announced a new 7 and 12 fret model of the JamStik+. The biggest complaint I have heard about the JamStik from guitar players in the past is that the existing JamStik only has five frets. These new devices solve that issue–although many guitars have 20 to 22 frets. I’m sure that “Pro” players will lament the lack of 8 to 10 frets from a regular guitar…but let’s be honest…most casual players will never leave the five frets of the original Jamstik.

I’m excited for the new JamStik models–not only will they have more frets, but they will be packed with new technology–and I am told that the plastic body will be made in Minnesota. Imported items are fine…but if an American company can keep production elements in the USA, that is nice, too.

I also keep dreaming of a ukulele version of the JamStik–and the 12 fret JamStik makes this a possibility as many soprano ukuleles only have 12 frets (however–the cost of a ukulele Jamstik might be too prohibitive when a travel ukulele like the Flight TUS 35 sell for $60 or less).

As the Indiegogo campaign is underway, you can purchase one of the new JamStiks at a reduced cost from what they will sell for later. And unlike many crowdfunded projects, Zivix has already seen several crowd funding projects from start to finish. As of this post, the project has already received 149% of its required funding–so you know you will receive yours–and Zivix has always delivered. The JamStik 7 will ship in August and the JamStik 12 will ship in Q1 2019.

Interested? Join the Indiegogo campaign!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/jamstik-7-jamstik-12-modern-midi-smart-guitars-iphone-bluetooth#/

New JamStiks Coming Soon!

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Zivix, a company dedicated to making  interaction with music fun and educational through the use of technology has just announced two new products at NAMM.  The new products are the JamStik 7 and JamStik 12.  While details have not yet been released, I am expecting both models to work via BLE MIDI on most platforms.  I also expect full integration with existing Zivix software, such as JamTutor (A gamified experience that teaches how to play the guitar and how to read tablature at the same time0

The original JamStik was great, and acted as a WiFi station to connect to a device.  That original JamStik used infrared sensors on a five fret device to act as a MIDI interface.  The second JamStik, the JamStik+, added a pickup for greater sensitivity and connection via BLE MIDI.  On both versions, the D-Pad added functionality such as a capo.

”Real” guitarists often complained about the limitation of five frets—but for an educational device, it was perfect.  While I haven’t taught a guitar class for a few years, I would have loved to walk around the room with the JamStik, projecting the JamStik Plus App imterface on a screen (showing which strings are pressed and sending audio over room speakers without having to walk around with a full guitar).  To be honest, I don’t know why any teacher who teaches guitar in a classroom setting would NOT want to do this!  I did run a small class with WiFi JamStiks a few years ago…and it was a successful experience.  Remember…this is a device with real strings, so skills transfer to real instruments.

Furthermore, if you are a guitarist who plays no other instrument, I know of no better and more affordable method to interact with MIDI on a device…from notation to DAWs.

These new models address the “limited fret issue” (again, a questionable complaint in the first place), with the seven fret model aimed at beginners and the twelve fret model aimed for professionals.

I’m hoping for a 7 fret ukulele model!  🙂