Notezilla (music app for iOS–also on the web)

Notezilla is, at its core, an app that pairs music scores with high quality recordings. The app was originally released in April (2014), and there have been two additional updates (released in the App Store) since it was originally published. The app itself is free, and comes with five free songs–and at the current time, you can purchase all additional and future songs (locked content) for $4.99.

The app itself is easy to operate; you can play a song at various speeds (the score must reload each time you choose a different speed), you can start or stop a song anywhere in a larger score, and you can zoom in or out to make music larger or smaller.

I asked about copyright aspects of the music, as there are no credits on the app. All of the music itself is in the public domain, and the recordings are also either in the public domain or used with permission.

In some ways, Notezilla is a “poor man's The Orchestra,” one of the apps recently featured by Apple (along with Notion for iPad) in their “Your Verse” advertising campaign. The Orchestra features videos, interviews, background text, and multiple ways of experiencing a score (for $9.99), but with parts from eight longer compositions. In comparison, Notezilla only shows and plays a score, but has the potential to add additional compositions, and even asks for users to make suggestions for future literature.

The app, as it stands, may not be very useful for secondary schools (other than music history classes), as the source material is in the public domain (basically published before 1929), and most secondary band and choral scores are newer than that; additionally, as the music is synced with a recording, there is no way to play “just” your part, or to do a “music minus one.” If you are looking for this kind of functionality, you will need to scan the music you are working on and then utilize notation apps or SmartMusic for that kind of work. There may be changes to Notezilla in the future that will add this kind of functionality.

I see Notezilla as being a great tool for music appreciation or music history classes (once the library grows). If the music on Notezilla could cover the works of many of the existing required listening lists of many collegiate music appreciation and music history classes, students would have instant access to scores and audio recordings without having to purchase those items (I spent hundreds of dollars on scores and recordings in my collegiate experience) or spending hundreds of hours in libraries. If you could get access to those scores and recordings for $4.99 in your own room, well, that's a bargain beyond belief. The only current “shortcoming” of the iPad app is that there is no way to advance to a particular place in a score without scrolling, something that would be difficult to deal with in a long composition with a lot of repeated material (in other words, how do you know where you are without measure numbers or rehearsal markings?).

If yo don't have an iPad, you can access Notezilla by going to their website (Notezilla.io), where you can interact with their scores much like on an iPad. This is a good business model; if you don't have an iPad (the most popular tablet in education), you can experience the app on other devices, including the Chromebook (I have tried it) and Android tablets (I have tried this as well). One word of caution: your iPad IAP will not grant you access to locked scores on the web, and vice-versa. This means that if you want both iPad and web access, you will have to spend $9.98, which is still less than a CD.

The developer has stated that they expect to release a big update in August with more content and some additional features. The model for the app/web application may change from a $4.99 all inclusive model to a different pricing model in the future, so if the app is interesting to you, it might be worth an investment sooner than later.

The only complication with Notezilla for 1:1 schools is the In-App Purchase, as businesses and education still cannot purchase IAPs in bulk. I wish that every app with an IAP also sold a full version (this includes GarageBand) so that schools could purchase apps with full functionality.

Notezilla is free on the App Store, and the functionality of the app can also be seen on their website, notezilla.io.

Addendum: TUAW blogged about Notezilla today and mentioned that the developer plans to add one score each week to the app. In a short amount of time, that will add up to a lot of content.

 

A Comprehensive Music Education Program

Six years ago, I chose to bid from my current high school position in our district to a brand new high school that we were building. Included in that position that was being a part of a year-long planning team before the school opened. During that year, we taught at our existing school but also met frequently to be involved in every aspect of the new school–and ultimately, I had a large part in defining the entire music program at that school (I also had a band colleague in this process).

Although it may have been my driving opinion, we felt that a modern high school should not simply offer band, choir, and orchestra. As a result, we created a program with the following elements:

  • Traditional Bands, three levels, ability based
  • Traditional Choirs (five), two gender-based “beginner” choirs, and then three abiltity based mixed choirs
  • Guitar, three levels
  • Beginning Music Theory
  • AP Music Theory (music theory level 2)
  • Music in History and World Cultures
  • In my last year, we managed to put a Music Technology course on the program of studies, although the course did not have enough enrollment to run (see below). I became convinced that music technology was a needed (an interesting) element to add to the curriculum.
  • We also wanted to consider adding courses such as Jazz Band, Show Choir, and Drum Line.

We built the music program with the idea of, “Build it and they will come.” Even if the courses did not run, they were on the books and could run when they needed to run.

 

Over the first four years of the school, we ran a number of these classes; typically two bands, three choirs, occasional classes in music theory, and regular courses at Guitar level 1, and the occasional level 2.

 

We had a MIDI lab installed when we opened the school, a seventeen seat lab with a computer, MIDI keyboard, microphone, Finale (2010), and other free software (e.g. Audacity). The plan was to use this lab in conjunction with our Music Theory courses.

 

Ultimately FTE ratios became a challenge. In music courses, the minimum cap number of 25 was usually enforced. Any music teacher will tell you that FTE is a deceptive number. There are always courses where FTE is allowed to dip “below” that magic number of 25, and if the district ratio is at 32.5 (as our is), no one is ever concerned if music or physical educaton teachers have a FTE ratio far above that ratio. Counselors I talked to considered these courses “black holes” where you could place students and lower the FTE for other teachers. Ultimately, if your program is a “favored” program of your administration, the administration runs those courses regardless of FTE. As we opened the school, both the Band and Choir were below the “actual” FTE requirements, partially because we opened under the last year of a four-period day where students were strongly encouraged to take two years of math and two years of foreign language in one year while they still could. Choir began with 35 students and band with 105; by the end of my four years there, choir was at 156 and Band at 88 (there was additional growth for next year). I don't want to make the case that we were overloaded with students, but I do want to point out that an additional class or two could have been added, only further justifying our FTE. One year I taught (under the four period day) three choirs and another course (music theory or guitar). But that only happened in one year (year 2, I believe).

 

Logically, courses such as Music Theory are intended as a place for your most gifted musicians who want to prepare for college (I also found that a number of guitar players not in traditional band/choir/orchestra would take music theory to learn how to write music). We will run an AP course of 15 students for a high level science or math course for students wanting to pursue those fields in college–but doing so in music was a hard thing for our administration to justify.

 

Furthermore, it became clear that the MIDI Lab was a poor investment; the MIDI Lab only had 17 work stations, and if you needed a class of 25 to run a course, what do 8 students do while the others work on the computers?

 

As I have written about in the past, I left that school last year, and have taught this year at a middle school in our district which is 1:1. I will be writing about those experiences in the weeks to come. Yesterday I was visting with another teacher in our district, and wondered if my former schools was going to be offering any of the comprehensive music courses we created. I looked at the district program of studies, and all of our “comprehensive” courses no longer exist at that school.

 

To be clear: the program of studies is impacted by the staff at each school, and they have input on what courses are offered. It is possible that the new teachers had no interest in offering those courses. Many music teachers consider themselves specialists: “I only teach ______.” Many teachers do not even want to consider teaching theory, history, guitar, or music technology as a separate course. I understand that point of view, but one of the things I have learned in my educational path is that schools need to offer more than band/choir/orchestra. You might disagree, or you might not feel equipped to teach such classes. But the end result is that you CAN teach those classes. You are a music educator–you are first and foremost a generalist, a common practitioner, and a specialist in your field second to that. If FTE is a factor in your teaching position, why wouldn't you want the FTE from guitar or music theory to keep you at 1.0? Sometimes we are afraid that we will lose kids from traditional band/choir/orchestra if we offer other courses such as “guitar.” You might lose some kids to those classes, and you can take steps to protect yourself (don't make guitar meet an Arts credit–making the course a true elective, only offer it to upper classmen, etc.). But generally, my thought has become: if a kid is in music, taught by a music teacher, they are still in music. MENC (now NAfME) used to say, “Music for every child, every child for music.” When 80% (or more) of high school students aren't in music when band/choir/orchestra are the only options, we're missing a lot of kids, and there is huge potential for growth.

 

Again, I don't know if the new teachers simply didn't want to teach those courses (which didn't always run), but the removal of those courses from the offiicial “program of studies” also shows that the administration of that school did not share the same vision for a comprehensive program in music education. Otherwise, you could simply leave the courses in the program of studies but simply not run those courses. So it is yet a further validation that my decision to move (first and foremost for my family and to work in a 1:1 situation) was the right move.

 

Let me be clear: I am in total support of band, choir, and orchestra in our schools. I love classical music, and I think those programs are relevant for today; I am not sure that our students (or their parents) always agree with us. So, keep offering those traditional music courses, but also consider offering non-traditional courses for that other 80%. But: would you be willing to teach a theory course, or a guitar course?

 

Inspired

I was inspired last night by a new poster by Richard Wells at ipads4schools.org. The picture appears below and says so much, so simply (I have asked for permission to share this poster on my blog and in my books on Thor iBookstore). As a very important side note, Richard has a ton of wonderful iPad resources on his website.

I find myself continually speaking out against notebooks and Chromebooks, because they just don't fit in music classrooms (applications, SAMR, and other topics just further the argument). Clamshell computers leave music “out in the cold” when it comes to technology. As a result, I began drawing this image in response, really in alignment, with Richard's poster. It took two hours to draw my stick figures in ArtStudio on the iPad (the background is a real stage–I didn't draw it). Enjoy!

 

Interactive Listening

This past year, Peter Carney and Brian Felix teamed up together to bring an interactive iBook on Music History to the iPad. They have had a printed book and a website (www.interactivelistening.com) for some time, but the goal was to bring music history and music appreciation to students using technology in a way that would make them excited and interested about the subject, rather than through a traditional approach of a textbook and a CD series. The result? Interactive Listening on the iPad. Until the next version of the Mac OS X operating system is released, you will need an iPad (or iPad Mini) to buy and open this book in iBooks (The next version, Mavericks, will allow iBooks on the Mac).

From their introduction:

Teachers in the 21st century are constantly dealing with the issue of technology – not only how to incorporate it into the classroom, but also competing with the myriad devices and media that are always vying for students’ attention. While teaching at the City Colleges of Chicago, Prof. Carney and I have been faced with the fundamental question of how to keep students of the digital age engaged in an introductory music history class. Almost everyone listens to music, loves music, and can benefit deeply from the study of music if they are given a roadmap to discovery.

What we’ve found is that if the students are given this roadmap of how to interact with the music, they become infinitely more engaged and glean far more from listening and reading assignments. Typical textbooks, while they serve a purpose, fall short of bridging this gap. Combined with reading assignments and in-class explanation, this book serves as a new guide to music history for a rapidly changing era.

Our classroom discoveries mentioned above have served as the fundamental guiding principle for this book: targeted assignments for listening and reading that call the student to dig deeper into the music – to draw upon their own musical experience (trained or untrained) to unlock the secrets that the music holds.

Inside this book we’ve presented interactive listening activities for music from Hildegard to Radiohead that reaches out draws in the 20th century student. Often these assignments incorporate modern technology in order to assimilate the wider world of media that we have available at our fingertips.

Excerpt From: Peter Carney & Brian Felix. “Interactive Listening.” v1.0. Interactive Listening, 2013. iBooks.

The book features various levels of interaction with the student, not to mention the student and the teacher. There is a wide variety of audio examples, the book is popping with great visuals, and YouTube videos are embedded in the textbook (this is really important, as videos take up a huge amount of space). There are quizzes throughout the book that can be completed on the iPad and e-mailed to a teacher. The only caveat is that you will need a connection to the internet to access those Internet-based resources.

The book could be used as a textbook in a collegiate music appreciation course, a high school music history course, or as a supplementary teacher resource in any music class. Although the book may seem expensive ($14.99) from the iOS app perspective, it is a bargain as a textbook, as all the resources you would need are embedded directly in the iBook itself.

You can download a free sample of the book from the iBookstore, or you can watch this YouTube video.

I have had the pleasure to meet Peter Carney–he's a great guy, and he and Brian Felix have done a wonderful service for music education in providing this iBook, not only for the book itself and how it can relate to today's students, but also in paving the way for iBooks in music education.

Interactive Listening

This past year, Peter Carney and Brian Felix teamed up together to bring an interactive iBook on Music History to the iPad. They have had a printed book and a website (www.interactivelistening.com) for some time, but the goal was to bring music history and music appreciation to students using technology in a way that would make them excited and interested about the subject, rather than through a traditional approach of a textbook and a CD series. The result? Interactive Listening on the iPad. Until the next version of the Mac OS X operating system is released, you will need an iPad (or iPad Mini) to buy and open this book in iBooks (The next version, Mavericks, will allow iBooks on the Mac).

From their introduction:

Teachers in the 21st century are constantly dealing with the issue of technology – not only how to incorporate it into the classroom, but also competing with the myriad devices and media that are always vying for students’ attention. While teaching at the City Colleges of Chicago, Prof. Carney and I have been faced with the fundamental question of how to keep students of the digital age engaged in an introductory music history class. Almost everyone listens to music, loves music, and can benefit deeply from the study of music if they are given a roadmap to discovery.

What we’ve found is that if the students are given this roadmap of how to interact with the music, they become infinitely more engaged and glean far more from listening and reading assignments. Typical textbooks, while they serve a purpose, fall short of bridging this gap. Combined with reading assignments and in-class explanation, this book serves as a new guide to music history for a rapidly changing era.

Our classroom discoveries mentioned above have served as the fundamental guiding principle for this book: targeted assignments for listening and reading that call the student to dig deeper into the music – to draw upon their own musical experience (trained or untrained) to unlock the secrets that the music holds.

Inside this book we’ve presented interactive listening activities for music from Hildegard to Radiohead that reaches out draws in the 20th century student. Often these assignments incorporate modern technology in order to assimilate the wider world of media that we have available at our fingertips.

Excerpt From: Peter Carney & Brian Felix. “Interactive Listening.” v1.0. Interactive Listening, 2013. iBooks.

The book features various levels of interaction with the student, not to mention the student and the teacher. There is a wide variety of audio examples, the book is popping with great visuals, and YouTube videos are embedded in the textbook (this is really important, as videos take up a huge amount of space). There are quizzes throughout the book that can be completed on the iPad and e-mailed to a teacher. The only caveat is that you will need a connection to the internet to access those Internet-based resources.

The book could be used as a textbook in a collegiate music appreciation course, a high school music history course, or as a supplementary teacher resource in any music class. Although the book may seem expensive ($14.99) from the iOS app perspective, it is a bargain as a textbook, as all the resources you would need are embedded directly in the iBook itself.

You can download a free sample of the book from the iBookstore, or you can watch this YouTube video.

I have had the pleasure to meet Peter Carney–he's a great guy, and he and Brian Felix have done a wonderful service for music education in providing this iBook, not only for the book itself and how it can relate to today's students, but also in paving the way for iBooks in music education.