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!
This is a long review, and I apologize for the length, but I am very fond of these items and they deserve some coverage. If you want to read a very quick summary, check out my last post. I also had to publish an incomplete draft in order to add in-document links, so if you received e-mail notification about the post and it was incomplete, I apologize.
I love technology, and I love teaching others about technology in relation to what they are doing in their classrooms. I have a special affinity for technology that “changes the game” and makes technology easier to use or easier to incorporate into our lives. As a music teacher and a musician–there are few occurrences where I am bursting with excitement about a product. This is one of those situations.
This review is going to look at a CME’s XKey Air and the CME WIDI BUD. You can click on either of those last two links to skip to the section about that product, and there is a (20 minute) video at the end of the review.
If you want to buy these devices, visit the CME Website. Whie the WIDI BUD website is “live,” at the moment, the only place to buy the WIDI BUD is B&H (This will change over time). Special thanks to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for making these products available for this review and for the sessions that I will be presenting in the 2016-2017 academic year.
CME XKey Air (25 Key Model $199, 37 Key Model $299)
The XKey first came to my attention in late 2014, as a representative from CME (or more specifically, their distributor in the United States) contacted me about the product and their coming attendance at TMEA. While the company has been around since 1993, the current CME was formed in 2012. After reading some reviews on the Internet, I can’t tell when the original XKey came out (my best guess is 2014) as a high quality portable MIDI keyboard. The features of that keyboard included high quality materials, full sized keys, function buttons (instead of wheels), velocity-sensitive keys, and low-travel keys. While the keyboard can be used for performance, the target was portable studio and notation work–something it is perfect for.
I remember stopping by CME’s booth at TMEA, seeing the XKey for the first time, and showing them the Miselu C.24 keyboard. I asked them to consider BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) MIDI with their keyboard. At the time, my C. 24 was one of the few of those devices “in the wild” as they sent it to me early so that I could show it at various music education conferences. Just a word about the C.24–I lost mine in Nashville at NAfME. The C.24 was an exciting device as it was the first BLE MIDI device on the market. It promised to be a device that could be used as an iPad cover, and featured the ability to “flip” the device into form to make a playable keyboard that worked with magnets (not springs). You could combine multiple units to make a longer keyboard. The keys were scaled on an old model of a “woman’s” piano (apparently, piano keys used to be a relative item, based on the desires of the purchaser versus an industry standard). The C. 24 works, and is still available from Miselu at a (now lower) cost of $149. I do worry about the durability of the C. 24 (all the moving parts to flip open the device) and the future of the company (it still hasn’t released a promised control module to backers)–plus the function of the case changed when Apple changed the design of the iPad and the C.24 could no longer be used as an iPad case. This means that the market is still open to a high quality BLE MIDI portable keyboard, and the XKey Air fits the bill.
In addition to my feedback, CME heard that same feedback (“Please add BLE MIDI”) from a number of users, and ran a Indegogo Campaign to provide the capital to start that product. That project was funded by August 2015, and started shipping this spring.
In form, the XKey Air and the original XKey are identical. In fact, the only difference would be a Bluetooth sticker on the XKey Air, as well as multiple LED indicators and a power button on the Air. In my video review, I talk about the packaging of the XKey Air, which may seem irrelevant. After all, why does the packaging matter? I don’t know why, but it does. Part of the joy of buying an Apple product is the unboxing experience, which was carefully designed for the user. The XKey Air comes packaged in the same thoughtful way as an Apple device, and would fit perfectly on the shelves of an Apple Store. There are a couple of instruction sheets in the box, as well as a labeled micro USB cable. If you have other micro USB cables in your house, you can use them with the XKey Air–but I like having cables labeled so you know what device they came came with.
As for the keyboard, it is a joy to use. It pairs effortlessly with BLE MIDI on the iPad. As with most BLE MIDI devices, it is instantly detected by the iPad and connects with a single touch. While the keys do not have the tradition “travel” of a piano keyboard, they are pressure sensitive and every button works as it should. Some reviews of the original XKey longed for a way to attach a sustain pedal to the keyboard (instead of pressing a key on the XKey Air), but this is a portable keyboard–attaching cables and secondary pedals defeats the portable purpose of the keyboard. The low-travel keys should make the keyboard more resilient to throwing it into a backpack and running along. I had issues with other previous portable USB keyboards that I have used over the years (One example was an M-Audio 25 key unit that did not stand up to portable use).
My only complaints about the XKey Air are minor. First, the 25 key model costs $199, and the 37 key model costs $299. The original 25 key XKey is $99, and the 37 key XKey is $199. As both a consumer and a music educator, I would love to see the price point drop on these models. That said, if you have an original XKey, you can attach a Zivix PUC+ to it and make it a portable BLE keyboard for the same cost of $199. In other words, the price point isn’t terribly inflated, but I would still love to see a small price drop . I would imagine that some kind of education pricing (for the original XKey or the XKey Air) could be obtained if you reached out to the company. My other complaint is that it would nice if the XKey Air included a light bag of some kind to offer protection as you throw it into a backpack.
Is it worth buying the XKey Air for $100 more than its equivalent XKey? It depends on what you want to use it for.
The XKey Air is an ideal device for anyone wanting a portable MIDI keyboard interface without wires. When I am working with my iPad or my MacBook, I prefer not having to deal with cables. Additionally, an iPad needs a USB dongle (an additional $29 purchase) to work with a a USB MIDI keyboard.
If I were creating a school MIDI lab with fixed computers, I would consider the original XKey (even above a comparable M-Audio product). They are going to look great in your lab and will hold up to the rigors of daily use. This would also be true if I was teaching with Chromebooks…you probably are not going to buy a WIDI BUD (more on that in a moment) for each Chromebook.
However, if I needed keyboards for a 1:1 iPad school where student iPads were the MIDI lab (not a separate room), I would consider the XKey Air (even at $100 more per device). Why not go truly mobile with your lab? Also, if I was the teacher and I did any work at all in GarageBand (SoundTrap, Soundation) or notation programs, I would want a portable keyboard, particularly if the device I was using was a portable device (MacBook, iPad, Chromebook). As a warning, in a 1:1 scenario, each XKey Air has a unique MAC Bluetooth address, but show up as “XKey Air 25 BLE” on the Bluetooth MIDI interaction panel. This would make connecting difficult–much as we found with our Bluetooth QWERTY keyboards in our 1:1. If every device has the same name, how do you know which one you are using? Zivix has a unique identifier with every name, so I know it is possible to uniquely identify each BLE MIDI device, and I hope that CME is able to add this functionality in a future firmware update (if it isn’t there already, which I may have missed while looking through they XKey app).
In short, I think both CME XKey keyboards are wonderful. They are high quality portable keyboards and a far better solution (in my opinion) than mini keyboards like my old Akai LPK 25, my old M-Audio key stations, and even the Miselu C.24. Do you need the BLE MIDI feature? That’s up to you–I would say, “Yes,” because if you want to add it later, you can (Zivix PUC+) for relatively the same price-but then you again need cables (of a sort) to use the feature. It is wonderful to be able to connect without wires to your iPad, MacBook, Windows laptop, or Chromebook. I do wish the pricing was a bit lower on the XKey Air ($150), but $199 isn’t terribly out of the ballpark. When I spend money on devices, I have to ask if they save me time and frustration in the long run over doing things another way. In the world of iPad, the XKey Air allows me to connect to my iPad without a dongle (as it would to a newer Mac [2012?] than may 2008 Aluminum MacBook) which is a separate $29 purchase. It means less time to connect and take down, and less things to forget going from place to place. So if you are going to use a keyboard with your computing device–in terms of convince, it simply may be the best option to spend an extra $100 for the Bluetooth capability.
So yes, if you are interested, either the XKey or the XKey Air is a “consider buying” item.
When I opened the package from CME, my initial reaction to the WIDI BUD, packaged in a small blister card with minimal instructions, was, “HO HUM.”
That initial reaction was really, really, really wrong. It is going to be a while until BLE MIDI is packaged with every device. If you have a newer iPad or MacBook, you have it already–but old Apple devices, many Windows devices, most Android devices, and most (all?) Chromebooks do not have BLE MIDI capability.
This little dongle, which looks like a newer flash drive, gives BLE MIDI capability to nearly every device.
This means that you can use an XKey Air with an older iPad, MacBook, Windows computer…you get the idea. There are limitations (you have to be running Windows XP SP3, Ver 4 of Android, iOS 4.2, Chrome 43.0) but generally, if you have a modern device, the WIDI BUD can add BLE MIDI to your computing device if it does not have it.
Last summer, Web MIDI was announced, and over the last year, programs have been adding it: Noteflight, Flat.io, SoundTrap to name a few.
With this dongle, you can make a Chromebook into a BLE MIDI device, utilizing Web MIDI on these programs. Sure, you can also add a wired USB connection, which is what you would do for students (you would have a stack of physical keyboards that they would check out, use, and return). But for YOUR use…go wireless. Trust me on this one.
What is amazing is that the WIDI BUD makes a connection with a BLE MIDI device on its own. I haven’t tried having two BLE MIDI sending devices turned on at the same time, so I do not know how the device would respond to two competing devices for its attention–but plug in the WIDI BUD, and turn on the XKey Air, and it works. That’s it. The WIDI BUD will remember that connection until it loses power. So, if you want to connect another BLE MIDI device (such as the JamStik+ or the PUC+), turn off the XKey Air, turn on the JamStik+, and plug in the WIDI BUD.
So yes…the WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device. (See note)
Let me copy and paste that again…
The WIDI BUD works with ANY existing BLE MIDI device. (See note)
So…the JamStik+, the PUC+, the Korg MKey Air, and the few keyboards sold with BLE MIDI…should be able to work with the WIDI BUD.
I have now said this for over a year…reliable MIDI interaction with a BLE MIDI device is a game changer in ease of use and functionality.
Chromebooks being able to use MIDI keyboards over a wired USB connection is a major step forward, and it means that I could teach Music Theory (mostly with Noteflight or Flat.io) with Chromebooks, and I could teach a Music Technology class (SoundTrap, Soundation, Noteflight, Flat.io) using Chromebooks. But to be able to connect wirelessly means that using those programs for my own use (not just in teaching) becomes a possibility.
Being able to use any BLE MIDI device with just about any host computing device is a game changer, too. At that point, you are only limited by the apps and programs that are available on your computing device. And remember…on Chrome OS, the best apps require a subscription to get all of the features that you want to use (Noteflight requires a subscription to even use MIDI recording). I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, because companies deserve to earn money. But it is something that we need to teach IT departments as they typically don’t plan for annual subscriptions.
My only complaints about the WIDI BUD are the size of the device (it has to be that small, but people will lose them), and they are a TIGHT fit in your USB port (which is probably intentional so that you leave it plugged in). I am leaving this WIDI BUD in its package after I use it, so that I can keep track of it.
My only other complaint is that I can’t find the pricing for the WIDI BUD on CME’s website, so I am hoping that it is released soon and will be affordable!
As you can tell, if you have a computing device that does not have BLE MIDI, I think the WIDI BUD is a must buy. I don’t know anything else like it on the market.
Thanks again to CME and Virgin Musical Instruments for allowing me to review and show off these devices. A video appears below.
Last night I broke down and purchased an Apple Watch. You can finally purchase them at an Apple Store, and the Apple Store at the Mall of America has most of the models in stock (apparently, there are only a few stores in the country that sell the gold model).
As much as the Stainless Steel model appeals to me, it costs $200 more, and a recent article discussed how the glass screen (Apple Watch Sport) was actually better than the sapphire screen used in the Apple Watch or Apple Watch Edition in daylight. As a result, I bought the cheapest 42mm watch I could purchase (space grey) with the 2 year Apple Care protection. I think I will be ready to upgrade in two years.
Yes, there are some different interactions with the watch that take a few minutes to learn. There has been a lot of griping about the watch not being on “instantly” when you lift your wrist (it is almost instantaneous), as well as the sync time between the watch and various apps.
What you have to understand about the Apple Watch is that (for now, until Watch Kit 2.0 in the fall), it relies on the iPhone for data, so you have a temporary lag as the watch updates. That said, it isn’t a long period of time, and I still wait for some web pages on computers longer than I have to wait for the Apple Watch to sync.
What is weird, for musicians, is that under Watch Kit 1.0, developers cannot utilize the Watch’s speaker or the haptic touch sensors in the back of the watch. Therefore, things that would seemingly make sense on the Apple Watch (e.g. a metronome that taps you with the tempo instead of playing it) can’t be done. You can get a piano app on the watch, but you need Bluetooth headphones or your iPhone to hear it.
My main use of the Apple Watch will never be for music purposes…I have larger devices for that (in fact, I hardly ever use my iPhone for music purposes–98% of my work is done on my iPad, and the other 2% is done on my MacBook). So I want to make it clear that I didn’t buy this Apple Watch specifically for use with music–but that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested to see what it can do.
When you buy your Apple Watch, the Apple Watch App syncs all of the apps that you have on your iPhone that also have Apple Watch programming. For me, this included apps like Feedly, The Weather Channel, and so on.As you download other apps (on your iPhone) that have Apple Watch programming, they are added to the watch. Unlike the home screen with a permanent grid of the same apps, the Apple Watch apps appear as little “tiles” on an ever-growing sphere. You can move apps (and delete them), but in general it isn’t too hard to find the app you want.
So far, I have downloaded about five iPhone apps that have Apple Watch programming included. A quick search of the App Store will yield a number of metronomes, which mainly allow you to control the tempo and on/off from your Apple Watch–but still play through your iPhone. I have also downloaded one Piano, one music game, and a version of GarageBand (not from Apple) called “Watch Band.” These apps pretty much summarize what is available on the Apple Watch for musicians at this time.
Each of the apps requires the iPhone to produce sound (although I am told that you can attach Bluetooth headphones to the watch and listen that way–but you will never do that in front of a class). Basically, these Apple watch apps simply run an iPhone app. Fully functional, independent apps (that don’t need an Internet connection) will come with Watch Kit 2.0 this fall.
You can watch the video I made showing these apps on the Apple Watch below.
Additionally: Here is a list of other metronomes I did not download. As you can see, it won’t be long before the App Store is flooded with apps (just as there are hundreds of metronomes on the App Store). So for this brief moment in time, this post represents a nearly summative list of all Apple Watch apps that can be linked to music education & performance. Again, functionality and performance will improve with Watch Kit 2.0 in the fall.
Maestro (I think it should be mentioned that Patrick Kelly, the creator of Maestro, has had a unique metronome on the App Store since 2009, and on the iPad from Day 1. It is fantastic to see that he is staying on top of new technology, including the Apple Watch)
If you want to see the video without reading any of my additional thoughts, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Let me make it clear that I do not consider myself a guitarist. I know a good number of chords, I know individual notes when I refresh my memory, I know some strumming and plucking patterns, I have led worship with only guitar (it has been a while), and I have taught classroom guitar at the high school level. I’m horrible at barre chords, and with a real guitar, I often use a capo to change keys to avoid those barre chords.
I think it is safe to say that I know all the I need to know to teach guitar and to enjoy picking up the guitar from time to time.
This isn’t a great video. It turns out that my audio on my MacBook was set too high. I was filming the video in just one take, so there are a bunch of edits that are clearly edits after editing, and I never really “closed” the video. When I filmed the video, I had just downloaded Jam Tutor (one of Zivix’s free apps that comes with the JamStik) and started playing with the app…and I simply lost interest in filming the end of the video and just played with the app (for example, Jam Tutor wouldn’t recognize a D7 chord, which simply amazed me, when so many other chords are programmed in). As a result, the video ends with a Star Wars scroll.
Otherwise, the video effectively captures my thoughts…how to set up the JamStik, how to use it with other apps, the couple of flaws I can see (the strings aren’t tuned to guitar pitches, so if you play you can hear “wrong” notes on the strings, even though the right notes play through the iPad), and there’s no way (right now) to “Capo” (can that be a verb?) the device. A fellow JamStik purchaser (I think his is arriving soon), Kevin James Stafford, recently mentioned (on Twitter) that he had been in touch with Zivix and that the capo ability should be coming in a future firmware release.
Another JamStik purchaser, Joseph Argyle mentioned (again, on Twitter), that the JamStik can’t be used for hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. I don’t know if I will ever need these, but it’s clear that the JamStik isn’t meant to be a pure replacement for a guitar. Or at least not this first model. I would imagine that harmonics are also impossible.
At the same time, here’s a way for guitarists to get MIDI data directly into a computer, with no compromises. I loaded up Notion for iPad, and sure enough, it interprets data directly from the JamStik. Were I PreSonus, I’d been inking package deals with Zivix right away (or vice-versa). If you are a guitar player and only a guitar player, you might find that PreSonus’s Progression is a better app to purchase for notation purposes. Remember that guitar is at the heart of PreSonus’ Notion products, and Progression is guitarist’s version of Notion.
I have not yet tried the JamStik with my MacBook (there is a free download available via the JamStik website), but I have no doubt that the JamStik will work perfectly with my MacBook.
At any rate, in terms of music education, a classroom guitar with case costs $150 or more (probably more–from personal experience, don’t buy a classroom guitar without a truss rod. The JamStik, incidentally, has two), plus there are upkeep fees, need for storage, and other costs. In comparison, the $299 price tag of the JamStik isn’t far off from what you would expect to pay for such a device. A decent backpacker guitar (I bought one of these for teaching guitar…it simply isn’t as unwieldily in the classroom) is in the $200 range (sometimes more, sometimes less). For a device with IR sensors and a Wi-Fi hub embedded inside of it, I see the JamStik as a fairly priced product, although I hope there can be an educational discount in the future. I also need to find out what happens when several JamStiks operate in the same room (do they all share the same embedded network name and channel), and if the JamStik can be operated by USB connection if necessary (all future tasks to try).
As a side note, I also just came across a product called PocketStrings, which is simply a portable guitar neck (4 or 6 strings), and I see this as a possible solution for practicing without a JamStik at home (for example, if you had a classroom set of JamStiks that you wouldn’t send home with students).
I think this device has huge potential for music education, and I am curious to see what “real” guitar players think, and how it can be incorporated into a “traditional” guitar classroom.
As I have written about in the past, I have been trying to find a way to have my students record themselves over an existing audio track for assessment and portfolio purposes (we will use them for Student Led Conferences as evidence of what they do in choir).
We held our mid-year concert last week Monday (the middle school concert season is much relaxed versus my old high school concert season), and it is time for my students to do some assessments regarding their performance of their music–and to prove their mastery over the content.
We are going to take a few weeks away from choral singing to take advantage of the iPads at our school, learning a lot about music and technology in the process. In late February (we meet every other day) we will get back into the choral music again, but for now we are going to be doing some sessions on audio recording, writing music, and GarageBand. In the process we will be utilizing free apps, including Hokusai Audio Editor, Google Drive (We are a Google Apps for Education District), PiaScore, NotateMe Now, and GarageBand (new free edition).
The following handout and video represent the days I spent teaching how to use Hokusai Audio Editor. I made the video because some students are absent, and others just tune out in class, so they can “flip” the experience and learn from home. I also provide written guidance–but I think students will be more likely to watch than to read.
If any of these concepts are useful, please feel free to use them. You could do this process with a small handful of iPads if you have recording space in your school. My school does not have practice rooms for the choir program, so students have to do their recordings at home.
I also have students submit work via a Google Form when they are finished–this works great for me and I will blog about this in the future (it wasn’t my idea).
So…without further adieu…here is how I taught my students to use Hokusai Audio Editor to make a recording over an existing audio file in conjunction with Google Drive and PiaScore.