XYZ Synth (New App)

It’s been pretty quiet here on 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.

So…what am I doing for distance learning?

Like most of the United States, our schools are physically out-of-session. Minnesota–as a state government–has been a little crazy about it all. As we watched other states near us announce closures, the Governor of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health held news conferences (and provided materials on their websites) where they continued to declare that schools posed no risk with the virus; and in fact, in their shared information, closing schools would cause more of an epidemic than keeping kids in schools. And then twenty-four hours later, the Governor decreed a two week break where teachers would start planning to implement distance learning. This is actually pretty amazing; in the school district where I live (Wisconsin), teachers put together four weeks of materials while still teaching the students in school. I don’t know how they did it. Admittedly, our district was on Spring Break when much of this was starting and would have only had two contact days before school was cancelled anyway.

So that’s where we are…as teachers, we were required to be in school [minus those with health concerns] through Wednesday (some stayed and worked in the buildings all week) and we are supposed to be getting digital lessons ready to go for March 30th. As a large district (I know there are larger, but in Minnesota, we’re the 6th largest district), there is now a twenty-six page guiding document to distance learning (sent to everyone on Wednesday at the end of the day), and a lot of mixed messages. Some leaders are comfortable with a slow transition to digital learning; others want us to be firing on all nine cylinders (yes, nine, in other words, adding a cylinder) by March 30th. All I’m going to say is that I am VERY blessed to have the principals that I have (as I am shared between two schools). We are NOT doing choice boards for specialists, other than for students who have no technology (which our district is trying very hard to provide).

Part of my job–very limited since Wednesday–has been to support the other teachers in my (main) building as their tech coach. From a distance, there’s little I can do in that regard other than answer occasional e-mails. I can’t go and help anyone at this time.

What is wild is that I have moved from secondary to elementary; and I can’t imagine what my life would be like trying to teach choir from a distance. Secondary programs in our district use Schoology as a classroom management tool, which is well-suited to distance learning, and students–at least in my former school as a 1:1–are very familiar with that technology, and as secondary students, can be much more independent.

At the elementary level, we’re using Seesaw, which is wonderful. But now we’re trying to use it as a classroom management system–which is just isn’t–and Seesaw has challenges for “specialists” like music teachers. For example, I have 20 different classes, and I can’t post the same message in multiple classes at the same time (Yes, Seesaw is aware of this). And notifications…I have to click through each class, and then into messages, to clear notifications. I know Seesaw will get to these things eventually–but it does make it less than ideal to use. (In comparison, you can enter things in multiple classes for Schoology, and messages come to a central inbox, rather than a class-specific inbox).

In the short term, we’ve been asked to “test run” a class next week. They have assigned elementary specialists with two classes for K-2 and two classes for 3-5 per week, so I’m keeping things set up that way (K-2/3-5); although I do have two sections of a combined K/1 at my other school that requires some different materials, as my K-5 school is a Spanish immersion school, and I do some Spanish things with them (I don’t have to, but I choose to).

My teaching life was saved this year through the First Steps method of Dr. Feierabend. I am not FAME trained, but I have read the book, and I model some of my lesson parts off his work. One of the things that freed me was that he follows the same framework every day for class. That was a life-saver for me as a former choir teacher, because I realized that I could do the same with my elementary classes.

3rd and 4th grade have been using recorders since November; 5th grade has been using ukulele since November as well. We had just started a piano unit, as the traveling piano lab arrived–and I had to clean that up and box it away this past week. So 3rd-5th has not been following that outline for a while, so they’re going to have to do so now.

So my immediate plan is this: I want to make videos following the outline of what I already do in class. For my K to 2 classes (Spanish) it looks like this:

  • Intro Song (“Hey, hey, hello” by Stephanie Leavell)
  • Greeting
  • Vocal Warm-up (following on-screen)
  • Echo Song
  • Spanish Song
  • Counting (Screencast-o-matic with Sight Reading Factory)
  • Solfége echoing
  • Movement Video (embedding a dance-along from YouTube)
  • And then some other activity. For this first lesson, I’m using a recording of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance #1 as a listening/watching activity
  • Goodbye song (for now, “Happy Trails,” although that might change.

    Following all of this, students will complete some kind of response in Seesaw. For the listening, they’re being asked to draw a picture in response to the music.

I try to follow the concept that no single activity can last longer in minutes than their age.

My K/1 classes at my other school have some of the music they are preparing for a May concert, and I want to make sure that if we go back to school this year, they can sing it.

I remove the Echo Song, Spanish Song, and Movement Video for 3-5, and instead am doing a longer content lesson/demonstration–for this first effort, it’s review of the Treble Clef as we’ve been away from it for a while with recorder/ukulele (just because they are reading the treble clef with recorder doesn’t mean that they are actually reading it, you know?).

This is also recruitment season for 3rd and 4th grade, so I’ll be recording a StreamYard with our band and orchestra teachers talking about instruments and what instruments they can choose to study.

What am I using to record? It depends. With all of the ukulele stuff that I’m doing, I have learned a lot when it comes to creating videos (309 on and 743 on

  • For straight-out videos of myself, I am using my iPhone to record, and air dropping the results to my iPad Pro.
  • For screencasting, I am using Screencast-o-matic. I like Screencastify, but am worried about the recording limits.
  • I am also occasionally recording my iPad’s screen with the built in-screen recorder on iOS 12.
  • Then I do all of my editing in Luma Fusion. That includes adding lyrics, transitions, and more.
  • If I need to embed a video, I am able to save it from a source using iCab Mobile and then import it in Luma Fusion.
  • If I have to create an accompaniment for a song, such as the version of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” that my K/1 students are learning, I do that in Notion, and record the playing of it with iOS 12 on my iPad. I do any final “put together” oof the video
  • I am putting the final video in Google Drive, which, with a link, acts like YouTube when linked into Seesaw (pending the correct visibility is set) avoiding putting things on the internet directly that I don’t need to.
  • The final link goes into Seesaw, as does an Activity for that day.

I want to reiterate that other than recording with Screencast-o-matic, all of the video editing occurs on my iPad.

So, this is my first attempt, and there are components that I am able to share right now between all grade levels. For example, counting could be a review for all K-5 for this first lesson, but as it goes on, I’m going to have to expand further with 3-5 than K-2. We’ll see how everything goes and what the feedback is. I’ll put a couple of clips of what my work looks like in a video on the techinmusiced website.

As a final note, I did not write this post this thinking that I’m a master teacher who has it all together. Especially as it comes to teaching elementary…I never had any intention of becoming an elementary teacher; while I am loving what I am doing, I know that I don’t have that “pure elementary” mindset. I know there are teachers who always wanted to be an elementary teacher, and I don’t even want to try to pretend that I can match your skills, talents, and abilities. What I have tried to do this year is to be myself–because I believe that students at any level can see right through an act. So I relate to my students in the same way that I relate to my own boys. I try to share my passion for music with music, and I take great joy in helping them love music. They are my kids–but my kids at school, if that makes sense. Trust me…I know that what you’ll see in this video isn’t perfect. But if it helps anyone forge some ideas of their own…that’s why I am sharing it with you.

Working with StaffPad

A few weeks ago, Robby Burns contacted Paul Shimmons and I about StaffPad. StaffPad for iOS came out of the blue. What is funny is that I was up in Michigan in January for the Michigan Music Conference, and in one of my sessions, I asked if anyone was using StaffPad…and no one was…not even the presenter who later presented on using the Microsoft Surface.

I’m not picking on StaffPad, because in truth I was a bit jealous that Surface had something iPad did not (the list is really quite small), particularly in the area of music–and that there were no plans to bring it to iOS. If you saw any of the videos that StaffPad released over the years, often in tight collaboration with Microsoft, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

So as the years went on, I found Notion to be my main tool, although there are now a number of different notation programs with different input methods on the iPad. But now, we have StaffPad as an option.

One of the main questions Robby, Paul, and I had about StaffPad was if we were going to buy it. In terms of iPad apps, it is pretty expensive (close to $90) with the potential of hundreds of dollars for the optional instrument sounds that you can buy for it. Somewhere in our discussion, I realized that we are bloggers in this field (and there seem to be very few of us left) and that we should ask for promo codes to examine the app, especially if we talk about the app on a podcast (which we will eventually do). So I contacted StaffPad and asked, and David William Hearn (Founder/Designer) was kind enough to let us in on the beta program so we could test the program.

Paul has already written a review and keeps adding thoughts as he experiments more, and Robby is certainly formulating a very detailed review.

I’ve been pretty busy with ukulele materials and school stuff, so I haven’t had much time to dig into the app, but I have worked in it a bit, and have drawn a few conclusions. I think for the sake of organization, I’ll work in a list for the rest of this post.

  • It is hard to get over the sticker shock of the app. I realize this is what it costs to run a business. It’s still hard to get over it.
  • I am intimidated by the cost of the instrument sounds. If there was a way to use them elsewhere in iOS, it would be easier to justify. But as they are locked to StaffPad, and can’t really be used elsewhere, you really have to make good use of the app to justify the expense.
  • My work flow consists of three things these days, as my role as an educator has changed. First, I make ukulele resources, which StaffPad is not good with. This isn’t uncommon, because Dorico recently added these features in Dorico 3. But for what I do, StaffPad cannot be my first option. A second work flow is creating choral scores (now 2 part), which StaffPad can do. A final work flow is creating a single part song for elementary classes…which StaffPad can also do.
  • As Paul noted in his review, StaffPad rethinks how you interact with the app, which is both wonderful and problematic. It’s wonderful because there is hope that other apps will adopt the gestures (or that Apple will) and add more functionality…and problematic because things like pressing hard to erase happens accidentally with my own normal pen pressure from time to time.
  • If I’m honest, the handwriting interface isn’t as speedy for me as working in Finale or Notion without a (piano) keyboard–nor is it anywhere as fast as how I work in Notion for iOS. I don’t know if it ever could be, even with extended practice. What I’m left with is that I wish the other programs had StaffPad’s handwriting features as an option, and that StaffPad had the input methods of everything else.
  • The strength of StaffPad appears to be in what you can do with things after you have entered the music. I think the award for engraving is going to go to Dorico these days, and Notion did hold the award for the best stock playback sounds and features of all the apps. StaffPad raises the bar in terms of playback, with the ability to graphically shape dynamics and tempo. So I could easily see myself doing work in Notion, Finale, Dorico, or MuseScore and exporting that data to StaffPad for final performance editing.

I’m not fully done with StaffPad, as there is still a lot for me to learn about the app (just as Paul continues to find new features, such as chordal analysis). But again, it’s hard for me to force myself to use it, as 80% of my case use is outside of the program’s current abilities (and I by no means expect StaffPad to add ukulele features just for me).

In closing, I’m glad StaffPad is on iOS, and I wish that had been the case long ago. I love that it does some things differently, and I fully realize I need more time with the app to really determine what I like and what I don’t like about it. I’m having a really hard time getting over the price of the app and the price of the instrument sounds. I realize that the cost of the app is inexpensive compared to other desktop notation apps. Ultimately, I’m not a fan of handwriting-first or handwriting-only input (e.g. on Notion, I can use a ukulele fretboard to enter notes sometimes). If you want to make lifelike performances from MusicXML on your iPad, I don’t think you’ll find a better option (e.g. Notion does not allow you to create N-Tempo tracks on the iPad). Ultimately, you’re going to need to consider the features that StaffPad brings to the table and decide if it is right for you.

Follow-Up on “Old Technology”

While I did a search yesterday for the updated scanning program from Canon, it became clear that there are many people out there whose scanners no longer work because of Mac OS X Catalina. That’s a big problem, and I’m not sure who to blame…Apple or the hardware companies (such as Canon). Maybe there shouldn’t be any blame.

I ended up going to the Apple Store yesterday as I had an issue with my newer Apple Pencil. My original Apple Pencil died suddenly in September (I personally think the battery gave up after a lot of use) and I grudgingly bought a new Apple Pencil. That Pencil suddenly stopped working yesterday, so I first attempted to get support via iMessage…and was eventually told to go to an Apple Store. I was able to book an appointment (highly recommended rather than showing up and seeing if you can get help) for later in the afternoon.

While I was at the Mall of America, I heard from Shirley Lacroix, who mentioned that she had found a way to keep using her Canon P-150 scanner. When I came home (with a replacement Apple Pencil), I did a broader search and found VueScan. And later yesterday evening, Shirley e-mailed again to let me know her solution was VueScan.

VueScan has made a 64-bit application (runs on Catalina) with a bunch of reverse engineered drivers for old scanners, like the P-150. So, for $89, you can buy the program giving you access to your scanner’s feature set (e.g. duplex, sheet feeding), without having to buy a new scanner.

My little P-150 still works just fine, and it looks as if Canon isn’t going to update its software (I was able to log into their website today…it just must have been a coincidence that the USA website was down yesterday when I was looking for drivers). So if you want to use your scanner…you send $89 towards VueScan. I’ll be honest…if it was $50 I’d feel a lot better…while VueScan is offering a great service, it also feels like they are setting a pretty hefty price for you to use old hardware.

As for the program itself, it works. It isn’t as nice as Canon’s software was, but the scanner now works and I don’t need to take it to a recycling center.

So…many thanks to Shirley for the e-mail about the P-150. It was much appreciated!

Old Technology! (Canon P-150 Scanner)

This afternoon, on a Sunday, I wanted to do some school work involving some scanning. I haven’t had to use my small duplex feeding scanner, the Canon P-150, for some time.

Unfortunately, I’m running Mac Catalina on my MacBook Pro. One of the changes with Catalina is that it requires all programs to use 64 bit programming (something iOS has required for a couple of years), meaning that older 32-bit programs simply don’t run.

Some companies are solving this problem by releasing updated versions to users for free (e.g. PDFtoMusicPro), and others are charging for the update (PhotoScore). And other companies are just letting old programs go.

It turns out that my Canon P-150, which has scanned so many songs for me over the years, is now a brick with Mac OS Catalina. And I find myself frustrated by this…and saddened by this. I’m frustrated because the P-150 has been an incredible tool in my music technology repertoire over the years. I’ve had this scanner since 2012 (I had to look up my old posts) and have more than recuperated the $200 cost of that scanner in the time that I have saved by having that device at hand (it is incredibly small and powerful). And sadly, if you aren’t running Catalina, it still works.

On top of that, Canon USA’s website won’t load. That’s depressing. And when I look online, it looks like a lot of Mac users running Catalina are finding that their products have reached the end of their lives, as Canon isn’t planning on updating anything.

I’m sad because this little device has been a constant companion over the years. It is the oldest piece of technology in my “kit,” as I replaced my 2008 MacBook last summer.

I don’t know what I’ll do in regards to a scanner. As I’m not teaching high school choir (or middle school choir), my need to scan choral scores is pretty minimal these days, and when I want to scan a book, I send them to One Dollar Scan (it’s just more effective in terms of time).

Our home printer has a scanner, but it isn’t a duplex scanner with autofeed. And furthermore, I think scanning on it requires a USB connection…and all we do with it is print to it. It’s an Epson Eco-Tank, which I would recommend to anyone needing a home printer with the need to print in color–provided that you don’t need laser color performance. We’ve saved enough in print cartridges to more than cover the cost of the printer.

I remember scanning parts of a high school library with a flatbed scanner…sitting at home, watching my son (now 11) crawl on the floor, while I watched TV and turned pages. It was a tremendous waste of time, but I did what I had to do; and this P-150 was such a time saver. I hate to say “goodbye” to it, but I think that is what is going to have to happen.