Ten (iOS) Tech Tools to Help a Secondary Music Educator Prepare for a Concert (#5: Notion)


This is a continuing series about ten tech tools (iOS-minded) to help a secondary music educator prepare for a concert.  The idea comes from Amy Burns, who started a series about ten tech tools for elementary music educators prepare for concerts at mustech.net.  She is wrapping up her list with a live webinar (this series on techinmusiced will not be followed by a webinar).

My iPad Pro, my own personal investment, splits time between being a device for school and a device for home.  When it comes to school use of my iPad, there is no doubt that forScore likely gets the most amount of screen time.  When it comes to preparing music, however, Notion is where I spend time.

It is a long story, but when the iPad came out, a couple of college kids came out with a program called Symphony Pro.  It was the first true notation app for the iPad, and it had a lot of issues—but then the team split up as life started after college.  Since that time, Symphony Pro has been re-started and is once again available in the App Store, ever improving.  However, around the time of Symphony Pro’s disappearance, Notion entered into the world of iOS and has really become the Cadillac of notation on the iPad (even factoring in web-based options like Noteflight and Flat.io).

Simply put, Notion for iOS works very well, and is a perfect companion to the Mac/Win version of the program.  I use the iOS version to write music (how I do many ukulele arrangements), edit MusicXML files, and to export audio from Notion.  Can the desktop version do this?  Sure—but I always have my iPad Pro with me (or my iPhone), and there is a huge benefit to audio on the iPad.  The entire library of Notion sounds on the iPad is $30.  The full library of sounds on Mac/Win is $300 ($150 on sale right now, and yes, I’m extremely tempted to buy it).  The iPad sounds are not as dynamically diverse as you will find with the full Mac/Win version—but they are good—better than the sounds that come with the full desktop version of other notation programs.  And to be honest, when I am using an accompaniment with my choirs, I am not usually concerned about slight dynamic contrasts on a score….most of the time, I am concerned that my students can hear the accompaniment and stay together as a group!  Additionally, Notion on the iPad has a mixer that is related to Studio One in appearance, making it very easy to create part-heavy audio tracks (rehearsal track) or part-empty tracks (accompaniments).

If you want percussion parts, you can enter then using Notion for iOS, but in truth, the Mac/Win version has wonderful percussion “standard” beats that can be dragged into the score, saving a lot fo time and resulting in a good sounding percussion part.   Pretty much whatever goes into the Mac/Win version of a score is visually correct and often played back correctly on the iOS version.  The major tool missing from the iOS version is the Mac/Win version tool called N-Tempo where you can either tap in a beat and have a song follow your pre-planned tempo changes—or N-Tempo’s ability to be controlled live in performance (a number of broadway musicals use Notion for this reason).

While I created some accompaniments with GarageBand and others with iReal Pro, for scores that had existing accompaniments, I use Notion for iOS.  I scan in the music with NotateMe or Sheet Music Scanner, export to Notion for iOS, and then work on that file, exporting the final audio to forScore.  Additionally, your work in Notion for iOS is saved in iCloud, which can be opened on your Mac, allowing you to make changes (e.g. add a percussion part), and save—leaving the updated file ready to be opened by Notion for iOS.

Notion is a $17 app with In-App Purchases for sounds (available independently or as a bundle) and for handwriting.

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Flat.io iOS App Available


This may be old news for you, but Flat.io joined the ranks of web-based apps that have also released an iOS version of their web app called Flat – Music Notation.  I had been a beta tester of the app (I didn’t have a lot of time to provide feedback), and since the last beta version, I had not used the app and was not aware that the public version had been released.

If you aren’t familiar with flat.io, there are two solutions for web-based music notation.  One of those solutions is Noteflight, and the other is flat.io.  In my opinion, Noteflight is the heavy duty app, with more functionality and features.  Flat.io has always been easier to use, but more limited in its features.  Of course, as time rolls on, both programs keep adding features, and it is always nice to read updates from the flat.io team.

I bought a one month subscription for my students to use the education version of flat.io last year—which worked well, even on iPad.  You can use flat.io on an iPad, but the app offers even more flexibility for the iPad user (Noteflight had discussed making an iPad app at one time, too).  The things I like about flat.io are its interface (which creates notes out of existing rests, like Sibelius), its connections with Google Apps for Education (any time you take away the need for yet another password, you make my life as a teacher easier), and flat.io’s ability to embed musical scores into a Google Doc (something new in 2017).  That will revolutionize music education papers at the college level in the future (and something I am eager to interact with when I teach at the college level).  I also like the flat.io doesn’t hide features if you don’t pay for the service.  They give you three private scores for free, but if you go beyond those scores, your scores are public unless you upgrade.  However, you have full access to all features and instruments in all of those scores.  And of course, you can import existing MusicXML files and export MusicXML files (into an app like Notion, for example).  The only feature I would still love to see added is the ability to have chord diagrams as chord symbols.  Right now, only letters appear as chord symbols.  If you love Flat, they have a one time lifetime purchase option that leaves you as a member forever, and they have been known to offer a discount on that purchase at various times, such as Black Friday.

The classroom version was wonderful…easy to assign a template to all students, and they only had to join their class with a “join code.”  It was easy for students to work on their assignments as well as to turn them in—and easy to correct them and give feedback.  It cost $100 to give 350 students access for a month.  There is a cheaper plan to give access to your students for a year ($1.50 a student), but I didn’t want to spend $525 on the service when we were only going to use it for the month.  If I could find a way to make composition a part of our course throughout the year, that $525 would be well spent.

There are benefits to Noteflight as well—but this post is about flat.io.

It is FREE to start a flat.io account…you can login with your traditional Google account…and the Flat – Music Notation app for iOS is free.   So…why not take some time over the remainder of your holiday weekend and see what flat has to offer?

Some miscellaneous tech info: Light Signature, NiceChart, and RehearsalAids

Every now and then, I hear from developers and companies about their products, and they don’t always fit into my workflow.  I know that my blog (and others) frequently receive requests to feature articles by other bloggers (likely for a fee), which is something that I am not particularly interested in, either.  This is a blog that I write from my own experiences as a way to give back to the community of music educators.  With all sincerity, if you want to share your thoughts, start your own blog!  Let me know about it and I’ll be happy to include it on my blog roll here on this site.

The first tech item is an app by Matthew Fagan, who has developed a keyboard-based app to interact with various scales and chords, and also has MIDI in/out functionality.  That app is called LightSignature.   Go check it out!

The second tech item is a new sheet music technology that was just launched at the Midwest Band and Orchestra clinic, called NiceChart.  NiceChart is a customization-based  technology that allows directors to customize arrangements to their instrumentation and individual proficiency levels of each member of the ensemble.  You can find their website at NiceChart.com, and you should see a growing list of available titles as time goes on.

The third tech item is an existing service by RehearsalAids, where the company will create rehearsal tracks (visual and sound) from your existing literature for (choral) students to use.  If you contact the company, you will find that the services are very affordably priced for schools.  I don’t know what your school year looks like, but January through March was always the “heavy” part of the year at the high school level with a conference music festival, large group contest, and solo and ensemble contest.  If I were a director that was not going to make these resources myself, I would certainly look into this service.

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Ten (iOS) Tech Tools to Help a Secondary Music Educator Prepare for a Concert (#6: iReal Pro)


This is a continuing series of posts about ten tech tools that can help secondary music educators prepare for a concert.  The original idea for the series came from Amy Burns who is writing a similar series at mustech.net.

As the year progressed, I had a number of songs that my students were singing with just ukulele accompaniment—something that I had done throughout the 2016-2017 school year.  The thing is that music doesn’t have to be about one instrument, and I didn’t want to imply (even by programming) that I felt that way.

As October approached, I decided to create some accompaniment files for some of the ukulele/voice arrangements that I had previously created.  One option was to use GarageBand, which worked well for some songs.  In other cases, I needed a quick and easy solution.  The solution?  iReal Pro.  iReal Pro has been on the market for a long time, predating the iPad.  It is one of the few apps that has been allowed to keep the “i” in front of its name (something Apple has tried to get away from, leaving the “i” for Apple products).

Simply put, you enter the chords of your song, choose a style, choose a tempo, and it does the rest.  It creates an ensemble for you including bass, piano, and drums.  There is an online forum with thousands of pre-packaged songs, or you can choose your own.  The only negative of iReal Pro for me is that the library of songs do not have a lead sheet (as you would see in a Fake Book), making many of the accompaniments useless for me.  However, if you create (or modify) an existing accompaniment based on a lead sheet—you do have the lead sheet for reference.

You can even export the data from iReal Pro as AAC, WAV, or MIDI to be used in other programs, such as uploading to forScore or unrealBook.

I occasionally have a song that is too long to fit into one iReal Pro file.  In that case, I split it into parts and combine audio files later, using an app like TwistedWave.

This has often been considered an iOS (and Android, I believe) solution compared to the old Band-In-A-Box, which has also been updated to a 2018 version.

Ultimately, I was able to create some very usable accompaniments for some songs without accompaniments using iReal Pro, which was a huge time saver.


Ten (iOS) Tech Tools to Help a Secondary Music Educator Prepare for a Concert (#7: GarageBand)


In this continuing series of ten tech tools to help a secondary music educator prepare for a concert, I bring GarageBand to your attention.

GarageBand is a basic Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that has come free with every iOS device for a number of years (just over four years, if memory serves).

Amy Burns created the idea of this series, and she covers a similar application called SoundTrap, which is a multi-platform DAW (although there is an iPad app for SoundTrap).  While GarageBand isn’t intended to be collaborative in the same way as SoundTrap, all of the uses that Amy mentions in her article can be used in GarageBand.  It is also interesting to note that SoundTrap was purchased by Spotify this past year.

In our Holiday Concert, I used a number of apps to generate accompaniment in the cases when our songs had none—and one of those apps was GarageBand.  You can attach a USB or Bluetooth MIDI instrument to GarageBand and record melodies live, you can use the smart instruments to create accompaniments, or you can use the loops library.  One of the neat recent additions to GarageBand is the “live drummer” which can create some very nice sounding rhythmic support for your songs.

The only challenge I face with GarageBand for iOS is that there is no way to create a rallentando when using  smart instruments.  I am fully aware that a large percentage of pop music either fades out at the end or just hits an ending chord…but I would love to see the option to alter tempo mid-stream in all DAWs.

And of course, once your song is finished, you can export it to another app, such as forScore, so that you can play your music from your score in the concert.  And yes, it really works!