Hello! It has been quite a while since I have blogged. Most of my time (other than family and teaching) has been spent making ukulele videos (see youtube.com/ukuleletenor). And to be completely honest, my technology life has settled into a routine that hasn’t seen any significant changes for some time. What I’m using in the classroom is technology that I have already blogged about, and I don’t see any value in writing about what I have already written about.
That said, there are some major changes coming in my life, and I look forward to writing about those in just a few short weeks (That’s what they call a “teaser.”
What I did want to write about today was a new app that I bought to solve a specific problem. Last week, I had been editing videos on my iPad Pro, using Luma Fusion (great app) and my Apple Pencil. At some point, I misplaced my Apple Pencil and could not find it anywhere–tearing up the house to find it (much like when my son’s iPod Touch had been stolen, and we had torn up the house to try to find it). After looking for the Apple Pencil for two days in every conceivable place with no luck, I was ready to order an Apple Refurbished replacement.
As a last resort, I googled (when used as a verb, is “googled” capitalized?) “how to find a lost Apple Pencil” and was immediately referred to the “Bluetooth Finder” app. Unfortunately, Apple’s “Find iPhone” doesn’t track the Apple Pencil, but there are several iOS apps that track signal strength of local bluetooth connections. “Bluetooth Finder” was highly rated, and while it was $4.99, that’s far better than $85 for a refurbished Apple Pencil.
I bought the app, opened it, and saw my Apple Pencil, and followed the strength meter to find the pencil in our laundry room, in the middle of towels that I had folded while watching Star Trek Voyager on Netflix as I folded. The $4.99 app would have saved me several days of searching…and I had looked in the laundry room to no avail earlier.
Now, had the Apple Pencil been dead, the app wouldn’t have helped me. But that was not the case, and I have been very grateful to have my Apple Pencil back. Once you start using an Apple Pencil, you change a lot of the ways that you do things, and it is very difficult to go back to not using one.
As a result, if you have an Apple Pencil, I highly recommend the Bluetooth Finder app. You never know when you might need it. You might not think that you would ever misplace a white pencil shaped object…but it can happen to anyone!
I will be at TMEA this week, from Thursday through Saturday. I have a session on forScore on Saturday morning at 8AM in Grand Hyatt Crockett CD. Please feel free to contact me if you are going to be there—I’d love to say, “Hello.” I will be spending a lot of time in the vendor area, where I get chance to see what is new and talk to some of the key players in the industry of music education and technology.
I used to attend up to five conferences a year, something I have not done for a couple of years. I wanted to explain why.
Several years ago, my school/district stopped supporting my efforts to present at music education conferences, which is one of my very favorite things to do. I never asked the school/district to pay for travel, lodging, or meals—I just asked them to pick up the cost of a substitute teacher. When I attend a conference these days, presenter or participant, I have to use my contractual personal time. If I have any other plans during a school year that involve my use of personal days for other things (which was the case this year), I need to save those days (we get up to four personal days a year).
I don’t have any plans for the 2019-2020 convention schedule at this time, so if you would like to have me present at your conference, feel free to propose session topics (you can see the many different sessions I have presented about here), or to contact me with your ideas. Most states have a way for members to request presenters for their conference.
That’s all for now—I look forward to meeting some of you at TMEA this next week!
Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about PlayScore Pro, an app that had a lot of promise, but didn’t work for my personal work flow. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the creators of PlayScore Pro, which is owned and operated by Dolphin Computing Ltd and Organum, Ltd. There is a new version of PlayScore 2, which answers the difficulties that I experienced trying to get PlayScore Pro to fit into my workflow.
As a side note, I have to mention that I don’t think the creators of PlayScore 2 were worried about my individual work flow…the improvements to the new version just happen to address them.
PlayScore 2 works very similar to PlayScore Lite and PlayScore Pro (which are also still available, and might add some confusion) in that you can take pictures of your score and the app recognizes the music, making it able to play your music or to export it as a MusicXML file to another app (or using AirDrop, to your Mac).
PlayScore 2 now adds the ability to import a PDF directly into the app, and to recognize all the pages of a score at the same time.
The selling points of PlayScore (Lite, Pro, or 2) have always been speed and accuracy—including pulling in additional markings (diacritical markings like staccato and accents, crescendos, and dynamics). PlayScore 2 does not import lyrics or text—but their website (PlayScore.co) indicates this is in development (with no specific timeline).
In a moment of transparency, the first version of PlayScore 2 that I used “hung up” on a choral score that had staves that appeared and disappeared along the way (very common in choral scores). The developers were aware of the issue, and this morning (as I write this post) a new version of the app came out that solved that problem.
The suprise for buyers will be PlayScore 2’s purchase options…the use of all features requires a subscription. You can get a subscription for $4.99 a month or $15.49 a year. Paul Shimmons (ipadmusiced.wordpress.com) and Robby Burns (www.robbyburns.com/blog/) were just talking about subscriptions a few weeks ago on Twitter. I think we all see subscriptions as an evil necessity (although Paul is reluctant to buy apps that require them). The idea of a buy once-use forever app is hard to justify. We’re close to nine years with the iPad, and I’m still using the original purchase of forScore that I bought for $0.99 at that time. I’m more than ready to buy “forScore 2” to make sure that the company can continue to stay in business!
All that said, I think a $16 annual charge for the ability to scan your music, importing from a PDF, is a fair price. It takes time to enter any song into a digital format, whether note by note (how did I ever do that for hundreds of scores?) or simply playing into a digital piano and recording it to create an audio track. If the app saves you one hour of time during the year, and you earn at least $25 an hour, the app has already saved you money. If you are scanning a bunch of scores, the app will likely save you tens or hundreds of hours of time. It doesn’t take long to prove that the old axiom is true…“time is money.”
There are now three reliable scanning apps on the Apple App Store. The first is NotateMe with the PhotoScore in-app purchase, which sells for about $70 all together. NotateMe is just about as accurate as the PhotoScore Mac/Win version, although it won’t read PDF files (the Mac/Win version does). The second is Sheet Music Scanner, a $4 app that does a good job of importing notes, but there are some things it does not do (triplets). And now there is PlayScore 2 which I can recommend as well. If you are scanning a piece to use purely as accompaniment, PlayScore 2 might be the best starting point, as it attempts to import (and play) expression.
In terms of my own work flow, I will now try to scan a song with Sheet Music Scanner and PlayScore 2 to see which does a better job with that score (the results are never the same) and then export that scan to Notion or Finale to finish editing the score. I don’t generally use NotateMe/PhotoScore on my iPad/iPhone because it doesn’t import PDF files. If Sheet Music Scanner or PlayScore 2 don’t do a good job, I will then go to my MacBook and use PhotoScore to scan the PDF. And if the PDF was generated by a notation project, I will use PDFtoMusic Pro (on my Mac) to decode the file into a MusicXML file. PlayScore 2 does not appear to be available on Android yet, and neither is Sheet Music Scanner, but you never know what the future will hold (NotateMe is available on Android).
Incidentally, NotateMe on iOS/Android works very well if you have sheet music on hand, and attempts to import lyrics. PhotoScore has been the gold standard for scanning for long time—the app just can’t handle PDF scores, and that is where I live most of the time.
In summary, I have a number of tools on my devices to help me scan, and it doesn’t take long to see which one is the best tool to use.
I continue to scan every score that I use, so that I can have it on my iPad, and I purchase a digital copy when they are available (even if I have to buy five copies of a choral score). A notation-created score will be smaller (it uses a font instead of an image) and can usually be decoded by PDFtoMusic Pro to help me make accompaniment or rehearsal files.
This is a good day, everyone—I’m pleased to be able to recommend PlayScore 2 to you as an additional tool to add to your tool kit. I’d recommend the annual subscription due to the cost savings (only three months of a monthly subscription).
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!
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.
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.