TMEA 2018

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I have been busy with school, the musical, and using technology to create materials for my mid-year ukulele efforts with my choirs.  With new administration in our building, I took a step back from presenting this year and only applied for TMEA (Texas), and was thrilled to be asked to present a session when someone else declined.  I love San Antonio, and if I lived here, I would be on the Riverwalk every day.  Is there a San Antonio school or college that needs a band/choir/music technology/ukulele teacher? 🙂

On Saturday (February 17), I am presenting a session using my choral conductor skills, on the topic of Dale Duncan’s excellent S-Cubed sight singing method.  No…I am not compensated by Dale in any way…just a teacher who uses the method, modifying it where I need to modify it for my needs, and then wanting to share it with others.

If you are at the session on Saturday, you can find the session “slides” here: S-Cubed for TMEA

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Technology that can help you through the tough days…

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We’re in the rough part of winter in the Midwest, where we will see temperatures between -20ºF and 50ºF over the next two months, with the potential of snow and rain (of both the frozen and unfrozen varieties).  These can be rough months to get through—made even more difficult if you are in a tough teaching positions.

I try to be very careful about what I post about my position, but my position is a tough position in a Title 1 school, and  there are unique challenges in my particular position as students have to take music, and if they aren’t in band or orchestra, they are in choir.  We’re also trying to integrate PBIS, the first year of a five to seven year process—and if PBIS is true (I think it is…PBIS is how teachers in healthy schools have always taught), then we also have to acknowledge that anti-PBIS is true.  Either your 60% of compliant students will impact the other 40% (I’m using skewed numbers reflecting my position), or the 40% of non-compliant students will impact the 60%.  Change is slow and hard.  And the issues aren’t solely in my classroom—they are present throughout the school (Otherwise, the answer is pretty simple: find a new teacher).

We have a new principal (who is excellent), we open a new school with different boundaries (and thus student population) in the fall, we are continuing with PBIS, and 8th Grade music will become an elective instead of a required course.  As a result, eight months from now, my position will look very different than it has for the past 9 years (this is my 5th year in this position).  That’s all good…but how do you make it through the next five months?

I am tired of the educational “gurus” who keep laying the blame on teachers.  If you think teachers are the problem, then get off your hiney and come work alongside those teachers and stop preaching at them from your social media pulpit.  In the process of chastising teachers, those who are doing what you suggest will simply puff themselves up, those that aren’t going to do it will still ignore you, and those in broken positions will take the admonition to heart, adding more weight to their “heart” that already feels as if they are to blame.

We also have to accept that some systems are broken, regardless of how much time you put into relationships with students.  I’m not saying that you shoudn’t build relationships with students—but I don’t know many teachers in this day and age who do not!  There are a few, sure—but they are far and few between.  In an industry where we are seeing teachers leave the field in less than three years, we need to start caring about the physical and mental well-being of teachers.  I fear that a lot of mental harm is done to teachers who are admonished for not working hard enough, not caring enough, and not doing enough to reach students.  This has to stop.

If you are a teacher in a happy, healthy situation—I celebrate with you.  I’ve been there with you, and I know how great that experience is.  Enjoy that time to the fullest and make it last as long as you can.  For those teachers who are in less than ideal situations—and you’re stuck in your position, I want to bring two tools to you today.

The first is simply a post by Tracy King, a music educator who has a presence on social media and sells a number of materials on Teachers Pay Teachers.  She wrote a blog about dealing with teacher burnout, and if your batteries are running low, read that blog post (link).

The second is for me to admit that I have always relied on my loud voice throughout my career.  I am an operatic tenor with the ability to produce a Decibel level approaching that of a jet taking off (well, not really).  When I was teaching high school choir, music theory, music history, or guitar, my students generally chose to be there and thus were invested in what they were doing.  I only raised my voice when I wanted to—usually as a joke.  Perhaps there were classes of 9th grade boys that needed more volume than others, but I generally just used my normal singing and talking voice (and I’m loud, as my wife would be happy to tell you)

Since I began teaching music to students at the middle school level, where a healthy percentage of students would rather not be in the class, I have found myself regularly suffering from vocal fatigue and connected illnesses.  I have had to be louder and larger to gain their attention.  Yes, I am aware that there are quieting techniques such as EnVoy (I am learning about EnVoy as part of my personal development plan this year), but those techniques are less effective when an entire school staff has to be louder and larger to fight an anti-PBIS environment (again, we’re in year 1 of a multi-year process).  As we moved to ukulele for a couple of months in the middle of the year, I found myself dreading the volume I would need to project over fifty ukuleles (as well as the students who simply keep strumming no matter what—the same students that if you take away the ukulele will disrupt your class in other more significant ways).  I thought back to my master’s work, where I took a class on “Body and Mind,” where the instructor (a voice therapist) begged all of us to use voice amplification systems.  I ignored that advice—I was teaching high school music to kids that listened, which didn’t stress out my voice (he also suggested that we don’t sing along with our students—something I still struggle with when teaching students.  Guess what I start doing when we go back to singing on a daily basis in March?).

I opened a new high school nine years ago, and it was technology-packed (thus my desire  to go to the school).  The technology package had a voice reinforcement package for every classroom.  It turned out it was truly “reinforcement” versus “amplification.”  Teachers needed amplification in the room, not “reinforcement.”  As a result, the system didn’t work for teacher needs—and specialists from the company were brought out who verified the systems were working as designed—with no benefit for the teachers.  As a result, nobody used those systems (I tried, and gave up, as did others).  With our new school that opens up next fall, “amplification” is included.  That will be a different situation altogether.

However, in our current school, there are only certain classrooms with the ability to do teacher amplification—and my classroom is not one of them.

I decided to break down and buy an inexpensive wireless microphone system (less than $40–the Pyle lavalier system.  I’m not going to give it a five star rating, but it works), which I have hooked up into our portable PA system.  I now run my computer through a Bluetooth audio connection (more about this later), and then my voice through the lavalier system, all through the PA.

Since adding the microphone, I find myself in a much better state of mind at the end of the day.  I can still utilize EnVoy techniques—but I also am taxing my vocal folds significantly less than I used to.  The job is still incredibly tough, and many days I still feel as if I am invisible or that I have failed—but some physical wear and tear has been taken off my shoulders, and that makes things a little bit better.  When you feel that you are at the bottom, even a little boost is significant.

So, that second tip?  Invest in a wireless audio system for your room.  I know it might sound crazy…but you owe it to yourself.  I was told to buy that system in 2002 and put it off for fifteen years.  I was a fool.  Don’t follow my foolish example.

At a later time, I will write about the Bluetooth audio connection and how that has been a blessing (and far more reliable than AirPlay).  I have also changed my approach to let my iPad be my iPad (after all, I bought it), and to use my school issued computer for projection without mirroring my iPad to that computer.  Again, I’ll write about all of this at a later point.

And to anyone going through tough times…many of us are with you, or have been in your shoes.   Some people have never been in that position, and they may not be able to empathize with you—so it can be a challenge to share how you are feeling—make sure that people actually want to hear how you are doing, and then share.  Sadly, many people are fine just using the superficial, “Things are great,” even when they are not.  Hang in there…take care of yourself…do get counseling help if you need it (yes, most of us benefit from such things)…and consider using some technology tools to help you make it through the day.


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SmartMusic has an Online Notation Editor/Creator!

You know those movies/TV series where all sorts of events build up to a point of confrontation (That’s just about any movie, TV show, book, drama, etc.)?  That is what is happening right now in the space of music notation, practice tools, and student assessment.

About a week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” at the new online notation editor that exists inside of the new SmartMusic.  Yes, let me repeat that: inside.

The “new” SmartMusic is web-based, and works on most devices (iPads still need a proprietary application, as is often the case).  I have stepped away from red note/green note programs for a while (I’ll write an addendum at the bottom of this post if you are curious why), so while I continue to watch what is happening in the space (SmartMusic, MusicProdigy, PracticeFirst) I am not using any of those products with my students.  I still very much see the value of these products, and in a different teaching position, I would insist on (as least the consideration of) the use of those programs in band, choir, orchestra, and general music (recorder, mallats, and ukulele).  “New” SmartMusic allows for Chromebooks to be used, which opens a huge educational market in the United States—and is one of the best ways for a Chromebook school to put those devices to use (along with Noteflight, Flat.io, and Soundtrap).

I was stunned to learn that the SmartMusic team has added a full notation feature to SmartMusic.  Yes, stunned.  In the dark ages when Finale was created (MakeMusic’s other product), Finale was the product.  SmartMusic came along, and now the mission of MakeMusic is “to develop and market solutions that transform how music is composed, taught, learned, and performed.”  That is far beyond the original focus on music notation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Finale user.  I use other tools, too, but when the going gets tough, I use Finale.  That said, the notation field has simply exploded over the past years, from open source MuseScore to heavy-hitting Dorico…and at least five other significant applications, some on mobile devices.

At the same time, web applications are improving all the time.  I used to be strongly against Chromebooks (particularly when compared to iPads), but web applications have made Chromebooks significantly more useful for music educators.  I still believe that iPads are the better tool for our field—but a day is coming where the Chromebook could be just as good of a choice.

All this makes me wonder how long it will be before all traditional programs move to the cloud.  For example, you can log into iCloud.com and use Pages, Excel, and Keynote on just about any device.  The same is true with Microsoft products, and of course, Google apps continue to improve.

How long will it be before Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, and MuseScore all move to the web?  Probably sooner than we think.  Five years ago, this didn’t seem possible.

Meanwhile, on the web, Noteflight and Flat.io have been working to create quality products, also sharing an interest education.  I have used Flat.io with students—it is a bit more accessible than Noteflight, and Flat.io is a little friendlier as it uses school Google accounts (GAFE).  Noteflight is working on a number of other features, including connecting Hal Leonard catalog content to the service as well as developing other educational features.

Keep in mind that Hal Leonard owns Noteflight, and that SmartMusic’s parent company owns Alfred.

A bit about the notation editor in SmartMusic: it is impressive.  It functions on a level very close to Flat.io and Noteflight.  The notation editor hides one level deeper in the program than you would think (the editor currently resides inside the “add content” button, whereas I would want just a “notation button”  on the front page).  I messed around a little bit with the program, and was pleased to find out that it recognized “traditional” Finale numbers for note value.  That said, the difference between Finale and Sibelius has always been note entry.  Sibelius (and MuseScore) have always approached a measure as having a measure full of beats, and when you add a note, the program subtracts that from the preexisting rest.  Put in a quarter note in 4/4 and a whole rest turns into a quarter rest with three quarter rests.  Finale (and Notion) have always been ex nihlo programs, where nothing exists in the measure until you put it there.  The SmartMusic notation editor acts like Sibelius in this regard, which was surprising to me.  MakeMusic would also want you to know that the notation program is tapping into the Garritan sound bank.  Sounds have been a weakness for a number of the web based notation programs.

And if you want to see the post by Michael Goode about the new features of SmartMusic, you can read it here.

The “new” SmartMusic allows you to import your own content.  I tried uploading a choral score that had two vocal parts (SA), piano, bass, and drum set.  SmartMusic allows you to map the drum part so it plays correctly…this is amazing and practical.  It allows you to write a drum part as you want to—and then to be able to have it played back correctly.  All the notation programs should follow this lead with a similar interface.

With the “old” SmartMusic, the way to get music into the program was through Finale.  I thought that was the key to Finale’s long term survival—as you had to own the most recent version of Finale to creat SmartMusic files.  The “new” SmartMusic accepts MusicXML files (now an open standard—another business move by MakeMusic that I’ll never understand, but am happy that it happened) eliminating the need for the user to have Finale.

And now, the embedded notation software, combined with a scanning app such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP) or Sheet Music Scanner (iOS), means you don’t need any other software to create SmartMusic scores…everything you need is right on the web.

All this said, the industry is moving towards a giant point of confrontation.  Some “bullet” thoughts at this time:

  • If the notation feature of SmartMusic continues to improve to the point that it can do everything Finale can do, I expect a merger of both products within 5 years.
  • I expect to see Noteflight move into the practice/assessment arena (they already accept recordings) as SmartMusic is moving into the online notation arena.  John Mlynczak was recently named Director of Noteflight (overseeing the service), and he was responsible for many of the previous education initiatives from the company (such as Noteflight Learn).  Look for John to continue to be distruptive (in a good way) in this industry.
  • I don’t know where MusicFirst fits into all of this, as Hal Leonard is connected with (but not owned by) Music Sales Group, the owner of MusicFirst.
  • The next item for all these companies to address is the quagmire of sheet music into digital formats, distribution, and revenue sharing (Creating an Apple Music for sheet music)
  • Look for SmartMusic to move into composition assignments for students.  Why not?  The editor is there, so logically, the program could expand to allow teachers to assign composition through the SmartMusic as well.
  • Look for MuseScore to move into the web space.
  • Can Sibelius survive in a world with MuseScore, web-based notation, mobile-based notation, and Dorico?
  • I’m not sure what to expect from Flat.io, which has taken a very different approach, focusing on relationships with Google versus working with publishers.  They are very innovative and it is fun to have no idea what they will do next.

So, in summary—I was surprised to learn about the music editor in SmartMusic, and it works great.  If you have SmartMusic, check it out.


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Addendum:

I just wanted to mention why we have moved away from using red note/green note programs, particularly as I believe in them.  Cost is one issue for our school, but more importantly we are working on changing our school climate through PBIS, respecting self, others, property, and learning.  We use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed sight reading method, and MusicProdigy offered access to Dale’s exercises for unlimited students for $100 per year.  We tried that out, but students would not do the assessments at home (20% would do home—at most).  We don’t have practice rooms, so I moved to having students record themselves in class (we are 1:1 iPad) while completing sight reading or singing assessments (as part of the larger group), and submitting those recordings via our LMS/CMS.  Those recordings are graded on a rubric.  This process it is like using SmartMusic, but there is nothing “smart” about the process.  I know some other teachers use Charms Office Assistant in a similar way.  When we moved to doing the recordings in class, the percentage of completed assessments increased to over 90%. Until PBIS kicks in (it can take five years), I am going to have to do the assessments in class instead of outside of class.


New JamStiks Coming Soon!

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Zivix, a company dedicated to making  interaction with music fun and educational through the use of technology has just announced two new products at NAMM.  The new products are the JamStik 7 and JamStik 12.  While details have not yet been released, I am expecting both models to work via BLE MIDI on most platforms.  I also expect full integration with existing Zivix software, such as JamTutor (A gamified experience that teaches how to play the guitar and how to read tablature at the same time0

The original JamStik was great, and acted as a WiFi station to connect to a device.  That original JamStik used infrared sensors on a five fret device to act as a MIDI interface.  The second JamStik, the JamStik+, added a pickup for greater sensitivity and connection via BLE MIDI.  On both versions, the D-Pad added functionality such as a capo.

”Real” guitarists often complained about the limitation of five frets—but for an educational device, it was perfect.  While I haven’t taught a guitar class for a few years, I would have loved to walk around the room with the JamStik, projecting the JamStik Plus App imterface on a screen (showing which strings are pressed and sending audio over room speakers without having to walk around with a full guitar).  To be honest, I don’t know why any teacher who teaches guitar in a classroom setting would NOT want to do this!  I did run a small class with WiFi JamStiks a few years ago…and it was a successful experience.  Remember…this is a device with real strings, so skills transfer to real instruments.

Furthermore, if you are a guitarist who plays no other instrument, I know of no better and more affordable method to interact with MIDI on a device…from notation to DAWs.

These new models address the “limited fret issue” (again, a questionable complaint in the first place), with the seven fret model aimed at beginners and the twelve fret model aimed for professionals.

I’m hoping for a 7 fret ukulele model!  🙂


The Roadie 2 Guitar/Ukulele Tuner

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A few days ago, my friend Paul Marchese (a music educator in Illinois) made a short video and post about the Roadie 2 tuner. He demonstrated how he could tune instruments in his classroom while students were playing by momentarily swapping a tuned instrument with the student and tuning the student’s instrument using the new Roadie 2. The original Roadie was a string winder that connected to your phone, using the phone’s microphone to tell whether a note was sharp or flat. Like all sound-based tuners, the device worked, but once you are in a situation where there is ambient noise (such as a ukulele jam or a classroom with 40 ukuleles) these tuners are no longer effective.  How is the Roadie 2 different? The Roadie 2 no longer needs the phone. It relies on vibration, like a clip on tuner, and then tunes your instrument for you.

And it works, and it works QUICKLY. Sure, I can take a clip on tuner between instruments and tune that way—but it takes longer. Now, if you have one ukulele, a $129 tuner is overkill. But if you have fifteen ukuleles at home, that might make the purchase worthwhile. And if you have over 100 instruments at school…saving a minute on each tuning (or even 30 seconds) will be significant.

A word about the app that comes with the device—it works. It connects via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and syncs your device “tunings” with custom tunings you created on your phone. You can custom name instruments—as I did with “Reeentrant Ukulele” (to differentiate between that and Linear tuning).

 

I’m looking forward to tuning ukuleles on Tuesday morning (we have no school on Monday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday). I think this is going to save me hours (and over time, days) of effort. Yes, the ability to learn how to tune is still important—but instructional time (and my prep time) is more important.

If you choose to buy a Roadie 2, will you consider using my referral link to Amazon (the Amazon seller is Band Industries, which makes the Roadie 2)?

Video follows below!


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