The New SmartMusic–see their webpage for updates

I have been putting this post “off” for a while, as MakeMusic has been in the process of defining how the “New” SmartMusic is going to work.

Since my previous post about the pricing of the “New” SmartMusic, MakeMusic has revised the plan–basically simplifing things.  Where there were going to be two levels, they have simplified the plan to one.  To see the details, check out their website at: http://www.smartmusic.com/new/

They are constantly revising and improving the “New” SmartMusic and how they talk about–even terminology is shifting.  Therefore, if you have feedback about the coming product, please contact them.  As has always been true of MakeMusic, they are listening because they want to provide a product that you want to use.

Finally, just some scattered thoughts:

  • Some colleagues were worried about the “set of 50” pricing.  The latest plan addresses this in groups of 5 additional students.
  • If you are an individual user of SmartMusic (e.g. A home-schooled student), the “old” SmartMusic is going to be your option for 16-17.  There will eventually be solutions with the “New” SmartMusic for you, too.
  • I asked some questions to MakeMusic which they are going to include in a FAQ.  Watch for that document (They can speak for themselves on those questions).
  • Be aware that you have to make the choice between “Old” and “New” as you cannot do both.  I would also advise that in time, the “New” will become the “only” SmartMusic, so it probably makes sense to get on board in the fall of 2016.

Again, if you were the teacher using SmartMusic in 4 practice rooms for 200 students (about $300 a year)–the “New” SmartMusic represents a price increase.  I understand that.  At the same time, if that was you, you have to acknowledge that your past use didn’t cover the annual cost of improvements, server space, or literature licensing (Note: this comes from my perspective, and does NOT come from MakeMusic).  The new pricing of $399 for 50 students (plus 3 teachers) guarantees the sustainability of the product (in this era of new competition) for $8 a student; plus you will find that your students won’t be locked into the practice room (although they can do so) and will be able to use SmartMusic with any device.  Think about it…students can get SmartMusic for the price of less than 2 beverages at Starbucks.  Or less than the cost of a lesson book (Yes…I said that).

We know SmartMusic can significantly improve the playing ability of a student–can you imagine any other activity where an $8 investment could yield so much potential growth?

And of course, the full subscription (all literature, not just assignments from the teacher) is available for $20 per student.

Which is still a bargain.

Again, visit SmartMusic for the latest details (which continue to change) for this exciting new product.

A new Kickstarter project: AirJamz

Here is a fun new product for you: Zivix, a company in Minnesota (and the creators of the JamStik and the PUC) have started their latest crowd funded project: AirJamz.  Simply put, AirJamz is wearable device that allows you to “air jam” and have an iOS or Android device follow those movements.  Zivix showed off the device at SXSW this past winter, and it was a hit.

  
In terms of music education, this isn’t a device that you are going to directly use in your classrooms.  However–it does have the potential as a product for reward days, music therapy, and some other uses that I haven’t thought of yet.  

What if they could tweak their app to allow for the training of conductors–direct a symphony orchestra or choir from the AirJamz?  That could revolutionize the instruction of conducting.  

Zivix isn’t a music education company–it is a company that makes products so that music is fun for all people.  It is just fortunate that Zivix products often “creep” into the world of music education–I wouldn’t want to teach a guitar class without a JamStik.  

It is easy to see how this product would be popular with a lot of people.  After all, if you are willing to drop the money on Guitar Hero–why not AirJamz?  I believe that, like their other products, Zivix will provide free software which works with the device (which sounds a lot like Apple’s strategy of providing at least basic versions of the software with the purchase of hardware).

  
There are a lot of things I don’t know about the AirJamz at this point, such as how long batteries last, if it could be potentially used as a step-tracker, and if there is any chance to make a (paid) Apple Watch app in place of buying the AirJamz hardware.  However, the price point of AirJamz (and their small speaker, MiniJamz) is extremely affordable with the KickStarter.  I like this company a lot, and it will be fun to see what comes from this device.  I encourage you to support their efforts and to join the KickStarter campaign.

  

Another Ukulele…

Last night I ordered another ukulele.  If you start reading about ukuleles, you will find that most ukulele players have UAS, which means “Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome.”  People will collect a large number of ukuleles, and play most of them.

Since I bought my first ukulele in January, we now have six at our home, a seventh on the way, and an eighth planned for the late spring.

While you can spend a lot of money on a ukulele (the elite instruments still cost less than my tuba), most people have lower or middle end instruments, and that is where I am at.  My wife would love to return to Hawaii, but I have had no desire to go there.  Now I would go there to hang out at ukulele shops and to buy a “real” Hawaiian ukulele (probably a Kamaka at this point–which is celebrating 100 years right now).

The new ukulele is a “blemished” unit from Butler Music, which has a website and also sells on eBay and Amazon.  Most players would benefit from buying a ukulele from a ukulele specialist store, such as The Ukulele Site, the Uke Republic, or Mim’s Ukes.  These companies make sure that ukuleles are set up properly with good action, and in some cases will replace strings.  Additionally, if your local music store carries ukuleles–and a ukulele brand and model you desire, it is good to support a local store.  I have been flying on the cheap with all of my ukuleles.

On Good Friday, I had the chance to visit one of my local music stores (living in a large metro area, there are a few) and attended a Ukulele Jam.  While there, I saw the Lanikai UkeSB series, and had a chance to interact with those instruments.  These instruments have an electric pick-up with tuner (common in mid-range ukuleles) but also have a USB interface that interacts with computers and iOS devices.  As you can imagine, I was hooked.  The Soprano and Concert (think “Alto” if you don’t know ukuleles) seemed quiet to me, but I really liked the Tenor model.  My local store was willing to give me a decent discount on a full Koa UkeSB, but I don’t want to be spending over $400 on a single ukulele right now.

I have been trying to move on from wanting that instrument, but I have been needing to make some recordings for my classes (rehearsal tracks) for the songs we are singing with ukulele in our spring concert.  I don’t have a connector for my current electro-acoustic ukulele (I would probably buy the IK Multimedia iRig HD, which is $100) and the field audio recordings I have made end up having too much background noise (I’m not recording in a studio). 

So I have been looking for deals on Amazon and eBay.  What I found was the Tenor UkeSB with Spruce top and Koa body.  Normally, this instrument is $399 new (incidentally, that is what my local music store was willing to sell me the full Koa model for–which is a good price). 

  
As I mentioned earlier, Butler Music is a big online reseller, and I have one other instrument from them.  They carry both new and blemished units, and they were offering a Spruce/Koa instrument for $239 on eBay.  I offered $211, making it $225 shipped, basically $174 less than new.  That offer was accepted (I probably should have offered less). 

 It has some reported cosmetic flaws, all which are okay with me as I will be adding flaws of my own:

   
    
 
But it is otherwise new and everything else is supposed to work well.  Butler Music also accepts returns, but I am not expecting to do so.

So that is expected to arrive on Thursday.

What about the other six instruments in our home?

  
This is the Mahalo MK1 that my students are using at school, and we also bought one when they were $24 to let my kids use so that they wouldn’t bother my ukueleles.

  
This is the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse “Guitar” that my four year old found in the clearance aisle of Wal-Mart.  $20.

 
This is my Makala (made by Kala) Concert Ukulele that was $85 (new) and was my first ukulele.  Most days, this is my daily player at school.

  
This is my Kala Travel Tenor, which is a thin body tenor ukulele.  It lists at $279, I bought it on eBay for $169.

  
This is my Kala Concert Banjo Ukulele.  I played one at a music store and fell in love.  It sells for $299, but I found it online for $199.

  
This is my Kala Ukadelic American Flag Soprano.  It has a plastic body and laminate wood top.  These normally sell for $62 but a local music store sold it to me for $50.

  This is the Butler Music eBay “Gambler Special” baritone ukulele, which I purchased for $40, shipped.  I needed to tighten a loose (buzzing) tuning head and replace the strings.
Just as a tip (from a guitar store in Salt Lake City), Aquilla makes the strings for D’Addario’s ukulele strings, which sell for less cost than Aquilla’s own line…look at the back of these boxes…

  
All six ukuleles total less than $600…which is bargain basement pricing.  And I am using the ukuleles for instruction and recreation.  

The final ukulele that I am going to purchase at this time is the Tenor Outdoor Ukulele, which can be taken just about anywhere.  I plan to use it in all of my camping this summer (That is $145 at a local music store).

If you decide to play ukulele…be careful.  UAS is a real illness (see below)!

  

ScorePad KickStarter Campaign

 

The ScorePad KickStarter Campaign

 
Well, it is 2016, and while we finally have options for large format tablets, the iPad has some very powerful apps for displaying sheet music but similar tools for other platforms are not of the same quality.

There have been a few attempts at multi-platform solutions. One of those used to be known as NeoScores (a name I liked) but is now available at gogustaf.com. There is a 30 day free trial, but after that there is tiered pricing. But this is one way to get a universal music reader on any tablet.  Group pricing is available. 

There is another multi-platform approach that has entered funding mode, called ScorePad.   You can find out more about ScorePad at their KickStarter site (link).   They are trying to raise $47,500.  Visit their campaign site, and consider backing them if you share their vision. One cool feature they have shared is that a single person can mark a master score, and those markings can be sent to all the members of a group. 

I am also looking forward to what Noteflight/Hal Leonard brings out as a solution in connection with Noteflight Learn. 

I agree with ViolaJack’s assessment that Mobile Sheets is the best option for Android, and I think (not certain) that Music Reader is still the only major player on Windows. And of course, there are forScore and unrealBook on iPad.  For Chromebooks?  I still don’t know of a good non-subscription solution that allows for annotation, even with the new flip Chromebooks from Asus and Acer. 

I’m still sold on digital sheet music, and my hope is that it will be available without DRM (digital rights management) in various formats (PDF & MusicXML) from all publishers in the future, perhaps managed by a annual subscription that would give you access to all music from all publishers (paying publishers and composers back based on usage) like Apple Music. 

It is funny that the recording industry has been able to figure this out while the print industry has not. Here’s hoping for more solutions in the future!

Spring Break

It is Wednesday of our Spring Break, and I have been loving the time away from school. My wife recently decided to become a Noonday Ambassador (she loves the product and loves the mission of the company), and as a result, she wanted to do some housework this week before her kick-off parties this Friday and Saturday. One of the tasks was to finish the “music room,” a small front room in our house where we keep our digital piano and now our other string instruments (ukuleles and guitars).

My wife grew up in her grandparent's home (her mom and her brothers moved in with them) where my wife learned piano on a 1928 baby grand. That piano was most recently in Georgia, and two summers ago, we traveled to Georgia to pick it up, gutting it as we did so. The intent was to convert the piano (no longer playable and no logical financial decision to repair it) to a bookshelf.

So, earlier this week, I did the work necessary to convert the piano to a bookshelf. The piano “shelf” became a shelf of its own (thanks to some inexpensive bookshelf brackets from Wal-Mart). And the music room is done.

The converted baby grand

Ukulele Wall

On Good Friday, I had an opportunity (with no school) to attend a ukulele jam session which is held at a (relatively) local music store. As to be expected with a mid-day ukulele jam session, most of the participants retired,and the format was a 30 minute introduction to the ukulele followed by two hours of every person taking turns choosing a piece. The group utilized the Daily Ukulele songbook. Everyone was encouraged to sing (even though a few people complained about their voices) and most songs were attempted a couple of times until they worked better. My choice? Danny Boy.

While my musical training (and singing ability) is far advanced beyond most of the people at that jam–I was reassured tha what they were doing was wonderful and good. Think about it…a group of people meeting just to make music–that is what music is supposed to be about. Excellent bands, choirs, and orchestras are wonderful–but at some point you are too busy to be in such a group, or perhaps are not “good enough” to be in an elite performing group. But you know what…musical experiences, like ukulele jams, still exist, both accessible to everyone and musically fulfilling at the same time.

Ukulele Jam

Yes, I'll go again. But I won't be able to do so until we're out of school for the summer.

Meanwhile, I found the next two ukuleles on my UAS (Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome) wish list: The Kala Sweet Pea 10th Anniversary Tenor, and the Lanika UkeSB Koa Tenor which can plug directly into an iPad. I also have my eye on the Outdoor Ukulele Tenor (an all-weather ukulele).

I also came across a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse “guitar” at Wal-Mart (actually my four year old spotted it in the clearance aisle), and it isn't a guitar…it is a ukulele made by First Act. It is a cheap plastic ukulele,but is has a few interesting features. First, the logo lines up with Mickey's head, making the sound hole look like one of Mickey's ear, and in closer inspection, the graphic is also placed INSIDE the sound hole, lined up perfectly with the graphic. Additionally' the tuners are in shape of the mouse logo. The ukulele doesn't have a nut, and the strings are complete garbage. I have some new strings on the way, and then I'll see what it really sounds like. Right now, it can't stay in tune (the nylon strings are too stretchy) and is quiet. However, for a kid's ukulele, that may not be a bad idea.

Mickey Guitar

No Nut

 

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