Tag Archives: iPad App

Showbie…an incredible iPad tool for $100 per year

Last summer, Larry Petersen from Huron, South Dakota, e-mailed me to ask about Showbie.  His district, which was going 1:1 iPad, had selected Showbie as a classroom management system.  I didn’t know anything about Showbie at the time, but I wanted to check it out.

At the time, Showbie allowed you to make classes, make assignments, and then upload materials into those assignments, such as a PDF.  A student could then work on that PDF, directly within the app, without having to open it in another app.  This is a key component, because many classroom management systems–including Google Classroom–require you to open documents in other apps, such as Notability.   Kids sign up with a class code, and can enroll using their GAFE e-mail address, if your school is a GAFE school (Google Apps for Education).  There were other features as well, such as students could upload just about any kind of file into Showbie, and you can also save those files out of Showbie.

I was hooked.  I immediately began using Showbie for my students to do daily journal questions (note: I later found it was best for my time to give a packet of questions and correct a number of questions in one sitting), and it wasn’t long before I used some of our choir account money to purchase a full subscription.

The full subscription adds a number of features, (now) including a palette of different pens for teachers and students, different “type-entry” fields, longer audio recordings, unlimited assignments (for teachers), and now, the ability to add an audio recording to another document.  Showbie keeps improving and adding features, and even though our school is going to use Schoology next year (which has some of these features), I will keep using Showbie as well.

Let me talk about some of the ways I used Showbie this year:

  1. I have students scan into class using a QR code and the app Attendance2 on one of our iPads.  I uploaded one of Attendance2’s generated QR Codes to each student in an assignment.  Admittedly. this took a while, but I only had to do it once for them, all year (and for any incoming students).
  2. I used Showbie for the the aforementioned daily journal questions.  As we moved into S-Cubed as a sight singing method, I prepared a packet (generally 5 days worth, or about 2 weeks of class in our A/B schedule) and students completed the packets in Showbie.
  3. I distributed music via Showbie, putting it in an assignment (making it due at the end of the term), and then students opened the music into another app (always an option) such as NextPage (a simple PDF music reader).
  4. By the middle of the year, I decided to use Showbie for ALL of their music.  They opened music in Showbie, and turned pages from there.  They were still able to annotate music.  This way, I was able to have them “locked” into one app (using our MDM, Casper) the entire hour, without having to deal with multiple apps.  This was quite successful.  This year, I will be able to attach a rehearsal recording to the songs!  Additionally, “collecting” music was as easy as archiving the assignment.
  5. It is quite easy to drop students from a class or to add them, as long as you have the class code handy (the code is for joining the class).  I would keep a list of your codes on hand, so you don’t have to look it up each time.  Then again, I teach in a some what transient community.  I learned to have one Showbie class for each class of my own…putting all my 6th Grade students into one class was not a good idea.  As a side note, Showbie allows you to “copy” assignments from one class to another, which makes my life much easier.
  6. I used Showbie for assessment.  I had students record a section of music, pointing the iPad’s microphone at their mouth.  They all sang together, and made 3 recordings of the same section of music.  I then had them choose their best, and had them delete the other two.  I listened to each, grading on a rubric.  Here is where it gets fun…with a second iPad, I was able to be in the same Showbie account, listening to the assessment on one iPad, and then grading the rubric with the other.  This worked incredibly well–but will be EVEN BETTER next year, as students can record audio on the rubric page, and then i can listen to the assessment that is embedded in the rubric page.  With no lesson time, these assessments were very important to help me get to know each voice.
  7. I had the students make a video at one point in the year, and they uploaded their video in an assignment.
  8. I made some videos for a sub-section of a class, and uploaded them into an assignment, so they could watch those videos from Showbie.  I did not have to send anything to YouTube.
  9. At one point, I had an annotation process for students where they were writing solfége in their scores.  They took a screen shot and submitted it in Showbie as proof that they had done the work.

What I am looking forward to next year is to have the ability to embed audio in a Showbie document, have students play that audio back, and then record themselves while doing so.  As it stands, I cannot do this, as you can record an audio note in Showbie, but you can’t drop an audio file that is pre-existing into a document (I have written asking about the ability to do this).  However…if you are a band and orchestra teacher, and not a choir director, you can simply upload a playing assignment (literally a PDF of the music), and students can open Showbie and record themselves playing, and then you can listen back to those recordings.  You could even have a rubric on the PDF, or you could annotate the PDF while listening to their recording to give them feedback.  Think of it as “SmartMusic” human–you are the computer assessing the performance…but still using technology to do so.

I could also see band/orchestra directors using this feature for auditions.

They have made some progress on multi-platform versions of Showbie, but for all the bells and whistles (including annotation), you need an iPad.  I know they are working hard to address this, as Showbie would even be useful on a Chromebook!

Sure, there are negatives to Showbie, as with all apps.  For example, at the moment, there is no grading feature (it is coming).  I also didn’t like that I couldn’t move students from class to class–they had to join a different class (I wanted to migrate them), as student schedules do change.  I would like to be able to scroll while annotating (two fingers, like in Notability) versus having to switch tools to do so (annotation and scrolling are two different tools in Showbie).  Finally, we had a few days where Internet was not working correctly in our building, which caused many issues–at the same time, all of us were a bit stranded without Internet in a 1:1 iPad school–and that isn’t Showbie’s fault.  We did have a few lost assignments, which Showbie was able to track down and repair–and fix in case it happened to others (it occurs when a student doesn’t click “DONE” after they are done.  It is surprising how often this occurs.  But as you look at those negatives–they are VERY FEW.  And my wish-list keeps shrinking!  As much as I know Schoology is a good product (as I mentioned, our school decided to adopt it for all teachers next year)–I’m not willing to leave Showbie!

As you can see, I like Showbie a lot.  It has a lot of features for free, and even more features for a very low cost per year.  With over 300 students in my program, we’re paying less than $.33 per student per year for the app, and it is worth every penny.

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Symphony Pro 3.0 (in context with Notion)

The music notation scenario improved this week, as Xenon Labs resurrected Symphony Pro with a new interface. Symphony Pro was the first serious music notation app on the iPad, coming out in late 2010, just a few short months after the release of the iPad. The first version of Symphony Pro was amazingly solid (I released a video about that app, which has over 30,000 views), but subsequent versions added more functionality and more bugs. Then, without any notice, Xenon Labs ceased development of Symphony Pro and pulled it from the App Store. I was able to contact one of the original developers of Symphony Pro and he confirmed that it was no longer in development.

But it's back–same company, same developers.

Symphony Pro 3.0 offers an improved interface, featuring tabs that hide on the left side of the screen. The left-side interface works well, although I could see issues arising if you are left-handed. I prefer the toolbar on the left and the keyboard on the bottom of the screen, so you can use both hands while entering music. I find this layout preferable to the layout of Notion (another notation app on the iPad) where the toolbar rests on top of the keyboard.

Symphony Pro 3.0 in action, without the keyboard

I have had some issues while using some of these tabs, such as the “dot” for a dotted note. By expanding the “dot” tab, you can choose a single, double, or triple dot for a note. The problem is that it isn't easy to turn off the dot…it requires two entires into the hidden dot tab to do so. It can also be annoying to switch between notes and rests using the hidden toolbars. There is something to be said for having all options (notes & rests) available at all times. I have also had difficulty selecting notes to cut and paste from staff to staff–I have been unable to increase the size of the selected area (there are no handles that I can see to use in Symphony Pro 3.0).

Whereas the old version of Symphony Pro had export features on the notation screen, the new version of Symphony Pro uses a bookshelf (think iBooks) to organize and export documents. The use of the bookshelf makes Symphony Pro feel very much like a “stock” iOS app, but I am concerned about what will happen with iOS 7…I would think that as Apple leaves skeuomorphic design (making apps look like physical objects, such as felt, wood, leather) they will change the look of the bookshelf, too.

The new bookshelf of Symphony Pro 3.0

Xenon Labs has been using Facebook as a key way to discuss its new version of Symphony Pro, and early reports indicate that bugs continue to affect the app. Some users seem to be having issues with the PDF export. Personally, I am having continued issues with MusicXML import and export. My blogging colleague, Paul Shimmons, has reported issues with MIDI input (and I have verified this using Symphony Pro and my Akai LPK25).

Symphony Pro is on sale right now for $4.99, for a limited time. I believe that Xenon Labs will continue to improve their app and to address these bugs. As Symphony Pro points out, there are no “add ons” for their app…everything comes in one bundle, and takes under 400MB of space on your iPad (less space, actually, than Angry Birds)

At the same time, Notion for iPad is available–currently for $14.99 (additional instruments are available as add on purchases)–with a cost of 1.7 GB of space on your iPad. As previously mentioned, the only “negative” about Notion is that the toolbars exist above the piano keyboard, and that notes and rests are also in separate toolbars (like Symphony Pro). But Notion is much more “mature” than Symphony Pro, with a huge update coming in the next two weeks. I did my usual “test” of notation software, trying to enter the same score in both programs. I had a great deal of difficulty working in Symphony Pro, but was quite productive in Notion, particuarly when I started using my Akai LPK 25 USB keyboard to enter notes.

As a matter of recommendation, if you are limited to only buying one app, you should choose Notion; if you can afford Symphony Pro while it is on sale, you should buy both. One thing is for certain: you can do productive work in music notation on your iPad, and doing so is only getting easier as these apps add more features (and work out more bugs).

My resulting score in Notion for iPad

 


Scale Helper Family of Apps

Over the last few months, I have been in communication with the developers of the Scale Helper series of apps. In their own words, here is an introduction to the app series:

All of our apps are based on technology that listens to an instrument and gives feedback. They are designed for the smartphone form factor and contain several unique features to enable the user to switch on and go such as not needing to be accurately tuned before playing, not prescribing a tempo and giving real time feedback.

ScaleHelper, as the name suggests is an app that helps people with their scales and arpeggios. It shows the scale/arpeggio, lets you hear the scale/arpeggio and then assesses your playing of the scale/arpeggio. The ScaleHelper family of apps run on the iOS devices and also Android platforms.

Note Hitter is an app that helps with sight reading. It features several games that bring pupils along from basic note recognition to playing a stream of notes in tempo. The Note Hitter family of apps are only currently available for the iOS devices.

The full range of apps that we offer can be found at www.musicapps.scalehelper.com along with links to a more detailed overview of each app.

The list of apps is extensive (seven apps at this point) for a variety of needs/uses. Some of the apps are available for Android, too. Links for each app (whether the App Store or the Android Stores) are on the webpage above.

I have not had the time to spend a large amount of time with these apps, but I did send the developers some initial feedback, which they have quickly addressed with app updates. My only remaining concern is that these apps are all intended for iPhone/iPod Touch and are not optimized for the iPad (they are working on it). While the iPhone makes sense from a personal perspective; the iPad makes sense from an educational 1:1 perspective.

If you would like to try these apps for your own playing (scales or sight-reading), give them a try…some have “lite” versions, others have in-app purchases. And if you have feedback for improvements, take the time to let the developers know!

 


Scale Helper Family of Apps

Over the last few months, I have been in communication with the developers of the Scale Helper series of apps. In their own words, here is an introduction to the app series:

All of our apps are based on technology that listens to an instrument and gives feedback. They are designed for the smartphone form factor and contain several unique features to enable the user to switch on and go such as not needing to be accurately tuned before playing, not prescribing a tempo and giving real time feedback.

ScaleHelper, as the name suggests is an app that helps people with their scales and arpeggios. It shows the scale/arpeggio, lets you hear the scale/arpeggio and then assesses your playing of the scale/arpeggio. The ScaleHelper family of apps run on the iOS devices and also Android platforms.

Note Hitter is an app that helps with sight reading. It features several games that bring pupils along from basic note recognition to playing a stream of notes in tempo. The Note Hitter family of apps are only currently available for the iOS devices.

The full range of apps that we offer can be found at www.musicapps.scalehelper.com along with links to a more detailed overview of each app.

The list of apps is extensive (seven apps at this point) for a variety of needs/uses. Some of the apps are available for Android, too. Links for each app (whether the App Store or the Android Stores) are on the webpage above.

I have not had the time to spend a large amount of time with these apps, but I did send the developers some initial feedback, which they have quickly addressed with app updates. My only remaining concern is that these apps are all intended for iPhone/iPod Touch and are not optimized for the iPad (they are working on it). While the iPhone makes sense from a personal perspective; the iPad makes sense from an educational 1:1 perspective.

If you would like to try these apps for your own playing (scales or sight-reading), give them a try…some have “lite” versions, others have in-app purchases. And if you have feedback for improvements, take the time to let the developers know!

 


Piano Mania App Introduction

I am continuing my process of following up unresolved e-mails this evening, and wanted to let another developer introduce their app, Piano Mania. Again, I want this blog to be a way for all music teachers to find apps that apply to them…not just the apps that I use. As a reminder, this is provided as a service, but not a direct endorsement for the app. So, here are the developer's words about Piano Mania!

Founded in 2010, JoyTunes solves a problem for 85% of the population who “wished they had learned to play an instrument” but never got past the frustrating first steps of learning to play. JoyTunes transforms musical skills into engaging experiences – activated by playing regular musical instruments, no wires required! After great success with their first piano app, Piano Dust Buster, JoyTunes’ recently launched their second piano app, Piano Mania.

Piano Mania is a deeper more educational piano practice tool, still equipped though with the fun gamification components JoyTunes is known for. From a single note to complete pieces, classical and fun radio hits, Piano Mania makes sheet music come to life. With Piano Mania users will have the ability to:

  • Learn to read sheet music notation and symbols
  • Play melodies in both treble and bass clefs
  • Choose between right hand, left hand or both hands simultaneously
  • “Connect to your teacher” feature: impress your Piano Teacher with your new found skills. Teachers will receive weekly progress reports on how well the student is doing!
  • Progress up in ranks, collecting skills points as you play
  • As players progress up in ranks they will earn skills points in sight reading, technique and rhythm. Once they have reached 100% in each skill they can then move onto the next rank, which was previously locked. Users learn a different skill in each rank which get progressively get harder. Piano Mania is a fun and exciting way to practice your piano!