Music Study Apps Part 1- notetracks

NoteTracks Header

When we as musicians sit down to figure out and to study a piece of music there has usually been a bunch of paper, pencil and clicking going on. You hit play and start writing down which section is which, taking notes on where the main theme starts, when the chorus comes in, where to start adding, drums, strings, backup vocal….. and the list goes on and on until you have successfully marked up your paper all over the place in scratches and scrawls that you are lucky to read the next day.

With the advent of technology there are more and more apps available every day to give us a hand in our never ending quest to learn that next tune.

Let’s take a look at the Notetracks Smallnotetracks app which was just released December 5, 2014. The app is currently on an introductory sale of $4.99

This app will help ANYONE who has to listen to a piece of music and analyze it. This app could be used by anyone from elementary age up through college and music professionals as well!

Notetracks 1Upon opening the app you will need to create a new project. Upon entering that project you will need to import your recording from the iTunes library or you can import from DropBox as well. If you are using iTunesMatch, as I am, you will obviously have to make sure you have actually downloaded the track from the cloud first form within iTunes. If you haven’t already downloaded the tune from the cloud first you will see that it is grayed out and you will not be able to select it. You can see that I have this very situation going on in the screenshot to the right.

Once you imported your audio file you are then off to work!

ADDING TEXT, SYMBOLS, and DRAWINGS: You will see the waveform below the timeline and the artwork with a nifty volume slider on the left along with a mute option – more on that later. At the top, in the blue toolbar are your transport controls as you would expect and then the options to start adding Text, Symbols, or Drawings to your project. The obvious choices would be that I am sure you will want to type in the form of the piece – Intro, Verse, Chorus along with where different instruments come in.

Notetrack 2At this point I am sure you will start to experience a few of the frustrations that I found in working with this app. It is easy enough to add in one item – you tap the Tools option in the blue menu bar, select Add Text and a new track of information is added below the waveform. the next step is obvious, tap the +, type in the text and there it is! You can even select which color or size it appears as. THEN…. if you are like me you add a few items and you start to realize that if you want to move things around/change colors or sizes… you MUST make sure to DESELECT the previous item! Otherwise you start to change items you did not want to change! In fact sometimes you move or change items that do not even appear to be selected. Once you have played around with the app for about ten minutes you will get the hang of adding, changing, deleting, and moving items around.

HINT – Again, I can not stress this enough – save yourself some frustration when moving items around! Move the item, edit the color, size and placement THEN TAP IT AGAIN TO DESELECT IT!

A nice feature when wanting to add a number of items at the same spot is that if you drag an item downward the track will expand, as you can see to the left where I have 3-4 things stacked up. Another nifty feature when adding Symbols is that you can simply make sure the correct Symbol is already selected, then tap on the timeline wherever you want to add that symbol – skipping the process of tapping the + and making sure the playhead is in the correct spot. This allows you to add for instance a number of Symbols throughout the entire track all at once.

DRAWINGS: as for adding drawings… this is a nifty feature to have, just don’t expect a large drawing space with lots of tools – think basic and you will not be disappointed.

NAVIGATING and EXTRA TOOLS: About now I am sure you will have decided to see how easy it is to move around in your track. If you want to jump to a specific spot in the waveform, like at the 3 minute mark then simply tap there, even while the track is playing. Of course if the track is playing at the one minute mark and you try scrolling to the five mark, putting the playhead out of view, the screen will frustratingly jump back to the playhead – so simply tap the stop button, move to the spot you want. It would be nice if they gave you a few more seconds before the screen jumped back to center the playhead.

Pinch and expand motions work nicely, allowing you to zoom right in close to see the details or expand all the way to see the entire track at once (which of course is going to make all your notes, symbols and drawings a bit clustered)

In the blue toolbar there are some nice features along with a few annoyances. Let’s take a look at these….

LOOPING and MARKERS – If you tap the infinity icon (the sideways 8) you will get a message that the “Loop markers are not set”. Setting loop markers is easy – simply double tap the waveform where you want the first marker and then double tap where you want the second marker. There is still one more step to getting a loop going though you must press and hold on the loop marker number. This will turn the marker blue (Warning, until you actually lift your finger you will not be able to tell that the marker has become blue because the top stays orange – hopefully the developer fixes this). Long press on two markers and now you have a loop going!

If you tap the Location icon you will be able to edit the markers a bit – you are able to delete them or hide them.

Notetracks 3EQ, PITCH and SPEED OPTIONS – If you tap the Slider icon you will see that you have options for adjusting the Pitch, Speed and EQ of the piece. Quite frankly, as far as I am concerned these are not much help. when you adjust the Pitch for instance, the speed changes. When you adjust the Speed then the pitch changes. If you try to tap the – or + icons on the Pitch options they just simply do nothing. Do be aware that it is simple to mess with these options and then reset them – although unless you read the manual, you will probably never figure it out – simply double tap to return to original settings. I am also very unsure about why the original setting for Speed is not in the center.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS:

It is even possible to add in more than one piece of music into the same project. I am not sure why but that feature is there. When you do add a second piece of music you will want to use that mute button on the album art of the first piece – otherwise you end up listening to two pieces of music at once!

BUGS:

  • Sometimes when undoing and redoing actions things do not actually get undone or redone correctly
  • The playhead centering itself constantly is annoying! In fact – just save yourself a bunch of frustration – make sure the playhead is near where you wish to edit, add, and annotate things at!
  • The Rewind button and the FastForward button do not work at all. This in conjunction with the playhead issue is very frustrating after working your way through a piece of music. The solution is to zoom all the way out, tap the timeline at the beginning OR you can tap the timeline at the far left until you make your way back to the start.

SHARING:

What good is all of this work if you have others to share this with and can not get your information out of your iPad and into their hands?

The Export PDF feature gives you a PDF that you can pass along to others. I have included my simple project – Notetracks_Brule Example. I did not finish this one but just used it as an example for you to check out. You can see that it comes in as one ridiculously long PDF page from left to right. You will have to zoom WAY in but after zooming in this is quite useable!

HINT – When exporting your PDF you MUST make sure to have the track zoomed in enough to be able to read all of them text boxes. NoteTracks DOES NOT do this for you. If you are zoomed out and your boxes are all squished up, the PDF will look exactly the same!

There is also a Copy Text option as well allowing you to take all of your text notes and paste them into an email, text app or whatever. This feature of course would be much more useful if there was a way to figure out where in the timeline each note had been placed.

NoteTracks SharingHINT – PAY ATTENTION HERE PEOPLE – The real gem of sharing is hidden away – again, reading the manual to things pays off boys and girls! When you are at the main screen and you tap on the existing projects option you will then see a list of your projects on your iPad. MAGIC PART – Swipe left and you get to the options to the “Open In” button allowing you to share the project via dropbox, email, AirDrop, other apps and the sort. Check out the screen shot to the right

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This app is NOT meant to learn a piece of music by ear, giving you tools like slowing the tempo of the music down but keeping the pitch intact. See Part Two of my Music Study Apps for a tool for THIS sort!

Notetracks is going to prove to be invaluable when trying to figure out the form of a tune, taking notes while listening to it, and then sharing that information with others! I look forward to where this app will go in the future. There are a few issues with what it offers as is but the features that work are very helpful to any musician who has take notes and annotate a piece of music!

I have to do this sort of annotation constantly with my electronic group as we are performing arrangements of every single piece we perform. Not many people write for our instrumentation. NoteTracks is the perfect fit for us in this sort of situation!

FileMaker13 DataBase in the Music Classroom

FileMaker Large IconFileMaker13 is the latest version of FileMaker and it comes with some excellent improvements over the past! I will be adding a few more posts this next week about some of those improvements. In this blog post I want to highlight one improvement and point out a few reasons why using a database is so much better than using a spreadsheet. Then…. I’m going to bed. So every year I have to recruit and keep track of upcoming beginning band students. The first step in that process is our local music store comes in and gives a quick test to give us some indicators as to each students general musical aptitude – rhythms, pitch, chords and melody. Then they also have the kids try out instruments to see if they are a good fit for whatever they are interested in. These two “tests” give us a real basic building block for the next steps to be taken in class. I get those results in a spreadsheet form that looks much like this…. (I have already imported this into FileMaker though and have added a few more fields to the spreadsheet which is why you see some check boxes) 5th Database Spreadsheet Style   If I was to have left this info in spreadsheet form then I would not be able to foo some very useful things with that information like put is on my iPad in a different view along with a bunch of ways to mark things the first week of school… I can see at a very quick glance a lot of information about the student now. I can also make very quick changes to each students information – things like mark them present on four different days, indicate if they have changed their mind and actually need to be dropped, I can see if their parents attended the rental meeting or if they need a school instrument, if they have an instrument or a book and at the bottom I can see their test scores. (TAKE NOTE OF THE REPORTS BUTTON AT THE TOP!) 5th Database iPad Form   If I wanted to see more than just one kid at a time then I also have a list view setup which is even quicker when I am in the middle of 50 plus 5th graders anxiously ready to play those instruments! 5th Database List view As I mentioned above – did you take note of the Reports button on the Form View above? If not scroll back up and take a look… When I click on that button one of the new features of FileMaker13 kicks into action. PopOvers – something we are very used to having on iOS devices but now they are available in FileMaker Databases too! Here’s what pops up… Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 1.38.36 AM This is where the real fun happens…. I can now, at the touch of the button, print some very useful information. For instance, I can quickly get a list of all the kids signed up sorted by their last name OR sorted by the instrument they want to play. When I sort by the instrument they want to play I even have it set up to have section headers like this…. 5th Database Report Try to do THAT in a spreadsheet! It’s really easy when it comes time for me to send a list to the scheduling secretaries and principals of who is signed up because I can hit that button that pulls up all 57 kids, out of 91, that signed up for band and then it will automatically be sorted by last name and have a heading and footer and will even have a count of how man kids are on the list! NOW… I will say that I do use spreadsheets frequently. Our school grade book system will export reports as excel files of students names, phone numbers, parents info and their address/phone info. It is so easy to take those spreadsheets and import them into FileMaker though that I don’t use those spreadsheets for very long! TO WRAP UP The current iOS version of FileMakerGo 13 Small IconFileMakerGo is free and works on iPad as well as on iPhone! – it used to cost but the fact that is free is one of the new features of FileMaker13! It is a very nice addition! The desktop version of FileMaker is for Mac or Windows even though FileMaker is actually owned by Apple. It is not the cheapest program but it is also one of my most used programs year after year! The app comes in two version the Pro version which is all most people would need and then the advanced version which is more for database designers who want to develop and sell their databases. Then there is even FileMaker Server software but that’s a whole different story there!

Taking a trip with your Band? You need an iPad/iPhone app for that!

Use Pack The Bag App to Make Sure You Don’t Forget Anything!

PackTheBag LogoThis blog post is being written because I like to keep lists of things that need to be packed for our band trips. Every year when I go to Band Camp I know I  will need specific items, when we go on a marching band performance trip or go to band festival there is a different list for each trip. If myself and my students have a packing list to check things go much smoother! No longer do I have to call my wife from the band bus and ask her to bring me my scores that are sitting on my desk at the school!

The one app that I have used is called PackTheBag. This is not the perfect app but it is for some reason I decided I would use. I have one HUGE frustration with it – which is why I wrote this Blog Tip! I constantly forget how to edit items that are in my categories when I don’t use the list for about 6 months! Then it is crazy stupid hard to figure it out every year! So ….. let’s step through the process (it isn’t hard and it sure is quick and it has saved us several times!)

First step

First step

1)Create List
2)Name the list – set dates for the trip – set a reminder
3)Select baggage categories (TIP – Important:If you want to set up a new baggage category or get rid of the pre created ones, this is where you do it! Tap + button in bottom right corner to add a new category. Tap the Gear icon in the bottom left if you want to delete some of the existing categories.

TIP – Important: If you want to edit the items in a category you must FIRST add that category to a packing list! This is the screen where you do so! (the first screen after creating a packing list)

Tap continue

Step 2

Step 2

4)After tapping the continue button then you select items from each category to add to you list.
5)After adding items to your list you will see a button with a 123 on it – this allows you to set a predetermined number that you want to pack for an item. Tap the 123 button, type in a number of items and then DO NOT TAP THE DONE or OK BUTTONS! tap anywhere else! Stupid I know – this has to be a bug.

TIP – Important: If you want to edit the items in these categories this is the screen you do it on. Tap the gear icon in the bottom left of the screen and all items will be editable! Change the names, delete and sort them. Tap the + button in the bottom right to add an item – CAUTION: When adding items I would suggest using the add in alphabetical order option – It becomes a jumbled mess real quick when creating a brand new category!

Tap continue

Editing items

Editing items

Last step - Pack and Share

Last step – Pack and Share

Then you start packing and marking items off your list! Use the down arrows to expand and collapse a category. Tap the empty boxes on the right to mark an item as packed. If you have set a predetermined number of items that you need then each tie you tap the empty box it will add one more but no check will appear until all have been packed. So if you decided you wanted 3 of something you would have to tap that box 3 x’s. At the bottom there are options to see “All”, “Packed”, “Missing”

Also on this screen is where you see the Share button in the bottom left – this allows you to send and export your list. One option I appreciate here is being able to export to DropBox – This allows me to create lists on my iPad but use my iPhone to mark things packed. It is much easier to carry my phone around while packing then it is to carry my iPad!

THAT’S IT YOU’RE DONE – Ready to go to Band Camp or to Choir Festival or on Tour!

I have my student leaders download this app as well because I share the list that I have created and let them do the packing!

NOW – Share with me….. if you have a packing list app that you like please leave a comment below and let me know what it is!

iPads and Teaching Private Music Lessons – Can your life be better?

That question is what I approach every app that I use with – How is this app going to improve on my life? Is this app going to make my life easier? Can I do something because I have this app that I could not do before OR does this app allow me to do what I have been doing in a more efficient manner?

Moosic Studio AppCarlos, over at http://www.moosicstudio.com, had these questions in mind when he developed Moosic Studio. He developed this app to make Private Music Teachers, who have a music studio, more efficient. I love this paragraph from the App Store – “A music studio can be a chaotic and cluttered place. If your music studio was anything like ours, you probably have a laptop with Excel running, notebook, camera, maybe a video camera, a calendar, a stack of invoices, receipt book… all piled up and cluttering your piano workspace. On top of all this, you have students coming & going with their assignment binders.”

Moosic Studio is one of those apps that falls into the category of “not for everyone”. It also falls into the category of “expensive” compared to all other apps. I believe thought that this app is one of those apps that is indispensable and worth it if you are in the situation of needing to keep track of who you are teaching, what they are learning, who needs to pay you and needing a quick and fast way to do it!

You really need to sit down and work through all that Moosic Studio offers you. It is not an app that you will be able to “figure out” at one glance. You WILL be able to understand the basics of what it has to offer immediately though and get started quickly. Every time I sit down to enter more information into the app though I continue to find new capabilities and ways of tracking information.

Opening Screen

Opening Screen

Let’s Dig in – When you start the app this you will see the “opening screen” shot that i to the right.

This is your Dashboard – Here you can see projected income for the month (you do have to pay for this app some how right!) You will see a quick number of lessons remaining for the week, how many active students and how many items you have in your Music Library. On the left you find a list of basically the same items with a few additions. Tapping on the Projected Income for this Month does nothing currently – I believe Carlos is possibly going to be connecting future features here – right now it is informational only.

SCHEDULE
Tapping on the calendar icon is the same as tapping on the schedule – it pulls up a list of upcoming lessons on your callendar for the rest of the week. You see what time the lessons are scheduled for, who the lesson is with and what type of lesson it is. By type of lesson I mean – Piano, Guitar, Violin, Voice, Recital, Group Lesson, Camp, Workshop. Performance, Field Trip, Competition or Other Lesson. While looking at the schedule you have a nice feature available to you that allows you to print your schedule or email it – I really like how it looks when you do this.

Calendar View

Calendar View

STUDENT LIST
Tapping on the Active Students icon is the same as tapping on the student list – this brings you to what you would expect, a list of your current students. You can sort them by Instrument, Skill Level, Age, Grade or School Type. The useage of School Type here is an interesting choice to me. Not really sure how many teachers will find this useful.

Student List

Student List

LIBRARY
This is where you input all the materials you will be using for teaching your students. Things like Theory Books, Technique Books, Sheet Music, Sight-Reading you will use, Writing and Activity sheets and other types of things you would use to teach your students. you also get to list what level these materials are at. Later when you enter information for a students lesson you will be using items from this Library to fill in what the student has worked on and has been assigned to learn.

BILLING
This is currently a work in progress – Very useful in it’s current state though as this is where you will put in info about student’s parents and link them to a student.

LESSON INFORMATION
This is the fun part – Create a lesson for your student and schedule it.

Lesson Creation

Lesson Creation

Then you go in and start keeping track of what you are teaching those little buggers. You keep track of things like if they attended, if they brought stuff, how well they did, some comment that you make (These are not shared with the student), some notes (These ARE shared with the student), Circle of Fifths – materials used or to be used (This is from your Music Library) and then you can attach recordings – audio and video! I mean come on! How better to use that iPad with a video camera built in than to record specific items from a students lesson – like their finger position that they need to be reminded of – or a recording of you playing a demo of a piece or a recording of them playing ti to listen back to later. This would show improvement and allow you both to track how they are doing and what has been learned. You could even record their performance during the recital and stick it in here! How much fun is this going to be! Proof of what happens in the lessons when talking to Mom later.

Lesson Info

Lesson Info

Lesson Info Page

Lesson Info Page

 

CONCLUSION
If you are teaching private lessons – MoosicStudio is going to be a huge asset to you.

This is not one of those apps that you buy on a whim though. You have to know that you will use this app and make money back by saving time on your end and becoming more efficient.

Carlos is planning updates already – think invoicing. He is also going to continue to develop the app. Contact him if you have ways to make this app better! I do notice that the app school levels and terms are a bit more oriented with Europe than the US.

By the way this app is currnetly on sale because of the Music Education Expo going on in London so get it now at a much cheaper price! (3-20-2013) I am not sure how long the price will be lowered so….

 

Lesson Info Page

Opening Screen

Creating Music with iOS – Meeting National Music Standards

MusicStudio

iPads in music education can open the minds of our students to wonders that they have never imagined could be theirs! I get reminded of these moments of amazement when a students walks in while I am using technology. So many times they are wide eyed and captivated by the possibilities. Everything from playing my keyboard and having the notation instantly show up on the computer to a student asking what the name of the song is that I am playing for them to listen to and hearing their reaction when I tell them that the song was one I created on my iPad the night before. I can see the wheels spinning in their heads – “What if I could do that?”, they are asking it…. All they need are the tools! Now don’t get me wrong, I know our kids have been creating music for years with the traditional band instruments, singers, drums and electric guitars but I am not talking about the traditional here. I am talking about being able to have one iPad, a set of headphones, and a desire to create!

What if you were able to put a recording studio in the hands of your students, show them a few apps, and then give them the freedom to create? How would your students change?

iPads can open up a whole new world to our students – a world that once was cornered by only those with lots and lots of money! Now an iPad opens up the possibility of an entire recording studio filled with amazing synths, guitar amps, and recorders. Those come in the form of apps, apps that cost any where from being free to $5, $10, $15 and up to $20 and $50! Of course if you take into account the ability to record themselves with the built in mic or if they want even better quality they can hook up and external mic through the camera connection kit.

Tonight was an exploration of several apps for me…. I used MusicStudio as the multitrack recorder. For sounds I used AddictiveSynth, Sunrizer and ThumbJam. I of course used Audiobus to get them hooked together. This recording has 9 tracks.

I would be crazy excited if my students were creating music at home like this! (Not that I think this is anything spectacular – but instead just because they would be exploring and composing and enjoying themselves!)

AddictiveSynth + sunrizer-icon +  thumbjam_bannerAudioBus + MusicStudio = one evening of great fun!

 

iPad Music Theory Apps to use in the Classroom

Since Chromatik was so kind as to run a promotion to donate an iPad to our Band Room I have been looking for apps to use on this new iPad.

As I go through the huge sea of apps I will post about apps I think have promise or apps that the students benefit from.

Scales TutorScales Tutor is one app that I found promising.  This app is free today too by the way! (Feb 19, 2013). This is their website

SUMMARY
There is one feature built into this app that is a huge benefit to music teachers handing an iPad to a student and needing to look at how much that student learned later. Scales Tutor presents the user with information on key signatures and scales. There are three options – study, practice and test. The main areas available are Major Keys, Minor Keys, Flats Keys and Sharp Keys and then there are also Flash Cards.

THE BAD
I do have to say right up front that I almost took this app and deleted it from my iPad because I found two critical areas that are very annoying! Every thing on the screen is very tiny! As I present from my iPad onto a projector in my band room I can not imagine my students being able to read many pieces of information presented to them from a distance. The most critical annoyance was the user interface – when in the practice mode you are asked to place notes, flats or shapes on a staff. This process is difficult. They tried to make it easier by placing little arrows below the staff to move the note up or down but even those arrows are a bit non-responsive. I found myself constantly having to tap two or three times to get the response I wanted. Now this might be because I have large fingers – I have not tried this app with students.

THE GOOD
The good news is that I did find a feature in this app that I do not find usually – In the testing section you need to type in your name. After taking the test your name and score is then stored for later reference! The other good news is that everything covered in this app is accurate and to the point. It is presented in a fairly clear manner. In fact I found a few ways in which they present information that I might use myself!

Also good… You can pick which clef you want Treble or Bass or the Grand Staff. The app also allows you to pick exactly what you want to focus on – for example… just the first 4 sharps keys or just just the key signature or Scales with Keys.

AGE LEVEL/GRADE LEVEL
More Middle to High School

Here is a screen shot…. This app is free today too by the way! (Feb 19, 2013)

Scales Tutor Screen

New iPad for the Band Room!

Today our new iPad arrived! Thanks to Chromatik our Band Program now has our first iPad for student use!New iPad

Not only am I excited to use Chromatik because we get a free iPad out of the deal but I think Chromatik is a good substitute for SmartMusic. Especially nice right now because it is a free service!

Back to the iPad though… because this is my first iPad I will be putting into the hands of students I am open to suggestions of apps that you think I should have on this iPad for students to use in classes – keeping in mind that I teach Band!

Here is a screen shot of the apps I installed on the iPad on the first day and then what good would a student iPad be without excitement from the students so I’ve included a picture here of that too!

The new apps installed on the Band Room iPad

The new apps installed on the Band Room iPad

 

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