I was ‘triggered,’ so to speak, by this New York Times Op-Ed over the weekend —> No, You Can’t Ignore Email. It’s Rude. 


After reading it, I was admittedly less put off by the content than I was the headline. It’s a short one, so I wont even quote any of it here. Just read it.


I have have had a particularly rough year with email, mostly because I have had a rough year with time management. Simply put, I bit off more than I can chew this school year. I have had more instances of emails collecting dirt at the bottom of my inbox for weeks, than ever before, and this poor practice has even started to bleed into my text message conversations, which I often claim is the far easier way to get a response from me. It still is, but my lack of ability to respond is obviously due to time management, not email.


Or is it? Email, by nature, is still a part of the problem. Email is so flexible a tool, and used for such widely different purposes, that it is hard to prioritize its content. And everyone has different email practices, expectations, and writing styles, that it is impossible to know how to please anyone. I prefer the efficiency of digital text over phone when possible. But my tone comes across indisputably better in person than in email, in which I am short and to the point when I am crunched for time. It would be easy to think I am mad at you from my email messages, if you know me personally, and I am responding briefly. 


Tools like SaneBox and email apps like Spark mail help. Snoozing message, defering todo emails to OmniFocus as tasks, and filtering my inbox are things that have cut my email time down by an average of six hours a week. Replacing email with Slack and Trello on my music team has also helped tremendously. And using TextExpander to type default messages to parents also cuts down on hours. If you are interested in these strategies, I welcome you to check out my podcast, The Class Nerd. Episode 1 and 2 on email, episode 5 on team communication, and a forthcoming episode on parent communication tools.


So why am I still stressed? I find that 90 percent of the time it is due to getting ‘stuck’ on certain messages. Messages that require a careful answer, the tone to be crafted precisely, not knowing the proper conventions to which someone desires to be replied to, etc... I never get stuck on emails that are a keystroke and a click away from being dealt with, or deferred.... but I guess that’s the point of the Op-Ed. You can’t defer ‘people.’ And the emails that require the most human touch are the ones I get hung up on.


But still, I find the mixed conventions of email utterly perplexing. Do you expect that I reply within a day? An hour? A week? Do you want me to address the message Dear ___? Would you like me to address you with an introductory sentence? A closing thought? An email signature? Would you rather me tell you I got it, even if a proper response can’t be delivered for weeks? And how do I deal with email while still actually doing my job (which is music teaching, by the way, not sitting in front of a computer screen)? How many times a day should I check my email? Should I leave the notifications on? Should I even have the app open all the time in the first place? If I open it intentionally, how many times a day, and when? How do I respond like E.B. White when I perceive others to expect more in the modern age? 


At the end of the day, I think this article is a little unfair. I do not think that everyone deserves my attention, and they definitely don’t get it when they want it. But there are also some clear examples in my life of when my slow email response to others is inconvenient and disrespectful to them. So, even if I cant find a good answer to the questions in the previous paragraph, what do I do during weeks like these past few, when I am hopelessly behind? The article had a good idea: Recommending to others, when you are behind, that they find some other channel to reach you... a Slack channel, Twitter, post-it notes, etc... I love this idea, but Slack and Twitter don’t seem professional for school use.


So here is my proposal. A free app idea for anyone reading... I would like an app that... 


1. Has a user interface like a chat app.  

2. Allows anyone to reach me. 

3. Can interface with my SMS but does not give others access to my cell phone number. 

4. Has ‘office hours,’ meaning that messages don’t go through to me during hours I set. 

Something like the Remind app but that works in the opposite direction. I can give someone a link in my email signature, and they can message me through it informally, and expect at the least, a quick “I got it.” Know of anything?

Editing audio with toUch gestures and apple pencil

I Tweeted a thread yesterday about the superiority of editing audio on a touch screen by manipulating regions directly with my fingers and an Apple Pencil.

It became clear that it wasn’t suitable to explain just how comfortable and precise the experience is in written text. So I have done my very best to communicate it through video. Enjoy…

Ferrite is still a very immature DAW by modern day professional standards. And the iPad is still a very immature platform for creative professional software by modern computing standards. What the iPad really needs is something like Logic Pro X. Apple has got to set the standard for professional apps by releasing their own.

Logic or not, Ferrite can get the job done. And gesture/stylus support aren’t the only things that make editing on an iPad more fluid. The form factor of a tablet makes it perfect for “couch-editing.” Plus, iPad is a lot easier to pick up and move from room to room while I am listening to hours of my own podcasts play back.

Off to the Ohio Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference

I am so excited to be returning to Cleveland for the weekend to present at the Ohio Music Educators Association Professional Development Conference.

Here are the session notes of all three presentations I am giving this weekend…

Teaching Intonation with Tonal Energy | February 1, 2019, 12:30 pm | Room 21

Become a Mac Power User | February 1, 2019, 5 pm | Room 21

Going Paperless with iPad | February 2, 2019, f11 am | Room 21

I am wishing all of my friends at Maryland attending the MMEA conference and my students who are participating in the All State Bands a great weekend.

Favorites of 2018

Earlier this month I blogged a series of ‘Favorites of 2018’ posts where I reflected on the albums, live music, apps, and things that made my year a better one.

Now you can conveniently access all four of those posts from this one. Click below to read about my…

Favorites of 2018: Favorite AlbumsFavorite Live MusicFavorite AppsFavorite Things

New podcast episodes!

It’s been a while, but each of my podcasts, ‘Robby Burns + Friends’ and ‘The Class Nerd,’ each have new episodes out this week.

Please consider checking them both out:

Robby Burns + Friends - Tech We’re Using, featuring Friends Chris Russell and Paul Shimmons

Chris Russell and Paul Shimmons, co-hosts of the Music Education and Technology Podcast, join me to talk about recent technology we are using in the music classroom.

The Class Nerd - Apple Watch in the Classroom

Craig and I discuss ways we are using the Apple Watch in the classroom.

Favorites of 2018 - Things

These posts will never happen if I don’t make it fuss free. So here is it! With little introduction or fanfare, the ‘stuff’ that made up my year. My favorite albums, live shows, apps, and ‘things’ of 2018.

The final installment features the most tangible and miscellaneous. My favorite things! The stuff that didn’t fit into any other category but that brought me joy this year.


Prepd Lunch Box

This modular lunchbox helps me to better plan my lunches throughout the week. After mass prepping on Sunday night, I slam all of my meals into a weeks worth of these containers and then easily swap them out at the end of each day. This lunchbox is slim enough to fit in my backpack. There is a companion app that has recipes for meals that easily fit into the containers.

Series 4 Apple Watch

Of all the Apple products I own, this is the one that I take the most delight in. My Series 4 watch has this new watch face that allows me to slam a ton of information onto it at a glance. My current version of it I call the 'status circle' watch face. It keeps track of my progress on activity, sleep, water intake, and tasks, while also helping me stay on top of alarms, timers, and calendar events.

Rx Bars

If you are what you eat, I am a coconut chocolate Rx Bar. These energy bars are delicious, and most importantly, they are substantial. I can sub one of these out for breakfast or have it as a late afternoon snack. It carries me through. And there are tons of delicious flavors, all made with a minimal list of natural ingredients.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

Rx Bars come in diverse flavors.

The Prepd lunchbox.

The Prepd lunchbox.

Hidrate Spark Smart Water Bottle

This water bottle reminds me when to drink. It automatically senses how much I drink and displays my progress on my Apple Watch. It even remembers the last location it was connected to my phone in the event that I loose it (like yesterday...) This water bottle is a big motivation for me to drink more water. I love it.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

My Apple Watch Series 4, with my ‘status circle.’ watch face. When I am not taking screenshots at 2 am, the blue status ring on bottom represents the water I drink in the Hidrate Spark water bottle.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

You read that last caption right! This water bottle automatically logs my water intake. And much much more.

Ableton Live Hoodie

My wife got me this last Christmas and I love it. Everyone loves it. I feel a little bit phony wearing it because Ableton is not an app I use much anymore. But it carries with it the general spirit of an audio editor. And some bright colors! I am down with that.

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Nintendo Switch

Over a year into owning this thing and I am still amazed that I can play the latest Mario game the same way on an airplane that I can on my living room TV. Our latest craze is Overcooked 2. It’s the most addictive local multiplayer I have experienced in a long time.

Thrive Market

Thrive sells health food items in larger than normal quantities at discounted prices. As I continue to experiment with adjustments to my diet, this service is becoming my go to for essentials like nuts, cooking oils, fresh water fish, and more!


For busy teaching weeks (like a week where my music team puts on four concerts), it is hard to manage meal prep. For those weeks I turn to Territory. Territory makes healthy, delicious, meals that are pre-made and shipped straight to my front door. The amount of diet customization you can do with this service keeps me coming back for more. 

2018 iPad Pro

I also upgraded my iPad Pro this year and gave my old one to my wife. What is there to say? I really like this iPad. It makes the Apple Pencil feel like magic. I am still frustrated by the keyboard case, and iOS is still not an OS I can get all of my work done on. But somehow, the hardware improvements to this device (larger display, FaceID, inductive charging Apple Pencil) makes it a real delight to use.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.

It does not fundamentally change the way the iPad works. But it also does.