Apps for the Performing Ensemble Director - HCPSS PD Fall 2019

App of the Week: PDF Expert 7

Readdle Launches PDF Expert 7, Free Update for iPhone & iPad

Today we are incredibly excited to launch PDF Expert 7 — our vision of what the ultimate PDF experience for every iPhone and iPad should be.

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This week’s update to PDF Expert secures it as my favorite PDF app on iOS. The one and only problem I have been having with it for the past year or two was its lack of integration with the iOS document browser, which shows you the same interface as the Files app when selecting which PDF you want to work with. I wrote about this last week with reference to the OmniGroup’s apps getting support for the native file browser this fall.

Accessing the the document browser is a tap away at all times. A ‘recent documents’ option is also one tap away. This is helpful because PDF Expert does a great job of integrating different options for managing your PDFs. It has Dropbox and Google Drive support. It also allows you to store PDFs locally within the app. This is useful for me when I am creating new PDFs or temporarily making copies of them for the purpose of editing the order of pages, the text of my documents, etc...

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

The PDF Expert 7 interface. ‘My Files’ are locally stored documents which do not sync to iCloud. They can be viewed in the Files app through the PDF Expert file provider.

I like my ‘one true’ copies of my documents to live in iCloud. I will often take a scan of a stack of concert band parts, drag it into PDF Expert, extract the individual pages into separate parts (Flute 1, Flute 2, etc.), and then save these parts back to iCloud. I don’t want any of the extra files generated during this process cluttering up my documents folder, so its nice to have a quarantined area of PDF Expert where they can live.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The old PDF Expert interface.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

The PDF Expert file provider, accessed through the Files app.

These local files can also be accessed from the native Files app as PDF Expert is a file provider.

Furthermore, PDF Expert gets its own iCloud folder where you can store documents by default. This is becoming less necessary because of how easy it is to access the Files interface, regardless of where your PDFs are stored.

As mentioned above, the ‘recents’ option makes it more streamlined to find what you want, no matter which of these methods you have used to store documents.

I am focusing a lot on the file workflow here because PDF Expert 6 already had the best feature set of any PDF app I have used on iOS. A clean interface, great editing tools, the ability to edit the text and images of a PDF (for real!) and more. These features are now all free. PDF Expert 7 introduces some pro features that come at the cost of 50 dollars a year. Some of these features include converting to PDF from Word or Excel files, and the option to customize the look and feel of the editing tools at the top of the screen. I am glad PDF Expert chose these features to put in the paid tier. It is just enough that it will be worth it for some users, but all of the good stuff is still in the free version.

I will probably try the one week free trial but will most likely stick with the free version.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

These PDFs are stored inside of iCloud Drive, inside a folder called PDF Expert. Though this is becoming less necessary now that the Files app is integrated more directly into the app.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

The new PDF Expert interface puts the iOS document browser. In this screenshot, I can directly access PDFs that are stored in my musical Scores folder, which is in my iCloud Drive.

Introducing Music Ed Tech Talk, My New(ish) Podcast!

Today I am excited to announce that my podcast, Robby Burns + Friends, is getting a long overdue re-brand. I am renaming the show Music Ed Tech Talk. It will continue to follow the candid guest/host conversation style and will focus on music, education, technology, and other mutual interests.

Given my investment in the fields of music and education, and my intense interest in technology, most episodes of Robby Burns + Friends were already centered on these topics. I felt it was time to rebrand the show to better indicate to new listeners what they should expect when they press play.

That being said, I see this show, in combination with my blog, to be my digital megaphone, so don’t be surprised to hear me venture into the unknown. This is not a show about music technology education. It is a show about music, education, and technology. Three separate interests, sometimes discussed in isolation, sometimes in combination, and sometimes not at all. What I am saying is — don't be surprised to hear occasional digressions on Star Wars and pickling. 

I am hosting this show in the same place so you should expect to keep getting episodes in your feed if you were subscribed to Robby Burns + Friends. If not, please let me know. I am keeping the first three seasons of RB+F in the Apple Podcasts Directory under the new title because I feel that they are, spiritually speaking, the same show. I will be tightening up the format a little bit, and am planning to speak with new and exciting guests.

That about sums it up. Ushering in this new season of Music Ed Tech Talk is my very first guest ever, Jon Tippens. You can listen to the new episode and read the show notes here or click play right below.

Subscribe to Music Ed Tech Talk:

Apple Podcasts | Overcast | Castro | Spotify | RSS

Omni Apps are Adopting Apple’s Standard iOS Document Browser this Fall

Adopting Apple’s Standard iOS Document Browser - The Omni Group

In 2019, we think it’s time to retire our custom document browser in favor of using Apple’s built-in document browser—and with our iOS 13 updates this fall we’ll be doing just that. Instead of seeing our custom file browser, you’ll be presented with the standard iOS document browser—just like in Apple’s own iWork apps. Using Apple’s browser, you’ll be able to store and sync your documents using Apple’s built-in iCloud Drive, or third-party commercial options like Box—or even in cloud- or self-hosted collaborative git repositories using Working Copy.

As a user of OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniOutliner, I am grateful that the OmniGroup is making this change. The Files app on iPad works very similarly to the Finder on Mac these days. So when I open or save a document on an iPad, I want to see that same interface. It's exactly the same as if I were on a Mac. I would never go to the File-->Open menu and expect to see anything other than the traditional Save/Open dialogue box that I see for every other app. This is standard on Mac. (Mostly. Some apps like Microsoft Office still refuse to use it.) So it is only fitting that in iOS, document based apps display the system provided interface for interacting with files.

In apps like Pages, for example, opening a new document displays an interface that looks and behaves like the Files app.

In apps like Pages, for example, opening a new document displays an interface that looks and behaves like the Files app.

MindNode is an example of a third party app that uses the same Files interface as Apple’s own apps.

MindNode is an example of a third party app that uses the same Files interface as Apple’s own apps.

Apps like OmniOutliner show a custom interface. Fortunately, OmniGroup is changing this behavior in the fall.

Apps like OmniOutliner show a custom interface. Fortunately, OmniGroup is changing this behavior in the fall.

PDF Expert is another example of an app that does not use the native file picker. Hopefully they will get the message and adopt it soon.

PDF Expert is another example of an app that does not use the native file picker. Hopefully they will get the message and adopt it soon.

Integrating Luna Display Into the Classroom

My wife gave me a Luna Display for my birthday and I have been really impressed with it so far. Luna is a USB-C dongle that plugs into a Mac. Using the companion app on iPad, you can access the entirety of macOS, wirelessly. 

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I cannot wait to use this device this coming school year. I teach in about five different classrooms which makes transporting my Mac cumbersome. It is heavy, always running out of battery, and is missing some of my iOS music apps like forScore and Tonal Energy. The light form factor of my iPad Pro is perfect for toting around the building in one hand.

There are a few problems with this. I am still faster on macOS for one. And more importantly, there is software on the Mac that I cannot take full advantage of on the iPad. I depend heavily on FileMaker for a tracking student data, assessments, and assignments. I have discussed that workflow on two episodes of The Class Nerd podcast. This episode on tracking student data and this episode, which is a bit miscellaneous. For whatever reason, keyboard input on certain parts of the user interface is slow on FileMaker Go, the iOS version of the app. Even though I can do 90 percent of the things I need to with my database on iOS, the typing speed slows me down.

Luna Display puts macOS right on the screen of my iPad.

Luna Display puts macOS right on the screen of my iPad.

It is for reasons like this that I am thrilled to use Luna Display in school next year. The experience of using the app is so smooth that at times I forget I am not using my Mac. Are there issues? Tons. But I stop to wonder every now and then why it is again that macOS can’t work with touch.

I also use a score editing app called Dorico on my Mac. Not as often as FileMaker, but enough that it is sorely missed on iOS. I have not tried to operate this application on the Luna Display but in full screen mode I suspect it isn’t so bad. Once I give it a shot I will report back.

Making Just Intonation Play Along Tracks for Your Performing Ensemble (Using Tonal Energy and GarageBand)

There are a few things that would be helpful to know about my music teaching philosophy before reading this post.

1. I believe that tone production, intonation, balance and blend are central to teaching performing musicians. I prioritize them much higher than fingering technique, rhythmic precision, and even reading comprehension.

2. The way I structure my band classes starts with, is focused on, and always revisits those core ideas.

3. I have accumulated a vast variety of tools and teaching strategies to meet my goals of having superior tone quality, intonation, balance and blend. One of the most essential tools I use is the Tonal Energy Tuning app.

Tonal Energy Tuner

What is Tonal Energy? A hyper charged, power-user app for musicians that has many advanced features, including...

- Tuning drones that can be triggered polyphonically

- Feedback as to how in tune a performer is, which includes a delightful happy face to depict good or questionable intonation

- Drones and feedback can be adjusted to different temperaments

- A metronome (with more features than nearly any alternative on the App Store) that can be used separately or at the same time as the tuning drones

- Analysis tools that depict amplitude and intonation on an easy to read visual graph 

- Recording and play back practice tools for musicians to listen back to their performance

- Automated metronome pre-sets that can be sequenced 

See the video below. I will first depict the tuner playing a Bb drone, then I will show how it can model a Bb major triad all at once. Then I will turn the tuner to just intonation mode, and you will hear that the third and fifth of the chord are appropriately adjusted so that they are in tune with the Bb root. Next, the video will demonstrate how the metronome can be used in combination with these drones.

Imagine now that a student is playing a scale along with Tonal Energy. By leaving the tuner in just intonation, and centering around the key area of Bb major, every note of the scale that I touch will resonate accurately with the Bb, giving the student an accurate reference to blend into.

Developing An Inner Ear for Diatonic Intervals

Much of music is made up of scales. For a student to learn how to most accurately tune different intervals and chords, I have the drone running in the background during most of my teaching in whatever key area we are working in. I then move my finger to the correct notes of the melody to model and reinforce what good intonation would sound like. See below for an excerpt of a song my beginning students might play.

In the video below, watch as I play this song by dragging my finger along to the melody. This happens with a metronome to reinforce the beat. I like that TE has the option to speak counts out loud. In my experience, this really reinforces a concept of strong beats, weak beats, where in the measure the performer is. Other tuning apps have the counting feature as an option, but the sounds in TE sound more natural and less computerized.

Making Play Along Tracks in GarageBand

As you can imagine, I am doing a lot of dragging my finger along while students play for me. This gets tedious. I also want my students to be able to hear these pitch relationships when they practice, so I have begun recording them into play along tracks. How do I do this?

Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions in GarageBand

In the iOS GarageBand app, audio input is usually performed using either software instruments or by recording audio directly into the device with the microphone. But what you might not know is that you can also create a track that is based on the audio output of a third party audio app. If you have ever used a DAW, think of Inter-App Audio Apps and Audio Extensions like plugins. Once launched, you are kicked into a third party interface (much like using a reverb plugin from Waves or a synthesizer from Native Instruments) which then adds to or alters the sound of your overall project. In a more recent GarageBand update, Apple categorizes Inter-App Audio and Audio Extensions under the External option when you create a new track. 

Audio Extensions are effects that alter your tracks like reverbs and EQs, while Inter-App Audio captures the audio of a third party app and records it into its own track in GarageBand. You can browse the App-Store for Audio Extensions that work with GarageBand. 

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Recording an Inter-App Audio App Directly Into A GarageBand Project

Watch in the video below as I set up an Inter-App Audio App track with Tonal Energy. What I am going to do next is press record, and record my justly in tune play along of Lightly Row into my GarageBand project. I will do this using the euphonium sound. The euphonium drone is one of the roundest, darkest, and fullest sounds, while also containing a great range, so it is effective for most instruments to play along to while also modeling a rich, full, resonant sound.

Accurate Note Input with MIDI Controllers

In this video, you can really hear how sloppy the transition from one pitch to the next is when I drag my finger. Notice also that I did not play repeat notes. It is difficult to play the same pitch twice in a row without Tonal Energy changing itself to that key area. One way around these challenges this is to set up a portable MIDI keyboard with Tonal Energy. The one I have settled in is the CME X-Key with Bluetooth.

It has a sleek look, is very small, and has low key travel. It has buttons for pitch shifting and octave jumping. And Tonal Energy adapts to it in just intonation mode! Watch in the video below. As I change which chord I am playing, TE automatically snaps the third and fifth of each triad in tune, relative to the root. For my Lightly Row performance, I can now hold a Bb drone on in one hand, while playing a melody in the other.

Embellishing The Track with Other Instruments

The resulting play along track is alone pretty useful for students. Let’s make it more fun by adding a drum track.

We can make it even more fun by embellishing with bass and other instruments. I like to change up the style of these play alongs. Sometimes I don't even pre-record them, I just improvise along with my students to keep things fresh. Be careful though. These software instruments are NOT justly in tune, so too many of them can defeat the purpose. I try to combat this by having the drone be the loudest thing in the mix. Notice in this recording I have tried not to create any motion in the accompaniment that interferes with the consonant intervals in the melody, so that the listeners ears can remain focused on the drone for their reference.

Conclusion

Well, that's it! I can trigger these in rehearsal, sectional, and even share them with my students for home practice. Regular practice with tuning drones has really turned around my band's sound, and gives students the foundations for long term ear skills that will help them to HEAR what is in tune, not just respond to the commands “you're sharp!” and “you’re flat!”

Spending Time with iPadOS 13

I have been running the beta of iPadOS 13 for almost a month now. iPadOS 13 ships this fall and is the first version of iOS that Apple is branding iPadOS because of its focus on features unique to the iPad. At first you might think this to mean that Apple is adding ‘desktop’ features to the iPad, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the iPad is in many respects growing into a platform with its own unique set of strengths. Here are my favorite features so far.

New Home Sceen!

The first thing I really love is the new home screen. You can fit way more apps on it now, and they stay oriented the same way in both landscape and portrait because it is a 6x5 grid in either orientation. This wastes way less space on the screen and allows you to cram a lot more apps into a smaller space for extra productivity!

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Also useful is that you can pin your widgets to the left of your apps. I can now see my OmniFocus tasks, upcoming calendar events, recently accessed Files, and notes, every time I return to the home screen. For OmniFocus, I have it showing my Priority perspective, which shows all due items, soon to be due items, and flagged items that are tagged ‘Today.’ This is one more tool to help make sure I don’t let stuff slip through the cracks. The same could be said of the Calendar widget. Having the Files app display recently opened files on the home screen sure does feel a lot like being able to treat the home screen the same way I do my Desktop on the Mac.

desktop safari

The thing that is surprising me the most is how much the new Safari update transforms the way I use my iPad. Safari now runs like the desktop version. This means that websites operate as you would expect them to on the Mac. No more taking out your MacBook for those few websites that just never quite worked right on iOS. For me this is going to change the way I use a lot of my school district’s mandated learning management software, which would often not work correctly, or as reliably, on my iPad.

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But what is really great is that I can now access the full versions of Google Docs and Squarespace from my iPad. Google’s apps on the App Store are still a little nicer, but they have never had the full feature set of the web apps, and now this is nearly a non-issue. Apple and Google need to find out some way to better let users choose if a document opens in Safari or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, but I expect that to be eventually ironed out.

Even more exciting is that I can finally use the full toolset of Squarespace to update my website on the iPad (just one of the few things that would keep me taking my Mac out of my bag). So far, Apple has already done a nice job with these features, and they are not even ready for public release yet. There are some issues and unexpected behaviors, but not nearly as much as I expected. Desktop Safari has turned out to be the biggest productivity boost of all the new features. And did I mention there is now a download manager!?

multitasking and pencilkit

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There are also some improvements to multitasking. Notice above that I am using two apps open side by side with another one floating in what Apple calls Slide Over view. iOS 13 now adds the ability to manage multiple different apps in Slide Over at once. The implementation is great. It works like multitasking on an iPhone X or higher. You can swipe the little handle on the bottom of the app left and right to page through recent apps, and you can swipe it up and to the right to see all recently opened Slide Over apps. This makes it much easier for me to manage the few apps I am using often in this mode: apps like Tonal Energy Tuner, Messages, and Twitter.

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I now also appreciate that you can have more than one instance of the same app open at the same time. Notice above that I am viewing two notes side by side. When I mentioned that iPadOS is growing into its own specific identity, the pencil tools on the right side of the screen are what I was thinking about. They have been brilliantly updated. And Apple is releasing them for use by third party developers in an API called PencilKit. Here’s to hoping that it is widely implemented so that using the Apple Pencil feels more consistent across apps.

See below also. Swiping from the lower left of the screen with the Apple Pencil allows your to quickly mark up whatever you are looking at. And if you are in Safari, you can now clip an entire website, not just what fits into the screenshot. You can highlight, annotate right from this screen and then send it somewhere like Apple Notes where you can search the article by text.

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For me it is becoming clear that PencilKit is a feature that is going to widely shape and define the iPad as a particular tool for certain jobs that a Mac or an iPhone is not as useful for. Apple is bridging the gap a little by introducing a feature for the Mac called Sidecar, where you will be able to send windows of Mac apps to the iPad to be able to take advantage of the same pencil precision editing tools.

Conclusion

Overall, iPad OS is shaping up to be an awesome release. I didn’t even mention half the features here. And even some of the ones I am most excited about will not reach their fullest potential until third party apps take advantage of them (like PencilKit) or until more people are on iOS 13 (like iCloud shared folders). If you are an iPad user you have a lot to look forward to this fall. If you want to try the beta, you can go here. It is pretty risky though, and I am admittedly very unwise for doing it.

A Blogging Experiment

Yesterday I posted The 7 Best Apple Home Devices on this blog. In part this was an effort to condense some of my intense study on the subject of home automation over the past four or five years so that someone could benefit from a broad-stroke overview of how I set everything up.

But this post was also 50 percent an experiment. Two summers ago, I posted The 6 Best Automation Apps for iOS. Strangely, this has become the most popular blog on my entire website, by far. This is despite it not really being about music or education, and despite the fact that blogs like MacStories pump out articles 100 times better on the subject, regularly.

My second most popular post is a video about indexing large PDFs using the musical score app forScore on iPad. It is far less popular from the post on automation, but still far more popular than anything I have ever posted. I feel like it represents my niche pretty accurately.

I did some thinking on what could have made my automation blog post so popular. Was it that the title is concise? Bold? Simple? Was it that it had a bite-sized, concrete, number of apps in that same title? Or was it that I successfully tagged the post so that it shows up in a lot of web searches? I tried to replicate a little bit of that format in yesterday’s home automation post, while still writing about something I am passionate about. We will see how well it does.

And please do tell me if the home automation post was helpful to you in any way.