agile tortoise

Mastering Organization in Rehearsal with iPad

In September, School Band and Orchestra Magazine published an article of mine about using the iPad to be organized while rehearsing a large ensemble. I am reposting it here for readers of my blog to enjoy...

Mastering Organization in the Rehearsal with iPad:

Chances are likely that you have heard of a few iPad apps for use in the classroom. Like me, you may have heard about so many of them that you can’t even remember them all. Or you have made it so far as to download them and now hundreds of little icons have been left un-touched in a folder called “Music,” sitting on your home screen.

There are a lot of fantastic music teaching apps for educators and students. Tuning apps, notation apps, note reading apps, staff recognition, music games, creation tools, historical videos, you name it. The iPad is often positioned in music education as a miscellaneous platform. One that we use for whatever purpose it serves best in the moment, whether that be in our own hands or those of our students. Few of us have an iPad for each of our students though. And several years into owning one, you might still wonder what niche it is really intended to fill.

For me, the iPad become a transformative tool in the classroom when I started to think about it like a digital piece of paper. And it became in-dispensable when I found ways to become de-pendent on it while rehearsing large ensembles.

The apps in this article have turned the iPad in-to a necessity for me. Many of them are not simply portable versions of desktop apps I use elsewhere. They are apps that thrive, particularly on the form factor of the iPad.

Files

Rather than bringing a pile of parent letters, pie sale pamphlets, and field trip documents to the podium, I have taken to queuing these documents on my iPad. Thankfully, Apple has re-leased a Files app with iOS 11. This app func-tions very similarly to the Finder on the Mac. You can view documents, launch them in other applications, and even drag files from one fold-er into another. The Files app works out of the box using Apple’s iCloud Drive, but third party cloud providers get to join the fun too! Installing apps like Dropbox and Google Drive now makes them appear alongside the left sidebar in the Files app. No need to go fishing in the Dropbox app to see your documents stored there. In Files, they are displayed, natively, alongside your other iCloud files. You interact with your documents the same way no matter which cloud service you are browsing.

You can drag your favorite folders to the side-bar for easy reach, regardless of what third party cloud drive provider they are part of. Us-ing the iPad’s split view feature, you can open another app, like Mail, on the other side of the screen and drag files from the Files app, over into the Mail app, to add them as attachments.

If you are looking for a little more control, I rec-ommend an app called Documents 5 by Read-dle. If you have purchased their app PDF Ex-pert (which is amazing), it allows you to use all of the PDF Expert annotation tools right from within the Documents app. You can also open multiple different files at once in a tabbed inter-face, much like a web browser. This is useful for mornings where I need to review multiple different documents with the class at once.

Notability

I give my students a weekly rehearsal grade for preparation and participation. I use a rubric to generate this score but I base it off of informally collected data in the classroom. I needed a way to quickly jot down information on top of stu-dents names and then an easy way to view it from my computer later while inputting grades. I decided to design a seating chart using Om-niGroup’s OmniGraffle app (but you could just as easily draw one and scan it into your com-puter as a PDF). I open these PDFs in an app called Notability. Of all the many great note apps on iPad that let you scribble on a PDF, I find Notability to be the least fussy. The mo-ment the PDF shows up on screen you can begin scribbling on it with an Apple Pencil. It really feels as responsive as paper. I write quick notes on student performance on these charts throughout rehearsal. Jimmy is sitting with great posture, Susan is late, John didn’t bring his instrument...When I sit down at my computer, I launch the Mac version and view all of the charts because the edits have been syncing over iCloud. Then I enter my grades.

Going into the Dropbox app each morning, du-plicating the file, and opening it in Notability was getting to be quite a chore. So I decided to automate it...

Workflow (Now Shortcuts)

Workflow is an app for iOS that allows you to string together multiple actions and trigger them with one tap of a button. This all takes place in plain English, using drag and drop blocks to make up your recipe. This app is a real testament to the growing power of iOS as a productivity platform. If this app sounds in-tense, don’t worry. When you download it, the app walks you through the process.

One of my favorite “Workflows” is a two step workflow called “Band Seating Chart.” Step one of this workflow looks into my Dropbox account for a file called “Symphonic Winds.PDF.” Next, it opens that file as a new note in Notability. All in one tap. Workflows can be published as tap-pable app icons on the homescreen for easy use. So to create a new seating chart in Nota-bility every day as described above, all I do is tap once. Pretty cool.

If designing workflows seems tedious, never fear. You can download these pre-made from a user submitted gallery.

Note: Workflow was purchased by Apple and was integrated into iOS as the Shortcuts app with the release of iOS 12 this past fall. Look forward to more posts about this awesome app in the future.

forScore

forScore is my app of choice for all score read-ing and annotating now. I keep all of my music in it. Since the app added the ability to index long Real Book style PDFs last year, I even store my method books and longer form teach-ing materials within it. Indexing these files means that I can search for individual song ti-tles in the forScore search, even if they are within the body of a larger single file. forScore takes me right to the exact page I want to be on.

Of course my more obvious stuff goes in for-Score as well — things like band scores, meth-od books, sheet music for the next gig, you name it.

I am a messy note taker. While I miss the tac-tile feeling of post it notes and pencil on a pa-per score, doing it with forScore allows me to be as messy as I want and just erase it later in the tap of a button. forScore allows me to an-notate with my Apple Pencil right on the screen. With my seating chart open on the other half of the iPad screen in Notability, I can actually an-notate my seating chart and my score simulta-neously. And for the workaholics out there, have you ever tried score study in bed? You don’t need to keep a messenger bag of paper in your bedroom anymore!

forScore is full of fun bells and whistles. My cur-rent favorite is to embed press-able buttons in my scores that initiate tuning drones and met-ronome clicks. And forScore works with all the new iPad features of iOS 11. So, for example, I can open the Files app on one half of the iPad screen, forScore on the other, and drag and drop scores from Files right into my forScore library. These are just a few of the many pow-erful features in forScore.

Drafts

One of the most stressful things in rehearsal is tending to all of the student needs. Not to men-tion my already spinning head, struggling to keep all of my teaching responsibilities togeth-er. Drafts is a note taking app that focuses on simplicity at the front end, and unlimited power on the backend. Launching into this app brings the user to a blank white space and a key-board, where you can instantly begin typing. Once you have accumulated a bunch of unpro-cessed “drafts,” you can swipe to the right to reveal numerous custom “actions.” These ac-tions can process the text in your notes by rout-ing them to other third party services. Your draft could become the body of an email or text, a Twitter status, or a calendar event. It could be exported as a task to a todo app or become the basis of a Google search. User ac-tions can be created much like workflows in the Workflow app, even including multiple different steps. I use one of my favorite Drafts actions to take meeting notes and then, in one tap, save them to Evernote, email them to the members of my music team, and parse out the actions relevant to me and save them to my todo app of choice, OmniFocus. As with Workflow, you can download user created actions from an online gallery. When the whirlwind of rehearsal starts, and students begin telling me about bro-ken valves, missing music, and the like, I simply start brain dumping all of my thoughts into Drafts. Then later, I sit down at my desk and process all of these thoughts by sending them to the apps they need to go to.

App of the Week: Drafts 5

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My ability to handle the cognitive load of teaching middle school band is largely supported by a wonderful app called Drafts, made by Agile Tortoise. I will detail a little bit about how I use this app below, but I want to first say that the developer of Drafts, Greg Pierce, very generously chatted with me about it on my podcast recently. Greg also has a background in guitar, ethnomusicology, and folk studies. He has an interesting journey towards app development, which we also talked about on the show. Listen to the episode here.

So what is Drafts? Drafts is the starting point for all text on my iPhone and iPad. It sits on the dock, right under my thumb, and I press it every time I have any kind of thought that I don’t want to slip away. Drafts opens to a blank white screen and a keyboard so you can instantly start typing. Adding a new Draft is as simple as tapping the plus button. You don't need to worry about what kinds of thoughts these are, or what kinds of apps you should be capturing them in. They can be todos, messages, emails, future blog posts, anything. Picture me at the front of the classroom before band rehearsal. 70 students pouring into the room. Instruments blaring loud. Countless questions being thrown at me at once. Chaos all around. From the podium, I leave Drafts open alongside my sheet music and type anything that comes to mind. If a student tells me they don’t have a 2nd trombone part to Air and Dance, I write a note in Drafts. If a flute is broken, I start an email to the repair shop requesting for them to come pick it up. If I want to take general notes on our rehearsal progress, I start typing that in another draft. Even if I remember I need eggs at the grocery store later, I type that too!

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

A beautiful, distraction free, user interface, as soon as you launch Drafts.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

Drafts pairs perfectly with the sheet music app forScore in split view mode.

All of this stuff is categorized in the inbox where I can easily access it by swiping to the right. Here I can view any current or past archived draft, flag important ones, or send them to the trash. Once I am ready to process it all, I swipe left to reveal actions. Actions can do many things. At the most simple level, they send text to other apps like messages, email, a todo app, or Twitter. But actions can be heavily customized. They can perform multiple steps on text, and even run JavaScript on them. In the example below, you can see that I have a variety of drafts. Meeting notes, a few tasks, a start to a grocery list, a text to my wife, and the beginning of an email. To process these I would use the following actions, respectively: Send the meeting notes to the Apple Notes app, the tasks go to OmniFocus (where I manage all of my todos), the groceries go into my Reminders app grocery list, the text to my wife goes to Messages, and the email goes to Mail. Many of these actions happen in the background, meaning that I don't leave Drafts, and can therefore process them really quickly. You don't need to be a fancy pants to get awesome actions into Drafts, by the way. Some of my most frequently used actions are built into the app. There is also an Action Directory where you can steal the wonderful actions that others have already made. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping right reveals all unprocessed drafts. 

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Swiping left reveals all of the various actions you can perform on drafts.

Drafts 5, the newest version, was released recently. The app is free which means there is absolutely no excuse not to give it a try. Some of the power features like creating your own actions and using automation require a subscription price of $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

This is the Edit Action screen. Actions are highly customizable. This particular action a) saves meeting notes to Evernote, b) saves tasks begining with "@" to my OmniFocus task app, and c) emails the notes to others in attendance.

I have always treated Drafts as a starting point for text. Interestingly, the new version has added some features that encourage using it as a note app replacement. You can now tag notes, create lists with checkable boxes, and even create custom workspaces that you organize your text into (paid feature). I am not sure if using Drafts this way is for me, but here are some ways I have been experimenting with it…

Processing Text

I have a "default" workspace depicted by the blue star icon below. Navigating workspaces is as easy as tapping custom icons in the lower left. My default workspace is where all of my unprocessed notes go. These generate a badge that appears on the icon of the Drafts app so that I don't forget to act upon them later. This workspace resembles the extent to which I was using the previous version of Drafts.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

My default workspace. This functions like I used to use Drafts before workspaces became available.

Simple Lists

My next workspace is where I keep active lists of things like recommended movies to see, blog ideas, and even a list of things I do every time I migrate to a new Mac. I can automatically append this list by pressing the "Add to list" action (available here) and then choosing which list to add to. 

My lists workspace.

My lists workspace.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

If a friend recommends a movie to me, I quickly write it in a draft without fiddling around with apps on my phone and getting distracted from conversation. Later, I append it to my movie list in one tap.

Blog Drafts

My next workspace is for blogging. I usually write my blog posts in a third party text editor called Ulysses which means that I usually get started in Drafts and then tap an action that sends the text there. But sometimes I do like to spend a little bit of time in Drafts writing before I take that step. For these types of drafts, I now have a tag called "blog" that allows them to show up separate from my other notes that need to be processed.

Blogging workspace.

Blogging workspace.

Lesson Planning and Note Taking

My last workspace is called Sectionals. My band program has weekly classes for each instrument. Once a week, I see the flutes from my band during one period, the clarinets the next, etc. I do some lesson planning for these sectionals in a note app called Bear. In those same notes I also write down things that happen in the sectionals. Things I assigned, things I assessed, things I said, students absent, instruments I repaired, etc. Fiddling through my notes app to add these notes was getting cumbersome and was distracting me from engaging with my students. So I created a series of sectional related actions that enable me to automate part of this process. The “R1, R2...” actions in the image below are examples of text expansion. Tapping buttons like these expand text that I commonly type. R1 stands for Rotation 1, which I would type if I were taking notes on the first week trumpet sectional for the quarter. The other actions automatically append my sectional notes. For example, tapping SW Trumpet would take my draft and append it to the bottom of that particular note in the Bear note app.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectionals workspace. Custom actions can be organized into different groups. This particular one has actions that expand common text that I type in my sectional notes like which weekly rotation we are on. It also contains buttons that take the text and append them to different notes, depending on which instrument group I am in front of.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

My sectional note in the Bear note taking app, now appended by Drafts.

As you can see, Drafts is a simple note app with infinite customizability. Check it out today at Get Drafts.