forscore

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.

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.

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.

TMEA Session Notes - “Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers” and “Working with Digital Scores”

I am thrilled to be presenting at TMEA again this year. Both of my sessions, “Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers” and “Working with Digital Scores” will be taking place on February 17th, at 8 am and 11 am, respectively.

Here are the session notes:

Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers

Working with Digital Scores

MMEA Session Notes - Working With Digital Scores

Tomorrow I will be presenting at the Maryland Music Educators Association's Fall Conference. The session I am presenting is all about Working with Digital Scores. I will be covering file management, scanning, and score reading software such as forScore. I am also going to be digging in to some of the new iPad productivity features that shipped with iOS 11 last month. If you are going to be at the conference, come say hi!

Here are the session notes for the session...

Click here to view the session notes in Evernote!

 

Working with Digital Scores Session Notes - Robby Burns - MMEA In Service, October 20, 2017

Apps for Scanning:

Apple Notes App

Evernote Scannable 

Scanner Pro

Tiny Scanner

NotateMe

Sheet Music Scanner

 

Apps for Managing Files:

Files App

Dropbox

Google Drive

Documents

Evernote

 

Apps for Working with Scores:

forScore

unReal Book

Newzik

Scorch

Notion

 

Notes on forScore:

Link to my blog post on creating indexes with forScore

 

My Book:

Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers

Buy on Amazon | Buy on Oxford University Press

View the video trailer

 

About Me:

Robby Burns

Twitter | Blog | Podcast | Email

Quick thoughts on the new 10.5 inch iPad

I walked into an Apple Store over the weekend and had a moment to play with the new 10.5 inch iPad Pros. 

OH MY GOODNESS. The hype is real. These devices are light, gorgeous, and powerful. The 120Hz refresh speed ruined me for all other screens in just the two or three minutes I played around with it. I think Apple has hit the sweet spot in size. I can actually see myself downsizing to this model when I purchase my next iPad. I use the 12.9 for sheet music right now and it is great. I usually end up flipping my iPad in landscape mode and running a score on one half of the screen and a note taking app on the other half during rehearsal. I tried this workflow on the 10.5 and it was actually legible from far away. Maybe I have good eyes. I really miss the hold-ability of the smaller sized iPads for things like reading. I will have some tough decisions to make in a few years when I assume I will have to upgrade my 12.9. Or maybe I should embrace the multi-pad lifestyle and use the larger one for scores and the smaller one for reading. If only forScore would sync a score library over iCloud...

Adding an Index for Your Real Books in forScore

forScore 10 adds a feature that allows you to add indexes to large scores by uploading a CSV file that links the song titles to specific page numbers of the PDF. This is especially useful for real and fake books that have hundreds of songs all associated with one giant file. A competing score app called unrealBook pioneered this feature to my knowledge. I used to keep it installed on my iPad just for that one feature, but now, I can do everything I need to in forScore.

I created a video tutorial of how to accomplish this. See below:

 You can find the index files I reference in the video here

I don’t have a full technical understanding of how this feature works, so I tried to avoid explaining what is going on with the file. I think I am explaining it well enough that if you imitate my steps, you will be successful in most attempts. If there is anything unclear, let me know and I will try to clarify it in a future post.

One thing I did not cover in the video are the page offset settings at the bottom of the index settings screen. I have attached about 10 indexes to my forScore library and only twice did I need to use those buttons. In some cases, the CSV score may be offset by a few pages leading to the index not linking you to the correct songs. In these cases, I simply fiddled around with the plus and minus buttons until I got the result I wanted. I would be happy to redo the video with that step included if enough people are interested.

Quick and Dirty Thoughts on the WWDC Keynote

Here are some quick and dirty thoughts I have on many of the announcements at Apple’s WWDC Keynote on Monday.

Apple TV

Disappointed we didn’t get any new features in tvOS. Maybe next year with the introduction of new Apple TV hardware. YAY for the announcement of an Amazon Prime app though.

watchOS

Not really impressed here. The main things I think Apple Watch struggles with are…

  1. Access to audio controls
  2. A more predictive, contextual, ability to show things on the watch face

As for 1, Apple did address this by making music controls a swipe away while running a workout in the Workout app. I was hoping for something a little bit more globally accessible. They accomplished 2 by introducing the Siri watch face. But for me, the Siri watch face is too much of a compromise because it can’t show any other complications on the screen at the same time.

I am also disappointed that they didn’t announce a Podcast app or Notes app.

macOS

No complaints here really. I wanted them to start the process of breaking iTunes down into smaller apps. Maybe at least breaking Apple Music into its own app and TV into its own app and leaving the rest of the things iTunes does inside the app known as iTunes. Really though, I am cool with Apple making slower and steadier updates to macOS. My Mac is the machine I depend on the most for work so I appreciate that Apple is focused on stability.

Hardware

The new iPads look great! I can see myself eventually buying the 10.5 size. I love my 12.9 inch for reading scores with the forScore app, but I really miss being able to hold it comfortably with one hand and also reading it in bed. Maybe the 10.5 inch will be the perfect compromise.

The iMac Pro looks fantastic. Its not a machine I am looking for right now though so I will just enjoy it from far away and appreciate that Apple still cares about the Mac and its professional users.

iOS Features for iPad

  • Drag and drop: YES! Love it. Looks really well implemented too.
  • Dock: YES! A great idea I did not expect. 
  • Files app: This is where I started to loose my mind. A native file browser with support for Google Drive and Dropbox is going to completely change the way I use my iPad! This might be my favorite announcement of the entire keynote.
  • System wide markup. This is another one that is going to completely change the way I use my iPad. 
  • Notes app: Sooooo much good stuff here. In line drawing? AWESOME! Document scanner? AWESOME. Text searchable handwriting. YES! Bye Evernote.

… yeah. So this iPad stuff is going to be huge.

HomePod

Smart of Apple to position this device as competition against companies like Sonos instead of as competition for products like Google Home and Amazon Echo. The speaker ecosystem is something I really enjoy about having Sonos speakers but its lack of integration with my phone and music library is a constant hurdle. Something with good quality, that I can operate without using an extra app would be much more enjoyable. 

Will I buy one of these? It is really hard to see how this will play out. Amazon Echo and Sonos are working on some kind of integration. That could potentially keep me in that ecosystem, though the idea of selling the Sonos speakers and eventually replacing them with these Apple things has crossed my mind. It might be the kind of situation where I get one HomePod just to get a feel for it and then wait on additional purchases.