music

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!”

App of the Week: Anylist —> Grocery Shopping and travel preparation has never been easier

This week’s App of the Week is AnyList.

AnyList is an app for making lists. Why use this? I already have Reminders for basic lists, Due for persistent tasks, OmniFocus for project management, and ToDoist for team collaboration. AnyList solves a grab bag of miscellaneous use cases for me, and offers a handful of other compelling features.

I started out needing a fuss-free list app that could allow me to manage reoccurring lists where I need to uncheck the entire list at the end of a process and start over, without recreating the list. This is useful for repeat grocery list items and a travel packing lists. AnyList was amongst the top recommended apps in this category, so I gave it a download.

On the surface, AnyList offers exactly what I wished for. The user-interface is not bad, but it at least looks like it belongs on iOS. A point in its favor. It works well for grocery lists, but also travel lists. As I continue to promote my book at state level music conferences numerous times a year, I am somehow still a really stressful traveler. Having a stock travel list that I can depend on has been instrumental in my ability to manage these trips and be a sane music educator at the same time. The simple feature of unchecking every item on my list and starting from scratch every time I am preparing for a trip is a game changer for me.

Next, I began to investigate the premium features ---> AnyList is also able to import from the Apple Reminders app, integrate with Amazon Echo, share lists with other users, manage grocery shopping, and manage meal planning. I decided to give the premium subscription a go. 

The Apple Reminders import is great. This allows me to keep my “Grocery” list in the Reminders app. I can say “add eggs to my grocery list” and Siri will add it to Apple Reminders. When I open AnyList, it imports items from that exact list into its own database. AnyList also supports Siri natively so I could say “add eggs to my grocery list with AnyList” and it would do the same thing more directly (though with a fussier syntax). Adding items from the Echo is very convenient as I am often in the kitchen when I realize I need something and can now just speak into the thin air, even if my hands are full while cooking.

Syncing a shared grocery list with my wife is a rock solid experience with AnyList. It happens very fast, and I have never had any duplicate copies. AnyList can also automatically organize your shopping list by which aisle of the grocery store certain items are grouped within. This orders them in a way that all allows me to check them off in store order rather than skipping around constantly. Bonus point! —> The Apple Watch version of the app is actually good, and allows me to interact with my lists smoothly and reliably without fiddling with my phone in the store. (Yes, I realize that describing an Apple Watch app as smooth and reliable is setting a low bar for watch apps).

AnyList is also a meal planner app that can parse recipes from websites, automatically add the required items to your shopping list, and walk you through the recipes step by step. (Though I still prefer the superior app, Paprika, for doing that kind of thing.)

Another bonus point! —> AnyList can be programmed to be location aware. You can tag certain shopping items by grocery store and have AnyList remind you when you are near that store. For example, some items I can only buy at Whole Foods. Therefore, I have tagged my precious Hex Ferments kimchi as such in AnyList and have set it to ping my phone when I am within distance. 

Needless to say, I am now subscribed.

Negative point! —> The AnyList Mac app is terrible and is somehow considered a “premium” feature.

None the less, try this app! 

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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.

You kids like the wrong music

Ethan Hein back at it again with a great post deciphering the idea that it doesn’t take musical ability to be a popular singer these days…

You kids like the wrong music, part two:

It’s true, we don’t expect unamplified and unedited singing at Caruso’s level anymore. But we expect a lot of other things. For one thing, we expect singers to write their own material, which Caruso didn’t do. For another, we demand a lot of studio technique that Caruso would have found unbearably alien. To say that “edited” recordings are of intrinsically lower musical value than live recordings makes no sense. By that standard, we should require that all movies be plays that are filmed in real time. Film acting isn’t the same craft as stage acting, and unamplified stage singing isn’t the same craft as studio singing. Some people manage to master both crafts, but not many.

So much great stuff here. Read the whole thing.

Announcing My First Book ---> Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers!

I am excited to announce that I am writing a book!

Actually, I already wrote it. Oxford University Press will publish the book, "Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers," this Fall. It will be the first title in the series, "Essential Music Technology: The Prestissimo Series" with series editor, Richard McCready.

The book will focus on how technology can help rather than stifle productivity in the music teaching profession. It will address such topics as: minimizing paper, managing tasks, taking good notes, organizing iTunes playlists, understanding music streaming services, working in the cloud, and managing scores. The book will provide an overview of the apps and services I have found most useful in my teaching experience. It will include sample workflows for using these technologies in music teaching contexts.

Stay tuned to this site for more information. The blog has been quiet this year as I have spent more time writing the book. Upon release, I plan to write posts of a supplementary nature. I also plan to do a miniseries on my podcast that offers commentary on the book. I will be inviting many insightful guests on the show to discuss a different chapter each episode.

I also have a really fun video trailer in the works featuring some brilliant acting talent from my colleagues in the Howard County Public School System and some awesome editing work from the guys over at Four/Ten Media.

I hope you will pick up a copy when it is released.