Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Whoa. Big news from MakeMusic.

I don't know about your district, but mine has really gone in for Chromebooks.  We are 1:1 with that family of devices in my building (grades 5-7) and will hopefully be there next fall with 8-12.

That has actually been a problem in my corner of the building as a SmartMusic user.  Chromebooks just didn't run SmartMusic.  iPads could, Windows and Macs could.  Just not Chromebooks.  It had something to do with not being able to install anything on a Chromebook... At least, that's what I was hearing from people off the record.

We have been getting kids hooked up with subscriptions and then they would have to find another device to run SmartMusic other than their Chromebook.  I'm sure that is really popular with the parents. (Where is that sarcasm punctuation?)  The kid has a device that doesn't work in all classes for school work.  The easiest advice to give kids was use your iPad, not your Chromebook.

While staying up late and reading a little Tom Clancy, (Don't you love summer break?) I heard my e-mail chime and the folks over at SmartMusic were sending out a PR blast.  They have acquired Weezic, who have apparently solved some of MakeMusic's issues with Chromebooks!

Is it ready to go?  Doesn't say.  When?  Probably will be a while until it is running, I'm guessing.  But it is really exciting news and I think it solves a bunch of issues for my program.  Will it work well here?  I don't know.  The units we have are pretty "sketchy" as far as speed and sound cards-- according to my students.  To give you an idea, I have had kids bring their personal iPads to class instead of their Chromebook. Will this run well at home?  Hopefully, all my families have a great ISP and are on fast connections.

Yes, there probably are a number of things yet to happen.  Still, I am excited.  It is good to see this news from SmartMusic!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First SmartMusic Assignment Is Out The Door.

I have my first SmartMusic assignment out the door for all of my students as of last Friday.

Because of the parent-student-teacher happening next week, I made it due this Friday.  I usually schedule these assignments with two weeks' notice, but it is very nice to have something to talk about with parents and students at these conferences.

I am also hoping that the short notice will be better for the first assignment.  In the past, the first one has been the hard one to get kids to turn in.  I'm not sure if that is because two weeks is too long or if there are some things that need to be set up for things to work right.  Getting software installed, an account open and registered for class seems like a lot of work for a middle schooler.  And every middle schooler  knows that there is no time like the future to do that hard work... they will get to it tomorrow (or the day/week/month after that.)

So I am thinking that after conferences there may be a little parent help with the missing assignments.

I do have some tips for making the load lighter on the students:

  • We buy SmartMusic for all of our middle school band students (it is rolled into their class fees.)  This is much easier than counting on families to visit the web site and purchase it on their own.
  • We entered the code for this bulk purchase as a class.  You can do this with any web browser, just visit page and follow the "redeem a code" link.
  • We have been doing this for several years.  So we have several classes of kids in the system already.  Instead of having the kids enroll for classes, import those kids into the next class.  That way, they end up in exactly the right class.  It is crazy the number of 6th graders who still think of themselves as 5th graders!
  • Pay special attention to first year kids.  Once they have an account set-up, they will have their information in there for the rest of their career.  I check the beginners' logins to be certain they work. 
  • We do a standard login e-mail address (Google apps for education) and the password is the same as that account.  Trouble-shooting gets easier when you set things up that way.  In the past, most of our login issues were related to email accounts that students no longer had access to or just forgot about.  Something standard helps.
  • Redeem a code doesn't mean they have enrolled in class.  Check the SmartMusic grade book against your class list. Make sure you have them all in there. 
  • Enrolled in class doesn't mean they have redeemed a code.  If you do the bulk purchase, check your active subscriptions against your class list.  If they have redeemed the code, they can login to SmartMusic from any computer that has the program installed.  Get them activated.
  • When kids go home all they should have to do is download SmartMusic from the site and use their login information that is already set up.  That's it.  That's the goal.
It is a little extra work to get this running smoothly.  But I think it is worth it to do the work up front.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

SmartMusic Enrollment Time!

(Background: At my middle school we are requiring everyone to have an account and we are paying for it with a student fee so students can access SmartMusic anywhere and not just on our practice room computers.  Talk to your SmartMusic rep for pricing as it is possible to lower the cost to families by buying in bulk.)

It is enrollment time for SmartMusic.  And all of our kids have been assigned Chromebooks.  You would think that is a combination that just doesn't work.  And you would be right.  SmartMusic doesn't run on the Chromebooks.

But "Redeem a Code"does.  If want to be sure that your students have activated their accounts so they can login to SmartMusic everywhere, the Chromebook can help.  Have your class fire up their web browser and go to the SmartMusic web site and follow the "Redeem a Code" link.  If they have had an account there in the past, they login as an existing customer.  New customers can start their account there too.

Some tips:

  • We were surprised by how many students do not know how to e-mail their parents.  Have a list of parent e-mail addresses handy.
  • Do have the kids do this exactly together.  Field by field.
  • Do have the kids use the save and save changes buttons.  We did have a hiccup with our internet service at one point and I was able to put the finishing touches on the data entry after the kids left.  Having something started will save you time and "cleaning up" the account entry will save time from the next class meeting.  I'm not sure how kids got around the save buttons, but there were a couple of cases of there was no information saved about their account.  Pretty sure those students missed a button or were waaaay behind.
  • If you have a projector, use it to show them how to fill this out.
  • Do walk around and look at kids screens.  That may mean getting some help because being up front working at the computer and in back watching the kids' devices is not possible.  Maybe you should pick a kid to fill his out on screen while you coach from the back of the room.
  • We use the school's street address for kids that don't know their own address when filling account info out. (I know!  Where do you live should be something in every kid's head.) This can be on the whiteboard before class starts.
  • We use the student's e-mail and have a consistent password figured out for the kids to use.  Our login is very much like their Google Apps For Education login.  This helps with trouble-shooting should something come up.
I know a bunch of that could have been written by Captain Obvious.  Hopefully, these tips are good reminders on how to teach with technology.  

Don't worry about cutting the parents out of the loop on this account.  MakeMusic will send them an e-mail informing them about the account if the kids are under 14.

This is the first year we have done this "Redeem a Code" thing as a class project.  You could just send some directions home, but I think this is the way to go.  You will know that things are set-up and ready to go for that first assignment!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Where Have I Been?


It has been a while since I have posted here.

Personally, it has been an eventful summer for me and my family.

My kids are at that awkward stage of being involved in activities and not having a driver's license.  Being the handy (as in nearby...not the good with tools kind) parent, they still put up with me enough to get a ride to their next gig.

Dad taxi.  I suppose I could get the new big iPhone 6 Plus to blog on while waiting on the kids, but it would be just my luck to find out that I am capable of folding the thing in my pocket.

At work, my building was having major surgery this summer.  Have you ever had to completely empty a band room at the end of the year and then completely refill it to start the year?  Yikes.  Finally have air conditioning in the music area.  Probably worth the trouble.

What's news?

The interesting thing that I have heard is that MakeMusic is moving to Bolder, CO.  I am going to miss that company being in my backyard.

In other MakeMusic news, they are trying to get SmartMusic out of the practice rooms and into homes.  I think the costs of that are the stumbling block.  If access to the student side educational/course management features were much lower they have something to sell there.  I don't know what that price is, but with the fees this school is charging for a free public education, I understand the reluctance to add more.  We will still do the SmartMusic everywhere plan at my building, but it is pricey.

More news?

We just had Dr. Chris Russell out for a training session with my district's music staff.  He has had a wide variety of music ed experiences and has a technology solution figured out for just about every problem that a music teacher may have.  Our group is small and diverse in assignments and he did have something for everyone.  I thought the amazing part of his time with us was his ability to change topics during his conversation as needed.  Very flexible and that is a sign of someone who knows his stuff.

Dr. Chris presents at most of the conferences in my neighborhood and occasionally out of state and nationally.  If he comes to your neighborhood, you should go hear him.  Not coming to a theater near you?  Read his stuff or get one of his books.

Even more news?

I think I am finally getting a handle on my digital camera.  Shot a lot at soccer games.  This summer.  It pays to shoot RAW, be using enough lens (300mm), shoot when the light is interesting (after 6 pm) and push the button.  Push the button a lot.  Edit mercilessly.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SmartMusic Training!

Are you looking for license renewal hours?  Are you required by your state to get some hours in "technology" even though you teach music?  MakeMusic is offering workshops that may just be the perfect fit for you.

There are two tracks.  One is called "SmartMusic Fundamentals" and the other is called "Extending Your Reach Using SmartMusic Online Gradebook."

The two days of workshops are offered a large number of places.  Hopefully, you are near one of the locations or can work a trip around one of the locations.  (Vegas!  Here we come!)

If you are new to SmartMusic take the "Fundamentals" class for sure.  SmartMusic will change the way you teach music.  There are some very creative things that can be done with SmartMusic in the single computer classroom, a 3 or 4 station practice area, or even a one to one equipped school.  You can adapt this computer program to your situation.

The "Extending" portion will dive into the SmartMusic Gradebook.  This is more than a gradebook, it is a learning management system that will make it possible for you to send assignments that meet your specifications and it will keep the completed assignments organized for you.  If you think you are going to send assignments, you will want this course too.

If you haven't seen SmartMusic lately, or haven't heard about it before, this music educational software is worth serious consideration.  I've said it before, SmartMusic will change the way you teach.

Need more info?  Can't take the courses as scheduled?  Visit the SmartMusic web site and look through the tutorials there or get more info on registration, where and when on the workshops.  Lots of support for teachers and students there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Have You Ever Wished For Musical Slow Motion?

I was listening to some student assignments that were in my SmartMusic in box.  I had one that was tricky to diagnose what was happening and I was wishing I had slow motion to sort it out.  I saved it for later and went on.

A short while later I was looking in SBO Magazine and reading through the article on "Power User Synthesis."  It's a great article and worth the read, especially if you are stumped about how to get your repertoire into SmartMusic.   In the article there was discussion about scanning and notation software.  After some discussion about Finale, Sibelius and MusicXML the article talked about creating SmartMusic files and uses for those... including listening to the recording at slower speed.

Then it hit me that SmartMusic could do the slow motion trick I needed.  No, I couldn't just slow the tempo of a recording down and listen to it that way.  But with a little file magic, I found a way to do just that.

Here's how.  First, export your audio file as an .mp3 file.  Then go to SmartMusic's MP3 Audio Files link.  Import the file you just created.  You can now listen to the performance slower or faster.  All you have to do is adjust the tempo (it is listed by a percentage.)

The slower listen uses are pretty obvious.  You can slow things down to hear what really happened.

The faster uses might not be so obvious.  How about checking to see if that faster tempo really works musically?  Here is a chance to try some things without the whole band waiting for you to do that, just take care of that in your score study time.  Or show your students how they could sound.

Take a read through the SBO article for more ideas.  If the ideas don't save your time, they will help you do a higher quality job.  Worth the read.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happy Digital Learning Day (2/5/14)

Happy Digital Learning Day.

Actually, I think most days are digital learning days in my room.  Have been since 1992 or so.

It all started with CD audio recordings.  Clean sound and quick access to what you really wanted to hear.  Big advantages over tape or vinyl.

Then there was Finale on a computer that was in my office.  I was teasing the choir teacher today about her being too young to have actually transposed for instruments and singers in her head.  I think my college theory and arranging experiences would have been WAAAY less time intensive had there been such a thing when I was earning my first degree.

Then the powers that be put an internet connected computer on my desk.  Teacher access to the internet was pretty bold choice in 1994.  The internet has turned out to be very valuable.  I believe Letterman said "This internet idea is a keeper."  I agree.

That value wasn't lost on me.  I have run with that set-up.  I have spent time learning how to code some html and I have developed excellent FileMaker Pro chops.  The web has made those skills pretty valuable.  Communicating and keeping track with parents and other teachers has been made easier with the network.

Next came iPods and digital audio recording.  We still have the Roland 880 here, but Garageband (or Audacity, Pro Tools, Logic) have made having that box pretty much unnecessary.  Playback can be a pretty powerful mirror.  I have yet to hear a kid say the recorder is making us sound bad since I got away from cheap tape recorders.

I use videos of other schools bands as examples for my students.  I'm not getting those in the mail.  Of course I find them on YouTube.  Thank you to all who have put their group's work up there.  It adds another dimension to the discussions about what we are doing in our band room.

I use Twitter to get ideas and keep up with the news. Actually, it may be more accurate to describe that as stealing great ideas from my PLN.  Thanks Tweeps for putting those ideas out there.

(By the way, you can get info about Digital Learning Day on Twitter @OfficialDLDay or it looks like the hash tag is going to be .  Check it out and let's get that trending.)

SmartMusic.  I know it has changed the way I teach music.  That program has changed too.  It went from an $2000 add-on box for your computer, to an add on cartridge reader, to a download for your student's iPad over the last 20 years.  Sending and getting assignments over the internet has helped me to really understand how my students are doing as individuals.  SmartMusic has also helped my students develop their own knowledge of rhythm and pitch on their own.

If your classroom isn't digital yet,  There are a couple of good thinking models out there for you to get started: SAMR by Dr. Puentedura or RAT by Dr. Hughes.  I know there are some who think that kids don't really need technology to learn or I can teach without it.  Please rethink that.  I cannot think of an entry level job that doesn't require you to interface with some form of digital technology.  I use the digits to make the invisible visible and help kids become musically independent faster,  How are you using them?  How could you be using them?

To me, the really big deal on the web is sharing. I share what I know about what I do right here.  This sharing only happens with digital technology.  I wouldn't know where to send my stories.  You wouldn't know where to find them if this was published any other way.   I am coming up on 34,000 page views over the last two years.  I think that is pretty amazing considering the really narrow focus of most my topics.  I hope that, if you came to my blog looking for ideas and help, you found what you needed.

Thanks for reading and happy Digital Learning Day.