Friday, June 28, 2013

ThumbJam--a powerful virtual instrument for everybody!

I included ThumbJam in my original iPad app lists, and not only do I still think it's one of the best virtual instrument apps out there, it's received a huge number of new features in the last two years. Oddly, I found out after my first mini-review that the developer and I not only grew up in the same smallish town, we shared a childhood best friend. Major small-world moment!
Though ThumbJam includes a high-quality library of sampled real instruments, from flute and violin to accordion and electric guitar, its interface does not attempt to imitate any of these. Instead, it is made up of a user-controllable number of parallel horizontal bars representing pitch. Part of the beauty of ThumbJam is how easy it is to jump in and play. Select an instrument, select a scale (a large selection of scales such as major, minors, blues, etc. is built-in, or you can create your own), and start playing!
Though it does work well to play with two thumbs, as the app name suggests, you can use more fingers if you like! Most instruments allow you to create vibrato and/or tremolo with your fingers, and some allow pitch bend by tilting or volume control along the horizontal bar. With some practice, it's possible to create a quite expressive solo.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

iPad mini: First Impressions

I was lucky enough to have a fair amount of budget left at the end of this school year, so after much thought I ordered two iPad minis! My collection of music program iPads started with two original iPads, donated by my husband and myself when we upgraded to iPad 2's. Since then, I've acquired four iPad 2's and two iPods. Eight iDevices gives me enough for my lower school students to work in pairs (or individually if I split the class in half), and even better ratios for my small middle school classes. However, I've found that the iPods work best for video and audio recording and some virtual instruments, but are frustratingly small for many uses and don't work well with pairs of kids.
So, I thought the iPad minis could be a great addition to my collection, with most of the advantages of the full-sized iPad, but less awkward for video. Not to mention less expensive, so I could afford two! I picked them up on Monday, and so far I'm delighted. Here is one of the minis next to my personal iPad:
The mini fits the same amount of graphics on its screen as the full-sized iPad 2. As a result, everything is a little smaller, but extremely sharp. It's not a great photo, but you can see GarageBand running on the 3 and the mini above. I composed a quick song in GarageBand on the mini, and found it just as comfortable as the full-sized iPad. I'm not a big fan of using GarageBand on the iPod/iPhone, but the mini is big enough that everything felt great. The speaker seemed quieter than my iPad, but I'm not sure as I didn't do a side-by-side comparison. I'm curious to see this Fall if certain things are actually easier on the mini for the little fingers of my lower school students.
Developers don't have to do anything special for their iPad app to run on the mini, so I put all my music apps and a few other educational apps on the minis. I love that I can now go straight into the App Store app, log in, and download my purchased items without having to plug the new device into my Mac. It is frustrating that there is still not a good way to keep devices' apps and home screen organization in sync. It takes a good deal of setup time initially, and a fair amount of upkeep, to keep them all consistent.
Most of my time with the minis so far has just been setting them up and trying GarageBand, since that's one of the apps I use the most with my students. Some of my other favorites--SoundSlate, iSequence, and ThumbJam--also looked and worked great. I was worried that it would be harder to type on the mini, but found that it's small enough for me to two-thumb type like on my iPhone, and large enough to type like an iPad when that's more convenient.
Though the iPad mini features the upgraded camera of the iPad 3 (and it looks great!), it has the processor of the iPad 2. I haven't done enough intense audio work to see if I miss the extra speed I have in my personal iPad 3, but since my other school iPads are 1's and 2's, it certainly shouldn't be a problem for my students.
I can't wait to try these out in the classroom! In the meantime, I'm sure I'll have lots of fun trying them out on my own this summer. :)

Friday, June 21, 2013

This post brought to you by.... Chickens??

Okay, so this post has nothing to do with music education. I suppose I could tie it into general education since it's related to my (and my school's) passion for nature education and harmony with the earth. But really, I'm just so excited about my chickens.

A little backstory: As a child of the suburbs, followed by years of living in big cities, then again the suburbs, I always had a little dream of one day living on a farm. A totally unrealistic dream, as I'm lucky to keep even the hardiest tomato plant alive for a full growing season and have no true interest in spending large amounts of time as a farmer, but at least I could live next to a farm. Or have chickens!

Last year, we moved out of our family-friendly suburb to four acres in the woods, just five minutes from my school. Next to a small farm! Though we miss our old neighbors, it turns out we have some fantastic slightly-further-away neighbors here, and for the first time ever I feel justified in naming my home:

My Mother's Day present last year

Our driveway

Hound Acres even came with a cute A-frame chicken coop and run! So, for Micaela's 7th birthday, we ordered five day-old chicks.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Using iBooks for education

When iBooks author was released over a year ago, I was thrilled. I've had ideas for interactive books floating around in my head since I bought my first Kindle in 2007. I promptly opened up the new software, started three different projects, then got too busy with other side projects (like having more children, and writing a novel) and dropped all three.

Fast forward to the past school year. Some of the teachers in my Lower School have been using apps, mainly Book Creator with the assistance of Drawing Pad, to help kids design, write, and illustrate their own eBooks which can then be opened in iBooks and shared with friends and family. My own daughter absolutely loves creating these books and emailing them to me and Jos. Something about being able to "publish" your book into a shareable medium is extremely inspirational to children (and adults, for that matter! I suppose my blog falls into that category!).

The first pages of one of Micaela's books, including disclaimers.

I haven't used these apps with my own students, but I'm planning a project for the Fall where kids use the audio capability in Book Creator to create a soundtrack for their stories. More on that when it happens!

One obvious advantage of these apps over iBooks Author is that the creation process is entirely on the iPad. With students as creators, this is the least complicated option. iBooks Author, on the other hand, is a Mac-only app, and iBooks can only be read on iDevices. Right now, I see iBooks Author as the most powerful way for Mac-using teachers to create interactive iBook content for their students to use on iDevices, and in some cases, to get their content out to the wider community.* 

This year I had the perfect chance to reacquaint myself with iBooks Author–ten+ weeks of bedrest during a complicated pregnancy. I've always been one to create my own recorder materials for 3rd and 4th grade, so an interactive recorder method became my new project.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Quakers Quaver

*groan* Sorry, I couldn't help the title, since my school's (decidedly non-competitive-sounding) mascot shares all but one letter with my newest supplemental music curriculum for the Lower School.

Just to clear up any misconception, our Upper School Ultimate Frisbee team just won the NC State Championship. Go Quakers!

But I digress. What I actually plan to discuss in this blog entry is Quaver's Marvelous World of Music, a highly entertaining and interactive supplemental music curriculum. It all revolves around this guy:
Meet Graham Hepburn, aka "Quaver." A pianist and flamboyant music educator, Quaver is your students' guide through each Quaver episode and the interactive website.