Q&A with Pierre from Flat

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Pierre is a co-founder of Flat, an online music score creator that allows you to compose with friends. Please welcome Pierre as he joins me for a Q&A session! *applause* :)

MMB: Could you give us a summary of what Flat is?

Pierre: Flat is a collaborative music score editor that offers the ability to collaborate in real time on the same composition with your friends. It’s like Google Documents. We focus on a new experience to create the simplest, easy to use music tool.

MMB: What inspired you to develop Flat?

Pierre: Basically, we’re 4 musicians. We all met during our computer sciences studies. Vincent my CTO & co–founder plays cello and I am a drummer. Back in those days, it was almost impossible for us to collaborate easily spur of the moment.

It was mainly due to two things:

-­ Existing software was too professional and the learning curve was so hard.

-­ None of software offered real time collaboration. Meaning, that to collaborate easily, you had to be in the same room, etc…

It clearly appeared that we could create a web application to change that. However web technologies weren’t mature enough at that point. Three years later, we had to submit a final study project to our school. We thought it was a great opportunity to try to develop Flat. We received distinction for our work and started over once we get graduated. We are now almost one year old and we’re proud to see that we managed to address the collaboration issue!

MMB: Could you take us through the steps of creating a score using Flat?

Pierre: Of course. It’s pretty easy, actually:

-­ Click on create score

-­ Enter your sheet music name

-­ Select your instruments

-­ Set the time and key signature

-­ Start to compose your masterpiece

Watch these steps in action!

MMB: Does Flat save all your music?

Pierre: Flat automatically saves your work. We called it the smart history! When you have made many changes or apply a major modification like changing instruments, a transposition, etc…
A version will be created. None of your work can be lost. You can go through all your version history and revert to an old one whenever you want!

MMB: The collaborative aspect of Flat sounds pretty cool, how exactly does that work?

Pierre: As I said previously, it’s just like a Google Documents. You invite a collaborator, grant him access, and you can start to collaborate. Based on a set of colors you’ll see what collaborators do. There is not a limit of the number of collaborators. Flat can be used directly within Google Hangouts video chat, as well. So users can collaborate in realtime and take advantage of the video. It happens often that we have 10 people inside the Google Hangouts session. It’s pretty stunning!

MMB: Can you create scores through a MIDI device and/or write in the music?

Pierre: As I am writing my answers, Corentin is going through the last checks of the first version of MIDI composition. It will be online by the beginning of the next week.

MMB: If you can use both methods, is it easy to switch back forth?

Pierre: You can use any kind of input to write in your sheet music. You can easily switch from your keyboard to midi and back to using your mouse. We’re spending most of our time thinking how to keep Flat as easy as possible. If something is inconvenient for us it will be worse for the user.

MMB: Can you create score through the microphone on your computer?

Pierre: We did some research on that topic. It’s a real challenge that we intend to implement within the beginning of 2016!

MMB: Is it mobile device friendly?

Pierre: We have maintained a mobile device version of Flat. However we have understood that usages are completely different on a computer and a mobile device. This is why, instead of developing a different experience dedicated to mobile on the same product, we have started to work on a mobile app of Flat. Crazy engineers have just joined the team to create it before the end of the year.

Check out Flat and start some real time composing with your friends!

InTune App Review

I do believe that InTune is one of the simplest apps I have ever reviewed, but the effectiveness of this simple ear training app has apparently earned it an almost 5 star rating on iTunes. In addition to its iTunes rating, it has been ranked among the top 25 music apps in more than 50 countries, and in the USA it stands at #11.

So what’s this app all about? Well, there’s honestly not much to it. Using the concept of pitch discrimination (differentiating pitches that are close together), award-winning and highly acclaimed app developer, Ben Kazez, has gone to task with basically just this concept and a gaming element to create InTune.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 8.24.18 PM-You open up InTune.

-You select New Game or compete with your friends in Apple’s Game Center. (The Game Center icon pops up in the top left corner)

-You can select what mode you want to play.

-Once the game has started, you hear two pitches, distinguish if the second was higher or lower than the first, and then slide the second dot accordingly (up-higher; down-lower).

-If you get three strikes the game is over.

-If you slide correctly, you continue on and the pitches get closer together/harder to distinguish-testing to see just how good you are at pitch discrimination! :) Once you’ve completed Level 5 (the highest level you can attain) you can either Play Again, Share Score, or Change Mode.

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It’s just that simple.

I don’t know if the sound they chose for the game has significance or not, but it definitely reminds me of the sound you would hear when getting your ears checked at the doctor, which to me, is unlike any other sound I typically hear. Just a side note!

Dr. Dan Kazez, producer of InTune, is a cellist and professor at Wittenberg University, who discovered through studies that students who played InTune (regularly practicing pitch discrimination) improved their listening at 3 times the rate of those who did not.

I haven’t played InTune very regularly to know if it’s been improving my ear or not, but it has caused me to be more conscientious of pitch and it’s apparent world success is quite intriguing to me!

InTune Info Page on the Wittenberg Website

iTunes – keep in mind this app is only available for iPhone or iPod Touch

InTune on Youtube (the version on the video is a little older but still very similar)

Free Notation Software Deal & Giveaway

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To celebrate the 500,000th download of FORTE 6 Notation Software (a WINDOWS operating system software), starting right now (exclusively for MMB readers) until September 14th, you can download FORTE 6 Basic for free! (a $24 value) FORTE 6 Basic free download page

If you’re not familiar with FORTE check out their website! I’ve never used it, but from watching their introductory video it appears very user friendly and quite similar to Finale, a notation software I used to use.

Also, Music Matters Blog has been given the opportunity to giveaway to its readers 1 FORTE 6 Premium license (FORTE Premium a $200+ value!), so let me know in the comments if you’re interested in being entered and you might just win!

Overview of Soundbrenner Pulse

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It is no secret that sound frequencies/vibrations are woven into the very fabric of our world-in nature and in us. It is also no secret that practicing with a metronome can be very unenjoyable and it often causes you to play less musically and more technically. So, “Why,” a group of German musicians seem to have asked themselves, “has a rhythmic device not been created that taps into the natural, human vibrational system?”

Creators of Soundbrenner Pulse (a wearable metronome device for musicians) put it this way on their crowd funding page, IndieG0Go:

“It makes sense, if you think about it: Making music, we often tap our foot or move our body a bit. The feeling of the vibration integrates in that body feeling. That’s why you don’t need to focus so much as you would have to with an audible click. Focus on your music instead.”

From personal experience, I can definitely relate to their sentiments! I remember so many times needing to practice with a metronome in order to solidify a piece rhythmically, but I often lost a lot of musicality during that period of time because I had to focus so much on “hearing” the beat instead of “feeling” the beat. So when I read this section on the IndieGoGo page, it was revolutionary! It does. It makes so much sense to create a metronome you can “feel” because it definitely seems like it would develop a much more natural sense of the rhythm.

This newly designed metronome has some nifty features in addition to being able to wear it around your wrist or ankle, like syncing multiple Soundbrenners to the same beat, or changing the tempo, or switching it to “discreet mode,” etc. I have yet to try the Soundbrenner Pulse myself, but would love to at some point! (One thing I’m somewhat curious about, is if it will have any negative effects on people because of the direct vibrational force on the body…)

Below is a video about Soundbrenner Pulse that is very insightful. It’s also pretty fun to watch because you get to see the metronome used by musicians in action. :)

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Soundbrenner Pulse is available for pre-order (projected delivery date is November 2015) and you can learn lots more about the device, its creators, the concept behind it, and watch testimonials by clicking either of the links below:

Soundbrenner Pulse Funding Page

Soundbrenner Pulse Website

Some scientific thoughts about the metronome by Julian Vogels

Want Students to Advance More Quickly and Have a More Solid Foundation?

Growing up my Dad always told me that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That truism has served me well, but there are always a few exceptions. And this is one of them. It’s been a while since I first wrote about my foray into Piano Safari (ok, so it’s been a while since I wrote about much of anything!), but I love this method even more now than when I began using it!

Piano Safari Repertoire

I believe it is accomplishing exactly what its creators (Julie Knerr and Katie Fisher) intended – a solid foundation in the fundamentals of reading music notation while simultaneously developing fluency at the piano, thus enabling students to experience more musically interesting pieces sooner and advance to more challenging repertoire more quickly. All of my students who began with Level 1 have now moved into Level 2, and are doing a fabulous job!

Piano Safari Repertoire

Here’s a snapshot of Stephanie playing Flamingo Dancers. The crazy thing is that even though it is intended to be a rote learning piece, she was so anxious to learn it that she read the notes and figured it out on her own!

 Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards

The note reading skills are a combination of the NoteStars Challenge that I began with all my students in January and the fabulous Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards that are a part of the Piano Safari method.

Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards

The cards are very well sequenced and can be used in so many different ways to help students achieve mastery at reading music! (I’ve begun a Rhythm Masters Challenge that utilizes all three levels of the Piano Safari Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards that I’m hoping to write about soon!)

Piano Safari Technique Book

The accompanying Technique book is likewise a treasure trove of effective teaching exercises that are simple enough for the students to read and learn, enabling them to gain the technical skills necessary to play them well. Each one includes checkboxes to encourage transposition, and most of my students have no trouble easily switching from key to key (more than I can say for myself at their age!).

Piano Safari is not a magic pill that will make all of your students amazing pianists, but if you take the time to fully understand, appreciate, and implement this method (I definitely recommend watching the videos on the website, going through the Teacher Guides, and reading the Mini Essays!), I think you’ll be amazed at what your students are capable of at a young age. Not to mention how much they (and you!) will enjoy the process because of the musically rich pieces and experiences you will have along the way!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of Piano Safari Level 2 for review purposes, but received no other compensation. The views expressed above are my own.

Playground Sessions

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Created by world-class musicians and instructors, Playground Sessions offers a 21st century approach to learning to play the piano and has received notoriety from celebrities, music cooperations, and people around the globe.

The drive behind Playground Sessions is to learn to play the piano by playing. So, the interactive software was designed with three specific components in mind to make learning to play as fun and enjoyable as possible. In David Sides’ (Playground’s co-creator & video teacher) own words during a TV interview, he said, “the idea behind it [Playground Sessions] is to combine gaming elements, social features, and popular songs…to teach them how to play…” With these three things, as well as the interactive aspect and the ability to learn right from the comfort of your own living room, I believe this product hit right on the money with all the 21st century pianist wannabes out there.

I haven’t tried Playground Sessions myself, but I think it’s a fantastic resource especially for those who don’t have access to a good piano teacher, or are interested in a more self-taught method, or are needing motivation in a music class! :) However, after personally having such a great experience with a “real” piano teacher, I believe the value of having a good teacher beside you during a lesson can’t be replaced by software. Overall, I just don’t think a software program will ever be able to outdo a good teacher’s ability to help you not only learn to play an instrument but also become a well-rounded musician, which I think can be vitally important in learning an instrument. But even with all of that said, I still think Playground Sessions is a wonderful invention and it’s certainly time period appropriate!

Get a better idea of how Playground Sessions works by watching this:

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“Music is an incredible thing. You can’t see it, you can’t smell it, you can’t touch it, and you can’t taste it, but you sure can feel it. Melody is the voice of God.”

– Quincy Jones
The all-time most nominated Grammy artist & co-creator of Playground Sessions

Review and Giveaway of Relaxing & Romantic Piano Vol. II

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I really enjoy when I get to review piano music because it means I have to sit down and play the piano, which I love to do! Yes, my piano is in the room directly across from where I do a lot of my work, but for some reason, I rarely make it to the bench, so it’s always nice having something I “have” to play.

So thanks to Mr. James Stevens, I was able to dust off some neglected piano keys and try out his Relaxing & Romantic Piano Vol. II music. :) His first volume has been one of Sheet Music Plus’ best sellers.

Relaxing & Romantic Piano, Vol. II contains 27 original songs that are all a nice length of 3-4 pages. For some reason (I have no idea why!), I was anticipating to play some fun, melodically exciting numbers, but about halfway through I noticed all the songs sounded like what I would hear in a little boutique or at a wedding. And then I looked at the title again and said to myself, “Oh…they’re relaxing & romantic for a reason.” Can you tell I just catch on to things so fast?!

If you’re looking for some relaxing & romantic background music, Mr. Stevens’ collection seems like it would help fill that need very nicely, but don’t expect riveting and thrilling music-not that anyone in their right mind would ever do that! 😉 I think it’s worth mentioning, though, that within each song, it seemed a bit repetitive. I believe it’s more this style, but as I played through the music, the songs seemed to lack strong melodic structure and were more built on chord patterns. This isn’t always bad, but it’s just not a type of music I typically gravitate toward playing-even for background music-because I feel like I end up performing the same song multiple times. I just really like variety in my music! But that’s just my preference.

If you want to get a feel for what the songs from this collection sound like just keep moving down the screen! :) Mr. Stevens also has a website you can check out that has links to his other music (sheet music, pandora station, free improvisation resources, etc): jamesmstevens.com

Don’t forget there’s a giveaway! 3 lucky winners will receive a digital copy of Relaxing & Romantic Piano Vol. II. Just let me know you want to be entered in the comments.

Review of Good Music Brighter Children by Sharlene Habermeyer

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s! Reviews have been absent for a while here on the blog this past holiday season for the sake of regrouping, spending time with my wonderful family, and for the sake of meeting my goal to thoroughly go through the aforementioned (in the title) book so it could be the next review.

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I was quite intrigued by “Good Music Brighter Children-Simple & Practical Ideas to Help Transform Your Child’s Life Through the Power of Music” after reading the overview of its content, and I was most definitely not disappointed once I got my hands on the book and began reading it! Originally published 15 years ago, this revised and updated version is the culmination of 25 years Habermeyer has spent researching and studying the positive effects music can have on humans.

One thing I really appreciate about this book is that the findings documented in the book are not just credible because of the plethora of stories, studies, practical applications, and personal experiences, but because of the passion and devotion with which Habermeyer writes and lives. Even though it’s over 350 pages long, it’s very nicely laid out into 5 different sections/topics (see below), and I found it very easy to read and understand which was so nice! Plus, it was really refreshing that the book just focuses on the effects of classical music/learning an instrument vs. creating a debate over “good” and “bad” music.

Separated Into Four Sections:

Part 1-Why Music:
Overture: The Power of Music (Chapter 1)
Music and the Brain: Nothing is Minor About Music (Chapter 2)

Part 2-Music In The Home:
Home: Set the Tone with Music (Chapter 3)
Making Sound Choices: Choosing an Instrument & Teacher (Chapter 4)
Practicing: Keeping the Tempo (Chapter 5)
Noteworthy: Learning Values Through Music (Chapter 6)

Part 3-A Need for Advocacy: Music Ed in the Schools:
A Dynamic Movement: Music’s Power to Educate (Chapter 7)
Striking a Chord: Music’s Impact on Cognitive Delays & Physical Disabilities (Chapter 8)
Improvisation: Creativity and the 21st Century (Chapter 9)

Part 4-A Cultural Heritage
Voices in Unison: Supporting the Arts in Your Community (Chapter 10)
The “Do Re Mis” of Starting an Orchestra” (Chapter 11)

Part 5-Finale
Building a Legacy: A Parent’s Responsibility (Chapter 12)

After the final chapter you’ll find 50 pages worth of RESOURCES (some of them mentioned throughout the book), followed by 22 pages of NOTES, and then an INDEX section. It’s definitely structured in such a way to be a helpful tool and enable readers to easily reference specific things. The book was also designed in such a way that each chapter can stand on its own which I think makes it much more appealing for someone who’s only interested in certain topics.

Because I work so much with kids I was quite fascinated by the chapter, Home, which discusses the long term effects music-specifically classical music-can have on children’s brains, even while they’re in utero. As a physically disabled musician myself, Striking a Chord definitely hit home for me and was very relatable and had some very inspiring stories. The emphasis on the need for creative thinkers in the Improvisation chapter was very eye-opening and interesting-particularly all the quotes from those in the business world. The final chapter, Building a Legacy, was one I greatly appreciated. Not because it exhorts parents to be involved in giving their children musical exposure, but because it points out one of the key elements of good parenting that I believe the majority of couples lack: building relationships with their children. On the matter, Habermayer says, “Material possessions, these ‘things’ that permeate our culture, ultimately do not make children or adults happy or fulfilled. When we lose the things in life that really mean something-like a warm relationship with our children-nothing else matters.”

Here are a few other excerpts from the book that were quite fascinating and inspiring:

“Dr. Frank Wilson…reports that learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system. It also connects and develops motor systems of the brain in a way that cannot be done by any other activity. Dr. Wilson believes that learning a musical instrument is vital for the total development of the brain and individual.” (Page 25)

“Thomas Verny found that the unborn child ‘can see, hear, experience, taste, and, on a primitive level, even learn in utero…Although musical studies on babies in utero are continuing, the research suggests that by singing, talking, playing classical music and lullabies, and reading to the unborn child, parents can give them a significant advantage in early language, memory, and music development.” (Page 40; 41)

“When a child learns a musical instrument, most of his senses are being utilized. For example, a child learning the piano is using his eyes to read the music, his ears to hear the correct notes, his hands to play the notes, and his feet to coordinate and play the pedals. All of this requires a level of concentration, memory skills, motor coordination, and symbol recognition. Both sides of the brain, as well as the front and back portions of the brain, are being used to accomplish this incredible feat. Not only is the child experiencing the enjoyment that comes from learning a musical instrument, he is also learning skills that will help him succeed in school and beyond.” (Page 55)

“…But my expectation for them is more than what they accomplish in school and in band-I expect them to represent what they have learned in my program at home, at church, on the job, and in the community…” (Barry Trobaugh, Director of Bands at Munford High School-Page 92)

“‘Even today, I do not love to practice but I do it knowing how important it is.’” (Jenny Oaks Baker-Page 106)

“You could be a genius, but if you can’t cooperate and work with others, your intelligence will not be your greatest asset.” (Page 131)

As I was reading this book and would tell others about it, the word I found myself most often using is, “fascinating.” And though there were certain chapters, philosophies, and viewpoints that I didn’t love, looking back over everything I learned from this book, I can’t get over just how fascinating and phenomenal music is. It’s such a beautiful masterpiece of creation! Toward the end of the book the words of J.S. Bach kept coming to my mind, “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”

Whether you’re a parent, music educator, student, professional musician, school teacher, I believe there are things within “Good Music Brighter Children” that every one of you would find profitable. :)

To learn more about Sharlene Habermeyer and her research visit her site: www.goodmusicbrighterchildren.com
From there you can also purchase your own copy of the book!

Review & Giveaway of Sonoptic

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The metronome gets an encore” is a very fitting tagline for the app, Sonoptic. I never cease to be amazed by the innovative and ingenious apps produced by developers-and Sonoptic is definitely among that lot of ingenuity.

After trying this app myself, here is how I would describe it:
It’s as if Sonoptic’s developers started with the idea of digitalizing Hanon exercises/a metronome app and then went to a whole new level by not only creating digital Hanon-like exercises, but ones that would cater toward whatever needs you might have! So these exercises include anything from basic scales to Blues & Jazz figures, and then from whatever one of these you select (or one of the other 5 options that I didn’t mention), you can choose subcategories to help you target a specific area in your practice. Sonoptic offers nearly 400 exercises which helps make the $6.99 price tag a little more understandable.

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It also includes customizable features like changing the tempo or key, selecting a specific note value to have the exercise favor, choosing one of the many instruments it has available, selecting a specific cycle for the exercise (repeat, randomly vary the keys) etc…

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However, the feature I like best by far is the real-time visual critique. With this feature, you can see what you played correctly/incorrectly, what you played too late/right on, and what your dynamics/articulation looked like. And then, if you desire to hear how you did, you can listen to yourself by pushing the playback button at the bottom. I can see this being very helpful for the practicing student to see where they need to improve in their scales, chords, arpeggios, and other skill building exercises.

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Overall, I think this app is quite the sophisticated metronome! :) It has beautiful notation that is easy to read, and the developers did a good job with the layout and filling the app with lots of content. Something I do hope to see them update at some point is the ability to do exercises with the left/right hand together in the piano setting.

Sonoptic is available for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch and if you’d like to enter for a chance to win your own download, express your interest in the comments and you might just be the winner next week!

 To view the Sonoptic website and get more info click here

To purchase Sonoptic click here

To view a Sonoptic demo click here

To see more pictures of what Sonoptic looks like click here (As you’ll be able to tell, the app operates in portrait mode and the iPhone layout is slightly different than the iPad and vice versa.)

Review & Giveaway of Transpos-O-Matic

It’s happened to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you. You were in a position where your teacher asked you to transpose one of your pieces, or you’re playing with a group and for the sake of the vocalist you have to lower a song by two half steps, or someone randomly asks you what a certain note is if they transpose their song to b flat minor…or something along those lines. I can find my new starting note and primary triads with no problem, but figuring out where all the rest of the notes in the song now need to be played is definitely NOT something that comes naturally. Typically my reaction is, “Well……I guess I’ll just figure the whole thing out by ear,” or “Maybe I can find something on Google that can help me?”

In actuality, though, I need a visual reference that can be placed right on the piano, something that aligns the original key with the new key so I can see where the new notes are.

If you also struggle with easily transposing and are in need of a tool to help you remedy this weakness and become more of a master, you should check into purchasing David McCord’s handy/portable transposition slide-rule. :) The Transpos-O-Matic slide-rule comes in two different sizes and is made from 14 pt SBS paper board material, so don’t worry about having to replace it every two weeks from wear and tear because it’s pretty durable. :) (If you check out the video, you’ll be able to see what else this device has to offer on the opposite side! :) )

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If you have more questions about the Transpos-O-Matics check out the website.

Lastly…the giveaway! Because of the generosity of Mr. McCord, if you enter the giveaway-via the comment section-THREE of our MMB participants will win one of his handy dandy Transpos-O-Matic tools. Whether for personal use, your studio, or a friend, I can see this little resource becoming a great asset.