Have an iPod Touch or iPhone? You can stream from the podium with Bluetooth

Is the stereo in your rehearsal room located too far from your podium? If it is you probably don't use reference recordings and a rehearsal metronome as often as you should. Well if you have an iPod Touch/iPhone and about fifty bucks, you can stream music and metronome from your podium to your stereo. All you need is this device from Sony: The HWS-BTA2W ... catchy name, very easy to remember.

This little device (only about two inches high) is a Bluetooth receiver. Simply plug it in, connect the audio output to your stereo, then "pair" it with your iPod Touch/iPhone. Pairing works just like pairing a Bluetooth ear piece. Just like that, you will be able to stream the audio output of your iPod/iPhone from just about anywhere in the room. No time wasted walking over to the stereo. You can stop/start the metronome instantly (I like "Tempo" or "Dr. Betotte"), or pull up a reference recording on the spot. Pretty cool right?

Another nice feature: You can also transmit audio with these Sony devices, and they will pair with one another. So with two of these (one set to transmit, and one to receive) you can send audio wirelessly from anything that has a headphone jack, so you're not limited to devices with built in Bluetooth like the iPod Touch/iPhone. The only catch is that the Sony device is not battery powered, so you would need AC at your podium if you wanted to use one as a transmitter.

Bluetooth has a range of about 30 feet, so it's not the solution to everything, but for those of us who have multiple rehearsal setups in the same room, this can be a real productivity enhancer, and it sure beats running a long audio cable across the floor.

Update: I forgot to mention that this can also be a nice way to stream from your Mac too, since Macs have Bluetooth audio profiles built in and you can easily pair it with the Sony. Comes in handy when your computer is not near the stereo. The Sony will pair with up to seven devices.

Twitter makes phone trees a thing of the past

Last spring as my wife was preparing to take her college choir on a trip across Europe, we were discussing how to keep in touch with the whole group easily. It is always a little nerve wracking when students are spread out across an airport terminal or sight seeing in a foreign country and the need arises to reach everyone. Time can really be of the essence in those situations, especially if the itinerary needs to change on a moments notice.

It occurred to me that Twitter might be a viable option for a mass contact tool. If you don't know much about Twitter, I'll explain it briefly as a service that people use for posting information, thoughts, or status updates. So it is basically like the status box in Facebook for those of you familiar with that feature. Twitter does a few other things, but not much. It really is focused on these brief 140 character updates, which are fondly referred to as "tweets."

Well, one of those "other things" that Twitter does is allow a user to receive updates from someone as a text message on their mobile phone. It was this feature that appealed to me, because it seemed to me that my wife could post one "tweet" and, provided all the students were "following" her, they would all receive the tweet instantly as a mobile text. We decided to try it. Over the next few weeks the students registered for Twitter, requested to be able to "follow" my wife's updates (which were set to private), and checked the box for receiving tweets from her via sms. Twitter sends a quick verification text to your mobile phone and then you're all set for getting tweets as sms. The whole process from registration to verification takes just a few minutes once you know the steps.

After a few tests stateside we were set. She ended up using this tool quite a bit, both in the various airports and across France and Austria. Any changes in plans were easily and instantly communicated to everyone. Worked like a charm, and sure beat trying to use a phone tree. If your groups travels a lot, it might be something you want to consider. If you students are younger and having Twitter accounts isn't a viable option, you could at least use it to communicate with your chaperones. It could also be a nice way to keep parents back home up to date as well. For example, you (the teacher) could have an account for communicating with the students and/or chaperones, and one chaperone could have an account for trip highlights that parents could subscribe to. In any case, let me know if you have any questions, I'm happy to help if you want to give this a try.

UPDATE: I now recommend www.sendgm.com over using Twitter for mass sms.

Holiday music streaming

Making your music accessible

Thanks to devoting a little time a few years ago, streaming music wirelessly around my house is in "set it and forget mode." This is especially nice during the holidays when teachers have a nice block of time to relax or entertain friends and family. Even if you aren't up for tackling "whole house audio" I'll start with a very easy tip for getting your holiday music organized, whether you are playing it from just an iPod or computer hooked up to speakers. The bottom line is that if you take a little time to get organized, you will listen to your music collection more often, even when it's not a holiday season.

Apple's Smart Playlists

A nice feature that Apple added to iTunes a few years ago is called the "Smart Playlist." This is a list that looks for certain criteria automatically so you don't have to manually find and drag tunes into a playlist (though that works fine if you don't have a huge music collection). Smart Playlists update themselves automatically as you add new music to your iTunes library as well. For holiday music the easiest way I have found is to have iTunes search the "genre" field for the word "Holiday." Presto, you have holiday music ready to go. However this method is not perfect. I have found that, oddly enough, not all holiday albums are classified with the genre "holiday." And perhaps you have some music that really isn't holiday music but you like to listen to it during the holidays. What to do? First, I'll explain how to re-classify your holiday music should you desire to use this method. It's pretty easy. I'll be talking about Christmas music here, with all due respect to those of you who celebrate other holidays. Alter as needed!

Getting Organized

First you need to be sure you can see the genre field while looking at your library (it doesn't show up by default). So look under the "View" menu and choose the view options. Check the box for "genre" and now you will be able to see whether or not a Christmas album is tagged as "Holiday." Now, type the word "Christmas" into the search bar, and most (but probably not all) of your Christmas music will appear. Click the top column of the album field to sort everything by album. Now scroll and keep an eye out for any album that is not classified as "Holiday." If you find one that isn't, select all the tracks for that album (use the shift key and click the first and then last track) press control and the letter i. Under the info you will see the genre. Press and change the genre to "Holiday." Press OK and all the tracks will be re-classified as Holiday. Now try searching for any other albums that may not contain the word "Christmas" and make sure they too are labled as "Holiday." Now your genre Smart List should work nicely. Shuffle and go! Caveat: If you have other holiday music in your collection (I don't know, let's say "Easter") then this method may not work so well for you. Read on.

As some of you have probably already attempted, you could also simply create a Smart List that looks at the album title field and finds anything with the word "Christmas." This works and is much quicker, though you may miss some albums that do not include Christmas in the title. You may need to add some other criteria to catch everything (click the plus sign to add additional criteria). Maybe you have some other Smart List creation tips. Leave a comment if so. Again the nice thing about Smart Lists is that they update automatically, so when you add new music your Smart List will see it as long as it matches your criteria. By the way, Apple's new "Genius Mix" feature would be a natural for holiday music, but unfortunately they didn't really implement it properly. I've found that when you click a Christmas tune and then the Genius button, it invariably includes a few unrelated tunes by some similar artist. Hopefully Apple will think about tweaking that feature.

AirTunes and the Airport Express

I've used AirTunes with an Apple Express in the past to stream audio from my laptop to powered speakers elsewhere in the house. But a couple of winters ago I finally got serious about it. I'm using my Apple TV as the source, and I have three Airport Expresses throughout the house that are connected to either powered speakers or an input on a stereo system. I like Apple TV because I can use it with my High Def TV to not only listen to my music on my home theater setup, but also rent HD movies through iTunes. But you can also use your computer as the hub for this idea just as easily. Note that some people hear about AirTunes and they start looking for where to buy "AirTunes." AirTunes is the name of the techology that is used by the AirPort Express. So it's already built into iTunes, and it's free. What you need to buy is the Airport Express.

Using the iPhone (or iPod Touch) with Apple's free app called "Remote" I can access everything from anywhere in the house. Additionally, the Remote app can select or de-select any of the speakers and also control volume, so you can route the audio on the spot wherever you want it to go in the house. Powered speakers are plentiful these days. You can usually find some nice sounding models in the computer area at any Best Buy, or take a look on Amazon. If you have an iPod dock, sometimes they have an "external in" jack on the back. With the right cord (male stereo mini to male stereo mini) you can connect the output of the Airport Express to that jack.

You can read more about Airtunes at the following link.


Happy Holidays!

Harnessing the Web for Better Music Teaching with Diigo

The Inefficiency of Web Surfing

I surf the web...... a lot. I gave up on saving bookmarks in my browser a long time ago. If you have more than 100 bookmarks you know why. It's a losing battle. Looking at your bookmarks, you'll be lucky if you can even recall what 25% of your bookmarks are about, based on the name alone.

So nowadays I find myself thinking "what the heck was the name of that site I stumbled upon for sightreading...." or "what was that high school on the west coast that had a great looking website...." Then I do what most of us do: I "Google it" until I can find the site again.

Hopelessly inefficient.

I've also added many links to facebook. Sure, that's a nice way to share something you've found, but what if you want to get back to it later? Facebook does not have a way to organize or search links that you have posted. You have to page back through your links to find what you want.

Again, hopelessly inefficient.

Enter Diigo.com

Then more recently I found out about diigo.com. I posted about it, and some of you have checked it out. But clearly I did not make enough of an impact upon many of you, so I thought I would blog about it. I'm hoping that by the end of this post I will have convinced you to give diigo a try. I believe it has enormous impact for us as teachers.

So in short, diigo is a site for bookmarking sites. Big deal right? Well, on the surface yes, it can seem like no big deal, just one more thing to worry about. But there are two big reasons why you should try diigo. The first is for simple productivity. How many of you have large music libraries at your school or district? Can you imagine trying to find music without a database, master list, or other system? Some of us have taken on the task of creating a catalog system for our music libraries, so we know first hand how wonderful the outcome can be. Now, instead of picking through drawer after drawer in search of a piece, we find it quickly and easily.

Well, that is what diigo does for the web. Every time I find a website that has something of interest, I send it to diigo where it gets cataloged for easy retrieval. And I can get to my diigo links from any computer easily (or even from my phone). Diigo allows you to add tags to your bookmarks, so for example I can visit my diigo page and type "wind ensemble" and I will instantly pull up all of my bookmarks tagged as such. Very powerful.

The second major reason to try diigo holds exponential power for us, and that reason is collaboration. Diigo allows you to create groups. I have created a group called (shockingly) teaching-music. Anyone who is a member of that group can share any of their diigo bookmarks to the group. Imagine the possibilities. Sure, we all teach music, but we all have our areas of specialization. If everyone shared even just a few of their favorite websites, we could build a library of thousands of helpful sites. And it all happens automatically. The group library can be sorted, searched, discussed, etc. You can receive automatic updates via email anytime links are added by others. You can post annotations over the top of sites that point out specific features. It holds tremendous promise.

Right now our group has just five thirty-two members. I hope you will seriously consider joining and adding just a few of your favorite sites. College students, I'm talking to you too! Even though you are not out in the field yet, you know a lot of great sites. One of the biggest problems we face in our profession is a resistance to working together. Please everyone, let's step up to the plate and be willing to share.

First, join diigo (it takes seconds) and then join the teaching-music group.