Sunday, January 16, 2011

A New Chapter in North Carolina article (Jan 2011)

Here is an article that was featured in the Winter 2011 TI:MES - a newsletter from the Technology Institute for Music Educators ( This was based on a presentation by the TI:ME NC board at the 2010 NCMEA in Winston-Salem. [pdf]

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Using Smart Phones for Music Education

by Dr. John Kuzmich, Jr.

Published in the June 2010 issue of School Band & Orchestra Magazine (link) (pdf)

Have you ever had a teaching moment where you were lucky enough to have just the right tool to create magic? Matthew Etherington, a middle school teacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, did, and that tool just happened to be his iPhone. One of his guitarists had a question about an odd-sounding C6/9 chord. He states, "We looked up the voicing on Guitar Toolkit and I was able to both show him the voicing and strum the electronic strings to hear the sound of the chord - quite amazing."

Smart phone technology is making magic with a plethora of music applications or "apps." Reva Paget, a private studio violin instructor in Wisconsin, regularly uses the multi-track recording, strobe tuner, and metronome applications on her iPhone. She loves having a tuner right at her fingertips. Peterson Electronics, a leader in the tuner industry, is making an iPhone version of its popular StroboSoft tuning program. iStroboSoft uses the classic Peterson strobe display to provide 1/10th cent accuracy. The glowing sharp and flat indicators simplify tuning when it is difficult to determine which direction the strobe is moving, making it easy for musicians who don't normally like strobe tuners. It also includes a noise filter, which reduces the effect of extraneous environmental noise; this is helpful when using an external mic or a clip-on tuning device.

A metronome is a "must have" teaching tool and it is especially handy if you can carry it around on your smart phone. Frozen Ape Tempo is an excellent smart phone metronome. The simple, single-screen interface makes it perfect for drummers to use live. It features 17 different time signatures and is adjustable from 20 to 220 BPM. The tap tempo allows you to tap along with the music to capture the tempo.

Smart phone technology is popular among professional musicians like guitar legend, Al Di Meola, who uses his iPhone to create music compositions. He says, "I never dreamed that an amazing user friendly system for recording sound on sound could ever exist on a phone. Four Track (multi-track recording app) represents a major leap forward for the traveling musician-composer! I did most of my writing on this app this past year! I love it!"

Smart Phone - What is it?

Technology innovations seem to be coming at us at a dizzying pace. Our students can't get enough of the latest and greatest technology, and there is a reason everyone is clamoring for the highly portable, all-in-one devices.
When you think of a cell phone do you think of making phone calls or texting? Are you aware of the instructional offerings the latest cell phones provide? A smart phone is a mobile phone that offers advanced capabilities, often with PC-like functionality (PC-mobile handset convergence). There is no industry standard definition of a smart phone. For some, a smart phone is a phone that runs a complete operating system with software providing a standardized interface and platform for application developers. For others, a smart phone is simply a phone with features considered advanced at the time of its release - for example, in the early 2000s this included e-mail and Internet, but these are now common on non-smart phones, too. Other definitions might include features such as e-book reader capabilities, WiFi, and/or a built-in full keyboard or external USB keyboard and VGA connectors.

Today, a smart phone is generally considered to be a miniature computer that has phone capability, and with many applications ("apps") to enhance your teaching. A smart phone can include as standard features Internet access, text messaging, e-mail access, integrated digital camera, high quality audio recording and playback, location finder, and more.

Choosing a Smart Phone

After choosing a phone carrier, you'll need to consider what type of smart phone you want. Here are some things to consider:

User Interface The most important thing about a smart phone is its user interface, or the software utilized to interact with the device. The intuitiveness of menus will often determine whether a given phone is worth owning.
Specs Processor and memory. Most smart phone buyers don't pay attention to what kind of processor a given device has, but a good CPU can mean the difference between a silky smooth experience and a frustratingly slow one.
Display The right size, resolution, and touch features. If you prefer a smart phone optimized for messaging, test drive one that places the keyboard directly beneath the screen. Screen resolution matters just as much as size. Multitouch touchscreens allow you to use pinching gestures for zooming in on maps, photos, and Web pages.
Keyboard This should allow for fast and accurate typing. Entering text on a device should be easy; choosing a smart phone with a good keyboard is paramount.
Web Browsing Get the best surfing experience. All smart phones can handle full HTML Web browsing, but the most pleasing models load pages quickly and make it easy to pan around and zoom in on Web pages.
Apps Quantity and quality. Thanks to the iPhone, applications have become increasingly important to shoppers. These programs let you do a lot more with your device whether it's streaming Internet radio, posting Facebook or Twitter updates, reading eBooks or playing high quality games. The iPhone market currently has over 140,000 apps while the Android market has more than 20,000, making it a distant but respectable second in this category.
Contacts and Calendar Sync with your USB or the Cloud? Is it easy to transfer with your PC/Mac contacts and calendar entries. Android phones sync with the cloud; all you have to do is enter an e-mail address and password for various accounts to start loading your device with information.
E-Mail and Messaging The best smart phones help you keep multiple accounts up to date while offering robust attachment support.
Music and Video When it comes to multimedia, there's the iPhone, and then there's everything else. Between Apple's iTunes store and iPod integration, the iPhone OS is the best choice for those looking to load their smart phones up with contents, especially when it comes to wireless music and video purchases.
Camera and Camcorder Smart phones can take pictures and record video. Look beyond megapixels. What's more important is the image quality, speed of the device, and how easy it is to share images and clips.
GPS While GPS technology is common, a smart phone can leverage your address book and give you a bigger screen to emulate a standalone navigation device. Pay attention to how loud and clear the voice is through the smart phone's speaker and how intuitive the menus are to use.
Battery Life How long is long enough? Because voice calls are just a tiny fraction of what today's smart phones can do, the rated talk time for any given device is virtually meaningless. What's more important is how long you can use the phone for checking e-mail, searching the Web, or performing other data-intensive chores. I recommend that the usage time be one entire workday with moderate to heavy usage.

Smart phones are becoming indispensable for today's savvy music educator who needs to accomplish more in less time. Today's leader in smart phone technology is Apple's iPhone with its intuitive touch interface and sleek design. Apple's App Store has created a micro-economy that is a $1 billion-per-year business. iPhone is clearly winning the app development battle, boasting more available programs than for Android, Blackberry, Palm, webOS and Windows Mobile smart phones all combined.

Why are iPhones so popular with developers? There are only three iPhone models while the popular Android phones have many, making it difficult for developers to program apps for so many incompatible phones. The iPhone is also popular for it is audio quality. Androids currently cannot synchronize recording and playback as required by multi-track recording. This is critical for the current trend of music expression, and something music educators must be aware of.

A good Web site to check out for a video demonstrations of how smart phones can be used for education is to do a Web search for "Best Ways to Produce Music on an iPhone."

Also, don't underestimate the capability of smart phones for digital audio recordings. While internal microphones aren't necessarily meant for recording music, microphone-engineered recording apps and tools on smart phones are continually improving.

The Smart Phone's Cousin

You can run iPhone apps on an iPod Touch and have the convenience of having extra iPod storage for music songs and samples while also keeping your current cell phone and provider. All of the apps that run on an iPhone can also run on an iPad. The only drawback to getting an iPad in it's first generation is that it lacks the capability to run programs that use Flash, such as Smart Music.

Smart phone technology is connecting music teachers to their students as never before. There are virtually no limits to the creativity; fun, and imagination this technology affords. Music apps are generally very affordable and in many cases free! Need more proof of the potential of smart phone technology for music educators? Download the Quicktime video at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Computer & A Microphone article (Jan 2010)

This week, my article was published in the TI:MES - a newsletter from the Technology Institute for Music Educators ( This was based on a presentation I gave at the 2009 TI:ME National Conference in San Antonio, TX. [pdf]

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Technology is music to their ears (March 2007)

[The News & Observer article]
[PDF version]

Sitting at a computer at school, Evan Judd tinkered with his rap remix as if it were a recipe. He added a little percussion, threw in a wailing siren sound here and there, and even spliced in the sound of a ringing telephone.

"It's hard to get the timing right," the 12-year-old said, fiddling with the sound bites on the computer screen.

With audio editing software widely available through personal computers these days, almost anyone can be a record producer--even the pupils at Camelot Academy, a Durham private school just south of downtown.

The small school, like so many nationwide, is pushing to implement more technology into its classes, not stopping with science and math.

"It's a way to use technology in a meaningful way, not just a fancy way to access the same information," said Thelma Glynn, director and founder of the school.

And one of the teachers at the school who does it best is music instructor Matthew Etherington.

It's only his first year at Camelot Academy, but already, students of all ages in his music classes have used computers to mix songs and write their own compositions.

Later this year, one of Etherington's class projects using audio editing software will be featured in a national publication for music educators.

The project required third- and fourth-grade students to listen to the calls of common birds such as song sparrows and the black-capped chickadee and interpret those tunes in musical form.

Using keyboards connected to their computers, the students wrote out the chirpy melodies and played them back, tweaking them to mimic the tone and rhythm of the backyard critters.

The computer lab equipped with headphones, special keyboards and the Macintosh software "GarageBand" lets the students experience the sounds of instruments they might never have seen in real life.

"It makes learning way bigger than what can happen in any classroom in any school," Glynn said.

For example, the group of seventh- and eighth-graders in Etherington's music elective class got a unique and challenging assignment a few weeks ago: Listen to an Indian raga, a form of classical music using a scale different from those common in Western music, and recreate it themselves.

Make no mistake -- Etherington's classroom still has many of the items common to music classes that date back decades -- xylophones are stacked in the corner, and shakers and other percussion instruments are tucked away in bins.

"People walk in and see the computers, and say, 'Oh, that's music now?' " Etherington said. "But it's not meant to replace the traditional. It's really enhancing what they do."

Staff writer Samiha Khanna can be reached at 956-2468 or

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Apple Store Night (Nov 2006)

[The Durham News article]

Stanley B. Chambers Jr., Staff Writer

After taking a picture inside a Spanish classroom, Joshua Pettway returned downstairs, where his teacher used his personal Apple laptop to download the pictures from the digital camera before transferring them to Joshua's Apple desktop.

Joshua and seven other students in Camelot Academy's Web design club spend an hour after school working on a virtual tour of the building. The project will be added to the school's Web site in the spring, but on Tuesday their work-in-progress was featured at the Apple School Night at the computer manufacturer's store in Southpoint mall.

The seasonal weekly event, which commenced in 2001 and occurs in stores across the United States, Canada and England, showcases what local schools are doing with Apple computers. Southwest Elementary, Glenwood Elementary and Lowe's Grove Middle schools have already participated in the event.

Students at Camelot, a small, private K-12 school on Proctor Street, also showcased a PowerPoint presentation and their usage of GarageBand, an Apple music making program. The school purchased 13 Apple laptops last year to supplement their 10 Apple desktops, computers the Web design club's eight members used on Monday.

In the club, students learn about basic "HTML" (computer language used to create Web pages), integrating pictures onto Web pages, using a digital camera and how to make Web sites. Students are using that knowledge to create Web sites for each classroom.

Bryan van Dijk, 13, was working on his math room page, with its green background and black text. This was his first time doing Web design.

"It's pretty fun once you finally understand it," Bryan said. "You can show yourself how smart [you] actually are by showing your own work."

Joshua was pretty far along on his Spanish room page, though one picture was stretched.

"The pictures look distorted," said Matthew Etherington, club adviser.

"The pictures aren't distorted, except maybe for that one," said Joshua, pointing at a picture of a desk.

Joshua got help from Michal Bugno, 12, who showed him how to place a link on his page. Michal knows a bit about HTML; he taught himself the computer language about three years ago. His work is already on the Web:

"I just read a book," he said of learning how to make Web sites.

The school's 13 laptops are in high demand at Camelot, where students often use them for research and teachers utilize online resources while in class. It only makes sense for students to have regular access to computers because of their wide usage, Etherington said.

Turning his computer skills into a career is something Michal is considering, and he believes the club is helping him do just that.

"I think it'd be fun to do, something that I'm good at," he said.

Stanley B. Chambers Jr. can be reached at 956-2426 or at

Friday, September 29, 2006

Hip Hop and Science at Duke

[Duke Chronicle Article]

CIEMAS brings hip- hop to middle school

Leigh Wilson

Posted: 9/29/06

Hip-hop and science may seem like an odd pair, but students from Githens Middle School found yesterday afternoon that the two actually "mix" quite well.

Students participated in an interactive performance called Mix Tapestry Thursday that used the technology of Duke's Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences studio along with hip-hop lyrics to inspire them to pursue educational opportunities in science and technology.

Middle school students at the University of Illinois were able to participate via the Internet, as well.

Robi Roberts, also know as J Bully, is a hip-hop artist and adjunct faculty member at Duke who performed his original rap, "Lemonade." The song encourages students to pursue an education with lyrics such as, "get your bachelors, your masters, and your doctorate. It's there if you want it. You're the only one stopping it."

As students danced along, the motion of their dancing was captured by webcams around the room, and computers turned this motion into sound, transforming the studio into a space that could be "played" like a musical instrument.

Roberts stressed the importance of combining student interests with a positive message.

"If you get students involved using something they're into, they are much more likely to remember the experience," he said.

Kitty Brawley, the 8th grade councilor at Githens Middle School, also spoke out about the importance of these types of experiences for students.

"Our students don't do well in traditional classrooms all the time, so the opportunity to be interactive helps them to get excited about education."

Ginny Darnell, an elective math teacher at the school, also confirmed the effectiveness of the project for students.

"A fun technological exposure will allow them to know that [technology] is here to help them broaden their horizons," she said.

The students expressed a desire to hold a variety of different occupations such as a pediatrician, an artist, a lawyer, a basketball player, a cosmetologist and a police officer in the future.

The project Thursday helped them to see that both science and technology will be important in any of these jobs, said Rachael Brady, director of the Visualization Technology Group and the coordinator of the event.

"The idea is to make science and technology relevant to the African-American culture through an instance of their culture," Brady said.

"It shows that everybody, even rappers, need to learn these things so they do too," she added.

The experience also encouraged the students to spread the message about the importance of technology to other student as well.

"It helped me want to help get others involved now that I have had a chance to be involved myself," said Jessica Lunsford, a student from Githens Middle School.

Matthew Etherington, who teaches at the nearby Camelot Academy, heard about the performance from a parent of a student who works at the University.

Etherington requested his students be allowed to participate at the studio as well.

"I've been teaching my high school students music technology mainly using [the Apple program] GarageBand and they have been creating their own pieces," he said. "This seems like an interesting way for them to see how interactive and applicable the music technology they are learning about can be."