Coding, coding, coding!

codingSometimes coding data seems like an endless job. But we’re making progress! In the past two years, we’ve collected data from almost 20,000 students, teachers, and parents. And we’re still trying to make sense of it!

Learning to sing or to play an instrument is a long and complex process. Interestingly, sometimes the analysis moves forward when we pull out the traditional pen and paper methods, and put the technology away. Most of the time, though, it takes both. Pictured here are doctoral candidates Karen Boese (Queen’s) and Wynnpaul Varela (Concordia), in the midst of a multi-day coding bonanza! We also hosted Nathalie De Grâce (Sherbrooke CEGEP) for more coding later in the week, and our newest PhD student Rosie Kerr (Queen’s) also joined the fray.

OrchPlay Music Library

We’ve just learned about an amazing digital tool to support orchestration and composition called OrchPlay Music Library. Now while the audience for this tool is a bit older than the tools that have been created in The Music Tool Suite, we think it’s a tool well worth sharing. Even younger students will enjoy learning about various orchestral works contained in the library.

orchplayAnd it is great fun to listen to these works and see what parts of the orchestra make up the performing forces. The mixer tool allows users to turn on and turn off various sections of the orchestra, allowing for the kinds of careful listening and analysis that students are expected to undertake in advanced studies.

orchplayorchplayOur Principal Investigator, Rena Upitis, was treated to a demonstration of OrchPlay by Denys Bouliane, General Director for OrchPlay Music. Many of you will know Denys Bouliane as a composer and conductor – and now, add to that, a creator of exciting digital tools! Although there’s nothing like a live demonstration, you can learn more about OrchPlay by watching the video on the OrchPlay website.



Curious Piano Teachers

curious piano teachersThere’s a marvellous organization spear-headed by two UK piano teachers, Sally Cathcart and Sharon Mark-Teggart, called The Curious Piano Teachers. Their most recent blog mentions the Music Tool Suite, and we’re delighted to be highlighted. Turn around’s fair play – this also gives us the perfect opportunity to let you know about this fantastic professional development resource. And while the emphasis is obviously on piano teaching, there are often general issues tackled that would apply to music teachers working with other instruments as well.

Here’s the link to the MTS-related blog:

You can learn more about Sally’s and Sharon’s work through their website at:

Cadenza in the Real World, Part 1

As a long standing teacher advisor on the MEDA project (the creators and developers of Cadenza, Notemaker, and DREAM) I’ve recently been blogging with great excitement about Cadenza. I’ve played around with demo versions in the development stage, and I’ve play tested the final version with “dummy” student accounts. I originally titled this blog, “Cadenza for Dummies (aka, Me)”, but rethought it. I didn’t want to alienate anyone unfamiliar with that series of how-to books, so I re-titled it, “Cadenza in the Real World”. Now that the real version is out, I’ve been talking with other Cadenza-using teachers and parents and giving it a real-life go myself with my own real-life students. Here’s what I’ve discovered: I really do need a “Cadenza for Dummies” manual.

I’m a dummy. Yup. A fairly intelligent dummy, mind you, but still…. yeah. Here are my most recent revelations:

Facepalm #1. I neglected to tell my piano families the most basic direction, prominently placed at the top of this informative article. To use Cadenza, folks need to have a Google account in place for each student. In a nutshell, this means that each student must have their own g-mail address or they won’t be able to use it. I won’t admit to how many students I directed to Cadenza to set up an account there, and who dutifully did exactly that using their regular emails, leaving me wondering why they weren’t accepting my invitation to join my studio Cadenza family. For some only-understood-by-techies reason, they just weren’t getting my invitations! Parents of younger kids can be reassured that this g-mail account (and address) can be securely “closed off” through the google security settings, and miss or mister munchkin need never receive emails or ever use it again. Cadenza and Notemaker just prefer to use a Google platform.

HINT: if you’re not super security conscious, it will simplify your life bigtime if you make your Cadenza g-mail address and password the same as your regular one (for example,, password “abcde12345”, and, password “abcde12345”).

Facepalm #2: I have wonderful, cooperative piano parents. Several of them actually used their child’s existing g-mail account, set a new one up, or used their own parental g-mail account to successfully set up Cadenza. I then used said g-mail address to invite them into my studio Cadenza group and we used Cadenza right there at the lesson to create our first lesson plan – ahhhh, sweet success!

Not so fast. Lesson plan done (and, yes, I did remember to click the check mark at the bottom of each lesson addition to “save” it!), munchkin and parent toddled home. I spoke with a mum this morning who informed me that she and munchkin had sat down to practice – with Cadenza alongside – and after a good bit of time working on a tecassignment arrowhnique assignment, this mum realized that they’d neglected to press the little arrow to the right of the pink assignment box. “Wait. What’s this??”

Arrow is pressed….

…technique assignment page is accessed…and – voila!  – “start practice” button appears…start practice

…gets clicked…

practice timer

…and practice session (and timer!) begins.



Argh!! Mum and I are wiser, and now you may be, too. Another related headsup: if you click on the little pencil, you can manually adjust the time yourself (but don’t tell that to the kids!).

Angela Elster Receives Meritorious Service Decoration

On this past Thursday morning, June 23, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, presented Meritorious Service Decorations (Civil Division) to 52 recipients from various sectors across the country during a ceremony at Rideau Hall. One of the recipients was Angela Elster, who served on the Executive of the Music Education in the Digital Age (MEDA) project from the very beginning, until this past fall, when she left the Royal Conservatory to pursue new arts initiatives, all across our nation.

Angela Elster“I’m very proud to present the Meritorious Service Decorations, which gives me a chance, on behalf of all Canadians, to confer this honour on people who perform exceptional deeds and activities,” said the Governor General. “Congratulations to all of the recipients, who inspire us to find our passions, to show compassion, and to make this a smarter and more caring world.”

Indeed, Angela has done a great deal to make this “a smarter and more caring world.” Her Meritorious Service Medal was in recognition of her leadership in founding and shepherding the Learning Through The Arts (LTTA) program with the Royal Conservatory of Music. LTTA helps educators integrate arts-based activities into core subjects like math, science and social studies. As vice-president, she fostered the program’s growth by partnering with countless teachers and organizations, reaching over 350 000 students in a ten year period. One of the first MEDA projects took place in an LTTA school, where we used a digital tool to enable students to explore ecology through dance.

Congratulations from all of us, Angela! We’re thrilled at your accomplishment and honoured to count you as a colleague.

Cadenza and Notemaker, Together!

Do you remember that old commercial for those peanut butter cups?

“You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”

“You got chocolate in my peanut butter!”

Then both parties take a bite and suddenly their irate expressions turn ecstatic?

Well, that was me and several of my best “music geek” students a short time ago when Notemaker and Cadenza officially made their debut as a couple.

Now, I know it’s exam and recital season for many of us, so rather than wax poetic yet again about the wonders of each and both combined, I’ll just cut to the chase for now – they’re wonderful and…

…here’s where you can find them:

Notemaker (a.k.a. Notemaker-Cadenza) is an Apple app – sorry android folks! – and is free from the Apple app store here or just hit your app store app (don’t you just love the new English language?) and search for Notemaker-Cadenza. A small heads up:  you and your students will need gmail or google drive accounts, but please don’t let that slow you down.  How-to video links are included below!Notemaker appcadenza

Cadenza, on the other hand, is not an app. It’s a free online resource and it’s available to all platforms. You can find it at

Being low on the learning curve stinks, I know, and the kind MEDA folks know, too.  Here are several informative and helpful YouTube video’s they’ve made:



An overview of Cadenza’s features and teaching applications…

Notemaker’s features and use demonstrations….

…and finally, there’s a series of 11 more detailed Cadenza “how-to” videos.   You can access the full playlist menu by clicking the list icon at the top left of the box below.


Not sure how to use Notemaker?   There’s a series of videos for that, too.  Hint:  If you don’t have a g-mail account, I’d recommend starting at the end, with “Creating a Google Account”.

Next time:  your feedback and ideas for using Cadenza and Notemaker, whether innovative or day to day! Keep them coming, folks!


International Survey Winners!

international surveyBack in October, 2015, the MEDA Project launched a huge international survey of music students, parents, and teachers to find the answers to questions including…

  • What do students find most challenging in terms of practising between lessons?
  • What strategies do they use to become more self-regulated as learners?
  • What kinds of repertoire and genres do they enjoy most? How do parents contribute to the musical development of their children?
  • Do parents who have played an instrument or sing do things differently than parents who don’t play or sing? And what about the teachers?
  • How big are their studio practices?
  • How long have they been teaching?
  • In what ways do they think that technology might be able to help them engage their students?
  • What kinds of professional development appeal to them most?

Thousands of participants provided some very valuable data, and survey results will be available soon.

As a “thank you” for completing the comprehensive surveys, participants in each category – teacher, parent, or student – were also entered into a draw for a $500 Amazon gift card.

Prizes have now been awarded and, though we likely didn’t win (not fair, right? lol), here are the lucky winners:

amazon gift cardIn the “teacher” category – Alda Lee of Richmond, British Columbia

In the “parent” category – Sheila Pasay of Vegreville, Alberta, and….

In the “student” category – Dimitar Tomovski of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Congratulations to each, and a very big thank you to everyone who participated!



DREAMing … About Modes

A long, very long, time ago, I learned about modes. I didn’t actually learn about them in a proper “I’ve got this” way, but I did pass that section of the RCM rudiments exam. Yup, memorize the little acronym sentence (which I immediately forgot in my post-exam relief), calculate where the semitones fall, and identify it or write it out. Done and done.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 2.19.59 PMNow as a teacher, I want more for my students. One of my goals is to introduce modes early on in a more organic, experiential way a la Forrest Kinney and his wonderful “Pattern Play” series (modes are in book 2). The Orff teaching philosophy emphasizes “experience first, thScreen Shot 2016-03-30 at 2.21.57 PMen intellectualize.” With this in mind, I’ve had my little and big students exploring the various modal colours and moods by “colouring within the lines” any way they wish. I give them some or all of the notes they can use and set them loose to improvise over my modal accompaniment pattern.

Students (or teachers with weak spots, like me!) can hear these modal colours outside the teaching studio as well. YouTube is full of some great listening examples and improvisation backing tracks. It’s also full of a lot of time-eating chaff. Here’s a pre-sifted, chaff-free list for you, care of DREAM!





Orchestral:  (dorian morphing into 8-tone/octatonic scale)



Play-along track:



Play-along track:


Piano:   (early-level, good intro to playing modes)












“iHarmony is a fully complete collection of all the scales, chords and harmonizations you can find in music. It’s very common for musicians getting confused about music theory… what notes is G# diminished 7 chord made of? What about the Bebop Dominant scale or worst… what about the harmonization of D# Melodic Minor scale? No more getting annoyed to search the web about the Lydian 7b scale, the Neapolitan scale or the Wholetone scale! Extremely useful when you write music, before a jam with your band, to do the functional analysis of jazz standards or to do your musical homework. “


Next time, the Big Reveal!! Cadenza, soon to be united with Notemaker, and creative ways teachers are using them.

Cadenza for Teachers

Welcome to Cadenza for teachers.  Back in Part 1, I waxed poetic about Cadenza’s student features, including features for students to:

  • upload their recordings and videos directly via the Notemaker app for teacher feedback and self assessment
  • take ownership of their practice sessions through the use of the timer, planning and reflection tools, and end-of-practice emoji ratings
  • Cadenza sign-in page

    Cadenza sign-in page

    clearly see detailed practice goals and when they’ve met them — learners will enjoy seeing and marking off tick-box tasks as they’re completed each day

  • receive motivational practice points to earn cyber badges (always good for a bit of friendly competition between studio friends!)

Here in Part 2, we’ll take a look at a couple of Cadenza highlights from the teacher’s perspective.

Who’s Practiced, What, How Much, and When?

From our main student-list page, we can see our students’ last login, and get quick access to our private notes on each, access to lesson history via the “list of lessons,” direct access to the latest lesson, and a “new lesson” button to make best use of those too-short lessons.

A quick click on “list of lessons” will get us a synopsis of a student’s lesson history which allows us and our students, with a brief scan, to see the bigger picture. Here, in my student persona, we can see four practice sessions, some better than others. Maybe it’s just a bad week, or maybe it’s part of a bigger pattern, but it’s easier to address if we can see it clearly.lesson overview

“I Didn’t Know You Wanted Me to Do That (So I Didn’t do Anything)”

How many times have we, as teachers, had a student say they weren’t sure what to practice so they didn’t practice at all? Hopefully not many, but there will always be that one little lost lamb (LLL) who benefits more than average from specific — often VERY specific — practice guidance and direction. The challenging part is to keep those lessons moving along but still be able jot down specific enough suggestions to keep LLL shepherded all week. Personally, I just don’t enjoy the tension of those minutes ticking by as I scribble detailed practice instructions into their notebook while my young pianist either retreats into quiet dreamland or throws himself into an energetic exploration of the “forte” capabilities of my fortepiano! Cadenza may save another life.

Let’s say I’m galloping into a new session with a student. I’ve clicked on “new lesson”, which brought me here to enter a few specific instructions: find themes 1 and 2  (check when completed) and learn each theme (play 3 times correctly).  Other options I could have chosen from were “repeat” x times; and “duration”, work on the assignment for a specified time. I chose “repeat 3 times”, but you might choose more or fewer repetitions.   To streamline the process, Cadenza has predictive typing — it anticipates frequently-repeated phrases or words, thus saving you precious keystrokes in the future. In the upper-right corner, you can see that I make the week’s target five practices, and that’s what will help decide the student’s automatic points and badges.

practice instruction choices

A quick click on “save”, and this is what LLL will see when they log into their account and start practicing:

new assignment student view

It’s clear and concise, and there’s something about unchecked tick boxes encourages more active participation than simply skimming instructions (if they get read at all!) from a page of notes. No tick, not done, no points. Many students need it to be that simple.

Cadenza points and badges

Cadenza points and badges

Stay tuned for more features and ideas from teachers in the trenches. To really explore Cadenza, we still need to wait til the official release at the beginning of April, but I’m quite certain it will be a game changer for teachers and students alike!

Cadenza, Part 1

Have you seen the BBC’s flying penguins documentary? Or 1998’s big news – telepathic Google searches? How about my favourite: the imminent Cadenza release?

What do they have in common? They’re all April Fools Day events … and they’re all scams. But wait! The Cadenza release really is true, but I did lie a bit — alpha testing is finished, and release is actually scheduled for March 31st (to avoid any “April Fools” associations, I’m guessing). Yup, in early April, music study will become far more intentional, interactive, and goal driven. The Cadenza alpha testers ranged in age from 8 to adult, and they were unanimously enthusiastic!

So what’s so noteworthy about Cadenza?  And what IS Cadenza?

Cadenza sign-in page

Cadenza sign-in page

MEDA’s first tool, iSCORE, clearly found its home with adult music students at the college and university level, helping them become more self-directed, self-assessing musicians ( The MEDA team was  determined to take the same benefits into the private music studio to help younger students learn to become more self-motivated and take a more active part in their music studies through short- and longer-term goal setting and regular self-assessments.

Enter, Cadenza — the same serious intentions with a lighter-hearted presentation. iSCORE’s large boxes for in-depth self analysis and planning have been replaced by several kinds of tick boxes, places for detailed teacher instruction and, yes, some student introspection if they wish. I mean, who doesn’t like to check tasks off a list and get stars and badges? My grownup day is seriously lacking in gold stars. Just saying.

Here’s a student page — my own advanced piano pedagogy viva-voce prep’ list for the Level 7 material. The week of January 20th, my teacher — me, in this case — assigned two pieces (marked with green bars), a blue sight reading task, and a pink technique assignment. Like the diligent student I am (ha ha), I worked on Aria four days out of the assigned three, indicated at the top right by a “target” icon. On the last two dates, the lower-right emoticons show that I felt pretty happy with the practice sessions.


assignment goals

Cadenza - active student-assignment page

Cadenza – active student-assignment page

After I clicking on “start practice”, my page became  active — I could tick off each task as it was completed during the session, choose the appropriate emoticon for that day’s mood. The timer in the middle of the page began ticking away automatically (I could manually add or delete time, too), and — coolest feature — I recorded a  video of my best performance via Notemaker and added it to my practice record simply by clicking “+Notemaker” (you can see the upload there, in the “media annotator” box).If I’d been feeling introspective, I could have added my thoughts to the “Reflection” area as well. A quick FYI – some teachers and students have ingeniously used this reflections area to send messages and feedback to each other.



At the end of each practice session, after I hit “save practice”, Cadenza automatically tallied my accumulated practices in the left-hand assignment column and, one by one, filled in each little “bubble”. It even added “+2” stars for more than one session in a day. At the top of the page I clicked the white “star” icon and saw my points (41!) and how many more were needed to earn a badge (only 9). Even as an adult, I found this feature foolishly motivating as I tried to squeeze in just another bit of practice here and there throughout the day!

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 5.18.24 PM

points and badges

Stay tuned for Part 2 — Cadenza’s teacher features!