2021 Best Tools for Schools Awards

George Hess • Best Tools for SchoolsFeaturesMarch 2021 • March 6, 2021

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Each year, SBO Magazine presents awards for the best new music education products at the NAMM show in Anaheim. This past year was a unique experience for us all, to say the least, and for the first time ever, the NAMM show was held online. But that didn’t prevent our intrepid team from finding the best tools for you.

This year, my team members were Priscilla Shaw, a middle school band director from Denver, Courtney Powers, a high school director from Philadelphia, Steve Giddings, an elementary music teacher from Prince Edward Island in Canada. We scoured the show’s website rather than the vast exhibit halls at the Anaheim Convention Center. While easier on the feet, it was challenging nonetheless as we had to dig deep on the Internet to get the details on the products.

So herewith are our choices for the Best Tools for Schools for 2021. We hope you find them worthy.

Best Beginner Too Ukulele for Young Beginners by Jake Shimabukuro, Hal Leonard

With the issues with wind instruments, we expect the ukulele to become even more popular in music classrooms. My daughter has started picking it up this year while learning from home. As someone who has mainly taught older students, I was looking for some help. This book was just what was required. The metaphor of a hotel with floors and rooms immediately resonated with my daughter and gave her the impetus she needed. The book can be purchased in print or as a digital download and is supported by ten engaging videos. https://www.halleonard.com/product/326868

Best Guitar Class Tool Roadie 3 Roadie Music

Learning to tune a string instrument is fundamental, but it can take up a lot of class time, even with clip-on tuners. Roadie 3 tunes strings faster than even the best ears can. It handles just about any string instrument—guitars, ukuleles, banjos, mandolins— and includes over 100 alternate tunings. Ever had a student break a string in the middle of class? Either you or your student can replace it in no time. While we still encourage you to teach your students to learn to tune their instruments by ear, this time-saving device is one we’re sure you’ll want to have around. https://www.roadiemusic.com/roadie3

Best Safety Products Covid Resources Conn-Selmer

The pandemic has made ensemble performance and rehearsals a real challenge, and there’s a lot of conflicting information about what is and isn’t safe. In response, Conn-Selmer has created three products designed to help keep you and your students safe in the classroom. CS Bell Covers for brass instruments prevent droplets from emitting from the instrument without affecting the sound. Woodwinds are a particular challenge as air exits not only from the bell but also from the keys. The loose-fitting CSIB bag covers the entire instrument and has holes for hands and mouthpieces. The CS mask has a flap over the mouthpiece opening and includes a metal frame that makes breathing easier and the fit more secure. Nothing makes us 100% safe, but these products should help provide some peace of mind. https://www.conn-selmer.com/en-us/covid-resources

Best Method Book

Modern Band Method by Little Kids Rock. Hal Leonard

Most of our panel members know Little Kids Rock well, and we all agreed that this new method is a great way to get your modern band program started. There are individual books for guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums that include basic instruction to help get kids started on the instrument, as well as a dozen arrangements of popular songs. The books are available in print or digital formats and are supported by audio examples and video lessons. In the current environment, modern band is worth considering as it works with social distancing in the classroom and can easily move online using cloud-based DAWs. https://www.halleonard.com/series/MODBND?dt=item#products

Best Jazz Product

Charlie Parker Complete Scores Hal Leonard

Ask any jazz musician to name the most influential figures in the history of jazz, and Charlie Parker is sure to be at or near the top of the list. These transcriptions take the Omnibook a step further and include transcriptions of the entire ensemble for forty of Bird’s recordings. An essential resource for performers and researchers alike that belongs in every music library. https://www.halleonard.com/product/304599/charlie-parker–the-complete-scores

Best Music Tech Product. Zenbeats  Roland Corp.

Zenbeats has everything you’d expect from a modern music production app: track and pattern sequencers, top-quality instruments, samples, loops, and effects, and a mixer with true stereo pan. The slick interface is intuitive and easy to get around, even on a smartphone. Not bad for a free app, but what really sets it apart is that the app is available on all platforms, including Android! This makes it an incredible option for online learning as, unlike cloud-based DAWs, it doesn’t require an Internet connection. Students can create their music directly on their own devices without worrying about latency, server glitches, or other issues, and then save their work or share it on Google Drive or OneNote. https://bit.ly/3qpPaE0

Guitar Slip No More snaps on the bottom of solid body guitars

Best Modern Band Product

Guitar Slip No More GuitarSlipNoMore

At first glance, this unassuming product would seem to be no big deal, but the guitar teachers on our panel assured us that it’s a great idea. It’s hard to play a Stratocaster-style guitar while sitting as it’s always sliding down, and as students like to share guitars, straps just get in the way. Snap Guitar Slip No More on the bottom edge of the guitar, take a seat, and the guitar holds tight and is nicely balanced to boot. It’s available for most solid body guitar styles and costs less than a decent strap. Problem solved. https://www.guitarslipnomore.com/shop

Conductive Ink includes Remix, Keyboard and Custom surfaces

Best STEAM Product Conductive Ink Novalia

We really loved this product, but it took us a while to come up with an award category for it. Conductive Ink is paper-thin sensors attached to microprocessors that add sound or Bluetooth connectivity to posters, murals, or other surfaces. They have several pre-made posters and products for musical instruments, such as drums or keyboards, or kits to create your original ideas. They’re surprisingly affordable and easy to use. Try it on your next interdisciplinary project. https://www.novalia.co.uk/

Best Woodwind Product Reedcure Silverstein Works

The pandemic was certainly on our minds this year, but this would be a useful product under any circumstance. Reedcure is a reed case that sterilizes up to four reeds with a UV light. It reduces odors and extends reed life, and with a two-dollar add-on, it also reduces humidity for up to 90 days. Available for clarinet, sax, and oboe, these should pay for themselves pretty quickly. https://www.silversteinworks.com/reedcure/

Best USB Mic Bundle Revelator PreSonus

With the whole world working online, it’s no surprise we found plenty of great new USB mics. It was a tough choice, but in the end, we selected the multi-pattern Revelator, not only for its great sound but also for the accompanying software. The included digital mixer includes DSP presets for voice and instruments, and a built-in loopback function replaces third-party software and lets you mix different sources to broadcast or stream. On top of that, you get Studio One Artist, their powerful, mid-tier DAW. https://www.presonus.com/products/Revelator

Best Podcasting Product AKG Podcaster Essentials Harman Professional Solutions

Ok, I admit it. We couldn’t quite decide which of the USB mics we liked best, and it’s hard to argue with the quality of AKG, one of the most respected names in audio. This package features the new Lyra USB microphone and a pair of K361 headphones plus Ableton Live Lite and a free recording course from the Berklee College of Music. The mic has four patterns, including stereo, and supports ultra HD recording (24 bit/192kHZ). The closed-back headphones’ are full range with solid response across the spectrum. http://bit.ly/3dpEiCW

The Shure MV88+ combines microphone, smartphone and tripod.

Best Video Kit

MV88+ Video Kit Shure

Shure had several contenders this year, but this kit impressed us the most. The MV88 stereo condenser mic connects to smartphones using either Lightning or USB-C to add high-quality audio to your videos. The “plus” is an all-in-one mount for the mic and your phone attached to a tripod. It works as a handheld device, sitting on a desk, or attached to any standard tripod. The free Motiv app for iOS or Android controls audio and video recording and includes metering, compression, and noise reduction. Your students will be recording high-quality video and audio anywhere, anytime. https://www.shure.com/en-ASIA/products/microphones/mv88plus

The Ragazzi Continuo using JackTrip Virtual Studio

Most Innovative

JackTrip Studio JackTrip

Synchronized performance over the Internet in real-time IS possible. I used Jacktrip during an international conference a few years back, and the low latency was impressive, but you needed some serious technical skills to make it work. Not any more. Jacktrip Studio makes it easy for anyone with a new simple interface and plug-and-play connectivity. Refer to last month’s column for more on this and other ways to improve the audio experience over the Internet. https://www.jacktrip.org/studio.html

So those are our choices as the best new products for this year. As always, they are an impressive group. But we would be remiss if we didn’t also recognize the many companies that stepped up and helped ensure that music education continued through the crisis. These companies provided the use of products for our students and other support that made it possible to get through the year. We couldn’t have done it without them and offer the award for Special Service to Music Education as a token of our appreciation.

Special Service to Music Education Awards


Live Ableton https://www.ableton.com/
Breezin’ Thru Breezin’ Thru Theory,

Breezin’ Thru Composing

Logic/Final Cut Apple https://www.apple.com/
ProTools Avid https://www.avid.com/
Bandlab Bandlab https://www.bandlab.com/
Chimeworks Chimeworks https://www.chimeworks.com/
Essential Elements Hal Leonard https://www.eemusicclass.com/
MusicFirst MusicFirst https://www.musicfirst.com/
Musicplayonline Musicplayonline https://musicplayonline.com/
Loom Loom https://www.loom.com/screen-recorder
Muzie.Live Muzie.Live https://www.muzie.live/
Noteflight Hal Leonard https://www.noteflight.com/
Reaper Cockos https://www.reaper.fm/
Sight Reading Factory Sight Reading Factory https://www.sightreadingfactory.com/
SmartMusic MakeMusic https://www.smartmusic.com/
Reference 4 Sonarworks https://www.sonarworks.com/reference
Soundtrap Spotify https://www.soundtrap.com/
The Singing Classroom The Singing Classroom https://www.thesingingclassroom.com/
Telefunken Microphones Telefunken USA https://www.telefunken-elektroakustik.com/




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