2023 NAMM Show Best Tools for Schools Winners!

Gillian Desmarais • Best Tools for SchoolsJuly 2023 • July 16, 2023

With over 46,000 attendees from 120 countries, this year’s NAMM show was a sonic circus for developers, performers, educators, artisans, merchants, influencers, and enthusiasts alike. As I weaved through the crowded exhibit halls, I saw elaborately decorated booths, crowded impromptu performances and hundreds of lively conversations. From beginning to end, I was captivated — especially by the many wonderful people who took the time to share their best education tools. For this list, I sought out products that would be practical and innovative, but also inspiring and forward-thinking. I’m happy to present to you my picks for this year’s 2023 NAMM Best Tools for Schools. I hope you enjoy learning about these tools as much as I enjoyed discovering them.

Best Woodwind Tool: Somewhere in a cacophony of brass bliss, my eye caught on these colorful little unassuming mouthpieces on display. I instantly suspected they’d been 3D printed. Sure enough, CEO Pauline Eveno confirmed my prediction and explained more. SYOS (Shape Your Own Sound) is a French company founded on the idea of complete mouthpiece customization. Using 3D printing and principles of geometry and acoustics, each mouthpiece is customized with the intention of helping saxophone and clarinet players find their best sound. They’re also certified non-toxic, comfortable, durable, and come in an array of customizable colors. It’s no question whether these would be a perfect fit for a beginner saxophone or clarinet student. syos.co

Best General Music Tool: Since my first Akai EWI purchase in 2016, I’ve adored wind MIDI controllers. When I saw this high-tech recorder, it took my excitement to a whole new level. At first, it was demonstrated as a traditional recorder, but when wirelessly connected to the Re.corder app, the instrument became a MIDI controller for playing solo cello, synth, trumpet, voice and so much more. In the app settings, you can also change fingerings, select scales, transpose octaves, create your own fingerings, apply effects etc. If you have a student who struggles with certain recorder fingerings or needs additional accommodations, this could be a game-changing tool for them. The app also contains a library of recorder music with real-time play along features to test rhythm and note accuracy. The app’s visuals also work as a great visual display for teaching. Overall, the Re.corder is an impressive development for the field of general music! recorderinstruments.com

Best Mindfulness Tool: While browsing through new releases from Alfred Music, I was introduced to a lovely associate named Krista. She handed me a book called The Mindful Music Classroom and I immediately connected with the title. I glanced through it and saw great meditation exercises, reflective practice prompts, SEL charts and student worksheets. With a final exclamation of how much I loved the text, she turned towards me and said, “Well, that’s great, ‘cause I wrote it!” I was shocked and she quickly introduced me to another recent publication titled A Music Teacher’s Gratitude Journal. Supported by research, gratitude journaling can be a tool for grounding each day in a positive mindset. This text has weekly habit trackers, inspirational quotes and reflective questions designed specifically for the music teacher. Consider both books as resources for practicing gratitude, self-reflection, and mindfulness strategies in the classroom and at alfred.com 

Best Orchestra Tool: While I was perusing the Gatchell Violin booth, owner Allen Gatchell introduced me to the carbon fiber violin. He explained that the fragility and environmental sensitivity of a wooden violin can be really challenging for a beginning violin player. Also, the expected investment of a newer violin in high school can be difficult for some as well. With layers of thoughtfully placed carbon fiber, this violin had seemingly no tonal differences to the traditional wooden school model and was much more durable in quality. Allen suggested that students could potentially purchase one violin and have it from grade school through college. Impressive! This violin seems like a worthwhile consideration for future orchestra students. gatchellviolins.com

Best Modern Band Tool: When the opportunity presents itself, take it. When you see a virtual reality headset at a music tradeshow, try it on! That’s exactly what I did after being introduced to the new Vogum website, which uses VR to engage students in learning piano. The free website has a modern look with a variety of mini apps including an active piano keyboard, guitar chord builder, harmony explorer and a custom board to organize your own helpful widgets for practicing. There are also great interactive tools for practicing with a drone, exploring the circle of fifths, learning random rhythms and experiencing virtual reality practice rooms. The website could also be a great visual aid for teaching guitar, piano and music theory. Hook up any type of MIDI controller and your students can be immersed in a fascinating music learning experience! vogumapp.com

Best Innovative String Tool: Continuing through the showroom, I stumbled upon a small table of ornate violin accessories. The CEO Peter Bahng happily greeted me and gestured to an assortment of exquisitely crafted bow rosins. Formerly known as “ANDREA,” these premium rosins had been rechristened in honor of Peter’s mother, Cecilia, who passed away in 2019. The rosin containers were beautifully designed, and they contained a pop insert that Peter explained was a rosin spreader. This comb-like tool was designed to evenly distribute the rosin particles on the bow hair while effectively removing any excess. Peter demonstrated it, and I immediately noticed a difference in the consistent tone of the bow. The rosin spreader is included with the purchase of any of their distinct full-sized CECILIA rosins which are hand-poured by Peter Bahng himself here in the US. cremonainamerica.com

Best Creative Composition Tool: Heading towards the MIDI Association Booths, I noticed a booth displaying colorful silicone pads with wooden-like tablets. CEO Pascal Joguet greeted me and immediately began to demo the technology by placing a piano silicone topper over the cased MPE sensor. He played chords, looped them, and slipped off the previous one for a new one with drum pads. The interface detected the pads and switched to drum sounds automatically! He continued this routine of placing toppers, recording parts and looping them until piano, bass, drums, synthesizer and guitar were all playing back simultaneously. From a student’s perspective, I can see this being a great tool for making songs quickly without the hassle of searching through libraries of sounds or taking extra steps to record loops with a computer. The pads can also be MIDI mapped for further customization with your DAW and included Joué Plugin. The Joué App also allows you to create your own audio samples, remix alongside popular covers of music and download artists packs for further creation. jouemusic.us

Best Technique Building Tool: With a recommendation, I headed off to Blocki Flute to check out the Flute Flex Pro. This tool is designed to help new flutists so they can begin with good positioning for tone development and experienced flutists who have picked up bad habits from poor placement of the head joint. When students have a thin or strained tone, repositioning the head joint helps uncover the tone hole so students can transform a thin sound into one that is resonant and expressive.   Often students roll the flute in and out to compensate for being sharp or flat.   The Flute Flex Pro helps to develop embouchure flexibility so students can make these adjustments without the need to roll the flute.  The Flute Flex Pro helps stabilize the flute’s position so that students can build embouchure flexibility and work towards achieving their goals with respect to intonation, tone, and dynamics. blockiflute.com

Best Jazz Band Tool: Developed by Jody Espina, a respected music educator and jazz performer, JodyJazz Saxophone Mouthpieces are designed with consistent quality and fit from student to professional. Helpful product specialist Tyler Harris introduced me to their just launched “JodyJazz Band Director Section Kits” for educators. Available in “Basic” and “Advanced” configurations, the boxed kits feature five mouthpieces, with included ligatures and caps, for every member of a typical jazz band saxophone section. A kit for concert band sax section is also available from the company’s line of Rousseau brand classical mouthpieces. Instead of students performing on varied mouthpieces, consider unifying their sound with the same brand of mouthpiece. These all-in-one mouthpiece kits offer a simple and solid consideration for your saxophone section. jodyjazz.com

Best Music Tech Tool: During a final stroll through the guitar section, I managed to bump into a colleague who introduced me to the newest release from PopuMusic. The Smart Portable Piano is a compact practicing piano that features wireless Bluetooth connectivity, multi-color LED light keys, a learning app and an attachable chord pad.
The LED lights function as interactive fingering guides for learning complex chords and scales. The attachable chord pad can also be used for playing 100+ chords and navigating instrument sounds. The app also features an extensive library of mainstream songs, tutorials and finger guides. One of the coolest features I witnessed was the guitar-hero-style game for learning piano melodies. It’s addictive, extremely well-engineered and performs with no latency. You can also connect the piano with GarageBand or the DAW of your choice. The PopuPiano has magnetic connectors so it can be connected not only with chord pad but also left-handed keyboard, with which a piano duet is achievable. The App has a AIGC function, you just need to input 3 notes, it will get you a wonderful melody accordingly and automatically. poputar.com

Best Music Theory Tool: Decoder: Circle of Fifths is an innovative spin on the classic music theory wheel. Helping make music theory easier by offering an easy-to-digest, physical representation of the structures in the music; it rotates through the circle of fifths with 1-4-5 major chord progressions, relative minor progressions, additional scale degrees, and key signature accidentals.

Noisy Clan have even added in a little extra “Quick Chords”, an instant way of understanding how to build each chord in a key. Designed to help you get playing and applying your new circle of fifths
knowledge, this is a great resource to have on hand (or in your gig bag)! It even has a pop out stand built in and downloadable international translations offered in German, Spanish and French with more to come. noisyclan.com

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