2024 Show Best Tools for Schools!

Gillian Desmarais • April 2024UpClose • April 8, 2024

This year’s NAMM Show hosted over 62,000 attendees, welcoming 16,000 more visitors than last year. Alongside the rise of attendees came an increased presence in small businesses. Two steps in the showroom, and you’d see dozens more small booths filling up the empty spaces left over from nine months ago. The sound was immense too, with hundreds of companies demo’ing their products to the hungry crowd of ear-candy connoisseurs.

I approached their booths intrigued and left inspired. Their instruments and products were well-made, with designs that were innovative and practical for the music classroom. The friendly team members were also very eager to share, offering stories of inspiration from students and teachers. It was nice to see their family-like comradery too — something you don’t get to acknowledge when just buying their product online.

Aside from the bustling show-floor, there were also 250 music education sessions on interesting topics like SEL in the classroom, developing a mariachi or steel pan program, orchestral instrument maintenance, public education funding and more. It was refreshing to see a wide variety of presentations from respected educators and musicians in the industry. Thanks to the new President and CEO of NAMM, John Mlynczak, were sure to see an even stronger music education presence in future shows. Be sure to look out for next year’s sessions and dates online at NAMM.org.

Wait! Before you start booking your flights, here are the finalists for this year’s 2024 NAMM Best Tools for Schools! Special thanks to Richard McCready, Elisa Janes Jones, and Ryan Van Bibber for your additional recommendations. I hope you enjoy learning about these tools as much as I enjoyed discovering them.

Best Disability Inclusion Tool – Barcussion by Suzuki
Suzuki had quite a few music therapy-based instruments on display this year. The new Barcussion series stood out to me as a great alternative for students who want to perform on traditional Orff instruments but need extra accommodation. The four auxiliary percussion instruments (shakers, cymbals, woodblocks, and tambourine jingles) are attached to simple mallet levers for simplified performance. All students need to do is press the piano style key in time with the music. For a child with limited hand dexterity, this tool removes barriers with mechanics and engages them only in rhythm accuracy. SuzukiMusic-Global.com

Best Music Technology Tool – AKM320 Midi Keyboard Controller – MIDIPlus
I’ve been searching for years trying to find the right type of classroom piano MIDI controller. Most options are either too expensive, have too many controls, are not durable enough, or don’t have the right output ports. Thanks to the wonderful team at MIDIPlus, that vision has finally become a reality! The MIDIPlus AKM320 is a simple, low-cost, high quality piano midi controller without all the unnecessary bells and whistles. It fits perfectly on a student desk without making the computer keyboard keys unreachable (especially nice for Chromebooks). The best part is that it’s only $38 dollars! Now you can purchase a whole class set without having students share, or even designate a few for digital projects in your ensemble classes. It also contains all the necessary features for recording into a digital audio workstation, as well as a sustain pedal input for more advanced playability.MIDIplus.com

Best Modern Band Tool – Kala U-Bass  I have used Kala ukuleles in my classroom for over five years and absolutely love them. They hold their tuning and endure the wear and tear of daily use. This year, however, I discovered a completely different product available for students. Check out the newest Kala U-Bass! Granted, the U-Bass has been around for many years, but their most recent version is a finished electric bass guitar with all the same components (magnetic pick-ups, tone knobs, nickel round wound strings) in a more lightweight and portable size. In fact, it’s about 33 inches, just over half the size of a regular bass guitar! I didn’t get to play it, but from the demo the quality of tone was identical to any other bass I’ve ever heard. As a female with small hands, I would prefer the U-Bass’s smaller fretboard too, and so would as my young students who suffer from hand fatigue from regular size models. It could also work as a great portable option for teaching. The new U-Bass comes in three funky colors and will be available in four more new finishes this spring. Each one is also packaged with a leather-like strap and nice plush case. KalaBrand.com

Best Brass Tool – Prelude ¾ French Horn by Conn- Selmer
As recommended from lifetime horn player Elisa, I had to check out the two new Conn-Selmer French Horns. In F and Bb, these horns are specifically designed for young players (suggested for fourth and fifth grade students). They are smaller, more lightweight, and provide a much more comfortable experience for beginning learners. She suggested not buying a single size French horn and instead going from this Conn Selmer ¾ size to the double. It would save money and help you retain your young players. The retail price is under $1,500 (and even less with a school bid), giving you the opportunity to buy a French horn for the price of a trumpet! ConnSelmer.com

Best Musical Accessory Tool – The Artist Model by The Mute Caddy In what took over a day and a half to finally reach the edge of the exhibit hall, I managed to stumble upon a booth run by the enthusiastic Steven Klein who specializes in music accessories for trumpet and trombone. I noticed the Mute Caddy on display and immediately knew this invention was something special. Designed to attach directly to a music stand, the caddy can hold up to four mutes and two mouth pieces, making it a much more organized and accessible method of holding brass accessories. There are a few different models, one of which attaches to the bottom shelf of a music stand and another with flexible rings. TheMuteCaddy.com

Best Woodwind Tool – Kanter Cinema BH Custom Mouthpieces by Chedeville After some laughs and stories about the good-old-days of NAMM with Colin Schofield, I was ushered over to the display case to check out Chedeville’s newest mouthpiece. The new Kanter Cinema BH Clarinet Mouthpiece, designed in exclusive collaboration with James Kanter, legendary studio musician (featured in over 1,500 Motion Picture scores) and mouthpiece maker, was an unforgettable product. After Tyler Harris gave me the story of its inception, it’s safe to say that this mouthpiece really is “sublime!” The mouthpiece’s sound is beautifully warm and focused while still being very flexible. It stands in the middle of tip openings and facing designs and performs well in a variety of settings. It’s also very comfortable to play. Chedeville.com

Best Choir Tool – The Choral Folder with Hinge and Fusion Music Folder by Protec The first time I saw these, I thought to myself… “it’s about time we ditch those plastic folders!” In the mix of a lot of other great accessories at the Protec booth, these two leatherette folders had a sophisticated look to them while offering some great hidden features. The Deluxe Choral Music folder ($31.50) fits sheet music up to 8.5 x 11.5” and includes elastic string dividers for keeping papers together while also dueling as a bookmark for page turns. It also includes an adjustable hand strap with a buckle for hand support and a small pencil holder. The Fusion Folder (for other ensembles) features the same leatherette accents, pencil holder and fits even larger sheet music (up to 10.5 and 12.75”). It also includes 1.5” deep large capacity pockets for extra paper storage. Did I mention they were only $12.95 apiece! Protecstyle.com

Best Marching Band Tool – PCTS Valves – The Compression Training System Briefly after visiting “The Mute Caddy” I scurried over to another booth managed by Larry Meregillano, inventor of the Compression Training System. The CTS, as he calls it, is a system for employing correct muscular coordination and maintaining embouchure strength with a silent but effective series of exercises. The included measuring device provides natural fluid back pressure with feedback displayed in an analog meter dial on the front.  This tool is great for brass players of all skill levels, from those who are refining their technique to active players working to maintain their strength and coordination. His website also includes a few other models for those interested in simultaneously practicing valve combinations or who want the full-size model. TrumpetLegacy.com

Best Wind Band Tool – Sound Artistry Intermediate Method There are many students who may want to take private lessons, but don’t have the financial support to do so. When they don’t have access to a private teacher, it becomes nearly impossible to figure out what next-step repertoire and technique books are right for them. The Sound Artistry Intermediate Method helps aid in this process by providing an all-in-one book for motivated students. Its sequential and logical sequence makes it easy to follow along with, alongside the helpful piano accompaniment tracks on MakeMusicCloud (old SmartMusic). Each instrument book was developed alongside professional musicians in the industry and was refined to reflect their sequence in learning and practice. The series is available for all woodwind/brass instruments. Alfred.com

Best String Tool – Series+ Violins by Eastman Strings A traditional violin with a hidden tech twist! The Series+ has all the components of an acoustic violin, but inside hides a small pick-up connected to a 3.5mm output jack (which is cleverly disguised as the end button). Now students can have an instrument that blends into their ensemble and yet also can be used with headphones, recording on a computer and plugged into an amp for use with external pedals. Eliminating extra sets of violins in the classroom, students can now plug and play for outdoor events, or even perform with jazz or modern band ensembles. Students can also apply a mute to their violin and plug in their headphones for quiet anytime practicing. The opportunities are endless. Eastmanstrings.com

Best Creative Composition Tool – Sketch by Pro Tools After a great conversation with Pro-Audio Specialist, Christopher Mallamaci, it was clear to me that the industry-standard DAW Pro-Tools was opening new doors into the field of music and audio education. Their first big venture was with a newly developed iPad app called Sketch. Completely free, Sketch allows students to experiment with loops and arrangements in a vertical workflow. Similar to the Launchpad grid, students can now experiment with high quality virtual instruments, cue scenes of sound clips and even organize loops into arrangement sections (intro, verse, chorus). Afterward, students can export their projects directly into Pro Tools Intro (a free software version of ProTools) for a more linear composition experience. Avid.com

Best Collaboration Tool – JackTrip JackTrip. These guys have gotten rid of the box and gone full browser- or app-based. Players can jam live with fellow musicians around the country. Teachers can jam with fellow teachers! Get your horns out and play again. JackTrip.com

Best Comprehensive Music Program Management Tool Get the tools and data you need to reduce admin headaches, maximize your program’s assets, and boost your daily workflow from the people who’ve walked in your teaching shoes. This do-it-all suite of applications includes music library, instrument and uniform inventory, financial and fundraising tools, email and text communications, eSignature capabilities, and much more. Designed by music teachers for music teachers. GoCutTime.com

Thanks for reading and I hope you will join me next year at NAMM 2025! See you then!

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