SBO Presents the 2016 Recipients of the Best Tools for Schools Award

Mike Lawson • • March 7, 2016

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The annual SBO Best Tools for Schools awards were presented at the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California, on January 25. The panel of music educator jurists who selected the companies and finalized their decision during their spirited evaluation process selected these fine products as the best in show to make your job teaching music easier, innovative, and fun.

Best Teaching Tool for Young/Elementary Students

Nino Percussion

Our jury of music educators fell in love with Nino Percussion and its collection of percussion instruments for elementary school students. They were particularly fond of the new line of Slap Top Cajons for kids. This fun “T” shaped Slap-Top Cajon sits comfortably in the lap and is played by striking the top surface with your hands. The Slap-Top Cajon allows players to create an endless combination of beats by hitting low notes in the middle and high notes on the left and right sides of the playing surface. Two ports located on the front project sound forward and help enhance the rhythms. Nino Percussion, from Gutenstetten, Germany, is part of the Roland Meinl Musikinstrumente GmbH & Co. KG family of musical instrument manufacturers.

Best Teaching Tool for Beginner Students

The ONE Light
THe ONE LightA perfect tool for teaching beginning keyboard students to play piano, The ONE Light is a portable keyboard with keys that light up with sheet music, video lessons, and games when connected with The ONE Smart Piano app. The ONE Light features:

• 61 red backlit, touch responsive keys

• 64 note polyphony

• Built-in sustain and optional pedal socket

• 128+ GM tones and 20 preset notes

• Built-in mp3 speakers

• Collapsible built-in music stand

This is all powered with a free iOS or Android app that features hundreds of songs including ones by hit artists.

Best Teaching Tool for Intermediate Students

Music First Music Learning Suite
Music First Music Learning SuiteOur jurists love the way that MusicFirst offers a way to seamlessly incorporate technology into the classroom directly from the cloud. A solution for most all platforms of computers, even Chromebooks, MusicFirst gives its thousands of users powerful tools and resources from any internet-enabled device with tools for teaching, assessment, online portfolios to track student progress at a cost of only $1 per student per year, MusicFirst gives teachers a way to integrate technology into their music classroom that is unprecedented in the history of music education.

Best Teaching Tool for Advanced Students

Noteflight Learn
NoteflightOur panel of jurists was really intrigued by the comprehensive features of Notefight Learn. This website was designed for music education giving all students/teachers performance and assessment tools. Every user can access their Notefight account from any computer or device, including Chromebooks, iPads, and smartphones. All digital scores are interactive, customizable, and easily accessible, and sharing and collaboration are built directly into every aspect of Notefight Learn. Notefight Learn features:

• Noteflight Premium accounts for every user, accessible on any device

• Unlimited groups for organizing classes and ensembles

• Activity templates for assignments

• Perform mode for listening to and performing along with selected parts of a score

• Discussion and assignment forums for communication and assessment

• A private community for secure collaboration

Noteflight is an online music learning community for teachers and students owned by Hal Leonard Corp. It seamlessly integrates with many Learning Management Systems via the Basic LTI standard, such as MusicFirst, Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, Charms, Desire2Learn, or Haiku.

Most Innovative Teaching Tools

Notion for iOS
NotionOur panel really liked the features of Notion, for teaching notation on iOS devices. Notion for iOS is the notation software for iPad, iPod, and iPhone that allows composers to sync music files across multiple devices. This awesome app from PreSonus, allows users to compose, edit, and play back scores using audio samples performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Also available as an Mac or Windows computer application, you can even use DropBox or iCloud to sync Notion for iOS with its desktop/ laptop cousin. Notion for iOS features a a user-friendly interface; simple, interactive piano keyboard, guitar fretboard, and drum pad; and an abundance of advanced functions that make it easy to compose music. You can find it on the Apple AppStore, where it’s the best selling notation app.

Best Student Reward Incentive

Breezin’ Thru Theory
Breezin' Thru TheoryIt’s not often that a product receives this award multiple times. When I met with the jury before they deliberated, the one question they asked me was, can a product that won before, win again? My answer was, “Yes, if it has new innovations, features, a new version, et cetera.” In other words, if software product version 1.0 won two years ago, it shouldn’t win again unless it is a new release with new, innovative, worthy features. And that’s just what the folks at Breezin’ Thru Theory did over the last two years. These 2014 Best Tools for Schools winners continue to step up their game with additional reasons that educators love this online training tool for music theory and composition. Their new student progress tracking rewards students for their success and achievements. The new Teacher Dashboard, with its charts and graphs, shows student progress and features a Student of Month option. This auto-assessed online meets national and state music education standards and is perfect for grades 5-12. Perfect for music teachers with SMART Boards, and now they even have an app which features:

• Interactive compositions lessons

• Works with any device including iPads/tablets, computers, Chromebooks or smart phones

• Ready-made lessons and activities for Grades 5-12, AP1.

• Can be used with notation and sequencing software

You can catch a demo of Breezin’ Thru Theory at many state MEA shows across the U.S.A., which is particularly impressive for this company from Canada.

Best Percussion Teaching Tool

Gig Grips and Strike Right

Gig GripsGot drum students who can’t keep a hold on their sticks? Tired of sticks flying across the band room and smacking into the head of the trumpet section? Tried sticky tape, or drummer’s gloves? SBO’s panel of teachers this year must have tried all of the above, because they really loved the simplicity, affordability and practicality of this product for drumming students. This patented, elegantly designed product for drummers shows that, once again, it seems that sometimes the best ideas are seemingly the most obvious ideas that for some reason aren’t so obvious until somebody else makes them so. Gig Grips are rubber “rings” that slide onto the drumsticks, and then you put your finger through them to make it pretty much impossible to drop your sticks. Kevin Mackie, designer of the popular Duallist multiple kick drum pedal for single kick drum kits, designed the Gig Grips. They are now available in multiple colors, even a clear model, and are in use by some of my favorite drummers. Kevin also unveiled a new product called Strike Right, but at press time there is no info online about it, so keep an eye on their website for photos and details. I must say though, what’s really cool is that these products are musician designed by a guy who never forgot why he’s making these products. Kevin Mackie plays drums in a rocking band in Scotland called Stoneface. That’s so metal.

Best Jazz Teaching Tool

The Articulate Jazz Musician
The Articulate Jazz Musician
Award-winning jazz educator Caleb Chapman and multiple Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Jeff Coffin’s book on jazz articulation was quite popular with our team of music educators, especially at only $14.99. The Articulate Jazz Musician details Caleb’s approach for mastering the fundamentals of jazz articulation, phrasing, and interpretation. The play-along tracks are designed for C, B-fat, E-fat, and bass clef instruments. Rhythm section instruments can use the play-along tracks as a “how to play it” reference. The tracks feature a world-class quartet of Jeff Coffin (tenor saxophone), the Wooten brothers, Victor Wooten (bass) with Roy “Futureman” Wooten (drums), and Chris Walters (piano).

Best Concert/Orchestra Teaching Tool


NewzikGot a massive library of concert band or orchestra scores on paper? Want to modernize and move to digital? Newzik reads and manages your sheet music in a single iPad or iPhone. Beginners can easily manage a digital songbook and enjoy the visualization of chords on (key or fret)boards. Collaborative features allow your band to perform with connected and synced scores. Technical tools (annotation, transposition) and handle MusicXML scores. You can import, organize into a set list and combine in the same title PDF, Lyrics & Chords, MusicXML, audio and video files. Resize the score and the bars will automatically reflow to ft the screen. Choose the tracks to display, set your MIDI mix. Share synced playlists with your group, or perform with wirelessly connected iPads. You can even flip pages with a Bluetooth pedal or set it to do so automatically. What’s not to like? No wonder our panel of jurists awarded Newzik this coveted award for 2016!

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