Teaching Scales

I’ve put off posting for awhile because I’m running into some specific formatting issues with the top post in my drafts folder that I’m hoping a friend of mine can help me with.  In the mean time, I thought I’d dig up some resources for other music educators I’ve been meaning to post.  Today I’ve got some handouts for students on understanding major scales.

Beyond just knowing how to play any number of major scales on their instrument, it’s important that students understand the fundamentals of constructing them.  Beyond the muscle memory (that is itself a valuable skill for performing most diatonic music), it forms the basis for understanding a great deal in theory, and specifically serves as the best foundation for learning other scales (minor scales, modal scales, etc.)

While I’m sure there are more ways to conceptualize scales effectively (especially outside of the concert band set-up), through my own teachers and teaching experience, I’ve encountered two dominant approaches that I’ve made handouts for:

The first is understanding them by the circle of fourths.  This is my preferred method for teaching scales.  The way I see it, it builds a more innate understanding of the relationships between keys, which encourages a faster mental turnaround.  Of course, there’s a lot of bias in that viewpoint, because that’s the way I learned my scales.  I was fortunate to my former high school band director—Steve Stickney’s presentation at the 2017 Iowa Music Educators’ Conference on warming up bands, where he discussed teaching scales this way.  He had some useful warmups in his presentation notes that he has graciously permitted me to share.  These are useful regardless of your teaching approach on scales.

The other way that I have been exposed to teaching scales is through a series of rules that focus on the relationship between the last accidental and the name of the key.  While I think this requires more steps of processing longer in the learning process, it does better allow a teacher to guide a student to getting their answer and formatively assess where the comprehension may be breaking down in a lesson more easily.

I know both seem a little wordy, but during my student teaching, I was seeing light bulbs go off for seventh graders who were reading the latter handout after having had scales explained more than once in class.  While I’m fine with my second handout as is, I’d like to update the first for students down the road.  It would probably need to go on to a second page, but I would like to elaborate a bit more and discuss how “adding flats” to a key with sharps is just removing sharps (and vice versa).

I hope others find these useful!  Feel free to drop a line in the comments or on any other platform on the side bar regarding these!

My Relationship with my iPhone

My Smartphone History 

Smartphones ascended to being an indispensable tool that most people owned as I was in high school.  After a few feature phones, I considered myself privileged enough to get my first one in 2010, an HTC Incredible.  The primary appeal for me at first was not apps (though they were exciting and constantly advertised) but to be able to send texts longer than 160 characters without them breaking apart, and conversation threading.  Since then, I’ve owned an iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

I enjoyed the earlier iPhones a great deal, having previously used an iPod Touch.  I eventually jailbroke the iPhone 5 and enjoyed some increased functionality.  The size and battery life of the Note 2 were very appealing to me, but that phone lasted a very short while.  It developed a problem where it would drain batteries quickly and the refuse to be turned on while charging.  After a number of replacement batteries failed to solve this, I gave up on the phone as a repair would have cost quite a bit and our family plan had an upgrade credit rolling around.

I can only think of three phones that have really excited me from their announcement in the past few years.  The first was definitely the iPhone 6 Plus, which I would have got instead of the 6 originally if I had not been in marching band and found it unfeasible to high step while keeping it in my pocket.  It was just a little bit bigger than the Note 2 actually, but the 6 served me well.

The second phone announcement that excited me was the Google Pixel.  I think Android is a great platform, but I personally find its fragmentation annoying from a user’s perspective.  I remembered constantly checking for Android updates that had launched quite some time ago on my Note 2.  Regardless of the advice of any tech sites, I tend to update my OS on all of my Apple devices on the day they launch.  I’d had my iPhone 6 about two years when the Pixel drops, and I seriously considered getting one.

The Ecosystem Chain

The reason I stuck with my iPhone 6 was that I valued the features it added to my Mac too much.  I wrote about how I’ve found my MacBook Pro to be the best computer I’ve ever used, and there’s a lot of reciprocal value with my iPhone.  The first is being able to text from my Mac, both iMessage and regular SMS.  I do most of my messaging with the people I’m close to through one of the two, and cutting off SMS would be frustrating.  Today there are decent applications to allow texting from your computer if you’re on Android, but I didn’t see any of them as being nearly as functional in 2016.  I also get a lot of use from AirDrop, mostly from my iPhone to my Mac as a way of transferring videos and photos directly rather than having to wait on a cloud service.  It sounds small, but it saves so much effort and time.

As I began to try and use my iPad a bit more, my iPhone became even more essential.  Yet, despite adding value to my Mac, I felt like my Mac chained me to staying with an iPhone.  I was a bit dissatisfied with iOS at the time, and the iPhone 7 did not seem like a worthy upgrade at the time.  I resented my iPhone just a bit, and wished for a smarter digital assistant, and better handling of notifications.  While I saw flaws in the Pixel, it certainly looked good.  I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the features on my Mac though, and I still don’t see myself leaving the Mac platform.

Learning to Love my iPhone Again

As I’ve gotten more and more out of my Mac find the apps that work best for me, I’ve also adopted them on my iPhone.  OmniFocus, Airmail, and Fantastical in particular are critical to how I work every day, and all three are incidentally exclusive to the Mac and iOS platforms.  I’ve gotten more and more into finding the best apps for what I do, and I’m increasingly finding that the some of the best tools available (whether they’re what I choose or not) are not available on Android.  

Maybe it’s silly to like my platform more because of a deficiency in the competing platform.  I know the developers of many of these apps have no intention of ever making them available on Windows or Android though, and at the end of the day, it’s not a deficiency that I see disappearing.  But as iOS 11 has expanded my iPad’s usefulness and I’ve gotten an Apple TV, I’m starting to see the Apple ecosystem as more of a boon than a chain.  Despite bugs I do think that iOS 11 has expanded the usefulness of my iPhone, particularly in letting me take tasks down on my commute in OmniFocus through Siri.

The fact that my phone runs well with its age makes me appreciate it that much more.  I’ve never wanted a Samsung phone again after my Note 2, and the Pixel 2’s bungled launch made the grass look less green.  And with the money I’ve dropped on iOS apps, I’m far less inclined to switch platforms than when I was younger.  And maybe some maturity has made me less envious of the platform I’m not on (and would be true if I were on Android now).  

I’ve named two phone announcements that have excited me out of three; the third isn’t actually an announcement, but rather the preliminary leaks of the 2018 iPhones.  While they’re obviously subject to change, a plus-sized edge-to-edge iPhone I personally find worth holding out for.  Even though the iPhone X has a screen larger than the iPhone 6-8 Plus, it’s not as wide, and I would love to get a phone with a Plus-sized form factor and a screen even bigger than the X.  No single iPhone release since the 6 has been terribly impressive to me as of yet.  However, when you add the upgrades up, jumping from a 6 to a 2017 iPhone is a major upgrade.  I’ve tried to compile these differences for my own benefit (my partner also has an iPhone 6, and I thought it would be helpful for her as well; I can’t guarantee the accuracy, all based off of my own research).  Adding whatever additional upgrades the 2018 iPhones bring will make that all the more impressive, but the ideal form factor of an iPhone is enough for me to upgrade regardless of specs.

Smartphone Recommendations

I don’t want to pretend I’m some guru that everyone goes to asking about tech.  But if I were recommending smartphones right now, it becomes very dependent on what kind of user someone is.  It’s worth noting that I’m only taking into consideration “premium” or “flagship” handsets, I’m not familiar with other availability, but there’s better resources out there if that’s your price point.  For someone getting their first smartphone or someone less tech literate, I would certainly recommend an iPhone.  Which specific model depends on personal factors (keeping their phone in a pocket, purse, etc.) but certainly a 2017 model.  The polish and review of apps, and how simply functional the phone is with only stock apps make it a good fit for those who feel less equipped to deal with making informed decisions on their devices.

I think for anyone who considers themselves to be more adept at technology who does not have buy-in to the Apple ecosystem, I would recommend a Pixel 2 despite its screen issues.  I’m not some journalist who gets previews of phones, and I haven’t used an Android phone since my Note 2, but as I understand it, there’s still a lot of bloatware on Samsung phones.  Between Bixby and useless Samsung utilities, you’re better off getting Google’s imagining of what a smartphone should be.  I haven’t done much investigating into HTC, Motorola, or Huawei lately, but nothing’s come my way to make me second guess my recommendation of a PIxel for those who would benefit most being on Android.  

Android is a great operating system, and the customization is great for most of its users.  Yet if you have the resources and you consider yourself a power user, I find that if you can be in Apple’s ecosystem on Mac and iPhone, it’s well worth it.  The exclusive apps to iOS are incredibly powerful, and work amazingly well with a Mac.  None of the phones I’ve had provided meaningful synergy with Windows, no matter how many web applications I was using on my PC.  Moving between devices was generally an obstacle and at best out of the way.  In addition, the rest of the Apple ecosystem provides benefits.  It’s my perception that the iPad has matured much farther than Android tablets are ever going to.  Apple TV remains a bit overpriced in its market, but it’s a powerful box all the same.  And while I don’t own one (yet), the Apple Watch seems to be leading the wearable market.

If you’re not in the Apple ecosystem and want to get the most out of your device, I don’t know exactly how much I can recommend the iPhone.  Many of the apps I use would be less effective if I couldn’t access them on my computer, and they’re only available on Macs.  That said, despite the deserved bad press Apple has gotten this year, I find my iPhone more and more useful.  Between the long lifespan of my current phone and other strengths of the platform, I don’t think anyone is going wrong picking an iPhone right now, and it’s been long enough that I’ve used an Android phone that I can’t say what strengths are present on the platform.  Equipped with more Apple technology though, I truly feel like I’m getting the most out of my phone.

My Journey to the Mac

I don’t remember when I first started using computers, but I know from my family it was before I could read.  I eventually had “my” computer, which was the hand-me-down from the family computer.  Out of these desktops, there was a WIndows 95, 98, and an XP.  I had total reign over them, which usually involved figuring out how to run games on them.  Anything that wasn’t working I had to fix myself for the most part.  When I was 13, I got my first laptop, a Compaq Presario which ran Vista.  It was a nice laptop, but eventually it died and I replaced it with some terrible HP laptop that ran Windows 7.  When I graduated High School I used that graduation money to buy a gaming PC, an ASUS G75VX running Windows 8.  That computer still runs, but it does so slowly even after a hard drive replacement, so it almost exclusively gets used for the occasion I want to play a game on it.

I was like a lot of PC users, turning up my nose at the Mac platform.  The year I replaced the hard drive in my last PC, I began to see how much work Mac users around me at the University of Iowa were able to do more effectively.  When that PC was in the shop I was using the nearest computer lab to where I was living, which was exclusively a Mac lab.  It was…nice.  I began to look more and more into it and eventually I bought the 2015 13” Macbook Pro.  As I mentioned in my tech set-up post, it’s the best computer I’ve ever used.

There’s a lot that goes into that evaluation.  For one, the computer is super ergonomic.  Because I have massive hands, I can reach the bottom of the trackpad with my thumbs and the top of the keyboard with the rest of my fingers.  My Compaq Presario was the same way, but its trackpad wasn’t as nice.  The trackpad on my Mac can be clicked at the top of the trackpad for a normal left click, and not one of those awkward double-tap clicks either.  Even the right-click region seems to be 1/4 of the trackpad’s area.  While I don’t use the “look-up” hard press a lot, the Force Touch features of the trackpad make it a much more natural experience in my opinion.  

While I’m not one of these people in love with making everything lighter and thinner at the loss of functionality, my MBP doesn’t lack any functionality, and its lightness is very nice.  I can sit at the most awkward of angles and still balance my laptop very well.  Its port set-up is nice, though I don’t use the thunderbolt ports often (they’re a versatile port for adapters for, say, ethernet).

There’s something nice about the keyboard too.  Using ⌘ doesn’t seem like it would be that different from CTRL on a PC, but being able to use the same modifier key to ⌘↹ into a program and then paste or quit it is very nice.  While some programs provide exceptions, the use of the modifier keys usually follows a pretty logical progression.  

What makes this computer a real dream though is definitely macOS.  From the exclusive software to the flexibility of the OS, it’s wonderful.  I spent a little bit of time on Linux Mint on my last PC and it really hit home how an operating system should work without getting in your way.  Windows gets in your way.  I see posts all the time complaining about Windows’s awful default settings getting restored by new updates.  I currently run Windows 10 on that old PC of mine and it is a nightmare.  

I don’t know why there is such an urge among Windows users to cast scorn upon Macs.  I was one of them.  I’ve only experienced macOS since Yosemite, so maybe it was actually less pleasant before.  There’s the stigma that Mac users don’t know how to use their computers as well.  As someone who considers themselves a power user, I’m doing less digging around with a registry editor or manually loading up dll libraries for certain software, and instead finding better app synergy and scripts other people have written for Alfred that make my life easier.  

I write all of this not just to gush about my Mac, but because I want to lay out how committed I am to Mac as a platform for the purpose of discussing synergy between Apple devices and my journey with phones in a future post.  On Mac Power Users, they sometimes talk about the “delight” of using an iOS device when they contrast it with their work on a Mac.  I don’t get that, but I do feel the “delight” they describe when I’m working on my Mac after a life of Windows use.

RSS in 2018

At the end of 2017 I decided to try using RSS for news.  Previously I’d check Facebook and Twitter’s trending topics, and I followed a number of news accounts (whose biases in coverage aligned with my own).  The bigger impetus for this was that I was on Twitter a lot less and was sick of seeing more news than posts from people in my social circles.

In theory this also meant that I could get a lot more news that would be unfiltered.  Facebook’s algorithm wouldn’t play a role, and I could add a lot more sources without feeling like it was crowding my social feeds.  I’ve got probably ten times the number of subscriptions of news sources that I followed on Twitter, and a wider variety of perspectives.

If you’re looking to try RSS, I started by using Feedly and switched over to Reeder which integrates with Feedly.  If you’re using Reeder, you can keep your subscription list on iOS and your Mac the same by exporting your Mac subscriptions to OPML and importing it to your iOS client (but you have to manually do this each time).  Your alternative is to sign in to a service like Feedly in your Reeder client.  Feedly is $45/yr if you want to remove the restrictions on your total number of subscriptions and integrate with IFTTT and Zapier.  It’s worth noting that IFTTT has good applets for raw RSS feeds as well (and Zapier probably does as well).

Using RSS, you’re the only person accountable for what news you’re seeing, which is really nice.  It’s not a perfect solution though if you’re used to consuming most of your news through social media and sites like Reddit.  Getting a feed that just shows you everything that’s been posted by a number of sources means the ones that are posting about everything are dominating and bigger stories are difficult to notice.  Feedly has a feature where you can look at “top stories” based on what other people are clicking from the sources you’re already subscribing to.  This is nice, but relying just on this gets back into the very “problem” I was trying to solve.

I have two groups of feeds, one for news and one for personal interest blogs (Apple blogs, notation software blogs, college football blogs…)  Segregating these feeds means I can see the lower-volume things that I like and clear some email subscriptions for some of these interest blogs.  I have local news included in my broader news subscription group, but I’ve been enjoying some of that coverage so much that I might want to get it out of the noisier group and give it its own.

In an era where most news sites are battling ad blockers or trying to sell subscriptions, and RSS has arguably been out of style since Google killed Reader, Reeder is a worse experience because of the problems with a lot of feeds.  Hunting down RSS feeds for the sites I wanted was a mix of pages not linked to on their sites anymore, or using third-party feeds.  I’ve got a mix of feeds that are just links to the story and stories that are actually readable in Reeder.

While I’m still trying to make this experiment work, I’m finding myself still drawing a lot of news from Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook.  I am off until my subbing job starts, and maybe I can get back into more of a pattern that uses RSS when I’m back to work.  If anyone has some advice on how to make my experiment go better, I’d love to hear in the comments.

Using Sibelius on a Laptop

In my opinion, Sibelius has some decent and intuitive keyboard shortcuts on a full keyboard, with its heavy emphasis around the numpad.  However, I find it to be essentially unusable on a Macbook Pro which lacks the numpad.  It has a “notebook” shortcut set, but I find that to be just as unusable, and far from intuitive.

I find it important to be able to enter into Sibelius very quickly.  I don’t use a MIDI keyboard input, and in all apps I try to minimize my use of the mouse.  As such, I’ve customized my keyboard shortcuts in Sibelius and I think they’re worth sharing.  Not just do I think they make Sibelius truly usable on my Macbook Pro, but I think they’re good enough that they could be faster for desktop users than moving their hands back and forth between the numpad.

You can download my shortcuts here.  To install them, you simply need to add them to your keyboard shortcut directory.  On OSX, this is located at:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Keyboard Shortcuts

You can open Finder, press ⇧⌘G, and paste the above path into Finder to load the folder open.  Here’s a video describing the process:

It’s worth noting that I don’t know if this shortcut file is usable on Windows because of the difference in modifier keys.  If someone would like to take my shortcuts and make an approximation for Windows, I’d be happy to link to it in this post.

I made this before I thought it would be worth sharing, as such, I didn’t document every change from the default. Feel free to share in the comments anything that’s different that I don’t mention. Maybe there’s a way to compare my shortcut file with the default with a script.

The biggest change is how I rebound the numpad.  As in Avid’s keyboard shortcuts, 1–9 on the numpad are mapped to 1–9 on the top row of the keyboard.  The top row (on Apple’s default keyboard, the characters =,/, and *, which cover the accent, staccato, and tenuto on the first page of the keypad) are bound to ⇧-, ⇧=, and ⇧⌫ on the number row.  The numpad “enter” is rebound to \ (which does ties on the first page of the keypad) between return and delete on the regular keyboard.  The forward and backward keypad buttons (+ and – on Apple’s numpad) are rebound to = and – without shift on the number row.  This lets you use the entire keypad without moving your fingers from the home row.

Other, less significant differences that I’m aware of:

  • ⌥⇧+2–9 are add below
  • ⇧, is advance caret (from when I was trying Dorico)
  • ⇧. activates the “Dot Undot Rhythms” plug-in (also inspired by my Dorico trial)
  • ⇧0 is bar rest
  • ⌥M triggers marcato accents.
  • Accidental parentheses is ⌥P (this is just a shortcut to the “bracket accidental” action on the accidentals keypad, and is subject to the same finicky behavior there)
  • Some rebinding done in the “Moving” options
  • I had ⌘P as export>pdf actually because I almost never physically printed directly from a dialog during my undergrad. It’s not the case in this file, but it might be useful for others.

There are some shortcuts that are worth noting that I’m unsure if I changed:

  • ⌥F is fermata
  • ⌥O is Optimize Staff Spacing
  • I might have moved other things around under Layout shortcuts
  • ⇧N is stop playback
  • ⌥⇧H toggles the selected “invisibles” in the View pane from showing or note showing.

The following bindings are open and might be useful if there’s something you really want bound that I don’t have bound: ⌥+0, ⌥+1, ⌘+1, ⌘+0

It’s worth noting I don’t have the following actions keybound:

  • Beaming – none of the actions on the third keypad are bound, I just change over to it
  • Breath marks – Individual symbols can’t be bound in Sibelius, but I think I’m going to use the Scoring Notes’ breath line workaround down the road.  Lines can be keybound and I think custom lines can be as well.
  • Barlines – I don’t see a way to bind a shortcut to just open the barlines pane (like you can the time signatures, etc.), and no single barline type is worth binding to me, but it might be to you.


  • When you’re entering in text, you can normally use a number of shortcuts to put in symbols (like ⌘4 for a quarter note in the text).  I believe these shortcuts only work with the numpad numbers, and I can’t find a way around this.  Would love to hear otherwise in the comments.  See below
  • I don’t know that it’s possible to do tab notation with the default keyboard shortcuts without a numpad.  My shortcuts don’t fix this and I don’t know that there’s a way to do that.

I do all of my work in Sibelius without using my MIDI keyboard.  The three main advantages of using one to me are:

  • Pre-selecting your octave instead of changing it after inputting the note (and thus hearing only the note you intend)
  • Putting in chords all at once
  • Velocity for playback

I am not so bothered by the first or third points for it to be a consideration, and I work primarily on wind parts, and the second part is fairly moot unless you’re editing primarily for piano parts.  To me, the speed of doing everything so fluidly without moving your hands from the computer keyboard makes this set-up more viable than using a MIDI keyboard.

Here’s a video demonstrating these keyboard shortcuts in action.  This video is primarily aimed at just demonstrating workflows in Sibelius for students to get a better handle on the software, but hopefully it demonstrates the speed at which you can work in Sibelius with these shortcuts.


Edit 1/26/18:
I’ve discovered that you can customize the shortcuts for inserting special text.  I have miraculously ignored the Word Menu options under Preferences since I bought Sibelius.  It’s worth noting that there is nothing visually distinguishing about the way it’s bound by default and the way it needs to be bound for use on the number row (both say, for example, on a quarter note ⌘4).  You also need to change them in each category, the most important for note values being “Tempo Words.”

I have modified this on the upload of my keyboard shortcuts I have posted, however I do not know if this is stored in that file.  You may need to fix this yourself.  Please let me know one way or the other whether this is remedied by my shortcuts file if you try it.  If it’s not working, try setting this file in:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Word Menus

Coffee Setup & My Coffee Story

I started college not drinking coffee and graduated a coffee nut.  I roast, grind, and brew my own coffee.

 Daily Brew

I use a Technivorm Moccamaster Grand (15-cup or 60 fl oz) for my daily brew.  I weigh out 108g of my beans the night before into my Baratza Encore and fill up the water reservoir on my Moccamaster.  In the morning I grind the beans while I take care of something else, put on the pot, and when it’s done take it off the hot pad so it can cool down enough for me to put into my 40 oz Thermos.  I bring a mug upstairs with me which will be cool enough to drink by the time I get out of the shower, and usually have one or two more when I get downstairs.  Then I pour a cup in my travel mug and the rest into my thermos (the thermos is a bear to drink out of while I’m driving).  Throughout the day I’ll drink straight from the thermos (I don’t even know where the mug/lid is anymore).  I probably spent too much on my Escali L600 scale, which I saw recommended on Sweet Maria’s.

 Other Equipment

Every now and then when I have the time and I feel like doing the work, I’ll do a manual brew into my Chemex. I use a fairly standard Bonavita gooseneck with it, and like being able to program the temperature on that.  Because I keep my Moccamaster away from my kitchen sink, I actually use that Bonavita to pour water into the reservoir.  I’ve seen horror stories of Moccamasters where the carafe has been used to pour water into the reservoir.  No matter what coffee maker you use, don’t do this, the oil build up is terrible for your machine.

I roast using a Behmor 1600 Plus, and probably violate all the safety guidelines they included in the manual.  I got a pretty good deal on it from someone on the Home Coffee Roaster’s Facebook group, and definitely recommend a hand vacuum with a Behmor.  I buy my green coffee (i.e. unroasted beans) through Bodhi Leaf who have awesome prices and a newsletter with a weekly deal on one origin of coffee

 My Coffee Story

When I started college, I didn’t like coffee.  I usually tried to drink it when it was too hot and just burnt myself and never tasted it.  I had problem falling asleep in classes even when I got a decent amount of sleep, and taking daily caffeine pills didn’t work.  My sophomore year I started having multiple nights a week where I’d get three hours of sleep, and buying energy drinks on these days was expensive fast (and energy drinks are terrible for your health).  I decided to force myself into liking coffee, picking it up whenever I was at a place it was free (e.g. waiting room at the mechanic’s, church…) and drink as much of it as I could.  I forced myself to do this with black coffee because I didn’t ever want to decline coffee when someone lacked my recipe of cream and sugar.  Looking back, this was a stupid justification, but the health benefits of black vs non-black coffee make me glad I followed this logic.

Eventually I found myself craving the taste of coffee once or twice and I decided I was ready to buy my own coffee equipment.  I actually found the 40-oz thermos first and decided I’d get a coffee maker that I could just fill that thermos up with.  Of course a standard US cup is 8 fl oz, so I got a 5-cup Mr Coffee before I realized that a “coffee cup” was not a standard US cup, and this made 25 fl oz.  Rather than brew two pots a day to fill up one thermos, I got a 12-cup (60 fl oz) Mr Coffee maker (that amazingly still works, a family member uses it) and put pre-ground Dunkin Donuts house blend coffee into it.

As I’ve learned from r/coffee and the Home Roaster facebook group, most people don’t drink 60 fl oz a day.  I did not know this when I started drinking coffee, and felt wasteful pouring out so much coffee.  I forced myself through intense headaches drinking 60 fl oz a day because I was a stupid 20-year-old who did all sorts of terrible things to his body.  Eventually I acclimated to this insane amount of coffee, and I have significantly more energy and attentiveness than I did before I started drinking it.  Maybe it’s an insane amount, but there’s no going back now.

I continued this way for about eight months.  When I was home for winter break my junior year, I went out to Dunkin Donuts to get more coffee and accidentally bought 3 lbs of whole beans.  Rather than go back to the store and admit I was an idiot, I found my great uncle’s hand coffee grinder and brewed a pot that way.  I found – even with store-bought first wave coffee – that it was a much better pot.

It was a wonderful coincidence that same night that I found r/coffee and discovered that there was more to coffee than just using a french press instead of a Mr Coffee.  I poured through all their guides fascinated and started looking into what I could do.  I wanted to keep drinking coffee in the quantity I already did, which eliminated the daily use of something like an Aeropress.  I thought I might really enjoy a Chemex from what I’d read, but wanted to try a cup made from a Chemex before I committed.

In the mean time, I started grinding my Dunkin Donuts coffee with a terrible blade grinder.  I quickly upgraded to my Encore and kept brewing the same beans and the same coffee maker.  Eventually I found a coffee shop in my college town that served coffee brewed in a Chemex and tried it.  I liked it, but I was unconvinced it was the right brew for me every day.  They recommended the Moccamaster and I haven’t looked back.

I started roasting my own beans mostly because of price.  I spend about $5/lb on green coffee and after the loss of weight from roasting, wind up with about 0.83 lb of roasted coffee per lb of green coffee.  Roasted coffee is fresh for 15 days, so getting anything that’s not local is probably not truly fresh, and local roasters sell at $12+ per .75 lb which winds up costing well over twice as much as roasting it myself.  I started roasting with a popcorn popper on my stovetop, which requires you to be cranking it the whole time and maxes out around half a pound per batch.  I picked up the Behmor to make it a more hands off process and allow me to roast a full pound per batch.

I’ve been able to keep this up for two years now, and it’s proved worth it.  Roasting itself has become a bit of a chore, but grinding it fresh every morning is really no trouble.  Coffee snobs are a niche enough market that there will never probably be an awesome smart home/automated solution for this, but it’s really good coffee.

My Tech Set-up

Here’s a quick break down of what I’m running to do what I do.  Technology is an incredibly important part of what anyone in any field is doing, and education is no exception.  It’s worth laying out what I use as an entire field before getting into any specific details in future posts.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s what I feel is worth sharing or important enough to me.  I’ll make updates to this as time goes on.


2015 13” Macbook Pro, upgraded from stock.
This is my primary computer, and it’s easily the best computer I’ve ever used.  I’ll talk about what I’ve used in the past down the road, but this computer rocks.  There was a post from  Marco Arment about the predecessor of this computer, the 2012 Macbook Pro.  The 2015 is essentially the same design as I understand it (form factor, ports), but with a force touch trackpad.  (He also is highlighting the 15”, while I have the 13”)   This being my first Mac, I haven’t used Apple’s non-force touch trackpad for an extended period of time, but when I’m on someone else’s Macbook, I am not a fan of the older trackpads.

iPhone 6 Plus
This phone is old but still trucking.  I actually just changed out my iPhone 6 with a Plus (I didn’t buy it new, I got it from a family member), but my iPhone 6 was similarly running really well.  I’m impressed with how well it runs for being three years old, though I’ve checked the battery health and I see I’m likely not getting throttled.  Both my original 6 and my current 6 Plus were upgraded to 64GB storage.  I’m eager to upgrade, and the new features of newer iPhones look nice, but no single release has “wow”ed me since the iPhone 6.

iPad Air 2
When I was attending the University of Iowa, I was the last class to get a free iPad through a generous grant for student in the College of Education.  I never thought I’d use tablets, and wouldn’t have bought one for myself when I got this one.  I used it as an additional alarm clock for the first year-and-a-half I had it before I started using it for D&D books.  I get more use out of it now, occasionally reading music off of it, or reading it while getting ready in the morning.  I’m somewhat limited by the storage capacity (16GB, but it was free), and the screen size when it comes to reading music.

I wear a Citizen watch with only a date complication every day.  I bought my first watch to help sate my slight obsession with knowing the time when I was taking recital attendance and couldn’t check my phone in college.  This one was a bit of an upgrade, with a nice metal band (my old leather one started to fray). 

The last PC I bought was an ASUS G75VX.  I bought it to play games on, and it has aged horribly, mostly thanks to its traditional hard drive.

Yamaha P70
I got a pretty good deal on this piano, it was a used former rental that was being phased out by the local music store.  It’s 88-key and the weighting is pretty decent.  It’s by no means compact and it lacks the sort of controls you would want for serious music production.  I have a sustain pedal hooked up to it, and do some light practicing on it

My tuba is a Miraphone BB♭98 “Siegfried” – It’s huge, but it’s also big.  My mouth piece is the Arnold Jacobs Canadian Brass mouth piece, which is based off the Helleberg design.  I love both and will probably never buy another horn or mouth piece.

Apple TV 4th gen 64GB
I picked this up right after the 5th gen came out.  I don’t have a 4K TV, but the extra storage was probably unnecessary in hindsight.  


Apple Music
I switched to Apple Music from Spotify on the day of Apple Music’s launch.  I’m doing Apple Family Sharing with my girlfriend, and paying for the family subscription for Apple Music.  Their first year it was probably at its best, when they were paying people to make ridiculously specific playlists.  The biggest appeal of Apple Music is its Siri integration and how nice the integration of my existing iTunes Match library was.

iCloud 200GB
200GB is $3/month, and it’s enough to back up my iPad and iPhone, along with all my photos.  Now that they have family sharing with iCloud, I can back up my girlfriend’s iPhone too.

Other cloud service
I double backup my photos into Google Photos, and use the free tier of Google Drive for a lot of documents.  I need a cloud service at the 1TB tier, and I think Dropbox is the right solution for that due to its integration and sharing abilities.  

I’ve found myself listening to more podcasts with my commute since I started student teaching.  I used Apple Podcasts until I switched to Overcast, but I haven’t ever tried its competitors.  I’m paying the $10/year to support Marco and get the upload functionality.

I’ve been using Instapaper for awhile now and I still can’t believe it’s free.  I save tons of articles here, and it’s an awesome reading environment.  I might prefer Pocket, but I can’t justify spending $45/year for the minor improvements.

Pastebin Pro
I was using Pastebin as an informal blog on college football back when I was a pollster on r/cfb.  It’s nice being able to just dump text somewhere to share with others, and a lifetime subscription was on sale when I was looking into it.  I don’t use it a ton, and the official app for iOS isn’t 64-bit compatible.  I’m trying the PasteMe app, but the jury’s still out.


All of these are worth talking about in greater detail at a later date, and I’m not going to dig into it that far

OmniFocus 2 Pro iOS and Mac
This runs my life.  I’ll write about my specific use of it, but this is something that others have written about ad nauseam.

Alfred 3
This is the most important app on my Mac. If it were to break, I would be paralyzed in my computer use. It’s one of a million little things that make it harder for me to use other people’s devices. It’s the one piece of software I’m so completely in love with I have never looked into the alternatives for. I can’t say that for any other app, even OmniFocus.

OmniOutliner 5 Pro for Mac
I’m on the TestFlight of OmniOutliner 3 for iOS and planning to buy the pro version once it releases to the public. I thought an outliner sounded stupid, then I downloaded its trial on a whim, and was proved wrong.  I get a lot of use out of this for various projects.

Apple Notes
I keep a bunch of long-term notes or things that need heavy formatting in here.  I can’t justify spending money of Evernote when Apple Notes is free, especially considering how little I’m on Windows.. Even if you’re on Windows occasionally, you can access this through the iCloud web interface.

NValt and Simplenote
I’ll let smarter people explain this better than me. Macademic has three posts (one, two, three) on this, MacSparky has probably more than one.
I use this for a lot of things, because it’s fast

Fantastical 2
I use this on both iOS and macOS. I have multiple Google accounts, each with multiple calendars, plus iCloud calendars.  It’s super easy to look at what I need with Fantastical’s calendar sets, it’s easy to put in information with their amazing natural language input, and their scrolling view makes it easy to get information for someone like me.  I haven’t tried its competitor Busycal, so I can’t really compare the two.  I do lament the lack of calendar sets on the iOS version of this app though. 

Airmail 3
Airmail’s not perfect, but it’s what I use.  It’s super flexible and has helped me turn my terrible email habits into (fairly) good ones.

Everyone needs to be using a password manager.  I actually bought 1Password upfront before they started offering their subscription service.  Syncing it myself was one of the things that made it more attractive than competitor LastPass, and I continue to do so.  I also don’t think Lastpass has the same integration into so many iOS apps to fill passwords, but I could be wrong.  I would 100% recommend 1Password to anyone looking for a password manager, though I will say its Watchtower feature probably isn’t enough, and you should augment it by putting your email into this.

Reeder 3
This RSS reader is pretty nice, but maybe it’s not the best solution.  I’ll write about my experiment with RSS in 2017 2018.

Sibelius 8.7
I’ve got the Sibelius upgrades active through March.  There’s a lot to say about notation software so I won’t get into it here.

Finale v25.5 
I use Sibelius primarily, picked up the upgrade to v25 right before I switched.

Logic Pro X and Finale Cut Pro X
I don’t use these a ton, but Logic Pro is a pretty amazing practice tool sometimes.  I’m no power user and I’m still trying to learn to make the most of both of these apps.  There’s an amazing deal for students and teachers to get both of these (plus Compressor, Motion, and MainStage) for $200 (normally these five would be $630)

When I switched to using a Mac, I continued using Chrome until a weird bug on YouTube of all places kept causing the weirdest crashes.  Around the same time, I was finding it more annoying to use Chrome on iOS and I decided to try Safari on both.  I haven’t gone back.  I liked Chrome on iOS, but Safari is a better experience in a lot of ways, and the synergy from using it on my Mac as well is great.

The PDF editing in this app is stellar.  I was using PDFPen Pro, but it was buggy and ultimately not as powerful.  PDFExpert lacks OCR, but this is my default PDF app all the same.

I was looking for a recipe app for awhile, but somehow Paprika didn’t wind up on my radar until I saw it on sale (shoutout to MDM for highlighting awesome sales).  Paprika makes it really easy to log recipes from websites or type them in from a physical recipe.  They sync the recipes through their own servers, and the account systems make it possible to share your library with family members by signing in with the same account.  I use it on both my Mac and iOS.

It does exactly as advertised.  Decent way to get chords or other material to start an arranging project.  Haven’t tried it on iOS, just on my Mac.  It’s pretty accurate with chords, but I found myself frustrated being unable to correct an egregiously bad tempo analysis.  I’ve never tried it with art music, just with contemporary music.

iOS Apps

It’s important for me to keep a metronome and tuner on my front page of apps.  FrozenApe’s Tempo remains the best metronome I’ve found and worth the money.  TonalEnergy Tuner is a bit overkill, but it’s grown on me since the app I was using went incompatible with iOS 11.

I have a lot of friends who use Spotify, and see a lot of Spotify playlists when I’m searching the web that I want in my library on Apple Music.  It was easily worth $10 to be able to port them over.  I haven’t tried other apps, but Stamp works on iOS.  Word of warning though against the bundle, because it simply doesn’t work with iTunes after 12.5 on Mac.  It might still be worth it for you if you’re exporting to a service that’s not Apple Music, but they don’t advertise this shortcoming, so I’m not sure what else is there.

Scanner Pro
I’ll buy a ScanSnap one day, but for now when I need a document available quickly or on the road, Readdle’s app does a pretty decent job of making it look like I actually used a scanner.