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Digital Organization Tips for 
Music Teachers

Essential Music Technology: The Prestissimo Series
Richard McCready, Series Editor

Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers
Robby Burns

Digital Organization Tips
for Music Teachers
Robby Burns


Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers
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Press in the UK and certain other countries.

Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press
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© Oxford University Press 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
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and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer.

Library of Congress Cataloging-​in-​Publication Data
Names: Burns, Robby.
Title: Digital organization tips for music teachers /​Robby Burns.
Description: New York, NY : Oxford University Press, 2016. |
Series: Essential music technology : The prestissimo series |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016011472| ISBN 9780190261016 (pbk. : alk. paper) | 
ISBN 9780190261030 (epub)
Subjects: LCSH: Music instruction and study—​Technological innovations. |
Education—​Data processing.
Classification: LCC MT1 .B868 2016 | DDC 780.71—​dc23
LC record available at http://​​2016011472

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed by Sheridan Books, Inc., United States of America

This book is dedicated to my wife, Mary, who supported me throughout the
process of preparing this book, sacrificing many fun evenings out in favor
of hanging out with me in the living room while I typed the following words
on my laptop.

╇ ix


Foreword by Richard McCready  xi
Acknowledgments  xiii

1. Introduction  1
2. Productivity Basics  7
3. Taking Notes  63
4. Cloud Drives  83
5. Scanning Documents  101
6. Working with PDFs  109
7. Working with Scores  127
8. Audio Management  149
9. Image, Photo, Video Management  163
10. Miscellaneous Productivity Apps  183
11. Automation and Advanced Workflows  197

Index  233


Music teaching in the modern age is becoming increasingly dependent on technology.
Many teachers are finding that in order to teach music effectively, they have to master
all manner of digital devices and programs, some of which have very little to do with
music. Undergraduate or Graduate courses in Music Education have rarely prepared
teachers for the amount of technology required to survive in the classroom; indeed,
with the speed of development of new technologies, many teachers feel they can never
keep up.
Teachers want to be able to spend the majority of their efforts focusing on the true
manner of their employment—​teaching music. Yet they find that each day it seems there
are emails to answer, online report cards to complete, notation software programs to
learn, recording techniques to master, online playing assessments to review. The list
goes on and on.
The Prestissimo series of books is intended to help teachers who are looking for
help with mastering technology by providing bite-​sized tips and hints in a series of vol-
umes that encourage teachers to dip into the pages and find the information they need
to become more efficient users of technology. Each of the books in the series focuses on
one aspect of technology and is written by a proven expert in that field. The hope is that
you will find many things to help you within the books, and that they will allow you
to refocus your efforts on teaching wonderful music to your students without getting
caught up in and swamped by all the technical skills now required to do your job.
In this first book in the series, Digital Organization Tips for Music Teachers, Robby
Burns, a middle-​school band director in Howard County, Maryland, explains how to
become efficient at mastering the sheer volume of paperwork and electronic documents
that a teacher works with in a single day.

xii  |  F o r e w o r d

When conducting an ensemble, there are so many more things to think about
than just creating music. There are sheet music parts and scores to organize, practice
charts and seating charts to annotate and preserve, permission slips for concerts and
festivals to collect, order forms for T-​shirts and concert dress to process, booster checks
and invoices to file, instrument repair dockets to submit, and many other things that
music teachers are expected to deal with. And, of course, while you were conducting
the ensemble for just 30 minutes, you received at least 20 emails, all of which seem to
require an immediate reply to people who just don’t understand how many things you’re
juggling at one time.
Burns is a master of streamlining the paperwork and other ephemera of teach-
ing by taking advantage of the organizational power of the technologies available with
computers, scanners, tablets, and phones. He has perfected ways of having technology
permanently present to help him organize his band program when teaching, yet never
letting the music focus of the rehearsal be lost for even one minute. In this book he
shares many helpful tips that he uses daily in his work, which have allowed him to run a
successful program in a challenging environment, and yet remain sane.
Our hope is that you will find numerous ideas to assist you within the pages of this
book. You will find many things that will become daily practice, you will learn to truly
harness the power of the technology to assist you rather than drag you down, and you
will probably experience several moments of “Now, why didn’t I think of that?!”
You do not have to master everything that Burns introduces in the book. You may
pick and choose those things that will help you, and save for later those that have no
practical application in your particular workflow. The more organizational skills you
learn, the less you will be stressed by the technological extras required in your job, and
the more you will be able to focus on the reasons you became a music teacher in the
beginning—​t he students and the music.

Richard McCready
Series Editor


First, I  would like to thank my wife, Mary, for allowing me to do “just one more
thing.” Her love and support inspires fulfilment in my personal and professional
life, which I am glad she understands are often not two separate dimensions of my
To the awesome music teachers I  have the pleasure of working with in the
Howard County Public School System and in the state of Maryland, all of whom
have encouraged my efforts to share more publicly my combined love of technology
and music.
To friend and mentor, Richard Roberts, who has given shape to many of the teach-
ing philosophies that make up my identity as a music educator. Our conversations
continue to drive my enthusiasm for the profession and deepen my hunger for making
something beautiful every lesson.
To Kat Eltzroth for her contribution to the cover art and Bryan Copperthite for his
contribution to artwork. To Ben Denne for the use of his classroom and his persistent
influence on the way I think about teaching music. To Jen Retterer for her friendship,
professional companionship, and contribution to the artwork.
To the many nerds in the Apple, tech, and productivity blogosphere. Many of the
articles and podcasts recorded on the subject of using technology have inspired me to
write the words in this text. Special shout-​out to the Mac Power Users Podcast, Canvas
Podcast, and David Sparks.
To Norm Hirschy at Oxford University Press. Your flexibility and encouragement
throughout this process has been an invaluable support and pleasure.
To series editor, Richard McCready. Your belief in the ideas that fill this book has
prompted me to explore opportunities in writing and presenting that I might never have

xiv  |  A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s

been ambitious enough to pursue without your support. You did not look at my nerdy
digital workflows as some weird niche but instead as something that could be valuable
and applicable to all music educators. Thank you for continuing to support and promote
my growth as an educator!

Robby Burns



In the fall of 2010, I had just completed two consecutive degrees in music education and
percussion performance. Student teaching had been an eye-​opening experience of the
thrill of directing middle school band. The graduate studies that followed allowed me to
reapply that newfound motivation toward engaging my musicianship at a higher level.
I could not wait to share with students all I had learned. However, I was looking to start
my music teaching career during a time when few schools were hiring. Still motivated
to engage in the music classroom, I signed up to be a substitute teacher in the school
district in my hometown and began taking short-​and long-​term substitute jobs.
In the meantime, I continued to freelance as a percussionist, playing most nights of
the week and teaching several private students on the side. I began pursuing some new
interests, arranging and composing for local marching and pop ensembles within the
school system as well as for a cello rock quartet, of which I was the drummer.
To pursue these new interests, I needed to learn the tools for the job. I purchased
a subscription to, an online video tutorial repository for learning computer
software, and began burning through video after video during planning periods. In the
first month of the school year I learned the basics of Pro Tools, Photoshop, and Sibelius.
I had purchased my first MacBook during my undergraduate years and I used an
iPhone 3GS in the last year of grad school. I started to explore how I could get those
two devices to better talk to one another. I wanted the experience of managing my busy
gigging schedule, scores, and correspondences with various teachers and contractors,
to be fluid between all of my devices. I investigated cloud solutions like MobileMe and
Dropbox for syncing calendars, contacts, and files.
In the fall of 2011 I landed my first full-​time music teaching job, teaching middle
school instrumental music. I was thrilled! Naturally, I treated myself to a new iPad. The
iPad, while not the most productive tool at the time, was right by my side during a very
passionate and experimental first year of teaching. Despite the questionable usefulness
of the tablet, it was actually the iPad that sparked the next phase of my technology

2╇ |╇D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

interests. I knew this device, designed like a piece of paper, should be able to alleviate
the administrative stress of being a first-╉year music teacher; I just had to figure out how.
I started reading blogs about Apple and began listening to a few podcasts where big
technology nerds would get together to discuss apps, computer tips, productivity, and
motivation. I was going down the rabbit hole now. I learned how to automate everything
I could so that I would stress less. I researched and purchased every app, service, device
or website that seemed like it could save me even one minute, tap, or click. I started
investing time in task managers so I could better handle my time and stay on top of my
newly found responsibilities as a teacher. I began to capture everything into digital form
so it could be later searched at the click of a few keys. I became obsessed with discover-
ing these new technologies. At some point, this enthusiasm transformed—╉I started to
enjoy the technology for its own sake. There is a delight in automating the process of a
file going from one place to another on your hard drive, or seeing paper turn into digi-
tized PDFs on your smart phone’s screen right before your eyes. It is addictive. I have
passion for using technology has been an advantage when new software, in particular,
that which is required my my school district.
Though I take a special interest in technology for its own sake, it has always been
a tool for me to engage with my passion:  the performance, creation, and teaching of
music. Every point where my passion toward technology has blossomed has been the
result of some other creative interest.

Why You Need This Book
I can address why you need this book simply: Teaching is hard, and technology
exists. Chances are, your yearly responsibilities include a range of many professional
disciplines, each of which could be considered a full-╉time job—╉teacher, conductor,
performer, composer, arranger, instrument repair person, sound engineer, trip plan-
ner, financial specialist, etc. On top of that, you have to know how to use computers—╉
and well. Personally, I love to engage in some of those other disciplines, for example
performing, arranging, engineering, and composing. Some others I would prefer to
do without, such as trip planning and money management. Ultimately I think the
discipline we want to be engaged in is the skill in the actual job title: teaching. The
more proficient the teacher becomes in these other disciplines, the more time and
energy is put into the teaching. Computers have played a large role in my ability to
deal with the parts of the job that I do not enjoy. Now, I actually like using technol-
ogy to do those tasks!
Allow me to give you an example. I do not know how I would function if I were
left to handwritten lists. There are hundreds of small tasks I manage each school year
and never enough space in my brain to remember them all. Post-╉it notes, clipboards,
notebooks, and scrap paper are an unreliable system. Using software to manage
tasks and notes helps me keep all of my thoughts in one place that is accessible from
╇ 3

I n t r o d u c t i o n ╇ | ╇ 3

whatever computer or mobile device I have at hand. Yes, learning the technology took
some work up front, but since 2011, every saved document, audio file, and written note
is with me whenever I sit in front of a computer. I save hours a week using technology
to accomplish tasks I would otherwise do manually—╉and I enjoy it—╉but more impor-
tantly it takes less time and energy. This book is less about music technology and
more about music as taught with technology. The software and workflows explained
in the following pages can help you crack down and get organized digitally, but you
must be willing to spend some time in front of a computer screen learning the basics
of the software. Hopefully the research I have done in advance will lower your barrier
to entry.

What This Book Is and Isn’t
The following pages will explore the digital metaphors that shape our understanding of
how real world tasks translate to a computer’s user interface. Notes taken with a paper
and pen can now be taken in a note-╉taking application. A calendar book in your back
pocket can now be a calendar application. Drawers with folders and documents inside
are now a computer’s file system. Checklists are now task manager applications. CD
libraries are now iTunes Libraries and streaming music catalogues. Score libraries are
now managed and annotated from a tablet.
Each chapter will examine a particular piece of data that can be managed digitally.
First, I will set out the problem that is solved by turning to digital means for managing
that data. Then I will give an overview of a few of my favorite apps for managing that
kind of data. I will make sure to highlight the competition, but you will notice that some
software gets more attention than others in this book. When this is the case, it is for a
few reasons. First, I genuinely believe the software getting the most attention to be the
most compelling software on the market with regards to its features, flexibility, and user
experience. Second, a lot of the competing apps in each chapter have a lot of crossover
features. By choosing to focus my explanation, I am aiming to provide the underlying
principles and use cases for the software type rather than to explain exactly how to use
it. For example, it is easier (and more fun) to explain the benefits and workflows associ-
ated with a task manager if I explain these concepts through my task manager of choice,
After giving an overview of the features of the technology, I will offer several work-
flows. Workflows are simply use cases for how the software has found a role in my every-
day work. I do my best to keep these content focused, explaining how I have used these
tools to solve very specific problems I have come across in the music teaching environ-
ment. It will become obvious that a lot of these apps can be applied to any profession,
and even outside of the workplace and into your everyday life. That is my intention!
I hope that you get just as much out of saving your photo library to the cloud in your
personal life as you do in the classroom.

4╇ |╇D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

Workflows can be simple. For example, if you read past the dress-╉up, some of my
workflows in the chapter on notetaking simply read: “Take notes!” Workflows can also
be complex. Later in the book I  will explain how to chain multiple automations and
apps together to accomplish powerful work without you lifting a finger. In any case, my
intention is to give enough content-╉specific workflows that you will really get your mind
inside of this software and begin thinking of hundreds of your own ideas for how to use
it to solve the problems you come across in your own teaching.
As I stated, this book is not a how-╉to manual. A lot of the technologies in this book
are simple to use, with many of the user-╉facing features almost entirely exposed to the
user. For the cases in which that is not true, these technologies are heavily documented
online by their developers.
My goal is to show multiple use cases for each technology so that you will take
from each chapter the underlying problems they can solve. Hopefully this way of look-
ing at them will help you find the motivation to explore your own workflows and use
cases for each of them.

Exploring the Metaphor
I would like to get philosophical for a moment and talk more about the current way
teachers manage the different parts of their workflow. In Table 1.1 I have listed a few
types of data associated with doing work, the content I believe constitutes that type of
data, and titles of specific software I might store that type of data within.
I want to share this before you get too deep into reading. Each chapter of this book
is fairly well contained, meaning that you can read each in isolation if you want to. So
before you move on to notetaking, get really excited, and start capturing everything into
Evernote, I want to make sure I clarify that I think certain technologies are better for
working with certain types of data.

TABLE 1.1 ╇

Notes Reminder To-╉do Event Document

What is it? Anything (text, A task or idea A task that Fixed in Any file on your
image, file) you need to needs to time, usually hard drive that
that you might act upon at a get done; involving might be edited
reference at specific time freestanding others and down the road or
a later time or place or part of a requiring an needs to be stored
project agenda in context with
other files
Software to Notes apps Reminders OmniFocus Calendar Finder
get the job Evernote Evernote Things BusyCal Dropbox
done OneNote Outlook Todoist Outlook Google Drive
Notability Wunderlist Box
Outlook Outlook
╇ 5

I n t r o d u c t i o n ╇ | ╇ 5

One of the themes that will tie this philosophy together is that apps are designed
to make doing certain tasks have more metaphorical meaning. For example, Evernote is
sensible choice for storing archives of PDFs because they are incredibly easy to add and
search. Another example: PDFs of fill-╉out forms may be more user friendly to operate
in a PDF annotating app that supports checkboxes and text fields, while PDFs of book
content or articles might read better in an app like iBooks, which has simple highlight-
ing tools. Similarly, tasks are easier to manage in a task manager app with checklists and
due dates rather than on a calendar app, where they might not be honored as strictly.
Keep this in mind as you read. Think about what physical task is being reimagined
on a computer screen. I guarantee it will help you to feel more like your data has a sense
of “place” in your computer.

A Few Things To Understand
There are a few other things worth sharing before getting started. This book focuses
heavily on Apple devices and software. Apple products have been celebrated for a long
time in education. Even as schools turn toward cheaper and cloud-╉based devices in the
classroom, like Chromebooks, this is a book about personal productivity. Many of the
tools in this book are easy to implement on your personal or school devices, regardless
of what brand and operating system your school runs on.
Another reason I focus on Apple products is because they have high standards for
making hardware and software that are aesthetically pleasing to the creative mind and
easy to use for people who don’t “get” technology. Musical minds gravitate toward creat-
ing things with Apple products.
Last but not least, Apple devices and software are simply what I use. It is for that
reason that I can best explain the ideas in this book through the perspective of an Apple
user. Most of the competition I highlight in each chapter is cross-╉platform or available
on Android or Windows, aside from cases where I do not think there is anything worth
using on an alternate platform.
I have made my best effort to distinguish software that is cross-╉platform or Apple
only throughout this book. Even if you are not using all Apple products, or any at all,
a lot of the software in this book can help you bridge the gap between your Apple and
non-╉Apple devices, or allow you to avoid them altogether.
Due to my Apple focus, please note that I  mention keyboard shortcuts often in
this book. These are the Mac keyboard shortcuts. Most of them will work on Windows
if you replace the word “Command” with “Control.” For example, on a Mac you hold
Command + C to copy. On Windows, you hold Control + C.
Note also that the names of Apple’s operating systems are OS X for the Mac and
iOS for the iPhone and iPad. From time to time, I will use the words “OS X” and “Mac”
interchangeably. The same goes for iOS, iPhone, and iPad.

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Finally, I want to recommend that you read this book straight through, but also
tell you that you don’t have to. The book was conceived chronologically and I develop
its ideas somewhat progressively. However, each chapter has a very narrow focus on the
type of work it describes and can be comprehended just fine in isolation.
I am truly thrilled to be able to share my love of technology with the music teach-
ing community and hope that I am able to save you many, many hours of tedious work
in your years of teaching henceforth.
╇ 7


Productivity Basics

Computers today come paired with a variety of productivity apps that are essential to
getting basic work done. This chapter is intended to help you take advantage of these
productivity apps: web browsers, email clients, calendars, notes, and tasks.
To some degree, I also like to think of this chapter as a warmup to the rest of the
book. A lot of software you are already using to survive the workday is included here.
By understanding these apps, you will feel more in control and gain the freedom to
approach the rest of this book with confidence.

Web Browsers
Arguably, most of our time using a computer is spent on the web. Reading articles,
purchasing materials, accessing grade books, using student management systems and
learning management systems, accessing school district applications and resources, and
beyond fill up most of our screen-╉staring hours.
Currently, I find Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome to be the most feature-╉filled
browsers available. I also think they are the most interesting and ubiquitous. That being
said, I know that a handful of education technology is built to work better on Firefox.
Google and Apple celebrate dominance, especially their web browsers, because they
tend to be the ones that most users experience by default. Firefox can do many of the
things I will discuss in this section as well.

Extensions are plugins that add features to your browser. Safari extensions (Fig.  2.1)
are far fewer and more limited than those in Chrome. Safari extensions can be found
here: https://╉

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F I G U R E   2 .1   Safari extensions can be downloaded from the web.

F I G U R E   2 . 2   The Chrome extension store.

Google’s Chrome browser is celebrated for its store of browser “extensions.” Its
countless plugins (Fig. 2.2) can be found here: https://​​webstore/​cat-
Extensions are one of the features that distinguish Chrome as the browser of choice for
many power users. Reviewing the array of available extensions is beyond the scope of this
╇ 9

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 9

F I G U R E   2 . 3 ╇The
Evernote extension in Safari can clip web content into Evernote, where it can be
tagged and, later, searched by text.

book; they simply cover too wide a breadth of possibility. I can mention a few of my time-╉
saving favorites, though.
Some of my favorite extensions exist on both Safari and Chrome. AdBlock blocks
as many advertisements as it can from sites on the web, sometimes even catching the
video ads that play before YouTube videos. I have noticed that websites, particularly
news sites, clean up a bit when this extension is installed. While I wish to support web-
sites I frequent by allowing them to serve advertisements so that their business can
survive, the truth is that most web advertising ranges from simply bad and distracting
design all the way to straight abusive. If you have ever been to a website that launches
videos with loud audio as soon as the page loads, you are aware of this problem.
If you are just beginning to explore extensions, many of the apps and service in this
book have browser extensions to easily get web content into that service. Just to name a few,
Evernote (Fig. 2.3), Dropbox, and Facebook all have extensions that allow you to quickly
share web content with your accounts. It is worth noting that mobile devices also support
extensions, though it is implemented differently depending on the device you use. If you are
on an iPhone, the square button with the arrow sticking out of it will take you to the share
sheet, which can launch extensions (Fig. 2.4). On Android devices or Chrome, the icon that
appears to be three dots connected together by thin lines fulfills a similar function.

Safari Toolbar Buttons Explained
The tabs icon, which looks like two overlapping squares, will allow you to see all of the
tabs you have opened across all of your Apple devices. If you were reading an article

10  |  D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 4   Some
apps on iOS have extensions that can be accessed by tapping the square with the
arrow pointing out. Extensions allow you to easily share content from Safari to other apps and act
upon websites.

about standardized testing on your iPad with your cup of coffee in the morning and
want to continue reading that article from your Mac when you sit down at your desk,
click the tab icon to see a list of all the open tabs on all of your devices (Figs. 2.5
and 2.6).
As shown above, the icon that looks like a box with an arrow sticking out of it is a
share button. This is universal across all Apple devices. Generally speaking, clicking this
button in any iOS or OS X app will do something with the content you are viewing. In
Safari, a list of sharing options will appear (Fig. 2.7). Using this button can trim down
time spent emailing others links to websites, saving articles to apps like Evernote, and
sharing other web content on Twitter.
As mentioned before, some apps come bundled with Safari extensions. Apps can
allow Safari to quickly share content with them from right within the web browser.
In Figure  2.8, imagine I  want to remember to order a score I  am browsing on J.  W.
Pepper at a later time. Clicking the share sheet button allows me to send this website
to a variety of apps. In this case, I will choose to send it to OmniFocus, which is a task
managing app, where I will later see a thumbnail of the website attached to a checkable
to-​do list.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇11

F I G U R E   2 . 5 ╇ The Safari toolbar.

F I G U R E   2 . 6 ╇iCloud tabs.

Reading List
Web content is often full of ads and contains text too small for comfortable reading
(Fig. 2.9). Safari has a button that appears right next to the web domain of the site you
are viewing that looks like three lines. Clicking this button clears up the text, images,
and ads on your site and makes it appear as a newspaper article (Fig.  2.10). Clicking

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F I G U R E   2 .7   The share button in Safari.

F I G U R E  2 . 8   The OmniFocus share sheet allows me to clip web content into my task managing system.

the share button and selecting “Add to Reading List” will save articles for later reading
(Fig. 2.11). The Reading List saves these articles locally so you do not need to be con-
nected to the web to read them on all of your devices. Holding Shift + Command + D
will quickly add the current page to the reading list.
╇ 13

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇13

F I G U R E   2 . 9 ╇ Web content with clutter.

F I G U R E   2 .10 ╇ Web content without clutter.

Traditional bookmarks are a great way to get organized. Bookmarks can be saved so that
they are always one click away. Make sure to save your bookmarks to the “Favorites Bar”
to make them appear here (Fig. 2.12).

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F I G U R E   2 .11   The Safari Reading List.

F I G U R E   2 .12   The Safari Favorites Bar.

Bookmarks can even be categorized into folders by holding Option +
Command + B or by selecting “Bookmarks” from the Menu Bar and then “Edit
Bookmarks” (Figs. 2.13 and 2.14). A few of my bookmark folders are titled Music,
Education, Forums, Tech, and Downloads. The bookmarks in your Favorites Bar

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s  |   15

F I G U R E   2 .13   Bookmark editing view.

F I G U R E   2 .14   Folders in the Favorites Bar.

can even be put into folders. I  have a folder called “LEMS” (the acronym for my
school's name) always visible right below the search bar. Clicking this button will
give me a dropdown menu of all the websites related to my school district that
I frequently access.

16╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

Finding Text
Searching the contents of a website on any browser is easy. Hold Command + F
and type in the text you are looking for (Fig. 2.15). Your web browser will find all
instances of that text on the page you are currently viewing and allow you to jump
between them.

Email can be difficult to manage, often feeling more like a burden than the tech-
nological tool it is intended to be. Every teacher knows a co-╉worker (or is that
co-╉worker) who forgets to reply to urgent messages or fails to respond to email
at all. I  hesitate to blame anyone for these habits. Emails are often too lengthy,
wordy, frequent, and even unnecessary. Messages about brownies in the teachers’
lounge with 30 responses clutter the same space as correspondences with parents,
fundraising companies, and bus companies. An entirely separate volume could be
filled with the problems of modern-╉day email. In this chapter, it is my goal to sug-
gest some software and tips that will help you tame your email and achieve “inbox
zero.” Inbox zero is the idea that your email inbox has zero messages inside of it at
the end of the day. Whether this means that you respond to, act upon, snooze, or
defer those messages, the idea is that you end up with an empty inbox before you
go to bed.

F I G U R E   2 .15 ╇ Using Command + F.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 17

Clients vs. Web Apps
Whether you use Gmail for personal email or Microsoft Exchange at work, chances are
you are accessing mail through a web app (Fig. 2.16). A web app is an app that runs in
a web browser. There are many advantages to using an email client instead of the web.
What is an email client? It is an application that is solely used for accessing email.
They are beneficial for a few reasons. First, they do not clutter up extra tabs and windows
in your web browser. They are also accessible by simply clicking a button to launch them.
They can be configured so that you do not need to re-╉enter a user name and password
every time you want to see if you have new messages. Multiple email accounts can be
funneled through an email client, so you can use the same application to work with
personal and work email messages in the same place. Some functionality is designated
locally to the computer hard drive. For example, backup copies of messages are stored
on your hard drive. You do not need to be connected to the Internet to read and inter-
act with old messages or write new ones. All of this happens in the client, and then
tasks that require an Internet connection are placed on hold until you connect to the
Internet again.
Some examples of email clients include Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook (Figs.
2.17 and 2.18). There are countless other options available, all of which share such simi-
lar core functionality that any of the tips below will apply to most mail clients.
Email clients are easy to set up (Fig. 2.19). Usually, the only information you need
to know beyond a user name and password is the mail server used for your place of

F I G U R E   2 .16 ╇ The Gmail web interface.

18╇ |╇D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 .17 ╇ The Apple Mail app.

F I G U R E   2 .18 ╇ Outlook Mail app.

and usually this is just “” For example, if
my email address is “,” the mail server is probably
“” The way email is set up in most teaching districts is sim-
ple enough that you should not need to go beyond this; however, if you do, a call to the
╇ 19

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇19

F I G U R E   2 .19 ╇ An example of mail settings.

help desk can usually fill in the blanks. A perfect opportunity to get some much-╉needed
grading done while you wait on hold!
Keep in mind that setting up work mail accounts on a mobile phone or tablet is
much the same as the process above. Many colleagues of mine prefer to keep work away
from their mobile device. Some are willing to check email on mobile devices but prefer
the poor experience of logging on from a web browser because it lowers their motivation
to deal with work on personal time. However, for those who mix work and play, or just
prefer to have a superior mail experience on a phone or tablet, the setup steps are the
same as they are on a desktop computer.
Though email clients offer you the ability to work with them using no Internet con-
nection, it is important to understand which parts of the process are happening online
and offline.

Types of Mail Servers
If you have ever explored the settings of your email provider, chances are you
have realized it works using a couple of different protocols. The two most com-
mon types are IMAP and POP. For work email, you will probably not be allowed to
specify this information, but in case you do, you should know that IMAP setup is

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mostly preferred these days considering that it keeps all of your devices in sync with
each other.
For example, imagine you are using the Gmail app in the web. Seven new emails
appear in your inbox. You archive the first, delete the second, and leave the rest unread.
Later, at home, you are accessing that same Gmail account through Apple’s Mail app.
When you launch Mail, your Gmail account will appear just as you left it, five unread
emails in your inbox, one in the trash, and one labeled “archived.”
POP is a bit different. Information is not sent back to the cloud. If you were to
consider the same scenario above, when you return to your home computer, it would
not pull any of those seven messages from the cloud. This is because POP mail is a one-╉
way street. Once a POP server has pulled those seven emails from the server, the server
does not hang on to them anymore. This means that when you access the same account
from another computer, when it goes to pull any new mail, the server doesn’t have any
to offer. In an age when most people own at least a computer and smart phone, there
are few reasons to use POP any more. I recommend you use IMAP if given the choice.
Once you are all set up, the basic functionality of your email client should be
immediately clear. Reply, reply all, forward, and create new buttons should appear
across the top of your toolbar. Below are some tips that I suggest for going beyond the
basics of email.

Email Apps
There are so many email apps available that it would be impossible to cover them all.
Here are some of my favorites.

Apple Mail
Apple’s stock mail app doesn’t have any bells and whistles, but it has all of the standard
features you would come to expect from a mail service. With it, you can group messages
into folders, set up rules to determine where messages go, and manage various email
signatures. What makes Apple’s client stick out its elegance. It does not have any features
or design elements that complicate the experience. This is my primary app of choice on
the Mac. On iOS devices I find myself using it a lot, too, though there are some compel-
ling alternatives.

Google Web Mail
I imagine that most of the readers of this book interact with their mail in Gmail. Gmail is
a mail service by Google, but the term also refers to their mail app that runs in a browser.
Aside from the basics, Gmail can do some spectacular things with your messages. Gmail
works with the IMAP protocol well enough to be able to use Gmail accounts in applica-
tions like Apple Mail. Gmail actually uses their own unique protocol for managing mes-
sages that is IMAP-╉like, but with some additions. For one, Gmail allows you to “label”
messages rather than categorizing them in folders. Labels work like tags in that a single
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 21

message can have multiple labels associated with it, whereas messages can only go into
one folder at a time. A folder is a location and a label is an association.
Gmail also excels at creating server-╉side rules for email filtering and organizing.
In the settings, it is possible to teach Gmail to take certain messages and skip the inbox,
going straight to the archive or into another folder. Gmail’s system for setting up these
rules is very customizable. It also happens on Google’s servers, meaning that the rules
take place faster. This is different than Apple Mail, which has rules that cannot act on a
message until it has pulled it from the server and onto your computer.

Google Inbox
Google Inbox is a recent offering from Google that is available on the web and as an app
for smart phones. Google Inbox is intended to help you get to inbox zero. It will help you
to do this in a few ways. First, it automatically categorizes messages like Facebook notifi-
cations, airline ticket confirmations, and multi-╉message threads into separate categories
so you can easily differentiate them. Through this filtering, Google predicts what is most
important to you and displays it for you, saving you from sorting through the junk.
Google Inbox also allows you to turn messages into Google Tasks within a few taps
(Fig. 2.20). This helps to take those messages that require action out of your messages

F I G U R E  2 . 2 0 ╇ The Google Inbox user interface.

22╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

and into a place where they are actionable. For those messages that you want to deal
with, but not right away, Google Inbox also supports the snoozing of email messages
so you can swipe on a message to tell it to come back into your inbox tomorrow or at a
later date.

Spark Mail
Spark Mail app is an iPhone app by Readdle that more or less imitates the features
of Google Inbox, specifically swipe to snooze and automatically categorized mes-
sages (Fig.  2.21). Spark Mail is not just limited to Gmail accounts, though:  It can
work with Google, iCloud, Exchange, Yahoo, and more. Spark Mail is also far more
elegantly designed and gives the user granular control of how even fine details work,
like which swipe directions perform which actions on messages. One of my favorite
features is the read receipts and quick reply. Read receipts tell you when someone
has read your message. Quick reply templates allow you to customize replies like
“thanks” and “got it” that can be sent with the tap of a button upon receiving a
Spark Mail is currently my iOS mail app of choice. It combines all of the features
I appreciate: snooze, swipe actions, and message filtering, in addition to the unparalleled

F I G U R E   2 . 21 ╇ Spark Mail app user interface.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 23

power features of read receipts and quick reply. All of this is packaged into a beautiful
app that is a delight to use.

Outlook is tricky to talk about: It has a web version, a native version, and a mobile ver-
sion (Fig. 2.22). Considering Outlook is made by Microsoft, and Microsoft’s mail service
is Exchange, your work email is probably running in Outlook. Most teachers I know
have the Outlook app preinstalled on their work-╉issued computer, or have to operate it
on the web. Though Outlook is a more polished and powerful app on Windows, there
is a Mac version. I don’t recommend it. It has a history of being bloated and slow on the
Mac. The only real reason to use it over something like Apple’s Mail app is if your school
district communicates using private folders over Exchange. If this is the case, you prob-
ably know about it. Outlook is really the only mail client that handles private folders,
which is the only reason I would use the Mac version of Outlook.
That being said, the iOS and Android version of Outlook is stellar, quite possibly
one of the best mail apps for smart phones and tablets. It has many of the features men-
tioned in the previous apps: mail snooze, automatic categorization of messages, swipe
gestures, and more. What I like about Outlook is that it is Microsoft’s all-╉in-╉one solu-
tion for productivity, so it includes a calendar app and a contacts app right built into

F I G U R E   2 . 22 ╇ Mail in Outlook for iOS.

24╇ |╇D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 23 ╇ Calendar in Outlook for iOS.

the same user interface (Fig. 2.23). This is perfect for referencing your calendar in one
tap when writing and replying to email regarding events. I also enjoy how Outlook for
mobile organizes your files, first by categorizing file attachments by recently sent and
received messages at the top, and displaying files from your services like Google Drive
and Dropbox below (Fig. 2.24).

Don’t Trash Email
Unless your email provider caps the amount of space you are able to use for storing
old email, I recommend never deleting email. You never know when you will want to
reference that old email from three years ago. Instead, archive them. This way, they are
permanently searchable, but out of sight when reviewing new messages.

Forward to a Personal Account for Archiving
If your work email does not allow you to store infinite gigabytes of messages, or if you
are moving to a new job in a new district, you may want to have a backup of your entire
message database for future reference. Perhaps you will want to search for an email
thread to remember how you organized a field trip, or will want to find that positive
email from a parent, praising your efforts, for a portfolio. It is easy to back up your work
email to a personal account, where it is under your control.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 25

F I G U R E   2 . 24 ╇ Files in Outlook for iOS.

For this, I recommend using a Gmail account. I usually set up an account called
“robby_╉” From here, I open the settings panel while
logged in to my work email address. You can set up rules in a mail client, but sometimes
you have to be logged into the web app to get the full range of features.
I usually need to set up two rules: one for saving all incoming messages and one
for all outgoing messages. See an example screenshot of one of these rules in the Apple
Mail app (Fig. 2.25).
With all of your incoming and outgoing email backed up on a server that you have
control over, you will never need to fear losing a message.

Keeping a Clean Inbox
Email is easier to tackle when the inbox isn’t full of unread newsletters, long-╉ago-╉
answered mail, and other messages. Here are a few ways you can navigate this clutter.
It is possible to set up an email client so that your inbox only shows you what is
important. Often clicking the nearly invisible unsubscribe button doesn’t always stop
the problem. One way you can do this is to set up email rules that automatically take
messages from certain senders and put them into alternate folders. For example, “if
email is from sender, move message to folder titled Deals and
Receipts.” Of course, creating a rule for every single sender is massively time consuming.

26  |  D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 25   Mail rule in Apple mail displaying how to automatically forward work email to a per-
sonal account.

Figure 2.26 shows an example of how a rule is set up. Creating rules using most
mail clients is as easy as devising a simple if-​t hen statement. In the case below, I want
messages from email addresses ending in certain domains to automatically skip my
inbox, get marked as read, and go straight into the archive.
Services like and SaneBox promise to automatically predict the mes-
sages that are less important and categorize them for you. Though is free,
I prefer the customization of SaneBox. SaneBox can learn which emails you want to go
where by the simple act of dragging an email from that sender into the folder you would
like it to go to in the future. That being said, SaneBox will cost $5 a month per email
account. These services will often inform you how many minutes a week their features
save you (Fig. 2.27). For me, the few hours a week of saved time SaneBox claims to pro-
vide is worth the $5 a month per email account to me.
In recent years there has been an emerging feature among email clients called
“snooze.” Apps like Mailbox, Google Inbox, Spark Mail, and the new Microsoft Outlook
for mobile will allow you to snooze messages so that they disappear from your inbox
until a specified time. If that email to confirm your performance time at an upcoming
festival does not require a response for two months, why should you have to stare at it in
your inbox every day until then?
F I G U R E   2 . 2 6   Mail rule showing how to filter out unwanted mail.

F I G U R E   2 . 27   Message from SaneBox telling me how much time I saved this week. Yay!

28╇ |╇D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

Unfortunately, Apple Mail and Outlook for Mac, the most established desktop
email clients, do not have this feature. SaneBox, in addition to the features mentioned
above, also allows you to snooze messages by creating actionable folders. For example,
I have a folder called “Tomorrow” set up with SaneBox that snoozes any message I move
to it until the next morning at 7. SaneBox is a plus because it works server-╉side rather
than through an app, meaning that the features will work with any mail app you use.

Organizing Messages with Tags and Folders
Setting up folders or tags with your email provider will save a lot of time. I have email
folders set up for fundraisers, field trips, praise received from parents and colleagues,
tickets to events, flight information, teacher evaluations, and more. If you want to get
geeky and are using Apple Mail, you can buy some plugins that will extend these fea-
tures. MailTags by Indev Software (Fig. 2.28) is a plugin that allows you to tag messages,
associate them with events in your calendar, add notes to them, associate them with
projects you are working on, and even assign “tickle” (due) dates for messages.

Turning Messages into Tasks and Notes
Task management apps like OmniFocus and note taking apps like Evernote allow you to
forward information into them through email.
Sometimes email messages make sense alongside other text notes and docu-
ments. For example, I like to keep all of my invoices in Evernote. Usually, they come

F I G U R E   2 . 2 8 ╇ MailTags
by Indev Software. This is an Apple Mail plugin that allows you to associate
messages with notes, calendar events, keywords, projects, and more.

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s  |  29

F I G U R E   2 . 2 9   Forwarding a message to my Evernote account.

to me through the mail and I  scan them as PDFs into my Evernote database. In
the case of the Figures 2.29 and 2.30, an invoice from the Music and Arts Center
has come into my inbox. By forwarding it to my specially designated Evernote
email address, I can forward it there. I am able to type “Evernote” in the “To” field
because I  have created a contact card on my computer associating the Evernote
email address, which is rather obscure, with the name “Evernote” (see this contact
card in Fig. 2.31).
Sometimes, email sits in the inbox as a to-​do list of sorts. Messages sit there
until they are acted upon, cluttering up your view and stealing your focus for days,
weeks, or even months. Since I use an app for managing to-​dos called OmniFocus,
I prefer to take emails that require action and forward them into OmniFocus, where
the subject line becomes the title of a task and the body of the messages becomes a
note attachment to that task (Fig. 2.32). I put my obscure OmniFocus email address
in my contacts and name it “OmniFocus” just like described above with Evernote.
Notice the email in Figure 2.33. My school’s secretary has requested that I send her
a copy of my winter concert program by a certain date. I forward this email to my
“OmniFocus Inbox,” where it turns it into a task that I can later assign a project and
due date.

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F I G U R E   2 . 3 0 ╇ What my message looks like once it is in Evernote.

F I G U R E   2 . 31 ╇ Evernote contact card.

Don’t Let Others Drop the Ball
If you aren’t convinced about SaneBox yet, there is another handy feature the service
offers that I use almost daily.
If a task or project’s next step requires me to get an answer from, or delegate a
task to, a colleague, I want to check it off my list once I contact him or her. Frankly, it
F I G U R E   2 . 3 2   Turning messages into tasks with OmniFocus.

F I G U R E   2 . 33   What my email looks like in OmniFocus.

32╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

is bad practice to rely on others’ timelines for getting your own work done. SaneBox
has a nifty feature called Sane Reminders that allows you to CC (or BC) an email to
another person with the number of days you want to be reminded by followed by
“” For example, say I  am organizing my music department’s trip to
Hersheypark and need a confirmed student count from the orchestra teacher in a
week. I can address the request for the student count to the teacher, and CC the email
to “” In one week, if the orchestra director has not replied to
my email, SaneBox will recycle it back into my inbox as a reminder for me that it still
requires attention. This allows me to feel that tasks are really out of my hands when
I delegate them to others.

Get Work Done While Setting Expectations
Apple Mail is not without its fair share of great email plugins. Mail Act-╉On and
SendLater allow you to send an email to a recipient but schedule the actual time that the
email is sent. Music teachers often work late into the night editing concert programs,
grading assignments, and planning lessons. If we happen to find ourselves emailing
parents and co-╉workers, it is important not to create the unhealthy expectation that we
are always on the clock. Mail scheduling plugins are great for setting up this expecta-
tion. With Mail Act-╉On, I can type an email at midnight and schedule it to send at 7:30
the next morning.

Our lives are made up of the things we do. The things we do take time, and calen-
dars manage time. Perhaps more important than any method of organizing ourselves,
the calendar is most flexible and personal, but also least effective if misunderstood or
abused. Before diving into some example workflows for using digital calendars, I would
like to share a little bit of my philosophy about calendars.

Calendar Philosophy
The principle I strive to live by is that the calendar is “sacred.” It is the digital archive of
where I spend my time. Because most of the events contained in it are ones where others
are depending on my presence, I aim to schedule only real commitments as events on
my calendar. That being said, many things go in my calendar. From cooking with my
wife to even the hours I am at school, every minute is scheduled. The result is a beautiful
chart of brightly colored squares.
To stay organized with calendars, it is important to draw some boundaries about
what data goes into a calendar and what data stays out of it.
In my experience, calendars are not a place for task managing. In other words,
I tend to avoid inputting to-╉do type information in my calendar in the form of an event.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 33

An example of this would be “take out the trash” on Wednesday at 8 a.m. The reason
I avoid this is because tasks are often not bound by time and it is therefore easy to ignore
these items on the calendar, thus making their effect on my behavior less potent.
To be an “event” on a calendar, an entry must have a concrete start (and preferably
end) time and an agenda. The agenda does not have to be formal or even written down, just
understood. If I am getting lunch with a friend, the agenda is to hang out. That is enough.
But I would hesitate to put a music department meeting on my calendar if we did not
have an outcome in mind. I consider that calendar events involve other parties outside of
myself, typically who are depending on my presence and punctuality. A day at school goes
on the calendar. A private lesson goes on the calendar. A meeting, or lunch date, goes on
the calendar, and concerts go on the calendar. “Plan for tomorrow’s lessons” does not go
on my calendar. It does not involve anyone else, the time it takes to do is often indefinite,
and I will likely ignore the event in my calendar in favor of more pressing priorities.

Technical Considerations with Calendars
It is important to understand that calendars function synonymously with email. Let’s
use Gmail as an example again. Google also makes a service called Google Calendar,
which users can interact with fully on the web. Much like Gmail, all you ever need to
do with a calendar can happen under the umbrella of a web browser. Also similar to
how mail services use the protocol IMAP, most calendars use a protocol too. It is called
CalDAV, and its purpose is to standardize the information of your calendar so that it is
compatible with other clients and devices.
In other words: Gmail is to the Apple Mail app as Google Calendar is to the Apple
Calendar app. The former is a service and the latter is a client.
This means that apps like Calendar and Outlook can display calendars no matter
which calendar service you use. Most of the major companies use CalDAV, so you could
use Google Calendar with Microsoft Outlook or an Exchange Calendar with Apple’s
Calendar app. The data will always remain in sync, whatever device or client you are using.
My calendar setup is relatively complex. Explaining this setup will offer me an
opportunity to further address the concepts required before taking full advantage of

My Calendar Setup
I use iCloud as my primary calendar service. With iCloud, I have all of my basic calen-
dars: Personal, Public School, Private Lessons, Gigs, etc. I also subscribe to my wife’s
calendars through iCloud so I can see what she has going on in her schedule at a glance.
I also use the service Google Calendar, primarily for the ability to subscribe to
other people’s Google calendars and see their events alongside all of my personal iCloud
dates in the same application.
Finally, my workplace uses Microsoft Exchange, another service that uses CalDAV.
I like to see my work meetings in the same place that I see everything else.

34╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 3 4 ╇ My calendar setup using BusyCal on the Mac.

On my Mac, I use a calendar client called BusyCal (Fig. 2.34). In the BusyCal set-
tings, I log in to all three of the accounts above (iCloud, Google, Exchange) by typing in
my user name and password for each. BusyCal aggregates all of these calendars so I can
interact with them all at once.
On my iPhone, I  use the app Fantastical, but the process is the same. I  enter
my account information for each service into the calendar settings of my phone and
Fantastical shows them all to me in the same place.
Same story on the iPad, only I use the Apple Calendars app on that device.

Calendar Apps
Like email, there are so many calendar apps on the market, it would be virtually impos-
sible to cover them all. Here is a synopsis of my favorites.

Google Calendar (Web)
Google Calendar on the web is essentially the same as Gmail on the web. It oper-
ates entirely in a web browser, requires an Internet connection, is near-╉flawlessly
reliable, and has most, if not all, of the features you are ever going to need in a
calendar app.
Remember, Google’s Calendar is a service, not just a web app, so if you prefer to
use it on the web, you can also plug its data into apps like Apple Calendar, Outlook, and
your calendar client of choice on mobile devices.
Google’s primary strength is their machine-╉learning algorithms. If you are com-
fortable with the fact that Google takes into account your web search history and
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 35

Gmail messages, Google calendar can do a lot of heavy lifting for you. It is able to sug-
gest events automatically based on flight tickets, hotel reservations, and concert tick-
ets, to name a few. Recently, I was looking for a venue on Google Maps and through
looking in my mail and calendars, Google already knew which search result to move
to the top of the list and even stamped it with a message telling me that I needed to
leave in five minutes to be on time to the Snarky Puppy show—╉the tickets were stored
in my email.
The competition is far behind in this regard. But if you prefer more privacy, don’t
need these advanced features, or simply don’t use Google for your calendar, many of the
other options below will suit you well.

Google Calendar (Mobile)
Google’s current mobile app presents the service I described above. What I like about
Google’s calendar app is that is brings all of the predictive features to phones and tab-
lets. It is also a media-╉rich experience, often animating the event bubbles with con-
textual data like, for example, a picture of your friend on his or her birthday, or a
picture of the Washington Monument on an event you have titled “Touring DC with
Family.” This kind of predictive machine learning is unmatched by any of the competi-
tion (Fig. 2.35).

F I G U R E   2 . 35 ╇ The Google Calendar app for iPhone.

36╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

Apple Calendar
If you are using a Mac, there isn’t a whole lot of reason to use any app other than Apple’s
stock calendar app. It is beautifully and simply designed. And most importantly, it takes
best advantage of the features of iOS and OS X. For example, no other calendar app on
iOS can be controlled by Siri voice command.
Apple Calendar has all the benefits of a client. Recall my discussion of email
clients. Apple Calendar does not require the web to operate, so you can use it even
if you are not connected to the Internet. Note, however, that any events added from
another device since you were last connected to the Internet will not show up on
another device until it connects to the Internet. The same is true of events added to
the calendar. For example, if you add an event while on a MacBook and disconnected
from the Internet, you will not see that event on other devices until the MacBook is

BusyCal is the Land Rover of Mac Calendar software. While it is not as pretty as Apple’s
Calendar app, it is full of power user features that help you get work done effectively.
Given that I add a lot of contextual data to my events (location, alarms, notes, etc.),
my favorite feature is the information pane on the right side of the screen that is always
visible instead of requiring me to double-╉click on an event to see more. This cuts down
on a lot of fudging around while setting start and end times, taking notes, and setting
up alarms.
On the surface, one of the most immediately obvious benefits to BusyCal is
the fact that it has more options for displaying your events. You can customize the
number of weeks shown per month or days shown per week. You can also view all
of your events in a list view, allowing for the automatic totaling of hours for bill-
ing. BusyCal also shows weather graphics on top of the days of the week for an
at-╉a-╉glance forecast. The user can also add custom icons and graphics, allowing a
media-╉r ich experience.
There are a handful of other features that make this app a powerful alternative to
the Calendar app on OS X. All of them are visible on the company’s website, Busymac.
com. This app is regularly priced around $50. For me, this app has proven its worth as
my primary calendar app on OS X for about five years now. For a more casual calendar
user, I would suggest that it is a little expensive for what it does.

Fantastical is a replacement for the calendar app on OS X and iOS. Fantastical offers
a top-╉class design experience. It is a beautiful app, and while it is not as feature-╉filled
as BusyCal, it is elegant and intuitive and has one particular feature that I cannot live
╇ 37

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 37

F I G U R E   2 . 3 6 ╇Fantastical’s natural language parsing beautifully animates my requests into real

This feature is its natural language input, which is a compelling reason to at least
try the app on the iPhone. When creating a new event, I simply type “lunch with Bob at
noon” or “music department meeting tomorrow at 2 pm” and Fantastical generates the
event automatically by interpreting my words (Fig. 2.36).
This is my default choice for calendar management on my iPhone. Its list view
design makes it easier to navigate on a small screen (Fig. 2.37). I find the calendar app
that comes on the iPhone too difficult to interpret due to its poor design. On the Mac
and iPad, Fantastical may not be polished enough to earn its high price tag. That being
said, the Mac version comes with a wonderful widget that you can set to a keyboard
shortcut to view your upcoming events and add new ones quickly (Fig. 2.38). On my
computer, I hold Control + Spacebar to initiate this widget, many times, saving me the
effort of launching a calendar app full screen.

Outlook is Microsoft’s one-╉stop application for productivity, including email, calen-
dars, contacts, notes, and tasks. It is commonly misunderstood as synonymous with
F I G U R E   2 . 37   Fantastical list view on iPhone.

F I G U R E   2 . 3 8   Fantastical widget for OS X.
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 39

Exchange, which is actually Microsoft’s email service. (iCloud Mail is to Apple’s Mail
app as Exchange is to Outlook.) Chances are your work email address is running on an
Exchange server.
Outlook can read data from any service that uses IMAP or CalDAV, which
makes it a suitable client no matter what email address you use. For years, I  have
considered Outlook to be the ugly cousin of email clients. It is slow and bloated with
buttons and features people seldom use. For this reason, I have only recommended
Outlook to users of Exchange mail accounts. There are certain Exchange features
that you cannot utilize unless you are using Outlook. If your workplace uses public
folders where certain groups within your school district post, you can only see these
in Outlook.
My aversion to Outlook is slowly transforming. Outlook has a long way to go on
OS X, but their iOS and Android apps are top class. On these mobile devices, Outlook is
gorgeously designed and contains a lot of power features. More importantly, I enjoy how
mail and calendars are each visible from within the same app. I often find myself wish-
ing to reference my calendar quickly while drafting an email. With Outlook’s mobile
app, this is only a tap away.

Workflows for Calendars
Adding Contextual Data to Your Events
There are some other pieces of data that can be attached to a calendar event. Alarms,
URLs, attendees, and attachments are commonly overlooked. I  find myself less dis-
tracted by upcoming school meetings by putting them on my calendar with alarms that
set off five minutes in advance. This allows me to work comfortably from my desk with-
out worrying about when I need to leave.
If an event has a location on the web for further information and context, it can be
helpful to input that URL in the URL field when adding an event so that you can easily
recall it later while viewing the event. When I receive an agenda for a staff meeting in the
form of text or a Microsoft Word document, I like to attach it to the event that represents
it in my calendar where it is easy to find (Fig. 2.39).

Weekly Audit
I find it helpful to do a weekly audit of all the events that occurred within the past
seven days. Every Sunday evening, I go through my calendar and add notes to the
notes section of any events that I think it would be helpful to add some data to.
For example, if I hold a conversation at a district music meeting with my music
supervisor, I  will write down some notes of ref lection to better be able to recall
what happened while I was there. This results in a hybrid of data collecting and
Say the notes field of your calendar events is too limiting and you want to take
notes in a third-╉party web-╉based application like Evernote. Evernote allows you to share

40  | D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 3 9   A calendar entry with location, file, note, URL, and note data.

F I G U R E  2 . 4 0   Linking
a URL to an Evernote note in the notes field of a calendar entry can help you to
quickly access the notes related to certain events.

a URL to a note with yourself and others. I will often share the URL with myself and
then copy and paste it into the notes field of an event. This allows me to use Evernote
features like task lists and file attachments while still associating the data with an event
(Fig. 2.40).
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 41

F I G U R E   2 . 41 ╇ Notes on a private student’s assignment for the next lesson.

Private Lesson Assignments
This strategy is much like the one above. If you are teaching private lessons, or go as far
as scheduling each of your school classes in a calendar, I recommend you begin entering
your weekly assignments in the notes field of calendar events (Fig. 2.41). When I see a
private student, all I need to do is look at the lesson from the previous week to see every-
thing we covered, what I assigned, and any notes I took on his or her performance. This
eliminates the need to search around in another application to find my notes or to rely
on a student’s recollection. This holds students more accountable for practice.

Driving Times
Another piece of data I  enjoy adding to events is the location. Apple, Google, and
Microsoft all have proprietary maps services that can integrate with your calendar. For
example, if I  am heading to a meeting for music teachers in my district after school,
I can type the address of the meeting into the event on my calendar. Most modern calen-
dar apps are location-╉aware and can even recommend a departure time based on where
you are, where you are going, and the current traffic. This helps me be punctual without
worrying about remembering to leave at just the right minute. In the case of Apple and
Google calendars, the notification to leave can even launch you right into a mapping
application where turn-╉by-╉turn driving directions will appear.

Inviting others to an event by email can be an effective way to confirm attendees, if the
attendees can reliably reply to the invite. In the attendee field, most calendar software

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will allow you to input an email address, which will then email the person an invite, and
he or she can click yes or no. Attendee confirmations will typically show up in the recipi-
ent’s email inbox and also within his or her calendar app of choice.

Associating People with BusyCal
If you are using BusyCal, there is another way to associate a person with an event with-
out actually inviting him or her to it. The category “People” allows you to enter your con-
tacts into an event for future reference. BusyMac, the developer of BusyCal, also makes
an OS X contacts app replacement called—╉you guessed it—╉BusyContacts. BusyContacts
can actually display the calendar events associated with a person when viewing his or
her contact card if you have associated the person with those events in BusyCal.

Even the most hard-╉working teachers can be scatterbrained at times. The to-╉do list never
ends, and it is easy to overlook tasks that are time-╉sensitive.
Thankfully, your computer can remember to do important things for you. Every
major computing platform has some type of reminder app preinstalled. These apps
function like a basic to-╉do list of checkable items. To-╉dos can be separated into separate
lists. These apps use the same CalDAV protocol discussed in the calendar section of this
book, meaning that to-╉do “clients” and “services” can operate in combination with one
another. For example, it is possible to view tasks you have created with Google on an
iPhone using Apple’s “Reminders” app (Fig. 2.42).
These apps commonly allow the user to associate locations and times with tasks.
A task called “Email building services with the floor plan for the winter concert” could
be scheduled to notify you in the morning if that’s when you know you will have time
for it. A message like “ask John about the order of new guitars” could be set to notify
you when you walk into the Music and Arts Center if you have specified its location.
For me, these reminders are useful for just that—╉reminding. I find that manag-
ing complex projects and task lists is not feasible in these most basic applications.
I  will detail this more in the section on task management. Generally, the distinc-
tion for me is that a reminder is something specific to a time or place. A task list or
project is full of actionable items that can be done at any time or place. Of course,
you can create different lists for your to-╉dos and mimic a project-╉based system. But
perhaps after you are through with this book, you will want to take advantage of a
more powerful tool.

We have dealt with the messages, events, and to-╉dos that define our work. Now we move
on to the people who define it. Organizing the people who make up your everyday work
environment can make interaction seamless.
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F I G U R E   2 . 4 2 ╇ The Apple Reminders app.

Like the IMAP protocol for email and the CalDAV protocol for calendars, contact
data uses its own protocol called CardDAV. This allows contacts to sync across multiple
devices and apps successfully. This means that there are various contacts services and apps,
many of which can sync together using this protocol. I  will use the example of Google
Contacts again. Much like Google Calendar and Gmail, Google Contacts is an app on the
web, but it is also a service. This service can be linked to contacts apps that use the CalDAV
protocol. Good examples of contacts clients are the Outlook app many use in the profes-
sional workplace and the iOS Contacts app found on iPhones. While Apple and Microsoft
offer their own services for syncing contact data, you can choose to sync your existing
Google Data to any one of these mainstream contacts apps if you wish. As I described in the
calendar section, I tend to juggle Apple, Google, and Microsoft Exchange services.

Outlook for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android
Chances are your school-╉issued computer is using an Exchange server for email, calen-
dars, contacts, notes, and tasks. If that is the case, you are likely accessing this informa-
tion in a web app that you go to in a browser or you are using Microsoft’s Outlook app.
As discussed earlier, Outlook on Windows and the Mac is often the only way to get
certain Exchange features to work correctly. If your school district uses private folders
or relies heavily on Exchange calendars, it might be wise to use Outlook.

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Outlook is also a one-╉stop shop for most of the software discussed in this entire
section. Without running four or five apps, your email, contacts, calendars, notes, and
tasks are always one click away from one another, making it efficient to change between
viewing various data.
Even though you are probably only using your work email in Outlook, you can
pump contacts from any service into it just like you can with email.
My largest criticism of Outlook on Windows and Mac is that it provides an unaes-
thetic and cumbersome user experience. It displays way too many buttons on screen at
a time for my taste and tends to run slowly on Macs. That being said, it is a perfectly
suitable option for managing contacts.
As mentioned in the email section, Outlook on iOS and Android is a rock-╉solid
solution that is setting the standard for what mobile productivity apps should feel like.
Its handling of contacts is no different.

Apple Contacts
Apple’s Contacts app on iOS and OS X is a solid piece of software. It does not do any-
thing special, but it manages contacts and has an intuitive interface that puts most of its
features right at your fingertips.
Here is a tip for using contacts on the iPhone. The middle tab of the Phone app
has a contacts shortcut that takes you to a screen that functions entirely like the official
Contacts app. Once I discovered this, the Contacts app began to feel pretty redundant
and has since been buried in a folder. Just think, if you remove that app icon from your
home screen, you will have one more space for one of the fantastic apps mentioned in
this book!

FullContact (formerly Cobook)
FullContact is an app for power users who like to interact with contacts more natu-
rally. On the Mac, the app is a widget that can be mapped to a keyboard shortcut of the
user’s choice—╉for example, Option + Spacebar. Upon pressing the keyboard shortcut
of choice, a widget appears that shows the user’s entire contact library with the cursor
already blinking in the search bar ready to search for a name. This is useful for when
I want to email someone. All I do is hold Option + Spacebar, begin typing a name, and
press enter to launch a new email message addressed to him or her. If the name is not
found in the search bar, pressing enter will automatically create a new contact with that
name by default. You don’t even need to fiddle around with different fields to enter a
new contact’s email and phone number. FullContact can naturally interpret and parse
out different data automatically. Therefore, if I am at my Mac and want to enter a new
contact with a name and email, I hold Option + Spacebar and type “John Bacon jbacon@ 555-╉555-╉5555” and FullContact automatically enters all of that information
into a new contact card for me (Fig. 2.43).
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F I G U R E   2 . 43 ╇ The FullContact widget on OS X.

The iOS version of this app is essentially a replacement for the generic Contacts app
that comes installed. FullContact adds some great power features, my favorite of which
is the ability to customize swipable actions. For example, swiping someone’s name to
the left can automatically call him or her or set up an email message addressed to him
or her.
There is also a version of FullContact for Android coming out soon and a Chrome
extension for Gmail too. This brings the power of FullContact right into the side of the
screen when you are using the Gmail web app.

BusyContacts is made by BusyMac, the same developer of BusyCal. Like BusyCal, it is
the Land Rover of contacts applications—╉if you can imagine such a thing. It starts by
allowing you to combine all of your favorite social media and CardDAV services into
one unified view. Facebook and LinkedIn contacts can be displayed alongside those
from your Exchange and Gmail accounts. It boasts a list view and a multi-╉pane view. List
views are especially useful for viewing your contacts like a spreadsheet. The multi-╉pane
view gives you context about your contacts. BusyContacts is able to search my computer
for email messages, text messages, and events in my calendar that are related to the
person I am currently viewing, and display them alongside all of the person’s contact
information. It can even find social media data like Facebook interactions, Tweets by
that person, and LinkedIn activity. The BusyCal app includes an extra piece of data you
can include in your calendar events called “contacts” if you have BusyContacts installed

46╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 4 4 ╇The user interface for BusyContacts displays a lot of context for the people in your
address book.

on the same machine. This allows you to tag contacts in your address book and have
those events appear next to their name when viewing them in BusyContacts (Figs. 2.44).
I find that cleaning and organizing my contacts list is much faster in BusyContacts.
The way it combines so many panels of information on the screen at once allows me to
see pretty much everything about a person at a glance. It is much easier to apply a tag
to many people’s names at the same time, or see which people are Facebook contacts or
work contacts by color coding. This app is for power users, but if you are ready to take
the plunge, you will not regret it.

Workflows for Contacts
Give Names to Services You Want to Forward Mail Into
Throughout this book you will find many services that allow you to forward infor-
mation into them through email. For example, the notetaking app Evernote allows
you to turn emails into notes by forwarding them to a special email address that
Evernote gives you. This email address is associated with your account. If you are
like me and have a collection of these different services, it can be useful to create
contacts for them so that they are easier to recall by name. The obscure Evernote
email address “ran439999ab_╉” can be added to contacts and
named “Evernote.” This allows you to simply address your emails to it by typing
“Evernote” rather than recalling the long strand of letters and numbers. I am able to
forward web articles as emails into a “reading later” service called Instapaper, turn
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P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 47

them into tasks by emailing them into my task management app, OmniFocus, and
more! This extra step just eliminates some of the friction of what is an otherwise
powerful but confusing task.

Get LinkedIn and Facebook to Do the Lifting for You
You might not be the type of person who wants Facebook infiltrating every nook of
your life. Still, it can be useful to take advantage of your large friend list by having your
contacts app automatically populate it with the contact information that your friends
have already publicly shared to Facebook. Apps like FullContact and BusyContacts
can accomplish this, but more and more tech companies are starting to build this
feature into their default contacts apps. For example, in the Contacts Settings page on
an iPhone or Mac, you can elect to feed your Facebook friends into your Contacts list
and even have Facebook events automatically populate your calendar app.

Contacts Cleaner
Contacts Cleaner is a utility for the Mac that can be downloaded from the Mac App
Store. Contacts Cleaner can find duplications of contacts and trash them, find incon-
sistently formatted phone numbers and unify them, plus more. I use this app once a
year to make sure I keep my contacts lean and clean so that when I am in a crunch and
need to find something, I do not get confused by duplicates, misinformation, spelling
inconsistencies, and more.

Use the Notes Field!
I was meeting with another teacher one night to discuss some ideas for the coming
school year. My colleague ordered a drink and I decided to write down the drink order
so that I could remember it if we were ever out together again. What better place to put
this than right on the person’s contact card? I realized the potential of this practice—╉
writing down all sorts of things about people in the notes of their contact card can allow
you to be a socially responsible colleague and friend.
My school has a sectional schedule where band and orchestra directors pull out
middle schoolers from their other classes once a week to receive extra instruction on
their instruments. This has not always been popular with the other teachers in the
building. Before starting the position at that particular school, I became aware that
many teachers perceived music teachers as “stealing” students from their classes and
from the “more essential” instruction. It was important to make sure that my colleagues
knew I cared about them and wanted to collaborate with their visions. So, I began
spending the first week of each school year touching base with all of the returning
teachers and meeting the new ones. Using the notes field in their contact card is a great
place to take notes after meeting with them: Do they have kids? What are their names?
Favorite sports team? Went on a hiking trip in the summer of 2013? Loves antique guns?
Whatever I can learn, I am sure to write it down so that I can remember to ask them

48╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

about it when I see them in the halls. Being perceived as thoughtful can work wonders
when advocating your music program.

Associate Contacts with Events
The app BusyContacts allows you to associate the people in your address book with
events in your calendar (Figs. 2.45 and 2.46). This can be useful information contextu-
ally when looking at an event and wanting quick email access to others involved. Of
course, this works the other way too: Looking at a person in BusyContacts allows me to
see every event I have associated him or her with in my calendar.

Groups and Tags!
Groups, sometimes called tags, are an excellent first step toward organizing your contacts.
Some of my groups include private percussion students and parents, music tech, music
teachers, freelance musicians, family, conductors, accompanists, composers, church music
directors, and more. Now, when I need to find an accompanist quickly, I type “accompa-
nists” into the field of an email and it fills it in with everyone I know. Likewise, I can filter
my contacts through these groups by clicking on the group I want to view in the sidebar.
Whether they are called groups or tags is irrelevant; they work the same.

Mix and Match Accounts
As stated in the email and calendar sections, mixing different accounts into the same
contacts app can give you a unified view of the people in your life. Personally, I use iCloud

F I G U R E   2 . 45 ╇ Associating a person with an event in BusyCal.
╇ 49

P r o d u c t i v i t y  B a s i c s ╇ | ╇ 49

F I G U R E  2 . 4 6 ╇ Once you have associated a person with an event in BusyCal, the event is shown on his
or her contact card.

for my personal contacts, Exchange for work contacts, and Facebook and LinkedIn to
supplement that data with that from my digital networks of people.

Task Management
Earlier, I described to-╉do list and reminders apps. These basic list apps are great for
setting off time-╉and location-╉based reminders. If you find that you do not put a lot of
tasks into digital form, these basic lists may be enough for you. But if you have found
that at some point your job requires you to take care of so many minute little tasks that
the list becomes endless and unmanageable, I would recommend you consider a task
There is no shortage of task management apps today. The one I have settled with is
called OmniFocus. It is an OS X-╉and iOS-╉only app, and I will warn you it is one of the
pricier ones on the market. But it is the one I know the best, and many of its features can
be attained by using other cheaper (or free) apps, some of which are cross-╉platform. I will
tell you about those. But I want to describe OmniFocus in greatest detail in order to best
explain the types of problems that task management apps can solve for the teacher. I will
be clear when a certain feature is unique to OmniFocus or the competition.
Being a teacher and getting things done presents a few essential challenges. First,
we have a to-╉do list that never really ends. In fact, there are often 20 more things we feel
like we need to do before the next day, but there is simply not enough time. I have never

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left my office with everything on my list crossed off. The second challenge is managing
the tasks on our list that are most urgent, and working in such a way that our time pri-
oritizes those tasks. The third challenge is forecasting how our mental checklist extends
into future days, weeks, and months. Keeping track of what we are supposed to do and
when over the course of an entire school year is overwhelming and seemingly impossi-
ble. When we are not criticizing ourselves for failing to remember it all, we are certainly
aware of others dropping the ball. We think things like, “I can’t believe the financial sec-
retary forgot to pay that Music and Arts invoice again” and “I have asked the band direc-
tor ten times to send me their bus counts for our upcoming field trip.” Teachers can be
stressed and forgetful, but you do not have to be that teacher—╉and technology can help.
This is where task management software comes into play. Some of the first and
most noteworthy apps in this category started on the Mac. Many app designers have
based their product explicitly on the methodology in the book Getting Things Done by
David Allen. It is a fantastic book, and I  recommend it for developing a philosophy
about being an effective, balanced, and sane worker.
Most task management apps are based around a few simple ideas. “Tasks” are
checkable action items that you enter into an “inbox” where they can later be sorted.
Tasks can be organized into hierarchical “projects,” which can sometimes be organized
into “folders.” Tasks can also be assigned “tags” or “contexts,” which help to better orga-
nize them by who they are related to, where they are completed, or the means by which
they are completed. Tasks can be scheduled to appear in a “today” view where items are
preassociated with their due dates so you can focus on them only when they are relevant.
“Review” is also a part of many task management apps. A review process is a step you
take to go over all of your projects, check off things you have already done, adjust due
dates, and keep everything in check.
The first step, and perhaps the step that initially sparked my interest in these apps,
is how easy it is to get data into them.

Quick Capture
With OmniFocus, I never forget anything, and all of my thoughts go into one place.
The Mac version of OmniFocus has a special keyboard shortcut that the user can define.
Mine is Control + Spacebar. This key combination pulls up a box on the screen from any-
where that allows me to begin typing a task and press enter to put it in what OmniFocus
calls the inbox. You can add some other data in this box too, like what project the task
belongs to or when it is due, but you can also sort this out later. I have found this feature
incredibly useful. You can be doing anything on your computer, and when you remem-
ber you need to organize choir folders, or send violins to the shop, within two keystrokes
you can enter that task into OmniFocus and get it out of your brain (Fig. 2.47).
Sadly, mobile devices do not allow for this feature due to the fact that you can only
interact with an app when you are inside of it for the most part. But OmniFocus does the
╇ 51

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F I G U R E   2 . 47 ╇ OmniFocus Quick Capture.

best they can. From right within the app on the iPhone or iPad, there is a “plus” button
visible in the lower right corner of the app that allows for quickly entering a task. It is
also possible to use the Reminders app on iOS to feed your OmniFocus inbox. You could
say, “Hey, Siri, remind me to write lesson plans for class on Thursday,” and OmniFocus
will grab the task from your Reminders app and put it into your OmniFocus inbox.

From the inbox, tasks can be given more information that will organize them: a project
title, a context, a due date, a deferred date (when you should start working on it, not
when it is due), how long it takes to complete, and notes. This all may seem overwhelm-
ing at first, but OmniFocus honors novice users, allowing them to associate tasks with
only the information they want, ignoring the rest. However, by default, a task will not
leave the inbox until it is associated with a project (Fig. 2.48).

A project acts how you would expect it to. Tasks can be moved into different projects to better
organize them. Clicking on the word “projects” on the sidebar will show you all of your proj-
ects. Projects can be sequential, parallel, or single action lists. Sequential projects allow you
to limit yourself so that the tasks can only be completed in order from start to finish. Parallel
projects allow you to complete tasks in any order. Single action lists are for those miscella-
neous actions that don’t really fall into any particular project. You can have as many projects
as you want and even group projects into folders for more hierarchy and organization.

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F I G U R E   2 . 4 8   Everything
captured into OmniFocus goes to the Inbox. From here, you can categorize
tasks by associating them with Projects, Contexts, and Due Dates.

When I began using OmniFocus, I did not identify with this model. To me, most
of my actions belonged to miscellaneous lists. As I have refined my use of the app, I have
learned that I can effectively break down my work into smaller projects with very spe-
cific and actionable tasks. For example, if I have even as many as five tasks that are in
some way related to one another, I will create a project for them. It will become clear why
I do this when I describe the review process below.
To give you an example of how I am breaking this all down, here are some exam-
ples of projects I currently have in OmniFocus (Fig. 2.49). First, I have a single action list
called “miscellaneous,” which is a dump bucket for any task that does not relate to any
other tasks. I also have a project called “free time,” which is an assorted single action list
but is reserved for very-​low-​priority things that I do not need to review as often. This is
where I put things like Netflix movies to check out and apps to download.
I have a project for my weekend church gig, another single item action list for
managing my private teaching studio, one for managing my website, and more. I have
folders containing projects associated with areas of my life that have many active
projects. For example, there is a folder for my day job called Lake Elkhorn Middle
School. In that folder I have the following projects: action list (which is my dump-
ing ground for tasks that do not fit anywhere else), Boosters, Fundraising 2015–​16,
Student Teacher 2015–​16, Hersheypark 2016, Assessment, Adjudication, Jazz Band,
and more.
My actions are as concrete as possible. I do not write down things like “sight read
John Kinyon piece?” or “plan for winter concert.” The first is not an action and the
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F I G U R E   2 . 4 9 ╇ The OmniFocus Project view.

second is suited better as a project with multiple tasks. What I might do instead is create
the actions “locate score for Hail the Conquering Hero,” “fill student folders with Hail
the Conquering Hero,” “include rehearsal of Hail the Conquering Hero in lesson plan
for class on September 9,” and so on. I have found that I am much more productive when
the action items are actionable.
As for “plan for winter concert,” I would first turn that into a project, and it would
include things like “spell check the program,” “send programs to the print shop,” “email
building services the layout of chairs,” “ask students if they want to speak about a piece,”
and so on. I  realize this is a little philosophical; however, these skills are essential to
becoming organized digitally, using task managing apps, and being productive, period!

Sometimes tasks from different projects can be related by method of completion.
OmniFocus realizes this and allows you to associate your different tasks with a “con-
text” as well as a project. Imagine you have a project for planning your winter concert.
“Photocopy programs” is an example of a task that you might put in that project. Now
imagine that you have to photocopy worksheets for a different class—╉also an action that
takes place at the copy machine. These two different tasks might be related to different
projects, but they also relate to the copier. In this case, “copy machine” might be the con-
text given these two tasks. This way, when you are about to walk down the hall to copy
one program, you can click on the Contexts tab, select “copy machine,” and remember
to bring a couple of other things with you, thus saving time (Fig. 2.50).

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F I G U R E   2 . 5 0   The OmniFocus Context view.

Contexts can be anything really, but I tend to find my own falling under one of
three general categories: people, places, and methods of completion. If I am generating a
lot of tasks that depend on a conversation with my principal, I will associate them with
a context I have created that is named after his last name. This way, when I schedule a
meeting with him or run into him in the hallway, I can quickly pull up a list of all my
tasks relating to him.
OmniFocus handles places very well. On the iOS version of the app, you can actu-
ally associate a context with a particular place on a map and OmniFocus can notify you
when you are near that location. Once I needed to pick up a few euphoniums from a
band director who had borrowed them from my current school before I began working
there. I set up a context in OmniFocus named after his school and entered in the address
so that OmniFocus would know to tell me to complete that task when I was in the neigh-
borhood. This was a fairly low-​priority task given that I was not in desperate need of the
instruments. So I simply forgot about them until one day when I was grabbing coffee
with another teacher to discuss a collaborative concert. The coffee place happened to be
near the school where my euphoniums were, and OmniFocus sent a notification to my
phone. When I was done drinking coffee, I called the band director to ask if he was still
in the building. He was, and I swung by to pick them up.
The rest of my contexts are methods of completion. I  would consider the “copy
machine” context I explained earlier to fall under this category, as well as things like
email and phone. When I have ten spare minutes before a class is about to start and a list
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of parents to call at home for various reasons, all I do is boot up the phone context and
knock out a few of those tasks before students start pouring into my room.
Many task management apps forgo the concept of contexts and instead use tags.
Honestly, I prefer this method. Tags are a more flexible concept as more than one tag
can be given to a single action item. Maybe a task relates to the phone and to your third-╉
period class; you can tag it with both. Some great apps that use this paradigm are Things
and Todoist.

Due Dates
Along with quick capture, the feature that makes OmniFocus an essential app for me is
the ability to assign and filter tasks by due date.
Due dates can be assigned to tasks so that you only ever see them on the day that
they are due. This and the quick capture feature assist with getting clutter out of my
brain so that I do not have to worry about it anymore. Attaching due dates to items gen-
erally makes them turn red once they are due and will put a red badge with a number
on it next to the app icon.
I generally avoid giving due dates to tasks that are not actually due. In other words,
if I can survive the next day without completing something, it does not get a due date.
As with putting extraneous tasks in a calendar, too many due items can become an over-
whelming noise in your life when you ignore them and they lose their purpose.

Defer Dates
You can assign a defer date to items on days where you want start working on them, even
if they are not necessarily due. I am much more liberal about assigning these. Usually,
I have about 20 to 30 tasks that I could be working on every day. Realistically, I only
complete five to 10 of them on most days. If so, no problem—╉I adjust their defer dates to
the next day and continue with the list when I return to school the next morning.

Due dates and defer dates are rolled up into a powerful timeline where you can see all of
the tasks that are deferred and due on a calendar-╉like view. This is the view I refer to the
most—╉my week in tasks laid out before me (Fig. 2.51).
At the same time, this is an area that I feel some other competing apps handle bet-
ter. Things, for example, rolls all of your tasks into a “today” view that contains anything
you can be working on “today” as well as items that are due. It sounds similar, but it is
laid out visually in a way that is much more focused and free of clutter.

Flags in OmniFocus are simple. If something is important, flag it. All flagged items can
be seen by clicking the flagged tab.

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F I G U R E   2 . 51 ╇Forecast view.

If you commit to putting hundreds of tasks in OmniFocus and have not given them due
dates, it is scary to think about how many of them are floating around in this massive
database to be potentially forgotten about.
You can schedule to review projects at certain intervals. When the review tab is
clicked, a list of projects that need to be reviewed will show up. From here, you can
check off tasks you might have since completed, assign defer and due dates, add new
tasks to projects, and more. When you are done reviewing a project you can hold
Command + R to mark it reviewed (Fig.  2.52). That project will not show up in the
review tab again until you have told it to. You can set review intervals for projects every
x days, weeks, months, or years. One example of how I use this is for managing projects
that increase and decrease in importance over time. When a field trip is really far out,
I review the tasks in that project every few weeks, but in the weeks approaching the
trip, I review it daily.
Review is essential for staying constantly aware of where you stand on all the
things that are on your plate.
I prefer the way some competing task apps handle the review process. The app
Things actually streamlines the forecast and review mode into one by combining
them into a simple “today” view. Every morning, Things rolls up the tasks you have
labeled “today” and allows you to choose if want to do them today or reschedule
them. I  like the simplicity of managing the review and today list from the same
screen, once a day.
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F I G U R E   2 . 5 2 ╇ Review in OmniFocus.

Perspectives is a feature that sets OmniFocus apart from the rest of the pack. In short, a
Perspective is one of the views in the clickable tabs on the left. Inbox, projects, contexts,
forecast, and review are all Perspectives. OmniFocus empowers you to customize your
own based on a variety of criteria.
One useful perspective I have customized is called “To Buy.” This Perspective is
customized to grab tasks from any context that are related to an online shop or a physi-
cal store. Typically, these two types of “places” are considered different paradigms: One
is a website, and one is a building. By creating this custom Perspective, I can now see a
list of everything I want to buy in one place (Fig. 2.53).
Another example of this is my “Work” Perspective. I  created a very simple
Perspective that shows me only projects related to my job as a middle school band
teacher, and nothing else.
I have yet another Perspective called “Flagged Today.” These are tasks that are both
flagged and deferred for today. In other words, I  can be working on them today and
they are important, but not due yet. Perspectives offer you tremendous customization
over the information you can see and in what order it is presented to you. No other task
management app to my knowledge has a feature quite so granular.

Other Apps
By now you have an idea of the basic problems that task management software solves
and an idea of the basic features of OmniFocus. OmniFocus is great, but it is not

58╇ |╇ D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

F I G U R E   2 . 53 ╇ My “To Buy” Context in OmniFocus.

the simplest, most elegant, or most frugal option out there. Here are some great

Things is the task management app that first drew me to the category (Fig. 2.54). Things
has all of the general features I described above: quick capture, scheduling, organizing
into projects, and review. I find that it balances simplicity with power very well, and it
has found favor with Apple users since its release in the early 2000s.
Things has an inbox where items can later be categorized into projects. I  have
always enjoyed that Things does not require a task to have an associated project to be
removed from the inbox. This makes it better for the handling of miscellaneous tasks.
In OmniFocus, I just keep a project called “miscellaneous,” but I prefer the way Things
does it better. It also includes a feature called “areas.” An area can be work, school,
home, or anything you can imagine. I usually accomplish this in OmniFocus by put-
ting groups of projects in folders based on area, but the Things method is easier to use.
Things also uses tags instead of contexts. Tags can be thought of like contexts, but also
anything you can imagine. A task could be tagged with a method of completion (for
example, “phone”) but could also be tagged with a person’s name, a word you associate
with the task, or anything else that comes to mind.
Things focuses less on how you choose to organize tasks into projects and more
on when you are supposed to be working on them. Many colleagues who have seen my
OmniFocus workflow have commended me on my organization but are convinced they
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F I G U R E   2 . 5 4 ╇ The Things user interface.

would spend more time fiddling with the app than actually getting tasks done. I always
recommend Things to this kind of user. It offers just enough power and flexibility to help
the everyday user get a handle on his or her many commitments, but the software never
gets in the way, even in the beginning stages of learning it.
There are only a few reasons why I  do not recommend Things as fervently as
I used to. The first is that it has a premium price tag. It is not quite as expensive as
OmniFocus but isn’t cheap either. And like OmniFocus, you will have to purchase it
on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone separately. The developer of Things, Cultured Code, is
also slow to develop the app. Things has always felt polished and bug-╉free for this rea-
son, but it is often late to stay up to date with the features of competing apps.

Todoist is another alternative to the apps above that has many of the same features
(Fig. 2.55). Two differences set it apart. The first is that it uses a subscription model for
payment. The app and most of its features are free, but the power user features cost a
monthly fee. Personally, I like to own my software once I pay for it, but even the free
features of Todoist are compelling and keep up to date with the competition.
Todoist is also able to link into a service called IFTTT, which will be discussed
later in this book. IFTTT is a service that allows you to automate actions and reac-
tions between different Internet-╉connected services. It makes it possible to trigger
tasks in Todoist based on a number of user-╉customizable actions that take place else-
where on the Internet. For example, you could have it create a task reminding you

F I G U R E   2 . 55   The Todoist user interface.

F I G U R E   2 . 5 6   The Wunderlist user interface.
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to RSVP any time you are invited to a Facebook event, or email a task to yourself
using Gmail.
Todoist supports shared tasks. This is a feature that allows you to collaborate with
other users of the app, sharing projects with one another and delegating tasks to other
users. It is also cross-╉platform, so you can use it on any Windows, Android, or Apple

Wunderlist has similar basic features to everything listed above, including the collab-
orative tasks and projects of Todoist. What makes Wunderlist stand out is its relative
mainstream popularity (Fig. 2.56). Wunderlist has a lot of users. If you are interested in
managing tasks and projects with other users, this makes it an attractive option since
the people you want to work with may even already be using it. Also similar to Todoist,
Wunderlist has a subscription-╉based pricing, where some features are free and others
require a monthly cost.
Wunderlist is also cross-╉platform and was even recently purchased by Microsoft.
For this reason, I have high hopes that this app will be around for a while and continue
to receive important updates and support.
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Taking Notes

Notes are inescapable. They define the way teachers remember and organize. Most have
a system, or multiple systems, for capturing ideas, remembering to-╉dos, and laying out
thought. Some do not. If asked, I  would suppose that even the most productive and
organized of teachers would admit that their note-╉taking habits could use an overhaul.
Ask yourself if you have ever dealt with any or a combination of the following: yel-
low Post-╉it notes all over your desk and computer monitor, clipboards and journals with
notes from meetings and lesson plans, paper all over your desk and room, student work,
etc. The reason these multiple methods of entry exist is because the best process of com-
mitting any idea to permanence is whatever takes the least amount of time and thought.
This usually results in writing down by hand on whatever paper is closest at the time.
The problem is that it becomes nearly impossible to manage, find, and reference our
notes in a meaningful way when they are not organized in a single place, using a single
method. This is where Evernote comes into play.

Evernote is a digital solution for capturing, editing, and searching notes (Fig. 3.1). It is
one of many, but I have chosen to commit this chapter to it exclusively mostly because it
has reached a popular status across all devices and platforms. I have an inherent trust in
the company knowing that their prominence subjects them to accountability by its huge
user base. Furthermore, their popularity has brought them financial success, which has
allowed them to widen their feature set and integrate the app with other services in a
way that other note-╉taking software cannot.
Anyone can create a free Evernote account by traveling to The web-
page gives clear instructions how to download their software on whatever device you

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F I G U R E   3 .1   An example of an Evernote note.

use: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, etc. One of the appeals of the app is that
it is cross-​platform, so you do not need to be using all Apple devices—​or any at all—​to
take advantage of it.
Evernote is more advanced than the basic note-​taking apps you might have
installed on your mobile device or PC. With Evernote, you can easily create multiple
notebooks to organize your notes into.
Notes in Evernote can also have tags or keywords associated with them. A note
tagged “festival,” “band,” adjudication,” “school,” and “work” can later be searched for
by those keywords even if none of them are in the text of the note itself.
Evernote automatically predicts where you are on a map and what you are doing in
your calendar and creates a title for you based off this information. When I take meet-
ing notes at school, Evernote might title the note “From Music Department Meeting,
February 8th, @ Jefferson Ridge Middle School.”
Within a note, Evernote supports font-​editing features most basic to word-​editing
software: font type and size, bold, italics, underline, letter coloring, bullet points, align-
ment, tables, and checkboxes for those who like to make lists. Evernote will also allow
you to record voice memos in your notes. It supports a wide variety of attachments,
including audio files, video files, and images. Any other file type you can imagine can be
attached: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Sibelius, etc. If you attach files that contain text, for
example PDFs and Word files, Evernote is capable of searching the text within those files.
One of the first apprehensions one might express toward taking notes digitally
is the time it takes for an idea to go from your brain to the software. Evernote’s quick

Ta k i n g   N o t e s  |   65

F I G U R E   3 . 2   The Evernote Quick Note Window.

capture feature solves this problem by allowing the user to install an icon on the menu
bar that is clickable from anywhere on the computer (Fig. 3.2). Clicking the icon brings
up a text entry widget that you can immediately start typing into. You can also pull up
this capture feature by pressing Control + Command + N, thus allowing your fingers to
never even leave the keyboard. Getting used to this combination of keys makes a com-
puter the fastest way to type notes. Pressing the key combination again will make the
text entry box go away, or you can commit the note to Evernote by pressing Command +
If you are on the web and want to quickly capture a website or article, Evernote
has a web clipper that you can install (Fig. 3.3). The web clipper is a button in your web
browser that you can click to save any webpage as a note to Evernote. The note even
maintains the same layout and look of the page’s HTML, and all of the text on that web-
site can now be searched within Evernote.
If there is one feature that distinguishes Evernote, it is its powerful search. If you
are familiar with using Gmail, you know that it is virtually unnecessary to organize
email because finding what you are looking for in the endless sea of your inbox is as
simple as typing a couple of keywords into a search bar. Evernote is the same. Typing
in a word or series of words will perform a search much like a Google web search, pull-
ing hits from the titles, text, and tags in your notes (Fig. 3.4). Evernote now supports
natural language text input, a feature they call Descriptive Search. You can enter “notes
with PDFs” or “work notes written in March of 2013” and Evernote will interpret your
words, finding results that match the description (Fig. 3.5). Evernote search is so easy

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F I G U R E   3 . 3   The Evernote Web Clipper Extension.

F I G U R E   3 . 4   Evernote search pulls from text found anywhere in my notes.

and powerful that I don’t even do much to organize my notes anymore other than add a
few searchable tags that I will want to search the note by later.
Evernote stays in sync across all of your devices. That means that a note you take
on your iPad will be waiting for you automatically when you return to your Mac. If
you carry around a smart phone, you can input notes from anywhere and carry your

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F I G U R E   3 . 5   Evernote Descriptive Search in action.

entire note library in your pocket. Imagine that: always having every note with you
at all times! Evernote can also be accessed on the web, meaning if you go to evernote.
com and type in your user name and password, you can use most of the features of the
desktop app. This is especially useful for working with it on a PC that isn’t your own.
It requires no installation, and all you have to do when you are finished is log out.
Though task management and reminder apps were dealt with in the previous chap-
ter, it is important to mention that Evernote also allows you to turn notes into reminders
that can alert you on your device to complete a task at certain times or places. These
tasks have little checkboxes that can dismiss them once complete.
Evernote boasts some great collaborative features. Because Evernote stores your
notes on their server, you can create a link to one of your notes and share it with others.
For example, if I create a checklist of procedures for chaperones to follow on a field trip,
I can share this note with them by sending a link to view it on the web. The user receiv-
ing the link does not even need to have Evernote installed; he or she can view your note
on a web browser from a PC or mobile device.
Evernote also supports entire shared notebooks. You can create a notebook and
then share it with select users through email (Fig. 3.6). All of those who have access to
the notebook can view, edit, and add to the notes in the same notebook as it stays in
sync across all of the different users’ devices. I use this to share a list of recipes clipped
from the web with my wife, but I also use it to share notes with the other members of the
music department at my school.
Users can subscribe to a paid Evernote account, which offers some unique features.
Noteworthy among such features are the following: larger storage space, collaborative
features, smart searching (viewing the contents of attached files), presentation mode,

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F I G U R E   3 . 6   Sharing a note with another user.

offline note reading, and more. A description of these features can be viewed at ever-​premium. The features I get the most mileage from are the collaboration tools
and searching of the insides of my documents. Paid accounts also get a feature called
related notes. This feature allows you to see notes related to the one you are looking at
based on content they have in common, which can include title, text, tags, events, and
even the location where the note was taken.
It is impossible to avoid the fact that many notes are taken in the physical world.
Whether that means you have taken a note by hand or that someone else has handed you
a physical document, all of that can still be captured into Evernote digitally.
The Mac and iPhone/​iPad have different ways of doing this. On my Mac, I invested in a
product called a Fujitsu ScanSnap. Fujitsu offers many varieties of this product covering a wide
range of features and price points. The ScanSnap is a scanner that attaches to my computer.
Unlike cumbersome all-​in-​one printer/​scanners, I can stick a stack of papers in my ScanSnap
and it will zip them right through in a matter of seconds and then turn them into beautiful
PDFs right before my eyes. ScanSnap integrates with Dropbox, Evernote, and other third-​
party cloud services to allow you to instantly clip your scans into Evernote. Paid Evernote
accounts can search text within these documents, allowing the user to turn file cabinets of
bills, reconciliation reports, and notes into a searchable database in a matter of moments.
Why put PDFs in Evernote instead of a location on a computer’s hard drive? This
is a good question. I still have not found one solution for managing PDF files; however,
the many PDFs that are for the purposes of reading and referencing only, not editing on
a regular basis, fit really well into an Evernote database.
On the iPhone or iPad, you can use the camera of the device to capture pictures,
business cards, and physical documents. Once you snap a picture of a document,
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Evernote stores it as a new note with attachment. Evernote performs a task called OCR
(optical character recognition) to make all of the text in these documents and images
searchable. Last year, I had my students submit a handwritten document to me indicat-
ing their T-╉shirt size for an upcoming field trip. When I collected them back, I scanned
them into Evernote by taking pictures of them on my phone. The handwritten text in
the images is even searchable if it is moderately legible. When scanning a physical docu-
ment, Evernote is able to intelligently locate the corners of the paper, crop it to size, and
make it grayscale. Pictures of printed paper on your desk come out looking like the
PDFs the creator has stored on his or her computer.
See Chapter 5, “Scanning Documents,” for more on the subject of turning paper
into digital documents.

Evernote has produced a series of spinoff apps that offer deep integration with your
Evernote notebooks. Of these, my favorites are Penultimate and Skitch.
Penultimate is the best handwritten note-╉taking app I  have used on a tablet
(Fig. 3.7). In short, the app allows you to create different notebooks in which you can
draw with your finger. I find that this is sometimes the quickest way to start writing on

F I G U R E   3 .7 ╇ Penultimate app for iPad.

F I G U R E   3 . 8   Evernote showing search results containing handwritten text from Penultimate.

F I G U R E   3 . 9   Different paper styles in Penultimate.
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Ta k i n g   N o t e s ╇ | ╇ 71

my iPad. The writing tools are beautifully simple: thickness, colors, eraser, and undo/╉
redo buttons. By logging into your Evernote account, Penultimate will automatically
save your handwritten notes to your Evernote database. Each “Notebook” you create in
Penultimate automatically stores and updates a note in Evernote.
When you use the search bar in Evernote, it is able to find words in your Penultimate
notebooks (if your handwriting is neat enough). I  find this feature to recognize a lot
more of my handwritten notes than I expected (Fig. 3.8).
You can change the paper background in Penultimate (blank, graph paper, lined
paper) and even create your own paper styles from pictures on your iPad’s camera roll or
purchase premade paper styles from their built-╉in store (Fig. 3.9). One of these premade
paper styles is a staff paper template.

Skitch is simple image annotation app for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, and more.
Skitch allows you to take images from your mobile device’s camera roll or computer’s
hard drive and mark them up. You can draw on them, type on them, blur out sensitive
information, and highlight information. Once the image is edited, you do not need to
do anything; it is automatically saved back to your Evernote account along with all of
your other notes. If you wish, you can share edited images with others by email or text
message. On Mac, you can simply drag and drop it onto your desktop and Skitch will
convert it into a new image file (Fig. 3.10).
You can also annotate existing notes directly from the Evernote app (Fig.  3.11).
This is especially useful for PDFs that are attached to notes. With the click of a button,
you can begin marking up a file, which is then automatically saved back to Evernote as
a copy of the previous note.

There are a lot of alternate note-╉taking apps available today. I would like to mention a
few. They do not differ strongly from Evernote in the primary features they offer but
more so in their design focus and implementation.

Notability is a competitor to Evernote that is available on only the iOS App Store and
Mac App Store.
Notability has a visually attractive design that focuses on allowing the user to mix
typed and handwritten notes easily (Fig. 3.12).
Notability has one particular feature that I think is a great fit for music teachers: It
can record audio notes and type simultaneously. Most note-╉taking apps can do this
F I G U R E   3 .10   The Skitch user interface.

F I G U R E   3 .11   Using Skitch tools right from within Evernote.
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F I G U R E   3 .12 ╇ The Notability user interface.

actually, but Notability takes this to a new level by attaching your text to a timeline of
your recording. When you listen back to a recording, you can see the words you typed
animate in real time (Fig. 3.13). This works the other way too: You can find a particular
word or sentence and automatically find where in the recording you typed those words.
This feature is particularly useful for teachers who are involved with the adju-
dication and assessment of performing ensembles. It is possible to take recordings of
your ensemble and type precise critiques of what you hear and be able to instantly find
out where in the recording you typed each comment. “Diction is not clear here” would
transport you to the instant in the recording you typed that. “Trumpet tone quality is
harsh on the third beat of measure 33.” “Violins are sharp when they first reach into
third position.” I think you get the idea.
As you can imagine, this feature can apply itself to a variety of contexts. It is espe-
cially great for recording lectures, meetings, and presentations as well as music.

OneNote is Microsoft’s competing application in the notes space (Fig. 3.14). I find its
features to be on par with Evernote, but there are a few primary differences. The first
is that OneNote offers all of its features for free without a subscription model, whereas
Evernote requires a subscription for certain pro features.

F I G U R E   3 .13   Playing
back an audio file recorded in Notability shows the text notes you took in real
time along with the playback.

F I G U R E   3 .14   The OneNote user interface.
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Another area where OneNote outshines Evernote is its integration with the sty-
lus that comes paired with Surface tablets. This pairing allows you to seamlessly move
between typing and drawing by simply touching the stylus to the screen. Microsoft has
worked hard to make their stylus an integral part of the app, and it shows. If you think
handwritten notes are going to be an important part of your note-╉taking workflow,
I recommend giving OneNote a try.

Workflows for Note Taking
Meeting Notes
Taking notes at team, department, and staff meetings is a no brainer. I like to take this
a step further by scanning any paperwork associated with a meeting and attaching it to
the notes. For example, a meeting agenda, a professional development article, and other
odds and ends can be clipped alongside the notes you took on them.

Design Lesson Plans
Digitally planning lessons can be beneficial for keeping everything in one place. For
those who are accustomed to digital planning, the Word document has long been the
method of choice. I think this is useful for cases where sharing or collaborating on the
plan is necessary, but if it is only going to be seen by me, I like to keep my planning in
Evernote. This way it is easy to add audio files that I might want to reference during plan-
ning or use in the lesson itself—╉for example, recordings of my band’s recent rehearsal or
a professional recording of the same piece. If I want to get a little bit more visual with the
arrangement of my ideas, I can always annotate it with the drawing features of Skitch.

Associate Notes with Calendars, Tasks, and More
Evernote is a web-╉based application. This means that everything you enter into Evernote can
be accessed from the web. From within a note, you can click the share button and receive a
public link to that note. I will often copy this link and then paste it for reference into an event
in my calendar, an email, or a reminder list to add some context (Fig. 3.15). For example, if
I have an event called “Team Meeting,” I might take notes in advance, copy a link to the note,
and then paste that link into the title of the event’s notes field. When the meeting comes up,
I will have a quick link to relevant notes, one tap away, from within my calendar app.

Collect Data
Informal observation and feedback is essential in the instrumental music classroom.
The act of interpreting a student’s performance, giving him or her real-╉time feedback,
and then allowing him or her time to adjust based on such feedback is a more natural
and powerful process than any graded assignment. However, for many educators, there
comes a time when constructing a system for collecting data on informal feedback can
be beneficial in determining grades and observing student growth. I have experimented
with a few successful methods of what I call rehearsal data collection using Evernote.

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F I G U R E  3 .15   Copying a URL to a note in Evernote and pasting it into the Notes field of a calendar event.

The first is simple. There is room on an organized music stand for an iPad if the
only other 8×11-​sized items you keep on it are scores and sheet music. After taking atten-
dance on my iPad from the podium, I have often switched to Evernote and left the device
on for the duration of the rehearsal as an available keyboard to type notes into: “John did
not bring his instrument today, Caitlin struggled to get over the break due to not cover-
ing the holes of the clarinet all the way, Marcea is still unable to play Eb above the staff
with air support required for making characteristic tone on her instrument.” If you are a
fast typist, this process is less distracting than it sounds. After a class period has ended,
titling the note something like “Beginning Band Notes March 8, 2014” is sufficient for
searching later. You can even create an Evernote notebook just for these notes.
If you are more visually inclined, you can create a seating chart layout on your iPad
using Penultimate or Skitch. I drew a seating chart on a piece of paper (you can do this
on a computer too using Adobe Illustrator, for example) and took a picture of it with
my iPad. On my iPad, I opened the Penultimate app and created a custom paper based
off the picture of my seating chart. Now in my Penultimate, I have an entire notebook
called “Rehearsal Data” in which all of the paper has a seating chart image implanted
on it. I created a color code for different common observations (red, no instrument;
green, participation requires prompting; purple, not demonstrating improvement on
assigned skill; etc.), and I draw tally marks overtop the positions on the seating chart
where the students sit. This is a more streamlined approach than the one I mentioned
in the previous paragraph, because it does not require the creation of multiple notes or
typing. Adding a new seating chart is as simple as turning to a new page, and annotating
is a sloppy finger swipe away. The iPad’s small size is a bit limiting when trying to write
on it without putting your baton down, but the ability to catalogue and search the data
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Ta k i n g   N o t e s ╇ | ╇77

is indispensable. In Chapter 11 I will offer some even smoother versions of this same
workflow, as I have been refining it over the years to require fewer taps and clicks. These
versions require advanced automation apps that are detailed in that chapter.

Feedback for Projects and Performance Assessments
The text input method mentioned in the section above is well suited for taking notes on
student performances. Anything a student can show me he or she learned by performing it
on an instrument is a preferred measurement of learning to me. Evernote is a great place to
keep this data. I have a template that I copy for major performance assessments with musi-
cal criteria broken down: tone, intonation, technique, interpretation, scales. I title the note
the name of the student followed by “Playing Test” followed by the date and begin typing
away. Printing out the notes is an easy way to communicate the feedback to students and
I don’t need to keep a stack of paper by my side while I am listening to them perform. If I
record playing tests, or have the students record them in a practice room while I rehearse,
I can later review the audio files and attach them to my notes for easy reference.

Review Festival Feedback
Another great way to combine varying media into one note-╉taking workspace is during
your ensemble’s adjudication/╉festival/╉assessment. When I return from a county-╉or state-
wide festival, I like to scan the adjudicators’ feedback sheets into PDFs and import them
into a note called “Adjudication Reflections, 2013” (Fig.  3.16). Adding the recordings
of their spoken feedback underneath the written PDFs can be especially useful. Then,
underneath each judge, I write my own feedback on each selected piece we recorded.

F I G U R E   3 .16 ╇ An example of my Adjudication data in an Evernote note.

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Review Student Work on the Go
For times where student work is written, I like to wait until I get home and stick the entire
stack of papers into my Fujitsu ScanSnap and import them as PDFs into my Evernote
account. This allows me to reference student work without occupying any amount of
space (other than digitally). It is nice to be able to review student work on the go from
my iPad rather than carrying around a stack of papers (Fig. 3.17).

Resource Hogging
When I was an undergraduate studying music education, I found an orange crate and
began throwing every resource I attained in every class, performance, and conference
in it. Eventually, it started to overflow, so I bought a second one. Then that one started
to overflow. I decided it was time to commit these documents to Evernote. Using my
ScanSnap, I scanned every single document in my orange crate into Evernote as a PDF.
I store them all in a notebook called “Orange Crate.” I continue to add all music educa-
tion resources to it, ranging from journal articles to lesson plans to concert programs
and more. All of them are text searchable. That means that when I want to recall that
article on developing intonation in bands that my mentor teacher gave me years ago,
I simply type the word “intonation” into the Evernote search bar and, with a premium
account, any document with the word inside it comes up as a hit (Fig. 3.18). That Walter
Piston article now appears right before my eyes.

F I G U R E   3 .17 ╇ Grading student work using Evernote on the go.
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Ta k i n g   N o t e s ╇ | ╇79

F I G U R E   3 .18 ╇ Searching an archive of your teaching resources with Evernote search.

Department Collaboration
I plan a lot of trips and events with the chorus teacher at my school. This means that
we send back and forth a lot of emails, text messages, and documents. For sharing text,
however, Word documents became cumbersome, as they require opening a file, and the
various different versions of our communication would saturate our hard drives with
copies of unnecessary files. The solution to this problem is in the shared notebook fea-
ture (Fig. 3.19). We have a notebook that is visible to each of us in our Evernote account
called “Chorus/╉Instrumental Music Shared.” Now, when someone is taking notes at a
Fine Arts Department meeting, no email with an attached document needs to be sent
out: The moment the letters are committed to the note, all of our Evernote accounts
reflect the changes. Without using the shared notebook feature, it is also easy to share
a note by sending someone else a link to view your note on the web. Or, Evernote will
allow you to send the note by email. The chaperones who assist me during concerts use
this to take notes on the behavior of my students who are watching, and I use the data
to formulate an audience participation grade as part of each of their school concerts. My
colleagues and I also use Evernote at concerts to write musical feedback for each other.

Work Chat
Evernote’s Work Chat feature allows you to share a communication log with other users
(Fig. 3.20). This log can contain chat bubbles, but also shared notes. Work Chat groups

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F I G U R E   3 .19   A shared notebook with my music department where we share ideas and resources.

F I G U R E   3 . 2 0   Work Chat provides a place to talk about your work that resembles a chat messaging

conversations by person. This feature can be used as a means to better track shared notes
in some of the workflows described above by giving them a little more context. It can
also allow you to discuss the contents of the notes themselves without busying up the
files with comments and change logs.

Ta k i n g   N o t e s  |  81

When I have worked with interns in the past, I have found this feature to be a great
way to share ideas and assign them work. For interns, I have experimented with a work-
flow where I create a note for them each week that has checkboxes of all the tasks they
need to complete. They can check off these boxes as they work and comment directly
in the chat to ask me questions if they need to. I also have them create work that might
otherwise be in the format of an Office document right in Evernote. Files like lesson
plans and reflections are just text. Evernote is capable of doing basic text formatting
like bold, italics, headings, subheadings, and all of the other tools you need to get the
job done. Then Work Chat is able to display these files in a logical stream, adding more
context to your work.
╇ 83


Cloud Drives

Since nearly the beginning of the personal computer, we have been presented with a
metaphor. The metaphor is that our computer contains documents that live within fold-
ers. Much like a desk with drawers, folders, and papers, we know that our work can be
organized where we want it. Take that metaphor a little bit further and imagine now that
you have a magic folder on your desk at work, and any document you put in that magic
folder lives there just like any other paper. But now imagine that you have a magic folder
on your desk at home too. And anything you put in that magic folder at work is there
waiting for you when you get home. This is the metaphor that cloud drives like Dropbox
introduce to modern computing.

Simply put, Dropbox is a cloud solution for syncing files across multiple computers.
Dropbox popularized the entire class of apps that I will be explaining throughout the
rest of this chapter. I call this class of apps “cloud drives” as the user can see and interact
with them just like regular folders on the computer’s hard drive (Fig. 4.1). Dropbox can
be downloaded for free at Downloading the software installs a folder on
your hard drive called “Dropbox.” This folder can contain any files you put in it, and
upon doing so, it will sync these files to Dropbox’s server, allowing you to access them
from anywhere else that has a Dropbox installed and is signed in to your account. For
example, if I had two computers, each with Dropbox installed, and my account logged
in, I could put a Microsoft Word document in the Dropbox folder on one machine, go to
the other, look in my Dropbox folder, and see the same file.
Dropbox offers the user 2 GB of free storage space and pricing options to sub-
scribe for more storage. Dropbox provides a lot of opportunities to get extra free storage

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F I G U R E  4 .1   Dropbox
looks just like another folder on your computer, but the documents inside of it
are beamed magically to the cloud.

by doing things like inviting others to join, enabling automatic photo backup, and
more. Just by inviting all of my private students to join, I received about 15 extra GB of
free space.
Dropbox files are accessible from computers that do not have the folder installed
as well (Fig. 4.2). From any machine, go to, sign in, and see all of your files
before you. Media like photos, videos, and mp3s can be previewed right from the web-
site. Any file you wish can be downloaded locally to the hard drive of that computer. If
you edit a particular file you have downloaded from the web, also allows
you to upload files to their server from the website. If you are uploading a file you just
downloaded to edit, make sure you delete the old copy to avoid confusion.
Additionally, downloading the Dropbox app to your mobile device will allow you
to browse all of the files stored in your account on the go. This is particularly useful
for iOS devices, which lack a traditional method of viewing the files and folders on the
device. If you keep a lot of files in Dropbox, browsing them on an iPad, for example,
feels at home, much like using the Finder on a Mac or the Explorer on a Windows PC
(Fig. 4.3).
The usefulness of the mobile app gets a little distorted at this point depending on
what kind of device you are using. Because Dropbox integrates itself into the file system
F I G U R E  4 . 2   You do not need to have Dropbox installed. Just go to their website to see all of your files.

F I G U R E  4 . 3   The
Dropbox app on iPad exposes your file system to you in a way that the iPad used to
be otherwise incapable of.

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of a Mac or PC, files can be viewed and manipulated the same way you would a file in
any other location on your hard drive. However, on mobile devices, the Dropbox app
appears like a file browser, but opening a certain file will not work the same way it does
on a computer. Apple devices can natively read files like PDFs and Microsoft Office
documents, meaning that if you just need to see the file, not edit it, the Dropbox app has
you covered. However, if you need to edit a file, it is important to know the limitations
and workarounds for your device.
On iOS, apps are sandboxed, meaning all of their features run in a single full-​
screen display, inaccessible from other apps installed. Apps typically contain files within
themselves, rather than referencing a directory of files living in various locations of your
computers hard drive. Apple has built in an “Open in …” dialogue to move files from
one app to another, but it is cumbersome (Fig. 4.4). Until recently, if you were to view a
Word document in Dropbox for iPad and desired to edit it, you would have to click the
share button (the box with the arrow sticking out of it) to share the file with another app.
Let’s say you want to use Apple’s Pages app to edit a Microsoft Word file. You select Pages
from the “Open in …” menu and Pages will launch, displaying the file you wanted. The
problem is that now this file would live in the Pages app. If you want to edit it, it will need
to either live in Pages now permanently, or be exported back to the Dropbox app, which

F I G U R E   4 . 4   The
“Open in …” menu helps you get files from one app to another, but this will create
a duplicate copy in the app you are sending it to.

C l o u d   D r i v e s  |  87

can currently only be executed by emailing the file to yourself, opening the email, select-
ing the “Open in …” dialogue from within the email app, and sharing it back to the
Dropbox app again. To make the process even more cumbersome, you have to delete the
old version of the file because now there are two living in Dropbox with the same name.
Not to mention, if you want to avoid all future confusion, you have to go into Pages now
and delete that copy of the file, which is also now a duplicate. This limitation is slowly
changing with the introduction of iCloud Drive. I will explain how iCloud Drive has
changed this workflow in a moment, and how it affects Dropbox.
I mention these limitations to highlight that Dropbox is growing to the point of
being a platform in and of itself. I just described. For example, a text editing app I use on
iPad called Byword can link to a Dropbox account from within the app, meaning that
whenever I launch Byword, I can access all of the text files that are stored in Dropbox
directly (Fig. 4.5). Of course, this is not as flexible a solution as just having a file system
on the iPad.
Dropbox allows users to easily share and collaborate on single files or files and folders
(Figs. 4.6 and 4.7). If a file you wish to share with someone is too big for email, you can share
a link to that file in your Dropbox instead. If you wish to collaborate on an entire folder
of files, you can create a new folder within your Dropbox folder and share it with another

F I G U R E   4 . 5   Accessing
text files in my Dropbox account directly from the app Byword. This is not a
native file system accessible across the entire iPad. Byword designed this specifically for their app
using the Dropbox API.

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F I G U R E   4 . 6   Right-​click a file in the Finder to share a link to it with someone.

F I G U R E   4 .7   Right-​click a folder in the Finder to share an entire folder with someone.

user by email. If the other user accepts the invitation to your folder, this subfolder will
now appear in both users’ Dropbox accounts, allowing any invited party to view, edit, and
upload new files to it. Members of the music department at my school have a shared folder
called “Music Department.” Any files I drop in this folder can be opened and edited by
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C l o u d   D r i v e s ╇ | ╇ 89

other users and synced back to everyone else. It is important to note that two users should
not have the same file opened at the same time. For that matter, a single user should not
have the same file opened on two of his or her own devices. Dropbox handles the problem
well, creating a second duplicate copy with conflicting changes in the same location; how-
ever, I have found it is best to avoid the situation. When I need to share a file with another
member of the folder, I just drag and drop it inside. This works a lot better than email as it
is easier, supports larger files, and provides a permanent place for the files to live without
dealing with email attachments.
This past year, Dropbox announced a special partnership with Microsoft that has
improved the handling of Office documents in personal and collaborative situations.
The Dropbox app on iOS is now able to launch you straight into Office to edit the files
you are browsing, and Dropbox allows a revision history and chat log for users collabo-
rating on the same Office documents. Using Dropbox and Office together makes the
iPad feel like it uses a traditional file system for the first time.
In the years since the release of Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple
have developed solutions of their own. I have chosen to give Dropbox the most detail
because it is cross-╉platform and the least restricted by company ecosystems—╉that is
to say, some of the features of competing cloud drives function best on the operating
systems for which they were designed. At the same time, many of the competitor’s apps
share many features with Dropbox, allowing me to concentrate the following synopses
on explaining their differences and strengths.

Google Drive
Google Drive is similar to Dropbox in a few respects. First, it can be downloaded as
a folder on a computer’s hard drive free of charge if you have a Google account. It has
mobile apps across all devices, similar pricing models, and collaborative features.
Google’s software is driven by the web, and this is where Google Drive offers a
different focus than the competition. Google has its own word processing, spread-
sheet, and presentation apps, much like Microsoft’s Office and Apple’s iWork; how-
ever, these apps live entirely on the web. Google Documents, Sheets, and Slides can
be created, edited, and shared from entirely within a web browser logged in to your
Google account. These web apps have fewer features than the competition, but for
basic word processing, spreadsheet creation, and presentations, they can get the job
done. A Google Drive account contains all of these documents in addition to any files
a user has dragged into the Google Drive folder on his or her computer’s hard drive.
Google Docs appear as files on the user’s hard drive; however, double-╉clicking to open
one of them takes you to the web interface for editing, rather than a native application
(Fig. 4.8).
Google Drive has folder-╉sharing features like Dropbox, but their document col-
laboration takes editing to a new level. Google users can invite others to collaborate on

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F I G U R E   4 . 8   My
Google Drive folder on the Mac. I can put any file type inside of it and also launch
directly into editing my Google Docs on the web.

single Google Document files. Users can have the same Google Spreadsheet opened, for
example, all at once, from the web. Google handles this masterfully, allowing the users
to even see the cursor and edits of other users from within the document in real time as
edits are made. Google Drive also has a timeline that displays the date and times certain
files have been added and edited in chronological order (Fig. 4.9). In the time I have been
using Google Drive, I have had zero issues with collaboration. I have never lost data or
seen a duplicate file created with conflicting changes. That being said, these apps lack a
lot of the formatting features of software like Microsoft Office.
Google Drive can be installed on most modern mobile phones and tablets. It func-
tions much like the mobile Dropbox app, imitating the file browser on a PC. Opening
a document will launch Google’s Docs, Sheets, and Slides applications, where users can
edit their Google Docs. Because this is all done in the cloud, editing of Google Docs is
always in sync, without moving files around or doing cumbersome workarounds. Of
course, dealing with files that are not Google Docs functions with the same limitations
and workarounds on iOS as mentioned about Dropbox.
I have noticed some frustrating, though minor, irritations with Google Drive.
For example, audio files stored in an account cannot be previewed on the web
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C l o u d   D r i v e s ╇ | ╇ 91

F I G U R E  4 . 9 ╇ Google
Doc collaboration in action. The changes made by both users who are logged in
are reflected in real time.

unless you are using Google’s Chrome browser. While cloud technology is still
new and competitive, all of the major software companies are locking users into
their ecosystem to some degree. While this is frustrating, it hasn't stopped me from
using all of the cloud drives, taking advantage of the best features each of them has
to offer.

If it weren’t for the fact that Microsoft’s cloud solution, OneDrive, were associated with
the least popular mobile hardware on the market at the current time, I would sug-
gest that their service is among the best. A free OneDrive account can be created and
installed on any computer. Like Dropbox and Google Drive, it exists as a folder on a
computer and has an app on mobile devices.
What I like about OneDrive is that it is linked into the current version of the
Microsoft Office Suite. For better or worse, Microsoft Office is now priced at $100 a
year. This means that users pay for it annually, but the software is always up to date.
This means you do not need to continuously spend hundreds of copies on the newest
version every few years. This subscription is called Office 365. It includes Microsoft
Office as well as a one-╉terabyte OneDrive account (much cheaper than competing
cloud drives). Note that older versions of Office are compatible with OneDrive as it
functions as a regular folder just like Dropbox.

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iCloud Drive
Apple’s iCloud is a service that syncs various data across their devices. It is capable of
syncing everything from iTunes libraries to calendar events to contacts and even game
saves. It is a powerful feature of Apple’s ecosystem, and it works to ensure commitment
to buying Apple products.
iCloud Drive is the part of iCloud that manages the syncing of files you create
across multiple devices (Fig.  4.10). Since its development, many of the frictions with
managing files on iOS have been alleviated, including the “Open in …” workaround
I described in the Dropbox section. Any app now has the ability to launch a file open
menu from within itself where you can view the entire contents of your iCloud Drive.
Considering this is a new area for Apple, iCloud Drive is not without some issues.
First, there are some strange abstractions that have been retained from the time where
you could not access a file library on an iOS device. For example, each app gets its own
folder inside iCloud Drive. If you use the app Pages and create a file, a Pages folder is cre-
ated in your drive that contains all of your Pages documents by default. You can move
them outside of the Pages folder and organize them any way you want, but I find it to be
an unwelcome and confusing abstraction to an otherwise familiar process.

F I G U R E   4 .10 ╇ iCloud
Drive on a Mac. Each app compatible with iCloud Drive gets its own folder that
its documents are saved in by default, but documents can be organized into any folders you like.

C l o u d   D r i v e s  |   93

The biggest reservation I have about iCloud Drive is its unreliable syncing speed.
Naturally, Apple apps like Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and iMovie are better integrated
into iCloud Drive than they are into other services like Dropbox or Google Drive. This
makes the syncing process more direct, but not necessarily more reliable. There are
times where I will save and close a document on my Mac, boot up my iPad, launch the
application, and stare at my screen, sometimes for up to 20 minutes, waiting for that
document to appear. This has improved since the service launched about a year ago as
of this writing, and I expect that Apple will eventually polish the experience to the point
where it is reliable. For now, it is hard to recommend iCloud Drive as a complete solution
to managing files in the cloud.
iCloud Drive introduces a feature much like the open file menu you see when you
open a new document on a PC. This menu is called the document picker (Fig. 4.11). The
document picker actually supports cloud services outside of just iCloud; for example,
Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box all support the document picker. This means that if
you don’t use iCloud Drive, you can tap the button that says “Locations” in the upper
left of the document picker and select another cloud service to pull your document from
(Fig. 4.12).
To some degree, the document picker is the file system that iOS has always yearned
for, but it is not quite like the Finder app on OS X. It comes with a host of bizarre and
inconsistent behaviors that make it more frustrating than helpful at times. The first of
these is that each app has to elect to take advantage of iCloud Drive. You would never
dream of an app on Mac that didn’t allow you to save or open files from anywhere on the
hard drive. But on iOS, apps developers can neglect this feature altogether, use their own
proprietary syncing method, or opt to use another service like Dropbox instead. The
confusing part about this is that iCloud Drive’s document picker technically accommo-
dates third-​party services like Dropbox already. Because Dropbox has already provided
a way for third-​party developers to link into their service, other apps can sync to their
servers without even using the document picker. This results in Dropbox being available
as a syncing solution for thousands of apps, but being implemented slightly differently
across all the software you run.
As mentioned above, iCloud Drive also adds folders, or containers, that house the
files in each app. Files created in Apple’s Keynote live in a folder within iCloud Drive
called Keynote (Fig. 4.13). They can be moved out of this folder and organized however
you like; however, they behave the same way if you do. Even more strangely, third-​party
apps that use iCloud get their own containers, but they do not have consistent privileges
that Apple’s own proprietary productivity apps do. For example, if I create a file in the
excellent photo editing app Pixelmator and put it in the Pixelmator container in iCloud
Drive, I can sync it effortlessly between my iPad and Mac. However, if I take that same
file and put it into another folder within my iCloud Drive, outside of the container, it
creates a copy of the file. Once a copy is created, the copy cannot sync between devices
anymore, only the version of the file that is in the container.

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F I G U R E   4 .11   The
document picker can be launched from within any iOS app and closely resembles
the “open” window users are used to from years of managing files on a PC.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, consider that not all third-​party cloud services
even work the same way as one another. For example, Dropbox and Google Drive files
can be accessed through the document picker. At first this seems just like the familiar
Finder on Mac, where all of your cloud drive apps exist among your other files and

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F I G U R E   4 .12   Pressing the word “Locations” will allow you to grab files from cloud drives outside of
iCloud Drive.

folders. However, on iOS, they do not work the same as iCloud Drive. Some third-​party
cloud drives can only be used to open files from, or save files to. They cannot go both
ways, therefore making them useless for switching back and forth between two different
devices to edit the same file, unless you want to constantly be duplicating the same file

F I G U R E   4 .13  Any
Keynote file in my iCloud Drive folder, inside or outside the Keynote container
folder, is displayed directly for me when I  launch Keynote. Not all iCloud-​enabled apps work this
simply, though.

F I G U R E   4 .14   Making the iCloud Drive app visible from within the settings.
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F I G U R E   4 .15 ╇ The iCloud Drive app user interface.

and deleting it over and over again. This is the same exact problem that iOS had before
the document picker was introduced.
The Dropbox and Google Drive app on iOS create the illusion that there is a file
system on the device by showing you all of your files before you, allowing you to pre-
view, copy, move, and open them. Strangely, iCloud Drive does not allow you to simply
browse its contents unless you unlock an iCloud Drive app that is hidden in the settings
of iOS under the iCloud tab (Figs. 4.14 and 4.15). It seems Apple still believes that the file
system is for the tech savvy only.
The way to get the most out of iCloud Drive is to use it for what it is good for; when
it fails at a task, use something else. For apps like Pixelmator that advertise their support
for iCloud Drive, syncing projects between the mobile and desktop versions of the app is
made simple because of iCloud’s “just works” user interface. For more granular control
of how files are organized, or for the times that iCloud Drive is unreliable, I recommend
Dropbox or Google Drive to get the job done

Box, formally known as, is very similar to Dropbox. It is not associated with a
hardware company or ecosystem and offers similar pricing models, a small free account,

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and many of the same features. Box has excelled in adding enterprise features to their
service. In short, this means corporations have embraced it because their IT depart-
ments have more control over how it is used by their employees. It is not uncommon
for IT departments to deny teachers the ability to install software like cloud services
onto their work computers. If you find that installing one of these services on your work
machine will make you more productive but your school’s IT staff says no, often box.
com gets a free pass due to the fact that it can be managed in such a way that it makes
work computers less vulnerable to security flaws.

The amount of competition in this space is overwhelming. The fact that some services
have features that other don’t represents the kind of competition that ultimately pushes
technology forward. If you are unsure what service to invest in, there is nothing wrong
with trying them all. I use Dropbox primarily for its reliability and ubiquity, but I also
use Google Drive for its document collaboration and iCloud Drive for its simplicity and
integration with Apple apps. Taking advantage of what each service does best is an asset
for now while it doesn’t feel like any of these products can really talk to one another. The
other advantage of using all of these services is that you can get quite a bit of free storage
space by combining them. If you are not looking to pay a monthly subscription for cloud
space, you might be able to get all of your files online simply by combining the free storage
tiers of multiple cloud services.

Share Links to Files Instead of Attachments
If there are documents you want to share with the students and parents involved in your
program, any of the major cloud drive services will allow you to share links to view
documents stored on their server. I often share documents by sharing the URLs to the
locations online where I am storing the files rather than through the traditional method
of attaching files to emails. When my parents want to view the sectional schedule, all
they do is follow a URL to the Google Sheet. If I want chaperones to see bus and chap-
erone groups, I can create a Numbers spreadsheet and share the link with them to view
This works well with big files like movies and audio recordings. Instead of waiting
to download these large files, the recipient can stream them directly from the Dropbox
or Google Drive website if he or she has a link.

Share Folders with Common Collaborators
I create shared folders in Dropbox with co-╉workers, friends, family, and private students
to bypass the traditional model of attaching files to emails. The orchestra director and

C l o u d   D r i v e s  |  99

I work very closely together at my school. We have a shared Dropbox folder. Sharing
resources is as easy as dragging a file into that folder. We can also collaborate on docu-
ments relevant to the music program and ensure that the master file is always up to date
on both of our computers.
I use shared folders to collaborate with private students too. In fact, my referrals to
so many of them has earned me over 15 free gigabytes of storage space with Dropbox!

Keep Everything in One Place or Juggle
All the Services
It makes a lot of sense to invest in just one cloud drive. I used to use Dropbox in isolation
because I store almost most of my files there. Lately, though, this has changed: I now
juggle Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud pretty consistently. Part of the reason for this
is simply that the people I collaborate with tend to use varying services. Adopting a little
of each has helped me stay adaptable when working with other users. The technology is
still at the point where these drives are not able to work well together. OneDrive, Google
Drive, and iCloud Drive are all designed to support the Windows, Google, and Apple
ecosystems, respectively. Dropbox is the exception to the rule.
Personally, I keep most of my work in Dropbox because it is cross-​platform. This
doesn’t really matter as much as it used to because all of these services can be accessed
on the web even if the drive isn’t installed on the computer. Microsoft Office, iWork,
and Google Docs all have web versions of their applications that run in a browser. Still, I
keep most of my data in Dropbox because they have the widest set of features, are more
agnostic toward platforms, and are the most reliable.
I use iCloud Drive almost exclusively for apps that can sync documents between
iOS and OS X. iWork and a few creative apps for the iPad fall into this category.
I use Google Drive almost exclusively for collaborating on Google Docs with
other colleagues.
╇ 101


Scanning Documents

So far, getting organized has been described as a process of taking many of the physical
tools in the real world and transforming them into digital metaphors. For example, the
calendar book becomes a calendar app, the mailbox becomes email, a notepad becomes
a note-╉taking app, and a checklist becomes a to-╉do app. No matter how hard you try to
get your personal workflows onto a screen, there is no way to stop the rest of the world
from using paper.
This is where digital scanners come into the picture. Digital scanners include hard-
ware devices that can be hooked into a computer or apps that use the camera of your
mobile device to scan. Modern technology makes scanning fast and stress-╉free and
results in beautifully detailed and formatted digital documents. Let’s take a look at a few
of the best options on the market.

Fujitsu makes a line of scanners called ScanSnap that have absolutely transformed the
way I get work done. These scanners come in various shapes and sizes. What they all
have in common, Fujitsu says, is that “ScanSnap scanners take the complication out of
document imaging with one-╉button ease of use. Perfect for home and small business
environments, the ScanSnap family of scanners bring duplex multi-╉sheet scanning to
everyone, combining performance and affordability in a compact size.”
I own the ScanSnap iX500. This is in the middle of the price range of the ScanSnap
lineup and provides most of its best features. The ScanSnap allows me to stick up to
30 pages in it and, at the press of one big blue button, zip them all through it in a mat-
ter of moments. ScanSnap’s software on my computer turns all of these documents
into crisp, cleanly formatted, text-╉searchable PDF files. These files can be stored on my

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F I G U R E  5 .1 ╇ When
you press the big blue button on your ScanSnap, this is the screen that appears on
your computer. Saving to your favorite service is one click away.

computer or I can link them up to services like Evernote and Dropbox where they can
automatically be saved (Fig. 5.1).
The ScanSnap line is quite diverse. Cheaper models are closer to $100 and are small
enough to fit in a briefcase, though they cannot handle more than one sheet of paper
at a time and run at a slower speed. Larger models do not actually run paper through a
machine but instead scan paper from an overhead sensor. This makes scanning paper
larger than 8.5 × 11 possible. Scanning large documents, scores, and even books becomes
possible with these larger sizes. I strongly recommend the ScanSnap line if you want to
convert a lot of paper into PDFs.

Scanning Apps
If this technology interests you but you do not want to spend money on a scanner, mobile
phone software is just as advanced, if not more so, than the software that comes with
products like the ScanSnap. Using the camera of your phone, these apps can snap photos
of pieces of paper while they are sitting on your desk. Better yet, they can automatically
locate and trim the edges off the sides of the paper, straighten them out if you took the
photo at an angle, and even make them grayscale so that they appear as clean PDF files.
Some of these apps are so good at this that they can even make the text on the PDF look
crisper than the actual document itself. Best of all, these apps can automatically OCR
documents so that they are text-╉searchable.
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S c a n n i n g D o c u m e n t s ╇ | ╇ 103

These apps are sometimes better than physical scanners. First of all, they are always
in your pocket. In some cases, their software is far more user-╉friendly than what comes
packaged with hardware like the ScanSnap. Finally, they are not limited by the size of
the page. All you need to do is lift the camera high enough so that it can detect all four
edges, and the software will do the rest.
Here is an overview of my favorite scanning apps.

Scannable is another member of the Evernote suite. Its purpose is to make the process
described above as seamless and quick as possible. This is without a doubt my favorite
scanning app. Its simplicity and speed alone set it far above the rest of the competition.
Best of all, it is free. You can log into your Evernote account through Scannable for it to
automatically save your PDFs to your Evernote account, but the app works even if you
do not use Evernote.
There are no steps in between launching the app and scanning. Scannable auto-
matically starts searching for paper the moment you tap on the icon (Fig. 5.2). It also
automatically captures paper and immediately lets you move on to the next page if you
are scanning a multipage document (Fig. 5.3). And it scans lightning fast.

F I G U R E   5 . 2 ╇Scannable launches directly into a screen where it is already looking for paper
to scan.

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FIGURE 5 . 3 ╇Once Scannable captures paper from your desk, it formats into a beautiful,
text-╉searchable PDF.

The user interface is simple and offers just the right amount of tools: crop, reorder
pages, restore, rotate, and trash (Fig. 5.4). If the app is having trouble detecting the edges
of the page, which it sometimes does when scanning side-╉by-╉side books or scores, a
manual snap mode is one tap away at all times.
If you are logged into Evernote, it automatically sends your documents to the cloud
once you press the share button. You can also email a file in one tap or share to any app
on your phone that supports the share sheet. My preferred workflow is to turn on the
setting that allows Scannable to automatically save everything I snap into Evernote in
the background, but then I often send documents to Dropbox or Google Drive manually.

Readdle Scanner Pro (iPhone Only)
Readdle’s Scanner Pro is my second-╉favorite scanning app on the iPhone. Its user inter-
face and speed make it easier to use than most of the competition (Fig.  5.5). It has a
unique scanner feature that combs through your camera roll to find things that it thinks
might be pictures of documents (Fig. 5.6). You can then import them into your Scanner
Pro library. Scanner Pro also integrates well with iCloud Drive. This means that if you
scan a document on your iPhone, without any steps, it is waiting for you on your Mac in
the iCloud Drive container folder “Scanner Pro.”

F I G U R E   5 . 4   The editing tools in Scannable.

F I G U R E   5 . 5   The interface for Scanner Pro.

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F I G U R E  5 . 6 ╇ Scanner
Pro automatically finds photos on your camera roll that it thinks might be docu-
ments and offers to turn them into crisp PDFs for you.

Workflows for Scanning Documents
Archive Everything
You never know when you will want to reference a contact, document, business card,
or your students’ scores on an assessment four or five years ago. Cloud storage is get-
ting cheaper with each passing year, and PDFs do not take up a lot of space. A Fujitsu
ScanSnap makes it easy to save it all. Even if you just want to stick miscellaneous papers
from your day in the scanner once a day and create one big messy and unorganized PDF,
text search makes it easy to find all of that data later.

Import Your Scores onto the iPad
A later chapter will deal with the management of digital scores. The first step of
making your scores digital is to scan them. Top-╉of-╉the-╉line ScanSnap models can
handle this task, but most models will not fit the average score. I have found that
mobile phone scanning apps make this process so easy that it is almost fun. Paper
size is not a limit, so these apps can trim the edges off the sides of the page, even
out the sides if your photo was lopsided, and even turn the document to grayscale
(Fig. 5.7).

S c a n n i n g D o c u m e n t s  |   107

F I G U R E   5 .7   Scanning a score in Scannable.

Turn Your Favorite Articles and Books
into  Text-​Searchable Documents
My favorite story to tell about the Fujitsu ScanSnap is about the first summer I  pur-
chased it. I spent a few late nights scanning two orange crates of resources I had collected
during my college career—​journal articles, programs, papers, compositions, everything
imaginable. Once all of this was stored as PDFs in Evernote, every single word of text in
each one of those documents could be searched.
I recall one afternoon a few years later where a teaching colleague and I were
discussing methods we use to go about getting superior intonation in our respective
ensembles. An article I recalled from my student-​teaching experience came to mind. I
could not recall the name of the article or even the author, just a few of the main ideas. I
took out my phone and launched Evernote. I typed the word “intonation” into the search
bar and, just like that, every page of paper with the word on it that I have ever created
came up in the search. The very first hit was the exact article I was looking for.
╇ 109


Working with PDFs

PDFs are ubiquitous and flexible. They are great for reading and great for annotating,
and for the most part they look the same no matter which device you are viewing them
on. Although the company Adobe standardized the PDF, there are a lot of different ways
to interact with them.

Apps for PC
If you are using Mac, one of the best PDF apps is already installed on your computer. The
Preview app will allow you to read and annotate PDFs (Fig. 6.1). It has all of the basic
features you should expect. You can add text fields, draw, create shapes, highlight text,
search for words, sign documents, and more. Preview is simple, elegant, and fast.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
Adobe Reader and Acrobat might be familiar apps to you if you have ever opened a PDF.
Recently, Adobe updated their Acrobat app to bring it into their Creative Cloud Service.
Now, for a monthly fee, you can read and edit PDFs across all of your devices using
Adobe’s new Acrobat Pro DC app. If you do not want to pay for software by the month,
earlier versions of both Acrobat Reader and Acrobat Pro can be purchased individually
and installed on your computer.
I have found Acrobat software to perform most consistently when it comes to work-
ing with PDFs (Fig. 6.2). It is also the most powerful: It can import and export to and from
Microsoft Office documents, find lines and boxes on your PDFs and automatically turn
them into form-╉fillable fields, and more. If you are looking for power features, Acrobat
Pro is for you. If you are just reading and annotating PDFs, Acrobat Reader will be fine,
but if that is the case, I recommend Apple’s Preview for its simplicity.

F I G U R E   6 .1   Apple’s
Preview app. Preview balances simplicity with just the features you really need,
like highlighting, text boxes, signing, and shapes.

F I G U R E   6 . 2  Adobe
Acrobat Pro XI. Acrobat Pro comes stocked with all of the power features, like
converting PDFs to Word documents and back again.
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Working w i t h   PD F s ╇ | ╇111

F I G U R E   6 . 3 ╇ PDFpen
maintains a clean interface but contains power features like OCRing the text of
your documents so you can search the contents of them.

Mac users who want some of the power features of Acrobat without spending a fortune
will be pleased to know that Smile Software makes a great app called PDFpen for OS X and
iOS. These apps can perform some of the power features mentioned above, like Microsoft
Office import and export, creating form-╉fillable documents, and OCRing the text in them.
PDFpen accomplishes this at a fraction of the price of Acrobat Pro (Figs. 6.3 and 6.4). In
my experience, the results I get when using PDFpen are not always 100 percent recognized
when I open them on other computers or using other apps, but it is a mostly smooth expe-
rience. PDFpen is also designed with the same sensibility as some of Apple’s own apps. It
feels like software that belongs on the Mac when you use it. In short, it is a perfect solution
if you are looking for something in between Preview and Acrobat Pro.

What About the iPad?
If you are on an iPad, you may have noticed that there is not a Preview app like there is
on the Mac. The iPad is able to preview PDF documents natively, which means you can
read them without a PDF app installed. If you want to annotate and organize them, you
will need a more powerful solution.

F I G U R E   6 . 4   PDFpen
can make the lines, rectangles, and checkboxes on your PDFs form-​fillable with
the touch of a button.

F I G U R E   6 . 5   The interface for PDF Expert is gorgeous. This app belongs on every iPad.
╇ 113

Working w i t h   PD F s ╇ | ╇ 113

PDF Expert
PDF Expert is made by iOS app developer Readdle. PDF Expert is the perfect combination
of power, elegance, and price on the iPad (Fig. 6.5). Annotation tools are always one tap
away, meaning you can manipulate your documents more like a piece of paper instead of
feeling like they are stuck behind a screen. Multiple documents can be opened side by side
in a tabbed interface, successfully imitating the experience of having many windows open
on a desktop PC. You can log into your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, aggregating
their contents all into the same place. PDF Expert also supports iCloud Drive so that you
can keep your PDFs in sync across all of your Apple Devices. PDF Expert is also one of the
cheapest PDF apps on the app store, usually floating around the price of $5.
Things get interesting when you download Readdle’s free app, Documents (Fig. 6.6).
Documents feels a lot like the missing Finder on iOS devices, especially when you are
using an iPad. I almost included mention of Documents in the cloud drive section of this
book because it fills in so many of the features that feel missing on mobile devices. At first
glance, Documents looks a lot like PDF Expert. The difference is that it can manage all
of your documents from all of your different cloud services. Opening documents from
within other cloud services stores a duplicate copy locally, but you can also permanently

F I G U R E   6 . 6 ╇The
interface for Documents by Readdle. Folders with the Dropbox logo are directly
synced between my Dropbox account and the Documents app. Other files and folders remain local
to the device.

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F I G U R E   6 .7 ╇ Using the annotating tools of PDF Expert from within Documents.

“sync” certain folders from within those cloud services so that files always read and write
to their original location, rather than saving duplicate local copies to the app.
If you have PDF Expert installed on the same device, Documents takes on all
of its PDF-╉annotating features so you only have to use one of the two apps (Fig.  6.7).
Documents adds a powerful in-╉app browser that actually allows you to download files
from the web, something that the native iPad browser cannot do. It has a lot of other tiny
little features that make using an iPad feel more like using a PC. For example, when you
run an audio or video file, the audio keeps playing in the background even when you
move on to deal with other files instead of cutting it off cold to load whatever file you are
moving to. PDF Expert and Documents are must downloads for any iPad power user
(Figs. 6.8 through 6.11).

GoodReader is like the Swiss army knife of mobile PDF apps (Fig. 6.12). It functions a
lot like PDF Expert but adds a lot of power user features under the hood. These power
features come at the expense of a much more complicated user interface. GoodReader
has a lot of buttons, bells, and whistles and can take some getting used to. But if you are
up to the task, you will get to take advantage of features like text-╉to-╉speech, support for

F I G U R E   6 . 8   Multitabbed interface for working with many different documents at once.

F I G U R E   6 . 9   Documents has its own iCloud container folder for storing documents across devices.

F I G U R E   6 .10   Documents
networks with your Dropbox and Google Drive folders to integrate all of
your cloud-​stored files into the same place.

F I G U R E   6 .11   Documents
has a built-​in browser with a download manager. I am able to download an
mp3 straight from the web and into my Downloads folder in the Documents app.
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Working w i t h   PD F s ╇ | ╇ 117

F I G U R E   6 .12 ╇ The GoodReader user interface.

using Bluetooth foot pedals to turn pages of music, and the ability to find files on any
server you have access to outside of the basics like Dropbox and Google Drive accounts.

PDF Converter
PDF Converter is another app by Readdle that is designed with the purpose of taking
almost anything you are looking at on iOS and converting it to a PDF. Whether it be a
note, a file, a webpage, or a document, PDF Converter will do its best to turn that into a
PDF. Recently I was struggling to turn a Google Spreadsheet file into a properly format-
ted PDF on my Mac. I tried every method I could imagine. First I tried exporting it as an
Excel spreadsheet and then saving it as a PDF. Then I tried importing the Excel spread-
sheet into Adobe Acrobat Pro as a PDF. This process went on until finally I decided to
launch the Google Spreadsheet app on my iPad. From here, I pressed the share button
and selected “Convert to PDF.” PDF Expert turned it into a perfectly formatted PDF file
right before my eyes. I continue to be amazed at what is possible on a tablet—╉especially
in this case, when it outperformed desktop software (Figs. 6.13 and 6.14).

As has been discussed at length, Evernote is a perfectly reasonable way to manage PDFs. I
tend to keep PDFs in Evernote that I have scanned because my paid account automatically
makes them text-╉searchable. As for files that I read, annotate, or edit on a regular basis,

F I G U R E  6 .13   From
the web, I am able to press the share button and select “Convert to PDF” to launch
the content I am viewing as a PDF in PDF Converter.

F I G U R E   6 .14   The user interface of PDF Converter.
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Working w i t h   PD F s ╇ | ╇119

I tend to keep these out of Evernote. In general, I use Evernote like an unorganized file
cabinet with great search tools that I use to comb through the mess. PDFs that I edit on a
regular basis still tend to get thrown in Dropbox alongside my other files. Evernote’s Skitch
app is capable of annotating PDFs in its standalone app or right from within Evernote.

Some PDF files represent books, articles, or lengthy articles that have been scanned.
This is one of the strange issues you need to deal with if you are particular about orga-
nizing your PDFs. A PDF is one type of file and thus has certain behaviors. On the
other hand, PDFs can represent a wide variety of different media, drawing from many
different physical metaphors in the real world: They can be contracts, books, arti-
cles, magazines, designs, photographs, brochures, posters, or anything imaginable.
Sometimes I actually decide which app I am going to use to interact with a PDF based
on the tools it offers. Apps like iBooks are great for PDFs that are digitized books and
articles (Fig. 6.15). They have simple user interfaces, allowing for one-╉tap highlighting
and note taking. The primary interaction model is the simple swiping of pages from
left to right. I find there to be a certain Zen about this and prefer it to the toolbar of
editing buttons that appear on most of the PDF apps explained earlier (Fig. 6.16).

F I G U R E   6 .15 ╇ Managing different book and PDF collections in iBooks.

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F I G U R E   6 .16 ╇ Highlighting text in a PDF within iBooks.

The Kindle app by Amazon works similarly to the iBooks app. Kindle is able to sync PDFs
over Amazon’s servers and provides a similarly elegant reading solution. That being said,
Amazon Kindle’s method of managing files is, in my opinion, incomprehensible. The

Working w i t h   PD F s  |   121

only way to gain complete control over your files is through Amazon’s website on a desk-
top PC, which is not an ideal solution for managing files on mobile devices. Even once
you are logged into the location on Amazon’s website where you can manage your Kindle
files, the model for doing so feels like it is stuck in the previous decade. Each device you

F I G U R E   6 .17   Viewing my documents alongside my books in the Kindle user interface.

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have the Kindle app installed on has its own distinct local library. Additionally, all of
your documents live in the cloud. I have experienced a lot of bugs deleting documents
from the cloud permanently, leading to a library that is cluttered with hundreds of old
documents that I can’t get rid of. The entire experience is clunky and inconsistent, so it
is hard to recommend using it for large libraries. On the other hand, if the Kindle is your
eBook reading ecosystem of choice, it makes a lot of sense to keep all of your reading
materials, PDF or not, together (Fig. 6.17).
iBooks and Kindle excel when they are used to read more temporarily stored
documents—╉for example, a contract or a letter received through email. For more per-
manent management, I find myself saving copies to Dropbox.

Multiple Tabs for Method Books, Schedules,
and Seating Charts in PDF Expert
PDFs have given the iPad a special place of purpose in my classroom. On a daily basis,
I read scores off the iPad, view the school schedule and my sectional schedule, refer to
various method books, and also annotate seating charts for my daily rehearsal grades.
This is only made possible by first having converted all of the documents I rely on to
PDF through scanning software and hardware. Once it is all on my iPad, I use the apps
Documents, PDF Expert, and GoodReader to have all of my essential documents open
in a tabbed interface all at once (Fig. 6.18). Instead of papers all over my music stand,

F I G U R E   6 .18 ╇ All of my classroom documents in one place with Readdle’s Documents app.
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Working w i t h   PD F s ╇ | ╇123

F I G U R E   6 .19 ╇ Keeping all of my field trip documents under control with Readdle’s Documents app.

I have one app where every document is a tap away. In Chapter 11 on automation, I
will share how I automate my computer to generate a new seating chart document for
me every morning.

Field Trips
The method above has taken a lot of the stress out of field trips for me. When I go on a field
trip I open the following documents in separate tabs in GoodReader or Documents: bus
rosters, itinerary, empty forms for parents to sign children out early, medical forms, and
other pertinent information (Figs. 6.19 and 6.20). Switching between this information is
a breeze, and I only have to manage one tablet instead of a folder full of paper.

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F I G U R E   6 . 2 0  Parents
can sign out their children by tapping on my screen. When I get back to my
desk at work, thee signed documents are already synced to my Mac and ready to email to the front
office for archiving.

Upload Information and Practice Materials
Online for Your Students
If all of your classroom handouts and music are digital, sharing them online with your
students is a breeze. Managing a website for your program is beyond the scope of this

Working w i t h   PD F s  |   125

F I G U R E   6 . 21  My
school’s band website has a practice page containing PDF, audio, and video
resources for my students to use during practice.

book, but most modern solutions have an option for uploading files that only takes
a couple of taps. Everything I hand out in class is available on my band’s website. In
addition, each ensemble has its own password-​protected part of the website that links
to PDFs of each and every part for home practice (Fig. 6.21).

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F I G U R E   6 . 22 ╇ Saving as PDF from the print menu on OS X.

Save to PDF
I cannot write this book without ensuring that you know about a trick that allows you to
save any document on your Mac as a PDF. For years on a Mac, you have been able to go
to the print menu in productivity apps like Microsoft Office and select the phrase “Save
as PDF” from a little dropdown menu in the lower-╉left corner of the print menu (Fig.
6.22). For years, this has been an excellent way to archive documents as a PDF, acquiring
all of the benefits of the file type. I never send Office files or any proprietary file type to
parents of my students. It is unsafe to assume everyone has Microsoft Office installed
these days, but practically everyone can read a PDF on his or her computer. PDFs are
also easy to annotate and resize, and they are more difficult to edit the text of—╉meaning
that it is less likely to add a couple of keystrokes by accident when resting your hand on
the keyboard. Most apps do not require the print menu workaround anymore, offering
options that are more directly accessed from places like the “File” menu. This trick can
still come in handy in situations when that is not the case.
As mentioned in the previous section, you can save documents as PDFs on mobile
devices, too, using apps like PDF Converter.
╇ 127


Working with Scores

Let’s assume that you have soaked in all of the glory of the PDF chapter of this book,
scanned every piece of paper you own, and now have everything stored in a Dropbox,
Google Drive folder, or Evernote. Chances are some of the documents you have
scanned, or thought to scan, are scores and sheet music. If this is the case, you must be
wondering: What next?
In the previous chapter I discussed the metaphors that make us most comfortable
managing PDFs. Book reader applications with highlights and page turning feel good
for reading PDFs that are books. Documents, particularly forms, feel better in apps that
can allow you to manage files, sign documents, and add text boxes. Similarly, scores
have their own set of conventions. In the real world we study scores, annotate them,
categorize them, and bookmark them. We even use tools to practice alongside them like
pianos, tuners, and metronomes. Fortunately, all of these tools are available in promi-
nent score reading software.
Before getting into detail, it is important to note that this section does not detail
the subject of score engraving software, such as the desktop versions of Sibelius and
Finale. This chapter deals instead with the organization and workflows surrounding
scores once they are on your computing device. Since scores that are already on a com-
puting device are likely being read or annotated, not created or edited, this chapter will
primarily deal with software available to tablets, which is the type of device in which
score management software is currently being innovated the most.

Apps for Working with Scores
forScore is a PDF reader for scores that offers tools specific to the nature of musical doc-
uments (Fig. 7.1). The app is available on Apple and Android tablets and smart phones.

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F I G U R E   7.1   The forScore user interface.

forScore starts by allowing you to tag PDFs in your library with musical meta-
data like composer, genre, tags, and labels. Of course, your library can be searched and
categorized by any one of these parameters. A  single score can be given bookmarks,
allowing the user to quickly jump to different parts of a large book or score. Scores can

Working w i t h   S c o r e s  |   129

be organized into setlists, where they can be scrolled through continuously from left
to right.
Once you are viewing a PDF, the pages can be turned with a swipe left or right, or
a tap on the side of the screen. The feel of the page turns is fluid and fast. This is impor-
tant because if you are performing from this live, the pages need to feel as responsive as
The magnifying glass can easily search through your entire database. I find that I do
not even need to organize my scores, as I can tap this icon and the first few letters of a
title and within moments be transported into whatever score was on my mind (Fig. 7.2).
The metronome icon pulls up a metronome (Fig.  7.3), pitch pipe (Fig.  7.4), and
tuner (Fig. 7.5). These are indispensable tools for the musician, made accessible and dis-
creet. The metronome can even display a visual pulse so that the conductor can receive
the tempo without making any sound.
Tapping on the title of the file allows you to edit the metadata categories mentioned
above (Fig. 7.6) and to attach audio or MIDI files to the score. Audio files can be attached
directly from the music app or from a cloud service like Dropbox (Figs. 7.7 and 7.8) Once an
audio file is imported, you can play the file right from within the score and follow right along.
The right-​most icon, a toolbox, represents the settings. This is full of every other
feature available to forScore users (Fig. 7.9). You can rearrange the pages, crop them,
and take notes on them. You can also save different versions of the score from within
the file. A reference piano can be pulled up onto the screen. You can record your own
performance and have the files live inside of the score. A Bluetooth pedal such as the
AirTurn can be synced to forScore, allowing you to turn the pages hands-​free. This has
proven a valuable tool for me while performing. (It is magical to be able to handle a page
turn with my feet while resolving a two-​handed timpani roll.) Perhaps my favorite is the
ability to customize hand gestures to cause actions within the app. For example, a two-​
finger tap can be customized to put the app in annotation mode, and a three-​finger tap
can be set to pull up a reference keyboard.
Another one of my favorites is the “Services” option. Tapping “Services” allows you to
open scores from within connected cloud services like Dropbox, iCloud Drive, and Google
Drive (Fig. 7.10). If you already keep your files in the cloud, adding them to forScore does not
add any steps to the process.
Annotating is a breeze in forScore. In the settings, you can customize different gestures
to trigger different modes. I have a two-​finger tap set to automatically put the app in annota-
tion mode, where I can immediately begin drawing on the page with my finger. forScore’s
annotation tools are great because they are musical. They include basics like pens and high-
lighters, but they also include stamps of sharps, flats, and natural signs. Just wait until you
feel the magic of adding a slur to a score in forScore (Fig. 7.11)!
forScore is one of the few good apps for managing PDF score libraries on a mobile
device. Personally, I think it is both the most professional and polished of the bunch. Because
it is usually priced under $10, I recommend it over all the others.

F I G U R E   7. 2   Searching is lightning fast in forScore.

F I G U R E   7. 3   The metronome in forScore.

F I G U R E   7. 4   The pitch pipe in forScore.

F I G U R E   7. 5   The tuner in forScore.

F I G U R E   7. 6   Adding metadata to forScore.
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F I G U R E 7.7 ╇ With forScore, you can attach an audio file from the Music app to your score.

unReal Book
However, if you are looking to try the competition, unReal Book and Paperless Music are
both worth checking out. At this point in development, these apps are almost entirely
designed with the same purpose in mind and share many of the essential features.
Paperless Music has fewer features than both. unReal Book has a slight bend toward
managing libraries of lead sheets and songs. unReal book is good at calling up songs
from your archive fast, whereas forScore tends to excel in managing large archives, deal-
ing with scores that are lengthier and classical in nature. In my experience, forScore does
everything unReal Book does as well or better, and unReal Book doesn’t quite match
forScore when it comes to power features like metronomes, stamps, or organizing.
There is one exception to this. unReal Book has a fantastic indexing system that
works well for managing fake books and real books. Usually, books of these nature are
best left as giant PDFs, searched for by song, rather than being split up into thousands
of one-╉or two-╉page-╉long PDFs. unReal Book allows you to create an index file in the
format of a .csv linking the different pages of a PDF to the titles of the songs they align
with. This means that if a PDF of the Real Book lives in unReal Book, I can teach the
app to directly link me to the different pages based on searching the titles of the songs
(Fig. 7.12). Creating a spreadsheet to take advantage of this feature seems daunting, but
the support webpage for unReal Book has some premade .csv files for common books
like the Real Book free for download.
No matter how complex score reading apps appear, they are all basically just glori-
fied PDF readers. Once PDFs are in the app, all you need to do is swipe to turn the pages
back and forth. Do not be afraid of the learning curve. Start with the basics, and then
take it one step at a time.

F I G U R E   7. 8   You can also attach an audio file from Dropbox into your score.

F I G U R E   7. 9   The settings icon reveals a multitude of power tools.

F I G U R E   7.10  Files from your favorite cloud service can be imported directly into your forScore

F I G U R E   7.11   Annotation
mode in forScore provides tools specific to musicians. Check out that slick
animation for adding slurs.

F I G U R E 7.12   With
unReal Book, indexing your real books with a .csv file allows you to keep large PDF
files intact while directly linking song titles to the correct pages.
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Avid Scorch
Creating scores is still best suited to desktop software like Sibelius and Finale, though
this is starting to change. If you are a big Sibelius user, rest assured that you can access
your .sib files from an iPad using the Avid Scorch app.
Be forewarned: This is an old app that has seen few updates in recent years. It has
an old interface, few features, and no document management other than to duplicate
files from elsewhere on an iPad and save them into a Scorch library. That being said, if
you are in a pinch and just need to view or play back a .sib file on the go, this is your only
option (Fig. 7.13).
The Scorch app does have a few features worth discussing. It can play back your
score and parts in MIDI. Parts can be balanced using a mixer, the tempo can be changed,
and the key can even be transposed. Transposing changes the audio playback and the
image of the score. Scorch has a performance mode that turns the image of the notation
itself full screen and responds to page turns by simply tapping the screen. Only once or
twice have I been in such a hurry that I needed to perform from a Sibelius file on the fly.
In most normal circumstances, there is no reason you would not want to simply export
the file as a PDF and read it in forScore instead.

NotateMe is a mobile app by Neuratron, makers of the familiar apps Photoscore and
Audioscore, which transcribe scores from scanned print scores and audio recordings,
respectively. NotateMe is the natural extension of their ecosystem of apps to the mobile
age. By using the camera on a tablet or phone, NotateMe can scan a print score and
transfer this into an editable score file that can later be imported into software like
Sibelius (Fig. 7.14).
In practice, the process is not consistent enough for prime time and only works
with especially clean and precise scores that do not have a lot of information on them.
If you are looking to save some time, this app can have a place in your workflow,
Let’s say, for example, you need to edit a bass clarinet part. You can snap a picture
of it from your phone using NotateMe and then save the file to Dropbox. On a desktop,
you can open the file from Dropbox in Sibelius and edit it from there, save it back to
PDF, and print it out for a student. However, if NotateMe does not do a decent job from
the start, editing its mistakes from within the app is nearly impossible. The scores that
I have had the most success with are simple enough that it is almost just as easy to manu-
ally input by starting a blank Sibelius score.
In short, I do not think this technology is ready to handle all of my score work. But
it is an interesting prototype and can certainly do some work for you if you are willing
to deal with the frustrations.
Scanning print is only one way NotateMe accepts musical input. The app allows
you to handwrite notes too, which it then converts to beautifully engraved print notation

F I G U R E  7.13   The Avid Scorch interface isn’t pretty, but it will play back your Sibelius files on an iPad.

F I G U R E   7.14   Scanning a score into NotateMe with your camera.

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F I G U R E   7.15 ╇ Handwriting notes magically turns them into beautifully engraved scores.

(Fig. 7.15). The app does a decent job learning your handwriting and converting it accu-
rately. However, the user interface is not friendly or intuitive and, like the scanning
feature, I find myself just launching Sibelius on a desktop once I have tried to operate
this app for a larger-╉scale project.

Notion is a complete solution for score creation that runs on OS X, Windows, and iOS
(Fig. 7.16). Though the intent of this chapter is to discuss only apps that can work with
scores, not create them from scratch, Notion’s editing features have influenced my score
workflow. To some degree, organizing scores does play into what you can do with them
on your various devices. For example, my score workflow changed once I stopped think-
ing of scores as Sibelius and Finale files that I could only work with on a desktop. Once
I decided to put them in Dropbox, I began to ask which apps would allow me to get
the most mileage out of them without altering this cloud organization structure. Notion
addresses this by allowing me to jump right into a file, move a few notes around, add
instruments, compose new sections, and more.
Though a discussion of the compositing tools in Notion is beyond the scope of
this book, I would like to highlight a few of the basic file management features it offers.
Notion can integrate with both iCloud Drive and Dropbox. Dropbox integration requires
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F I G U R E   7.16 ╇ The user interface for Notion.

you to duplicate the files in Dropbox as separate copies in the Notion app rather than
saving them back to the same location. iCloud Drive integration works as described in
Chapter 4 on Cloud Drives. Notion files stored in the Notion container folder within
iCloud Drive can be instantly viewed and edited from the iPad and iPhone version of the
app. This is a bit of a disruption to my personal Dropbox Score workflow detailed earlier
in the chapter; however, it is worth it to keep more active projects in the iCloud Drive
container so that I can edit them on the fly.
There are some other apps on the App Store that fulfill similar functions to Notion,
in particular, Symphony Pro 4. At the end of the day, they are both very similar apps and
Notion comes out on top because it is more mature software and available on desktop

Workflows for forScore
Dropbox Workflow
By using forScore, you are creating a database that will live locally on your tablet. It is
time to ask yourself a few questions about how you want to manage your file workflow:
Only on the tablet? On a computer with local copies on the tablet in forScore? I have
discussed the limitations of managing files, in particular, on iOS devices and how the

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old method required copying files into the apps in which you wanted to work with them.
For most documents, I try to avoid this by keeping all of my files in Dropbox or iCloud
Drive and referencing the same files from each device. But for score apps like forScore,
you cannot really do this. Even with cloud support for services like Dropbox, you cannot
point to a file to a cloud drive and make edits directly to it; you can only copy it from the
cloud to the forScore library as a duplicate.
At first this was bothersome, but I have come to embrace it. In my Dropbox, I have
a folder called “Scores,” which is where I keep every file that resembles sheet music on
my computer: PDFs, Sibelius, Finale, etc. I enjoy having these clean backups stored in
the same place, accessible from every device. When I use forScore, I prefer that it saves a
new copy into the app, because I usually mark them up a fair bit and attach metadata to
them that I do not want to be associated with the clean copies in the Dropbox.
In this respect, forScore is one of the few places that I duplicate files. It is also one of the
few apps I use on an iPad that stores and edits data that none of my other devices accesses
on a regular basis. This makes my iPad an indispensable tool for my daily workflow.

Use Other Apps when They Do the Job Well
Even if you commit all of your score workflows into forScore, there can still be benefits
to working with scores in more general PDF editing applications. For example, I enjoy
that Readdle’s PDF Expert can run multiple PDFs in tabs at the same time (Fig. 7.17).

F I G U R E   7.17 ╇ Viewing scores in a standard PDF app like PDF Expert.

F I G U R E   7.18   Organizing
setlists in forScore takes time initially but saves a lot of time when you are
in the heat of a performance.

F I G U R E   7.19   forScore’s
playback controls. Playing a professional recording (or a recording of your-
self) right from within the score is always two taps away.

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For a large part of my day, I am juggling a variety of PDF documents relevant to instruc-
tion: seating charts, school schedules, sectional schedules, and more. When I want to be
able to quickly move between my scores and other documents, I will open them in tabs
in PDF Expert. This is particularly useful for the method books I use with each of my
classes, I need quicker access to.

Setlists for Classes, Performances, Quarters, or Units
One of the things that distinguishes a digital score workflow (and a digital anything
workflow, for that matter) is that it takes some time to get set up, though the payoff can
save countless hours. The same is true for the organization tools in forScore. You can
get a lot of mileage out of organizing your files beyond just importing them into the
app. Giving them consistent titles and composer names can make searches a breeze.
But if you really want to get ahead, go wild with setlists. I create setlists to categorize
ensembles, curricular units, gigs, and beyond (Fig. 7.18).
My Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and Jazz Band classes all have a setlist, each
of which is populated with the repertoire I am rehearsing in class each day. I also keep
music organized by quarter at times when it makes sense to see them all together in this
context. There is no limit to how many setlists a score can be a part of. They are like tags
in this respect. I also organize setlists for performances like upcoming winter or spring
concerts, assessments, and festivals. This is great for doing a performance where I con-
duct two or three ensembles in a row. Once setup is complete, the setlist runs linearly
so I just have to keep tapping the right side of the screen and it will take me through the
whole concert.
I also create a setlist for every gig I am on and for each Sunday morning service
I  direct at my church job. The possibilities are endless and setlists serve almost any

Reference Recordings
forScore can eliminate the hassle of score study by integrating the process of listen-
ing, recording, reading, and annotating. forScore documents support the attachment
of audio recordings, both existing and recorded. This means you can upload all of your
favorite recordings of a piece you are working on for quick reference without juggling a
music player app. You can also record straight from the iPad if you want to attach prac-
tice takes right to the PDF (Fig. 7.19).
╇ 149


Audio Management

Organizing extra-╉musical material like documents and notes is an important skill for
the music teacher, but at the end of the day, we are in the business of music. And this
means that one of the file types we deal with most is the audio file. Audio files live on a
computer hard drive just like your other documents. They can be put in folders, opened,
copied, and moved just like other files—╉or a piece of software like iTunes can be used
to manage them.
Apple’s iTunes has become almost synonymous with music library management
over the years. It is not perfect software, but I am convinced there are not a lot of better
options available. iTunes provides an interface for managing audio files that does not
disrupt the actual files themselves. In other words, iTunes tracks can be moved, deleted,
and organized into playlists without the audio files themselves being altered on your
computer’s hard drive. In this way, iTunes is to music as an app like iPhoto is to photos.
These days, it is possible to manage your audio files in the cloud. None of the avail-
able options are perfect, but all of them work well enough to be worth the cost of paying
to sync the files across multiple devices.
Given that iTunes is so widely used, I will begin by explaining the service that
allows you to sync your library across multiple devices: iTunes Match.

iTunes Match
If you manage your music in iTunes, you can pay $24 a year to subscribe to Match.
iTunes Match takes your entire library and finds the songs that are also available on
the iTunes Store. Then it credits your iTunes account with the purchase of these songs
and allows you to stream them from any Apple device (or Windows if you have iTunes
installed). The “matched” songs can also be downloaded and listened to offline. iTunes

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also takes the audio files in your library that it cannot match to the store and uploads
them to the cloud. There is a 100,000-╉song upload limit, a limit that the average user will
not come close to crossing. Up to 10 devices can be connected to iTunes Match.
iTunes Match works well, but it has some bugs. On occasion, a poor connection pro-
hibits me from streaming songs successfully. Sometimes, for what seems like no reason
at all, I wait up to a few minutes for iTunes to begin streaming the song I have selected.
Generally, this issue is more prevalent on iOS devices. Most of my other issues stem
from having a large iTunes Library. I am an archivist. I have ripped thousands of albums
into iTunes, including my entire classical and jazz collections. iTunes Match struggles
with the weight of this library. Not to mention, some of my old and rare recordings are
inconsistently matched. Sometimes part of an album is matched and the other half is
uploaded; other times the album seems to be matched but the album artwork is incor-
rect. Sometimes certain albums or songs fail to upload to iTunes Match for no conceiv-
able reason at all. Apple has not provided strong documentation for interpreting what
iTunes Match is doing. Learning how to manage what is in the cloud and what isn’t is a
headache. Ambiguous icons appear next to tracks that iTunes have problems uploading,
and troubleshooting them is not straightforward (though explanations for them can be
found on Apple’s support website). Even if you understand the icons, troubleshooting
these upload problems for any reason other than that you have reached your file limit
is nearly impossible. Managing what is in the cloud and what isn’t is a problem for me
because I have reached my 100,000-╉song upload limit and wish there were an easy way
to take certain tracks offline and put others in their place. Better yet, an option to pay for
more storage space would solve the problem entirely.
iTunes Match is designed for people with smaller libraries, mostly consisting of
commonplace recordings. If you fit into this category, iTunes Match will work for you.
Even if you don’t, iTunes Match does work, but not perfectly. I have found that the con-
venience of syncing my iTunes Library is worth the annual cost, despite the bugs.
You might be wondering if putting your music library in the cloud is worth the
headache. As I will discuss in the next section, iTunes can be used as more than just
a digital album collection. It can be used as an audio archival tool for managing all
of the audio in your teaching workflow. iTunes has become an essential tool for orga-
nizing concert recordings, grading student performances, and archiving educational
resources. It is now possible to take these tools to the cloud, so that you can share the
same organization with all of your devices.

In recent years, the music industry has been taking a turn. Album sales are down
as consumers look to pay monthly for their music. Steaming services like Spotify

A u d i o M a n a g e m e n t  |   151

are increasingly relevant. They have not replaced my need for an app like iTunes
because of the rare and personal audio files I  work with, but I  continue to spend
more time every passing year finding and organizing more music from within the
Spotify app.
At the least, streaming services are a great supplement to your music library.
Many of them are even free if you use them on only your computer. Modern examples
of these streaming services include Spotify, Rdio, Google Music, and Apple Music.
They are all rather similar, with minor differences relating to cost and features. For
this reason, I will spend most of my time detailing Spotify, which I find has the most
useful feature set.
Think of Spotify as Netflix for audio. Creating a Spotify account and downloading
the app onto your computer allows you to search a database of millions of audio files,
manage them into playlists much like iTunes, stream them, and control them as if you
own them. This means that you can play them back multiple times, pause, rewind, and
Spotify is free on the computer with ads. There are some limitations on mobile
devices, but a monthly subscription allows you to manage and playback your Spotify
library the same way from any device and remove the ads. For example, the playlists
you create on a computer can be listened to from a smartphone but only with ads and
on shuffle mode unless you pay the monthly fee.
Services like Spotify have become successful partly due to streaming radio apps
like Pandora. It is no surprise that the free version of the service is enough for most
users. Personally, I  think of Spotify as more of an archive than a radio station, so
I take full advantage of being able to play any song I like in any order at any time from
a computer, tablet, or smart phone.
The best way I can sell the monthly subscription is to remind you of a teach-
ing moment you have probably experienced before. Everyone has had a spur-​of-​
the-​moment inspiration in front of a class of students where it became clear that a
particular recording could perfectly illustrate a concept to a group of students. When
those moments come, I am a few clicks away from playing anything in the Spotify
database for my class on the speaker-​connected laptop that sits near the front of my
Spotify is Facebook-​connected, allowing for some powerful collaborative features.
For example, I have a collaborative playlist that is shared with the members of my music
department. Any of us can add songs to this playlist and it remains in sync across all
of our devices. Spotify’s user base makes it easy to connect to almost anyone. Spotify
also has easy sharing tools. Songs can be shared by email, text message, Facebook, and
Twitter with the click of a button. Those on the receiving end do not need to have Spotify
installed to listen to shared music because Spotify can run inside a web browser.

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Google Music
Google Music is an amazing alternative or addition to iTunes and Spotify. I mention it
here because it is capable of streaming millions of songs from their database and upload-
ing your own to the cloud. Google Music allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs from
your computer’s hard drive and listen to them from anywhere for free. You can pay
a monthly fee to add Spotify-╉style streaming features, supplementing your personal
library with Google’s.
In some ways, Google Music does a better job than Spotify and iTunes. Google
Music runs on the web and connects to your Google account. This means that, once
uploaded, your files can be listened to from any computer’s web browser once you have
signed into your Google Account. Despite running on the web instead of a dedicated
music application, I have found that Google Music is capable of searching and streaming
large libraries faster than iTunes Match.
If you are using iTunes, Google Music will allow you to download a tool that auto-
matically uploads your iTunes Library, playlists included, to their cloud. Of course,
adding metadata like album art, comments, and other useful information is difficult
to manage once uploaded. And unlike iTunes Match, your music is duplicated into
Google’s service rather than kept in sync across all devices using iTunes. For this reason,
I consider Google Music yet another means of supplementing my iTunes Library, which
I consider to be the true home of my audio files.
If you are using Android tablets or smartphones, Google Music might be your only
stop for both your music library and streaming needs.

Additional Thoughts on Streaming
While none of the music streaming services I have detailed is perfect, they can be used
in combination with one another to get the best of each.
If managing audio in the cloud still seems a little bit too ethereal for your tastes,
you can always use cloud services like Dropbox to simply dump your audio files in and
listen from any machine. Dropbox has yet to provide a solution for listening to audio
files easily, though. In other words, there is no way to get playback controls for listening
to files stored in Dropbox—╉unless, of course, you store your iTunes Library inside your
Dropbox folder. This way you can get the best of iTunes and ensure that a copy of each
audio file is accessible from any computer. You need to have a large Dropbox account
to pull this off, however, and it is not recommended by either iTunes or Dropbox, so if
anything goes wrong, do not expect customer support.

Workflows for iTunes
Let’s assume your entire music library is now syncing across your computer, phone, and
tablet. You have taken a huge step toward organizing your digital music library by doing

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this alone, but there are some great power features of iTunes that most people don’t
know about. I think music teachers should understand these features because of how
essential audio is to our work.

Rip Your Educational Resources and Organize Them
into Playlists
Have you ever created any playlists in iTunes? If so, chances are you have made some-
one a mix tape at some point, or put together a series of tunes that you like to listen to
while at the gym. I have become a little crazy with iTunes Playlists. Long ago, I ripped
every CD that came with a play-​a long, method book, or textbook into my iTunes
Library. These are categorized into playlists (Fig. 8.1). For example, I have a playlist
called “Drum set Method Book Play-​a long,” which contains countless play-​a long CDs
that I can quickly reference when teaching private lessons. Another playlist I created
contains excerpts of orchestral works that contain timpani passages often requested for
auditions which I also reference during private lessons
I create playlists for student work, too. I have playlists for tracking progress on a
particular piece (for example, “The Kings Court Rehearsal Recordings, Quarter 2”) and
playlists containing recordings of adjudications and events that my middle school band
plays (Fig. 8.2). Teachers in the state of Maryland are responsible for writing SLOs (stu-
dent learning objectives) every year that track student data. Anytime I am tracking data
on a performance skill like, for example, tone quality, I always record my students and
organize their recordings into appropriately labeled iTunes Playlists.

F I G U R E   8 .1   Example of my playlists for educational resources in iTunes.

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F I G U R E   8 . 2 ╇ Example of playlists containing my middle school band’s performance recordings.

Organize Playlists into Folders
If you buy into the playlist strategy above, the sidebar of your iTunes Library is going
to be a never-╉ending list of playlists, taking forever to scroll up and down through. This
is why I am glad Apple allows the user to put playlists in folders (Fig. 8.3). My student
adjudication performances, SLO data, and other playlists relating to my school are put
in a folder called “Lake Elkhorn Middle School.” Method books, orchestral timpani
excerpts, and the like are put in a subfolder called “educational resources.”

Add Comments and Other Metadata
Pressing Command + I with a track selected brings up information relating to this track
(Fig. 8.4). This is useful for correcting wrong information about your songs’ track titles,
composers, and other metadata. But you can also get really creative with the data you
connect to your files. In particular, I like the comments field. You can add any text you
want and associate it with a track. One way I have used this is to add comments about
a particular track—╉for example, when I was listening to it, what other people say about
it, who told me about it, or what I am thinking about it. If it is a piece of classical music,
you can type historical information about it or add names of relevant conductors and
performers whose names might not appear in the title or album name. One of my favor-
ite habits is to type the personnel of jazz records into the comments field so I don’t have
to go looking it up on Google the next time I am wondering which pianist is taking that
marvelous solo on the third take of “Cherokee.” Another fun, but tedious, idea is to use
the BPM field to tag a song’s tempo. I have spent some time with this on jazz recordings
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F I G U R E   8 . 3 ╇ A view of my playlist folders.

I want my private students to play along to so that when something is a little too fast or
slow for them, we can easily find a jazz standard at a slightly different but more appropri-
ate tempo. Unfortunately, there is no way to see this useful data when using the music
app on iOS.

Smart Playlists
By clicking that same arrow in the lower left, you can create a magical playlist called a
Smart Playlist that automatically adds songs to it based on certain criteria you set up. A
box will appear on your screen that will be familiar to you if you have ever created a rule
in a mail application of any sort. For example, I have a smart playlist that gathers any
recordings in my iTunes Library that I am featured on by looking for my name in the
title or album name (Fig. 8.5).

Organize Playlists of Student Work
I record my ensembles and students quite often on a handheld recording device that I
dump onto my computer’s hard drive about once a week. I want to be able to reference
these files easily, especially if they are recordings of assessments (Fig. 8.6). It is possible
to do this pretty easily by categorizing them into folders by class and date. This can

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F I G U R E  8 . 4   Holding Command + I allows you to add useful data to tracks.

F I G U R E   8 . 5   Creating
a smart playlist that looks for all recorded solos by Miles Davis after the year
1961. This assumes that his name has been entered in the comment field of tracks he performed on.

be problematic, however, when it comes to playback. Depending on your computer’s
default audio player, these files will open individually, meaning you will be doing a lot of
opening and closing of windows throughout this process. I find it easiest to have them
all in a playlist. This ensures that they automatically cycle from start to finish in the
background without any extra clicking. It also keeps them organized and in sync across
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F I G U R E  8 . 6 ╇ An example of a playlist I use to quickly listen through student performance assessments.

all devices because of iTunes Match. When I use this method, I find that over-╉tagging
my data is not worth the little bit of time it saves. Typically, I will name the playlist some-
thing specific enough that I will remember what it is long into the future and then title
the track name something definitive like “John C’s Playing Test” or “Guitar Ensemble
Recording 2014-╉11-╉28.”

Examples of My Playlists
I have a folder for all of my ongoing musical projects. Each project has its own playl-
ist. This is important because I perform regularly with a funk band, a progressive rock
group, and a string rock ensemble. All of these groups require me to manage audio
files of rehearsals, scratch tracks, and demos. This type of audio defies the traditional
concept of albums and songs. I like to use these playlists to quarantine off these relevant
files so I can see them all in the same place. This could work equally well for recordings
of your different classes. If your recordings of your classes have enough data in them,
you can do this with smart playlists. For example, if you teach a concert choir, you could
create a smart playlist that looks for any song with those words in it and automatically
puts them in that playlist.
My next folder is full of educational resources. This includes prerecorded met-
ronome tracks, timpani excerpts, method book play-╉along CDs, files from other col-
leagues, frequently referenced files in a particular class, etc.
I have a folder of playlists related to my public school ensemble. Inside of it, I have
playlists for all of my school’s concerts, adjudications, and festivals. I  have rehearsal

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recordings, organized by date and ensemble. And I also have some playlists with teach-
ing resources like a “tuning disk,” which is a backup copy of the tuning CD I used to give
all my band students before I moved it all online.

Workflows for Spotify
Share Repertoire with Colleagues Through
Shared Playlists
One of my favorite features of Spotify are the shared playlists. Right-╉click one of your
playlists to share it with other users. I have a few shared playlists with other band direc-
tors who teach in the area where we share music we are listening to and repertoire ideas
(Fig. 8.7). Of course, single songs can also be shared. Your Spotify account has an inbox
where music that has been shared with you appears. You can even engage in a chat with
other Spotify users right in the same place you share music with one another (Fig. 8.8).

Public Playlists
Spotify will also allow you to copy a public link to a playlist to your clipboard so that
you can press Command + V to paste it and share it with someone else (Fig. 8.9). Spotify
playlists can be opened by any user, even if Spotify is not installed on his or her com-
puter, but it does have some limitations for nonpremium users. For example, you will
not be able to listen to the songs of a playlist in their defined order if you do not pay for
the service.

F I G U R E   8 .7 ╇ An example of a shared playlist I keep with some college friends to share music we are
listening to.

F I G U R E   8 . 8  You can share songs with other Spotify users and even discuss the tracks in a chat

F I G U R E   8 . 9  Every
year I read NPR’s Top 50 Albums of the Year review and create a public Spotify
playlist out of them, which I then share on Twitter.

Audio Produced from Within DAWs
like GarageBand, Logic, and Pro Tools
As with the score chapter, teaching creative software like Sibelius and GarageBand is
outside the scope of this book, but that doesn’t exclude the management of the audio
files you produce in such software. Generally speaking, I manage the project files from
such software on the hard drive of the computer I am creating it on. If I am working on
a project consistently and want access to it on the go, I have become comfortable saving
audio projects to Dropbox. I  do not recommend this 100  percent because no audio-​
production software has officially announced Dropbox support, but I have not had any
problems with it. I just have to make sure that I am not logged into the file from two
different machines at the same time.
Once I have bounced the audio from a project into the form of a WAV file or mp3,
I usually put it somewhere I can access it from in the cloud immediately, like Dropbox
or iTunes Match. If you are working with multiple versions of the same project, I suggest
creating a playlist of them in iTunes or a folder for them in Dropbox with the recording’s
file names labeled with the date of creation.
Most Macs have folders on them called Pictures, Movies, and Music. Apple cre-
ative software like GarageBand and Logic will save your projects there by default. I tend
to never have enough space on my computer’s hard drive to keep all of my files in these

F I G U R E 8 .10  Using
the media browser in any of Apple’s creative apps will allow you to drag in
Photos, Videos, and Audio from any of their other apps dealing with that media type.

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folders by default and find myself moving all of my work to external hard drives. It is a
shame these default media folders become useless with this workflow.
Media projects in GarageBand, Logic, iMovie, Final Cut, and Photos can all be
shared within other apps even if the projects are not finalized. For example, Logic can
create a preview of its audio when you close a project that can later be viewed from the
media browser when working with a movie project in iMovie. The way Apple creative
software bypasses the concept of the file system makes sharing content from one app
with another very simple (Fig. 8.10).
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Image, Photo, Video

The role of audio is obvious to the music educator, given that it deals with the data we
are most associated with: music. Whether or not your music teaching job involves a
performing ensemble and the regular need to assess audio, we live in an age where self-╉
promotion and social sharing are becoming more and more necessary professionally.
It is important to know how to promote yourself through quality videos, photos, and
On top of that basic need, there are hundreds of reasons to be competent with
images, photos, and videos. Most music teachers have to make documents, flyers, con-
cert programs, and websites, upload to YouTube channels, and more. Quality media,
edited and put into its appropriate context, will serve our music programs and give our
teaching a professional image.

Files and Folders
Images can be tricky, but if you take the time to organize them, you will be glad you
did. I keep every resource I have in a Dropbox folder called “Images” (Fig. 9.1) Pictures
you like to embed in PowerPoint slides, educational resources, and graphics can be put
into a folder hierarchy within your Dropbox root-╉level folder that makes sense to you.
I tend to just dump them all into a subfolders within my images folder. Some examples
of these are “pictures of instruments,” “musical graphics,” “gifs,” “fingering charts,”
“screenshots,” and more.

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F I G U R E   9 .1 ╇ My Images folder, in Dropbox.

The problem with using the file system is that it is difficult to search through your files.
For this reason, I defer to a few different apps. One of them has already been dealt with
in this book: Evernote. The combination of Evernote and its image-╉annotating sibling
Skitch makes for an effective way to categorize image files. I  simply drag and drop
copies of my files into Evernote and tag them with keywords that relate to them—╉for
example, violin, resource, shape, jazz, etc. Evernote can actually search the text within
images too, so if you can remember a keyword visible in the image, you can search by
it (Fig. 9.2).

Illustrator is part of Adobe’s Creative Suite. It is intended for vector art. Vector art sim-
ply describes digital images that can be resized without becoming pixelated. This con-
trasts with digital photographs, which become distorted and blurry when you zoom in
too far. Illustrator is a great app for designing flyers, posters, seating charts, concert floor
plans, and more. At its most basic level, it works with shapes, lines, and color to illustrate
your ideas professionally. It is a tool for professionals, and you will get the most mileage
out of it if you take the time to study what it can do. I have had no trouble constructing
pretty seating charts by dragging and dropping lines, shapes, and text fields around the
canvas of the app (Fig. 9.3).

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F I G U R E   9 . 2   Searching text in your images with Evernote.

F I G U R E   9 . 3   My seating chart design in Adobe Illustrator.

Given that Adobe created the PDF, Illustrator can play especially well into your
PDF workflow, including all of the PDF apps discussed earlier, by exporting your designs
from Illustrator to PDF.

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Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop has long been considered the standard for photo editing. What
Illustrator can do for creating beautiful digital art, Photoshop can do to touch up
your photos, cut parts of them out entirely, or transform them into entirely new
Like with Illustrator, teaching Photoshop is outside of the scope of this book, but
given my focus on productivity apps, I cannot leave out such a standard piece of the
creative software repertoire. The learning curve is steep, but there is a reason Photoshop
continues to appeal to professional and novice photographers alike: It has continued to
deliver magical editing tools for years without drastically changing the way it works. If
there is one photo editing tool you ever consider adding to your workflow, this is the
software I recommend most.

For a user-╉friendly and cheaper photo editing experience than Photoshop, Pixelmator
is a great alternative (Figs. 9.4 and 9.5). It is only available on OS X and iOS. While this
limits the platform you can use it on, it is also a strength. No other competitor that
comes as close to Photoshop has a fully featured app on iPad and iPhone that rivals its
desktop version.

F I G U R E   9 . 4 ╇ Pixelmator on Mac is a fully featured and cheap alternative to Adobe Photoshop.
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F I G U R E  9 . 5 ╇ Pixelmator
for iPad is one of the most fully featured image editing apps on iOS and syncs
to the Mac version over iCloud.

Pixelmator is hands down the best complete photo editing solution on iOS. But
even on the Mac, the major features of Photoshop are all there, but without as steep a
learning curve. iCloud Drive is built right in and keeps your documents in sync across
Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

Getting creative while editing your photos is only half the battle; managing libraries
of your photos is just as important as editing them. Lightroom is a piece of photo edit-
ing software made by Adobe (Fig. 9.6). Its purpose is to provide a system for managing
large libraries of photos while also offering powerful editing tools right from within the
same window. You will not be able to get the full range of tools that Photoshop offers,
but because it is made by Adobe, you can easily export them right out of Lightroom into
Photoshop and then back again.
Lightroom provides excellent tools for adding metadata to your photos, helping
you to better organize them with dates, locations, events, star ratings, and more. It also
exposes a folder system for organizing the files themselves in any hierarchy that works
for you. Edits can be lifted off certain photos and stamped onto entire groups of photos
from the same shoot. The interface is friendly toward managing high volumes of photos,

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F I G U R E   9 . 6 ╇ The Lightroom user interface.

too, so if you get back from a field trip and have hundreds of photos on your camera,
Lightroom will make it easy to tap through previews of them, trash the bad ones, and
rate the rest without taking your fingers off the keyboard.
Lightroom is accessible by users at all levels. I find myself using it when I am
importing a lot of photos onto my computer from my DSLR camera. For basic mobile
phone shooting, I find that more basic photo apps feel more comfortable.

Photos is Apple’s new photo app for iOS and OS X. The premise of Photos is simple but
has large implications. The idea is that any photo added to the app, regardless of the
device you are adding it from, will sync the photo and its metadata (including edits)
across all of your devices. That means that if you take a photo on your iPhone and launch
Photos on the Mac, that photo will be there waiting for you. If you come home from
vacation and dump thousands of photos from your digital camera into the Photos app
on Mac, they will automatically be accessible from your iPhone and iPad. The syncing
is done through iCloud and costs a monthly iCloud storage fee if you go beyond the free
5 GB of space.
Photos stores all of your photos in a colorful grid that you can zoom in and out
of with a pinch of your fingers (Figs. 9.7, 9.8, and 9.9). Zooming all the way out is quite
a sight. On my computer, I can see all of the photos I have ever owned dating back to
1986. Of course, this includes old family photos that have been scanned via ScanSnap.
By pressing my finger down on the screen, I can scrub through all of these photos and

F I G U R E   9 .7   My Photos Library, all zoomed out.

F I G U R E   9 . 8   My Photos Library, a little bit zoomed in.

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F I G U R E   9 . 9   My Photos Library, all the way zoomed in.

lift my finger to bring me into the photos from that time period. You can also browse
your photos by albums, which you can organize within the app.
Sharing photos is a breeze. You can actually create and view albums shared with
others right within the app (Fig. 9.10). Like its predecessor, iPhoto, you can also make
projects like books, calendars, and cards in the Mac version of the app.
What makes Photos a truly outstanding solution for photo management is the fact
that even the edits sync across devices. If you crop a photo or add some brightness on
the Mac, it appears the way you left it when you pick up your phone to view it (Figs. 9.11
and 9.12). Edits are also nondestructive, which means you can always get back to the
original image.
Photos supports extensions, which are plugins downloaded as third-​party apps
from the Mac and iOS app stores and used from within Photos (Fig. 9.13). For example,
Pixelmator has a Photos app extension built into their app. This means that right from
within Photos, you can click “Edit” and then the “More” button (represented universally
across iOS as an ellipsis) to launch their own customized editing tools right from within
Photos. All edits are saved back to the cloud and are visible on all devices, even those
without the extension installed.
Like iCloud Drive, Photos can be run on the web from any device by navigating to (Fig. 9.14).

F I G U R E   9 .10   Shared photo albums in Photos app.

F I G U R E  9 .11   Take and edit a photo on my iPhone …

F I G U R E   9 .12   … and it shows up just how I left it on the Mac.

F I G U R E   9 .13   The Pixelmator Photos extensions in action.
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F I G U R E   9 .14 ╇ Accessing your photos from

If you are still using iPhoto and think these features sound great, never fear: Upon
first launching Photos, you can directly import all of your iPhoto photos, albums, rat-
ings, faces, locations, and other metadata right into Photos.

Google Photos
Google Photos operates very similarly to Apple Photos. Google’s option is distinguished
by a few things, the first of which is that Google Photos is completely free. There is no
storage limit, either. However, Google Photos automatically adjusts your photos’ reso-
lution to make them slightly smaller, though they claim they optimize all photos to a
resolution that they deem good enough for most viewing and editing.
The second thing Google Photos has going for it, and the one that I  cannot see
any competitor matching any time soon, is its machine learning algorithm. Google
Photos combs through your library to find connections between photos that it can then
draw conclusions about (Fig. 9.15). For example, Google Photos can recognize locations,
weather, people, color, events, and more. You can type in the search “show me pictures
from the blizzard of 1999” and Google will show you results. Google also suggests smart
albums for you based on what it has learned. It can predict who certain people are in
your life and use facial recognition to group them all together. If you have pictures of
a child from birth through adulthood in Google Photos, it will automatically create a
smart album of photos of that person for you.
Google Photos is cross-╉platform and web-╉based. On a PC it can only be used from
a web browser. This means it does not have the power of a fully operational desktop

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F I G U R E   9 .15 ╇ If
I search for “musical instrument,” Google Photos detects photos in my library with
musical instruments in view.

application. It also means that it can be launched on any device with a web browser on
it. On mobile devices, photos are accessed from the Google Photos app.

If the traditional files and folders system is more your style, I recommend keeping your
photos in a Dropbox folder (Fig. 9.16). This ensures that they are on all of your devices
and under your control.
The mobile Dropbox app can automatically take photos from your camera roll and
import them into a Dropbox folder called “Camera Roll.” On the desktop side of things,
Dropbox will ask you if you want to import to that same folder whenever you plug a
camera in.
My one major missing feature from the app is the ability to edit photos. Of
course, if you are not interested in editing from a phone, you can store your photos in
Dropbox, edit them from Photoshop on a desktop, and enjoy the edited versions from
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F I G U R E   9 .16 ╇ All of my photos, automatically backed up to a folder in Dropbox.

Workflows for Photos
Album for Each Event at School
In the Photos app, I keep an album for every event I shoot at school (Fig. 9.17). These
are categorized into folders. Within these folders, I keep archives of albums for school
musicals, concerts, field trips, and festivals.

Tag Every Face
Apple Photos and Google Photos support the learning of faces. This happens automati-
cally on Google Photos. Apple can predict faces, but you have to confirm its predictions
to have photos be associated with those people. If you put the time into this feature, you
will be able to search photos by typing in the name of the person you are looking for.

Add Keywords to Photos
Keywords are like tags. You can add multiple keywords to a photo to be able to catego-
rize or search for them by word.

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F I G U R E   9 .17 ╇ Photo albums of school events I have shot.

Like with Cloud Drives, Use Them All!
I didn’t even come close to mentioning all of the solutions for managing photo and video
in this chapter, and it still might feel overwhelming to think about the options. Like with
cloud drives, there is nothing wrong with using all of the options. I  keep a copy of my
photo library in iCloud, Dropbox, and Google Photos. Though I interact with them mostly
through Apple’s Photos app, it is nice to be able to take advantage of the best features of each.

As with photography, there is a vast array of options these days for editing video. Some
apps that come to mind are Avid’s Media Composer, Adobe Premier Pro, Final Cut Pro,
and beginner options like iMovie.
In my experience, video is trickier to manage than audio and visual files. I think
this is because video fits into a lot of categories. There is entertainment like movies and
TV shows. These files usually get stored in a Movie folder on our hard drive, are viewed
from within an app in which we purchased them like iTunes, or are not really files at all,
but instead streamed content from services like Netflix. Then there are the short video
clips that we take with our mobile phone’s camera. These make sense to store in the
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Photos app because they are taken using the same device and usually the same camera
app. Then, of course, we might have video files we have taken on a third party-╉device
like a Zoom or a digital camera. These are usually the most likely to be stored on our
desktop computer as files in a folder somewhere. Then there are videos that we create in
video editing software like iMovie and Final Cut. Where do those finished videos go?
As you can see, video storage is very fragmented. Let’s say you create a video of your
ensemble’s winter concert using a combination of footage from a DSLR camera and a few
iPhones to get different viewing angles. Then, you decide you want to edit those in iMovie
on a Mac. From there, you want to publish the video somewhere on your computer and
even share it online. The following services, all of which include the ability to organize
video, could be included in the workflow I just described: Photos app (on your phone’s
camera roll), iMovie (for editing), Finder (for managing the files you recorded on your
camera), Dropbox (if you want to save those files to the cloud), iTunes (for publishing and
watching the final video), and YouTube (for sharing it to your ensemble’s channel).
Confusing? It’s actually not so bad. Allow me to explain how I make sense of this

My Video Workflow
For me, TV shows and movies live in the service in which I purchased them. If I bought
them on iTunes, I watch them in iTunes, the Movies app on my Apple TV, or the Video
app on my iOS Devices (why Apple brands the app you watch videos on differently on all
of their devices still makes little sense to me). If a TV show or movie is part of a service
like Netflix, I watch it there, using the Netflix app on whatever device I need to use.
For movies and TV shows that exist as files on my computer’s hard drive, I tend to
keep these backed up on an external hard drive and then point that drive to a service
called Plex (Figs. 9.18, 9.19, and 9.20). Plex media server is an app you can download
for a PC that will take media from various different folders on your hard drive and use
the computer to host those files in the cloud so that they can be viewed from within the
Plex app on mobile devices, other computers, and streaming devices like Apple TV and
Amazon Fire TV. Between Plex and iTunes, all of my movies and TV shows are in the
cloud. Plex is also able to sync photo and music libraries over the cloud.
As for video footage taken on my iPhone or camera, this usually gets imported
into the Photos app on OS X and iOS, where it is synced across all devices alongside my
photos (Fig. 9.21). This makes organizational sense most of the time, given that video
taken on a camera is usually taken alongside shots of the same events.
I often take video using third-╉party recorders like the Zoom Q3 and Flip camera.
Often, I use this as a tool for recording performance assessments, concerts, and other musi-
cal events. Because these third-╉party devices best transfer files to the computer through
the file system, they usually end up in folders on my computer. Generally, I keep it this way
but make sure to store them in Dropbox, where I can access them anywhere (Fig. 9.22).
F I G U R E  9 .18   I keep
miscellaneous video files in folders on an external drive that the Plex app allows
me to stream from any device.

F I G U R E   9 .19   Setting up Plex Media Server online.

FIGURE 9.20  I can even stream my Plex library from an iPhone. I choose to keep movies and home
videos in Plex, but you can put any videos in it you like.

F I G U R E   9 . 21   Video files taken from my phone stay in the Apple Photos app.

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F I G U R E  9 . 22   Video imported from third-​party cameras goes into a folder within my Dropbox folder.

I begin to reconcile all of these different places to play video once I start editing.
iMovie and Final Cut make it easy to draw from footage that is living on your hard drive,
in iTunes, or in the Photos app. I can edit all of this footage together in any way that
I like and then export it as a finished project.
Exporting video introduces some organizational questions as well. Apps like iMovie
generally export video files to the hard drive of your computer. Apple’s iMovie and Final
Cut Pro can also export straight into iTunes if that is where you prefer to view your con-
tent. Apple has also introduced a new iCloud feature for storing your iMovie projects in
the cloud. It is called iMovie Theater, and it is a dumping ground for all of your edited
movies (Fig. 9.23). iMovie Theater is accessed from iMovie. iMovie projects themselves
cannot sync through the iMovie Theater yet, only the final video files you produce with it.
I find it odd that this feature is accessed through iMovie. It is additionally convoluted to
consider that it is yet another place you can store a video file in the cloud on Apple soft-
ware—​iCloud Drive, iTunes, Photos, and iMovie Theater—​and add to this the QuickTime
Player on OS X and the Videos app on iOS for watching the files. The only major benefit I
have discovered with iMovie Theater is that there is an Apple TV app for it, which makes
viewing your finished projects more direct on a TV. Otherwise, I see no benefit and prefer
to store files like this in Dropbox.
iMovie and Final Cut Pro X are also able to publish directly to YouTube. This is yet
another place to consider keeping your files. I strongly recommend having a YouTube
channel for your music department or ensemble for the benefit of promoting your
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F I G U R E   9 . 23 ╇ iMovie
Theater houses your finished video projects and syncs them to iMovie on all of
your Apple devices, including the Apple TV.

program throughout the community. Make sure you still keep a backup copy of the
video on your hard drive.

YouTube is a great educational resource of you learn how to grasp it organizationally.
For example, I show a lot of YouTube videos to my students for the purpose of modeling
superior tone quality on all of the instruments. It is a lot easier for me to find them if
they are organized.
First, I  recommend tailoring your YouTube experience to your interests. Like a
video by a particular user? Subscribe to his or her channel. This isn’t something we often
think to do because YouTube is so proactive about putting content it thinks we want
right in front of us. But by doing so, you are refining the experience so that you see more
of the things that are valuable to you.
Once you have subscribed to some meaningful content, playlists are the most
important thing to get a handle on. I have a ton of playlists (Fig. 9.24). Here are a few

Tone: Videos that model superior tone quality for my ensemble.
Friday Video Feature: I show a short video to my class every Friday. This is where
I save all of the good ones so I can find them later.

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F I G U R E   9 . 24   My YouTube playlists.

Ensemble Repertoire Prep: Working on a particular concert program with a
class? Make a playlist of great recordings of these works and share it with your
Repertoire: I keep a playlist of repertoire I am considering trying with each of my
Favorites: All of my favorite videos (YouTube creates this one by default).
Watch Later: YouTube also supports a Watch Later playlist for storing those
videos you aspire to check out but do not have the time for currently.
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Miscellaneous Productivity Apps

This chapter is dedicated entirely to miscellaneous utilities and apps that will help you
to organize some of the things that have been left untouched so far.

Better Touch Tool
Better Touch Tool is one of the first apps I install on a new Mac (Fig. 10.1). It is entirely
free and allows you to customize trackpad, keyboard, and mouse gestures to do practi-
cally any imaginable computer task.
For example, I created one action that allows me to swipe up with three fingers
to open a new tab in Safari. I have another one that closes the currently running tab in
Safari if I swipe down with three fingers. I swipe left and right with three fingers to move
between my open tabs.
You can be very specific with the gestures: one-╉finger tap, two-╉finger tap, five-╉finger
tap, three-╉finger squeeze, and more. If you can imagine it, it is probably an option. One
of the actions the gestures can trigger are the options in the menu bar from within an
app. So, for example, you can create a gesture that saves a document when you squeeze
with five fingers, or a gesture that undoes a recent typo when you hold one finger to the
trackpad and tap twice with another (Fig. 10.2).

Better Snap Tool
Better Snap Tool is made by the same developer of Better Touch Tool. It does one thing,
and it does it well. If you recall the feature in Windows that allows you to drag a window
to the top of the screen to make it go full screen, you may have noticed that this does not
work on a Mac. Better Snap Tool brings this feature to the Mac (Fig. 10.3). By dragging a
window to the left or right or one of the four corners, you can automatically resize win-
dows and conform them to fit in different halves or quadrants of the screen.
F I G U R E   10 .1   The user interface of Better Touch Tool.

F I G U R E   10 . 2   Setting up a touch gesture in Better Touch Tool.
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F I G U R E   10 . 3 ╇Better
Snap Tool makes your windows full screen when you drag them to the top of
your computer screen.

Alfred is usually the first app I install on a new Mac. At the touch of a keyboard shortcut
(mine is Command + Spacebar), a bar will appear on the screen that will begin accept-
ing text (Fig. 10.4). This bar can launch files, folders, and numerous other actions on
your Mac. Holding Command + Spacebar and typing “seating chart” will pull up all of
the files containing that text and allow me to quickly launch them. Alfred learns which
files I open more often and puts them at the top of the list. After launching that file the
first few times, holding Command + Spacebar and then typing “sea” followed by Enter
was enough to launch the “seating chart” file I was looking for.
Alfred can also turn your query into a Google search (Fig. 10.5). It can launch
applications. It can move, copy, and open files with other applications. If it detects
numbers, it turns into a calculator, handling basic math equations (Fig. 10.6). It is
also a dictionary. Many times writing this book, I held Command + Spacebar, typed
“spell insert word here,” and then copied and pasted the resulting dictionary response
right into this text by pressing Command + C and Command + V (Fig. 10.7). Alfred
also allows you to search your contacts without launching a contacts app. You can
instantly highlight a piece of their contact info and press Command + C to copy that
information to your clipboard (Fig. 10.8). Alfred can also trigger iTunes with com-
mands like “play next track” and perform system-╉wide actions like putting your com-
puter to sleep or shutting it down. See Chapter 11 on automation for more advanced

F I G U R E  10 . 4   Alfred’s bar appears when you hold a predefined keyboard shortcut. Mine is Command +

F I G U R E   10 . 5  After
holding Command + Spacebar, I can immediately start entering text and press
Enter to perform a Google search on it.
F I G U R E   10 . 6  Typing
math equations into Alfred will turn it into a calculator. Press Command + C
when you are done to save the answer to your clipboard.

F I G U R E  10 .7   Starting
with the keyword “define” or “spell” will result in dictionary searches. Pressing
Enter will take you into that entry in the OS X Dictionary app. Holding Command + C will copy the
word to your clipboard.

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F I G U R E   10 . 8 ╇ Typing
in a name of a contact will pull up his or her contact card. Arrow down to the
information you want and press Command + C to copy it to your clipboard.

workflows for Alfred. You will be amazed what you can do on a computer without ever
lifting your fingers off the keyboard.

1Password is another app that I install almost immediately on a new machine. 1Password
sets out to solve all of the basic problems people have with passwords.
First and foremost, it manages them. Ever forgot a password? Never let that happen
again. 1Password will store all of your user names and passwords in an encrypted file
that you can access with one master password (Fig. 10.9).
1Password has a web browser extension that allows you to hold Command + \
to automatically enter your stored user name and password of whatever site you are
on and automatically log you in (Fig. 10.10). 1Password can also securely store identity
and credit card information. Any form-╉fillable webpage that prompts you to enter your
phone number, address, credit card, or email address can be automatically filled out
with a tap of the Command + \ key combo.
1Password allows you to create complex and varying passwords for every website
you use without the fear of forgetting or the inconvenience of typing them all out.
The 1Password browser extension can even suggest passwords for you when you are
signing up for new sites and automatically save them to its database without launch-
ing the app.
F I G U R E   10 . 9  1Password saves all of your usernames, passwords, credit cards, secure notes, and
software serial numbers.

F I G U R E   10 .10  Accessing
the 1Password extension from within a web browser allows you to auto-
matically enter your password when logging into websites.

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1Password supports other types of data, too. You can take encrypted notes from
within the app. You can also take down the serial and version numbers of the software
you own so that you do not have to hunt down the boxes they came in the next time you
get a new computer.
On iOS 1Password can be accessed with your fingerprint for maximum speed and
security. Your 1Password file can be synced over Dropbox or iCloud and is always up to
date everywhere.

Backblaze is a $5-╉a-╉month service that will back up the entire contents of one computer
to the cloud.
Everybody knows someone who has lost gigabytes of data due to a lack of backing
up files. Even if you back up to an external drive or use Dropbox or a service like Apple’s
Time Machine, there is no way to stop certain disasters from happening. No one wants
to lose countless hours of their life’s work or their child’s third-╉birthday photographs
when a hard drive crashes or the basement floods.
It gives me great peace of mind knowing that Backblaze has an additional copy of
all my data on their servers. Using their app, I can pull a file down from their server on
any device at any time.
If, heaven forbid, something does happen to your computer, for a fee, they will even
send you disks or external drives with all of your data on them to get up and running again.
Backblaze is already a steal at $5 a month, but what makes the deal sweeter is the
fact that it considers any connected external hard drives as part of the one machine you
are syncing. If you keep seven terabytes of external hard drives filled with video hooked
up to your primary machine, all of that gets synced.
It is worth mentioning that Backblaze has a strong competitor called Crash
Plan. I  have no experience with Crash Plan but have heard that it is a reliable

Teachers are often in positions of needing to communicate what is happening on their
computer screen. My school’s band website features practice files and tuning drones that
I expect my students to use at home. These resources do require a considerable amount
of knowhow to integrate into practice routines. I  decided I  needed to begin making
screencasts to film myself practicing alongside video footage of my computer screen as
I navigated the site. These could later be shared with my students.
By holding a predefined keyboard shortcut, you can record your screen edit it
into a user-╉friendly, drag and drop interface. It is easy to rearrange footage and call
out items on the screen. By “call out,” I am referring to what you see when you watch
a screencast and see the mouse clicks light up the screen, or the film zoom in on the
mouse’s location.
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F I G U R E   10 .11 ╇ The ScreenFlow user interface.

If you are not interested in the production side of screencasting but want a quick and easy
way to capture a live feed of your computer screen, Tapes is for you. Tapes can be down-
loaded from the Mac app store. At the touch of a keyboard shortcut, you can begin record-
ing your screen. Once you are done recording, Tapes automatically uploads a file of your
recording to their cloud and copies the viewing link to your computer’s clipboard so that
all you have to do to share it with someone is press Command + V to paste it (Fig. 10.12).

Yoink solves an organization problem dear to my heart. A computer only has so much
screen real estate. In the hustle of dragging and dropping media from one app into
another, sometimes you can run out of room. The common example of this that comes
to my mind is when you are trying to attach a file to an email, but the screen is so full of
windows that you have to drag about four windows out of the way just to create a tiny
little amount of space on your desktop where you can drag the file you are trying to
attach. Then you have to shuffle all your windows again to find the email message, and
then you drag the file from the desktop into the email. Of course, now you have to delete
the copy you made on the desktop. This little dance wastes a lot of valuable time.
Yoink is a simple utility that installs a tray on the left side of your computer screen.
When you start dragging a file, this tray slides out from the side so you can drag that file
on top of it. When you do, the tray stays visible, displaying all the files you have temporar-
ily dragged there until you drag them off the tray to wherever they are going (Fig. 10.13).

F I G U R E  10 .12  
Creating a tape automatically copies the URL link to your clipboard so you can instantly
share it with someone else.

F I G U R E   10 .13   Yoink
adds a drawer to the side of your screen where you can temporarily drag items
that you need to move between apps.
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For some great competitors to Yoink, try Unclutter or Dropzone. These apps
accomplish more or less the same thing. Dropzone adds special actions where you can
drag a file on top of a row of icons to automate certain processes. For example, you can
drag a file on top of an email icon to automatically set up a new email with that file
attached. Unclutter adds a temporary sticky note to the interface and a list of items you
have recently copied to your clipboard.

As we move further into the age of digital media, creating and consuming media on the
web is easy for anyone to do. The Internet has experienced a growing number of both
personal and professional blogs. Arguing whether or not you should read them or even
write one (you should!) is beyond the scope of this book; however, if you have already
found a number of blogs that you read regularly, you may have run into some friction if
you are manually going to each of their URLs every time you want to check for new posts.
Blogs use a technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which is a basic
protocol that can handle the publishing and fetching of feeds that use headlines and
text. Apps like Reeder are RSS clients, meaning they can aggregate all these feeds in one
place and allow you to read them more conveniently. Reeder is to blogs what the mail
app on your computer is to Yahoo Mail or Gmail.
Reeder is an eloquently designed Mac and iOS app that allows you to add an
account with an RSS service (for example, Feedly or Feedbin), which you can then use to
subscribe to all your favorite blogs (Fig. 10.14). If you don’t know what Feedly or Feedbin

F I G U R E   10 .14 ╇ The Reeder user interface.

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are, that’s OK; you can set up an account from within Reeder. Pressing the “plus” button
in the upper left and typing in the URL for the blog you want to subscribe to will add it
to your feed permanently. Reeder is therefore like a curated newspaper of web content
that you choose. Reeder is full of easy ways to share the content you read with any of
your social media accounts, “read it later” services, and even Evernote.
I like Reeder for its simplicity of design, but there are a lot of competitors. If you
are looking for more, check out Flipboard, ReadKit (Mac only), Mr. Reader, and Unread.

Day One
Day One is a beautiful journaling application available on iOS and OS X (Fig. 10.15).
Before discovering this app, I used Evernote for personal journaling in an effort to use
fewer apps for more things, but at some point the user interface of Day One captured
my interest because of how well designed it is for entering and browsing journal entries.
After using the app for some time, I stumbled across the realization that it could be
used successfully for measuring my own teaching and my students’ learning. Day One
allows me to create separate notebooks for professional and personal use so my log of
classroom activity can be viewed separately from my journal of steaks I have cooked.

F I G U R E   10 .15 ╇ The Day One user interface.
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In addition to its beauty, Day One is great at adding metadata to posts. Temperature,
time, music playing on my phone, and location are added to each entry automatically,
and I can add pictures to entries myself. Scrolling through my timeline of entries is a
delight. Posts can easily be turned into PDFs and shared with others and also social
media. Or, of course, you can passcode lock your journal and keep it top secret. The
data in this app syncs flawlessly between phone, tablet and computer versions of the

Chatology is an app from Flexibits, the makers of Fantastical. This app adds powerful
search features to the Messages app on OS X.  If you are syncing your text messages
between iOS and OS X, Chatology is a powerful archival tool for finding anything in
your message history. Recently, I was desperately trying to recall a video of a guitarist
I wanted to show my class and could not remember anything about the video other than
that I thought I remembered who shared it with me, that it was on YouTube, and that it
was probably something I had watched in the past three years. I booted up Chatology,
used one of its filtering tools to filter URLs shared in my message history, and within
moments I found the exact link in a message from that exact friend back in 2013.

If you have ever run into a problem with your computer playing a certain file type,
I recommend you download VLC. It is widely loved for its simplicity and ability to open
almost any type of media file. It is a Swiss army knife app that I install on every new
computer I acquire.
╇ 197


Automation and Advanced

Using computers to organize yourself introduces a lot of benefits we have covered
already. Your digitized data will be sharper, easier to search, and in sync across multiple
devices. What we have not covered yet is that you can actually make a lot of actions hap-
pen for you automatically. This is where automation comes into play. There are apps that
can type for you, organize files, send data from one app to another, and set up actions in
some apps to trigger actions in different apps. The world of automation is the last stop on
the computer power user train before arriving at full-╉on coding. In this chapter, we will
review some of my favorite automation utilities and the workflows that take advantage
of them. I will also detail some workflows in this chapter that combine these different
apps with one another (and with others in this book) to chain powerful actions together
behind the scenes, allowing you to divert your attention to more important things.

TextExpander is a OS X and iOS app from Smile Software that allows users to create
custom snippets of text that expand into larger bodies of text upon entry. For example,
I have set it up so that typing “haddress” generates my home address. Typing “pemail”
generates my personal email address. The process works kind of like autocorrect, only
the entry and result can be customized however I want. Figure 11.1 shows an example of
the TextExpander app, complete with examples of my snippets.
TextExpander does not only expand small snippets of text into larger ones; it also
handles dynamic data. This means that typing a snippet like “ddate” can expand the cur-
rent date. Typing “ctime” can expand the current time. TextExpander can also expand

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F I G U R E   11.1 ╇ My library of TextExpander snippets.

text into image files. Whenever I am sharing a headshot for a professional purpose, all I
do is type “myphoto” and TextExpander pastes an image of my face. It can also do things
with your keyboard like press Tab once the snippet is done completing, or move your
cursor to a specific place.
Perhaps my favorite is TextExpander’s support for form-╉fillable text fields. Your
snippets can contain certain spots in which you will be prompted to fill in some fields
or make selections from dropdown menus before the snippet is expanded (Fig. 11.2).
On iOS the TextExpander app is a special keyboard that you can purchase from
the app store. When using this keyboard, all of your snippets work just like on the Mac.
TextExpander has created an API that other developers can plug into their apps so your
snippets will work in their apps without even using the special keyboard. Examples of
these include OmniFocus, Drafts, and Fantastical.
To get a better idea how these features are actually useful, see the workflow section
later in this chapter for examples of my TextExpander snippets.

Hazel is a utility for Mac that allows you to automate actions involving the files on your
hard drive. Hazel allows you to first point it toward a particular folder on your hard
drive. From there, you can set up a rule that looks for specific features of the files in that
folder and then performs actions on them (Fig. 11.3). The interface for doing so is very
similar to creating mail rules in Apple’s Mail app.

F I G U R E  11. 2   An
example of a form-​fillable meeting notes template that triggers when I type “xmeet-
ing.” TextExpander uses dynamic data to determine the start time of the meeting and allows me to
type in the attendees before it expands the text.

F I G U R E   11. 3   Creating Hazel rules is just as simple as creating mail rules.

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F I G U R E   11. 4 ╇ Renaming files with Hazel can draw upon dynamic data.

Hazel can move, copy, rename, delete, tag, and open files. It can also import files
into media-╉friendly apps like iTunes and Photos. Criteria for finding files can include
tags, file types, date opened, date created, date modified, the current time, tags, file size,
contents, and more.
Hazel can add dynamic data when renaming files. You build your new file names
from a pool of building blocks (Fig. 11.4).
As you can see, the possibilities are almost limitless. If you are having a difficult
time understanding what this app does or how it applies to the classroom, read some of
the workflows later in the chapter.

“If This Than That” is a free online service that connects your Internet-╉connected ser-
vices and devices and allows you to create if-╉then statements with them called “recipes”
(Fig. 11.5). If you are logged into both your Facebook and Dropbox accounts through
IFTTT, you can create a recipe like: “If I am tagged in a Facebook post, download that
photo to a particular folder in my Dropbox.”

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F I G U R E   11. 5   An example of an IFTTT recipe.

IFTTT uses the term “channel” to define the services and devices you can connect
to it and the terms “trigger” and “action” to define the “if” and “then” of your recipe.
When you look at all the channels IFTTT is integrated with, you will begin to see the
endless possibilities (Fig. 11.6).
Social accounts like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can be connected, as can
productivity services like Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Docs. Internet-​connected
devices like smart lights and Wi-​Fi power strips can also be connected. IFTTT recipes
can be simple to powerful to just plain fun. Here are some examples of recipes you could
feasibly create in IFTTT:

“If I favorite a song on SoundCloud, then download it to my Dropbox.”
“If I share a video to my music department’s YouTube page, then post a blog post
with it embedded to our music department’s WordPress blog.”
“If the location of my phone arrives or leaves the location of my work, then log
my work hours to a Google Drive spreadsheet.”
“If the forecast in my neighborhood shows snow, then wake me up in the
morning with my Philips Hue lightbulbs tinted blue.”

IFTTT allows you to define what it calls “ingredients,” too, helping you better
customize how actions take place (Fig. 11.7). If you want favorite Tweets to go into
an Evernote note, you can use ingredients to set up the formatting of how exactly

F I G U R E   11. 6   IFTTT channels.

F I G U R E   11.7   Setting up ingredients in an IFTTT recipe.

they appear when they are saved. Each channel connected to IFTTT has different
triggers, actions, and ingredients that their developers have enabled. Some chan-
nels can only be set up as a trigger in a recipe, and others can only be set up as an
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F I G U R E   11. 8 ╇ The IFTTT iOS app.

You can set up and manage your recipes on the IFTTT mobile app, IF (Fig. 11.8).
IFTTT also has mobile apps called DO Button, DO Camera, and DO Note that allow
you to automate IFTTT actions involving buttons, photos, and text notes, respectively.
If this all sounds very scary to you, never fear. The IFTTT community is thriving
with users who have uploaded their own preconstructed recipes. You are free to browse
them, favorite them, and start using them in your own workflows without bothering to
construct your own (Fig. 11.9).

Drafts is a text editing note app by Agile Tortoise that can perform powerful automa-
tion on your text. Drafts is designed with the philosophy in mind that when you need
to write down an idea, you need as few steps and as little clutter as possible to get that
done. When launched, Drafts opens up to an entirely blank white space with a keyboard
so you can immediately begin typing (Fig. 11.10). All of your different Drafts are stored
in an inbox until they are later processed. The front end of getting notes into Drafts is
therefore very minimalistic: You don’t need to think about where your text is ultimately
going to end up, but only on getting it in there. When you decide that you are ready to
process your text, swipe to the right to reveal all your drafts (Fig. 11.11). Select the one

F I G U R E   11. 9   Browsing user-​created IFTTT recipes.

F I G U R E   11.10   Drafts opens up to a distraction-​free white space where you can immediately begin

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F I G U R E   11.11   Swipe to the left to see your inbox of unprocessed notes, archive of processed notes,
and flagged notes.

you want and then swipe to the left (Fig. 11.12). Drafts reveals a powerful action menu
where you can transport your drafts into other apps.
Let’s say that you are at a staff meeting and can’t quite sit still. You have a lot
of other things flying through your mind. You launch Drafts and don’t even need
to do anything before you can immediately begin typing your thoughts. “Email
financial statement to principal’s secretary.” Next. “Order scores from J.W. Pepper.”
Next. Now, without leaving the comfort of Drafts, you begin to take meeting notes.
“Meeting notes, March, 2016.” Now you remember you need to ask your spouse if
she can pick up the kids from daycare on Wednesday next week. Not even a work
thought. You start typing it into Drafts: “Hey honey, the music department is having
a meeting after school next week. Do you think you will be able to leave work an hour
early to get the kids?”
So far, you have entered two tasks, one note, and the body of what could be a text
message or an email into Drafts. When you begin to process these, Drafts is able to send
them right where they need to go. The two actionable items can be sent directly into the
Reminders app. The meeting notes, once finished, can be automatically exported into
Evernote (without even leaving the app). That message to your spouse can be exported
as a text message to him or her without even leaving the Drafts app. Of course, there are
several other options installed by default. You can export drafts to Facebook, Twitter, an

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F I G U R E   11.12   Swipe from the right and tap on the action to process the text of your notes.

email message, as a calendar event, to OmniFocus, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive,
you name it.
Drafts becomes very powerful when you begin to construct your own actions (Fig.
11.13). I often get bright ideas that are low priority but that I might want to reflect on
for inclusion in the next school year. I type these in Drafts and then export them to a
custom action I have created that appends them to the bottom of an existing Evernote
note called “Thoughts and Reflections.” Every summer, I like to take a morning at my
favorite coffee shop and review this note, beginning to plan any big or new ideas for
the next school year. I also find myself in a lot of meetings where it would be useful
to archive the notes but also email them out to other attendees so everyone is clear on
which action items belong to whom. I created a simple two-​step action that takes meet-
ing notes taken in Drafts, syncs them to Evernote in the background, then sets up an
email right from within the app where I can address it to the attendees, press send, and
be on my way.
The barrier to entry with Drafts is low. But if you want to get serious, you can go
as far as to write scripts that will run on your text notes. Again, if this sounds tedious
or scary, Drafts has an online action directory where users are submitting their own
prebuilt Drafts actions. You can tap a button to install these right into the app on your
own phone.
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F I G U R E   11.13 ╇ The user interface for customizing your Drafts.

Workflow is an automator for iOS. If you are familiar with the Automator app for OS
X, this app will feel like its missing cousin on iOS. Workflow allows you to drag and
drop chains of precreated actions that can run all with the tap of a button. Actions are
too comprehensive to cover in this book, but they include things like Find file from
Dropbox, Grab photo, Show Preview, Input Text, Launch URL, Launch app, get direc-
tions, Tweet, Play music, save file, Post to Facebook, Send email, Print, Call, etc.
The app does a great job explaining its premise to you when you launch it for the
first time (Fig. 11.14). It has the user drag the following three actions in a row: “Take
photo with camera,” “Make gif,” “Preview.” When you run this workflow, the camera
automatically launches, allows you to take three photos (the number three is specified
in the “take photo with camera” step), automatically converts the last three photos
from your camera roll into a gif, and then previews it for you on the screen. This is
a whimsical example of how simple and fun Workflow can be. Of course, the action
library contains such a deep range of actions that you can make almost anything hap-
pen automatically.

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F I G U R E   11.14   The
user interface for creating a workflow. Simply drag the steps from the left of the
screen into the middle area to create a sequence. Press the play button at the top to run the workflow.

Workflow actions are run by first selecting the workflow you want to take
place and then pressing the play button at the top (Fig. 11.15). For easy access, you
can take a workflow and make it into an app icon on your home screen. Doing so
will launch the Workflow app, find the workflow you want to run, and run it all in
one tap. The end result is not far removed from creating your own apps. Workflow
actions can also be run from the Today View, which is a screen on iOS devices that
appears when you drag down from the top of the screen. Workflows can also launch
from the share sheet across the entire operating system. This means that when you
are viewing, for example, a website and press the share button, you can customize
actions that appear in the menu. Let’s say you make a workflow that takes any con-
tent on screen, saves it to Evernote, and then addresses an email to your coworker
linking to that content. A workflow like this could be triggered from the share sheet
in any iOS app.
Again, as with many of the apps in this chapter, there is an online gallery of pre-
existing workflows that you can copy into your own library at the tap of a finger (Figs.
11.16 and 11.17).

F I G U R E   11.15   My
workflows. Tapping one takes you into the edit screen. Double-​tapping one auto-
matically runs the workflow.

F I G U R E   11.16   The
Workflow Gallery. You can install premade workflows to the app from here and
even upload your own to the community.

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F I G U R E   11.17 ╇ You
can run a workflow by tapping an icon on your home screen. Workflow accom-
plishes this by creating a URL to run your workflow and then prompting you to save that URL address
the same way you would save a bookmark to the home screen. This method is almost like creating
your own little mini-╉apps.

Launch Center Pro
If Drafts and Workflow sound interesting to you, you might be ready to take it to the
next level. If that is the case, Launch Center Pro is for you.
Launch Center Pro is an app that displays a springboard of buttons when you
launch it. These buttons can be customized to perform powerful strings of automated
tasks. Like Drafts and Workflow, Launch Center Pro has a ton of premade actions that
you can install as buttons in the app. Creating your own actions in Launch Center
requires a little bit of knowhow about the app itself, URL schemes, and x-╉callback-╉url
to really get moving. If you have no idea what I just said and are willing to learn, some
Google searching will give you all the information you need. The website MacStories has
some great coverage on URL schemes for beginners. The app also comes prefilled with
some powerful actions from the start, and it has an action composer to help you make
your own without knowing much else.
Launch Center Pro plays especially nice with other iOS automation apps. Workflows
from the app Workflow (see above) can be set up to launch within Launch Center Pro.
Launch Center Pro also acts as a channel in IFTTT, where it can serve as a trigger
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F I G U R E   11.18 ╇The
user interface for Launch Center Pro is a simple grid of highly customizable
actions that you can run in one tap.

or as an action. As a trigger, Launch Center Pro buttons can cause other channels on
IFTTT to react. For example, pressing a button in Launch Center called “Turn off lights”
could cause the Philips Hue lightbulb channel to respond by turning off the lights in
your home. Launch Center Pro can also be the resulting action of a trigger from another
channel on IFTTT. For example, I have a car-╉connected device called an Automatic that
can tell IFTTT when my car’s ignition is turned on, among many other way cool features.
When IFTTT sees that my car is on, it can send a push notification to Launch Center Pro
on the receiving end inviting me to launch Google Maps when I swipe the notification.
This only saves me a few taps, but it is these little conveniences that make getting
through the tasks of my day a little more frictionless (Fig. 11.18).

Keyboard Maestro
Keyboard Maestro is the supreme automation app for the Mac. It lets you automate
nearly anything on OS X by creating what it calls “macros.” Macros can trigger and be
triggered by such a vast array of situations in OS X that it is impossible to detail them
here. Allow me to give you two examples of my own.

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F I G U R E   11.19 ╇Keyboard
Maestro allows Mac users to create powerful macros that can automate
nearly anything you can imagine. The image depicts my library of custom macros, highlighting one
that launches a new email message when I hold Control + Option + Command + M.

I get the inspiration for email messages quickly, and I like to begin typing almost
as immediately as I conceive of the first few words. I set up a macro in Keyboard Maestro
that triggers when I hold Control + Command + M. This macro looks to see if Mail is
running and, if not, launches the app. Next, it triggers the item from the menu bar under
“File→New Message.” Finally, if the Mail app is not already in the front, it moves it there
so that the cursor is blinking on the inside of the message window and I can begin typ-
ing immediately.
It is rare that OmniFocus is not running in the background of my Mac, but when
it is not, I occasionally type my Control + Spacebar keyboard shortcut for quick entry
and nothing happens. I  created another little Keyboard Maestro macro that looks
to see if OmniFocus is running when I  type that keyboard shortcut, and launches
it if not, so that no matter what, holding Command + Spacebar gets the same result
(Fig. 11.19).

ControlPlane is another automation app for Mac that can make some neat things hap-
pen in the background without you lifting a finger (Fig. 11.20). ControlPlane works with
contexts, rules that trigger them, and actions that result when ControlPlane recognizes
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F I G U R E   11. 2 0 ╇The
user interface for ControlPlane. ControlPlane automatically opens all the apps
seen in this image every time I arrive at my desk. I have trained it to do this by recognizing when the
printer on my desk is plugged in via USB.

a context. I may be simplifying a little bit here. There are more settings than just these,
but once I understood these paradigms, I felt I had a good understanding of the app.
Actions are triggered by first setting up a context: a state in which your computer
is in that causes the desired actions to take place. Contexts can be triggered by a lot of
things. A few examples include attaching a monitor, attaching an audio output device,
attaching a USB device, joining a network, a certain time of day, or when a certain appli-
cation is running in the background. Once a context is triggered, any actions associated
with it will run. Actions include things like launching applications, launching files, quit-
ting applications, connecting to Bluetooth devices, playing an iTunes playlist, running
a script, launching URLs, turning off notifications, and many more. See the workflows
section to get a hang of how I am using this in the classroom.

Automation and Other Advanced Workflows
Keeping Your Desktop and Downloads Folder Clean
with Hazel
I don’t even have to look at your computer to guess that the messiest part of it is probably
your desktop. The downloads folder is likely a close second. These locations are littered

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with months, even years, of files and folders that we are usually too busy to organize.
Hazel is one of the best tools for getting organized because it can automatically move,
delete, and rename your files. One of my favorite tricks is to simply “sweep these files
under the rug.” I have a Hazel rule that looks at my desktop and simply looks for any files
I have not opened in the past week and moves them to Dropbox. This way, I can guarantee
that it is in the cloud, even if I forgot to move it there. If I want it on the desktop for easy
access, chances are that I am opening it often and it therefore does not trigger that rule.
I get more granular with my downloads folder. Chances are I actually want some
of that stuff to live elsewhere on my computer. I set up rules in Hazel to move different
media types to different places. PDFs and other productivity documents get automati-
cally swept into Dropbox after one week. If the files contain certain keywords related
to my job, they get swept specifically into the folder in my Dropbox where I keep my
work stuff. Audio files I download are automatically swept into an iTunes playlist called
“from Hazel,” where they are synced over iTunes Match and can later be categorized
into playlists that better suit them (Fig. 11.21). Video files are moved to an “Unsorted
Video” folder in my Dropbox. Sibelius files are moved to my “Scores” folder. Photos are
imported into the Photos app, installer files are imported into an archive of computer
software on my desktop computer at home, etc.

F I G U R E   11. 21  This
Hazel rule moves any music I  have downloaded into a special iTunes Playlist
called “From Hazel,” where I can then reorganize it however I like.

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The Hazel rules that move files into media apps like iTunes and Photos require the
apps to open, which is very distracting if it triggers while I am trying to work. Therefore,
I have these rules on my home desktop computer so that it all happens when I am at
work using a different machine. Because iTunes and Photos sync data across the cloud,
I can see these files being added to my portable MacBook from my desk at work, but the
rules are actually running on a different computer.

Automatically Generating Seating Charts (Combines
Dropbox, Evernote, Workflow, and Hazel)
You may remember that earlier in this book I mentioned I am always looking for an
easier way to manage my seating charts. In that chapter I mentioned that I was creating
them in Adobe Illustrator and then taking screenshots of the final chair layout, which
I  then made into a custom paper in the note-​taking app Penultimate, where I  could
draw on it.
I have been experimenting with an entirely new way to manage this problem that
I am quite proud of. Allow me to highlight again the problem I am trying to solve.
I want to show up to class every day with a fresh copy of my seating charts on my
iPad, where I can then scribble notes on them that I later use to determine rehearsal
participation grades. Once I scribble on a seating chart, I want to save it to Evernote or
some other location where it is easily viewed with the others from that week while I am
grading. I want all this to happen in as few clicks and taps as possible. Here is how I am
doing it now.
First, I  design the seating chart in Adobe Illustrator (Fig.  11.22). Every quarter,
after I give a new seating test, I change the names that appear on top of the seats to reflect
the new arrangements. Then, I save this Illustrator project as a PDF, which I store in the
same folder as the templates. This folder, labeled “Seating Charts,” is within my Dropbox
account (Fig. 11.23).
Next, I  created a two-​step workflow in the Workflow app on my iPad called
“Symphonic Band Seating Chart.” The first step of this workflow looks for the seating
chart PDF in my Seating Chart folder. The second step prompts me to open it in an app
of my choice. The app of my choice is Documents, by Readdle. I have set this workflow
to launch by tapping a button in the Today View, a screen on the iPad that is one swipe
away (Figs. 11.24 and 11.25).
Now, in Readdle’s Documents 5 app, I have a fresh copy of that seating chart in
a tabbed interface along with all my other important documents for the day:  school
schedules, method books, lesson plans, and more. It takes one tap to put Documents
into annotation mode and start scribbling (Fig. 11.26).
At the end of the day, there is a marked-​up copy of a seating chart for each
class  I  taught. My next step is to move them into iCloud by simply dragging the file
thumbnails on top of the word iCloud. These files are now in sync with all of my Macs
in iCloud Drive.
F I G U R E  11. 22   My
seating chart design in Adobe Illustrator. You can easily create something like this
in any basic vector drawing app or even create it by hand and scan it in to your computer.

F I G U R E   11. 23   The PDF version of my seating chart sits in a folder called “Seating Charts,” which is
in my Dropbox.
F I G U R E   11. 24   This
workflow has two steps. First, it looks for the file depicted in Figure 11.23. Then
it prompts me to open a copy of that file in another app.

F I G U R E   11. 25   Once I run the workflow, this is what it looks like when I am prompted to open the
file in another app.

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F I G U R E   11. 2 6   Editing the seating chart in Documents 5 looks like this.

My desktop Mac at home has a Hazel rule that is looking for PDFs in iCloud that
contain the name of the seating chart file. Once it finds them, it renames them to include
the day’s date, and then performs a fancy bit of AppleScript on them that saves them as
PDFs to Evernote notes, tags them “seating charts,” and categorizes them in a notebook
called “Weekly Rehearsal Data” (Figs. 11.27 and 11.28).
At the end of the week, I  open this notebook and hit the arrow down to cycle
through all the days of the week (Fig. 11.29). Reading the scribbles, I generate a weekly
grade for each student. The scribbles tend to be shorthand like “NI” for no instrument,
“NP” for not participating, and “PP” for poor posture.
This may seem complicated, but allow me to review. I launch the Today View
and tap the icon to launch the workf low (a drag and a tap). Next, I select to open
the file in Documents (one tap). Now I am able to draw on the seating chart.
After the seating charts are annotated, I drag their thumbnails overtop the word
iCloud and they are synced to my Mac, where Hazel grabs them and puts them
into Evernote. With a few drags and taps a day, very little headache, and absolutely
no paper, I am able to automate my entire process for collecting rehearsal data on
students, an entire 40 percent of my personal gradebook breakdown. This allows
me to focus on informal observation and authentic assessment rather than data
F I G U R E   11. 27   The files from Documents 5 appear in the Finder on my Mac just as I left them.

F I G U R E   11. 2 8  My Hazel rule that moves the annotated seating charts from the folder on my Mac
into Evernote.

F I G U R E  11. 2 9   Navigating through weeks of seating chart data is easy once it is backed up and orga-
nized into Evernote.

If you are using an iPad Air 2 or newer, you can drag from the right side of
the screen to open another app alongside your seating chart. If you have invested
in the forScore app discussed in the score management chapter, you can now
have your seating chart and scores for the day on the screen at the same time
(Fig. 11.30). You can even annotate them both at the same time using a finger or
an Apple Pencil.
An alternate version of this workflow could save you a few steps, especially if you
are not interested in using Hazel or AppleScript to move the files on your Mac. When
Workflow prompts you to select an app to open the seating chart in, you could select
Notability instead. Notability allows you to draw right on top of PDFs without clicking
any extra buttons. It is also a note-​taking app like Evernote, so there is no need to run
Hazel or AppleScript to get it onto your Mac. The iPad version of Notability simply syncs
the files to the Mac version.
Parents will love you for collecting this data. The first time a student ever got a C in
my class after I was using this workflow, his father demanded to know why his grade was
so low in our parent–​teacher conference. I booted up Evernote and cycled through a few
days’ worth of seating charts from the past quarter. The father was shocked to see how
many notes I had taken overtop his son’s name to indicate disruptive behavior and lack
of participation. He thanked me for collecting such detailed data and told me to expect
improvement in his son’s behavior immediately.
F I G U R E   11. 3 0   Using
the iPad Pro to view daily seating charts and scores side by side. Using this combination eliminates almost all of
the paper I need during an average rehearsal.

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TextExpander (Instruments, Meeting Notes,
Automatically Generating Lesson Plans,
Automating Emails)
Earlier, I discussed the vast potential of TextExpander. Here are several more examples
of how I am using it to automate text.
Many of my snippets are abbreviations for longer words. All of the primary instru-
ments have snippets in my library (“bd” = bass drum, “tpt” = trumpet, “euph” = eupho-
nium, etc.). I  also have abbreviations for classes (“cb”  =  Concert Band), for periods
(“pd7”  =  Period 7), and for commonly typed method books (“ISDS”  =  Intermediate
Snare Drum Studies).
Next, I  automate different personal information like phone numbers, email
addresses, and email signatures. “wsig” expands my work signature and “psig” expands
my personal signature. I commonly share the URL to my band’s sectional schedule, so
I created the snippet “sectionallink” that expands that URL.
I have also automated entire emails. I deal with about 100 kids on a regular basis.
I am responsible for teaching all of them and, therefore, maintaining informative and
supportive relationships with their parents. Keeping parents informed when half of them
are asking me very similar questions throughout the week can be tedious and frustrating.
I recently started creating TextExpander snippets for these interactions. Often,
parents ask about my weekly playing chart assignment. I typically organize my response
to these questions in the same way, so I  decided to create a snippet, “xpchart,” that
expands the message when typed into the body of an email (Fig. 11.31).
While I  aim to make my rehearsal timing air tight, students get let out late on
occasion. Class transitions are chaotic, but I still like to take the time to immediately
tell the staff that these students are excused to their next class. It only takes a couple of
taps on the iPad or Mac to send the email depicted in Figure 11.32 to the staff using the
abbreviation “xlate” in the body of the message.
Notice some funny text appearing in the middle of that message. This is another
fantastic feature of TextExpander. When I type in an abbreviation, I can choose to have
TextExpander show a popup window with some fill-​in fields before it expands the text.
In this case, I want the email to reflect the class I am sending out late and the amount
of minutes late they can be excused. See what this process looks like in Figure 11.33. It
seems like multiple steps, but it is really just a few keystrokes.
Speaking of the fillable-​form snippets, I have a great one that automatically gener-
ates sub plans for me based off a DVD series I use frequently. My school owns Leonard
Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts series. It is my personal preference not to let my
students play their instruments while I am out if I did not arrange for a sub with a musi-
cal background. On the occasion that I could not secure one, I will sometimes leave the
standard video and reflection plans behind. The snippet “xsubplans” brings up a popup
menu, allowing me to choose the DVD number and chapter and type some reflection
questions in the larger text field. When this snippet is entered into a word processor, I
have an instant template for a sub plan involving one of the videos from this series.

F I G U R E   11. 31   My
default email for answering parent concerns about my “playing chart” assignment
can be typed using only seven keystrokes.

F I G U R E  11. 3 2   My
automated message for informing teachers in the building if I let a class out late is
triggered by just a few keystrokes.

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F I G U R E   11. 33  I  am
prompted to choose which class  I  am letting out late and how many minutes
late they will be when I use this snippet. TextExpander writes the message according to the options
I select.

Drafts Custom Actions (Combining TextExpander,
Evernote, Email, Reminders, and OmniFocus)
I shared earlier that I have some custom Drafts actions that append existing notes.
I have another one for documenting conversations I have with parents. When I speak
with a parent, I boot up Drafts, expand the current date and time using TextExpander
dynamic snippets, and then take a few notes about the conversation. By tapping the
“Append Phone Log” action, the notes get added to my log of parent contacts.
I also explained my workflow for taking meeting notes above. Using
TextExpander, I set up a snippet in which I type “meetingnotes” to set up a tem-
plate for meeting notes (Fig. 11.34). TextExpander prompts me to enter the names
of those in attendance and fills out the template in the body of text. My template
for meeting notes contains a spot where I can assign each attendee action items. I
have set up this template so that the @ symbol appears before each of my tasks and
the dash symbol appears before everyone else’s action items. When I run my Drafts
action “Meeting Notes to Evernote/​OmniFocus,” four steps happen. First, the notes
are saved to Evernote. Second, a script is run that separates all of the lines following
the @ symbol. The third step takes those lines and adds them as tasks in a particular
list in the Reminders app that OmniFocus pulls into my OmniFocus inbox. Finally,
Drafts sets up an email with the notes in the body that I can send to everyone else in
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F I G U R E   11. 3 4 ╇ My meeting notes template in TextExpander once it has been expanded into Drafts.

Workflows and Launch Center Pro Actions
I have a few other workflows that I use on a daily basis. One of them automatically
searches for a file in Dropbox that contains the school’s schedule and previews it for
me. Another simply opens the URL to my Google Spreadsheet that contains my band’s
sectional schedule (Figs. 11.35 and 11.36). Both of these workflows are mapped as but-
tons to Launch Center Pro. Launch Center Pro actions can be launched on the new
iPhone 6S using the 3D Touch technology (Fig.  11.37). When I  turn on my phone,
I  hard press the Launch Center Pro app icon to bring up a list of frequently used
actions. While holding, I drag my thumb up to one of the two workflows listed above
and release. This allows for one-╉tap schedule viewing on my iPhone, which is much
faster than fussing through a stack of papers on my desk to find the document I am
looking for.

Scripts and Automations with Alfred
In the previous chapter, I discussed Alfred. While Alfred excels in finding applica-
tions and files on your computer, it can also automate actions that usually take mul-
tiple frustrating steps. One of my least favorite things to do on OS X is move, copy,

F I G U R E   11. 35   This workflow opens my sectional schedule in the Google Sheets app.

F I G U R E   11. 3 6  This workflow finds a copy of my school’s schedule in Dropbox and allows me to
preview it.

F I G U R E   11. 37  Using 3D Touch shortcuts on the iPhone 6S to launch my workflows with Launch
Center Pro.

F I G U R E   11. 3 8   Command + Control + Spacebar allows me to act upon selected files in the Finder.

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and open files within multiple different apps. Alfred allows you to create a special
keyboard shortcut where you can act on files in natural English. Mine is Control +
Command + Spacebar (Fig. 11.38). When a file is selected in the Finder, and I hold
this key combination, I  can type in “move” followed by Enter and Alfred will ask
me where I want to move the file. Now, I can begin typing a location (for example,
“Dropbox”) and press Enter, and Alfred will move the file to that location. Alfred
remembers which actions and locations I  type into it the most. Once I  have per-
formed the action above enough times, all I need to do is highlight the file, type “m”
for move, press Enter, type “d” for Dropbox, followed by Enter, and the entire action
takes place (Fig. 11.39).
Alfred allows you to create workflows similar to Keyboard Maestro, only using a
much more user-​friendly interface (Fig. 11.40). By dragging and dropping some blocks
and text together, you can create simple actions. I have a lot of these that launch URLs
and applications. Holding Option + D opens my Google Drive on the web and Option
+ W opens Microsoft Word.
Alfred can also use keywords to trigger scripts and automations. I  have created
an automation using the OS X Automator app that eliminates a lot of steps when merg-
ing PDFs. All I have to do is highlight all of the PDFs in the Finder that I want merged,
trigger Alfred with Command + Spacebar, and then type “merge.” Alfred takes these
selected files, merges them into a single PDF, and deletes the old copies.

F I G U R E   11. 3 9   Once
I select an action like, for example, “Copy To …” and press Enter, I am able to
choose my destination folder, all without lifting my fingers off the keyboard.

F I G U R E   11. 4 0   Creating an Alfred workflow.

F I G U R E   11. 41  The
Rules tab in the ControlPlane settings allows me to choose how “contexts” are
triggered. The desk context is triggered when I plug my computer into a USB printer, and the class-
room context is triggered when I plug my computer into a projector.

230  | D i g i ta l O r g a n i z at i o n Ti p s for M u s i c Te a c h e r s

Using ControlPlane to Put Your Computer
in Classroom and Desk Mode
I have set up two ControlPlane contexts to understand the different situations in which
I use my Mac at work. When I am at my desk, I usually have certain peripherals plugged
in and use certain apps to get work done. When I am in the classroom, my computer is
usually plugged into a projector and displaying a Keynote presentation for my students.
I have set a context called Desk that is triggered by a rule defined by having my
printer plugged in via USB (Fig.  11.41). When this context is triggered, a few actions
occur. Common productivity apps like OmniFocus, Mail, Notes, and Calendar are
opened. URLs taking me to my sectional schedule and gradebook are launched in Safari.
When I plug my Mac into the projector in my classroom it triggers a context called
Classroom that closes all productivity apps, launches Keynote, and puts my computer
in “do not disturb” mode so no notifications appear on my screen while I am teaching.



1Password, 188 collaborative playlists, 151
comments, 154–​155
AdBlock, 9 contacts, 42–​49
Adobe Contacts Cleaner, 47
Acrobat, 109, 111 Contexts, 53
Illustrator, 75, 164, 215 ControlPlane, 212, 230
Lightroom, 167 Crash Plan, 190
Photoshop, 166, 174
Reader, 109 Day One, 194
AirTurn, 129 Descriptive Search, 65
Alfred, 185, 225 Document Picker, 93
Amazon Fire TV, 177 Drafts, 4, 198, 203, 210, 224
Android, 5, 9, 43, 152 driving times, 41
Apple Dropbox, 4, 83, 99, 113, 117, 119, 122, 127, 129, 141,
Calendar, 36 144, 145, 152, 160, 163, 174, 176, 200, 201,
Mail, 20 206, 207, 214, 215, 228
Music, 151 Dropzone, 193
Pencil, 220 due dates, 55
Photos, 161, 180, 175, 176, 214
TV, 177 email, 10, 16, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 48, 53, 65, 67, 71,
Automatic, 211 75, 79, 87, 88, 98, 101, 104, 122, 151, 188, 191,
Avid Scorch, 141 197, 205, 206, 208, 212, 222, 224, 230
client, 17
Backblaze, 190, rule, 25
Better Snap Tool, 183 Evernote, 4, 39, 28, 46, 63, 103, 107, 117, 127, 163,
Better Touch Tool, 183 194, 201, 206, 208, 215, 224
Bluetooth, 129, 213
bookmarks, 14–​15 Facebook, 45, 47, 151, 200, 201, 206, 207
Box, 98 Fantastical, 36, 198
BPM, 154 Final Cut Pro X, 161, 180
browser extensions, 7 Finale, 141
business cards, 68 Finder, 4, 84, 94, 113, 177, 228
BusyCal, 34, 42, 45, 48 flags, 55
BusyContacts, 42, 45, 48 Flip camera, 177
Byword, 87 foot pedal, 129
Forecast, 55
calendars, 32, 47, 75, 230 forScore, 127, 141
camera, 207 Fujitsu ScanSnap, 68, 78, 101, 168
Chatology, 195 FullContact, 44

234  |  I n d e x

GarageBand, 160, 161 OneDrive, 91
Getting Things Done (Allen), 50 PowerPoint, 163
GIF, 207 Word, 86, 110, 228
Gmail, see Google Mail
GoodReader, 114, 122, 123 Netflix, 151, 177
Google Notability, 4, 71, 220
Calendar, 34 NotateMe, 141
Chrome, 7 notes, 4, 230
Docs, 89 Notion, 144
Drive, 89, 113, 117, 127, 129, 201, 206, 228 Numbers, 93
Inbox, 21
Mail , 20, 65, OmniFocus, 4, 28, 47, 49, 198, 212, 224, 230
Maps, 211 OneNote, 4, 73
Music , 151, 152 Open In..., 86
Photos, 173, 175, 176 Optical Character Recognition (OCR), 69,
Sheets, 89, 117, 201, 225 101, 111
Slides, 89 Outlook, 4, 37

hand writing recognition , 71 Pages, 93
Hazel, 198, 213, 215 Pandora, 151
Paperless Music, 135
iBooks, 119 PDF, 5, 29, 64, 68, 69, 71, 77, 78, 86, 101, 102, 103,
iCloud Drive, 87, 92, 99, 104, 113, 129, 144, 106, 109, 117, 126, 127, 135, 165, 214, 215,
168, 215 220, 228
IFTTT, 59, 200, 211 Converter, 117, 126
IMAP, 19 Expert, 113, 114, 122
iMovie, 161, 180, 190 PDFpen, 111, 124, 126
iMovie Theate, 180 Penultimate, 69, 76, 215
Instagram, 201 Perspectives, 57
Instapaper, 46 Philips Hue lightbulbs, 201, 211
intonation, 79, 107 Photo extensions, 170
invites, 41 photocopier, 54
iPhoto, 173 Pixelmator, 93, 166, 170
iTunes, 149, 180, 152, 153, 213, 214 playlists, 153, 157
Match, 149, 160 Plex, 177
Store, 149 POP, 19
iWork, 89 Preview, 109, 111
principal, 54
Keyboard Maestro, 211, 228 Print, 207
Keynote, 93 Pro Tools, 160
Kindle, 120 public playlists, 159

Launch Center Pro, 210, 225 quick capture, 64–​68
lesson plan, 51, 63, 75, 78, 81, 215, 222
LinkedIn, 45, 47 radio, 151
Logic Pro X, 160, 161 Readdle documents, 113, 122, 123, 215
Reeder, 193
Mac App Store, 191 reminder, 4, 32, 42, 49, 51, 67, 75, 224
mail server, 19 Review, 56
MailTags, 28 RSS (Really Simple Syndication), 193
maps, 41 Safari, 7, 230
meeting notes, 75 Reading List, 11
metadata, 154 SaneBox, 26, 31, 32
Microsoft Scannable, 103
Office, 89, 91, 110, 111, 126 scanner, 101, 102

I n d e x  |   235

Scanner Pro, 104 Today View, 208
ScreenFlow, 190 Todoist, 4, 55, 59
seating chart, 75, 76, 123, 215 Toolbar, 11
set list, 129 Twitter, 45, 151, 201, 206, 207
share sheet, 9, 10, 12, 208
Sibelius, 141, 214 Unclutter , 193
Siri, 36, 51 unReal Book, 135
Skitch , 71, 76, 119, 163
Smart Playlists, 155 VLC, 195
SoundCloud, 201
Spark, 22 web browser, 7
Spotify, 150, 152, 158 Web Clipper, 65
WordPress, 201
tag, 2, 9, 20, 28, 33, 36, 37, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 55, Work Chat, 79
58, 59, 65, 66, 68, 128, 135, 148, 151, 154, 157, Workflow, 208, 210, 215, 225
164, 175, 200, 218 Wunderlist, 4, 61
Tapes, 191
task management, 49 Yoink, 191
TextExpander, 197, 222, 224 YouTube, 177, 180, 201
Things, 4, 55, 55, 56, 58
to-​do, 4, 42 Zoom Q3, 177