A first!

I became a granddad for the first time recently.

I won’t dwell on all the emotions one feels, though they are many and deep.

It just made me wonder what sort of world this little baby will inherit in a technological sense. Times tables and slide rules were the high tech of my schooldays. Will his be characterized by 3D smart boards and paper-thin tablets? By as yet unconceived devices and their stunningly complex algorithms? By technology innovated and developed by machines themselves?

Almost certainly, but that doesn’t overwrite the curiosity and interest students must bring to learning. Technology can help a good teacher to clarify, explain, demonstrate, but without engaged students there is no real learning.

So will educational computer programs become like games? Some will, and they’ll succeed very often. But I hope others will be seen as cool skill-trainers which empower students in ways hitherto impossible to achieve.

Schools which provide time for students to sit at a computer and do a touch-typing course are empowering them with an incredibly useful skill for life.

Kids whose parents send them for lessons to learn a musical instrument will end up thanking them and their lucky stars even if they rarely play, because they’ll be able to if they want to. I have promised to pay for my grandson’s future piano lessons.

It would also be grand to think that he might also benefit from my next app – the primary school classroom Music Reading Trainer for descant recorder. It’s nearly ready to take into neighbouring schools for testing.

3D? No. Stunningly complex? Not really.

But in its own small way also a first.

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Content vs Bells and Whistles

An app is never finished. Just when you thought you could tear yourself away from it and do something normal you realize it needs another touch.

My beautiful fully-functional music reading trainer app looked terrific for a while. Now I know it has to be in colour. All black and white is too austere. I have to become a painter too.

So I’ve started to put colours in where I can for the next edition and it does look different – more appealing, more familiar, more like a game.

There will also be progress rewards – You’re halfway through the course so your Status is Skilled and your Rating is Three Star. Am I pandering? is this over-kill? Won’t my valued customers feel condescended to?

Knowledge of coding – or of music for that matter – melts into insignificance in comparison with knowledge of people. What are the triggers to their dedicated interest? What do they seek besides the offered musical skill – that elusive something which must be present for them to proceed to check-out? Is it all swipes and beeps and simple repetitive challenges?

Do all apps have to provide escapism? Actually, I hope so as my next one is on the way – a DIY karaoke app with all the bells and whistles, cute little features and hours of fun. I hope. Will I have got the people-watching right with this one?

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My Tour Of America

If I had to get a job then I’d choose to do just what I’m doing now – emailing the world about my app.

I’ve emailed Great Britain – well lots of it – informing guitar teachers and music shops, hundreds of them.

Now I’m emailing America!

Yes, it’s ludicrous. Beyond reasonable. Like deciding to jog round the world backwards or take up ballet at the age of ninety. But I love it.

All the websites are to do with my great passion, the guitar. And they all have their own feel. The best ones have sound tracks or videos and I always give them a listen and make a P.S. comment at the end of my email.

It’s sublime to make contact with others who share my passion, even in a fairly distant way.

The only suggestion I’d make to change them is to remind them to mention their names. Often you read ‘We have been teaching guitar for…’ but don’t say who ‘we’ are. But that’s the only change. Long live the endless variety of styles.

I even come across some surprising stuff. For instance, in Berkeley CA there is a company which makes guitar hangers. You can hang your guitar in a wardrobe just like a shirt. Ingenious. Perfect for students for example. Check them out at www.theguitarhanger.com.

Yes, I’m enjoying my tour of America.

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Now for the hard bit…

Now for the hard bit – the marketing.

How could it be difficult, I ask myself, with such a beautiful product at such an attractive price? Doesn’t the latest version have full tempo control with a new handy BPM display? Isn’t the UX now streamlined to perfection? Yes, but.

How to make it stand out from the millions of other apps in the stores? How to make it rise up the listings to become the darling of the search engines?

Visibility is the key word and the key word is ‘keywords’ – one to three-word strap-lines which quintessentialise what searching customers are looking for. The more they are searched-with, the stronger they become. The more of the strong ones you can use, the higher up the listings your app goes. It’s vital stuff. People take degrees in it.

So I’ve been delving into that. I’ve also been doing some good old-fashioned slog.

Two email campaigns are in progress. One is to inform guitar teachers about iReadGuitar and iReadGuitar Pro and the other is to similarly inform guitar suppliers.

So far I’ve reached over 250 guitar teachers and nearly as many guitar shops. I slog through Yell.com town by town, sending individual emails.

Most Wednesdays I spend a few hours at Leicester DeMontfort University’s Innovation Centre where there is a Start-Up Cafe get-together. Basically, IT people sit around a large table with their laptops, getting on with their projects and occasionally chatting.

I was slogging away last Wednesday when one of the guys asked, in incredulous tones, if I was actually sending individual emails. Yes, I replied, trying not to feel suddenly foolish. I paste in the main letter, I protested in self- defense. I just type in the email address and the subject line.

Get a scraper, he advised in the same way a doctor would advise you to stop smoking, and then proceeded to explain what one was.

It’s an app which harvests email addresses. You use it to send multiple messages at once.

I Googled it and had a look. My gut instinct was that if it was a clever shortcut then it would look like spam and be treated accordingly. So I continued to slog, despite the shrug of disbelief from my esteemed colleague.

So if you get an email from me you can be sure it isn’t spam.

Slog. I don’t mind it. It’s better than daytime TV and it’s the only zero-budget way I know of telling the world about my beautiful app.

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Google It!

In the seven years I have been coding moments of sheer delight have occasionally sprinkled the long hours spent scrambling up that old learning curve.

The first time you get something to appear on screen sets you off crowing with delight. So does your first sound or that milestone first fully-functioning sequence.

You get equal joy from that first glimpse of your website or of your app, up there in the real digital world on an app store. Harry Potter could not have been more thrilled by his first spells.

The most recent is Googling ‘iReadGuitar’. The store entries and website are right at the very top of the listings! It’s the same with ‘IREADGUITAR’ and ‘ireadguitar’.

Well, I suppose that’s not surprising. After all, ‘I read guitar’ does not produce the same happy result. Ah well.

So a new tactic is called for. Now that Version 2.0 is up and running – with vastly improved UX – I have placed a challenge out there too, a call to action: ‘Serious about your guitar skills? ‘iReadGuitar’ – Google it!’

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I have just run full-speed off the top of a cliff.

Feedback after the iReadGuitar Pro initial Apple App Store launch invited major changes regarding UX. Lots of them.

So I’ve been working flat out to produce new visuals, allocate them x and y coordinates, Photoshop alternative versions of a thousand things and then lie awake half the night wondering what else needs improving.

I’m happy with the result so far. We’ll have to wait and see if the new version is user-friendly enough but I think it probably is now, What a relief, Take a look for yourself in a day or two when it it’ll be on the Store and Google Play.

But what do I do now? I’m still free-falling through the sky like someone shot from a circus canon.

Play the guitar maybe? While moving at this speed? Read a book? Impossible. Take the dog for a walk? Hang on, haven’t got one.

Maybe I’ll start with something simple like a haircut and a coffee in town. Enjoy a normal lifestyle and begin to slow down.

I haven’t hit the ground yet but experience tells me it won’t take long. Feedback never stops.

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Read Music? Of Course I Should!

I was standing at a bus stop just earlier, on my way home from a Saturday afternoon drink in a favourite bar. It was raining and we were all crammed in under the bus shelter roof.

I overheard a conversation between two lads. “I remember when we first met six years ago. I was eleven,” said the first. “Yeah,” replied his pal. “I was ten.” So young, I thought, not without a touch of regret.

The older one palmed his phone and said, “I’m going to Google the weather.” After a pause he announced, “It shouldn’t be raining.” Pause. “Oh, yes it should.”

The particular favourite bar I had been to is run by a patron of the arts. A guitarist himself, Russ appreciates good locally-produced music and gives well-paid gigs to local musicians. He understands that the public want a little more than piped music and grog, especially at the weekend.

So I put an idea to him. I’d had this idea quite some time ago but often ideas have to wait for their time to come in order to succeed. It’s a simple idea and I’m sure it’s only new in Leicester:

Three bars hire three solo acts for the evening. Each act plays a half-hour set in each of the three venues. Act A sets up in Venue A but then goes to Venue B to play their first set, using Act B’s sound equipment.

Then Act A goes to Venue C for their second set and after that to Venue A again for their final set.

Acts B and C are doing the same in the other venues.

They chase each other around, each playing one set in each of the venues and using each others’ sound gear. They get paid by the bar they finish up in.

Everyone benefits. The public get variety and the musos get to play their best numbers.

When I put the idea to Russ he got it immediately. The sign that someone has done so is that they get creative about it. “We could call it ‘Unholy Trinity’,” he quipped. He suggested two other bars which might be interested, and some great players who could be booked.

‘Unholy Trinity’? Mmmm. Maybe a ‘Circuit Gig’? Or a ‘3V Gig’ – (V for venue). Or a ‘Round Robin Gig’. Who knows?

Interesting times.

I submitted the iReadGuitar and iReadGuitar Pro apps to the Apple App Store yesterday. They’ll be reviewed and, hopefully, put up in the Store fairly soon.

I just hope that the guitarists who come across them get the idea of them like Russ got the idea of the variety threesome. ‘Learn to read music? What a great idea! Let’s do it!”

And maybe the apps also will benefit from simply being Googleable. “I shouldn’t be able to read music.” Pause. “Oh, yes I should.”

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A Three Chord Trick?

The slog of data entry is almost as addictive as coding. ‘I’ll just enter another section before I drop from sheer exhaustion.’

The sound data for the next app provides the material and structure for piling notes on top of one another to form chords. Lots of notes and lots of chords, so lots of data too.

You create the first data array – one which represents the chord of A major in this case – and then you copy and paste it onto the next line. You change what needs to be changed to make it minor and rename it A minor. You do the same for A 7 and then it’s on to B flat major, B flat minor and B flat 7. All the way to G sharp minor. Twenty-nine of them in all. And that’s for each of the five instruments. And they talk about a three chord trick!

Hang on. come to think of it that’s fewer than thirty by five, which is one fifty. Not a slog at all. Just incredibly repetitive. And addictive. Shall I plough on through the night and get it finished? Or should I leave my room and go and see if my family still live here?

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The Most Popular Music App Of All Time

Conflict reigns. My old obsession – guitaring – has a rival – coding.

Surprisingly, they have a lot in common. They are equally demanding, frustrating, difficult, unfathomable and addictive.

When the coding for the music reading trainer – iReadGuitar Pro – was finished recently I looked forward to a second honeymoon with my first obsession. Time to build back up that long-lost repertoire. A return to serious gigging. I even bought an Epiphone Dot to start exploring jazz a little more.

But then a past idea sprang forward from that old back burner and destroyed my foolish plans.

iPlayCountry will be a free app carrying a tiny glimpse of an in-app ad for iReadGuitar Pro. Why will it be the most popular music app of all time?

Because you get to play a five-piece country band on your phone or tablet with one finger.

It’s the ultimate in DIY Karaoke. You could take it to an open mike and use it to accompany yourself. Even better, you could install it moments before going on and uninstall it as the wild applause pours into your ears.

It gives non-guitarists the chance to play something themselves and guitarists the chance to be just plain lazy and leave their box at home.

Is this good or bad? I wonder how many times that question has been asked about IT-related stuff? Maybe almost as many times as iPlayCountry is going to be installed!



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Links are great! They’re my latest personal discovery.

I was sent one today in a text message by a young man who wants to be a good guitar player. He’d read a newspaper article about a Guitar Club I set up which is now called Guitarathon. Here’s the original article:


We sit around for a couple of hours, first Sunday of the month, 3.00, Pi Bar, Leicester (all welcome) and swap instrumentals. I describe it as an open jack rather than an open mike because there’s no singing. What?! Can this be possible?! Yes, we manage two hours just fine.

Beginners to pros, all musical styles, everyone who wants to play gets the chance. Often we have a Feature Artist who plays a set and talks about the delicious minutiae of their art. Drop by sometime. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:


The Guitarathon gives me a reason to tear myself away from the quicksand of the world of apps and do a bit of guitar practice. But then the necessities of publicizing iReadGuitar force their way back and rip that guitar out of my hands again.

I’ve been emailing hundreds of guitar teachers throughout the UK individually to let them know it’s available. The feedback I’m beginning to get is very positive. For example:

“The content looks very thorough, it includes understanding and methodology of all the main aspects of musicianship we know is required… Good luck with the app. It seems to me to support proper study.”

This is very heartening. One teacher/performer has offered to write a review of the Pro version for inclusion in this blog in exchange for a link to his website. I was delighted to accept and look forward to posting them both. Let’s get the word out!

Long live links!



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