The last time Scoring Notes caught up with Noteflight’s managing director John Mlynczak, tens of thousands of people were actively milling about in the Anaheim Convention Center at the 2020 NAMM Show in January 2020.
Fast-forward 11 months, and it’s a very different scene. We found ourselves over Zoom on the Scoring Notes podcast, where my co-host David MacDonald and I talked with John about what’s transpired in the past year for Noteflight, the web-based music notation software that allows musicians to create, share, teach, sell, and purchase music.
“It’s been obviously an interesting year,” John said. “It’s a lot of bad in 2020 and a lot of things going on, but it’s been a good year to have been in the online music learning business. I’ll share some of the good that’s come out of that, too.”
We always like to hear positive news, and John was glad to share it, particularly about Noteflight Learn, the private, COPPA-compliant website designed specifically for music education. “We always wanted to integrate on performance assessment,” John said, “and that was already in the works and it was actually already really close to launching. We had kind of defined how we want to do it and we were just kind of finalizing contract and all that. And then obviously when March hit, we’re like, all right, time to go. So it was in the works, but it was escalated quickly to get going.”
Once it became clear in March that school-based performance was not going to be happening for a while, John told us, “It was kind of like, wow, every music teacher has come into us, asking, ‘What do I do with this?’ I remember it was a Saturday, and I was sitting home and thinking that thing’s getting serious. So I put in one of the Facebook groups, if anyone like just needs Noteflight Learn, we’ll just give it to you until June 30th. I knew no one had a budget. I just put that as a Facebook post.
“Overnight,” John said, “my phone sort of blew up with 700 reactions, likes, loves, and hundreds of comments. I came in Monday to my team. We were still in the office and I was like, ‘I think I did a bad thing.’ And my sales and support teams told me, ‘We have 300 tickets. What are you doing?!’ I was like, ‘I kind of told people that we’d give it to them for free.’ So 3,000 schools and 440,000 users later, that was a scale that we had never done at one time.”
Through Noteflight Marketplace, customers can buy and sell music, including legal arrangements of copyrighted works through ArrangeMe. Whether it’s a score intended for professionals or an educational worksheet, John said, “if you see interactive music that you can click and play and transpose, that’s all Noteflight technology. We do a lot to support that, and we’ve made updates where engravers use Noteflight and it gets pushed out into the digital world in a very unique way.”
New to the Noteflight portfolio this year is SoundCheck, the assessment tool that provides instant ratings and feedback for pitch, rhythm, and intonation, and is available for use with any Noteflight score. SoundCheck is available with any Noteflight Learn subscription and will be made available to Noteflight Premium in early 2021, and John said that integrating it with the notation element was important. “One of the most exciting things when we offered SoundCheck was that we were very deliberate — this has to look like a musical score,” he said. I’m tired of taking kids to other apps. and making it feel like a testing application and making it about grades and putting in that fear. I want kids to look at music and see some feedback just appear. SoundCheck looks like the musical score. When you get the feedback, the staves separate a part a little bit. The feedback line shows up, and it needs to live and breathe like real music. Anything you compose in Noteflight, you can click a button and it turns into a SoundCheck assessment.”
John’s passion for education — and the opportunity for innovation in both technology and philosophy — was evident in our interview. “I dream of a world where we teach form with the songs the kids are listening to and we teach music appreciation,” John said. “We want to do right. We want to have access to any content that makes your heart happy, because musicians want to play music that makes their heart happy and that’s what we should be doing. So our role is to break down the barriers and make it accessible, and help teachers understand what’s now possible.”
Listen to the entire interview on our Scoring Notes podcast, and be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast app to make sure you’re always up-to-date with the latest news and interviews in the world of music notation software and related technology.