Message category: Announcements

AHA! Software news items: The articles in this category provide notice of new products, new releases, and other such notable developments at AHA! Software.

October 20, 2011

Hierophant 1.7.5.2 release notes

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This is a maintenance update of the FamilyGames.com freeware game Hierophant. Changes include fine-tuning of the installer and minor cosmetic tweaks.

Button to start Hierophant download Download Hierophant. After downloading, open the file to install the game.

For those who don’t know Hierophant, it is a simple 2-D game, generally reminiscent of a 4×4 tile puzzle. Unlike the usual toy version, however, there is no missing tile. Instead, movement is permitted by having the rows and columns wrap around. The object of Hierophant is to restore a randomly-generated ‘mystic symbol’.

Hierophant is compatible with computers running any version of Microsoft Windows since Windows XP.

Hierophant screen shot

Scrolling a column in Hierophant by clicking one of the arrow buttons (C) around the board.

October 15, 2011

NoteCard 3.3.5.1 release notes

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This maintenance release (3.3.5.1) corrects a bug triggered by specifying a custom quiz length greater than 36.

Thanks to NoteCard user Zoltán Farkas for identifying and reporting the bug.

October 12, 2011

Christmas Trivia Screen Saver version 1.7

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It seem that there are lots of folks who still like to have our Christmas Trivia Screen Saver running on some screen around the house during the holiday season, and we’re happy to continue to provide it as a free treat for Windows users. For several years, however, the screen saver has been in need of an overhaul to correct a number of small problems that cropped up with the release of successive versions of Windows.

Screen saver: The living-room scene

The living-room scene in the Christmas Trivia Screen Saver

Now those problems have been addressed, and a new version of the screen saver is available for download effective immediately. If you already have the screen saver installed, we recommend that you explicitly uninstall it before installing. Please note that this release applies only to Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

The main action in the Christmas Trivia Screen Saver is a quietly animated fireside scene with a flickering fire, twinkling Christmas lights, and a working grandfather clock. In the foreground is a table with a snack set out for Santa, though it’s not he who finds it and starts to nibble.

Screen saver: A trivia page

One of 60 trivia pages that appear at intervals in the screen saver

Every now and then, a page of easy-to-read text reveals a Christmas fact you probably didn’t know unless you hang around our trivia site at Christmas time. With sixty different pages to view, there are plenty of fascinating nuggets to keep you entertained throughout the season.

MIDI renderings of fifteen Christmas carol arrangements provide an uninterrupted soundtrack if desired. Settings to control the music, the frequency of the Christmas trivia, and more options are available through Windows’ display customization controls (see this PDF read-me file, also included in the download, for more details).

Button to start screen saver download Download the screen saver. After downloading, open the file to install the software.

We hope you enjoy this screen saver, and we’d be delighted if you make it part of your end-of-year celebrations this year.

September 5, 2011

NoteCard version 3.3.5.0

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This is the first public release of NoteCard 3.3. The download and buy links on the AheadWithMusic.com home page and elsewhere on our site have been updated to refer to this new version.

Undoubtedly the most striking new feature in NoteCard 3.3 is an ear-training mode for quizzes. In this mode, instead of each note being simultaneously played back and displayed on the staff during quizzes, the display of the written note is withheld until after you have entered your guess by ‘playing’ the note on your chosen input instrument. You must rely wholly on your ear, and in particular on its ability to identify the interval — the distance in pitch — between notes heard in succession.

For ear-training mode, check the option in NoteCard's quiz set-up task

For ear-training mode, check the option in NoteCard's quiz set-up task

The musical ear takes longer to develop than the musical eye. You should soon be fully versed in note-reading, with NoteCard’s help. However, you are likely to find that your ear training progress (indicated as usual by the percentage score in the Progress Gauge) has lagged well behind. There’s a simple reason for this: it’s harder. We recommend starting very gradually, with a single treble or bass staff (not both together), and without the sharps and flats option until your progress rating is near 100. Note that since the ear-training feature relies on MIDI playback, it is available only in Paid Mode. This means that to use it you must have bought your copy of NoteCard or be still in the 10-day evaluation period.

NoteCard 3.2 added an on-screen control for adjusting the speed of response required in quizzes. Now NoteCard 3.3 provides a parallel control for setting the length of each quiz — the number of notes you will be asked to identify. Both controls now support a ‘custom’ option that is governed by a value in the NoteCard settings file. Look up ‘settings file’ in the index of NoteCard’s help file for details on using the new and revised settings.

We hope you enjoy using NoteCard 3.3 and find it of value in your musical studies.

August 19, 2010

A look at NoteCard 3.2’s oversized piano keyboard control

Categories: Announcements, Close-up — Tags: ,
The on-screen piano control in NoteCard has an oversized mode in which the keyboard is wider than the NoteCard window.The available oversize keyboard control in NoteCard 3.2 comes as a bit of a visual shock, but will permit extra mousing accuracy.

This is the text of a press release: “Learning Musical Notes A Serious Pleasure With Notecard 3.2 (but satisfying user expectations needed literally out-of-the-box thinking, reveals developer)”.

AHA! Software has released a newly-enhanced version of its popular music education application, NoteCard, whose goal is to help even musical beginners achieve rapid but profound memorization of the musical notes. According to the developers, the new release retains NoteCard’s traditional focus on results, but continues an ongoing effort to make the software more approachable for users of all ages.

“We still have some great features in the pipeline for future cycles, but on this occasion we concentrated more on ease of use, and adapting to evolving user expectations”, says developer Nick Sullivan, who wrote the first version of NoteCard on a Commodore 64 computer in 1983, and has continued to extend and refine it ever since. “For instance, we had reports that some users found the keys on the onscreen keyboard to be just a bit too narrow for complete mousing accuracy. We suspect that in most cases this problem would probably have dissolved anyway after a little extra time spent with the program, but the fact remains that for some customers it made NoteCard less approachable.”

The goal of widening the onscreen piano turned out to pose a tricky design challenge, however. The piano keyboard already consumed nearly the full width of the NoteCard window. Widening it further would require either enlarging the window itself, or creating a new, independent window of the required size, but the designers were unenthusiastic about either option. Reconfiguring the main window seemed like overkill when the goal was to accommodate a single instrument. But giving the user the burden of a second window to manage was just as undesirable.

To resolve this design dilemma , the team decided that although a wider secondary window was necessary, physically detaching it from the main window was not. When the user selects the wider keyboard display in NoteCard 3.2, the keyboard appears simply to expand beyond its window borders. When the main window is moved, the keyboard window automatically moves along with it.

The resulting arrangement may raise some eyebrows for its lack of orthodoxy, says Nick Sullivan, but he predicts that users will adapt without difficulty. “It does look a bit odd right at first, as though NoteCard had suffered some sort of aneurysm. But then you see it behaving like a perfectly conventional window, one that just happens to stick out a bit at the sides, and you forget all about it.”

AHA! Software’s unvarying design ideal for the NoteCard software, easily stated though difficult to achieve, is to help users memorize the musical notes as efficiently as human brains will allow, and then recall them quickly and infallibly when needed.

“Note-reading is a prosaic skill”, says Sullivan. “It’s not essentially musical at all. But if you can read with speed and confidence from almost the very start, it’s a huge advantage. Many beginners spend far too much of their practice effort consciously decoding the notes. With NoteCard, note-reading becomes largely subconscious, as it is for an experienced player. That leaves the conscious mind free to deal with more important things, such as music.”

About the NoteCard software

NoteCard is a product of AHA! Software, distributed through AheadWithMusic.com. NoteCard can be operated either in Free Mode, at no cost, or in Paid Mode, with additional features, following a one-time payment of $19.75. Discounts are available for institutional and group purchases. NoteCard is available for laptop and desktop computers running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7. Use of a MIDI instrument keyboard for note input is supported but not required.

# # #

For information about topics covered in this release, or to schedule an interview with the creators of the NoteCard software, please contact us at news@aheadwithmusic.com.

August 1, 2010

NoteCard version 3.2.5.0

Categories: Announcements — Tags: , , ,

NoteCard 3.2.5.0 Release Notes

This is the first public release of NoteCard 3.2. The download and buy links on the AheadWithMusic.com home page and elsewhere on our site have been updated to refer to this new version.

NoteCard 3.2 builds on the MIDI input capability added in NoteCard 3.1, with improved reliability and an octave transposition control in the MIDI Setup task. We’ve added some other features requested by users: a wider version of the 4-octave piano keyboard control so that the keys are easier to hit; and a speed control (slow, medium and fast) for quizzes.  In general, low scores in NoteCard shouldn’t be a cause for dismay. With a little practice, they will soon go up. However, some students may find their initial low scores discouraging; they may find it more congenial to use one of the slower quiz settings. However, the goal for all students is as always to achieve perfect scores at the highest speed, so the use of the lower speeds should always be viewed as temporary. The speed rating does not affect the computation of the overall progress rating, which should be 99 or more before the student is ready to “graduate”.

Also new in v3.1 is a more efficient ordering set-up that provides for a quick license code purchase from within the program, together with full RegNow tracking support for sales affiliates.

May 12, 2010

I Live At Santa’s House! v1.8

Categories: Announcements — Tags: , , ,

This new release of our Christmas game for ages 3-7 is an incremental upgrade to address a couple of long-outstanding issues.

1) The installer. Although our old installer worked reasonably well under all current Windows operating systems, including Windows 7, it fell short of full compatibility. An effect of the change is that saved games and other data are no longer stored under the Program Files folder, but under the public application data folder instead.

2) The configuration system. Configurations in I Live at Santa’s House! have two purposes: on the one hand, they allow certain customizations for one or more children individually; and on the other, they create separate identities for saving games. They are created with the Santa’s House configuration utility, SHC. Previously, creating a new configuration was too complex for many users to bother with, involving the manual creation and editing of a desktop shortcut, among other steps. Now it’s as easy as pie. We’ve added a manager for multiple configurations to SHC, and all the hard work is done for you.

For those who don’t know, I Live at Santa’s House! is one of our most popular games. It gives little ones a chance to find out what life is like for an elf living and working in Santa’s House at the North Pole. Testing toys, wrapping gifts and baking cookies are just a few of the activities an elf can enjoy, so it’s no wonder that this game has been a seasonal favorite for many families year after year.  Kids love the idea of helping Santa, especially when it’s so much fun!

 

September 1, 2009

NoteCard version 3.1.5.0

Categories: Announcements — Tags: , , ,

NoteCard 3.1.5.0 Release Notes

This is the first public release of NoteCard 3.1. The download and buy links on the AheadWithMusic.com home page and elsewhere on our site have been updated to refer to this new version.

NoteCard 3.1 adds a feature (in Paid Mode only) that didn’t quite make the cut for 3.0: the capability of using an external MIDI instrument to enter notes into the program. This should be particularly useful in group teaching situations where each student is equipped with a keyboard, as well as for private users who have a MIDI keyboard as part of their computing configuration.

Also new in v3.1 is a more efficient ordering set-up that provides for a quick license code purchase from within the program, together with full RegNow tracking support for sales affiliates.

June 1, 2009

NoteCard version 3.0.5.0

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NoteCard 3.0.5.0 Release Notes

Starting now, the first public release of NoteCard v3.0 is available for download on our website, and for sale through our payment processor, RegNow. See the download and buy links on the AheadWithMusic.com home page and elsewhere.

Several minor bugs have been fixed in this version relative to the recent internal release candidate. In particular, some user account issues arising from switching between Free and Paid modes were addressed.

A small step for Mankind, a giant leap for NoteCard

Categories: Announcements — Tags: ,

For a decade or more our NoteCard 2.0 freeware has languished in relative obscurity as an unassuming little tool to help beginners learn the musical notes. In fact (as the ‘2.0’ reveals), an even more primitive NoteCard once walked the Earth. That NoteCard ran on the Commodore 64, a very popular machine from the Dawn of Personal Computing.

But even NoteCard 1 wasn’t the real beginning. That was a year or two earlier when I was teaching piano in Toronto. Like many piano teachers, I had several students who found it frustratingly difficult to master note-reading, to such a degree that it was a real barrier to progress. And, again like many others, I had the idea of creating decks of musical flash cards — small cards with a staff note on one side and the note name on the other.

Flash cards are great. They are the quintessence of manual drill: there’s nothing like them for learning foreign vocabulary, for instance. Anyone who has tried to learn vocabulary from a simple written list has probably noticed an inherent problem with that method: you end up learning the information as sequenced. What flash cards contribute is randomness. They let you develop your ability  to recall information without the crutch of a predefined ordering. They teach you to be mentally ready for the rough and tumble of information in the real world. Another benefit of flash cards is total focus on the learning task: there is no overhead, no frills, no distracting frivolities. And they work just as well for musical notes as they do for languages.

Flash cards are great, but in an era of personal computing they’re not as great as they used to be. In fact, we can now do much better. When you start thinking about ‘computerizing’ flash cards, what probably comes to mind first is the convenience of not having to shuffle the deck, and not having to keep track of little pieces of cardboard any more. And those are good things. Even better, though, are the things only a computer can do, things like:

  • measuring your response speed
  • storing your results for analysis
  • playing back notes as you enter them, to involve aural memory
  • allowing different clefs without needing a new deck for each
  • including optional complications like sharps and flats
  • offering a choice of on-screen ‘instruments’ for note entry
  • focusing on the weaker notes for extra practice
  • providing an impartial measure of achievement

The new release, NoteCard 3, includes all these features and more. For instance, another key addition is support for multiple users, each with their own settings and records. NoteCard 3 allows up to three users to share a single installation of the software. With all these enhancements, the software is no longer limited to being just a passive tool. Now it can serve as an active guide, a tutor able to react and respond to the user’s individual learning situation.

NoteCard 3 is available for download and purchase immediately from AheadWithMusic.com. The software includes a 10-day trial of its two modes: Paid and Free. Users can learn their notes perfectly well in either mode, but the Paid mode offers a cluster of bonus features that I hope many users will value. If a Paid License has not been purchased during the 10-day trial, the software continues indefinitely in Free mode.

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