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Nov. 30, 2012
Northwest Missouri State University students Robert Langenfeld, Michael Holtzscher and Stephen Esser have always had an appreciation for music and computers. Now they’ve converged those interests into a mobile phone application aimed at helping jazz performers practice and improve their improvisation skills.
The students designed the app, called uJazz, last spring as a final project in mobile computing, a course taught by Dr. Michael Rogers, assistant professor of computer science and information systems, in which students must develop unique custom applications for the iPhone. They learn how to write codes and build apps from the ground up.
Langenfeld, Holtzscher and Esser completed the course and continued tinkering with their app during the summer, even writing a version for Android phones. They unveiled their app publicly on the iTunes app store in August, joining only a handful of apps designed by Northwest students to reach that level.
“I felt like uJazz was the ultimate combination of my passion for composing music and writing software,” said Langenfeld, a computer science and music major from Bellevue, Neb. “We wanted uJazz to be something that students could use to practice and improve their jazz skills. And with the features we have planned for future updates, this app is going to become really powerful.”
uJazz allows users to pick any combination of keys and styles – from funk to reggae. The app then plays the chord progression for its user while displaying the chord names the user may play against. Users also can record themselves with an accompaniment and save the recording to their phone to play later. All of the app’s features can be used with nothing more than an iPhone; no external recording equipment is necessary.
“We were brainstorming different ideas when Michael came up with the idea to do a jazz accompaniment app,” Langenfeld said. “We looked on the app store and there were no real apps that did what we had in mind so we went with it.”
Submitting uJazz to the iTunes app store launched another phase of the project. The store is the only way developers can distribute their apps, which Apple vets to ensure they work properly, are not malicious and provide a benefit to iPhone users. The process of getting an app approved by Apple can take more than a month, and many developers don’t get that far. Submitting an app also requires a fee of about $100.
“They had the foresight to recognize when you do something like this, it’s not only that you’ve created something but it’s sort of received Apple’s seal of approval,” Rogers said of the uJazz creators. “It indicates a high level of quality that speaks to their abilities, and I was impressed with the fact that they did take the effort.”
Rogers, who brought with him a deep interest and knowledge in Apple products when he joined the Northwest faculty in 2009, places an emphasis on teaching multiple computing languages to students to enhance and broaden their skills. And that instruction, in addition to independent studies Rogers advises, is helping Northwest students obtain jobs after they graduate, too.
“The short-term future of computing appears to be in mobile computing and it presents them with problems they don’t see in other areas,” Rogers said. “There are problems that arise as you deal with all the features of a mobile device. How do you work with GPS? How do you make sure the app you’re writing doesn’t kill the battery or does something more to the phone? There’s a seriousness to writing these apps, but there’s also a playfulness. There are a number of benefits for students.”
Northwest students recognize that and the popularity of Rogers’ course is growing.
“It’s an amazing opportunity that combines our personal interests and career interests,” said Esser, a junior computer science major from Riverton, Iowa. “It’s a really hot field right now.”
For more information or to download the application, visit http://ujazz.rlcompositions.com/.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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