Note Taking Applications

Recently in my Introduction to Music Education Research class, we were asked to write a research proposal by identifying a gap in the current scholarly literature for our research topic. Throughout my doctoral program, I have been using Mendeley to curate my readings. During my masters program, several of us used Zotero for similar purposes. Both have plugins for browsers and word processors for saving and citing research, respectively. For the purposes of writing my masters project and this proposal, I wanted a note taking application that I could use to visually organize my thinking. During my masters program, I did it all on index cards similar to the pictures below. Wanting a digital solution, I turned to social media:

There are specific things I wanted in my note taking application that can be seen in the pictures of my index cards. I want each note card to have a title that can identify it from a glance. They should also each have a citation that would look like an in-text citation in APA6 formatting and link to a full reference card for what the citation would look like in the References section of a paper. I’d also like the notes to have categories or tags (or even both!) to help filter them down. Most importantly, I’d like to be able to visually organize all my notes, similar to how they are laid out on my kitchen table in the pictures. As part of this visual organization, I’d like to be able to drag and drop the notes without them losing category/tag information. Due to the number of notes, it’d be nice if the notes could minimize in some way—showing only the title and maybe a bit of the actual note.

So what did I find? I got suggestions of all of the following: Evernote, EasyBib, OneNote, Scrivener, SmartDraw, Trello, Asana, Google Keep, Ulysses, and Bear. We used to use Evernote to save and store our recipes, but it doesn’t have the visual organization piece, and may be going our of business. EasyBib was a tool I used in high school to format citations, but according to their reply on Twitter, they have discontinued their Notebook feature. Microsoft OneNote is an outstanding note-taking app, but doesn’t let me visually organize my notes, nor does it have a note card type interface. Scrivener is a Mac and iOS app that worked great with a few minor quirks I’ll detail below. SmartDraw is a piece of drawing software similar to Microsoft Visio whose pricing and learning curve turned me away. Trello is a note-taking app that organizes these notes into lists and boards, which I’ll detail more below. Asana is a project management tool that did not seem to work well for taking notes. I have used Google Keep as a quick note-taking app like Apple Notes or Stickies, but I find its organization clunky. Ulysses seems to be pretty similar to Scrivener, but I did not try it out after finding Scrivener and Trello. Bear looks pretty similar to Evernote, so I did not try it out.

To organize my notes for this research proposal, I used the trial of Scrivener. You can see from the screenshots below how it worked out. The left hand column provides a tree navigation of the notes and folders I created. When looking at the notes view (1st screenshot), you can see the layouts of the notecards. They have titles, notes, and citations, and they can be dragged and dropped in the interface. The only drawback to this is that they can potentially be dragged out of the folder. Another drawback is when in the folder view (2nd screenshot), you can’t see the contents of the folders unless they are open in the tree navigation. When editing a single note (3rd screenshot), there are tons of formatting options! I haven’t tried the iOS version, as I was using the 30-day trial of the Mac app, and have completed the assignment. I will definitely be keeping Scrivener in mind!

After completing the assignment, I continued to get questions from friends about my experiences in general, and specifically with Trello. To get a better idea, I began transferring some of my notes from Scrivener into Trello’s web-based interface. In the first screenshot below is my Maker-Centered Music board. Trello organizes cards into lists (Reference, Definitions, Origin, etc.). These cards can be dragged and dropped within and across lists. Similar to Scrivener, if dragged out of a list, the cards lose their relation to the list they leave. The second screenshot shows an individual note. The Title (top line) is what is displayed in the Board View for each card. The Description is where I took my notes, and I put the citation in the Comments. I think one of the ways I could use the drag and drop to organize my writing process but still maintain the categories of the notes is to utilize the Labels feature. There are 10 color options, and I can filter the Board View by Label. I think I will try Trello for my next project like this.

Update on 12/13: Agenda

Today (December 13), I discovered a new note-taking app that may take the cake for me. It is called Agenda and is available for FREE for macOS and iOS with some paid features that I do not need.

Similar to my experience with Trello, I began transferring some of my notes from Scrivener into Agenda. The screenshot below can tells you a great deal about how the interface works. The left-hand column begins with one of the biggest features that the app advertises—its connection with your calendar. Notes that are marked with a filled in orange dot are considered On the Agenda, which is a means of filtering notes you wish to act upon. Today shows notes that are linked to today in your calendar. Search All allows you to search all of your projects and notes. Continuing down the left hand column, the header displaying Maker-Center M… is what Agenda calls a Category for organizing Projects that fall beneath it. While the vocabulary doesn’t exactly match up with what I am thinking, the implementation works for me.

In the center column are my notes. These notes have a Title, an actual note, and a link to their reference note (in blue). They can also be tagged (in orange), allowing for quick searching of notes with similar tags. These notes can be minimized, dragged into any order, or pinned at the top. They can also be linked to calendar dates, hyperlinks, or external files. In the right hand column are events that are connected to notes, Recently Edited Notes, and Related Notes (either the same category or same tags).

Agenda 1.png

Our final assignment for our Introduction to Music Education Research class involves developing an annotated bibliography and critique of qualitative and quantitative empirical studies related to our proposed research topic. I will be using Agenda to organize my notes and will include my thoughts in the post on Unit 3.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.