Free metronomes for your students!

January 6, 2011

Teacher:  “Do you practice with a metronome?”

Student:  “I don’t have one.”

Teacher: “Why not?”

Student: “I don’t know where to get one and we don’t have the money to buy one!”

How many times has this conversation happened in band rooms across the country?  Today I asked this very question and the students were surprised to hear my response:  “If you have a computer, cell phone, ipod, mp3 player or cd player you can have a metronome for FREE!”  Blank stares from students….one hand is raised “Mr. B, no one has cd players anymore….”

Here are some online resources that you can give your students- these are all FREE solutions.  While I realize that these may not be the best or latest apps out there, this post is merely meant to begin the journey for the perfect metronome (and dare I say….TUNER) apps/freeware.

So the next time your students say “I can’t afford a metronome!” hand them this list:

Windows Computer:

http://download.cnet.com/Weird-Metronome/3000-2133_4-10073673.html

Macintosh:

http://download.cnet.com/AquaGnome/3000-2025_4-40544.html

iphone/ipod touch/ipad

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/simple-metronome/id350401073?mt=8

Android

mp3′s that can be burned onto cd:

http://www.reztronics.com/prod01.htm

Please feel free to post your favorites as well!


Realistic Guitar Controller- now we’re talking!

October 20, 2010

Ever since Guitar Hero came out I have been thinking about how great it would be if we could have a controller that was set up like a real guitar- thus encouraging real chord and note learning skills.  It looks like we are there!  This new controller by Mad Catz is the closest thing yet to a “real” guitar!

Just think of the possibilities that this opens up for guitar instruction!

Check out this video from CNET:

http://cnettv.cnet.com/rock-band-3-fender-mustang-pro-guitar-versus/9742-1_53-50094707.html?tag=nl.e404


Get “hip” to your kids’ music with playlist and Lala

December 23, 2009

Before the Christmas break, my alternative music class was working on their projects- “covering” their favorite song, learning the tabs (or notation) and preparing a performance for recording. In the past I have always used itunes to download the songs they were working on so that I had a “frame of reference” but even at $.99 it can get a bit pricey ($30 or so for the class). Since I need to have an idea of what the songs they are working on sound like AND I don’t particularly want to add their music to my itunes library (although some of it is pretty good!) I needed to find a site that I could listen without actually downloading (and do it legally!)

Playlist and Lala are social music sites that allow anyone to upload and share music. It’s a great way for you to “get hip” to what your kids are listening to. Not that we get out of touch as we get older :) Try it out by asking your kids to do a journal of what they listen to in a week (journal exercise).  Type the titles into Playlist or Lala and you will get a window into their world- and realize why they swing like a rusty gate in jazz band…

Now- direct them to the “Jazz” category in Lala and do some listening assignments!


Using Audacity and Quicktime in the Band Rehearsal

February 9, 2009

If you haven’t checked out Audacity lately, the newest version has some very cool new features.  The one I was most excited about was the ability to record multiple tracks in the same window and work with them simultaneously.  Below is a screen shot from my computer showing how I used it in today’s rehearsal of “Scenes from the Louvre”.

The lesson was on the fugue in the third movement- my students are not understanding that each voice that enters must be heard clearly and all of the lines must be balanced and blended so that there is good clarity in the ensemble.  The way I approached the problem was to have a reference recording of the section we were working on (edited in Quicktime Pro so that I had just the section isolated that I wanted) where I could just click on it when needed (without having to start at the beginning or rewind, etc) I then recorded the band using my Zoom H4 recorder in it’s audio interface mode (this is why I still think that Zoom’s H4 is the best value in handheld recorders) allowing me to record directly into Audacity using it’s excellent built in microphones.

After I recorded the band, I normalized the audio (within 5 seconds it was done) and was able to play back what the band had performed in high quality with optimized volume thanks to the normalize feature (I do this so that the volume of our recording isn’t too loud or soft, which invariably complicates things when I ask the students to give feedback- their first response is always about how the reference recording is louder than ours)

We listened to the first take- ouch! not very good.  Students gave feedback and I made some adjustments- we recorded again and did the same procedure.  We did this a total of five times, and the last one was a little better.  The greatest thing about doing this particular lesson is that I can do a direct comparison A/B with the first recording and the final recording right in the same window- this is the key to making the lesson magic when students can see a big improvement after they have worked intensely.  In the past when I did this lesson with other technologies, the problem was the lag time cuing up the recordings- students cannot really grasp the amount of progress they make over the course of a rehearsal because the improvement is so minute between repetitions.  Capturing the first “raw” take without any improvements, playing that for them, and then immediately playing the last recording after all of the cleaning has been done is really very powerful.

Audacity meets Quicktime


Restoring LP’s to digital- be careful what you wish for!

February 3, 2009

If you recently purchased a USB turntable and have been anxious to dive into your old band recordings on LP and start converting them, here are a few words of caution. I titled this post “be careful what you wish for” because there is a price to pay when restoring your prized University of Michigan Revelli recordings…

We have all been spoiled by the pristine audio of today’s digital recordings. Our ears have become extremely sophisticated, and when we listen to legacy recordings, we are often disappointed that they do not sound like what we remember.

This is due to a number of reasons- there are so many variables when we are talking about analog reproduction- however surface noise is probably the biggest distraction. The constant hiss, scrape, and pop of surface noise is certainly ill-tolerated in our digital world!

Aaahhh…but there are sweet promises of restoration- programs designed to scrub away the hiss and surface noise, leaving only the heavenly strains of your one-of-a-kind recording of Trauersinfonie…

Beware, because the quiet comes at a price. It really isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you have Audacity (or any other program for that matter) learn a noise profile, it takes out all of the frequencies in that “fingerprint” from your music!  Remember, even with the improved noise removal from Audacity 1.3.3 (latest distro), software CANNOT “put back” the MUSIC in those frequencies- when they are gone, they are gone.  This can lead to some pretty harsh results as the music can take on a “tinny”, “echo-y” or “shattered” sound (the later is caused by digital artifacts when the noise was removed).

You really need to consider carefully for what situations you will use your recordings made in this way- a reference recording of a tune that is very hard to find so that you can play it for your band is one thing.  You may work very hard on a recording and get it to sound “good enough”.  Expecting that you will “re-capture the magic” of the original recording is quite another matter.  There is a very good reason why ALL analog recordings were not preserved digitally- it is really, really difficult to do this “right”.  The equipment and expertise necessary to really do justice to restoring a classic analog recording is far beyond what we are able to do with a computer, a USB turntable, and Audacity. 

Thank goodness that many classic recordings have been restored and are available again, and great ensembles keep recording great music on great equipment!


Back to school Apples!

July 31, 2008

It has been quite a summer, and I have blissfully wasted spent some of my time pouring over the hype about the new iphone 3G (My contract with Verizon is up in Sept.- woo-hoo!). What does this have to do with music education? Plenty…

Unless you have been under a rock for the past six months, you have heard the stories about the new Apple “App Store” and probably know that there are thousands of other applications for the iphone via the web. What you may not know is that there are some very powerful ones that are absolutely free!

I have been using my ipod touch extensively in my bandroom and on the marching field controlling my music via bluetooth connection (see my blog post about this here). It works great, but the audio quality suffers from a high noise floor because of the nature of the stereo bluetooth connection. Not noticable at low volume, but pretty annoying when you crank it up.

Fortunately, Apple has come up with a nifty new app called remote that allows you to wirelessly control your itunes with your iphone or itouch! Of course, since your computer is directly connected to your system, the sound is flawless (unless you use mp3, but that is another post…) Also, there are a host of great iphone apps that are web based such as a guitar chord dictionary.

This along with the new mobileme push email, contacts, and calendar have finally gotten my attention enough to switch over to AT&T. I plan to research this a lot more for future blog entries about how I am integrating this great new technology in my bandroom- stay tuned!


I’m having a conversation…

June 21, 2008

I’m having a conversation with John Scybert from Southeastern University, and we’re talking about how to use Jott from your cell phone. listen

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Preparing for the next alternative project- the gear

February 22, 2008

I received a call today saying that the rest of the technology order for my keyboard lab enhancement project is on the way! I thought you might enjoy reading about what we will end up working with in the new lab.

Existing Lab: Keyboards (16 stations)

Korg Triton LE

Korg GC3 group controller

Windows XP-based computer (boo!)

Tascam CD/Cassette recorder

New Equipment:

12 AT831b microphones w/guitar mount (for acoustic guitars)

1 DM5ProKit electronic drumset

12 MyMonitor interfaces for plugging into the existing keyboard lab stations (think swiss-army knife)

3 PocketPod amp emulators

1 PadKontrol midi control device w/Reason Adapted, Live Lite 7, virtual drum machine, and a host of effects

6 Silent Brass Systems (2 trumpet, 1 French Horn, 1 Trombone, 1 Baritone, 1 Tuba, 1 mixing board)

Cords n’ stuff to hook it all up and together…

What this will enable me to do:

I will now be able to allow my class to all be in the same room at the same time working alone or in groups. We can incorporate synthesizer, brass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums- and can record, sequence, program, and interact in almost infinite combinations. I can now have a digital portfolio on each student and each group. I can now connect (via the GEC3) groups together to practice their projects and communicate with them and they with each other. We also have the makings of an uber-cool performance ensemble!

We will begin this project during the last 9 weeks. I plan to post my lesson plan/unit plan w/assessments and projects, etc. so stay tuned!

I have also basically quadrupled my practice facility (virtually) for a fraction of the cost of new construction- that made my principal happy!

What I’m missing and on my “wish list”

I’d really like to get an electronic wind instrument like the yamaha or akai so I can let my sax players jam along as well! (I can sort of do that with the AT831b mics, but sort of defeats the purpose of the whole “silent” thing…


This is a test of blogging…

January 8, 2008

This is a test of blogging from my phone to WordPress. Talking on my cellphone, blogging to my blog. Very cool. listen

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Podcast episode- An interview with two of my own “August Rush”‘s

December 8, 2007

Since my last post was the most popular of my blog ever, I thought I would follow up with a podcast with two of my students from my “Alternative Music” class. The two students I talk to in the episode really shed some light from a student’s perspective on the dilemma we are now facing in music education (and have been talking about in the blogosphere for some time now). When you hear in their own words how excited they were when they were given a chance to own the learning, I think you will be moved as I was- here are two average students, one who struggles to pass his classes (and our high-stakes FCAT state test) not from lack of talent and intelligence, but from not being engaged. I hope you enjoy listening to the episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts after you have listened!

Here is the link:

http://www.nphsperformingarts.podOmatic.com

It’s at podomatic, the same service that Joe and Darren from mustech.net use (although I’m neither the talented orator that Joe is nor am I the gifted technician that Darren is :) ) While you’re there, why not click on the badge to add it to your itunes podcast library?

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