A Bloggable Moment: Be careful what you wish for- music technology

May 6, 2008

I’m sitting at my desk shoving spaghetti in my mouth and wondering how I’m going to get the wind ensemble set up for the command performance this afternoon for the big art exhibit that I just found out is opening today (I found out that I’m supposed to provide “entertainment” on my way into class this morning). Further proof that there is no excuse for not blogging (I should take my own advice more often!)

I had to get these thoughts out as I have had several emails from readers who are going to be exploring the option of the “non-traditional” music class. I feel that I need to give “full disclosure” as to what you are getting yourselves into- I don’t want anyone to think that it is magically easy- it is really, really hard work!

I was all excited about laying down some tracks in GarageBand with one of my non-trad groups in my second block class this morning. I had envisioned all last night how great the session would go- just like those big recording studios and how we would all hug each other because we had created something beautiful and “cool”. Then reality hit and I woke up.

The second period bell rang and I scrambled to get all of the materials ready for our stellar session. How hard could it be? All I had to do was open a new basic track on Garageband, hook up the inputs and away we go- simple, right? WRONG. Oops- I realize as the late bell rang that I don’t have enough space on my laptop hard drive to record a session- no problem, I have a portable usb hard drive w/250gigs- just plug it in and away I go. Oops…forgot that on a Mac G4 PowerBook there isn’t enough bus power to spin the hard drive- no problem, I’ll just plug into two usb ports and away I go. Oops…I forgot that I have to use the usb imic for good quality recordings into the computer- no more usb ports (I only have two on the computer). No problem, I’ll just get rid of some files on my laptop hard drive (by now it’s 20 minutes into the class- but don’t worry, the other kids are all working on their own projects- they are fine do I hear “hey jude” in the background?) I guess I didn’t need those files (I hope) now off we go!

We started with the drum track- hook up the edrums through the group controller- configure the controller to output to the imic- OK I hear drums (a little too low level, but I can tweak that later) OOOPS! We forgot the cardinal rule of all drummers- as Buddy Rich once said- so many drummers so little time!!!! The tempo is all over the place, so out comes Dr. Beat so I can show him where the tempo is. I recalibrate the track to about mm200 (where he thinks he can play “rock n’ roll high school”) and resolve to record and quantize later. A LOT of quatization!

It’s now about halfway into an 85 minute block- here we go laying down the bass part- that goes pretty well after I figure out that there is not enough gain from the bass to drive the PocketPod (a separate post about that later) so we drag in the bass amp and go out from that into the computer with an adapter. OK- bass part is done.

Now it’s about 10 minutes till the class ends (mind you, during all of this I have been interrupted by my students with such important things as “can I go to the bathroom”) and the veteran teacher in me nags that there won’t be enough clean up time if I don’t stop now. The idealistic teacher in me says (picture angel and devil on shoulders) that I have trained my kids to have enough responsibility to put everything away. Idealistic wins- let’s go for the guitar track!!!!!!!

OK- cue drums, cue bass, CUE GUITAR!!!!! OOOOPS!!! the guitar is 1/2 step flat in relation to the bass…sounds terrible (“but Mr. B I’m playing the right chords!”) Gimme that guitar, kid! (world’s fastest retune) and we manage to get the track down. OOOPS!!! they figure out that they haven’t practiced the form of the song enough together to make sure the I-vi-IV-V progression happens together w/the guitar and the bass…we keep recording anyway…and we’re done.

We go into my office to listen (my kids think I’m mad at them, but I’m just frustrated and disappointed that it didn’t go better). As I click “play” here comes the drums, the bass and guitar (all mis-aligned and everything) and it sounds to me like a hot mess. But I look at my kids and they are all smiles “Hey- that’s us!!! it’s not too bad…COOL!!!!” and they are high-fiveing each other and spouting all kinds of kid jargon for good job…I just sit back and laugh…

It was wonderful.