Thursday, February 27, 2014

Have You Ever Wished For Musical Slow Motion?

I was listening to some student assignments that were in my SmartMusic in box.  I had one that was tricky to diagnose what was happening and I was wishing I had slow motion to sort it out.  I saved it for later and went on.

A short while later I was looking in SBO Magazine and reading through the article on "Power User Synthesis."  It's a great article and worth the read, especially if you are stumped about how to get your repertoire into SmartMusic.   In the article there was discussion about scanning and notation software.  After some discussion about Finale, Sibelius and MusicXML the article talked about creating SmartMusic files and uses for those... including listening to the recording at slower speed.

Then it hit me that SmartMusic could do the slow motion trick I needed.  No, I couldn't just slow the tempo of a recording down and listen to it that way.  But with a little file magic, I found a way to do just that.

Here's how.  First, export your audio file as an .mp3 file.  Then go to SmartMusic's MP3 Audio Files link.  Import the file you just created.  You can now listen to the performance slower or faster.  All you have to do is adjust the tempo (it is listed by a percentage.)

The slower listen uses are pretty obvious.  You can slow things down to hear what really happened.

The faster uses might not be so obvious.  How about checking to see if that faster tempo really works musically?  Here is a chance to try some things without the whole band waiting for you to do that, just take care of that in your score study time.  Or show your students how they could sound.

Take a read through the SBO article for more ideas.  If the ideas don't save your time, they will help you do a higher quality job.  Worth the read.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happy Digital Learning Day (2/5/14)

Happy Digital Learning Day.

Actually, I think most days are digital learning days in my room.  Have been since 1992 or so.

It all started with CD audio recordings.  Clean sound and quick access to what you really wanted to hear.  Big advantages over tape or vinyl.

Then there was Finale on a computer that was in my office.  I was teasing the choir teacher today about her being too young to have actually transposed for instruments and singers in her head.  I think my college theory and arranging experiences would have been WAAAY less time intensive had there been such a thing when I was earning my first degree.

Then the powers that be put an internet connected computer on my desk.  Teacher access to the internet was pretty bold choice in 1994.  The internet has turned out to be very valuable.  I believe Letterman said "This internet idea is a keeper."  I agree.

That value wasn't lost on me.  I have run with that set-up.  I have spent time learning how to code some html and I have developed excellent FileMaker Pro chops.  The web has made those skills pretty valuable.  Communicating and keeping track with parents and other teachers has been made easier with the network.

Next came iPods and digital audio recording.  We still have the Roland 880 here, but Garageband (or Audacity, Pro Tools, Logic) have made having that box pretty much unnecessary.  Playback can be a pretty powerful mirror.  I have yet to hear a kid say the recorder is making us sound bad since I got away from cheap tape recorders.

I use videos of other schools bands as examples for my students.  I'm not getting those in the mail.  Of course I find them on YouTube.  Thank you to all who have put their group's work up there.  It adds another dimension to the discussions about what we are doing in our band room.

I use Twitter to get ideas and keep up with the news. Actually, it may be more accurate to describe that as stealing great ideas from my PLN.  Thanks Tweeps for putting those ideas out there.

(By the way, you can get info about Digital Learning Day on Twitter @OfficialDLDay or it looks like the hash tag is going to be .  Check it out and let's get that trending.)

SmartMusic.  I know it has changed the way I teach music.  That program has changed too.  It went from an $2000 add-on box for your computer, to an add on cartridge reader, to a download for your student's iPad over the last 20 years.  Sending and getting assignments over the internet has helped me to really understand how my students are doing as individuals.  SmartMusic has also helped my students develop their own knowledge of rhythm and pitch on their own.

If your classroom isn't digital yet,  There are a couple of good thinking models out there for you to get started: SAMR by Dr. Puentedura or RAT by Dr. Hughes.  I know there are some who think that kids don't really need technology to learn or I can teach without it.  Please rethink that.  I cannot think of an entry level job that doesn't require you to interface with some form of digital technology.  I use the digits to make the invisible visible and help kids become musically independent faster,  How are you using them?  How could you be using them?

To me, the really big deal on the web is sharing. I share what I know about what I do right here.  This sharing only happens with digital technology.  I wouldn't know where to send my stories.  You wouldn't know where to find them if this was published any other way.   I am coming up on 34,000 page views over the last two years.  I think that is pretty amazing considering the really narrow focus of most my topics.  I hope that, if you came to my blog looking for ideas and help, you found what you needed.

Thanks for reading and happy Digital Learning Day.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Too Many Cold Days Off. Improving a Concert's Chances With SmartMusic.

The mp3 feature may not seem like a big deal in SmartMusic, but after losing 5 days to cold weather last month, it could turn into this month's concert saver.  The problem is not every piece we are doing on the concert is available in the SmartMusic catalog.  The ability to import an mp3 can help work around that.

I have mp3s of most of the concert selections that aren't in SmartMusic for the February concert.

There are many ways to get mp3s for this.  Publisher's demo recordings and your band's previous years' recordings (if they are good enough to be great examples.) come to mind.  If you have CD recordings you will need to convert them from aiff to mp3.  iTunes and many other programs can do that conversion for you.  Import the mp3s into SmartMusic by going to "MP3 Audio Files." (In the left hand column.)  Then click the "Import" button and follow the directions there.

The next step is to send them as assignments.  You will notice that the music on screen feature isn't available.  The kids will need to know that this how this type of assignment works and there is nothing wrong with their computer or the assignment.  Write that info in your assignment directions and tell them when you see them in person... It seems odd to have to tell them to use the paper copy, but we have had this come up!

It is possible to take the time to work out all the parts in Finale and save them as SmartMusic files, but that would be a big project time-wise and sending it out would not be as slick as with a SmartMusic published material.  I am just looking for a way to verify that the students are working on their music outside of class.

I did make this an assignment worth some points for the recording.  I am also going to listen to them for concepts to work on for rehearsals.  In a way, this is like a rehearsal where the feedback from the director is really slow.  Am I grading these as close as a music on screen assignment?  No.  The red/green note feature is unavailable and for my beginners it would be hard to self evaluate and fix problems.  But I think students will benefit by listening to themselves and comparing themselves with the recording.

A few more observations:

Once the assignment has been sent in, my students think it is gone from their computers when it really isn't.  It appears that the accompaniment's mp3 file stays on your computer, just follow the "MP3 Audio Files" button.  That will be pretty handy for avoiding the "assignment's due avalanche" on the due date from the very responsible about practicing bunch.  They can send it in.  They still have the mp3.

Teachers could also listen, score in your school's grade book and send the assignment back if you want this assignment to keep showing up in the student's inbox.

Don't forget to coach kids on the "Find Music" feature for the songs that are published in SmartMusic.  That way they can keep practicing those as well.

The other thing to coach students on is the tempo control feature.  There is no substitute for spending time working something technical at a slow tempo.

Don't forget that SmartMusic does take requests!  If you have a piece that isn't in SmartMusic yet, they are looking for ideas about what to add.  This can take some time, so importing mp3s is what I am doing this month.

Hopefully, this will help us beat the "too much time off blues."  It is good to have work-arounds. I'll keep you posted.