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Fostering Musical Language

We are living in an age where traditional music notation is no longer a prerequisite to being successful in music creation or performance.  Traditionally, music education has been driven by factual knowledge over musical creation.  Technology has opened music creation to the masses producing music styles that involve traditional composition with notation programs (Finale, Sibelius, etc.),  Digital Audio Workstations via computer (Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Ableton Live, etc.) or mobile device/apps (GarageBand, Notion, Symphony Pro, etc.)  The fact is, mobile technology allows for music creation with results beyond anything seen anytime in the history of music.

Fostering Musical Awareness

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Students are influenced with years of school-based music programmes that typically drive music theory and history as the building blocks to musical knowledge.  Isolating music theory in small packages without a larger picture can damper any interests students may have about music, especially what they listen to and participate in outside of school.  Backwards by Design thinking supports this notion that music engagements can start on the other end of looking at a completed work, and traverse backwards looking at how it was created (melody, chords, accompaniment, instrumentation, and rhythm, for example).  Think of the motivation this would create within our classrooms!

Using a variety of apps, my goal is to introduce creation of music without the baggage of  having to learn to read music first.  I want to open their minds to the incredible ways mobile tech can allow them to play around with musical sound, rhythm and chords to create music first, then assimilate music theory directly related to their interests.  This is nothing new in other subject areas, but critical to give students the tools to be independent in their trek through music creation.  Many of these apps are available for other platforms, not just Apple.

In the first month of weekly classes, apps were chosen to reinforce that music isn’t determined by their knowledge of theory and ability to read notation.  The goal: sound creation through hand gestures and icons on the screen.  eDrops Nature and eDrops – Bouncing Balls Music App Studio are similar to a pinball game reacting to the laws of physics with the results being a pattern like, musical soundscape.  I demonstrated this by recording one and a half minute of music from eDrops Nature and premiered it over a 4K nature video to stimulate musical conversation with the students.  The questions were, “What would the music look like in notation for this score?”  “Could you do this?” “What are the challenges of notation?”  They were so surprised that there was no music notation, only a game-like screen with falling balls of light bouncing from various points on the screen.  Yes, it is normal for some students to enjoy the game aspect of this app forgetting they are creating sound.

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eDrops Nature

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eDrops – Bouncing Balls Music App Studio

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The next app is quite a unique one, called Playground.  It provides sets of instruments that react to finger movement.  It has proven to be the students’ favourite app because of its contemporary sounds and tactile involvement.  After a ‘play’ period, we talked about the importance of establishing a beat, like a drummer.  Students need to become familiar with the layout of the instruments and the various icons and triggers that affect the sound creation.  Within the second week of using this app, students had to start to show patterns of rhythm and consistent tempo of finger movement.  You must try this app to understand what this means.  It’s free to try!

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Playground

 

Within the third week, students explored Nodebeat.   This is a pattern creating musical app that has a game-like appearance.  It’s an enormous app that has so much to offer and would be better presented over a couple of classes highlighting its capabilities.  Students need time to learn the icons and their associated sounds and instrumentation.  Sound modification is also important within this app.  It is highly customisable.

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Nodebeat

Next Steps

Students will be challenged to use one of these apps to create a thirty to sixty second musical piece.  I find they are highly motivated when they have an endpoint and useful reason for doing this.  Their music will be promoted on SoundCloud for others in the school (and parents/teachers) to listen to and comment.  It will also be meshed with video of their choosing and placed on YouTube for the same purpose.  The goal is to get their music ‘out there’ for the world of social media to push them along with careful guidance from their teachers.

Please comment and share.  Thank you for reading!  This post will be updated throughout the year.

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App-etisers for May

I’m excited to share some apps that are new, or just discovered.  I will highlight which features are transformational in the way we (students, teachers, and everyone else) can aid in personal music or art education, whether at school, home, or on the go.

Touch Notation Free – iOS

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The fine app (Kawai Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co., Ltd.) has the fastest ‘on the go’ notation entry I’ve ever used – I’ve tried many.  Regardless, finger or Apple Pencil, a few minutes of using, and an exquisite piano sample sound plays your music.  I’m still testing the free version with limitations – try this out!  Full version, with further in-app purchases is about $12 US.

Vanido – Your personal singing coach – FREE

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Vanido (Himanshu Singh) takes you through progressive, traditional, vocal exercises (chest voice, foundation, head voice, agility) with piano support.  Where this app flies is its visual of your voice as a sound wave-like line that signifies your accuracy to the target pitch.  For hesitant singers, this gives a much needed visual goal to strive for.  It has a basic, colourful display, game-like qualities, and must be used with earphones with built-in microphone.  See if this app supports your independent learning to become a better singer.

Art Break – FREE
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Art Break: Draw, Relax and Get Things Done (Tarasov Mobile) gives you a unique set of tools (brushes) that motivate an exploration of your love (or lack of) for drawing on a tablet (available at Google Play) with or without a stylus.  Students love the brushes that augment your line as you draw – ribbon, shaded, fur, web.  If you remember the popular Spirograph set years ago and the excitement that it caused, the next set of brushes bring a new level of amazement for users of all ages.  Mirror ribbon, symmetry ribbon, and symmetry fur are worth a look.  There are in-app purchases to upgrade to Premium version and remove Art Break watermark from your drawings and the addition of more brushes for Premium users in next updates.

This photo is from a student’s first use of the app over 10 minutes.

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Music Making – Spring 2017

Here’s a glimpse at what software/apps I use frequently to explore and create music (notation-type apps).

There are many companies offering incredible music-making apps for mobile devices that make music creation easier and inexpensive (most free).  I have been a user of Finale for Mac for over 25 years.  With the advent of tablet technology over the past 8 years, my allegiance has changed supporting companies that are re-inventing music creation, and in a mobile manner.

Finale is my absolute preference for large score, orchestral works, however, they have produced nothing for composing ‘on the go’ via a mobile device.  Their $600 US hefty entry fee for their flagship software stops me from recommending it to few.  It will become a relic of the past.  They have student prices and other entry level software packages with less features, however mobile apps offer an impressive alternative, especially with the aid of a stylus, sampling and creating sounds, and work almost anywhere capabilities.

Notion offers the most beautiful, sampled instrument sounds (London Symphony Orchestra) on all their versions, desktop and mobile devices.  Working ‘on the go’ is extremely important to capture ideas while sitting on the bus or subway, then continuing at home or work via cloud technology.  Notion allows this from finger-gestures, Apple Pencil, music keyboard, and mouse input.  Thumbs up, Notion (PreSonus)!

[Personal note: each orchestral instrument has various techniques as sampled sounds included, for example, French Horn includes hand-stopped or muted notes and glissandi.  This is one of the many reasons I use Notion for its ease of use to add these effects or articulations.  Check out my brass piece, ‘I Saw Three Ships’ on SoundCloud that demonstrates this.]

On the bus or subway – iPhone or iPad

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Notion for iPhone/iPad

Symphony Pro 4

Symphony Pro 4 $9.99 US

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Symphony Pro 5 Beta

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Symphony Pro

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GarageBand for iOS

GarageBand for iOS is an absolute favourite, now updated with more performance capabilities.  I will celebrate the day when they add notation capabilities.

Personal note: This app awaits its entry into schools to help visualize music for so many disinterested students having to endure a skill or knowledge-based curriculum, rather than a holistic, creation-based one.  Share your thoughts on this, please.

Evaluating:

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Stave’n’Tabs for iOS

In this example, Stave’n’Tabs handles triplets fairly well compared with other music notation apps.  I’ll keep my eye on this app over the next year.

Teaching or at home: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, MacBook, iMac

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ScoreCloud Studio Mac or PC -Free with upgrades

ScoreCloud is known for its ease of input by a variety of means, especially great for school use with students inputting their music by keyboard, voice, or recorder!

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Finale for Mac                                      $600 US

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Notion 6 for Mac     $154 US

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I Saw Three Ships

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This is a brass quintet arrangement of the English carol, ‘I saw three ships come sailing in’ done exclusively on Notion for iPhone (mostly on a daily bus ride to work!). Sometimes, saved to iCloud, I opened it on my iPad or Notion for Mac to have more screen space. This piece highlights the sampled sounds of the London Symphony Orchestra and others, brass specifically tested and highlighted here.

I relished using the different brass techniques throughout including straight mutes, glissandi, horn hand stopping, and flutter tonguing in the high trumpet in the second last bar.

At different stages of this piece, I input some notes using my Apple pencil on the iPad. Mobile technology is here to stay and I plan to use it as much as possible to create music truly ‘on the go’, or on the bus! Thank you, Notion for allowing this quality of sampled sounds to be available at a reasonable price!

Gregorian Christmas Piece

This is my arrangement of a Gregorian chant I grew up with.

The theme is represented by the characteristically dark Cor Anglaise (English Horn) and later, bassoons in their high register.  A light texture of pizzicato strings gently supports the melody.  The clarinet briefly signals a motif that is used throughout the latter half of the piece in the French Horns.  It represents my belief that strength can be portrayed in a subtle, quiet way, empowering and reassuring.
In the second performance of the melody with the bassoons, there is an church organ pedal and violin harmonics which adds a spiritual and mysterious quality to the piece.

Performed in Logic Pro X with EastWest Symphonic Orchestra Platinum instruments.

I hope you enjoy!  Comments are always welcome.

 

Apple Pencil: a Mediator

Apple says:

When using iPad Pro, there may be moments when you want even greater precision. So we painstakingly designed Apple Pencil to expand on the versatility of Multi-Touch. And while the technology inside is unlike anything we’ve ever engineered, picking up Apple Pencil for the first time feels instantly familiar. It lets you make any number of effects, right down to a single pixel, giving you more creative freedom than ever before.

True.

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Over the past week, I’ve been using the Apple Pencil with a variety of apps to see how my finger vs. Pencil experience has been changed, after 7 years using an iPad.  (I’ve used two other stylus in the past 3 years).  The pencil acts as a mediator between my thoughts and the iPad.  Whether music notation, writing notes, drawing, or within games, Apple Pencil has transformed my intimacy and expressiveness with the art of creation, once again, as most of its technology has.

Recommendation: buy a case for your iPad Pro (9.7″) that includes a protective cradle for your Apple Pencil – check out Speck case: StyleFolio Pencil model.  You’ll never have to wonder where you put your Apple Pencil!

Apps test: (There are too many to show here.)

Music notation

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Notion for iPad

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Symphony Pro

I’ve waited more than 30 years to be able to write music on a device with accuracy, ease, and in an environment that provides authentic music instruments, notation, and sharing.  Thank you, Apple, Notion and Symphony Pro! 

Writing:

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Penultimate

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 MyScript Nebo -converts written text to print

Drawing:

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Tayasui Sketches

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Drawing Desk

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Pigment: Adult Coloring Book

Are you using the Apple Pencil?  Share your experiences!  What apps would you recommend?

The Erhu Debut

With Apple’s release of the Chinese Instruments and loops in the latest GarageBand update,  educating and promoting this beautifully expressive instrument definitely will follow.  Typically heard in soundtracks accompanying Chinese or Hollywood produced movies with a Chinese theme/location, people are probably curious about this traditional Chinese instrument.  It’s tone is unmistakably evocative of China mirror its glorious landscapes seen through online photo searches and famous Chinese painters.

Now, you can become digitally one with the instrument and its techniques through GarageBand.

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This graphic was created using a FREE app presented on Apps Gone Free, called Cameraxis.

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Living in Hong Kong, it is somewhat common to see people playing an instrument near a street corner for extra income and exposure.  Its a treasured experience seeing a performance of a street musician on the Erhu, commonly playing traditional, Chinese melodies.

Have a look at Tim Cook’s “duet” with China’s famous J.J. Lin using GarageBand.  If you think it sounds good, it does!  Give it a try!

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