Music Teacher's Helper | Composing and Arranging Blog
Music Teacher's Helper blog provides information and tips about composing and arranging music and saves teachers time and money by automating the business aspects of teaching private music lesson
through online software.
It is no secret that playing a musical instrument not only bolsters a child’s physical and emotional development. It can also help in the more systematized development of his or her brain which can have a significant impact in the child’s academic activities and social endeavors. But just how can playing music benefit a child’s brain? Let’s learn more.
Improves Math Skills
We’re not talking about turning your child into a math wizard. What we’re talking about is the ability of music to help children better appreciate simple concepts in math that they can use to understand more complex numerical concepts in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. The thing is that even a simple activity as playing the drums can teach children about the concept of measures as exemplified in musical rhythms or beats.
Studies show that children who played musical instruments fared a lot better in math tests especially on estimation and computation than those who aren’t musically-inclined. You can always start your child on any music instrument, but one of the easiest to master so far is playing the drums. You can also learn from a website how your child can play such a musical instrument and start his or her way to becoming skilled in numbers.
Did you know that memorizing music pieces can help improve the brain’s ability to process and integrate information in a process we call memory? Researchers have found that children who played musical instruments and had to memorize their piece demonstrated better working memory. It is believed that music challenges the way the child’s brain processes and integrates new information, allowing for more efficient neuronal activity.
This improvement in memory can also translate to a host of other benefits. Children who have better-functioning working memory will fare a lot better in academic pursuits that require such skills. It also lays the foundation for the brain’s ability to solve complex problems.
Facilitates the Processing of Language
While it is true that playing music doesn’t necessarily involve the use of words, it nevertheless helps the child’s brain in the development of language-related skills. Learning the different parts of a drum set and how each component can bring about a wonderful rhythm can improve the vocabulary of children learning to play the drums. The same is true for those who will be uttering the words that they have learned while learning to play these musical instruments. They can process phonemes a lot better.
Neuroscientists have discovered that music has a very unique way of improving the manner in which the human brain integrates and processes parts of everyday spoken language. When this is applied to children, music can potentially benefit those who are having a more difficult time with reading and language. This can help them in their academic activities.
Develops Spatial Reasoning
Several studies show that playing music can also enhance a child’s spatial reasoning or the ability of the brain to understand, remember, reason, and interpret the unique relationships among objects in space. This is all the more evident in children playing drums as they get to move not only all of their limbs but also the rest of their body. Knowing the distance of the drumstick relative to the surface of the drum is a function of the brain’s spatial reasoning abilities.
Children playing music will do well in activities that require spatial-temporal measures. This allows them to function a lot better and more efficiently across any activity that they choose. For instance, if they engage in sports, their spatial reasoning will allow them to shoot the basketball with greater proficiency or perhaps even aim for the bull’s eye in a game of darts. Whenever objects in space are involved, one has to rely on the brain’s spatial reasoning.
Protects against Dementia
Dementia is known as a degenerative disease that affects the elderly, but can always present in young to middle-age adults. It is degenerative, meaning it is a very slow and insidious process. Studies show that playing music can be a protective factor against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.
One can never be sure if one’s child will grow to have dementia, given the fact that this condition is very common among the elderly. Because music can engage different parts of the brain at the same time, it can help prevent the disuse of brain cells enabling them to retain their optimum functioning a lot longer.
Playing music can be greatly advantageous to a child’s brain. Starting them today even with as simple as playing the drums can pave the way for better cognitive development.
Most recording software allows you to see and edit the midi notes you have recorded with the “piano roll” editor. This is a simple and logical method of visualizing sound and adjusting it to the desired outcome.
The name piano roll comes from a technology developed in the late nineteenth century. Originally, a piano roll was used to trigger the playback of a pianola or player piano by using a series of cutout dashes on a cardboard roll which would tell the mechanism what keys on the piano should be triggered.
How to Read the “Piano Roll” Editor
Back to the twenty-first century. When some midi data has been recorded on a keyboard connected to a computer, the recording software normally allows the data to be edited in the piano roll editor. (Shown in the diagram is the piano roll editor from Cubase, a recording software product from a company called Steinberg).
On the “y” axis is the pitch. Logically, the higher the position of the recorded event, the higher the pitch. You can see that the octaves are numbered starting from C to B.
On the “x” axis is time. At the top of the diagram, you can see the bar (measure) numbers. In this instance, each bar is subdivided into 4 parts which represent crotchet (quarter-note) beats. It is easy to see whether a note has been played early, on time or late. These notes can be recorded using a click track, which is a metronome that runs in perfect synchronisation with the recording to aid the performer to stay in time, vital if other instruments are added later. It’s an interesting exercise to see how well a student can synchronize to the click track to assess their timing skills. Of course, if the timing needs improving, all recording software will allow you to snap each note to the nearest rhythm line using a feature called “quantise” or by manually adjusting the start of the note with the mouse. As well as adjusting the “note-on,” you can also adjust the “note-off” either by “quantisation” or again, manually. As you can see in the above diagram, some notes are overlapping. I find it useful to show a student the piano roll, whilst listening back, so they can see where they need to improve. This has always been a very effective method of motivating improvement in their technique because they can not only hear but see where they are going wrong.
The final area I want to share with you in this article is the velocity lane. Put simply, it represents the volume of each note as shown by the bar graph at the bottom of the diagram. Notice how the volume of each note is color coordinated with red being loud, blue being quiet and the middle shades representing volumes between these two extremes. Again, listening back to a student’s performance will quickly help them to hear and see whether they have control of their fingers and a mastery of dynamics. If needed, it is easy to adjust the volume of individual notes or draw in crescendos and diminuendos.
Piano rolls are not just for piano and keyboard players! Midi drum kits and guitars are available to buy which will connect to a computer running recording software. The piano roll editor can then be used on these instruments too to see and edit note events.
2 Great Applications
Using the piano roll is a great teaching tool to help students hear and see where they are going wrong in their technique and a way to assess whether they are improving. Also, it provides a powerful way to perfect a recording that can later be converted into an mp3 file to share with family and friends which acts as a great motivator to students.
Love ’em or hate ’em, computers are here to stay and are rapidly permeating most areas of our lives. Music is no exception.
There’s music software ranging from humble metronome and tuning duties, right through to sophisticated composition and recording, and everything in-between! In preparing the next generation of musicians, integrating music technology into our lessons is therefore an important aspect of our student’s development.
But where to start? What software should students use? Will it be expensive? What skills need to be taught?
Over the next few months I will looking at some of the basic concepts of music technology that I teach in my music lessons as well as sharing some advanced techniques learnt from my experiences as a freelance composer and producer.
So why incorporate music technology in lessons?
It brings exciting variety into the lessons for both us as teachers and for our students
Particularly good for engaging teenage boys but I’m equally pleased to see the enthusiasm of my female students too
Helps give us a “USP (unique selling point)” when students are looking for a new teacher
Playing back to students what they written or recorded and allowing them to “see” their music is a very powerful method of learning
Helps us stay relevant as teachers
Gives students skills that they will be need in the future
What software is available?
For simplicity, I would divide music software into three basic roles:
Software for notating sheet music
Software for recording
Utility software for tuning, metronome duties, guitar pedal software, drum machines, soft synths, etc.
The good news is you don’t have to spend a penny! There is much legitimate, free software out there and some of it is exceptional. Beware that there is a lot of illegal, cracked software that may be very tempting. As teachers, we need to set a good moral/ethical example to our students and their parents. Software developers rely on sales to fund future releases and cracked software often contains bugs that can cause serious problems.
NoteFlight is a fantastic free web based product and has provided a very good starting point for lots of my students. As their skills develop, some students have upgraded to Sibelius First, which can later be upgraded to the industry standard Sibelius. It is worth mentioning Finale which is another highly respected notation package in the music industry.
There are many great products available for recording. You many hear of them referred to as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations).
Apple provide their free entry level product GarageBand on their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks which is simple to use and can later be updated to their flagship product Logic (available on Macs but not the iPhones or iPads). With the Apple Camera Kit and a USB cable (same as a USB printer cable), you can connect a midi keyboard to record music. Bluetooth keyboards are now available so that you don’t need to use cables anymore! Guitars and microphones can also be connected for use. IK Multimedia provide some great products for singers, guitarists and keyboard players to interface with their mobile devices for recording.
Cubase is a long respected DAW which has the benefit of being cross-platform (I run it on both my PCs and Macs) and has been my weapon of choice since I was 14! It comes in three flavours, Elements (entry-level), Artist and then the full version.
Finally, I would like to mention a website called MusicRadar which is a fantastic resource for learning about software products and learning about how to use music technology.
Scales… Ugh! Who loves to learn to play scales? Arguably scales are very helpful to learn skills, pass exams, play faster, etc.
Motivating students to practice – using scale sticks for random choice has helped my students want to practice their scales.
You’ll no doubt agree that it is better to motivate students to practice their scales rather than berate them for not practicing them…
My earlier blog post ‘Scales Made Easier‘ helps my students to learn scale patterns. However, I have added a fun element to provide a way of preparing students for the randomness of needing to play scales out of order, to sharpen their mind.
Introducing wooden sticks has helped students to practice scales in a more fun way (which scale am I playing next, left/right/together etc?). I also use several dice with ‘left hand’, ‘right hand’, ‘hands together’ or ‘hands together with eyes closed’, 1 finger, together contrary motion, etc., for scales or arpeggios. Students pick a stick and roll the dice (for scale, broken chord or arpeggio, depending on what stick they picked).
How can I get my piano students to play musically?
Will they ever learn to truly perform rather than just play?
How can I help them to become more confident music readers?
These are some of the challenges that Alison Mathews has addressed in her new book “Doodles” published by Editions Musica Ferrum.
Aimed at beginners to around grade 3 (ABRSM), this chunky book contains 128 little pieces of 4-8 bars (measures) arranged in four difficulty levels.
Now the interesting part! Rather than name each piece, Mathews has provided a small picture, often an emoji, hence the title “Doodles,” which is meant to inspire a mood in the music student. She has also given lots of interesting directions like, “playfully – fish are chasing in the coral” or “fast and furious – what else could you do to make it sound stormy?” I love how at the centre of these short activities the emphasis is on performance. The pupil just simply can’t resist but will soon be inspired to create their own pieces. Watch out John Williams, we will all be writing shark music at this rate!
An interesting feature is the use of the same pieces at each level but with increased difficulty and technique. This a great way to help a student see how to develop a composition. I can see my pupils having lots of fun improvising with these pieces and using them as the basis of their own compositions. Young pupils love engaging their imagination, so this book will inspire them not only to be better readers of music but more importantly, to play with feeling and understanding.
Lots of different playing techniques are explored through the pieces and are an intrinsic part of each song. Legato, staccato, dynamics, tremolandi and glissandi are all represented. I’ve even picked up a tip for helping young pupils to play a glissando without hurting their fingers by using a roll of sellotape!
My only criticism is that there are no key signatures used. I’m very keen on introducing a sense of key very early in development but this is a “minor” grumble compared with the fantastic way that musicality is being taught here. Maybe this is an issue that could be addressed in later editions or subsequent volumes.
For its ability to inspire musicality in such a fun and engaging way, this book gets a big thumbs up from me.
Opportunities seemed to fall in my lap — and they would occasionally reignite the flame of my music:
Recording for two projects on EMI records
Getting to work with Celine Dion
Getting to fly to the town where the President (at that time) lived as we performed a concert there with other amazing artists
Those were the firework times of excitement — but mostly, I was restless with discontent and all the technicolor living I had been doing seemed to fade to grey tones when I looked at my life.
I was this woman who, as a little girl spent all her extra time on the piano; and now I was resentful of sitting down at it. All those days and nights as a kid in New Jersey with my big, puffy headphones on listening to my 8-track, and then in Connecticut as a teen with cassettes, and eventually California as a young adult with CDs full of my favorite artists — all of those were traded for talk radio or silence as I drove the 405 freeway up to Los Angeles for another gig.
I guess when you’re looking for a change, sometimes life brings you an unexpected one.
At the age of 27, I ended up pretty ill. The doctors couldn’t figure out why, but after a scrillion tests and a year and half later, they told me to get my affairs in order (because they thought I was dying), and that if I did live that I’d never have children.
I stopped everything and examined my life.
The nitty, gritty.
The “what was driving me?” kind of questions.
Not questions about music, but about me. What was going on, on the inside of me?
The answers came back in my introspection. How I was driven by Fear, by performing for others in relationships as “the good girl”, “the hard-working, responsible girl”… as a way to be worthy of their love.
I realized that I was working so much because I didn’t want to stop and rest. Because when I did stop… when I did rest, the noise in my head was non-stop criticism of me. The voice that lived in my head wasn’t a kind one that told me how proud it was of me. Nope. It was negative, judgmental, always looking for my faults instead of my goodness. When I kept moving, working, and the music turned on then, I couldn’t hear my inner static and angst.
Slowing down, being sick while aiming to be healthy meant evaluating my life those next couple of years. In that reflective time, I was able to see that I had lost my love, not only for my music, but for me.
I also realized that my love for music needed a certain environment to be in: It needed to have a certain trust and hope that life was good and everything was going to be okay.
I didn’t feel that way and so, I used music — not as an expression of my joy anymore — but to provide safety for my life that I didn’t feel in other places.
I know it’s really heavy and deep but there’s something that I’ve learned:
That it’s hard to feel joy when you don’t feel safe.
My lack of joy in my music was to me, a signpost that I didn’t feel safe.
It was partly because of how I was raised in my crazy home and some of those after-effects and realities were catching up to me in my 20’s. It was partly some crappy spirituality that sent fear-based messages that made me live like I was being chased by a bear, only it was called “God.” It was partly because of my marriage that was not a balanced partnership and I was more committed to people thinking we were okay than I was to letting myself be known in my pain.
Different things contributed to it but it was basically me not able to find my joy again.
Music is an expression of the heart. We can’t live the passion of the music without the connection back to the heart of who we are.
In all my fear and messy stuff in my head and life, I had lost touch with heart of the music because the heart of the music doesn’t just live in the song, it lives in me.
That was my journey… to get back to the heart of me.
There’s so much more to the story… about the healing my mind and heart experienced. The healing my spirituality experienced. The healing my body experienced. The healing my marriage experienced. All of those were the long and winding road stories that I write about in my books. I knew that as I was healing — that something was shifting.
After having two boys (that the doctor’s said I’d never have) we moved to upstate New York for a two-year stint, working at a church.
It was another rainy day, something we had often like my New Jersey childhood but unlike my Southern California experience. At the same time, it was a different day for me. It was a marker moment when I could see that my life had healed to a different place of safety and reconnection to my heart.
I was ready. I could tell. I asked my husband if I could have my iPod back. He had been borrowing it since I had zero interest in anything other than the music I had to do for my work for a few years. On this particularly different day, I gave him a piece of paper with one song on it. He smiled and disappeared into the room for about 5 minutes and came back and handed my iPod to me.
I looked at him with gratitude, put my earbuds in, stepped out the front door into the drizzle that was falling and looked up. I didn’t care about the conditions, I was on a mission…
I walked up and down the street, on the crooked sidewalks, with the skies opening up as Natasha Bedingfield was in my head singing, “Unwritten”:
“I break tradition,
Sometimes my tries
Are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes,
But I can’t live that way, no…
Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still Unwritten.”
What a powerful moment.
Because it wasn’t just a moment when I was reconnecting to the music that I was starting to love again, it was reconnecting to my life — my soul… my heart… where the music lived in me.
Feeling Burnout? I totally get it! Here are some valuable questions and tips to get you back:Valuable Questions:
Why am I a music teacher? What inspired me?
What other things in life inspire me?
Do I feel like I’m making enough money to feel safe or do I feel like I’m just squeaking by and every month is a stress?
Do I feel safe and happy in the other parts of my life that matter? My health, my spirituality and my key relationships?
Do I feel like I’m being honored in my work? (Remembering that honor comes first from us toward us and then, is reflected in our work relationships. People don’t honor you in their attitude, dollars, or time if you don’t honor yourself in those areas.)
Does my life have a good balance of the ratio between work and play?
Is there something I’m afraid to tackle in my business that is taking all the fun out it?
Is there a part of my business that I dread that I can either be equipped and trained in or that I can outsource? (That’s part of why Music Teacher’s Helper exists — to take the burdensome parts out of our hands so that we can focus our energy on teaching.)
Taking the advice of the Shaman’s to make sure that each day is filled with singing, dancing, playing an instrument… for the sake of joy. This is separate from your work.
Read Julia Cameron’s classic: “The Artist’s Way” — In The Artist’s Way, she talks about taking an Artist’s Date each week. Something where you get to enjoy an antique shop, a comedy club, a poet’s reading, a jazz concert, a painting class — something where you’re feeding YOUR soul with what inspires you.
Take a day off. Non-stop work can create burnout.
Fill in these blanks: “If this ________________ were out of my life/different in my life, THEN, I would be happier.” And, “If this __________________ were in my life, THEN, I would be happier.”
Remember: if there’s something that can make a difference in your experience of life, the most important thing to remember is that you’re in charge of making it.
I’m excited for you to return to the joy that inspired you into this beautiful art form called “Music!”
Keep on as you remember that your joy and your life makes such a difference in the joy and lives of others!
(Here’s the photo of Stacey, her husband, and their boys)
I was 15 when I started my professional music career. We had just moved our crazy, Italian family from New Jersey — the land of big hair, sarcasm, and amazing cannoli — to Connecticut where my dad (a former singer/songwriter turned “responsible” business professional) was being promoted to VP of a stock brokerage firm.
I asked my parents, “Can I work at G.Fox at the Danbury Mall with my girlfriends? I will learn how to work a cash register and make $3.03 an hour!” I was excited.
My parents looked at me like I had a squirrel on my head.
They shook their heads… no.
“Stacey, you have a gift in music. If you want to work before college, you’re going to have to do something in music for your job.”
Totally NOT the answer most kids get, right?
I had been taking piano lessons since I was 10, writing songs since before then, and knew all the words to Karen Carpenter, Rush, Barbra Streisand, and much to the chagrin of everybody, Meatloaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights”.
(“Mom, what is this song about? I don’t get it!”)
I performed in any talent show at school, and sat most nights at the piano practicing the songs, from classical to pop, that inspired or were assigned to me. I had just spent my summer at the illustrious “Center for Creative Youth” at Wesleyan University in Connecticut with some of the best professors and professionals in the music field, honing my craft in the arts.
They were right: I did have a gift.
My mind dreamed up places I could play: Our church, as an accompanist — my community theatre for the musicals — as a teacher of young, interested students.
I can’t remember if my dad brought it up or I did but the question came, “What about our country club?”
Before you think I was raised with a silver spoon in my mouth, let me assure you with clear images of a gold Riviera in my head, that I wasn’t. I watched my dad climb the corporate ladder, and my mom run the house and hold part time jobs in the office at our school. I remember the tense arguments behind closed doors and when we lost the house when the market, and my dad’s job, had crashed in the late 70’s.
What I had was a sense of “I can do anything.” Despite all the whacky stuff that I was raised in that I won’t go into because I spent enough years in therapy for all that — I was also sent this message: “Anything is possible and you can do anything, Stacey.”
So, I got dressed up and my dad drove me to the country club where I talked to Tom, the manager, and found out that the pianist had quit two weeks ago. Tom needed a new pianist starting this weekend. He would pay me $50 for 2 ½ hours of playing so, I basically was making $20 an hour in 1985, doing what I loved in a beautiful setting with really rich people who drank expensive drinks.
It was awesome.
Tipsy people talk to you at the piano and don’t really think, “Hey. Maybe she’s busy reading music right now so, I’ll wait.” Nope. They just lean on your piano with their really expensive whiskey and start telling you stories and asking you questions.
So, I learned how to listen to people and talk while I played. They asked for songs I didn’t know, but I was a great sight-reader and would pull out these compilation books to play new/old songs, on the spot. Totally honed skills I had no idea would benefit me for my entire career.
I was able to, with my money, go to one of the most esteemed vocal teachers in Connecticut, Lucibelle Anderson, and study Bel Canto method with her since my dad, who always paid for my piano lessons, absolutely refused to pay for my vocal lessons so they were on me.
He told me, “You’ll never make money as a singer. You’ll always make money as a pianist.”
He was wrong by the way – and he was right: I made money as a singer – a lot of it, for sure. But most the time, I got the gig over the singer because I could accompany myself on the piano. I was a built-in, two-for-one special. I could run rehearsals, warm up other vocalists, and pinch-hit for the uber-talented pianist who was a no-show.
I became invaluable.
Those following years were spent as a short stint as a music comp and theory major until I just had so much work that I left school. Performing live and in the studio, recording songs that I had written or with different artists and, after I married at the tender age of 20 to my sax-playing/singer husband, Rocky Robbins, (PERFECT name for a sax player, right?)
I ended up traveling all over the US performing music at spiritual conferences, being hired by companies for their amazing corporate events, and working with major artists on their projects, in addition to teaching, leading workshops, special choirs, and CD projects for kids.
People were booking their wedding dates around our availability and I had 40 students on my wait list after teaching 60 students a week.
It was crazy.
I had no time to cash the checks that would sit in a pile on my desk in the living room.
I definitely wasn’t the most amazing musician in the world — I was just one of those who was good at what I did and had the business mind and savvy to carry it all out.
I was one of those on-time, on-task, get the job done really well, no matter how much chaos was in my life — and trust me, there was a lot — kind of people. I did it with a lot of heart and my life was balls-to-the wall music for 80 hours a week.
It’s the cry of many, including many teachers I work with. Luckily, I’m pretty good with technology and have usually embraced it early on.
But today, there are so many options available for creating music using software. You can use an app on your phone, your tablet, a PC or Mac. Plus there are various kinds of software with different approaches. Which one is right for you?
The Power Of Teaching With Customized Music
As a music teacher, I find it impossible to not put on my composer or arranger hat. There are so many pieces that my students would love to play if they could just understand the notation. I have even created an alternate system of notation called Musicolor Notationthat relies on colors and direct labelling to ease the learning curve of reading music. But, once we’re using the standard notation, I still need to make alterations quite often. For this, I find it faster (and more legible) if I use some software to produce the printed sheet. It also has the benefit of being replicable for more students and teachers.
I have spent thousands if not hundreds of thousands of hours sitting in front of my screen to create music with so many kinds of software over the years.
Which Is Right For You?
So in this article, I’d like to clarify the kinds of music creation software and hopefully guide you to the one that is right for you.
When people talk about creating music using a computer, it can mean a few different things: composing music or producing music, or both. In this article, I’m going to give you an overview of the types of software used in creating music. There’s another category of software for editing sound and music, but I’ll leave that for another article.
The Three Mindsets of Music Creation Software
There are two mindsets of using software to help in the creation of music:
1) Producer mindset, in that you are capturing recorded music – a song or demo for perfecting or even as a final mix.
2) Composer’s mindset, where you are capturing written notation – sketching out ideas on electronic score paper and then printing out sheet music to try out with live musicians.
3) DJ mindset, where you are combining pre-made selections, samples or bits of music to create a final seamless soundtrack. This has only become possible with the arrival of super-powerful and affordable computers and hard drives. Beat-matching (aka tempo matching) is what this software is all about and enables a DJ to smoothly combine two songs even at different tempos or keys. This is more of a subset of the Producer mindset.
The worlds have started to merge and collide with faster computers. The difference is in their original design and can affect your workflow.
One has a composer’s mindset, starting with notes on a page, ideas written down, phrases manipulated by inversion, transposition, etc. This is more like a word processor for a composer, getting the ideas down in written notation. The software for this began as a way to quickly output easily affordable high quality sheet music. It is called music engraving or notation software and began in the 1980’s when personal computers started to arrive. Before this, only major music publishers could afford to print sheet music using mechanical and plate engraving and then moving to lithographic printing presses.
As modern computers have begun to get faster with larger hard drives, some of these software packages are now able to record high quality scores using sampled instruments. As a result you can easily start a composition, hear it back with samples and even output to a full high resolution mix. Today there are a few options in this camp.
Modern Engraving/Notation Software and Apps
Finale – It’s robust, deep, and professional, but expensive
MuseScore – Open source and completely free – looks promising
Sibelius – It’s more user friendly than Finale (in my humble opinion) and similarly pricey, but it’s the one I use most
Noteflight – This one is accessible online through your web browser! It’s great and allows you to share compositions online and even host your entire studio. I bought it for all my students.
PreSonus Notion – This looks super cool and is featured in an Apple commercial. It will take some time for me to really learn this, but I do have it on my iPad now.
Dorico – this is new software created by the team who originally developed Sibelius, now working for Steinberg, the people who make Cubase (see below).
The other mindset is from the producer’s view, recording music without much thought about the written notation. It’s all about capturing the sounds and editing and thinking along the lines of a music producer or even a movie director/editor. It’s all happening “in the mix.”
Back in the day, 1980’s, there was music sequencing software, and it all began with Atari home computers. Basically, it was a way of composing music by programming a sequence of notes and chords to play via electronic instruments that were connected via MIDI. The music sequencer was a big part of early electronic music and all rap and hip/hop. It was available as software computer programs and then dedicated sequencer machines.
Early Atari home computer with a midi keyboard setup. Image from Wikipedia
Over time, the sequencer was able to not only control instruments, but also record digital audio along with the sequence of notes. Today, the sequencer is now part of a full digital audio workstation (DAW) and these are both available as computer software programs you install as well as dedicated machines with sequencing and recording abilities built right in.
A peculiar thing I noticed was that so many of these software companies originate from a small area of Germany. When I was a guest speaker at a film festival in Frankfurt, I asked my hosts: “why is all this software and why are all the great composers (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.) from Germany?”
(They surmised that it could be the language. German is so precise with so many ways to say very specific things – much more than other languages! If language is the operating system of the mind, then maybe we should all learn German?)
Top DAWs on the market now
Logic Pro X (Apple) – It used to be called Emagic Logic and this is the one I use and love – Here’s a recent project I created for a theater production using Logic.
Cubase (Steinberg) – I started on this in the 90s and it remains a leading DAW
GarageBand – This is free from Apple and it’s amazing that you can use it on an iPhone!
Reason – There are many fans of this, but I’m not a fan of the interface
Pro Tools – This one started as a sound editing package and now has sequencing
Fun fact: I started college at NYU in 1983 and attended the first ever MIDI conference sponsored by Yamaha. They were showing off a hot new item, the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer with full MIDI capabilities!
The groundbreaking Yamaha DX7
The modern DAW (digital audio workstation) even has the ability to notate sheet music. However, because of the mindset/paradigm of this software interface, it is not an ideal solution for creating sheet music. It can be a great way to record high quality backing tracks for your students to practice along with at home or make recordings as part of your songwriting class.
Most DJ software will not allow you to export music notation. But, you can create some really cool sounding stuff.
Ableton Live – this really blurs the line between linear and non-linear composing. You can actually do both, but it’s definitely built from a non-linear DJ perspective. You can do things with this that are impossible to notate – and that’s the point. It’s like a sonic blender that makes it all work.
ACID– old school software started in 1998 by Sonic Foundry, then merged into Sony. Now has been sold to Magix. I never liked the interface so didn’t really do much with it.
Traktor – From Native Instruments – there’s a more performance oriented one called Maschine too – amazing stuff! Expensive but super reliable.
DJPro – an iPhone/iPad DJ software that connects to your Spotify account – not really for composing at all – but loads of fun
iMaschine 2 – My son has spent hours creating tracks on this iPhone app. It is amazing and only $6.
Depending on the project will depend on what I use.
For working with live musicians, I will usually use Sibelius to create notation and perhaps export rough idea audio files as MP3s. For film, television, advertising and theater, I can use either LogicPro, or a combination of Sibelius to LogicPro. With things that require more non-linear thinking, Ableton Live is amazing. If you are doing sound design, you can just do it in Q-Lab, software designed for theater and live sound design.
As a teacher, I find it super powerful to be able to fire up Sibelius and write out a quick simplified notation for my students. Sometimes, just removing a note from a chord or making a left hand part a single bass note instead of a chord enables the student to make it through and retain all the enthusiasm and excitement music should have!
Music theory is a passion of mine. As a composer as well as a music teacher, I realise that teaching music theory provides the building blocks of a more complete musician. Put simply, “knowledge is power.”
So it was with great interest that I have noticed that the ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), who lead the way in music examinations in the world, was having a major overhaul in the way they test music theory, starting from January 2018.
Why the change? What will be different? Are there any resources to help with the change?
Why the change
A need to modernise their exams and react to feedback from teachers and students has brought on these recent changes. Looking at the new specimen papers, you get a feeling that the tests are less ambiguous than in times past.
The changes will only affect grades 1-5 at the moment. The rhythm-writing in early grades is being replaced. This used to provide a nice little introduction to the basics of composing but I would imagine that the quality of preparation for this question would have varied greatly from teacher to teacher depending on their own skills or imagination. At the grade 4, there used to be the option of the word-setting question. That has now been axed as well as the option of writing a complete melody at grade 5. How will students cope with the transition into grade 6-8 where composing is a large portion of the assessment? I think that step will be harder for candidates from now on. I have long thought that, although the exams for grade 6-8 are excellent, the resources and support material for these higher grades are appalling and desperately need revamping by the ABRSM. But that’s a subject of another blog.
Gone are the SATB open and short score converting question which was extremely time-consuming. I really like the use of multiple choice questions for the meaning of performance directions. Generally, the exam looks a lot more inviting, modern, clean which is very welcome.
At the start of 2019, the old exams papers for 2018 will be posted as a preparation booklet but that is quite some time away. In the meantime, the ABRSM has published on their website two sets of sample exam papers as a free download.
I really like a free quiz page that you can share with students to give them practice with the new multiple choice question. That will continue to be a very useful resource do-doubt.