Methods for teaching music theory

By Kevin | March 30, 2010

At the Fun Music Company we are currently engaged in creating both music theory worksheets and software to assist in the teaching of music theory, through our upcoming product called interactive music games.

In thinking about these topics, I have been considering the methods that teachers use when sharing music theory with their students.

I’ve come up with three critical concepts which can assist in this area.

Critical Concept Number One – Begin with the music, then the theory.

One thing that nearly all music teachers agree with is that music tuition should begin with sound, and then move onto written understanding. Therefore it is important to always start with what something sounds like, then explain why it is the way it is. For example if showing students chords it is critical for a student to understand at first how a major or minor chord sounds, the emotion that it is conveying and the reasons why a major or minor chord might be chosen for a particular situation. Once they can hear the sound, and its reason for being the mechanical knowledge will follow.

Critical Concept Number Two – Try to understand one thing at a time

Music is a multi-dimensional language. What does that mean? Well it means that in order to read music many different pieces of information have to be absorbed at one moment. That is the concept that makes it most difficult. A given musical event has both a pitch (what note it is), and a duration (a length of time it is played for). Add to that it also has a dynamic (how loud it is) and also expression marks that have to be read by the musician. That is why music can be so difficult to learn to understand music theory.

Critical Concept Number Three – Keep it relevant

The final important concept with music theory is to keep it relevant. The music that the student is learning currently is the music that should be used to connect with their music theory. For example if a student is playing classical music then they shouldn’t be learning jazz harmony. The music that students are currently performing is what should be used as the basis for their music theory lessons.

I’ve also been researching a lot of Information about Music Theory Worksheets, and how they might relate to software products in the classroom.

Topics: Educational Music Software, Music Software | No Comments »

New Music Theory PDF worksheets

By Kevin | June 1, 2009

Did you know that you can now get music theory worksheets available as PDF documents?

At the Fun Music company we’ve been hard at work creating a brand new product, called Printable Music Theory Books, which is a printable theory workbook for music students.

In this product the music theory books are available as PDF documents and you simply print them out as you need for music teaching and private learning.

This is a trend that has developed over the past few years. Gradually publishers are catching up and allowing mass publication via the printable medium of PDF. This means that teachers can print on demand, and they are copyright free as long as you have purchased a license.

This is how copyright should be managed in the 21st century.. where you pay the authors and publishers for what you legitimately use, no matter how it is presented, whether it be via traditional book or PDF.

Check out the Music Theory Books.

Topics: Announcements, Music Education, PDF sheet music | 1 Comment »

iPhone Applications for Music

By Kevin | March 31, 2009

Have you got an iPhone or an iPod touch yet?
Metronome on Iphone
If so maybe you are aware of the amazing amount of applications (programs) that are available through the iTunes app store. There has been an explosion of the development of these applications in the last year, and there are a great many related to music.

When we first looked at this around six months ago there were hardly any applications for music – but now a click on “music” within the itunes app store reveals 45 pages worth of applications, all based around music.

It used to be that you’d pay over $100 for a decent chromatic tuner, and sometimes even over $200 for a metronome. We’d also have to carry them around in our bags. now there is the iPhone and the iPod touch we don’t have to have expensive pieces of hardware to do these jobs – we can use our mobile phones!

With the iPhone and the iPod touch you have the option of adding applications to do these things in many cases for free, or for just a few dollars.

Firstly, a Metronome:

The best application available free:

This simple application is the most amazing metronome we found available for iPhone or iPod touch, and whats more it is FREE!

This application was developed as sample code for iPhone developers – and therefore was probably developed by someone very talented at apple themselves, and so the interface is beautiful!

You simply drag the arm horizon ally to start it, and drag the arm vertically to change the tempo – just like an old fashioned wind up metronome!

For more features the best paid one we tested was:

This metronome application has a wide variety of time signatures, plus a tap function. If you are looking for a little more functionality than the free metronome, then this one would be ideal, and for only $1.19 it is excellent value.

Secondly, A Tuner

There is a wide variety of tuners available in the iTunes App store, ranging from just over a dollar to over $100 for “pro” level tuners.

For most musicians a simple tuner is all that is required – which you can buy for as little as $1.20 at this stage:

The cheapest option we found:
Easy Tune

The best option we found:

This Tuner is the best we’ve found to do a simple yet effective tuning Job. It easily works as well as any fixed hardware tuner, and has support for different temperaments, transposing instruments and different notations (eg solfedge) so it is very useful for anyone teaching music.

SPL Meter

This little application is vitally important for those who want to know exactly how LOUD something is. It contains all the features of a professional SPL meter, and you can have it on hand any time you need to check the volume of something for occupational heath and safety reasons.

The Karajan Ear Trainer

This set of ear training tools is excellent for music teachers and anyone wishing to improve their aural skills.

The paid version at $17.99 contains every type of interval, plus chord and scale recognition. Its an excellent tool, and makes a game out of aural drills which can be quite tiresome for students learning for the aural component of music exams.

There is a free version available, featuring just a few levels, but it is certainly enough to get you started – and if you are working towards exams then it is ideal to help with your aural training.

I thought I’d let this video from the developers explain what this ear training tool can do:

We’ll continue to add more excellent Apps as we find them – and we’ll do some follow up articles based on Apps for iPhones and other mobile devices as we find them.

Topics: Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

How to record a simple CD – Easily and Cheaply

By Kevin | November 4, 2008

I received this question on this blog recently,  which I felt was worth exploring a little more. Perhaps others have other ideas and feedback that can help this person, and I’m sure the many others who have similar questions about how to achieve this.

I need to record a Christmas CD in my school. Kids will sing and i’ll play the piano.

Can you have a look at my questions please. Maybe you can help me.

1. What is the easiest and cheapest (if possible)way of recording it with a good quality?

2. I am not sure if i will be using keyboard/drums to keep a nice beat. Can it be added after recording? How?

Recording is simple in some ways, and complex in other ways. You can make a project as simple or as difficult as you like, and depending on the quality of the recording you are looking for it can cost you thousands of dollars, or very little.

Of course, you know this, and so this article will focus on how to do it for next to nothing – doing it yourself.

I set about answering this question by asking myself… What is the outcome for this project?

A Christmas CD for the school just needs to:

– have the Children’s voices heard clearly

– have a nice cover picture and good presentation

The Equipment part 1 – A Computer

What I suggest is the easiest and cheapest equipment to use these days is a computer. You simply need a reasonably up-to-date computer, with simple software that is easy to use.

Ideally, the Macintosh computers are ideal – they have a native software called “Garage Band” that will do a simple recording, and their sound cards are really quite good for the purpose.

If you’ve got a Windows PC or Laptop – then that is fine too, you’ll simply need some free software called Audacity – its an open source, completely free sound editor that will do a great job. The quality is going to depend on the sound card installed in your computer, but most consumer level sound cards these days will do a reasonable job, if you get the next stage right – the microphone.

The Equipment Part 2 – A Microphone and Mixer

What you need to do next is borrow, or Hire a microphone and mixer. Usually around most schools they have one or two microphones, and probably a mixer. The native microphone on your laptop will not do a good enough job, nor the little voice microphones they include with sound cards that you plug straight into the computer.

What you need is a simple mixer like this:

I just had a look and you can buy one with a couple of channels for under $50 on ebay.

This allows you to plug in one or two microphones and then take the line out in a clean way into your computer.

Then you need a decent microphone or two. This is the critical stage, and its worth going to a hire shop, explaining what you want to do, and hiring both the mixer and the microphones from them. That should cost you under $100, and will give you the quality you need.

How to go about doing it:

For the application you suggest, recording children with piano – this is what I would do – others may have other ideas.

I would use two large diaphragm condenser microphones for the choir, spaced evenly apart just in front of the children. I know that others may suggest other locations for stereo image etc… but really the important thing is that all the children are heard cleanly.  Therefore I’d just make sure that every child has a reasonable chance of being picked up evenly by the microphones

I found a picture of one of these microphones here (some might look a bit different to this) I’m not going to go into which particular brands to use or anything.. thats another whole topic of discussion!

I suggest you hire these – they are usually several hundred dollars to buy.

Then I’d suggest one good quality dynamic microphone for the piano, placed behind it. Once again, you can probably get more detailed response from others on exactly the type of microphone to use.

What I would do then is set it up, play around with the positioning of the piano microphone until I was completely happy with the sound coming through, before getting the children in the room.

If you normally play piano with them – if that is the normal way they practice and perform, then you’re going to get the best possible performance from them by recording it that way.

All you need to do is make sure that the sound coming through in the software on the computer is a good signal. This is represented by the graphical representation on the screen, and it should not “peak” – otherwise you’ll get nasty sounds. You can always cut it down, but if you need to make it louder when the signal is too soft you’ll get lots of noise as well. Have a play with Audacity or whatever audio program you’ve got and you’ll pretty quickly work it out!

With kids, trying something new for the sake of the recording is going to be a big headache and a hard job! The best idea is simply to put them in front of the microphones, then forget they are there. This way you’ll get the most natural and ideal sounding recording.

Once the children are in the room then get them in there, set it running (if you can get someone who knows what they are doing with computers to sit in there with the computer, starting and stopping it running, and saving the files)

An Alternative use of the stereo channels for this application:

Here is an idea for you. Rather than recording in stereo – why not try this?

Your mixer will have a “pan” knob. What this does is send the signal coming in from the microphone to either the right or the left channel, or both if its in the centre.

If you turn the channel thats on the piano all the way to the right, and the two microphones that are on the choir all the way to the left you’ll get the choir recorded on one track, and the piano on the other.

Then, after the children have gone home you can play with the balance between the piano and the choir. You don’t have to worry about the piano being too loud during the recording, you just have to make sure that you have a good clean signal that isn’t “peaking”.

You then mix it down to a mono track, and then separate it back to stereo before burning the tracks to CD. This way you’ll get a nice clean representation of the childrens voices and your piano playing. It wont have true “stereo” but you’ve got to ask yourself..does that really matter?

This is a cheap and nasty way of doing what they do in sophisitcated recording studios where they have many many tracks available. With a standard computer you have two input channels (right and left) – that is it, and this method allows you the most important thing.. being able to hear your children sing.

The second question… adding Keyboard and Drums

If it was me doing this… then I don’t think I would bother – I would use the method suggested above, and then give out a CD that the children could be really proud of because it is what their choir sounds like.

However, if you want to do it – this is what I would do:

I would record the piano first – using MIDI, and record it to a click track. You need sequencer software to do this, such as Cubase, Cakewalk or Garage Band. There is probably free ones available, but the one i’m familiar with is Cakewalk Home Studio. Its fairly easy to use, and you hook up a digital piano using MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) cables.

Once you’ve got the piano recorded to click track, you can go ahead and add midi drums, keyboards, sound effects or whatever you like, whenever you want to.. as the click track will hold it all together in time.

Programs like Cakewalk home studio have facility to record Audio as well, on top of Midi – so you record the choir direct into the software, but I wouldn’t suggest playing at the same time.

If you’re going to do this I would:

1) Record the piano via midi to a click track.

2) Record the choir while conducting, not playing. You’ll need to have the piano being played back through a speaker of course so the kids can hear it, but you want to minimize the amount of piano coming through, as you dont really want it to be picked up by the microphones. As it is exactly what is on the final mix it shouldn’t matter that much. Your computer needs to be more powerful to do this, but better computers should cope with it.

3) Add the drums, keyboard, sound effects on the top in Cakewalk Home Studio and prepare it for mix down using this software

Once again, I would ask myself… does drums and stuff really matter? I think I’d try and focus more on the physical qualities… getting the CD produced nicely with good quality printing on the CDs and booklets.. These CDs are physical items that if done well the children will cherish for ever… lets face it, they aren’t going to get played much, but they will be kept… particularly if they have the children’s photos on. So my priority for budget would be:

– Hiring good microphones and a mixer for around $100

– Getting good quality CD printing and artwork done.

only THEN would I think about adding other tracks and fancy stuff.

This is a huge topic, and I’ve only scratched the surface. Others will surely have other ideas on how to best do this project, however what I’ve suggested is possible for anyone to record a CD for their school for under $100.

Topics: Audio Application, Educational Music Software, Music Software, Recording, Shareware Software | 3 Comments »

Software to make your own beats

By Kevin | July 2, 2008

I’ve just discovered one of the simplest and quickest ways to make your own beats on a computer!

Its a great package containing everything you need to intuitively create your own instrumental backing tracks for any dance style music.

click here for more video demonstrations »

The produced music is yours – its untagged and free of any licensing issues, and you can export your created file into mp3 format.

You can create your own backing track in under an hour using this software – and concentrate on your creativity!

No more hunting through loads of prerecorded “beats” that don’t suit your style – you can create your own with this software that will be perfect for your project… even if you can’t read a note of music!

So click here to check it out in more detail »

Topics: Audio Application, Beats, House, Rap, Techno | 2 Comments »

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