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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why I love Zumocast

Zumocast has to be my favorite app on my iPad and my iPod Touch. I have much more music on CD than it is possible to store on one portable device. I have ripped a lot of my collection onto a couple of large capacity external drives, but it's impossible to carry all that around on a portable device. So, I always end up having to choose which albums to keep on my iPad and iPod, and having to delete some music if I want to put different music on. Then of course, in class I think of a tune I would like to play for the students, so I can demonstrate something, and I realize it's not on my iPad or iPod - I deleted it last week. If only I had my home computer with me, I could access it immediately.

Zumocast to the rescue. Zumocast lets me stream any music directly from my home computer. I just have to leave my computer on during the day when I'm at school or on the road, and a tiny server app plays any music file I need whenever I access Zumocast from my iPad or iPod. Hundreds of albums are available to me and the music streams instantly, and very reliably. It is truly a class-saving tool.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Music Education on iPad

The first time I held an iPad I fell in love. Of course, I wanted one for my own amusement and enjoyment and also the convenience of being able to check the internet on a bright touchscreen. More than that, though, I immediately realized what benefits a tactile surface as this could have for music education. Children already interact well with technology. If that technology is also musical, then we have a great vehicle for teaching. A couple of days after my iPad arrived I had found enough great apps for music education that I agreed to host a session on "iPads in the music classroom" for the Maryland Music Educators Association conference in the fall. In that session I'll be demonstrating lots of wonderful music apps such as the one in the picture - "Percussive". It's just 99 cents at the App Store ( It has four instruments - xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, and kalimba, with celeste and vibraphone to follow later in the next update. There is no delay in touching the screen and hearing the sound, it has full polyphony so many notes can be played at once, the sounds are gorgeous samples, and it looks beautiful too. If you though Orff pedagogy was disappearing because of the influx of electronic instruments, think again. This app allows many kids to play at the same time, you never have to go hunting for beaters or missing bars. Children with limited hand movement or arm strength can all play, and you could have a full classroom Orff band with just a few iPads. You could of course combine this app with regular mallet instruments and it would easily hold its own as the sound is so good. I'm looking forward to the first Percussive ensemble on youtube.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One of my student's compositions - Mike Furst (aka Charlie Kilo)

Mike has entered this composition in the Ableton Summer Music Challenge. Please listen to it the whole way through - the more times it gets played, the more chance Mike has to get through to the next part of the Music Challenge. Here's his own program note:

"Remember the Chicago Bomb scare of 2007? Cartoon Network hired a private contractor to place Lite-Brite Mooninites around the city as part of a viral marketing campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Movie Film For Theatres. Mistaken for bombs, the city panicked and the contractor was promptly arrested. So I guess that's what I was going for here. But yes, this track draws its mood from the mixture of something innocent mistaken for something deadly. Lite-Brite. Boom."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

ADHD kid listens to music - shocker!

School begins again this week, and as I get ready preparing curricula and lessons, one thought keeps coming back to me. Look at the picture on the left. If you'd been asleep for the last seven days you might not know who that man is, but chances are you do. Here's a young man who was labeled/diagnosed as ADHD at school, and given little chance of success. And what does he do to focus his mind each time he gets ready to jump in the water? The answer's in the picture. And the answer's even bigger when you really think about it. It's not the content of what he's listening to that matters. Hundreds of bloggers have speculated about what's on his iPod and what those lyrics mean to him as he prepares to swim. Yet he himself told the NBC commentators that it's nothing more than some hip-hop - just the things he likes to listen to. No analysis needed. It's simple. Music's power is part of what helps an academically-discarded kid become the greatest athlete in Olympic history. Congratulations, Michael Phelps, you have helped millions realize the power of single-minded determination and devotion to your skill, and yet you accepted the World's praise with true humility. You are a role model in many more ways than just being a truly outstanding swimmer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is there a Garage Band for PC?

If I had a penny for every time a student or parent had asked me that...

Apple made a great choice with including Garage Band in iLife. It's a very fun program and there's a lot to it beyond just the loop browser. Above all, Garage Band is making music creativity available big time and that has to be applauded.

Whenever students or parents see how much fun can be had making music on Garage Band in school, they always want to ask if they can do this at home on their PC. I usually steer them towards buying Sony's Acid, or one of its light versions (Acid Express, Super Dooper Music Looper, Jam Trax, American Idol Extreme Music Creator, etc.) After all, Sony's program is the pioneer - Acid was originally made by the clever guys at Sonic Foundry who pretty much created the beat-matching algorithm that makes Garage Band possible. Acoustica's Mixcraft software is also one to watch as a potentially awesome PC DAW.

Now I have found a great free alternative to Acid or to Garage Band. TrakAx is absolutely worth a look-at. It's a fun program, it's a visual delight, it's intuitive and easy to use, the website is outstanding, and the tutorial videos are terrific. Best of all, it's free. You can use it to create great music for music's sake, or you can use it to add music to a slide show or video. You can get packs of loops for next to nothing at the site ($2 for 10 professionally-produced loops is a great price - better than buying a pack of gum). You can also use loops (in wav, mp3, ogg, or wma) that you already have on your computer - access them through the loop browser. If you're totally strapped for cash you could always Google "free loops" and see if you could get some for nothing, but you usually have to subscribe to something to get them, and you have no guarantee that they're virus-free nor professionally-produced - better to save on your next pack of gum and buy some really good loops from TrakAx.

To download, go to and cancel all appointments for the rest of the day so you can play - this is one of the best music education downloads out there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To compress or not to compress

There's been quite a lot of talk this week about data compression of digital files. Good old Neil Young has weighed in pretty heavily on how compression spoils the fidelity of music...and Yahoo has pulled the plug on its digital music market, leaving everybody who downloaded music from them high and dry if they didn't back up copies of the songs they "bought".

I was never a big fan of digital downloading to begin with. The convenience factor has spawned a market where quality is sacrificed. I am glad that people are listening to music on their portable music devices, but I cringe at the thought of how much quality has been sacrificed to make that happen. If you compress the music using a codec such as mp3, you lose the upper harmonics which are so important to the sound - you destroy the deep complexity of what the audio engineers and producers have crafted through their art. The more you compress, the more you lose.

Compression was initially a convenient way to reduce file size when this was necessary - to store or to email large amounts of data. Now we have the storage capacity to take larger files, but people still compress to squeeze more into their available space. I would guess many people do not have a clue about what data compression does to the sound, and they are listening to something that has had much of the life sucked out of it. Do you know how much music you can get on a 160GB iPod in uncompressed format? The answer is way more than you're ever going to need to go on your jog round the park, anyway. Squeezing to save space is ludicrous - the next generation of portable music devices will have 10 or 100 times that storage capacity, and people will rush out to buy them on the day they're released, just like they did with the original iPod and now the iPhone. Apple's desire to sell, sell, sell, has left us with an uneducated consumer market, and a greed to pack in as much as we can without regard to quality.

When you download music from the internet you don't "own" it. You have purchased the rights to listen to it at your own convenience. You haven't got the right to duplicate it for your friends or to publish it on your web page. You can't kick up a fuss if the company who made it available to you pulls the plug. In this digital age, you should have learned to back up your files. The architecture of data storage is still more brittle than the demands we put on it - it is an inevitability that your hard drive will crash.

Go buy music on CD or even Blu-Ray- it's way better quality than a download. Don't compress your files unless it's necessary, and only if you have an uncompressed copy to go back to. Always record to CD quality (16 bit, 44.1 kHz) or higher if you can. And go check out Neil Young's "Living With War" website -