Archive for the ‘Quick bytes’ category

Required Comment 1: What about the wiki?

April 15, 2008

Comment before class on Thursday

Please visit the wiki for the Tchaik project. Given that this is a quick and dirty first try at something that might hold potential for integrating technology into ensemble settings, explore, comment, and critique.

We will do something similar next semester (I’m planning this: we’ll work with an already arranged Sousa march to create new parts, etc.; and we’ll notate a much shorter piece such as an overture for a spring performance). Given that, how might a wiki like this be used? What could be added? What could be enhanced? What would be educational and interesting for students in terms of resources and activities?

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the great work that is evidenced by these artifacts. Here’s the site:


Quick Bytes: “no budget” music technology

November 29, 2007

In the interviews you conducted with music teachers, many of you noted that cost and availability are an issue. For just a moment, I want to focus on the wealth of technology resources that are available for next to nothing. If I were running a music program, and I did not have any technology resources, here’s what I would do:

1. Solicit donations of older computers (either Mac or PC). Particularly in industry, machines that are three or four years old are often retired, and many businesses and individuals love donating to schools. A machine that is three years old, or even five or six years old, often has more than enough computing capability. In fact, at the elementary school where I taught, one teacher collected all the old Apple classic computers she could get her hands on, giving her a complete computer lab within her classroom (she had about 21 machines, which he used mostly in teaching writing with her students). It used to be the case that it was hard to get a computer that could really do everything you would want to do, but these days it is hard to get a computer that can’t handle all the basic tasks admirably.

2. Load the computers up with free and open source software. We haven’t spoken about this much, but there are great free alternatives to many programs. Open Office is a great substitute for Microsoft Office, GIMP is an open source pixel editing program like Adobe Photoshop, InkScape is a free competitor to Adobe Illustrator, Finale Notepad has already been explored by us, and of course Audacity. All of these programs could be installed on a computer without spending a dime, and would allow students not only to learn to use them, but to download the same programs if they have a computer at home. If you or some of your students are Linux-savvy, you could install Planet CCRMA, which has hundreds of free programs and is focused on professional level audio (in fact, if you want to drool, look at how many free programs are included for everything from video work to DJing).

3. Carefully spend money on high impact hardware. A decent microphone would allow for recording nearly everything. A few electronic piano keyboards with headphones would be fantastic for students to explore music making. Once a basic lab was in place, it would be easy within most school districts to raise $500 or so to purchase some of this equipment.

4. For computers that do not have a MIDI keyboard, it is often possible to get an application that allows students to play the piano using the QWERTY keyboard (try this out: open GarageBand, and then hit the caps lock button.]

5. Use free services to set up a weblog, website, etc. The weblog for this class is a free account, and we haven’t had any problems yet (knock on wood). By contrast, the school of music website has been down for weeks (no comment).

By the way, speaking of free software, we have loaded open office, audacity, GIMP, and Inkscape onto these machines. Feel free to take them on a test drive!

Quick Bytes: virtual instruments

November 27, 2007

One area that we could spend a lot of time on in this class, but which will be limited to this post, is the realm of instrument construction. Of course, the history of music is filled with the introduction of new instruments and musicians who are ready to exploit the new possibilities an instrument provides, both technical and sonic (e.g. pianoforte, saxophone, celeste, theremin, etc.).

Recently, however, there has been an explosion of new sonic possibilities made possible by digital and analog synthesis. Many programs allow users to create their own instruments, often coupled with MIDI files. Logic, a program by Apple, contains Sculpture, an interface designed for playful instrument creation. Other musicians, such as Mark Applebaum, use technology to create new physical sound-sculpture instruments.

One article published today talks about new developments in user interface technology, and includes an instrument that is quite the buzz in the music technology world, the Reactable. It’s better to watch one of the YouTube videos or other demos than to try to describe how it works, but I saw a concert by Bjork where she had a member of her ensemble playing one, and it was pretty impressive. Several videos depict the instrument in use, including this one that I think is probably the best for showcasing Reactable.

As Dr. Sam Reese says, “there are usually 10 ways that any technology can be used, and nine of them might be boring or pointless, but one of them can really change a students’ educational experience.” Finding that one way, or helping students to discover musicmaking with technology that is infused with meaning and purpose, is why we are here.

Quick Bytes: speaking of the public domain…

November 27, 2007

This nugget from, from an article on “cloning” redwood trees (see last sentence of this fragment, which seems to suggest that the default for tree DNA would be a patent…):

The plan is to create a collection of clones from at least 100 of the tallest and oldest redwood trees available for cloning and donate a set to whoever wants, and is able, to care for them. The Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco has agreed to take a set. The cloned trees will not be patented and will remain in the public domain.

While not technically a music post, I am continually fascinated by the challenge of maintaining a balance between fostering and stifling innovation through providing copyright and patent protections. The idea that a genetically modified seed could be patented (such as all the corn grown around us) leans toward a just use of a patent (in my opinion, but not so for famers in India), but to claim a patent on a tree just because a certain scientist is the first to decode the DNA (which may not be any more creative or innovative than putting a sample through an automated analysis) seems more like claiming a public domain tune is now under copyright because you’ve made a digital version…

Comment if you are so moved (not required).

Variations on a Theme

November 15, 2007

Just as is the case with most music education software, SmartMusic now has a similar counterpart called StarPlay. SmartMusic is made by Coda, the producers of the Finale line of products, and StarPlay was done by Sibelius. This is a new product, so I would encourage you to follow its development as it will likely become just as prevalent as SmartMusic.

Quick Bytes: can we do this in a music class?

October 30, 2007

Last week, I went to the opening of an exhibition of undergraduate work from the ceramics department. There was a lot of exciting work, but the thing I was most interested in was a collaborative piece exhibited at the entrance to the show.

As you can see below, each person from the exhibit created a different letter, combining an introduction that retains the individuality of each artist to create a piece where the whole also looks wonderful.

Here’s my question: Can an assignment such as this be created in music education? What would it look like? How would it be shared? Can you imagine a way that we could use some of the technology we have experienced so far in this course to create an opportunity for work to be combined and shared in a similar fashion?

This is a very real question on my part, as I don’t know how we could do this… in addition, Ron Kovatch, the professor of the ceramics program who organized the exhibit said that the students had the idea for this piece. What do you think? Please comment…


If you’re curious to see this in more detail, here’s a larger version: ceramics_larger.jpg

Quick Bytes: two amazing articles

October 22, 2007

There are two articles that were published this week in the New Yorker, and I’m right on the edge of making them required reading, except that that would take the fun out of them…

Sasha Frere-Jones talks about miscegenation in music in his article “A Paler Shade of White“. In this fascinating piece, he talks about how rock ‘n roll, which began as a mix of white and black influences, has split off in the present era into black hip-hop and white indie rock. It is a fascinating idea, and not only is the article freely available, but the New Yorker Out Loud feature has an interview/commentary that is freely downloadable. This is the kind of article I would have brought in and summarized for discussion with my students when I was teaching general music at the high school level, and, just as I mentioned when I presented his work earlier, I think that Sasha is one of the outstanding writers about popular music today.

On the other end of the spectrum, Alex Ross has a great article (“The Well-Tempered Web”) on the positive impact that the Internet has had upon classical music. He talks about how blogs and other media have allowed small groups of passionate fans to express their ideas in ways that the larger market would be an interested in doing. It is a fascinating article, and he includes many great references that teachers and educators would enjoy.

Like I said, enjoy!