Monday, December 13, 2010

Latest Greatest Practice Tools

In my never-ending quest to carry as little as possible with me, I’ve started using my iPod Touch to substitute for other devices such as a metronome, tuner, and recorder. I’ve got a 2nd generation and the battery life is pretty horrible sometimes, but the apps are getting better and better, and this iPod can truly function well as a practice buddy.
That said, I have mixed feelings about recommending my students use their phones as their tuners and metronomes, because I know how distracting these devices are. I’m not sure a cell phone belongs in the practice room with some of my students, as addicted as they seem to text messaging and such. 
Assuming that you use self control or turn of the internet and phone functions on your iPod touch or iPhone, here are my favorite practice tool apps for these devices:
  1. Clockwork: Metronome with a bell sound for accented beats. Easy controls with all the control of accents and divisions of the beat that I need. Love it so much, that it inspired me to buy a real metronome with a bell sound. I also have the Tempo app by Frozen Ape which also works well. The nice thing about Tempo is that all the stuff you select is on the home screen.
  1. iStrobosoft: Virtual strobe tuner by Peterson. I have to use a cheap little thumb tack microphone to use it, and I think that the Peterson site sells a hook up that you attach to your instrument. Regular hookup microphones don’t work. It’s just as good as my Peterson V-SAM virtual strobe tuner - actually a million times better, because it isn’t broken!!! The Cleartune tuner app also works nicely for a different look. 
  1. Amazing Slow Downer: This app slows down the speed of sound files so that you can practice your music at a reasonable practice tempo. I’ve been doing this kind of thing for years and years with the Amazing Slow Downer Mac app, Quicktime Pro, and SmartMusic, but having a super customizable easy-to-use tempo (and pitch) adjuster on my iPod is wonderful. You need to use headphones with this to hear the music as you play, but a cheap pair of foam headphones will allow you to listen to the music and your clarinet sound. 
  1. iTalk lite: I use my iPod Touch to record rehearsals almost as much as I use my Zoom H2, which is a far superior recording tool. iTalk allows me to get a decent enough recording that I can hear balance and tone and other stuff, and the iTalk software can send the recording to my computer. Alternately, you can also use Voice Memos on your iPod, which sends the recording automatically to iTunes when you sync. I just started using Voice Memos when I lost my iPod Touch for a month, and I had to use my iPod classic to record with a Belkin TuneTalk Stereo. The Belkin device fits on my iPod Touch as well, and probably records better than the thumbtack microphone. Not sure, but I will vouch for the Zoom as being my quality recording device of choice!
Also, there are some fun applications to develop your ear training skills as well. I’ve been using a couple of them to pass the time when I’m stuck somewhere. Might as well practice my intervals and chord qualities while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office - it’s as fun as most games.

Update: Here's another app I'm using right now to track my practice time. It's called Musician's Practice Journal, and it has a color coded graph that shows practice time from day to day. It motivates me when I'm tired in the evening after teaching to get my practicing done. (Monday, January 31, 2011 - 07:38 PM)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hanukkah Music - Take Three

Today, the extended clarinet choir at WCU (21 players) performed my latest version of Hanukkah Music at the annual School of Music “Sounds of the Season” concert. You can hear our live performance complete with audience participation (lots of coughing, footsteps, and a baby screaming) here - scroll down to the bottom of the page.
I wanted to round out my two part piece by adding a third Hanukkah standard: Rock of Ages. To keep it fresh, I added some early polyphony in fourths, polytonality, and a Renaissance dance section with finger cymbals and drum. We celebrated the Festival of Lights by having clarinetists wear strings of lights. The new LED strings of lights really put out some light! (Hope to have a photo up soon.)
Anyway, we had a good time playing this, and the concert is all for a good cause: music scholarships for music majors at Western Carolina University.