Technology in Music
I have been working on this article for quite some time and I thought it would be useful now more then ever.
For the people who don't know me very well I am a huge advocate of technology in music. I believe that with the proper knowledge and training technology can be an incredible asset to your teaching and your own music making.
The applications, technology, and tools that I talk about in this article are either tried and true things that are already widely used to great success in the music industry or things that I swear by in my own music career. I'm also not here to say that you have to use these things to be successful. I know plenty of people that are old school with their approach and it works for them. I'm here to talk about some ways technology can aid you in your music career and the education of your students.
In the effort to make this article as concise as possible I am splitting it into 3 sections. Hardware, Software (Including Apps), and Techniques. Hardware we will discuss about useful devices that can be used in music performance, practice, and pedagogy. Software I will name a few apps and programs that are very useful for you and your students. Finally, in techniques I will talk about how I use them all in my teaching and development as a musician.
I am what you consider a technology enthusiast. I love seeing what types of new technology is out there and seeing how it can assist in my everyday life and in my music practice, teaching, and performance. The pieces of hardware that I will be talking about below are things I own and use a lot (especially considering recent events). I know there are plenty of other brands and items that are out there, if you have something that you swear by then leave it in the comments. I would love to see what everyone is using to help aid in their music making and teaching.
When it comes to practice one of the most effective ways to make a practice session efficient is to record it. Most mobile phones have pretty good microphones installed so you all are basically are carrying an incredible practice tool. If you're wanting to get better audio and the ability to recording recitals, masterclasses, and ensemble performances the standard microphone in your mobile device might not be your best bet. The two microphones that I have been using for the past 2 years are the Shure MV88 and the Shure MV88+. These microphones are specifically designed to work with mobile devices and to use its accompanying app to have full control of the microphone pattern, audio type, and gain of the microphone.
iPad Pro 12.9 with the Apple Pencil
A few years ago I was watching the Apple keynote event when they unveiled their 12.9 inch iPad Pro. I immediately scoffed and said "Why would anyone buy that?!?" Thinking it was so unnecessary to have a tablet that large when most people already have a laptop. Fast forward to today, I am a proud owner of a 12.9 inch iPad Pro and I'm saving up for the newest version of it because it has contributed positively to my everyday life. Gone are the days of carting around giant bundles of sheet music or method books. Whenever I get PDF's from symphonies I can now upload them to my iPad. The iPad is probably one of the things I use most in music besides my actual trumpets. It may be a big financial investment but so were your instruments. Plus, I guarantee that you will use it quite a bit.
Blue Yeti USB Condenser Microphone
If you are new to the recording equipment game and want to: improve the audio quality of your online lessons, improve basic recording capabilities, or record "talking head' videos this microphone is perfect! It is not only a great microphone with a lot of useful features it is also very affordable. At only $120 you get a lot of microphone for not that much money.
Shure SM27 and Shure SM57
These are getting into the realm of professional audio equipment. These microphones are capable of giving you very high quality audio if used properly. I personally own both and use them regularly in my online teaching and some basic studio recording and I can say without a doubt that they are stellar. These are perfect for someone just getting into audio recording with an interest in improving the audio of their online teaching.
Golden Age R1 Active Ribbon Microphone
This microphone is the most recent addition to my collection of microphones and is one I am very happy I purchased. If you are recording brass (especially trumpet) a ribbon microphone is wonderful to have. It gives more warmth and depth to the sound instead of just the high frequencies which most mics pick up when recording trumpet. The issue with ribbon microphones is they are very fragile and can be ruined by something called phantom power. Phantom power is what gives most microphones their ability to record but in a ribbon microphone it would render it inoperable. This microphone is special because you can run phantom power through it without damaging the microphone.I highly recommend this mic not only for its durability but for the price. Most ribbon mics will run upward of $1,000 but this is under $250 on Amazon.
Focusrite Clarett and Scarlett 2 Pre or 4 Pre USB Interface:
This is where it starts getting expensive. USB interfaces are what you would need for your microphones to communicate with your computer and your DAW (digital audio workstation). While it may be expensive, the product that these devices yield is amazing. There are numerous different USB interfaces but I personally own and have used the Clarett 4 Pre for 5 years and it has been excellent!
All of these items can be found below. This isn't an influencer page so I don't see any profit from the items listed. I just want to make it easier for you if you decide to upgrade your setup.
There are many different apps, pieces of software, and platforms that I'm sure will leave out. If you feel like there is something I missed please feel free to add it to the comments section.
Tonal Energy - This app is (in my opinion) one of the best apps available for musicians today. I know countless band directors, professional musicians, master teachers, and students that use this app regularly. Tonal Energy combines a highly accurate tuner with an extremely customizable metronome and many other extras such as drones, audio recorder with slowed down playback, transposition modes, equal and just temperament, and the list goes on. I would highly recommend this app to all musicians at any age! https://apps.apple.com/us/app/tonalenergy-tuner-metronome/id497716362
Acapella - If you follow me on social media than Im sure you have seen one of my trumpet ensemble or duet videos that I have posted. People are constantly asking me "How do you make these videos?" The short answer is with this app. The Acapella app takes out all of the stresses of making a multitrack video. It allows you to record up to 9 videos while syncing them hassle free with the built in metronome. The only draw back is the inability to adjust the tempo in the recording. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/acapella-from-picplaypost/id924635678
Tempo -While some of these other apps have metronomes I find this app to be much more user friendly, adjustable, and louder than all other apps. https://apps.apple.com/us/app/tempo-metronome-with-setlist/id304731501
Forscore - Forscore is an app (for both android and iOS) that is a sheet music program that stores and organizes your music library. If you have already had your sheet music library digitized in either dropbox, google drive, or iCloud than you can easily link those accounts and download any piece straight from them. If you haven't, then Forscore has a scanning program that can take a picture and convert it to a PDF right in the app. It not only has the capabilities of organizing all of your music into folders, searching all of your music with a search bar, and marking your music with either a stylus or your finger but it also has a metronome and tuner right in the app. If you want more reasons to love this app please check it out. Here is a link to their site: https://forscore.co
This meeting platform is what I use for all of my online lessons. After recent occurrences I went on the hunt for the best all around platform for online teaching and I have been very impressed with Zoom so far. It gives you the ability to use a USB interface to switch quickly between microphones (instrument mic and a talking mic), screen sharing, unlimited number of meeting participants, and the ability to record each meeting. Here is the link to their site. https://zoom.us
Garage Band or Audacity
While I could mention many different DAW's I am going to just recommend these two programs. A DAW is a Digital Audio Workstation. This is where you can connect any USB or XLR microphones and record and edit the audio from recordings. If you are reading this going "Logic Pro X is where its at!" or "Adobe Audition is awesome!" or "Abelton is the best!" this part isn't for you. Im more speaking to the people that need something to be easy and still yell a better result that their current situation. Garage Band is Apple's flagship DAW and it is great for some basic recording and mixing. Audacity is the DAW that is compatible with both Apple and Windows devices. Both are relatively easy programs to learn in a short amount of time.
Here is a great video explaining how to use Garageband https://youtu.be/CFlcLTqzIR8.
Here is a great video explaining how to use Audacity https://youtu.be/LQ7n9pA0qc0.
Drum Beats+ - Tired of playing technical studies with the same old metronome? Don't want to use the same annoying loud metronome with your students in sectionals or band? Try this drum machine app! Drum Beats+ has an array of different drum patterns which you set to any tempo https://apps.apple.com/us/app/drum-beats-rhythm-machine/id461218759
Here are some things that I do in my own teaching where I incorporate technology into my students learning and that I use in my own personal practice.
Google Drive - I have a folder for every student that I have and in this folder I have their lesson log, Music that we are working on (I have them buy the methods once we begin working on them), recordings for their reference, recordings of their own practice sessions, practice log templates, etc. This makes all of the material, concepts, and information accessible from anywhere and from any device. This eliminates the excuse of "I forgot my folder at school" or "I don't remember what exercise we were doing". As my students know, I HATE excuses.
Drum Beats + and Drones - I have my students frequently work with a drone and a drumbeat to not only reinforce good time and intonation but to make the exercise more enjoyable. If the student is enjoying what they're doing they'll do it more and more often.
Acapella App - Some of the most memorable and beneficial things I did in my undergrad and masters were playing duets with my colleagues. I have my students use the acappella app to play virtual duets with themselves or others. I am taking full advantage of this app during our quarantine. Since the app allows you to record up to 9 different parts you can get creative and have "virtual" brass quintets, woodwind quintets, or trumpet ensembles. Unfortunately this app isn't supported by android as I am writing this blog but hopefully in the future it will.
Audacity and Garage Band - While these apps may have a certain learning curve they are super benifical to get to know for your own personal recording. These apps give you ability to record and mix professional quality audio. While they aren't quite as good as say Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, or Adobe Audition they will get you better audio than what is capable through your phone or a mini recording device. With Audacity and Garage Band you can splice together takes, add some basic revered, and export your audio to any format you would like. Oh, it's also important to mention that both of these programs are FREE!
Zoom - From online lessons to virtual masterclasses to studio hangs, Zoom has been a lifesaver for so many during the coronavirus outbreak. This is a free service that allows you to connect with your students or colleagues from anywhere in the world. Zoom has so many features that come in handy for private lessons such as recording, screen sharing, and virtual whiteboard. It also give you the ability to plug in your own USB microphone or interface to give you a little more control of the audio quality. If you are concerned about protection and privacy Zoom also offers password protection for all online meetings. Zoom is by far one of the best (if not the best) video conference platforms I have used.
During this very difficult and uncertain part of our history it is imperative that the arts (specifically music) adapts and finds ways to continue to hone our craft and make music. I hope that these tools and suggestions aid you in the coming weeks or months. If anyone has questions about anything that I talked about in this article please feel free to contact me! I will be doing a couple of installments to this article as I learn more about technology and as I gain more tools. Thank you so much for reading and stay safe, happy, and healthy!