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Thomas J. West Music

Live webcam private music lessons, music education articles, compositions, clinician services, reviews

Music Education

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  • Creating a Watermark on Your FINALE Musi...
    by ★ Owner on June 18, 2014 at 9:51 AM
    1594 Views - 0 Comments

    Watch in HD to see all the details on the software menus!

    Use an image editor such as Paint.NET to create a transparent watermark, then add it to your music scores in Finale. Watermarks are useful for branding your scores online or in print as draft copies to be used as samples for potential customers. This video uses Finale 2012c, but also works with other versions of Finale. Be sure to follow other helpful Music Education, Technology, and Composition videos on my YouTube channel.

  • I Can't Wait To Get Back To School - Sai...
    by ★ Owner on August 20, 2013 at 10:21 PM
    1273 Views - 0 Comments

    As the states scramble to get all of their programs in line with the Federal hoops to jump through to receive flexible benchmarks for the NCLB 100% proficiency cap of 2014, more and more teachers are just getting plain fed up with the profession. There's less time and less money to do their job with, and more and more emphasis placed on standardized testing that doesn't work.

    But, in all of these negatives, a bit of levity is always needed.

    A fellow band director posted this video on Facebook, and for those of us in the profession, it's just too good not to share. The title of this video is "...Said No Teacher Ever", so keep in mind that every statement made by these two gentlemen is the exact opposite of what teachers typically gripe about.

    Teachers, have a few laughs, then go right back to doing what we do best: doing what's right for our students no matter what anyone says.

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  • Beardyman And The Ultimate Music Looping...
    by ★ Owner on August 3, 2013 at 9:05 AM
    1379 Views - 0 Comments

    I always enjoy catching a random TED Talk as they fly by my newsfeed. I have covered several of them on my blog in the past, most notably those by Ken Robinson on creativity and the education system.

    Today, a new TED Talk delivered by a beatboxer known as Beardyman crossed my path. If you follow any musical artists that are not mainstream, you have probably seen and heard looping artists such as Kimbra and Julia Easterlin by now. They use a looping station and an iPad, Ableton, or similar technology to record short loops of their voices, layering them into a beat, bass line, pad, background vocals, and finally singing the words to the lead on top of it all. POSTYR Project from Denmark accomplishes similar effects with a 5-voice vocal group. These artists are creating amazing pieces of music live on the spot. It's part improvisation, part composition, part performance art.

    Up until now, the nature of looping technology has made it such that the music created is extremely repetitive. Performers can turn on and off layers of sound and add effects to the loops to change their quality over time, but the music remains fairly simple in form, sharing much with the exploding genre of club/electronica music invading the laptops and tablets of America's youth, Beardyman, however, has taken live looping to the next level. His live performance rig, amusingly dubbed the Beardytron, combines looping gear and tablet controls with full 88-key midi controllers, making it not only possible for him to record and alter his voice in unpredictable ways, but also use his vocal sounds as a sound patch to perform any harmony imaginable on the keyboard.

    Gone are the limitations of looping with this new approach. Beardyman, in a very practiced and impressive fashion, seemlessly multi-tasks behind the controls as he records sounds into a headset mic while patching them in and performing sounds on the keyboard. The result is music that is part club mix, part ambient new age music, and definitely interesting. Here is Beardyman's TED Talk. Be sure to stick around for the last 3 minutes when he gets into the ambient sound demonstration.
    What Beardyman has done is basically set musical creativity into overdrive. It is now possible to take musical ideas straight from the mind and perform them in real time with only the limitations of the technology and the human's ability to process and execute the ideas holding them back. Beardyman is to live music composition what John Coltrane is to live jazz improvisation - reaching the limits of what the human brain is capable of in real time performance.

    In browsing Beardyman's website, his live show centers around the theme of "1 Album Per Hour" where he takes suggestions from the audience on topics and then creates original songs on the spot, including his own improvised rhymes. (Warning: much of his content is NSFW). He has an assitant off stage who is scouring the internet for images to throw up on a projector behind him, mixing the images with live feeds from several cameras. This is truly 21st century performance art in action.

    Performers such as these are pushing the boundaries of what we think of as music. It gives me pause to think about ways that we could possibly combine the best of the organic ensemble music-making of our heritage in choir, orchestra, and band performance with the digital capabilities of today's technology. I think that Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir is the closest thing we have so far to a blending of the very emotional and interpersonal qualities of a vocal choir and the capabilities of modern technology.

    There is so much depth and nuance to our traditional forms of music-making. Wind bands, orchestras, and choirs have a firm place in our educational system, and for good reason - those forms of expression lend themselves to music as a field of study intellectually. There is much to be gained by incorporating modern technology into this mix. After all, at one point in our history, the clarinet was a new invention. Being able to manipulate the organic sounds of a music ensemble with live looping technology, or producing an album of music composed with these capabilities in mind. Is this on anyone's radar?

    This article (c) 2013 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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  • Bobby McFerrin On Jazz Improvisation
    by ★ Owner on April 1, 2013 at 10:13 AM
    1421 Views - 0 Comments

    Bobby McFerrin is a musician I have always looked up to and admired. He embodies what I endeavor to be as a performer - someone who music just flows out of. In this video, which is a masterclass at the Aarhus Vocal Festival in 2011, Bobby explains how he was "changed molecularly" when he saw the Miles Davis quintet and how he began his process of learning to improvise. He describes how he progressed in the first six years of improvisational study from "just singing without stopping" to a fully-realized ability to improvise in his own style without imitating another vocalist. He also delivers a valuable lesson about how the audience is a part of the improvisation as a listener - fascinating.

    The principles Bobby discusses can certainly apply to an instrumentalist as well, but as any jazz player will tell you, the instrument is an additional barrier to creativity because you have to train your brain to operate the machinery in order to get your musical creativity to come forth on the instrument. Vocal improvisation is an important part of the development of any performer of jazz improvisation on any instrument. It is a foundational experience for musicians of all kinds, no matter what their area of concentration. The ability to improvise makes a musician more than just a regurgitator of other musician's ideas - it transforms them into a "composer in the moment", which leads to becoming a composer of the written score or the recording studio.

    Enjoy this 5-minute video with the master.

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  • Why An "A" Is Not Enough - A Demonstrati...
    by ★ Owner on March 29, 2011 at 8:59 PM
    2802 Views - 0 Comments

    This video features a high school honors band performing a portion of Frank Ticheli's setting of the American folk song "Shenandoah". First, the conductor has the band play the excerpt as it is written on the page, then he has them play it with 90% of the sounds correct (an "A" as far as report cards and tests are concerned). Finally, they play the excerpt as it is written, but with emotional expressiveness that only a live performing ensemble can deliver. Enjoy.

  • A Demonstration of the new Vocal Remover...
    by ★ Owner on March 18, 2011 at 9:07 AM
    3193 Views - 0 Comments

    The folks at Sourceforge have been paying attention.

    As anyone who uses Audacity probably knows, there are several YouTube videos that teach you how to use the web's more popular freeware audio recorder/editor to remove vocal tracks from a recording. The new version of Audacity (1.3 Beta) now has this ability onboard as an item under the Effects menu. Simply select all, click on Vocal Remover, and you're done.

    The Vocal Remover feature doesn't perform flawlessly, because it depends on the way the original data was recorded. Vocal remover removes any center-panned sounds (voice or otherwise) from the selected region. Center-panned means that the data for those sounds appears identically on both the left and right channels of the recording. If your vocalist sounds like he's standing on stage left, Vocal Remover will not work. If the vocal is center-panned, but the reverb of the voice is not, you will still get an echo of the voice on the finished track. Also, any instruments that are center-panned will also disappear.

    Vocal Remover is a great tool for voice teachers to take a popular song that students want to work on and giving them a practice track that sounds a lot like the original. It is not flawless, but for educational purposes, it is very useful.

  • A Glimpse Inside The Center For Performi...
    by ★ Owner on March 3, 2011 at 8:31 PM
    3771 Views - 0 Comments

    CPFA logo

    What a pleasant surprise tonight to pay a brief visit to my school's YouTube channel to find a short interview with my boss featured! Mark Allen is the founder and director of the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, a unique on-site offering of the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School located in West Chester, PA.

    PALCS students in grades K-12 take their coursework from home over the internet. Students in southeast PA commute as far as 2 hours one way twice a week to attend a full day of immersion classes in music, art, drama, and dance beginning in grade 5. CPFA also has a small but growing Remote Access program, which makes CPFA content available to any PALCS student regardless of their location in Pennsylvania.

    If you look very closely around the 12 second mark, you'll see a familiar face (i.e. yours truly).

  • Optimize Your PC For Use With Mixcraft
    by ★ Owner on February 21, 2011 at 9:40 AM
    2558 Views - 0 Comments

    Upon updating my copy of Mixcraft today to 5.2, the installer opened up a thank-you page on the MixCraft website containing two YouTube videos. The first was a walkthrough with MixCraft's lead developer on the features added in release 5.2. The second is this video, entitled "Optimizing Your PC for Use with MixCraft". It is an excellent 12 minute walkthrough of adjusting settings within MixCraft and also on your PC to adjust system resources for the best playback and recording possible. If you use MixCraft for anything besides playing with loops, I highly recommend watching this video.

  • Mike Huckabee On Art And Music Education...
    by ★ Owner on February 14, 2011 at 1:50 PM
    2532 Views - 0 Comments

    This video, via the good folks at SoundTree, passed through the Music PLN today. Whatever your political leanings may be, and whatever you may thing of Mike Huckabee, his message in this video, as far as I'm concerned, touches on the root of not only the benefits of an education in the performing and fine arts, but the essential need for our young people to be nurtured into more creativity.

    I really like the analogy he makes between students and computers. In his analogy, traditional education methods input raw data (memorized facts) into the student computer and expect the computer to reproduce that data. Without the arts to foster original thinking and creative processing, the students' computer has no operating system. Brilliant.

  • Retinking Education
    by ★ Owner on February 12, 2011 at 9:46 AM
    1743 Views - 0 Comments

    This video, entitled Rethinking Education, came acrosss my PLN today via Brian Wis at Teaching Music in the 21st Century. It is yet another great video showing quite plainly how professional educators need to wake up and start changing the way that they do business.

    Michael Welsh is an accociate professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Kansas. This video is the latest in a series of videos that take a very pro-active stance, calling educators of all levels, but espeically higher education, to do exactly as this video's title suggests, rethink the way that we teach students. You can see his other videos on his YouTube channel.

    Welsh provided very compelling information on cloud computing and the democratization of information, stating "We [our culture] are only starting to figure out the implications of this." At the end of the video, Welsh makes a statement that resonates well with me. He challenges teachers to "turn your careers just 5 degrees." This sounds very much like Dr. Joe Pisano's challenge to music educators to "spend just 10 minutes a day doing online professional development."

    In the current climate of economic recovery, budget cuts, and political initiative to reform education, the educational professionals themselves need to start doing things differently and show our culture that the mass media presentation of "teachers are the problem" is unfounded. If we don't begin to change, their profession is going to be changed for us.

    If the recent revolution in Egypt has taught us anything, it is that information is power and real change can come in a rapid fashion when people work together with a common goal.

  • Hybrid Lesson On Chord Inversions Using ...
    by ★ Owner on February 11, 2011 at 9:32 PM
    2750 Views - 0 Comments

    Here is an example of a music theory lesson from my Digital Music Composition class. Students in this class meet on-site with my at my school, but log into the class Moodle page to read the assignment, watch screencast walkthroughs, and complete the project using MixCraft5 - all working at their own pace.


    The project web page contains a written description of root position and chord inversions for the C major chord as well as showing how inversions make for a more fluid chord progression going through the primary chords in the key of C Major (C, F, and G major chords). I use Noteflight to write examples of these chords and embed them directly on to the project web page.


    After the description and samples of the music theory, the students read the assignment requirements and a basic set of directions, then watch several screencasts that I made using another great web 2.0 tool called Jing  - the screencasts walk them through the project as I create a sample song.


    Hybrid learning (using web-based lessons and resources to allow students to work at their own pace) is an effective and versatile way to differentiate instruction between students of varying ability levels, allow students more freedom to be creative and self-directed, and so much more.


    Learning a music theory concept in this manner takes the theory immediately into the realm of application and creates a short piece of authentic music out of it. Students show their understanding of the theory concepts by playing the primary chords into the sequencer while reviewing previously covered material such as the elements of melody writing, using loops, virtual instruments, and effects.

  • Student Project: Virtual Instruments and...
    by ★ Owner on October 26, 2010 at 11:11 AM
    2599 Views - 0 Comments

    As we approach the end of the first marking period, the high school students in my Digital Music Composition class are trying their hands at their first true creative composition assignment using MixCraft5. They had to create their own drum loops using virtual instruments, then select loops to create a song with a two measure intro, A-B-A form, and a two measure outro. The only other requirement was to apply at least one effect to either the entire project (global) or to an individual track. This student's work is a great example of what happens when you give someone with some music performing experience, intelligence, and a sense of musicality a tool like MixCraft. The student told me that the part he had the most trouble with was transitioning from the A section to the B section in a musical way, since loops end ubruptly and are designed to be repeated. I can't wait to get them to the point where they are writing all original material!

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