Music Mastery Practice Tips Newsletter, Issue 19

April-July 2011

It's a monthly newsletter, right? ;-) This spring at school combined with my projects outside of school made for an amazing whirlwind of business and creativity. So much has happened, there is almost too much to put in a single newsletter. I'll do my best.

Site Stats: My site tracking is limited to 30 days, and the month of June saw quite a drop in site traffic. This has a lot to do with me having to invest my time elsewhere. However, I did finish my first year on ClustrMaps and received 90,243 hits in the first year. Since May 1st, I am aready up to about 12,800 visits, so things keep on chugging.

Newsletter Feature: One of my articles related to marching band was recently featured in the Alfred Publishing Company's email newsletter. They will be showcasing another one next month.

My SoundCloud: My recent purchase of a Blue Snowball USB microphone and the opening of a SoundCloud account has led to a burst of musical creativity. I have been using SoundCloud to host rehearsal recordings for the summer a cappella group I sing with, as well as using it for audio broadcasts for the updates of my Kickstarter campaign (see below) and, most importantly, I've been using SoundCloud and MixCraft to experiment with recording and mixing my own a cappella music! Affectionately dubbed "Tom and the Action Figures", all of the sounds on the recording are made with my voice and mouth and edited with MixCraft.

Online Music Education Curricula: One of my projects this summer is developing work-at-your-own-pace curricula for both the guitar and the vocal courses of my school's remote access program. As of this writing, we have 10 students from all over Pennsylvania who will be taking courses to learn to play an instrument, the piano, or to become a better singer, along with a 2-D art and a photography course. We'll be using the method books published by Alfred as our core material, and these two courses will be part of the future collaborations my school will be making with ViaAcademies. We will be using three of ViaAcademies' already existing courses with our remote access students this coming year.

TOP SECRET PROJECT!: Back in April, I was presented with a unique opportunity that, for several reasons, has had to remain hush-hush. This project is one of those "I've always wanted to do that" things in the back of your mind that you never think you'll actually get around to. An opportunity presented itself that acted as a catalyst for myself and a few fellow musicians to strike out on a quest that occupied pretty much all of my free time in the month of May. We've been kind of "on hold" in June, but getting ready to make this thing public some time in August if all goes well. What is it? Oh don't you wish you knew!

Kickstarter Project: By far, however, hosting my own Kickstarter fundraising project for The A Cappella Project - Philadelphia. I am a huge fan of close harmony singing of all kinds, and truly consider it my hobby outside of music teaching. I joined the board of directors of this small but enthusiastic non-profit organization last August as their Director of Education. My position is to create opportunities for Project's membership and the greater Philadelphia community to learn more about contemporary a cappella singing. This campaign is to fund a new summer clinic and showcase featuring a professional-level vocal band. Take a moment to visit the campaign website and make sure you watch the title video (6 hours of work on my part). Also, be sure to browse through the "Updates" tab where I've been posting great content daily, including some recordings from the summer groups as they prepare for this concert. We have only 6 days left in the campaign to raise $410 more. Please help us spread the word by using the Facebook "like" controls, Tweet button, or using the tiny url to let others who support music education and contemporary a cappella know about this new program. Thank you!

iSchoolMusic Goes Viral: Another thing that soaked up a lot of my productive time was helping the folks behind the scenes at iSchoolBand promote their new version, called iSchoolMusic. They ran an ill-fated Kickstarter campaign back in May, but that closed door opened a BIG window in the form of an outside benefactor that is giving them support they need to make iSchoolMusic a "free forever" Student Management System for bands, orchestras, and choruses everyowhere. They just opened the door for pre-signups today, and they will easily break 100 schools and over 10,000 students in the first day! I will be doing a blog post on this later today. Visit the site here.

New Review - Value Vocals: I haven't been completely neglectful of my website. Back in April, I completed a new review article for a brand new contemporary a cappella arranging service called Value Vocals. Arranger and proprietor Shawn Pearce is a fellow Sinfonian who sang with me in the formative years of the Penn State A Cappella community. Shawn's passion for a cappella singing is enjoying new life as an arranging service. Read the full review here.

Recommendation of the Month

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink is a book I was actually introduced to by hearing one of Daniel Pink's lectures on a YouTube video. I'm in the middle of reading it right now, and can honestly say that if you really want to understand the anatomy of what intrinsically motivates people to do the things they do and how that applies to the emerging Internet Age, you need to read this book.




 Pick up a copy here.

June Most Visited Pages

What Is A Good Keyboard To Practice On?: Although keyboards have improved remarkably over the years to match their acoustic counterparts, nothing beats a good old upright or baby grand for developing as far as the weight and feel of the keys. The one big disadvantage, of course, is that acoustics take up a lot of space. You simply can’t take them wherever you go, which can make it difficult to stay in practice.The obvious alternative, of course, are keyboards. The problem is there are so many to choose from and so many of them come attached to price tags a little too steep for non-professionals. Read more.

Guest Conductor Tip: Name Tags For The Ensemble: If you ever find yourself in the position of serving as a guest conductor for an honors band festival, an onstage clinic for an orchestra, or other event where you are working with an ensemble of strangers for an extended period of time, here's a quick tip. Read more.

Teaching Jazz Improvisation to the Absolute Beginner: One of the things that many music teachers struggle with is a way to teach jazz improvisation to beginners. In some cases, this is because the teacher themself has limited experience with jazz improvisation themself. Jazz improvisation, or improvisation of any kind, is an important facet of performing music that should be experienced by every performer. It is not, however, something that a beginner o.... Read more

Online Webcam Music Lessons: As onine learning continues to gain legitimacy in America, my webcam music lessons service continues to attract attention. I offer a free trial lesson to see if online music lessons are right for you. You can also earn a free lesson by referring a student who signs up as a new student. Visit this page for details.

Theta Music Trainer: Free Online Music Ear Training Games: Educational gaming is a relatively new market, and the implications for the ways that young people learn are obvious. In like fashion, Theta Music Trainer provides a body of games that teach basic ear training skills in pitch, rhythm, harmony, and even mixing live audio. These games are engaging, entertaining, and really do get kids to listen closely in graduated levels of difficulty. Read the full review


This Month's Practice Tip: The Basics Can Never Be Taken For Granted

As I mentioned above, one of the things I have been having a good time doing recently is recording and mixing my own one-man a cappella group. I am learning a lot by trial-and-error about microphone technique and mixing audio. I consider myself to be a good singer - my formal training has been limited to one semester of voice pedagogy seminar and one semester of private voice lessons with a graduate voice major, so I know enough to place my tone properly without hurting myself. I also have perfect pitch, so I can record the parts to those a cappella tracks easily without having any written music in front of me.

One of the things that really surprised me when I began to record and listen to the results of the raw takes (called "stems" in the business - another new term I learned) is that even with my skill and experience, there were still timing/sync problems and intonation issues. Even though I had a metronome ticking in my ear over the headphones while I recorded, I still had timing problems occasionally on hard consonants. Also, if I didn't support the tone properly, I recorded minor fluctuations in pitch from the beginning of a longer duration note to the end. Some of the pitch problems stemmed from the fact that I was recording at my dining room table at about 10 PM after the kids had gone to bed, so I didn't want to disturb anyone. Therefore, I wasn't supporting the tone with enough air.

I was able to take the stems and edit both the timing (by splitting tracks and cross-fading them with the snap set to "none") and the pitch (by splitting tracks at the problem area of pitch and adjusting the clip a few semitones). I have avoided using Gsnap auto-tuning to this point, as I find it to not have the level of control of the sound that I want, and it is basically the short-cut way of doing things (unless of course, you want that Hip Hop sound, which for the moment is not on my menu).

Besides learning about mic technique and mixing, I have definitely developed a new appreciation for performers who sound great on a live recording. The basics of music, rhythm and pitch, can never be taken for granted, no matter how strong your audiation skills are and no matter how many years of experience you have performing. Equally as important is maintaining control of the tone of your instrument despite extremes of range or dynamics. The great performers can do it all, but only a special few can do so effortlessly without careful attention, and those performers in most cases have spent tens of thousands of hours performing and practicing their craft. The basics are still where it's at in any kind of musical endeavor. Recording technology can "fix" some of it, but as computer programmers like to say, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Until next time,



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