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11 minutes reading time (2227 words)

How do you use recording technology in your studio?

Do you remember the glorious days of cassette tapes? For a substantial period of time - from the late 1960s to the end of the century - it seemed like everyone had one or more cassette players. Best of all, a teacher or student could purchase an inexpensive cassette player that also had a recording feature.

For music teachers, cassettes marked the beginning of a new era in teaching. With the push of just 3 buttons - Record, Play, and Stop - you could record anything that you wanted during a lesson. With the push of just one more button - Eject - you could pop out the cassette tape and send the student home with it.

Those were the days!

Cassettes, of course, are obsolete today, and it seems as though all of our students

now have iPods and other mp3 players. Regrettably, these devices typically do not have a recording feature! Nonetheless, there is no lack of musical material - available on CD or from the Internet as a download - that our students can transfer to their personal listening devices.

So the question arises: How can we make recordings in our own studio that our students can use at home?

Fortunately, we have lots of tools avail- able. In this issue, Kathy Maskell and Linda Kennedy share with us the ways in which they use digital pianos with MIDI recording features and a standalone CD recorder to make recordings for use in lessons, home. practice, and even recitals. In Tech Tips, I discuss new digital audio recording devices that provide many conveniences. 

Meeting diverse needs

by Kathy Maskell

Matching recording techniques to pedagogical needs

At the match speed with which technology changes occur, we teachers are just as hard- pressed as doctors who must keep up with the latest pharmaceutical breakthroughs and accountants who must stay ahead of evolving tax codes. Like a moth to the flame I, too, am dazzled by the latest and greatest innovations. Then, sudden reality awakens me to the effectiveness question, the financial consideration, and the "Will I really use it?" concern.

I direct a music program at a school called MusicWorks. The school has many different recording devices both new and not so new. And, the recording applications are as varied as our students' needs.

For instance, for the past ten years I have been teaching a blind student, Katie, whose playing ability has always been far ahead of her Braille music reading ability. Katie has perfect pitch and a quick mind, so we have developed a routine in which I play short phrases and she immediately memorizes them. Over time, as Katie's pieces became more involved, we needed an alternative for home study. So, I began recording her pieces using Cakewalk Home Studio 2000 (www.cakewalk.com) on my computer, and I still use the same computer program today. (Editor's note: The latest version of this program is now called Sonar Home Studio.)

These recordings are MIDI files that Katie can use at home with her Roland 80S MIDI playback device (www.rolandus.com). MIDI recordings provide Katie with the flexibility to manipulate the tempo as she plays the files on her Roland 80S. This reinforcement of what she learned during her lesson encourages Katie to move past the rudiments of notes and rhythm so that she can concentrate on making music.

We have voice teachers at MusicWorks who have different recording needs. Although they have good piano skills, they prefer to avoid playing complicated accompaniments in order to concentrate on vocal issues. Using Cakewalk Home Studio 2000, I record the accompaniments for pop, jazz, Broadway, and classical pieces as needed. Believe it or not, I save the files to a floppy disk so that teachers can play them back using a Roland 90S MIDI file player, a smaller and more portable device that also provides a tempo change feature and - more importantly - transposition options.

Note: These features for changing tempo and changing pitch are independent of each other! Unlike older tape-based technologies, you can change the tempo without altering pitch and transpose without affect- ing the tempo.

Making CDs

We also have plenty of reason to make audio recordings that we burn to CD. Compact discs have not completely gone the way of cassette tapes, and many times students request a CD to accompany a college application or take to an audition. We have set Li p our own version of a recording studio by connecting the Roland 90S unit to our Superscope PSD 300 audio recorder (www.superscopetechnologies.com) using standard audio cables. We use the PSD 300 to record the audio output of the Roland 90S directly to CD.

The PSD 300 was one instance where I argued with myself before deciding to buy. Having made the purchase, I can honestly say that I have no idea how I could accommodate students' recording needs without it! In particular, the capability of converting those older-era MIDI floppy disks to audio and creating accompaniment CDs for our vocal students has enhanced the business of teaching.

To see an example of what this technology provides our students, go to www. youtube.com and search for Emily Trubey, one of our voice students who sings Broad- way Baby with her MusicWorks accompaniment CD.

Practice CDs = Better rehearsals

Rehearsal recordings have also come in handy for church choirs and local schools. I have an ongoing arrangement with a middle school where each year I record the pieces that the chorus will sing at holiday and spring concerts. Because I provide this serv- ice, the teacher is able to focus on rehears- ing the children without being stuck behind the piano.

In the case of our church choir, we routinely send choir members home with a practice CD that they can use anywhere, even in their cars. The result is that they come to rehearsal more prepared. Our music director has enjoyed having fewer note-centric rehearsals.

Recording projects such as these have also provided me with extra income!

iPods and mp3 players

Of course, many of these audio record- ings find their way onto more modern devices, such as iPods (www.apple.com) and other brands of mp3 players. Anyone who has one of these devices quickly learns how to use their personal computer to transfer audio from a CD to the portable listening device.

I hasten to note that we don't make all of our audio recordings ourselves. For example, the Christopher Norton Connections for Piano series (wviw.christophernortoncon- nections.com) has become a favorite for students wanting to play jazz. Many of these students can imitate a hip-hop beat or a walking bass line but are confounded by swing eighth notes. Swing is not part of their everyday music vocabulary. Mr. Nor- ton seems to have taken this into consideration, and he has posted both MIDI and audio versions of every piece in each book on his website. Using the password given on the inside cover, students can download any or all of the pieces to their computer, transfer the data to their iPod or mp3 player, and "get in the groove."

Recording recitals and special performances will always be a part of our studio practices, but as students' needs change we should to be able to address those needs and continue to make their lessons relevant, encouraging, and fun. Recording technology in the studio helps me to do just that! 

Developing artistry 

by Linda Dale Kennedy 

Learning to listen

Sound is the hallmark of our art. It stands to reason that developing the skill of critical listening must therefore be one of our top priorities. Modern recording technology can serve as "surrogate ears" for our students since a recording captures the sound as it was delivered, imperfections and all!

After many years of teaching, I find that the need for recording my students has not changed, but the means certa inly have. Today, few students have access to any recording equipment at home, so I have set up my studio's multimedia lab to address this need. For ease of use I opted for two autonomous pieces of equipment: a Yamaha Clavinova CVP I05 digital piano (www.yamaha.com) that records MIDI files onto floppy disks and a Superscope PSD340 CD recorder. (Editor's note: Recent model digital pianos from most manufacturers have abandoned floppy disks for a USB

port, allowing you to connect a USB flash drive or other USB storage device, including a floppy drive.)

Using the Clavinova, I often have my students record a piece (or portion thereof) that is approaching the polishing stage. I instruct them to listen to the playback several times, each time listening for one specific element. An elementary student may be directed, for example, to:

1) Tap along, quietly counting, to ensure all rhythmic values are correct.

2) Listen for a distinct contrast between louds, moderates, and softs.

3) "Police" all articulation markings, ensuring that all touches are correct and capture the spirit of the piece.

A more advanced student might be directed to listen for pulsation and rhythmic vitality, nuances of pedaling, shaping of phrases with musical beginnings and graceful endings, or clarity in fast passages.

I choose the listening elements according to what is currently needed. Students usu- ally work from three cards pulled from our "deck" of descriptive listening phrases. These cards are also useful in performance group classes during which we learn what to listen for as others play. It is important to help students develop a creative vocabulary with which to express the things they are hearing or which are absent from the sound. Students conclude this task by writing in their assignment notebooks at least three things that need improvement, thereby learning to take ownership of the critiquing process and set practice goals.

Creative recording projects

Sequencing projects using the Clavinova have been especially beneficial in reinforcing the need for steady pulse and rhythmic awareness. Beginners of all ages can record RH and LH parts of a simple piece on two tracks using either a piano sound or orchestral voices. When playing simple duets with parts of equal difficulty, students enjoy learning both parts and recording them on two tracks, providing themselves with an instant practice partner in the process. As their sequencing skills and comfort level increase, they become quite creative, orchestrating favorite pieces by recording multiple tracks.

A hymnal is a great source for four-track sequencing of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass lines. When students are learning to ana- lyze the harmonic structure of a hymn or chorale, I often assign a fun project. I ask students to create an orchestration com- prised of mUltiple tracks as follows:

• chords recorded in close position using a nice background sound such as strings;

• bass line recorded using long tones and an appropriate bass instrument;

• soprano line featuring a lovely solo voice.

The Superscope CD recorder has opened a realm of possibilities in my studio, beautifully capturing the sound from my acoustic grand or upright, the Clavinova, and even spoken words. Our annual student composition book is now greatly enhanced by the addition of a CD. I am able to record all student performances at times most convenient for each, create a playlist that matches the order in which the pieces appear in the book, and then burn a CD. This ensures that all students have the chance to hear all of the pieces, including those above their reading or playing level. This has been especially inspiring to the younger ones.

No more lonely practicing!

Our last Christmas recital was held in a Performing Arts Center where I was able to program pieces for five grand pianos. With three keyboards and two acoustic pianos in my own studio, I thought rehearsing would be a breeze. However, when scheduling rehearsals became a logistic nightmare, I turned to the Clavinova and Superscope to save the day. It was easy for me to make a MIDI recording of the elementary and intermediate level pieces using five tracks on the Clavinova, thus providing practice material for weekly in-studio rehearsals. For student practice at home, I converted these Clavinova MIDI recordings into CD audio recordings using the Superscope, and I did so at three speeds: slow, moderate, and up-to-tempo.

In the case of my advanced students, I involved them in the process of making rehearsal CDs. They were able to learn their individual parts quickly, and by the second rehearsal, I was able to record them with the Superscope and provide CDs for at home practice.

It is important to note that practicing a single part of a large ensemble by yourself is not the most satisfying activity! However, practicing at home using an audio record- ing of the other parts can be much more fun. I found that these recordings helped all performers to internalize the music quickly, and there was a drastic reduction in the amount of rehearsal time needed to bring these big pieces up to performance level.

Recording technology has certainly enhanced my music program in many other ways as well, and I know it will continue to play an important role in helping my students develop artistry at the piano. 

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