Wires, Cables, and Devices - Oh, My!
When it comes time to remake your studio, it is a good idea to plan for your current and future technology gear, which may include any of the following: hi-fi system, recording paraphernalia, computer(s) and peripherals, pianos or keyboards with MIDI features, printer and scanner, networking devices, and maybe even a flat-panel TV.
We all want the functionality of these items, but who wants the clutter and the spaghetti of wires that usually accompanies this stuff? Here are some practical tips:
Consider the ergonomics of your studio
Start by imagining the ideal placement of each item. If you make audio recordings of your students' playing, is there a perfect spot for placement of the microphone and recording device? If you access MIDI files on your computer, where would you like your computer to reside? Where should speakers be placed in the room?
Once you think through the ideal placement of your gear, you can begin to address the issue of cable management. With careful planning, you can find a place for everything and still keep your studio neat and tidy. Notice how few wires are visible in the studios of Brenda Krachenberg and Joan Blench (see Examples 1, 2, and 3)
Here are some ideas to consider:
(1) If you are building a new space or renovating an existing space, think through the possibilities of hiding the wires in the walls. You have many more options when the walls are open during construction.
For example, you can run networking cables to faceplates where computers can be plugged in (see Example 4). You can also run audio cables to speakers in a similar fashion (see Example 5).
(2) In my studio, I asked the carpenter to move the baseboard molding out from the wall by 1.75 inches in order to have a space into which I could drop cables at anytime in the future (see Example 6). From a distance, the baseboard looks like a normal baseboard. Notice the use of a desk grommet to cover the opening for the wires.
(3) When several wires converge in one location, use a flexible cable wrap, often referred to as "flexible braided wrap," that uses a Velcro edge to enclose the wrap around the wires, thus reducing the "octopus" to a "snake" (see Example 6).
(4) Where wires are exposed, find ways to put a large object in front of them (see Examples 7 and 8).
Reassess your needs
Over time you may have accumulated quite a stash of technology devices. Are you still keeping the obsolete and semi-obsolete stuff around? In many cases, you can reduce the number and size of technology components in your studio by replacing old gear with modern equivalents.
For example, consider the issue of making audio recordings. For teachers who have simple recording needs, it is no longer necessary to have a large tape deck or bulky CD recorder. You can record audio with any number of devices that you may already have, such as a laptop, smartphone, or iPad. If you want a dedicated recording device, you can find high-quality recorders that are smaller than a deck of cards (see Example 9). Depending upon how high your recording standards are, you may want to use quality microphones rather than the built-in mics.
Exploit wireless options
There are many ways in which you can replace wires with wireless connections. The most common way to do that is to use Wi-Fi to connect your computer/netbook/smart phone/iPad to your home network, including your printer and scanner.
There are also ways in which to establish wireless audio and video connections. For example, you can send the audio from your computer to your powered speakers or amplifier wirelessly using an audio transmitter, such as the Audio engine AW1 (http://audio-engineusa.com) (see Example 10). Alternatively, if you have a flat panel TV in your studio, consider investing in an Apple TV(www.apple.com/appletv). Apple TV is a little box that you connect to both the television and your network, and it enables you to send audio and/or video wirelessly from a Mac or PC, iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to the television and its speakers.
Imagine making a video recording of your student using your iPhone and then immediately and wirelessly playing it back on the flat panel TV that hangs on your studio wall!
Reduce paper clutter
We are only twelve years into the twenty-first century, and few, if any, of us have found a way to banish paper completely. However, clever use of technology can help us to reduce paper clutter.
The most obvious use of technology to reduce paper clutter is to start using electronically published scores and PDF versions of public domain music. There are many, many apps for the iPad that enable you to view and work with music on the tablet screen. And, with the AirTurn BT-105 (www.airturn.com), you can even turn the pages wirelessly using a foot pedal.
Other approaches to reducing paper clutter are more subtle but just as effective. For example, Joan Blench, a teacher in Alberta, Canada, uses Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) for sharing assignments with students. All she has to do is use her little netbook (see Example 1) to write assignments during the lesson and then save the text file into a special Dropbox folder. When the student gets home, the student will find the assignment waiting in the same shared folder on the student's computer. The basic level of Dropbox service is free!
Don't forget that you can decorate around technology!
When planning for technology in your studio, you don't have to forget the aesthetics of your environment. Technology can be beautiful. You also have many options for decorating around your technology pieces! Take a look at what Sandi Bowen has done in her studio (see Example 11)!
Special thanks to piano teachers Joan Blench, Brenda Krachenberg, Bobbie Rastall, and Sandra Bowen for supplying suggestions and photos for this article.
George Litterst is a nationally known music educator, clinician, author, performer, and music software developer. A classically trained pianist, he is co-author of the intelligent accompaniment software program, Home Concert Xtreme, the electronic music blackboard program, Classroom Maestro, and the long distance teaching and performing program, Internet MIDI.