We are all bombarded with technology everyday. Laptops, smartphones, tablets, and recording devises have had a positive impact on the way I teach lessons. It seems like everyday there is a new app, device or service that promises to change the world. Without going into a debate about which platforms are better, I am going to detail how I use technology in my percussion studio. I hope this article will lead to a discussion about what others are using in their classroom. Obviously, this post doesn’t apply to only percussionists and it will be great to hear what other instrumentalists are using in their studios.
Dropbox has become my main source of storage and sharing for all of my students. I used to use Google Docs, but it wouldn’t allow me to upload videos. I have multiple folders that I use and share with my students. This is how I use Dropbox:
1) A Folder for the Entire Percussion Program
- I share this with all of the students in the studio
- It contains the following documents: course syllabi, the studio handbook, the academic calendar, the weekly schedule, the roster and my lesson schedule
- It contains a folder for each percussion group. I use the folders to put part assignments, readings, recordings and videos for the specific repertoire we are preparing.
2) A Folder for Each Private Student
- I share this with the individual student
- It contains a Microsoft Word that lists the student’s goals, weekly assignments and lesson notes.
- It also contains lesson videos, handouts and recordings
I really like the ease of using Dropbox. I can drag anything into the folder to share it with my students. There are two problems I have found with using Dropbox:
1) If someone drags something out of the folder, it disappears from every one’s folder. (This is only an issue in the beginning when people don’t know how to use Dropbox.)
2) The process of setting up the studio folder takes time. You have to copy all of the email addresses into the web interface. Luckily, this only happens once a semester.
The upside to using Dropbox far outweighs the downside.
Dropbox is a free service and includes 5 GBs when you sign up. For most people, that is plenty. You can purchase addition storage ($99/year for 100GBs). You can also get free upgrades by inviting people to use DropBox, linking your FaceBook or Twitter account, and leaving feedback. I have been using Dropbox for a couple of years and I have acquired 25 GBs from inviting people and taking advantage of the promotions they offer.
Video is an important element of my studio, not just to record performances but also to check out technical issues. I use video in a lot of lessons and here are some of the ways I utilize it:
1) Recording Performances of Pieces
- Once a student is ready to perform a piece, I tell them that during their next lesson we will record their performance. After I record their performance, I put the video into Dropbox. When I am recording a performance, I always record from the front of the instrument. When you record from the audience perspective, you can hear musicality (phrasing, shaping, dynamics) as well as body or facial issues that need to be addressed.
2) Recording Technical Issues
- When working on technical issues, I prefer to record from the side of the instrument. For example, place the camera at left side of the marimba and look at your mallet placement and hand position. Reverse this to check out your right hand. This technique works well on snare drum, xylophone or any other instrument. Close up video is often more revealing than you expect (or want).
More recently, I have taken the use of video to the next level with a program called Coach’s Eye. This program makes me feel like the John Madden of percussion lessons. According to their website, Coach’s Eyes allows “instant video analysis and slow-motion review for players and coaches.” This is also a perfect tool for any musician! Once I have taken a video on my iPhone or iPad (also available for Android), the program allows me to can play the video back at 60 frames/sec, draw lines, zoom and other marks on the video to demonstrate things to review. If you thought close up videos were revealing, try this out! You will either love or hate the app immediately, but it worth checking out this app, especially at $.99 (on sale until 11/12/13).
I have written two reviews (Tick Tock – iPhone Metronome Reviews and Tick Tock – iPhone Metronome Reviews, Part 2) on Frozen Ape’s Tempo Advance app for iOS and it still by far my favorite metronome on the iPhone. (It is now available on Android).
I use this in every lesson and practice session. Here are some of the ways I use Tempo Advance:
1) It has replaced my large metronome. I haven’t pulled out my Dr. Beat or Tama Rhythm Watch since I started using this app. That saves me money on batteries and I don’t have to carry around a big metronome.
2) The speed up function is the killer function. I would pay $20 or more just for this feature. Here’s how it works: I was working on a 8 bar phrase in Marc Mellit’s Tight Sweater, movement 4. (If you have ever played this piece, you will know what I am talking about). I have set-up a 9 bar phrase to start at 80 BPM and speed up 2 BPM ever sequence. This allows me to stay focused on the task and not have to stop every time I want to speed up the metronome. This may seem like a minor issue (or as Merlin Mann would call it, a “First World Problem”), but I say if the technology is available, use it. I also use this function in my Snare Drum Warm-up, Line B.
Also check out Time Guru (available for iOS and Android). According to their website, Tim Guru was “developed by rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick (John Scofield Band), Time Guru is the only metronome with the ability to mute its sound at random, in patterns, or both, so that you can assess whether you tend to rush or drag. Time Guru periodically leaves you on your own so that you strengthen your own internal sense of time, rather than relying on the constant, rigid, external time keeping of a metronome. Sometimes the training wheels should come off! It is the ultimate tool for becoming a rock-steady, time guru.” While the interface is not very intuitive, the concept is excellent and hopefully if more people use the metronome it will get updated.
There are many ways to practice sight reading and no one does it as much as they should (myself included). As of today, there are 72,644 works available to sight read on IMSLP Petrucci Music Library. If you have a laptop or tablet, you can download PDFs to read anytime. I suggest that students download piano music and get two laptops or tablets so one person can read the bass clef and one person can read the treble clef. I think it is always more fun to practice sight reading with a partner.
If you are looking for an app, I would suggest SRMachine. This app generates unlimited sight reading material on your iPhone or iPad ($2.99). You can set the time signature, note values, rests, ties, dynamics, articulations and tempo. Once it has generated an exercise, you can push play and the metronome will count off the piece and you can play along with the built in instruments (including Guitars, Strings, Brass, and Woodwinds. Hopefully they will add marimba in the future.) I really like using this app because you never get the same piece twice. I am sure there is something available on Android.
Other Apps to Check out:
Slow Down Music Player: This app allows you to import MP3 files from your music library so that you can slow them down for transcribing and slow practice. The app slows down the MP3 while maintaining the pitch. I know this is not the only app that is available, but I have used it and it is helpful.
iReal Pro: If you practice jazz changes, you need this app. This app is a band-in-a-mobile device that accompanies you as you practice. You input or collect the chord changes from the internet (for free) and the app plays them back at various tempos and styles. The app is $7.99, but it easily replaces systems like the Jamey Aebersold play back CDs, especially having the ability to change tempos.
Spotify: I have to include Spotify in my list of recommendations even though I am sure you all know about Spotify or other streaming internet music services. I like Spotify because of the large selection of classical music. When I get called for a symphony gig, I can listen to 5 or more versions of the piece when I am preparing the part for FREE! There are also paid versions of the app, but I have never needed to purchase it if I am at my laptop. You can also send links to students directly from the app. I also used it for listening assignments that I assign to my university percussion students.
There are so many (maybe even too many) resources for the modern percussion teacher and student that sometimes it is difficult to pick what works best. I primarily use iOS devices, but most of the apps I have described above are on both platforms. I know that there are variations of each of these app and if you have another app which you think I should check out, please leave your recommendations below in the comments. Not all of these apps will work for everyone but I would suggest trying to incorporate some of these apps into your everyday lesson plans. With some practice, these apps will be a welcome addition to any music studio.
Originally posted on DrumChattr.com on November 10, 2013.
The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License by Mervi Eskelinen on Flickr.com.