Interactive Composition Available for Pre-order

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If you want to learn how to use Ableton Live to make the sorts of music that Ableton Live users make, Interactive Composition is your starting point.  It’s both a book of tutorials as well as a snapshot of electronic dance music and production styles and culture.  Look for mini-versions of lessons from the book in the months leading up to its release on this page.  The book contains 11 amazing projects and many more techniques and sub-projects to explore in your classes or personal work.  Each project is dense with techniques like synth-building, patch programming, sampling methods, and more.

The book will be shipping early February, and you can pre-order it on IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-Million and direct from Oxford University Press.  Buy a set for your class today!

Thoughts on the new Core Arts Standards

Today, the National Core Arts Standards were updated, to much furor on the Music Teachers Facebook board.  I feel like it is a good opportunity to discuss my feelings on the topic here.

I had a conversation with a high ranking official of the Ohio Dept. of Education once, during a meeting on Arts standards once.  My questions had to do with the application of the standards in our program.  It went something like this:

Me: “So, in a band class am I supposed to fully address all of the standards for my grade level, including singing?”

Official: “Well, not exactly”

Me: “What about choir?  There are standards about instrumental performance – should I be attempting to have our choir people address those?”

Official: “Certainly not”

Me: “OK, so my theory has always been that the standards are meant to be addressed by the entire department as a function of our offerings”

Official: “Well, yes”

Me: “Yes?  Or you’re not sure exactly”

Official: “Well, it hasn’t really been defined to that degree”

Me: “…”

So after this my whole stance on arts standards changed.  They’re not a bad thing at all, and certainly not something to be scared about.  Let’s get a few things straight:

  • In most states, Music is not required for graduation
  • If budget cuts need to happen, Music can certainly be cut without legal repercussions
  • Since Music isn’t required, the average student can not be exposed to all the standards, even if they are all addressed in every class (which they typically are not)
  • Standards are typically required performance and content targets for every student
  • Thus, these are not standards in the traditional sense

The Math teacher’s curriculum is required by law.  The Music Teacher’s is not.  Then, these “standards” must be a hedge against further inquiry into the appropriateness of including an optional Music curriculum in your school.  Let’s pretend Music wasn’t a typical offering and you had to start a program from scratch.  The standards could be considered a guideline for offerings.  Since the Arts standards offer no guidance on pacing or content, it can be surmised that they are meant to be covered as a department rather than by each individual class.  I believe this is not clearly defined to avoid confusion and difference in format from traditional core subject standards.

To those worried about having to “teach to these standards”: I would be very interested in hearing of a story of a teacher having to significantly change their curriculum to match the standards.  To those considering changing their curriculum – only do it if it benefits your students.  For instance, reading about Mozart and writing a report is definitely not an age-appropriate activity for a first grade music course.  These standards are not asking you to do that – but if you happen to do some reflective listening, there is a national justification for it.  For those of you who do nothing but sing and dance at that age, there is also a national justification for that as well.  Should every teacher attempt to address every standard?  I don’t believe it’s possible, nor do I think that’s the intent of documents like these.

The biggest misconception of Arts “standards”

In my view, the misconception is that these are designed for every music class to hit every standard.  Yes, a band class can touch on reflective listening, but the bulk of activity in the course is designed for preparing live concerts.  Likewise, my Music Technology classes can discuss and  talk about performing our work, but the course is not designed around performances.  Nor should it be, and nor is it being asked to be!  As music teachers, we are terrified that a legislator that doesn’t “get it” will come in and make us give bubble tests in Choir and make our 6th grade non-performance general class give concerts.  With proper justification for our activities this doesn’t have to be the case – and these standards are designed to be broad targets that pretty much every existing music program is already hitting.

Why do they make new standards all the time?

Simple.  NAfME (and others) are lobbyists at the core.  Their job is to ensure that Music & Arts are a part of mandatory education going forward.  To that end, they release documents like the new Arts standards to show that they’re serious about playing ball in today’s educational landscape.  Think STEM to STEAM.  Without a standards document that matches the language and trends in education, there is no justification to add the “A” to STEM.  The document is more about language and attitude than about practice for the average Music teacher.  Your program will most likely fit into areas this document targets and the work you’re already doing with SLO’s will justify the performance of your students.  If NAfME weren’t involved in this process and sat on the sidelines lamenting the decline of Music Education it wouldn’t do much good – by releasing standards and providing states with an easy-to-copy template they’re helping to keep Music & Art in the conversation.

So what are the standards for then?

They certainly don’t serve as a guide for anyone’s teaching.  Music teachers have always taught to their personal strengths and will continue to do so regardless of what NAfME or anyone else says, barring standardized Music tests, which thankfully haven’t come into play.

In my view, the standards are there for a teacher to have outside justification for what they do.  Let’s say I want to teach Guitar instead of Band.  With the standards, this is now possible.  Let’s say I want to teach Music Technology instead of Music History.  With the standards, this is now possible.  Both cases require an amount of radical change to tradition, but fit well within current standards.  There is no need to justify the worth of these activities, as they are within an agreed-upon set of standards.  If the standards become too specific and constraining, there would be a big problem but in their current form (and knowing musicians, for the foreseeable future) they will retain enough room for big new, creative ideas.

Do NAfME standards matter?

Not technically.  They are, however, a template for states to use for their own standards process and will probably be copied down the road as states revise their standards.  Again, Music standards are relative – there is no provision demanding that every 5th grader learn Violin, in the way that there are many mandates in state standards for students to achieve a certain degree of reading proficiency by a given age.  So we call these “standards” to fit in with the current zeitgeist of education, but they are really guidelines – varying targets that a teacher can call out when justifying their lessons.

Should teachers worry about the standards?

Probably not.  I suppose if you’re a bad teacher maybe.  If we start requiring standardized tests for these subjects, then we can demand mandatory staffing for these subjects – again, we’re not there yet.  But for now, these new arts standards will simply serve to be an external justification of what you already do.

Initial Thoughts on GarageBand 10.0.3 for Yosemite

Short version: It’s no WatchBand, but it’ll do.

Background

First of all, I had some good conversations with folks about GarageBand.  I’ve been very vocal about my dislike for last year’s version, and some took it as a generic “OMG I hate GarbageBand” as if I won’t stoop to using it or something.

Let’s be very clear here.  When I started teaching in 2004, GarageBand was released that year and basically no one taught Music Technology.  The software was esoteric and hard for outsiders such as typical educators like myself to understand.  I didn’t know why you’d need things like track effects or bus groups because I had no idea what any of it meant.  GarageBand represented an actual accessible starting point for those of us who wanted to make music on the computer but had no good entry point.

So fast forward 10 years and an entire career built in part due to GarageBand.  Last year, after GarageBand 10 was released I installed it and started upgrading my projects for my beginner class.  Immediately I started noticing things were missing.  My projects were going to have to change big time to keep using GarageBand.

Of course, I could have just stayed on the old version – lots of smart people I know did exactly that.  But why build a curriculum around a product I’m not excited about?  One that I’m wary of updating?  This was not an option either – I can’t passionately get kids excited about making music on a product I’m not terribly sure has a future.  Even though I have the old version, students who like the course and buy a new Mac will get stuck on the new one.  It’s Final Cut Pro X all over again (disclaimer: I liked Final Cut Pro X, but I totally understand how professional video people felt when it was released and had a huge feature set missing).

The key here is communication – Apple is great at running developer and public Beta versions for it’s important apps like OS X and iOS.  So why not just call something totally unfinished like FCPX 10.0 and GarageBand 10.0 what it is?  Unfinished!  Taking the features out without communicating that they’re coming back sends the message that “you don’t need those anymore.”  Sometimes this is necessary, but with professional tools this needs to be clear as a bell.

GarageBand +0.3

So on to yesterday’s version.  One thing is clear to me: Apple is pretty confident that their main user base for this app is Guitarists.  Podcasting support is pretty much out (including that excellent Ducking function – giving meaning to autocorrect users everywhere).  Same as last year, the look is decidedly Logic-Lite.  The wood panels are still there, but they’re much more slim.  Column panels snap out from the left side just like Logic has done since they went single-window.  As for me, I miss the animations but for people who had trouble considering GarageBand a serious-enough tool for music making, maybe these changes are welcome.  It’s not like my software of choice looks any friendlier, and kids seems to like that just fine too.

One thing that still bothers me about this new version is the perceived lag during recording.  When you hit record and speak into the microphone, the waveforms should more or less appear in real-time on the screen.  In this version (still) the waveforms redraw every couple seconds and it implies that the computer is having trouble keeping up with this simple task.  It doesn’t give me confidence that it’s not going to crash under a heavy load, and it certainly doesn’t compare well to other DAW apps in this regard.  Whether there is actual audio lag or not, this is a big concern I think – the whole argument of choosing a Mac over a PC for audio production hinges on the thesis that audio handling has less latency and more stability on Mac OS X than on Windows.   It certainly still does, but the vendor-made bundled app lagging like this out of the box might make people think other wise.

Here’s a comparison.  Notice how much smoother recording appears in the old version (top):

So here’s hoping they continue improving GarageBand.  For whatever internal reason they decided to do a ground up rewrite, I’m hoping they recognize the thousands of educators now relying on this software to be easy, foolproof and friendly.  It’s not like there is a competing product really – the competitor to having a GarageBand-based Music Tech course is simply to not have one at all.  We’re relying on you, Apple to keep this movement alive.

Okay, onto the good stuff.

3 Cool New Things about GarageBand 10.0.3:

1. Track FX are back.  Now they’re called Plugins, and they look like this:

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They’re located in the Smart Controls, and have to be revealed with the “i” button.  Not a terrible system, and I’m digging the inclusion of the core set of Logic effects (the old GB Track Reverb was it’s own thing, for instance).  This is a big deal – last year’s version implied that this type of detail was out of the question, and it’s nice to see them back.  On the other hand, seeing this also implies that GarageBand is on a different track than iWork – feature parity with the iOS version is apparently not a priority here.

2. Automation Drawing

With the pencil tool, the way the good Lord intended.  This pairs well with last year’s inclusion of the ability to copy and paste automation with regions.

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3. Serious Amp Designers

Just look at the new Bass Amp designer: Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.17.58 PM

Paired with the other Amp Designer, you’ve got serious tools for guitarists.  I’m pretty sure there was a version of Logic that charged an upgrade fee just to use these plugins.  Way cool, way pro.

In conclusion, I’m fully expecting the newly-unified Apple Inc. to continue incremental improvements to GarageBand and allowing this new version to flourish into a great reason to have a Mac lab in your music department.  Maybe someday I’ll move my beginners back to GarageBand too – the projects still work, mostly.  For most folks, GarageBand 10.0.3 will be just fine software on which build a curriculum.  For me though – I’m waiting until it’s airtight again to switch back.

 

(LEAKED) Apple Event “It’s Been Way Too Long” timeline (WATCHBand)

10:00am:

Tim Cook takes the stage at Apple Town Hall, carrying a guitar.  After going over company news, profits, iOS8 adoption rates, etc. he proceeds to smash said guitar on the stage, “The Who”-style.

“This is what you all felt like last year when we released GarageBand 10, didn’t you?”  He exits the stage.  Lights go black.

10:15am:

A low bass rumble.  Video starts playing – first a globe.  The globe zooms out into a watch face.  It is the Apple Watch.  A guitar icon shows on the watch.  GarageBand 11 for Apple Watch.  WatchBand.

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10:20am:

Craig Federighi on stage: “We felt that we really screwed up with GarageBand 10.  To make up for this, everyone who downloaded GarageBand 10 gets a free Apple Watch, preloaded with WatchBand.

WatchBand demo: no controls, no timelines, no UI.  Just press the icon and start air-guitarring, Bill & Ted-style.  A song will appear in your iCloud, pre-quantized and mixed.

“We took GarageBand to the next level.  We heard you.  You wanted an easier program.  You wanted less control.  You basically don’t want to write music at all.  Now you don’t have to!”

WatchBand demo over.

10:45am:

Tim Cook back on stage.  “We’re replacing all versions of GarageBand with WatchBand.  Now to make music on your Mac or iPad, just shake the Mac around and a song will magically appear in your iTunes library.  No timelines.  No confusing tracks or effects.  No play button.  It’s magical.  So.  Magical.”

11:00am:

Brief Q&A session.  No questions.  None of the musicians and educators who built their curriculum on GarageBand 9 and earlier are present to ask questions.  The tech press who has no idea what’s going on thinks these are all great ideas.

11:15am:

Apple proceeds to release a ton of cool hardware, all running the new WATCHBand app.  The new Mac Pro can “shake out” 12000 songs per second, all while avoiding confusing things like Track Effects and things like low latency recording.

11:30am:

One More Thing…(hopefully)

Tim Cook: “We’re just kidding.  Here’s GarageBand 11.  It’s like a fixed version of GarageBand 10 with all of the features of GarageBand 9.  Extensively tested by musicians and educators alike.  This product was designed from the ground up to be a great starting point for music production, and comes for free on every Mac.”

End of year-long nightmare keynote.

TI:ME Free Online Symposium is Happening NOW

TI:ME Members and non-members alike can logon to check out our free Symposium on Music Tech Pedagogy that is happening right now.  I’ll be speaking at 3:00pm EDT about the types of projects I like to teach and the methods I use to teach composition to kids with little or no music experience.

I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this – it’s an honor to be in such great company.  A quick rundown of the participants today:

Jay Dorfman – TI:ME’s national president and all around great guy from Boston U.

Mike Medvinsky – a former electrical engineer turned music teacher, who has in middle school kids making some cool things and really maker-faire kind of stuff

Bill Bauer – Bill used to serve on the Ohio TI:ME board before moving to sunny FL.  He’s one of the smartest and most earnest people in the field, and his research into music learning methods in the digital age are second to none.

The other two speakers, Chris and Adam, I don’t know as well but I wouldn’t be surprised if their accomplishments are right up there with the others.  Be sure to log on today to check out what’s going on right now in our field.

LHS Music Tech Promo video

It’s been awhile since I’ve made a nice video outlining what I actually do at Lebanon High School.  Many people do not realize that I only teach Music Tech.  There is no band or choir or guitar class that I cover.  We have one of the only programs in the country with the participation levels to warrant such an arrangement.

My course track is unique too.  There are few college paths purely related to Music Tech.  In 2014, you still cannot get a Music Education degree with technology as your concentration.  Most widely regarded programs are at the Masters or Doctoral level.  Thus, the sequence of curriculum leads to a wider media production standpoint, allowing students to explore fields like broadcasting, theatre production, or apply the tech to a traditional music degree.  Many students use the experience to bolster their applications to undergrad programs like these.  Some will go into a related media field such as film production.  Other students will just graduate and fly off to LA to become famous.  Either way, I feel like we have tapped into a totally different kind of track than what I see happening at other schools – one that others, such as the CCM E-Media program and the NKU Electronic Media program are also serving.

But don’t trust me.  Let the students speak for themselves:

I’ll also be speaking about my program at the TI:ME Online Symposium this Monday at 3pm EDT, if you are interested in learning more about Music Tech & Media Production at Lebanon HS.  It’s free for TI:ME members, and easy to register for through the website.