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.

▶ I made a Drum’N’Bass song

In my advanced Music Tech course, I like to make the projects along with the students so we can have a collaborative learning experience. Every time I re-do a project with these kids I end up learning something new and it’s fun to share it with them – students can really tell when you’re genuinely excited about something new, and this type of teacher energy is to me much more authentic than giving the same canned inspirational speech each go around.

Anyway, the main things we explored were sampling breaks and creating the Reese bass instrument.

I called it “Peanut Butter Cup” due to the abuse of the Reese bass sound. I’d love to hear some feedback on how to make it better:

Here’s what my tracks and clips looked like in session view:


Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 7.38.25 PM


In outline form, here’s what’s going on:

  1. Drum Group
    1. “2 Audio” – these are sampled funk breaks
    2. “02 Funky D” – a “sliced to MIDI” version of the funky drummer, for playing on the Launchpad
    3. “Drum Rack” – some stronger/layered snare and bass on a drum rack.
  2. Synths Group
    1. “Reese Bass” – an Operator instrument imitating the classic detuned saw waves of “Terrorist” by Master Reese.
    2. “133989_2” – A Simpler containing an air raid siren from freesound.org
    3. “VES2 Synt” – A Simpler containing a canned sample from some CD I had
  3. SFX Group
    1. Various canned uplifters, impacts and a Jamaican guy because it’s DnB



Playing Your Instrument After High School: A Dialogue

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a person I went to high school with:

We initially talked about some audio equipment needs – she is trying to get a home recording studio going. She didn’t go to school for music after HS, but continued playing the flute in local folk and rock bands.

I thought about this and wrote:

I think audio stuff is neat because you *can* do it as a hobby. When I taught band, I felt like most students stopped playing once they graduated. With the music technology stuff, many of them dabble in it still after they’re gone. (although you were one of the good ones who still plays! Double awesome!)

And she wrote back:

It’s interesting how I came to still play flute after high school- when i first started trying to play with bands that were of the non-traditional sort (pretty much right out of high school), I had a really hard time because I was completely tied to needing a piece of music in front of me in order to play. I actually ended up not playing flute for about 5 years because i got so frustrated!

But then I picked it back up to play with the folk band, and somehow something had shifted in my brain- I finally understood how to use scales to be able to improv and write parts with a group and not need notes on a staff to tell me what to play. It was really awesome. I wish that i would have been taught how to do that in band class or in private lessons. I never really understood the point of practicing scales endlessly, so I never put much time into it until i learned that lesson.

I think if it would have been more explicitly stated that learning music theory and scales is the key to writing your music- even if what you want to play is pop or rock or metal, then i would be a much better technical flute and guitar player than I am (honestly, even after twenty years of playing flute- I would say I’m no better, technique-wise, than a talented high school senior would be and mediocre is generous description of my guitar playing and I’ve been playing for fifteen years!).

I’m much better at both instruments than i was two years ago when I finally figured that out for myself, but I wish it would have been more explicitly laid out for me so I could’ve avoided a good ten years of playing and wondering why I wasn’t getting any better!

This is interesting to me. It seems that maybe the traditional performance groups can have a longer-term impact on students if the emphasis is shifted more towards “creating music” and less towards “re-creating” music that has already been written.

If you want a comparison, what’s the equivalent of an artist’s portfolio to a High School orchestra student? A good audition you say… but what about the other 80% of the musicians in the orchestra who choose not to audition for things? It would be nice if these students could walk away with some kind of skill they could all apply in their own creative way without the need for a music director telling them what to do. I don’t mean to devalue the high level of performance most directors achieve, but consider this personal aspect too as an important musical experience that should be offered.

After studying percussion very seriously in college, I came out of college realizing there were no practical uses for many of my skills. Drum set is usually applicable but we didn’t do that much drum set. Most of my time was spent learning Marimba, and let’s just face the fact that there isn’t much work for professional Marimbists in the world.

Anyway, I don’t mean this as a rant – I do find it interesting when there is a new perspective on music education though, and if you’re a music teacher reading this, I hope you think about this alternative perspective. Also feel free to blaze up the comments if you disagree – it’s not hot enough down here in Little Rock…

Pro Tools Essentials

Last Year
I reviewed Pro Tools Essentials and basically killed it. It is harder to use, and at the same time more limiting than GarageBand. It also locks you to a particular piece of M-Audio gear, which is lame.

This year I’m buying it for our lab.

OK it’s more like this: we are upgrading our computers to Mac Minis. These don’t have mics like the old eMacs we had (yes, eMacs). So I needed a not-junky mic, but didn’t want the price or cable clutter of an interface at each station. So I chose the M-Audio Pro Tools Vocal Studio, which bundles a fairly nice USB mic (M-Audio Producer) with Pro Tools Esentials.

Will I use it?
Of course I will. Level 2 can now learn mixing and mastering using the right tool for the job. While I personally prefer Logic, PTE will give a similar learning experience at a fraction of the cost.

A good review
To contrast with my scathing mini review, here’s a pretty fair review of all the PTE bundles:

AV Review looks at all three PTE bundles

I’ll update with some in depth looks once the new gear is up and running.

Rock Band 3 will revolutionize piano teaching

I’m guessing this keyboard is basically like an Oxygen or a Korg K25. Remember this?

It was a massive flop. Basically because it taught piano in the traditional context. Repeat after me. Play this scale. Learn this traditional melody. Learn how to read the notes and so forth.

Rock Band ditches all of this and gets to the real issue at hand (for the majority of people): play this song. The catch is that something like guitar or drums is pretty complex to visualize in a reaction-based game. Imagine tablature flying down those five ramps and you can see why they simplified the guitar.

The vocal visualization for Rock Band is a little better, in that it is basically a MIDI grid notation view of the melody. There isn’t much detail; just enough to get the gist of the melody, but it still is a more accurate model than the flying dots.

The flying dots are great by the way. I’ve seen many non-musicians play some seriously hard stuff using the flying dots – it’s a game, but it’s a skill too. Now Harmonix has decided to apply the popular flying dots model to a 25-key keyboard. Why is this earth shattering? Because for the first time, this game-y model of performance is actually being done on an honest-to-goodness instrument. Something where after playing some rounds of the game you could go up to a real piano and play, and it would sound like what you just did in the game. This isn’t just a cool idea for a game, this is the future of music education.

Think of all the tricks and traps and gimmicks music educators have tried over the years to get kids to learn piano. Much of that will be obsolete when this game comes out. Of course, I’m not talking about the long stretches of piano lessons that end in recital performance. I’m talking about the group and class piano methods that aim to teach masses of kids a modicum of basic piano skills. This game basically solves that old problem of “how do I get these kids to get over their fear of piano?”

In my classes, I tend to steer away from heavy piano playing, and address piano as more of a means to an end – an input device among many others for getting your musical ideas to become a reality. I may want to incorporate this game though, as this is the first game that *is* going to be popular, and *is* going to end up actually teaching a skill.

Be prepared, music teachers. Big changes are coming, and they’re coming faster than they ever have before.

iPad music apps: Korg iElectribe

Hello faithful readers who have saved willkuhn.com on your RSS feed reader. I am back. I have come down from the mountaintop, and in my hand I hold an amazing tablet. But let’s skip all the magic and head right over to the music apps.

For my first look at an iPad music app I’ll take a look at Korg’s iElectribe drum machine, a faithful recreation of their Electribe drum machine of not-so-many years past.

So we have the standard 16 switches for timing, eight sound bank slots, a “transport” area, and a pretty sophisticated effects area.

The “browser” button takes you to the preset sound banks, which do not appear to be editable, and also shows you the preloaded beats, which are of course editable. I wish that Korg would have make the INIT patches a little more accessible than throwing them down all the way at the bottom of this list, but at least there are many blank slots to mess with.

What sets this drum machine apart from many other iPhone/iPad 808-alikes is its ability to record knob turns in realtime. Simply hit the record button, and along with saving all of your pad triggers (and doing some auto-quantizing magic) it will auto-record every knob you turn in the effect section as well. This has its pros and cons, however, as it can be frustrating to think you’re changing the effect, only to have it change back on the next loop through. Once you realize what’s happening, it’s easy to fix, but the effect can be a bit jarring.

The last problem with this app is its inability to export the great sounding drum loops it creates. There is simply no way to get a wav or aiff or anything out of this app outside of hooking it to a line-in jack on something else, which kind of devalues the possibility of using the iPad as a standalone music making device. I’d love to dream up some loops in iElectribe and then export them to Looptastic (more on Looptastic later).

EDIT: a new version of iElectribe allows loop and performance exporting via iTunes file sharing. Woo hoo!

Try it out for yourself on the App Store: Korg iElectribe ($9.99)