The Best of 2007: Great New Gear for the Technology-Minded Music Educator
By James Frankel
One of the most exciting things about technology is the swift pace of progress. It seems that each year more and more fantastic new products hit the market – many with exciting applications in the music classroom. Software titles such as GarageBand, Reason, SmartMusic, Sibelius and Finale keep getting better. It is often difficult to stay current with all of these advances.
During January and February I had the opportunity to attend quite a few state and national conferences with some fantastic sessions that focused on technology. I left each session with my mind racing – thinking of ways to incorporate these new products into my music curriculum. This article features five of those products that I believe every music educator should add to their teaching toolbox.
Sibelius: A Comprehensive Guide to Sibelius Musis Notation Software
By Thomas E. Rudolph and Vincent Leonard
Hal Leonard Publications, $29.95.
IÕm starting off with this new publication from Hal Leonard because I am thrilled that Tom and Vincent have joined forces for what could be their best effort yet. Their new Sibelius book is the perfect resource for music educators who are trying to understand how the popular notation program works, and the many applications it can have in the music classroom.
At 330 pages, the book is a jargon-free guide to all of the features of Sibelius. Everyone from the first-time user to the expert will find great information: keyboard shortcuts, tips for scanning music, creating percussion parts, utilizing the video feature, creating guitar tab, opening MIDI files, web-publishing and more. Each chapter has step-by-step tutorials illustrating how to use the different features of the software, and there are many tips set aside from the text in shaded boxes throughout. There is also a fantastic website that enhances the text (www.sibeliusbook.com). Chapter 14 provides readers with many different examples of how Sibelius can be used to teach classroom music. Equipped with this chapter and titles from the Sibelius Educational Suite, music educators have everything they need to get started with Sibelius.
M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96
Back in November, SoundTree sent me an M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 in preparation for a training I was giving in Brooklyn, NY. I had never seen the device before and when I opened it up, I was shocked at its size and its features. The M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 is a digital audio recording device capable of recording high-quality audio as a WAV or MP3 file directly to a CompactFlash or microdrive. The recorder comes complete with a small set of stereo microphones that are amazing for their size. A 128 MB drive can save quite a bit of music, but I would recommend upgrading to a 1GB drive so that you can record up to 1 hour and 10 minutes of uncompressed 16-bit CD-quality audio or up to 1500 minutes of compressed audio in the MP3 format.
The controls for the MicroTrack are pretty simple – a record button, volume, levels, and delete button are on the front, and an easy to use navigation buttons on the side. Once youÕve recorded something, you simply attach the included USB cable to your computer and the MicroTrack shows up on your desktop as a portable drive. Simply drag the audio files into your hard drive and you have them! You can then import them into audio editing software and burn them onto a CD. This portable little recorder is the perfect tool for music educators looking to make high-quality recordings of rehearsals, lesson and performances. Shop around to get the best price on your MicroTrack. Feel free to email me to find out the best deals.
($119.95 to upgrade from Finale 2006 - $169.95 to upgrade from all other versions)
Finale 2007 is the latest version of this highly popular notation program. The new features included in Finale 2007 are certainly worth the upgrade expense. These features include: full support for Macintosh Intel-based computers, improved human playback, linked parts, integrated Kontakt Player 2, the Band-In-A-Box harmonization tool, and the ability to orchestrate from condensed scores or parts. If you are currently using a version of Finale older than 2005, you wonÕt believe the amount of new innovative features Finale now comes with. The Garritan Personal Orchestra library of high quality sounds comes included with the purchase of Finale and utilizing those sounds is quite easy. The Studio View gives users a great recording studio interface to use when orchestrating and mixing the finished composition. The Tempo Tap feature allows users to manually tap the tempo and tempo changes throughout the score.
Finale 2007 also includes great fixes to some minor problems with previous versions. When you have a software program this advanced, you are bund to find some quirky things, and Finale has listened to their users and fixed them. Among other fixes there is now a Simple Entry shortcut for laptop users, you can now control-click an area of music to copy, and for MacBook and MacBook Pro users, many of the problems that the Intel-based processors had are gone.
I always recommend upgrading to the latest version of any software that you use on a regular basis. By upgrading to Finale 2007 you are not only staying current, you are getting some really powerful features that truly enhance the composing experience.
Snowball USB Professional Microphone from Blue Mic www.bluemic.com
My favorite personal gear purchase in the past few months has been my Snowball USB Microphone from Blue Mic. I have been looking for a high-quality microphone to use while creating podcasts for the past year or so. While the M-Audio MobilePre USB interface allows me to use traditional microphones with my computer, I was tired of lugging equipment all of that around – especially when recording my ensembles. I remember seeing the Snowball USB microphone at an Apple event I attended last year and decided to give it a try. I ordered 6 of them for my music technology classes at Teachers College Columbia University. I knew the second I opened one of them up that I had found my new favorite piece of gear.
The Snowball comes with a neat little stand and a USB cable. Plug it into your computer and youÕre ready to go. With no software to load, you can use the Snowball with any software that allows you to record audio. You must select the USB Snowball microphone as the desired audio input in your application preferences to use the microphone. Programs like GarageBand, ProTools, Audacity, and HomeStudio are greatly enhanced with this addition. There are three icrophone settngs on the back of the microphone that allow you to select the type of recording youÕd like to make. Choose position 1 to record audio with the cardioid microphone. Choose position 2 if you are recording loud audio to cut back on distortion, and choose position 3 to record with the omnidirectional microphone (great for recording large ensembles from the back of the auditorium).
I have been using my Snowball to record my voice for the many podcasts I have been creating with my students this year (visit http://fams.podomatic.com to listen to them). The recording quality is exceptional and I love the way it looks on my desk. I know that sounds pretty geeky, but its true.
Sibelius Groovy City
At the time of this writing, Sibelius Groovy City is not yet available for purchase but I received a beta version of the software and I love it. There are currently two other versions of Groovy out: Shapes and Jungle. Groovy Shapes is an exciting composition software program for students 5 – 7 years old. The interface has students choose between exploring and creating music. The exploration activities are primarily listening based activities. The composing space allows students to compose using various shapes representing rhythms, melodies, arpeggios, bass lines, and harmonies by dragging the shapes on to the screen. The interface for Groovy Jungle is very similar, although now set in a jungle, but there are some additional features that connect the iconic representation of their music with traditional notation. Students can also use a MIDI keyboard to input their own melodies and they can also create and edit text for their compositions.
With Groovy City, Sibelius has created the perfect product for getting kids ready for notation software. The composition space is very cool – a city block with funky graphics – and the included loops are perfect for students aged 9 – 11. The explore section of the software introduces more musical terminology and concepts and the assessment activities can be tracked for easy grading by teachers. Combined with Shapes and Jungle, the Groovy suite is the perfect way to get students composing outside of the GarageBand world.
If youÕd like to keep up to date on music technology, please visit my daily music technology blog located at: http://jamesfrankel.musiced.net. I always welcome your comments and suggestions.