Monday, June 30, 2008

Software Updates

It's an exciting time at DSM and! Since the launch of our Discovery Series in December of '07, we have been working to overhaul the design interface and navigation of the software. We're confident that the information in our series is world class, but we are constantly striving to improve the functionality for our users. It's why online publishing and real time editing works well for us. As soon as our updates are published, everyone gets instant access to the new material. There's no re-printing, re-shipping or re-ordering... we're keeping it green!

The updated interface will make it easier for users to move from section to section within each lesson. This keeps the learning process simple and creates a smooth flow of information throughout the series. Users get into the groove of repeating a simple 3 step process of Discovering, Learning and Playing.
You bloggers out there will be the first to get a sneak peek at the new look so stay tuned.

We are also working on a Jazz Series to compliment our core (Kore) series. We're fortunate to have Dan Haerle on staff to add his amazing jazz education expertise. Dan is
a well known author and retired member of the Jazz Studies Division at the University of North Texas. He has recorded many Jamey Aebersold play-alongs and is an active jazz clinician both nationally and internationally.

The new series is a concept driven, sequential approach to learning jazz language, rhythms, melody and improvisation. As you can see, resident composer Mike Finkel is hard at work creating original songs and fully orchestrated play-alongs with blues, bossa nova, funk, swing styles and more. As with all of our material, the jazz series will be available for all instruments including voice. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for updates as they occur. The scheduled launch for the first lesson in this series is later this year!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Why Choir?

I encourage all of you to read the following post from Byron Davis who teaches high school chorus at West High School in Knoxville, TN. He is a thoughtful music educator who has written an impressive post as he wrestles with 'justifying' his program to the school board this fall. We can certainly use a lot more music educators like him!

Byron's Post is called; Why Choir? (Part I)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Response to an AAJ Post

This post is in response to an article on the AAJ (All About Jazz) website. It seems that MENC (Music Educators National Conference) is coming to the rescue of Jazz Educators since the demise of the IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education). OK, enough with the initials already; on with the post.

It strikes me as a somewhat sad state of affairs that jazz educators need to be 'served' and the profession needs to be 'promoted'.

I might even argue that the profession of jazz educating doesn't exist in a traditional sense of the word. After all, what are the options for a jazz educator upon graduation from college? Either work in a traditional school system where one has few if any colleagues or opt to abandon education and/or music altogether.

The goal 'to advance music education by encouraging the study and making of music by all' is a lofty one. Perhaps MENC should contribute to a fund that goes toward teaching jazz educators business and entrepreneurial skills so they can band together and open schools in communities around the country.

Turning our attention to the health of the profession is a great idea. We should be as passionate about music educating as we are about music education. If the benefits of teaching music were as apparent as other professions, we wouldn't need to be promoted or served.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Music Education vs Playing Songs

I read an interesting post this morning by Jonathan Segel (enter Chris Berman to say Jonathan 'Livingston' Segel!). Jon was lamenting the fact that 'certainly in the past 15-20 years the market of guitar based music has changed massively and the quality of playing has declined in proportion to its popularity percentage. '

He wonders what might be the cause... 'U.S. schools?', the '
Market iconification of rock music'?

I think we can look at teaching for both the cause and the cure. Very few US schools even offer guitar as an option. And it seems that many private guitar 'teachers' have been neglecting basic musical concepts in favor of TAB and shredding techniques. Now we have tons of Gen X-ers, Gen Nex-ers and Guitar Hero aficionados who know 6 seconds of 4 songs but absolutely nothing about music.

Why not teach musical concepts on guitar just as we do on woodwind or brass instruments? I think too many 'teachers' assume wrongly that students will lose interest or think it's 'uncool' if they are not playing the intro to Stairway to Heaven in a few weeks (showing may age here).

Teaching traditional note reading, rhythms, intervals, scales and chords etc. will go a long way toward correcting this trend. It will also make for more well rounded musicians, music enthusiasts and music consumers. It's up to teachers to find the correct balance with each student and to provide music education, not song playing, as their core curriculum.

This is what we do at DSM and it's why software is designed to be a concept based curriculum - regardless of the instrument.

Kudos to Jonathan Segel for recognizing this slippery-slope trend in guitar education. When more musicians and educators become as enlightened, we'll all be better off!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Case for Educational Support

Can your book do this?

Has this ever happened to you? You head to your local print music shop and ask the guy behind the counter for a good book of songs or exercises for your instrument. He doesn’t actually play, but he steers you to the appropriate section and makes a few suggestions for you to thumb through. You recognize a familiar melody and a couple of exercises that look ‘playable’. You’re thinking ‘Page 15 has a scale I need to learn – can I buy just this page?’ You finally make your choice, purchase the entire book and head home. You get your instrument ready to play and then…the questions begin.

I already know some of this stuff; do I need to start from the beginning?

Am I playing this note right?

How is this rhythm supposed to sound?

Can I contact the publisher for help?

These are some of the questions we’ve tried to address by adding several levels of support to the MusickEd software. The Support Center is easily accessible via our product. Finally, you can get the answers and help you need in an instant. We know that your book can’t do this!

Instrument Support

MusickEd Instrument Support is where you’ll go to watch videos and listen to MusickEd faculty discuss important insight to playing your instrument. A variety of topics are explored and new videos are continually being added. So when you’re having that ‘Am I playing this note right?’ moment, you’ll be able to access the help you need instantly, 24 hours a day.

Unit Support

MusickEd Unit Support includes text and videos that discuss important insight to learning the concepts presented in each Lesson. This is the place you’ll go to make sure you’re staying on the right track through each step of the learning process.

Custom Support

This area includes several sections: The Music Knowledge Base has support references created by our faculty who have answered questions and posted answers for our members. This section is updated often as new answers are posted immediately. The Glossary is an amazing reference for any musician. Each term is defined simply and many include cross references that lead to wonderful new bits of information. We highly recommend you peruse this area as part of your musical journey. The Troubleshooter allows you to view questions and answers that are sorted by instrument and topic. For example; click on ‘WoodwindsClarinet – Technique’ and view 7 Q and A’s covering topics like practice time, articulations, and breathing.

Tech Support

This area actually contains 3 sections to help you find answers to any of your software snags: The Tech Knowledge Base contains common questions and answers that help you download, install and use our software correctly. It also addresses basic functional issues like uploading midi files to your iPod or optimally adjusting your browser settings for our software. You may also Chat with a live technician to help find your solution or submit an E-Ticket for a timely and professional response via e-mail.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stop the Madness!

Why are music educators so emphatic about giving away their services? I just learned of a free music school in the Chicago area. How wonderful it must be for those students and their families who are fortunate enough to get a slot for free lessons! However, are programs like this good for the health of our industry, music education as a whole? Are the musicians/music educators in that area so well off that they can afford to work for little or no fees?

The Peoples Music School recently constructed a new building that cost over $1 million dollars. Evidently the have no problem paying construction workers up there in the windy city. I read a long list of supporters, foundations and 'individuals like you' - you that is, unless you are a music teacher. In that case you need to donate your time and talent because that's all you can afford to give. Does anyone else think this sounds whacky?

There's no doubt that free music lessons are wonderful for those students, families and communities on the receiving end. But let's take a good hard look at the health of our industry as a whole before giving away the farm. If music teachers were compensated on a par with other disciplines, maybe more of these schools would be popping up around the country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Green Music Education

Despite our penchant for Wired Magazine, Renaissance Music, obscure TV theme songs and all things gadgetry, we are not...I repeat...NOT nerds! (Ok, maybe a few of us are). Nonetheless, we hope you'll consider us a tad hipper for falling on the entrepreneurial side of the pack.

In 2003 we visited Alfred Publishing in Van Nuys California, - an industry giant. This meeting was the result of mutual acquaintances, many phone calls, a hundred e-mails and a chance meeting with an Alfred Rep on our home turf in Dallas. We hoped we could provide Alfred with online music education 'support' and perhaps ease our way into the industry. After seeing their organization we realized several key facts:

1.) Purchasing forests for the paper needed to print method books is REALLY expensive.
2.) Purchasing state of the art digital printers is REALLY expensive.
3.) Hiring 3rd party writers and artists to produce music publications is REALLY expensive.
4.) Warehousing and shipping those products to retail stores is REALLY expensive.
5.) get the picture.

Even though the meeting was an initial success with a verbal commitment to 'work together', we realized we had better re-think our product and where our efforts would eventually be placed. We were willing to honor our casual commitment but literally on the return flight we decided to go about things a different way. These are the questions we asked ourselves:

1.) Isn't the internet an ideal tool for transferring information?
2.) Isn't a huge part of learning music deciphering a sequence of concepts?
3.) Wouldn't it be 'greener' to publish online?
4.) Isn't the internet here to stay?
5.) Do we have any cash?

Well, we set out to build our music learning software 'in-house' with a staff of passionate educators and a few, uh...nerds. We started by compiling a set of sequential musical concepts that all instrumentalists (and vocalists) should know. Next, we began to put in place some of the processes and hardware needed to complete our task.

We laid out a Henry Ford-like assembly line to move our information from concept to completion drawing on the unique talents of each individual team member. The more gadget-conscious of us learned things like Fireworks, Dreamweaver, WebQuiz and PowerTracks. Others lent their data entry talents, editing and patience to the mix. All the while we kept our eye on the goal of producing as 'green' a learning tool as we possibly could. We simply kept honing and crafting, learning and failing until we had a usable interface and entirely functional software product.

It has been a long haul since our meeting with Alfred, but through everything we've kept our eye on the green goal. Our product is html based so there is no printing (we recommend GreenPrint for those of you who absolutely MUST have something on the music stand). There is no storage, no shipping and obtaining our brand of music education leaves a near zero carbon footprint. What's more, our users have the ability to directly contact the writers, editors and composers - try that with any other learning material!

Monday, June 9, 2008

How to Video's

The Instrument Support Centers accessed through MusickEd software include 'how to' videos. To prepare ourselves for publishing ours, we watched tons of them at you-tube and a few other education sites. Let me tell you, we saw all kinds of strange stuff, heard all sorts of odd sounds and were fed lots of shall we say, 'questionable' advice. We decided to put in place a few rules for our productions:

1. No editorializing! Just the facts man...

2. Record the sound and video separately for the clearest quality. There's nothing like hearing a phone ring or a toilet flushing in the background of a 'how to hold your guitar' video.

3. Stay focused on the task(s) at hand. Show only the things users need to know to complete each task.

4. Be brief. Just about all of the videos are between 2 and 3 minutes long.

Have a look at the video below from our Alto Sax Info Center. It explains how to assemble the horn:

Feel free to let us know what you like or don't like. We have a variety of videos available for just about all instruments and we are in the process of adding more. We plan to use the same approach for our Unit Support videos and for the Jazz Series which is due out this fall.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Discover, Learn, Play is a place for music learners to keep up with the inner workings of, its staff and occasionally, the strange and wonderful happenings on 'campus' at The Dallas School of Music, Inc. in Carrollton, Texas. You will also find GREAT information on how to best approach learning a musical instrument, and the latest news and commentary on the state of music education. (You'll soon learn we have no shortage of opinions on the topic!).

Our blog journey begins in June of 2008 but the school dates to 1992 and MusickEd can trace its origins back to 1998 when everyone it seemed, was scrambling to get a product online. We on the other hand, being the thoughtful artists/musicians that we are, took over 7 years to design, write, edit, develop, build and publish the product that is now being used all over the world.