Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wii Can't Bridge the Gap

I had read a few weeks ago about the much ballyhooed launch of Wii Music software and have even mentioned Guitar Hero and Rock Band in several posts over the past few months. I thought that each of these items might actually have their rightful place in current music education 'circles'. Perhaps at the very least they might create interest enough for some people to get out and attempt the real thing - that is, actually access a real instrument, and a real music educator and actually LEARN MUSIC!

I felt the same way years ago when then Governor Bill Clinton played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show (I know, I am showing my age). Even though my personal philosophies may differ from Bill's, I nonetheless thought his saxophone playing appearences might start an uptick in music education or saxophone sales, and indeed it may have. (By the way, the tenor sax used by the Governor on that show was later auctioned off and proceeds went to the Music Rising fund). In fact, I was teaching at The Hartt School Community Division at that time and was interviewed by a nationally syndicated columnist about this possible 'Clinton Effect'.

When I first learned about Napster I wasn't at all worried about artists losing money, instead I thought it might spark more interest in various musical styles, which might then boost sales and even foster interest in music education. Ditto the I-Pod, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Wii Music. I guess I am just wired this way - it's a curse!

After reading the following post by Derrick Sanskirt titled 'Wii Are Not Amused', I realize I may have been thinking backwards all along. It doesn't take any special gizmo, advance in technology or celebrity to spark interest in actual music education. It takes just two things; 1. willing, well informed, patient learners and 2. quality, passionate, skilled, educators.

Derrick is a self-professed 'geek' in a variety of fields including technology and music. In other words, he is a typical 20 something and his entire post is eye opening. Simply remove the word 'Wii' from this story and some sentences will sound all too familiar to music teachers. Take the following lines for example:

'Watching people attempt to play Wii Music was like watching a cat attempt to catch mice inside a wall with no entry or exit holes: steadily pawing at the air in front of them with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, staring confused at the screen, and eventually finding the whole thing futile and giving up.'

Or this:

'Maybe I just need more time with it to find where all of that fun is hiding, but a lot more time is not something I'm willing to give Wii Music right now.'

So I found his post to be very enlightening for me in many ways. Bridging the gap between business and music education can be a maddening and often futile endeavor. Hardly have there been two worlds more unlikely to collide. Yet it seems there has never been a more opportune time for both worlds to come together, especially with today's tech heavy atmosphere.... and so we carry on!

Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Music Teachers 911 Interview with Mike Finkel

Episodes #15 and #16 of Larry Marra's Podcasts are now available. Besides the great interview with's own Mike Finkel, Larry also includes some useful 'music teacher handbook' tips for educators of all kinds. Each podcast has 3 segments and if you happen to have a penchant for technology, composition and or recording, you will definitely enjoy the interview with Mr. Finkel.

Mike's interview begins where my episode (#13) leaves off by talking about the early days of and how we have evolved to our current state of software development. The Q and A continues with a discussion about 'sequential learning' and his own personal approach to composition as it applies to the music learning process.

If you are an arranger or composer, you won't want to miss Mike's list of specific gear, software and recording tools. He also addresses the artistic and educational processes he uses to create the literally thousands of tracks that comprise the MusickEd Kore Series and the Jazz Series - due out in 2009.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Video Components Add Educational Punch to Software

As Tony and Joe put the finishing touches on the MusickEd Studios, the big cheese (Bob Lawrence) has been working on streamlining the recording processes for videos that will populate the Instrument and Lesson Support Centers at

The videos include both candid shorts, shot in private offices that show instrument specific concepts (like tonguing on saxophone or alternate fingerings on flute for example), all the way up to complete songs played along with the orchestrations. This allows users to both see and hear the material being performed and get instrument specific tips as well.

The lesson videos are recorded in our newly refurbished and painted studio, edited and uploaded fairly quickly as we continue to hone the process that our team members will follow. The sheer volume of material is overwhelming but because the Support Centers reside outside of the software (html based), we are able to upload the videos as they are produced and give instant access to our users. These will populate the Lesson Support Centers and be cross referenced in each Instrument Center along with any concept specific videos. The overall infrastructure of the site is incredibly important and thankfully left in the able hands of Mr. Detail himself, Dr. Bob.

The math and the sheer volume of material remains daunting; there are 9 songs in every Lesson and there are 20 Lessons in our Kore Series = 180. Our software is available for 37 instruments so that makes 6,660 videos. This number will ultimately grow to be well over 7,000 as we include the informal edu-videos that are instrument and concept specific.

The latest acquisition is a software product that helps make this entire process possible called Camtasia Studio. It's insanely easy to record videos, capture screen shots, edit and upload to the web very quickly. Camtasia is published by TechSmith who offer a wide variety of 'customer experience software' products.

Camtasia also makes it manageable to keep 7,000 videos and all their associated files organized. Individual folders for all 20 lessons and all 37 instruments have been pre-set (once again under the thoughtful and watchful eye of Dr. Bob Lawrence) so that as each video is recorded through the program, all files are instantly routed and saved to the correct folder.

No more time to write....I am off to start recording!