Reuben Vincent

Reuben Vincent

Reuben Vincent is a freelance musician working as a composer, producer and private music teacher, based from his purpose built recording studio in Bagillt, Flintshire, North Wales, UK. His main instrument is the piano although he is also known for a "mean" solo on the Kazoo!!!

Most recording software allows you to see and edit the midi notes you have recorded with the “piano roll” editor. This is a simple and logical method of visualizing sound and adjusting it to the desired outcome.

The name piano roll comes from a technology developed in the late nineteenth century. Originally, a piano roll was used to trigger the playback of a pianola or player piano by using a series of cutout dashes on a cardboard roll which would tell the mechanism what keys on the piano should be triggered.

How to Read the “Piano Roll” Editor

Back to the twenty-first century. When some midi data has been recorded on a keyboard connected to a computer, the recording software normally allows the data to be edited in the piano roll editor. (Shown in the diagram is the piano roll editor from Cubase, a recording software product from a company called Steinberg).

On the “y” axis is the pitch. Logically, the higher the position of the recorded event, the higher the pitch. You can see that the octaves are numbered starting from C to B.

On the “x” axis is time. At the top of the diagram, you can see the bar (measure) numbers. In this instance, each bar is subdivided  into 4 parts which represent crotchet (quarter-note) beats. It is easy to see whether a note has been played early, on time or late. These notes can be recorded using a click track, which is a metronome that runs in perfect synchronisation with the recording to aid the performer to stay in time, vital if other instruments are added later. It’s an interesting exercise to see how well a student can synchronize to the click track to assess their timing skills. Of course, if the timing needs improving, all recording software will allow you to snap each note to the nearest rhythm line using a feature called “quantise” or by manually adjusting the start of the note with the mouse. As well as adjusting the “note-on,” you can also adjust the “note-off” either by “quantisation” or again, manually. As you can see in the above diagram, some notes are overlapping. I find it useful to show a student the piano roll, whilst listening back, so they can see where they need to improve. This has always been a very effective method of motivating improvement in their technique because they can not only hear but see where they are going wrong.

The final area I want to share with you in this article is the velocity lane. Put simply, it represents the volume of each note as shown by the bar graph at the bottom of the diagram. Notice how the volume of each note is color coordinated with red being loud, blue being quiet and the middle shades representing volumes between these two extremes. Again, listening back to a student’s performance will quickly help them to hear and see whether they have control of their fingers and a mastery of dynamics. If needed, it is easy to adjust the volume of individual notes or draw in crescendos and diminuendos.

Only Pianos?

Piano rolls are not just for piano and keyboard players! Midi drum kits and guitars are available to buy which will connect to a computer running recording software. The piano roll editor can then be used on these instruments too to see and edit note events.

2 Great Applications

Using the piano roll is a great teaching tool to help students hear and see where they are going wrong in their technique and a way to assess whether they are improving. Also, it provides a powerful way to perfect a recording that can later be converted into an mp3 file to share with family and friends which acts as a great motivator to students.

 

 

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Love ’em or hate ’em, computers are here to stay and are rapidly permeating most areas of our lives. Music is no exception.

There’s music software ranging from humble metronome and tuning duties, right through to sophisticated composition and recording, and everything in-between! In preparing the next generation of musicians, integrating music technology into our lessons is therefore an important aspect of our student’s development.

But where to start? What software should students use? Will it be expensive? What skills need to be taught?

Over the next few months I will looking at some of the basic concepts of music technology that I teach in my music lessons as well as sharing some advanced techniques learnt from my experiences as a freelance composer and producer.

So why incorporate music technology in lessons?

  • It brings exciting variety into the lessons for both us as teachers and for our students
  • Particularly good for engaging teenage boys but I’m equally pleased to see the enthusiasm of my female students too
  • Helps give us a “USP (unique selling point)” when students are looking for a new teacher
  • Playing back to students what they written or recorded and allowing them to “see” their music is a very powerful method of learning
  • Helps us stay relevant as teachers
  • Gives students skills that they will be need in the future

What software is available?

For simplicity, I would divide music software into three basic roles:

  1. Software for notating sheet music
  2. Software for recording
  3. Utility software for tuning, metronome duties, guitar pedal software, drum machines, soft synths, etc.

How much?!

The good news is you don’t have to spend a penny! There is much legitimate, free software out there and some of it is exceptional. Beware that there is a lot of illegal, cracked software that may be very tempting. As teachers, we need to set a good moral/ethical example to our students and their parents. Software developers rely on sales to fund future releases and cracked software often contains bugs that can cause serious problems.

Notation software

NoteFlight is a fantastic free web based product and has provided a very good starting point for lots of my students. As their skills develop, some students have upgraded to Sibelius First, which can later be upgraded to the industry standard Sibelius. It is worth mentioning Finale which is another highly respected notation package in the music industry.

Recording software

There are many great products available for recording. You many hear of them referred to as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations).

Apple provide their free entry level product GarageBand on their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks which is simple to use and can later be updated to their flagship product Logic (available on Macs but not the iPhones or iPads). With the Apple Camera Kit and a USB cable (same as a USB printer cable), you can connect a midi keyboard to record music. Bluetooth keyboards are now available so that you don’t need to use cables anymore! Guitars and microphones can also be connected for use. IK Multimedia provide some great products for singers, guitarists and keyboard players to interface with their mobile devices for recording.

Cubase is a long respected DAW which has the benefit of being cross-platform (I run it on both my PCs and Macs) and has been my weapon of choice since I was 14! It comes in three flavours, Elements (entry-level), Artist and then the full version.

Finally, I would like to mention a website called MusicRadar which is a fantastic resource for learning about software products and learning about how to use music technology.

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Mosaic: decorative art involving many different small pieces.

This is also the name appropriately given to a new collection of 26 easy educational pieces for solo piano, currently available in two volumes. What makes these sheet music books unique is that they draw on the works of thirteen different contemporary composers from diverse nationalities and compositional backgrounds. The result is exciting! There is something for everyone, from beautiful soaring melodies to evocative storytelling; A treasure trove of inspiring pieces to capture the imagination of the developing pianist.

Mosaic Vol. 1

The publisher has put together a playlist of all the pieces so you can see the songs for yourself. Just click on the link to get a flavour of the diversity.

Mosaic Vol. 2

Again, the publisher has provided a YouTube playlist to help preview the pieces in the second collection. Just click on the link.

Notes on the Works

A helpful feature is the comments at the beginning of the books which give hints about the pieces as well as some teaching directions which I am sure many students and teachers will find useful and inspiring.

Presentation

As a composer and editor of sheet music myself, I am very fussy about the quality of the presentation and editing of the scores but it is commendable to see a high standard of notation, printed on expensive cream paper making for a quality product.

Grumbles

To be honest, it is hard to find any. The only thing I can say is that, as the collections are so diverse, there may be one or two pieces that might not be to everyone’s taste but if pupils and teachers are open-minded, I think there are lots of great discoveries here to be made. The addition of high-quality videos to support the book makes for a great online resource for choosing and learning the pieces in the books.

Conclusion

As a piano teacher, I am always looking for new material to inspire my students. In Mosaic, I think there is much to capture the imagination of young piano players, to help develop technique and most importantly, to nurture musicality through these diverse and exciting pieces. Bring on Vol. 3!

To buy Mosaic Vol 1 click here

To buy Mosaic Vol 2 click here

If you would like more information on helping to manage your business, Music Teachers Helper is the way to do it.

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