Composing & Arranging

It is no secret that playing a musical instrument not only bolsters a child’s physical and emotional development. It can also help in the more systematized development of his or her brain which can have a significant impact in the child’s academic activities and social endeavors. But just how can playing music benefit a child’s brain? Let’s learn more.

Improves Math Skills

We’re not talking about turning your child into a math wizard. What we’re talking about is the ability of music to help children better appreciate simple concepts in math that they can use to understand more complex numerical concepts in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. The thing is that even a simple activity as playing the drums can teach children about the concept of measures as exemplified in musical rhythms or beats.

Studies show that children who played musical instruments fared a lot better in math tests especially on estimation and computation than those who aren’t musically-inclined. You can always start your child on any music instrument, but one of the easiest to master so far is playing the drums. You can also learn from a website how your child can play such a musical instrument and start his or her way to becoming skilled in numbers.

Enhances Memory

Did you know that memorizing music pieces can help improve the brain’s ability to process and integrate information in a process we call memory? Researchers have found that children who played musical instruments and had to memorize their piece demonstrated better working memory. It is believed that music challenges the way the child’s brain processes and integrates new information, allowing for more efficient neuronal activity.

This improvement in memory can also translate to a host of other benefits. Children who have better-functioning working memory will fare a lot better in academic pursuits that require such skills. It also lays the foundation for the brain’s ability to solve complex problems.

Facilitates the Processing of Language

While it is true that playing music doesn’t necessarily involve the use of words, it nevertheless helps the child’s brain in the development of language-related skills. Learning the different parts of a drum set and how each component can bring about a wonderful rhythm can improve the vocabulary of children learning to play the drums. The same is true for those who will be uttering the words that they have learned while learning to play these musical instruments. They can process phonemes a lot better.

Neuroscientists have discovered that music has a very unique way of improving the manner in which the human brain integrates and processes parts of everyday spoken language. When this is applied to children, music can potentially benefit those who are having a more difficult time with reading and language. This can help them in their academic activities.

Develops Spatial Reasoning

Several studies show that playing music can also enhance a child’s spatial reasoning or the ability of the brain to understand, remember, reason, and interpret the unique relationships among objects in space. This is all the more evident in children playing drums as they get to move not only all of their limbs but also the rest of their body. Knowing the distance of the drumstick relative to the surface of the drum is a function of the brain’s spatial reasoning abilities.

Children playing music will do well in activities that require spatial-temporal measures. This allows them to function a lot better and more efficiently across any activity that they choose. For instance, if they engage in sports, their spatial reasoning will allow them to shoot the basketball with greater proficiency or perhaps even aim for the bull’s eye in a game of darts. Whenever objects in space are involved, one has to rely on the brain’s spatial reasoning.

Protects against Dementia

Dementia is known as a degenerative disease that affects the elderly, but can always present in young to middle-age adults. It is degenerative, meaning it is a very slow and insidious process. Studies show that playing music can be a protective factor against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.

One can never be sure if one’s child will grow to have dementia, given the fact that this condition is very common among the elderly. Because music can engage different parts of the brain at the same time, it can help prevent the disuse of brain cells enabling them to retain their optimum functioning a lot longer.

Playing music can be greatly advantageous to a child’s brain. Starting them today even with as simple as playing the drums can pave the way for better cognitive development.

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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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