Music Theory

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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We all have felt it before a performance: the jitters, the knocking knees, the slight panic that sets in prior to walking out on stage. Whether with a group or solo, musicians feel nervous before performances to varying degrees, and this is especially true of students. As instructors, directors, and teachers know all too well, some students can pull it together and appear calm, cool, and collected – even at an early age. Others, however, are just the opposite and start sweating, pacing, panicking, and can even experience heart palpitations and shortness of breath because of pre-performance anxiety.

As teachers and mentors, it is our obligation to help students calm down and regain their composure before a performance. Encouraging effective coping mechanisms can make a world of difference not just in how they feel pre-performance, but also during the performance and long afterwards, too. Following are some of the best tips we can use to help students ease anxiety before performances at any age:

The importance of practice

1. You know the importance of practice, but does your student? Seriously, think about it for a minute. Teachers tell students that practicing is important, but do your students realize that with practice, not only will they become better players, but they will also become better musicians and face much less stress before performances? Have you told them that the more they practice, the better they’ll be able to recover if they make a mistake, and the fewer jitters they’ll have beforehand? If they practice enough to almost play it in their sleep, students will feel more confident and less nervous. Encourage students to run through their pieces a few times each day before a performance.

Arrive early

2. Encourage your students to arrive early to the venue whenever there is a performance. The last thing a performer needs is to take on additional stress from running behind schedule on performance day. When your student has time to prepare and can take his or her time tuning and warming up, frazzled nerves will be calmed and jitters can more easily be soothed. Having to rush can cause undue stress on top of a lot of stress that is already present.

Visualization techniques

3. Many teachers find that teaching their students visualization techniques, which have been proven to help with performance anxiety in many ways, is one of the best ways to help with performance nerves. Professional performers use these techniques in a variety of applications, from public speakers to athletes to musicians. This is a type of meditation that has students visualizing his or her perfect performance. The more details that the student can include in the visualization, the better. They should visualize their breaths, the notes they will play, the audience, and their fingers moving. They can consider visualization as mental rehearsal, which over time can improve performances because the brain won’t tell the difference between the visualization and the real thing.

The importance of breathing

4. Breathing techniques involve controlled breathing that is a natural, effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. Students can sit in a comfortable position, whatever they may choose. With their chin pointed down as close to the chest as possible, they should close their eyes and inhale to a count of five, then exhale for five. Then, the chin movement should be repeated but this time, the count both times should be extended to 10. Many students find it helpful if they also visualize something positive, like the audience giving them a standing ovation or a peaceful waterfall.

Anxiety? get help.

5. Some students may continue to struggle with anxiety on performance day despite trying these techniques. If your student continues to suffer from a level of anxiety that is strong enough to consider further intervention, it may be best to instruct him or her to talk to their doctor. He or she might be able to begin taking a natural supplement, over-the-counter medication, or prescription drug to help, although the risk of side effects from medications may pose additional issues.

Your students will be able to overcome their jittery nerves before performances with your guidance, encouragement, and instruction. Mental rehearsals, controlled breathing, making good time, and conscientious preparation are all healthy ways for the student to cope and if all else fails, his or her doctor may be able to assist further; your student will be able to cope with various levels of stress in a variety of settings and circumstances, with your help.

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So you want to explain a music theory concept simply and then give your student an exercise to help reenforce the point. Enter the website musictheory.net. This is a fabulous resource for teachers and students alike. Best of all it’s free!

Lessons

Here are a series of diagrams laid out logically with little animations to explain various topics of music theory. Although there is accompanying text for self-study, these resources are flexible enough for a music teacher to give their own customised commentary. Using the forward and back arrows, it is easy to navigate through the presentations.

Exercises

This has definitely been a very useful area of the website for my students over the years. There are a great many exercises to test theory concepts. What I’ve appreciated about the design of these tests is that there is no time pressure, which is helpful for allowing some thinking time to the student grappling with a new concept. The best thing about this area is, right towards the bottom of the list, under the heading “FOR TEACHERS” is a page called “Exercise Customizer.” Here you can go to town very easily perfecting the test for the individual needs of your student and then you can copy and paste the unique link to share with them via email or another messaging service. Some of the tests are generic to all instruments and others are specific to keyboards and guitars.

Tools

There are some handy utilities under this section like “Tempo Tapper” which very quickly analyses the speed of your tapping and generates a metronome figure in beats per minute. This is useful for discreetly working out how fast or slow a student is playing their piece compared with what tempo it should be. “Staff Paper Generator” quickly produces manuscript paper you can print for free. “Pop-up Piano” is useful to play or mark notes on a virtual piano keyboard.

Products

The man who has provided this wonderful website for free, helps fund the project from the sales of his two apps for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. One is called “Theory Lessons” and the other “Tenuto” which are basically enhanced and offline versions of his website materials. The quality of these two apps is outstanding and make a nice progression if you wish to support his work.

This website is a gem of a find and infinitely useful. If you haven’t already done so, I would strongly recommend you take a look at musictheory.net

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