Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Many Uses of Garageband

If you are an owner of a Mac computer than you are an owner of the Garageband software.  It is part of the iLife suite of software and is pre-installed when you purchase your iMac, Mac Mini, Macbook or Macbook Pro.  Most people don’t use it stating that it’s a bit confusing or some just feel too intimidated by music software.  It is, in reality, software that can be used by many people for many different purposes.  It is a MIDI sequencer and an audio recording/ editing software all rolled up into one.  It can be used by the professional musician, the amateur musician, a music student or for anyone who has a need to create simple audio recordings. 

When I first bought a Mac that had it installed I actually ignored it myself.  My computer usually has the high tech Pro Music software and felt that it is something that I did not have to use.  However, one day about four years ago I opened it up and played around with it and realized that it was actually software I can use for many purposes.  Over the years as it developed further I became very fond of Garageband.  I used it for simple recordings, podcasts, and when I needed background music while I played the piano.  I also found that it was great for the student so I started to teach how to use it.  I want to explain some of the uses of Garageband and how it can be useful for the musician, the music student, and the average non-musician.

The software is a multi-rack recording studio and you can hook up a MIDI keyboard and audio microphones.  With the MIDI keyboard you can create tracks of musical lines and assign them different musical instruments.  The software already includes a library of musical instruments such as strings, guitars, keyboards, winds, percussion, and even sound effects.  Apple also has available extra library of sounds and instruments that you can optionally install to add to the library.  This then can be a great way for a musician to create background music while they are playing their instrument or singing.  They can edit it and then create a CD or mp3 file that they can take with them to their gigs or performances. 

There is also pre-programmed library of audio tracks of musical instruments.  You can then set the parameters of different instruments and then record yourself playing or singing on another track.  For example, let’s say you have been practicing the famous Bette Midler song The Rose.  You can then set parameters of a track of drums, a bass line, and even a guitar.  Then after editing and setting this up you then can create another empty audio track.  Add a microphone and press the record button then record yourself while the background tracks are playing.  You now have a recording of yourself just like in a professional studio. 

There are several options of how you can add microphones.  The first one is a bit expensive.  An audio interface such as the MBox or M-Audio can be attached to the computer either USB or firewire.  Then you can add XLR or RCA microphones to the audio interface.  If you don’t want to or don’t have the budget to spend several hundred dollars on microphones then there are the other two options.  You can add a USB or even an RCA microphone right into the computer.  This uses the internal input and output scource of the computer for audio.  It is less expensive and works just as good.

There are many other ways Garageband can be used.  If you are one who creates podcasts, then this software is perfect.  It has a pre-programmed wizard to set it up for you.  All you need is a microphone and headphones.  Then you record like a tape recorder.  You can then add tracks of music or sound effects right from your itunes library.  The software is smart sensitive and when there are spoken words the music will reduce in sound rather than you select or change parameters.  Unlike the professional recording software, Gargeband will set this up for you.

Remember the good old days when you wanted to record and owned a tape recorder?  Everyone owned one.  Some used it to record voice notes while other used it to record interviews (such as journalists).  You have this capability right there on your computer (if you have the Mac).  Garageband works the same way.  You also have a large advantage with Garageband, it can record multi- tracks so you can add several audio tracks.  Then you can have music or sounds that you can import from your itunes library.  A person recording their diary can add the song they are talking about or nature sounds for the person who is recording meditation/spoken words.   Having Garageband on your Macbook with a simple USB microphone and small headphones anyone can travel and have a “digital” recorder with them all day long.  Journalists can use it for their interviews, students can record class lectures, business meetings can be recorded, and Mom and Dad can record the first words of baby.  The uses are endless and with many possibilities.  By learning the simple operations of Garageband it can be a great tool for everyone.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The importance of a Music Education

The economy has been very challenging and in the last couple of years we have seen many budget cuts in government programs, arts organizations, and businesses.  The worst situation has been the cuts to the education system, both secondary and post-secondary.  In the last couple of weeks here in Los Angeles we have faced some real sad news.  Hamilton Music Academy, a High School in the LAUSD dedicated to music education, is scheduled to close its doors.  Hamilton has served the Los Angeles area for many years and to many generations of students who have been trained to move on to professional careers in music.  With this school closing not only will many teachers be unemployed, but also students who want a serious music education will be denied their education. 

This has not stopped there.  Over the last few weeks LAUSD not only served pink slips to the teachers at Hamilton but also to many music programs in the district, including Walter Reed Middle School where the music teacher had created an orchestra for each grade level.  This week many frustrated students even protested against the cutting of their program.  Several schools had students walking out of their classes playing musical instruments in the hopes they will be heard over the cutting of their education.
Yes we do understand that the state has cut educational budgets, however there are other ways to remedy this rather than take away one of the most academic subjects in a student’s education.  Music is not only an art, but also a math and language class.  It builds the skills required to be successful in both of these subjects.

Let’s look at history for a moment.  In the Middle Ages, Music was not considered an art form.  Schools did not teach how to perform or compose for musical instruments, but rather they taught music theory.  It was taught as part of the Mathematics.  They learned the relationship of intervals of notes, the linear movements of notes, pitches, and harmonics among other theory topics.  This was a very integral part of their studies and was considered to be very important.  It was not until the Renaissance that music was finally considered an art form in the education system. 

Nevertheless, in modern days when music is taught in schools they are taught how to read music, which are the basics of music theory.  They are taught interval relationships, harmonies, and musical phrases, among other musical topics.  This goes back to the mathematics portion of music, but also includes musical language and the “art” of creating music.  This follows in line with language arts.  A musical composition when created and performed is no different than reading a novel or writing an essay.
So looking at the big picture, Music is an important academic subject.  It teaches the student the skill required to be successful in math and language arts.  By taking away music, administration is creating more challenges for the Math and English teacher.  If anything, perhaps the Math and English teacher is very thankful of the music teacher for helping build the skills needed for their classes.  If anything music should not be an elective.  It should be a required class at some level for all students from k-12.  For the early development there needs to be general music with singing, movement, recorders, and percussion.  For the later students, they should have at least two years of a chosen musical instrument.  For the High School level, not only should they be allowed to either be in the band/ orchestra or choir with a music theory class, but also a music history class to enhance their education.  Music needs to be a required subject.  If this is done, then by the time students graduate High School they will have a good solid foundation for Math and English and be well prepared for College.  It well also serve as an exciting part of their education because what kid does not like music?

It has already been proven that music is “a window into higher brain function.”  Gordon Shaw, a physicist who taught at Irvine University, did a lot of research in these theories.  He proved that “music enhances spatial- temporal reasoning and learning math, and is of scientific and educational relevance.”  If anyone recalls about ten years or so there was a series of recordings called the Mozart Effect.  These were created from Dr. Shaw’s research.  The concept of listening to Mozart or to classical music from early childhood to the teen years of a child would help develop these functioning skills.  If this research can only be taken seriously over money then the education system would have made better decisions.

Where is the future of children going if they are going to be denied a music education?  What will happen to the future of musical performance if new students are not going to be trained?  Without schools like Hamilton and strong music programs across the board not only will this country lack a music education but future performers for film scores, jazz bands, orchestras, and operas as well as other musical ensembles and bands.  I hope that the “officials” will understand this with reasoning and bring back one of the most important subjects in education.