Reviews – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global The global community for music education Fri, 15 Jan 2021 15:54:14 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6 https://musiceducation.global/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/cropped-MUSICED-ident-f64c72-round-light-with-stroke-960x960-1-32x32.png Reviews – MUSIC:ED https://musiceducation.global 32 32 Cubase 11 – Review https://musiceducation.global/cubase-11-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubase-11-review Fri, 15 Jan 2021 15:54:14 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=166091 Cubase 11

Cubase 11Cubase has become one of the top choices for Digital Audio Workstations over recent years for professionals and students alike. Its latest incarnation - Cubase 11 - adds a few more bells and whistles to what is already a comprehensive tool for music production. Steve Rose reviews the software

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Cubase 11Cubase 11

Introduction

Jazz musician and producer Steve Rose reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 11.


Key information

  • Title: Cubase 11
  • What it is: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Available from: local retailers and the Steinberg website

Special educational pricing is available for all Steinberg software products. There is further discount on site license orders, updates and upgrades.


Pros

  • a major update incorporating a whole host of new features
  • education pricing reasonable
  • lower priced versions have been significantly upgraded
  • PC and Mac versions

Cons

  • still a steep learning curve for newcomers

Cubase has become one of the top choices for Digital Audio Workstations (DAWS) over recent years for professionals and students alike. Its latest incarnation – Cubase 11 – adds a few more bells and whistles to what is already a comprehensive tool for music production.

Building on a solid set of features on both Mac and PC platforms, we ask if the update is worth buying for existing users and if its a good choice for people venturing into the audio digital world for the first time.

Steinberg offer three flavours of Cubase 11 –  Elements (currently £85, or Education Edition £57), Artist (£284, or Education Edition £172) and Pro (£499, or Education Edition £310). All three editions have upgrade prices from earlier versions whether bought originally as an Educational product or not. Education establishments with more than five licences get additional discounts by writing directly to Steinberg. For a comparison of each, see https://new.steinberg.net/cubase/compare-editions/.

What strikes me as a long-time computer musician is that even the most basic Elements version is extremely powerful, allowing 48 audio tracks, 64 midi tracks, nearly 50 audio plugins and over 1000 instrument sounds included. Only a few years ago this would have been a respectable specification for a flagship DAW. How times have changed!

What’s new in Cubase 11?

In the process of refining and adding new capabilities, Pro has a variety of time-saving features and new plugins, and the Artist and Elements editions contain significant new feature sets. Time to dive in and examine what improvements have been added, in particular for students and teachers alike.

Score Editor

Whilst not a music engraving tool as comprehensive as Steinberg stablemate Dorico, Cubase has been tweaked to produce better looking scores and workflow improvements when editing scores. In particular I like the independence between the written note and what is performed by the software. For example, when performed in a DAW, legato string parts often naturally sound behind the beat when played due to the long gradual attack portion of the string samples. In order to compensate, we often move the whole part forward in time (maybe by even as much as a quarter note) in order to reproduce what real string players would sound like, although they would need the score printed without this compensation. This is now easily achieved – the composer can have their cake and eat it!

Cubase 11 has added the Bravura & Petaluma music fonts (used in Dorico) when writing a score, but don’t expect finished scores to be identical to a Dorico score. Cubase’s less sophisticated engraving engine will, however, still be amply capable of producing clear, legible parts.

Fig 1 Cubase score
Fig.1 Cubase score (imported from an XML file) using the new Bravura font

 


Fig 2 Dorico
Fig 2 the same XML file displayed in Dorico using the same Bravura font


Scale Assistant

In all three incarnations, Cubase 11 now incorporates a way of aiding melodic and harmonic writing by organising MIDI information by scales. The software can analyse existing material and ‘correct’ notes that do not belong to the existing harmony. I found this feature particularly fun when creating harp glissandi using all the white (or black) notes on a keyboard. By choosing different modes and scales, the pedals of a harp can be recreated so that only the next note within the chosen scale will be played when running a finger up and down the keyboard. This is much easier than ‘playing all the white notes’ and changing everything by hand to, for example, an A diminished scale, the way I used to!

Fig 3 Using Scale Assistant
Fig. 3: Using Scale Assistant a wide variety of scales can be chosen to manipulate existing material

Scale Assistant can be used creatively to produce new harmonies and melodies, so its potential is considerable – it’s not just a ‘note corrector’ for dummies.

New Plugins

Steinberg has provided a few notable new plugins in 11 – Frequency 2 is an eight band dynamic EQ plugin that competes with third party EQs such as Fabfilter’s popular ProQ plugin. Think of a dynamic EQ as being the ‘lovechild’ of an EQ and a compressor where we can compress specific bands as well as shape sounds in the frequency spectrum. For example, a singer who becomes too ‘shrill’ when they sing high notes can be tamed only when the offending frequencies are triggered. Multi-band compression is a similar tool, but dynamic EQ allows much more precise control. Side-chaining allows a sound to be altered when other tracks in the mix get in the way sonically. Bass drums and basses often compete for the same frequencies and using Frequency 2 they can coexist in a mix more naturally.

Another notable new plugin in Cubase 11 is Squasher, a multi-band compressor used often on whole mixes in Electronic Dance Music (EDM) productions to get a ‘wall of sound’ type mix. Together with an expanded library of built in drum loops and electronic samples, Steinberg has obviously targeted younger dance music producers in particular with this update.

Fig. 4: Sample libraries
Fig. 4: new sample libraries are included in all three versions of Cubase 11

 

SpectraLayers 1

Integrated with Cubase 11 we have a new spectral editor (which is in fact a cut-down version of Steinberg’s SpectraLayers 7). With this ‘magical’ tool, audio can be edited to remove specific elements buried in an audio track or mix. SpectraLayers 1 is easily accessible in Cubase (using ARA technology) and perhaps its most talked about feature is its automatic ability to de-mix vocals from an existing song. To hear original Beatles songs separated into vocals and instrumental backing tracks at the press of a button is an impressive feat, but this is really a bit of a gimmick in my book. More useful is being able to get rid of that passing ambulance siren or dog bark that ruined the otherwise perfect take.

I used SpectraLayers 1 to remove the instrumental spill from a lead vocal recorded in the same room as a band with quite a degree of success. There is some degradation, but even on a lead vocal I found the end result acceptable. After removing the band spill on the track I tried tuning the vocal using the included VariAudio 3 (Pro and Artist) – Cubase’s answer to Melodyne – and the overall result was a clean, in-tune track that got rid of that ‘all recorded in the same room’ feeling that often results when using multiple mics in one room. Guitar amplifier hum removal is another use that I can foresee, among others. SpectraLayers 1 comes with Cubase11 Pro and Artist versions only.

Fig. 5: SpectraLayers
Fig. 5: SpectraLayers allows forensic repair of audio files

 

SuperVision and Imager

No, unfortunately Cubase hasn’t acquired the ability to look after an unruly class of students whilst the teacher takes a sneaky break, but SuperVision (in Pro & Artist) is a suite of audio analysis tools to monitor up to nine aspects of a mix. More useful for professional use, it nevertheless offers multiple ways to visually balance a final mix. Imager arrives in Pro and Artist and is a means of widening or narrowing the stereo width (usually of a final mix) in up to four frequency bands. Using these tools, you can ensure a phase free, coherent and balanced end result.

Other notable improvements

Pro’s track (stem) auto-export has been vastly improved, allowing easier sharing of projects (or for professionals, perhaps uploading to production houses). The Sampler can now treat drum loops more sensibly by being able to slice them up automatically, ready for further processing. In Pro, Global Tracks have also been given a welcome makeover. Across the board, optimisation for the latest multi-core processors (both PC & Mac) plus numerous smaller refinements make this a substantial improvement over Cubase 10.5.


Final thoughts

As audio production moves the bar ever higher, Cubase 11 more than keeps up with the latest production tools available. Educators need not worry when choosing Cubase as it is a leader in the music production industry, alongside Apple’s Logic and Avid’s Pro Tools and is consequently a good investment

Cubase has its foibles, as I’ve pointed out in a previous review of 10.5. Initial setup is slightly convoluted and one can spend considerable time trying to work out how to do simple tasks, which can be frustrating at times. Learning shortcuts is important to get the most out of the software and there are extensive internet tutorials available which are well worth the time.

For students wishing to make music using a computer, I think the Artist edition takes the prize – enough features but without the unnecessary ‘Pro’ level depth. For anyone with an existing copy of Cubase, it’s a solid, worthwhile upgrade.


About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

He has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with RambertLondon Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.

Website: http://www.steverose.co.uk
Email: steve@steverose.co.uk

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Innovation, connectivity and empowerment feature at Tonara’s music education expo https://musiceducation.global/innovation-connectivity-and-empowerment-feature-at-tonaras-music-education-expo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=innovation-connectivity-and-empowerment-feature-at-tonaras-music-education-expo Wed, 30 Dec 2020 12:11:01 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=166024 Saxophonist playing online with other musicians

Saxophonist playing online with other musiciansMusic education app creator Tonara’s InspirED online conference was a productive gathering of musical and educational minds, but the takeaway impression of the event went beyond its three main themes

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Saxophonist playing online with other musiciansSaxophonist playing online with other musicians

Music education app creator Tonara’s InspirED online conference was a productive gathering of musical and educational minds, but the takeaway impression of the event went beyond its three main themes.

As Tonara’s VP of Marketing Cara Katzew said in her closing remarks, the company’s customer feedback over the lockdown had inspired the discussion tracks: Innovation, Connectivity, Empowerment, ‘But community is the fourth factor that is the future of music education,’ she said.

That certainly showed in the way delegates from as far away as Armenia and New Zealand interacted in the chat columns during the programme of online presentations, discussions, networking sessions and live performances. Teachers from private studios, universities, pre-schools, public schools and more shared ideas, sympathised, joked, offered advice and promised to continue the connection after the event.

The best teachers and schools are finding new ways of bringing music to people because of, rather than in spite of, Covid

It all made for an informative, entertaining and provocative gathering on the weekend before Christmas. Topics ranged across online teaching methods on specific instruments, business strategy and marketing, mastering digital teaching aids and time-management. The weekend even delved into neuroscience, child psychology and new technology. Experts in their field covered vital aspects of working in music education such as avoiding work overwhelm, the psychology of working with traumatised students and tackling the loss of personal contact in the online teaching environment.

What pervaded these discussions was a further connecting theme, ingenuity. As Dr Lee Whitmore of Synchronize Strategy explained in the discussion, ‘Innovation Required – Teaching Through Covid’, the best teachers and schools are finding new ways of bringing music to people because of, rather than in spite of, Covid.

Paraphrasing Dr William Quillen, Conservatory Dean of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, he said, ‘We are not entering the pandemic by attempting to replicate pre-pandemic norms. Such would likely be impossible and would therefore lead to continuous disappointment. Instead of focussing on what we can’t do, we ask, what do the current conditions afford and what sort of new horizons might they inspire?’

Covid-19 had awoken a dormant understanding of the essential role creativity and the arts play in human wellbeing

‘With finals [final examinations],’ Whitmore explained. ‘They couldn’t have the usual juries so waived the usual finals and students performed collaboratively and remotely, delivering the types of musical outcomes that would never have happened if Covid hadn’t come along.’

Other schools, he said, have taken to rehearsing together outdoors where practical, or booked 1000-seat venues to allow smaller ensembles to use large stages for distanced lessons. In cities such as Detroit, whose music education provisions had almost evaporated, the pandemic had encouraged support and sharing of arts facilities. Covid-19 had awoken a dormant understanding of the essential role creativity and the arts play in human wellbeing, especially for children.

A number of the speakers addressed this theme. Nicola Cantan explained the methodology behind her Vibrant Music Teaching system for instilling staying-power and grit into students. ‘Someone with just six months of piano lessons is not going to have a fulfilling musical life,’ she said, and pointed out that retaining students is good for teachers, too. ‘It costs a lot more to get a new student than it does to keep the ones that you’ve got.’

Nicole Laborte, an orchestra and choral teacher from Enumclaw, Washington, talked about the need to enthuse students to engage, rather than just comply with the curriculum. ‘We’ve all fallen into the compliance trap because we’re in crisis mode,’ she said. ‘I strive for my students to be questioning, curious, optimistic. I want to encourage interest, critical thinking and passion.’

That engagement requires a different approach online, but that can be of benefit to both students and teachers. Hugh Sung claims he was the first professional pianist to go paper-free, twenty years ago. He also started teaching online six years ago and has never looked back.

I prefer teaching online. I feel like my students learn more effectively

Using Newzik and Artistworks software, he has developed a global roster of hundreds of piano students who share scores and notes, collaborate and practise together in real time. ‘When the pandemic began shutting things down, my first concern was to help my colleagues around the world use the tools I’d been using,’ he said. ‘I prefer teaching online. I feel like my students learn more effectively.’

This remained a point of contention for many of the delegates, who admitted to struggling with online teaching. They found the lack of personal contact difficult, particularly over details of musical expression, physical actions and the sense of connection.

Dr Anita Collins with young musicians
Dr Anita Collins, Tonara InspirED Music Expo keynote speaker, with young musicians

In her keynote talk, Dr Anita Collins explained how the three tracks of the conference, Innovation, Connectivity and Empowerment, interconnect to provide a way forward for music education. In essence, she said, the music education community needs innovations such as Tonara’s to empower teachers and students to find new ways to connect without the intimacy of a music studio.

‘Music education is such an ancient profession… the master and apprentice in an important, intimate, closed space… We need to understand even more about what is going on in the brain if we’re going to learn to teach using moving light technology.

‘Being physically together and watching the tiny signals that come from a body is really important. When we’re using a two-dimensional screen, we need to find new ways of getting around this.

‘We need a new level of language about music learning. How do we find a new way to help a that student over a learning problem?’

This is an opportunity to learn more about how we help students, how they take more control and have more agency in their learning

‘You have to be more explicit and deliberate in how you do things. Find the best place for the camera and move it around,’ she said. ‘When a teacher plays to the student, they miss some of what makes a difference because it compresses the sound.

‘Auditory processing is the largest information gathering sense we have in our body. It never turns off. So, how do we continue with our students online? We need to be more deliberate and mindful. This is an opportunity to learn more about how we help students, how they take more control and have more agency in their learning.’

That control combined with the engagement discussed by Nicole Laborte was seen as one of the reasons why music learning plays a critical role in developing human resilience to the psychological effects of the pandemic.

Neuro-surgeon Dr Charles Limb, bassist Mike Pope, a professor at Berklee, and Lou Ann Pope, a music teacher and consultant to Tonara took the neurological discussion still further, emphasising the need for music education from an early age as an aid to health, brain power and wellbeing. ‘We’re trained to understand that sounds have a special meaning,’ said Limb. ‘That’s to do with how the higher order of the brain interprets what you’re hearing. It’s a very complex process that we’re only just beginning to comprehend.’

Group music making for children is a powerful resiliency tool against trauma

Lou Ann Pope added, ‘The window to learn music starts to close about the age of nine. We need those neural pathways to be created early in life. The earlier the exposure the better.’

‘Group music making for children is a powerful resiliency tool against trauma,’ said Professor Gloria Tham-Haines’ discussion on trauma-informed pedagogy. Her discussion attracted a number of teachers concerned that they were ill-equipped to handle the therapist aspect of music education.

With around a quarter of people in the USA said to have experienced some form of trauma in their childhood before this year’s challenges, Tham-Haines argued that we all have a long way to go in understanding how to engage with traumatised students.

She explained the need for music teachers to develop new language skills, safe spaces and methods of empowering students to feel a sense of control. ‘Behaviour is communication,’ she said. ‘It’s about seeing the need behind the behaviour.’

With live performances and online chat space for delegates, conversation at the conference was lively and friendly. In a year of isolation, the opportunity for dozens of music educators to share their problems and solutions proved valuable. And with two seminars on time management, it was clear that many of the delegates had been feeling the stress themselves.

Carly Walton of Teach Music Online shared some of the lessons she learned as she navigated the transition to online teaching over the last seven years. As a Berklee alumna on piano and voice, she had stretched herself to breaking point, saying yes to everyone, driving from home class to home class and failing to keep up with administration.

Increase your studio value with technology

By stepping back and re-assessing her life she developed a simple plan to manage time, projects, students, business development, leisure time and money. She took all her teaching online seven years ago, stopping driving to all her students, increasing her hourly rate and choosing her students more carefully.

By blocking out her time and using technology such as Tonara’s music education apps and Google Suite, she reduced time spent on scheduling, invoicing, setting assignments and communicating with students to a couple of hours per week. Some of her subscribers were in the session as testimony to the success of her system. ‘Increase your studio value with technology, well-mapped curriculum, performance opportunities, studio communication and by diversifying your offerings,’ she said. ‘You provide a more amazing experience for your students and you perceived value increases.’

We are listening to the needs of music educators and students and putting them into action

As the Tonara InspirED conference demonstrated, agility, ingenuity and flexibility are the keys to survival in the Covid era and beyond. Tonara organised the event because it saw opportunities in the pandemic where others may only have seen threats.

‘The pandemic has reminded us how important it is to be innovative, connected and empowered, which inspired the three tracks of the conference,’ says Cara Katzew. ‘Our whole world was turned upside down. So, we thought how can we help during a pandemic? One of the first things we did was integrate video lesson capabilities in a flash, thanks to our amazing software development team.’

Since then, the company has added the Tonara Academy plan for schools and Tonara Connect, to help students and teachers find each other around the world.

Tonara’s Learning Groups is still a Beta system at present, but it’s aimed at people like Nicole Laborte, who has already swung the balance of her lessons towards ‘asynchronous’ or pre-recorded tutorials, keeping one-to-one time to relationship-building sessions with students. ‘Realistically, in an online model, we need things delivered asynchronously because we have no control over student’s bandwidth at home or if the student is also baby-sitting,’ says Laborte.

‘Our lives are dynamic, so we want to provide an agile solution,’ says Katzew. ‘We are listening to the needs of music educators and students and putting them into action,’ said Katzew. ‘We want to make it easy for people to learn music.’


Tonara‘s InspirED Music Expo took place on 18 and 19 December 2020 online. Recordings of conference sessions are available here for a limited time.

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The Complete Pianist – Review https://musiceducation.global/the-complete-pianist-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-complete-pianist-review Wed, 02 Sep 2020 11:33:06 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=147485 The Complete Pianist by Penelope Roskell

The Complete Pianist by Penelope RoskellRichard Beauchamp reviews Penelope Roskell's new resource for pianists and piano teachers

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The Complete Pianist by Penelope RoskellThe Complete Pianist by Penelope Roskell

Richard Beauchamp reviews Penelope Roskell‘s new resource for pianists and piano teachers.


Key information

What it is

This is a large single volume, single author work designed to cover everything you need to know about how to play the piano, from beginner to concert standard. It will be a useful resource for teachers, students and professional pianists.

  • The approach is holistic with a strong emphasis on healthy practice, the fostering of a reliable technique with good coordination and lack of tension, and the development of a musical and artistic vision.
  • The book is the result of 15 years of preparation and, clearly, many more of teaching and performance experience.
  • It comes with a large resource of online explanatory videos.

Publisher

Available from

Cost

  • £44.95

Pros

  • Excellent advice on posture, healthy practice and avoiding tension, influenced by Ms Roskell’s knowledge of Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais and, possibly, Laban Dance. This is the book to help set pupils up safely from the beginning and to repair faulty technique and tension/posture related problems in older and experienced pianists. It is a book I wish I had read 60 years ago!
  • Key strengths are the bringing together of some of the best ideas about piano playing and teaching from the past and present, together with the author’s remarkable gift for explaining concepts clearly and vividly, many well designed exercises, and a rich collection of musical examples.
  • There is an excellent programme of warm-ups and suggestions for a practice diary.
  • The very clear description of the use of the arm to support the fingers, which the author describes as ‘Parachute touch’, is an important addition. This is beautifully described and will encourage a warm and confident sound from the beginning as well as a sound basis for many more advanced techniques.
  • The description of intrinsic muscle control of the fingers, in which the fingers lengthen into the key, is a clear account of this essential and often misunderstood touch, which combines independence, speed and fine control of sound. Anatomists describe this coordination, when combined with the opposing thumb, as ‘precision grip’ as opposed to the ‘power grip’ and ‘hook grip’ which use the less sensitive and more unified muscles in the forearm. Ms Roskell’s description is easy to understand and demonstrates her long experience as a teacher. I feel though that her name for this, ‘singing touch’, could perhaps mislead some into thinking that the technique is primarily for melodic playing when, although helpful in producing a more singing sound, it is also of primary importance for speed and independence.
  • The sections on Natural Artistry and Healthy and Inspired Performance are excellent and a joy to read. The subsections on Tone and Texture, Rhythm and Pulse, and Pedalling are recommended.
  • The online videos are extensive and support her text clearly. These in themselves are a valuable resource.

A video example: The Parachute Touch

 

Basic exercise: The Parachute

Sitting away from the piano, rest one of your hands passively on your knee. Imagine your hand as a hot air balloon which is lifted in front of you by the hot air. Then let your hand descend back down to your knee, imagining that it is a parachute that is supported by the cool air in the palm of your hand as it floats gently down. Repeat this movement several times, breathing in as your hand rises, and out as it descends. Do each hand separately, then together. Imagine that your breath is lifting the hands, so the movement becomes light and effortless. Start with a large movement, feeling the whole arm lifting, and space being created in your armpits. Then gradually minimise it until your hand just feels as though it is floating up and down on a wave at about keyboard height in front of you.

As the ‘balloon’ rises, keep your hand soft, so that it hangs passively from the wrist. It will appear as though the wrist is quite high, although no effort is being made to hold it high – it is just the hand which is hanging down from the wrist.

As the hand descends, the wrist will drop a little, until the hand gradually comes to rest on your knee or on your imaginary ‘wave’ or keyboard. Observe the wrist undulating subtly up and down as the hand rises and falls.

The Parachute touch at the piano

Next, repeat the exercise at the piano with the fallboard closed. To ensure really good hand-arm alignment, incorporate the idea of the ‘puppet on a string’ – the hand being lifted and lowered by a string attached to the knuckle of the fifth finger. Come to rest at the end of each movement with all five fingers resting lightly on the closed fallboard in normal hand position. Do not let the wrist dip too far as you sink onto the lid: it gives, but does not collapse. It can help to think of a cat being parachuted down very gently and landing on all four paws. If you aim to ‘keep the long wrist long’ and evenly balanced, that will also avoid the tendency to dip the wrist too far (if the wrist dips too far, the tendons passing through the top of the wrist (extensors) will become shortened, and the flexors will be stretched). Avoid ‘landing on the cat’s tail’.

Start with a broad up-down gesture of the whole arm, then gradually minimize it until all that is visible is the soft undulating motion of the wrist and forearm.

Now repeat the Parachute on the piano keyboard, letting your right hand come to rest on the third finger playing C above middle C. Repeat the action several times. Then repeat onto the fifth finger, thinking of the ‘puppet on a string’.

Sink very gently into the key: after the wrist dips down, take time to let it float back up again to neutral position before repeating the action. Eventually you will learn to minimize the movement until it becomes just an almost imperceptible ‘give’ in the wrist and elbow. Remember that the wrist needs to stay soft but long, so that you retain the integrity of the hand-forearm relationship. In this touch, the finger is acting as an extension of the forearm.


Cons

  • There is no bibliography. Although there are source credits as footnotes from time to time, I feel these do not adequately reflect the work that has come before. It is always interesting – and comforting – to know upon whose shoulders an author is standing. A bibliography is also likely to inspire the reader to go on to further research. While Ms Roskell describes her book as ‘this new approach to playing’ (p7) and says ‘Much of my research and the material in this book is, however, completely new and, I hope, ground-breaking’ (p8), in my view the book does not live up to these claims. Its great strength is that it draws together much of the best pedagogical thinking from past and present – and often explains it more clearly than many of the original authors. However, much of this research has already been done by Abbey Whiteside (b. 1881), Thomas Fielden (1927), Otto Ortmann (1929), Arnold Schultz (1936), József Gát (1965) and Raymond Thiberge (1967) along with some recent work by modern pedagogues such as Stefan Ydefeldt (2013) and Miguel Henriques (2014). Quotes from grandmasters Tobias Matthay, Artur Schnabel and Heinrich Neuhaus are rightly included and referenced. Interestingly, Abbey Whiteside was one of the first to advocate a holistic approach to piano playing.
  • Although the list of Contents is well set out and broadly allows one to navigate through the book, an index, surprisingly, is lacking and would have been helpful in such a large volume. There are many music examples, quotes from distinguished musicians and isolated technical observations peppered throughout the text, which will be difficult to locate without some sort of map.
  • There is a substantial section on rotation but this is disappointingly limited on its variety and uses. The differences between upper arm and forearm rotation and combinations of the two are not adequately explored. There is no discussion about eg Brahms-style arpeggios where one side of the hand is substituted for the other quickly without having to change hand position or having to abduct and adduct the thumb. The illustration of broken octaves in Chopin’s Ballade No 3 on (p182) is oddly not included in the section on rotation at all but appears under ‘Changing fingers’.  In Ms Roskell’s video (6.10) illustrating this piece, she is seen to be using a rotary exchange – although her legato finger changing technique is also a component. Direction and angle of the fingers in rotation are not discussed. Considering the volume of work done by Dorothy Taubman (who admittedly did seem to regard rotation as the solution to nearly all problems), there is surely much more to be discussed here.
  • Surprising also is the omission of a full description of how the opposing thumb – our main difference from the other apes – relates to the keyboard. The fact that it rotates so that the fleshy part faces upwards when under the hand has a huge effect on technique and especially on how far the thumb will reach under the hand. Much faulty playing results from pianists trying to play always with the side of the thumb whether it is under the hand or alongside.
  • The section on alignment deals thoroughly with how to align the fingers with the arm – a very important point – but does not address the problem of vertical alignment to the keys. Our hands are formed by arches, transverse and lateral – which is why there is a hollow in our palms; so, when the index finger is vertical to the key, the little finger plays slightly on its side – and vice versa. The fact that this requires constant adjustment and the implications of this to the rotation of the forearm deserves mention.
  • I would have liked to have seen a discussion of the way technique changes with speed – which could be likened to the difference between walking and running (ie one cannot learn to run by just walking faster).
  • Hybrid techniques deserve more comment. Technical solutions are frequently a mixture of different approaches and the player has often to change the balance of these to find the most useful combination for each passage.
  • The videos are excellent, as already mentioned, but it would have been enlightening to have more examples of the techniques demonstrated at faster tempi. Slowed-down videos of fast playing could also be very helpful – especially as they would show how technique changes with speed. József Gát’s book, The Technique of Piano Playing (1965), shows this, with his frame-by-frame printouts of the hands of Richter, for example. Otto Ortmann, in his seminal work from 1929, The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique also demonstrates this with his light-capture photos, where he warns teachers not to listen with their eyes!

Summary

To sum up, this is a valuable addition to pedagogical literature, full of excellent and thought-provoking advice and much wisdom. The author’s references to Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais are a major plus.

However, there are omissions which, for me, go against the ‘complete’ of the title, and the book’s lack of an index or bibliography seems rather an oversight in what is otherwise a well produced work.

If you are a teacher and wish to set pupils up with a good technique that will not cause them injury – or if you are a performer and would like to improve your playing or find that your way of playing gives you discomfort, this book will be a worthwhile investment.


About the reviewer

Richard Beauchamp
Richard Beauchamp. Photo © Hugh Beauchamp

Richard Beauchamp studied in New Zealand with Godowsky pupil Ernest Empson and, prior to continuing his studies with Kendall Taylor and Peter Wallfisch at the Royal College of Music in London, was a soloist with New Zealand’s major orchestras as well as an established recitalist. He joined the staff of St Mary’s Music School in 1977 where, until his semi retirement in 2014, he was Head of the Keyboard Department and, for many years, Director of Chamber Music. He continues to teach music there.

His performing schedule includes chamber music, solo recitals and concertos both here and abroad.

He is a visiting examiner and adjudicator and his lifelong interest in anatomy, biomechanics and ergonomics in relation to piano playing and musicians’ health, has led to lectures for the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine, the RNCM and EPTA.

His website, www.musicandhealth.co.uk, features articles and links relating to musicians’ health, piano teaching and anatomy/biomechanics. His pedagogical work has been published in magazines and quoted in several papers and books.

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Soundbrenner Pulse Metronome – review https://musiceducation.global/soundbrenner-pulse-metronome-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soundbrenner-pulse-metronome-review Mon, 27 Apr 2020 11:16:57 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=92044 Soundbrenner Pulse

Soundbrenner PulseJazz musician and producer Steve Rose reviews the Soundbrenner Pulse

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Soundbrenner PulseSoundbrenner Pulse

Jazz musician and producer Steve Rose reviews the Soundbrenner Pulse


Key information


Pros

  • Almost silent so it doesn’t interfere with the music
  • Encourages learning by ‘feeling’ the beat

Cons

  • Takes getting used to and is not ideal for everyone
  • Latency issue with IOS app

Soundbrenner Fig 1
Fig. 1: The Pulse comes with a short (wrist) band and longer band for arms and legs

Metronomes have come a long way since the old wind-up ‘ticking pyramid’ days, and most musicians now use one of the many relatively cheap phone apps readily available to improve their sense of time, especially when practising.

The Soundbrenner Pulse stands out from the crowd as a wearable metronome that features haptic (vibrational) feedback as well as a visual LED element. It’s possible to sync more than one unit to allow, for example, a whole band to silently feel the tempos of a set of songs on stage (provided every member has one – up to five can be synced to a phone or tablet but even more can be added with a workaround).

Various-sized straps are available which allow the device to be worn on the wrist, ankle, chest or another body part (more about this aspect later). An accompanying free IOS and Android app allows the user to customise tempos, rhythms, time signatures, lighting, the way the device vibrates, etc as well as allowing the user to programme ‘libraries’ of set lists. (Unfortunately, I had trouble syncing the unit to my DAW via MIDI. I get the impression this aspect isn’t always straightforward to set up depending on your particular OS and DAW so I would check before you buy if you particularly want to use this feature with your own  setup.)

The Soundbrenner App

The Soundbrenner Pulse connects to the app via Bluetooth very easily and it is here that the device really demonstrates its versatility.

Fig. 2: The Soundbrenner app interface allows comprehensive customisation
Fig. 2: The Soundbrenner app interface allows comprehensive customisation

I particularly like the ability to change beat colours, vibration type / strength and to switch on an audible click that is played on your phone or tablet. Odd time signatures can also be accommodated and you can even control things via a Bluetooth foot pedal. The six-hour rechargeable battery life can be monitored from here as well.

I used the IOS version of the app, but discovered a problem when using the sound feature, which I found to be ever so slightly out of sync. The vibration on the Pulse was roughly 5-10 milliseconds ahead of the audible click on my phone, something I checked by recording both and slowing the recording down. Soundbrenner customer services were quick to reply but unfortunately unable to help me with this problem, I understand that latency problems can be fixed on the Android app, unlike the IOS app I was using. However I would say that a lot of musicians or students wouldn’t be bothered by this as the discrepancy is so minimal, but it did bother me, especially when working at slower tempos. The best way I can describe things is when a piece of video has a very slight sound/picture discrepancy which one can get used to or choose to ignore.

Feel the Vibes

What does it feel like to use? This of course is enormously subjective and depends on not only the user, but instrument played, style of music, area of the body worn, device settings and beat settings.

I invited four other musicians of varying abilities to have a go and give feedback, but from my point of view I found it tricky to get used to when I played the double bass (perhaps due to the sheer physicality of the instrument), but easier when playing the piano when I wore the chest strap which is an additional purchase.

Fig. 3 The chest strap can be purchased additionally
Fig. 3 The chest strap can be purchased additionally

I also discovered my preference for using a traditional metronome on beats 2 and 4 in compound time just didn’t work when I was using the Pulse, but using stronger downbeats was easier to feel. Some people just couldn’t get used to vibration alone to work with, preferring to hear the beat on the app as well – which rather negates the point of the device. Others really liked the aural space which allowed them to be guided by a beat whilst not interfering with the music in any significant way.

Slower pulses that were very short seemed to be the overall favourite way of using the Soundbrenner Pulse in my small sample group of users, but I would imagine drummers for instance needing a more powerful set of vibrations to maintain contact with the beat.  Wearing the device around the ankle was  the least favoured place and generally the wrist was the overall most comfortable place.

Design

Fig 4: The charging cable tends to come off easily
Fig 4: The charging cable tends to come off easily

The overall quality of the Soundbrenner Pulse is good – the Neoprene straps feel like they will withstand years of use and sweaty bodies wouldn’t have much detrimental effect on the unit. Basic on and off functions and tempo control are achieved directly on the Pulse by a combination of finger taps and turning the outer ring so it can be used alone without the app on an accompanying tablet or phone for basic metronomic duties.

Charging takes place via a supplied USB cable – this I found rather fiddly to use as it is held in place on the Pulse magnetically. Unfortunately, the magnet strength is quite weak so I often found it hard to keep the braided and rather stiff cable in place without a lot of adjustment.

Conclusion

At a current street price of around £80 (April 2020), the basic Soundbrenner Pulse isn’t cheap, and it seems to work for some people but not others. An hour or two of getting used to it are definitely needed, as is experimentation with the best settings and place to wear it.

In my opinion as a teaching aid, its undeniable novelty value and different approach would help students to engage with their musical activities, and in ensemble work it might encourage a more polished performance when used in multiples.


About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

He has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with Rambert, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.

Website: http://www.steverose.co.uk
Email: steve@steverose.co.uk

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The Belt and Road World Choir Festival: looking back, looking forward https://musiceducation.global/belt-and-road-world-choir-festival-looking-back-looking-forward/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belt-and-road-world-choir-festival-looking-back-looking-forward https://musiceducation.global/belt-and-road-world-choir-festival-looking-back-looking-forward/#respond Fri, 19 Apr 2019 13:47:30 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42275 Fuqing Education Bureau Overseas Chinese Children's Choir | 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival

Fuqing Education Bureau Overseas Chinese Children's Choir | 2018 Belt & Road World Choir FestivalThe inaugural Belt and Road World Choir Festival, which took place in Hong Kong in July 2018, was programmed and presented by the World Youth and Children Choral Artists' Association (WYCCAA), the leading international organisation based in Hong Kong. We present a round-up of the event.

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Fuqing Education Bureau Overseas Chinese Children's Choir | 2018 Belt & Road World Choir FestivalFuqing Education Bureau Overseas Chinese Children's Choir | 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival

The inaugural Belt and Road World Choir Festival, which took place in Hong Kong in July 2018, was programmed and presented by the World Youth and Children Choral Artists’ Association (WYCCAA), the leading international organisation based in Hong Kong. We present a round-up of the event.


The distinguished choral director and educator, Professor Leon Tong, is no stranger to developing and presenting ground-breaking, large-scale, international choral events. As the founder of the World Youth and Children’s Choral Artists’ Association, he has presented The World Youth and Children’s Choir Festival in Hong Kong since 2005, and in 2019 is organising the first World Choral Conducting Competition, also in Hong Kong.

Professor Tong explained the background to the Belt & Road event in an interview with Chorally before the 2018 Festival:

‘After the launch of China’s Belt and Road economic initiative, I wanted to contribute to this idea from a musician’s perspective so I began to build the Festival as a platform for music lovers to explore the history and cultural heritage of the countries along the Belt and Road route through choral arts.

Professor Leon Tong
Professor Leon Tong

‘The Belt and Road initiative advocates the exchanges of trade and business and the development of infrastructures between the countries along its route. Along with increased economic connections between these countries, I believe there will surely be more cultural exchanges. Choirs from these countries as well as other interested countries will converge on the Festival to exchange musical and cultural ideas. This aligns perfectly with the mission of the World Youth and Children Choral Artists’ Association as well as our commitment to the musical world. Through this ‘top-tier’ platform of the ‘Belt & Road’ Festival, we hope to share and celebrate peace, love and cultural diversity.’

The Belt & Road Festival combined three main elements: a performance festival involving both visiting and local choirs, an extensive choral competition across a wide range of categories, and a programme of workshops and seminars for aspiring choral leaders, which took place concurrently with the performances and competition.

The atmosphere throughout the Festival was one of partnership, openness and celebration of diversity, together with a palpable sense of joy at participation – particularly among the younger singers. The event was international, with a wide geographic spread among the participating choirs; but, at the same time, because of the proportionate number of choirs from China, had a strong Asian feel and unique character. For any choir from outside Asia considering taking part in a future WYCCAA Festival in Hong Kong, the experience is one not to be missed, for singers and music leaders alike.

Choirs waiting to go into the 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival prize-giving ceremony
Choirs waiting to go into the 2018 Belt & Road World Choir Festival prize-giving ceremony

The diverse programme of workshops, seminars and masterclasses, led by members of the team of adjudicators and involving participating choirs, was a ‘hidden gem’ within the event – a professional conference in its own right. Many sessions we attended were standing-room only, reflecting a combination of the international reputations of the speakers with the enthusiasm and energy of the attendees.

Last, but by no means least, warm congratulations are due to the WYCCAA’s events team. Planning and executing such a multifaceted event across many venues, with myriad, diverse sessions and involving huge numbers of performers, presented a formidable challenge to the organisers.

Choirs of all ages, directors, accompanists, adjudicators, workshop leaders, audiences, supporters – not to mention members of the media – were not just flawlessly managed and co-ordinated, but welcomed (in multiple languages), energised and inspired throughout the Festival.

They, and we, left ‘with a song in the heart’, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to witness the magic worked by the World Youth & Children’s Choral Artists’ Association in Hong Kong.

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Cubase 9.5: Review https://musiceducation.global/cubase-9-5-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubase-9-5-review https://musiceducation.global/cubase-9-5-review/#respond Fri, 15 Feb 2019 16:40:16 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42956 Students using Cubase © Steinberg

Students using Cubase © SteinbergJazz musician and producer, Steve Rose, reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 9.5.

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Students using Cubase © SteinbergStudents using Cubase © Steinberg

Introduction

Jazz musician and producer, Steve Rose, reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 9.5.


Key information

  • Title: Cubase 9.5
  • What it is: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Available from: local retailers and the Steinberg website

Special educational pricing is available for all Steinberg software products saving 40% off the suggested retail price. There is further discount on site license orders, updates and upgrades.


Pros

  • Extensive audio and MIDI manipulation
  • Integration with other Steinberg products
  • PC and Mac compatible
  • Ability to collaborate with other Cubase users over the internet

Cons

  • Steep learning curve, especially with Cubase Pro
  • Virtual Instrument sounds can be a little unrealistic

These days, choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has become a major investment – not only in money but also in the time needed to learn the considerable feature sets that today’s software offers. 

There is a wide range of rivals: besides Cubase, some of the more popular choices are Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Avid Pro Tools and Propellerhead Reason.

Each has a similar overall concept albeit with variations, providing the ability to record both audio and MIDI information, together with extensive editing and creative possibilities that grow ever more sophisticated with each software version.

So why is Cubase 9.5 a good choice of DAW?

Cubase 9.5

While Logic Pro X has become very popular due to its strong MIDI instrument set and editing possibilities, it still runs on an Apple-only platform – so if you have a PC, you’re out of luck.

Cubase runs on both platforms and because it has been around since 1989 (when it was then only able to record MIDI information), it is a mature and well-featured piece of 64-bit software. It is equally suited to recording a large acoustic ensemble, creating loop- and sampler-based modern music genres or making a film soundtrack.

Complete beginners might be daunted learning the workflows associated with such sophistication but Steinberg has various versions in its Cubase 9.5 range, starting with a very basic cut down DAW in the shape of Sequel (currently £68 from the Steinberg online store here), which provides a selection of loops and a basic ability to record audio & MIDI. Here, a beginner can get up and running in a relatively short space of time but they might feel the limitations of the software after only a few weeks of use.

For more sophistication under the Cubase banner comes Steinberg’s Cubase Elements (£85), followed by Cubase Artist (£265), with the flagship Cubase Pro (£480) offering a dazzling array of features. The system requirements obviously grow as the power features increase.

Cubase Pro

As its name suggests, Cubase Pro is aimed at audio professionals and consequently has the biggest learning curve.

As a recording musician for over 30 years, I began using various tape machines at my home studio back in the 1990s but gradually incorporated computers as their power grew. I used an early incarnation of Cubase in about 1998 together with the revolutionary Yamaha DSP Factory sound card – revolutionary because at last computers could record audio reliably, which was a major step forwards.

Now, 20 years later, I was curious to see how quickly I could become reacquainted with the software which has grown out of all recognition since those early days.

Initial setup

Initial setup took me hours when I expected it to be minutes – I can’t say Cubase Pro is very intuitive on this. The relevant ‘Audio Connections’ page required me to enter all the inputs and outputs of my Universal Audio Apollo sound card before I could hear anything at all.

Fortunately, the internet is full of useful videos and advice from many users who have come up against the same problems plus the Manual is pretty clear. Dedicated learning Music Technology sites such as Groove3 also can be worth the subscription fee for the time it takes to thoroughly familiarise oneself with a new piece of software.

I always say learning the idiosyncrasies of a new DAW requires similar dedication and patience to learning to play an instrument. Both can be very frustrating!

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware
Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

What can it do?

Having at last got everything working, I began testing out the capabilities of Cubase Pro.

There are thousands of good-quality audio loops already loaded in a variety of styles, together with the ability to slow them down and speed up, fit to a given length, play backwards, drop into a sampler for playback on a keyboard plus anything else the user can imagine.

Recorded audio can be similarly treated, tuned and quantised and Pro offers over 90 high-quality plugins to tweak things still further.

The ability to take a piece of recorded audio and replace it with MIDI blurs the barrier between the two and allows such things as the replacement of drums at a later stage of production.

I like the idea of online collaboration using Pro’s VST Connect software – getting a musician anywhere in the world to play on one’s own track in virtually real time is now a possibility thanks to Steinberg’s groundbreaking features.

Score-writing

While not primarily score-writing software, Cubase Pro can produce decent-looking scores and parts (although they can’t be refined as much as dedicated engraving tools such as Sibelius or Steinberg’s new Dorico).

However, writing basic parts for live performance from, let’s say, a MIDI track can be handled easily even in Elements and Artist but Pro adds more functionality.

I hear there are plans to integrate Cubase Pro with Dorico, which would be an amazing achievement, but as yet it hasn’t happened.

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility
Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

MIDI sounds

MIDI instruments built into Cubase 9.5 are largely centred around their HALion software, a sample player that incorporates over 3,000 instruments in Pro.

I find some of the sounds a little uninspiring when compared to, for example, Logic’s excellent Alchemy but nevertheless, there are plenty of useable sounds, especially when complemented by Steinberg’s other Virtual Instruments.

Certainly, Cubase has a full set of textures on offer right out of the box but for really excellent pianos, strings and other acoustic emulations, 3rd party VST instruments would be better.

Other features

Cubase Pro has excellent Video writing facilities: finished soundtracks can be exported to video directly from Cubase, which uses the same engine as Steinberg’s Nuendo (a DAW dedicated mainly to video and game audio production).

I like iC Pro’s ability to use an iPad or iPhone as a remote control for Cubase, which ends running to and from a computer when recording on one’s own.

Also worthy of mention is the seamless linking to Wavelab, Steinberg’s mastering software, for example, allowing the use of forensic editing tools to get rid of that fire engine that went past during the perfect take at the click of a button.

Who’s it for?

I would say that Cubase 9.5 Elements or Artist has a good balance of features to usability/learning time, perhaps something school students aged 14-18 might put to good use.

For University level, Cubase Pro 9.5 has all the features that would ever be needed while Steinberg’s Sequel might be ideal for younger children to learn the basics of Music Technology.

You can compare the features of each package here.

There are too many facets to Cubase 9.5 to cover in this review but I’m very impressed with the overall feel and unique workflows that Cubase offers. I’m even starting to use Cubase over my familiar Logic Pro X for some recording projects, which must mean I’m a convert!


About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

He has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with Rambert, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.

Website: http://www.steverose.co.uk
Email: steve@steverose.co.uk

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Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2: Review https://musiceducation.global/dorico-pro-2-and-dorico-elements-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dorico-pro-2-and-dorico-elements-2 https://musiceducation.global/dorico-pro-2-and-dorico-elements-2/#respond Wed, 24 Oct 2018 09:28:17 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42322 Dorico Pro screenshot

Dorico Pro screenshotDr Steven Berryman checks out the latest releases of Steinberg’s score-writing software, Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, a new ‘lite’ version.

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Dorico Pro screenshotDorico Pro screenshot

 

Introduction

Dr Steven Berryman checks out the latest releases of Steinberg’s score-writing software, Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, a new ‘lite’ version.


Key information


My review of Dorico 1 for MUSIC:ED highlighted the benefits of this relatively new software for schools; something that can embrace a more natural, creative approach to writing that might intrigue teachers looking for an alternative.

This Summer (2018), Steinberg released Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 – a new version – offering even more choice for schools but also an entry-level product in Elements.

The comparison of the two new versions reveals that the entry-level Elements is in no way reduced to prevent some creative work (you can read more here).

The significant difference for me is the flexibility in editing you get in the Pro version. Many students in Secondary schools might not ever use these features so it seems good that other useful things have not been compromised.

The limit of 12 instruments in Elements 2 shouldn’t hinder students’ creativity but I’d recommend teachers try both versions (as I did) to ensure they can make a sensible decision about which would be suitable for their department.

So what’s new?

No review can ever do justice to the wealth of features in Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 but I was thrilled to see a new handwritten font (Petaluma). There can be a real tyranny of sameness when writing using notation software so seeing some variety (and fonts that are comfortable to read) is good and students will enjoy using this alternative font.

Other subtle but equally striking improvements include dynamics erasing the background when they cross bar-lines (all those times when you’re struggling to make scores look tidy will be no more!). Even more fascinating is that Dorico Pro 2 will play back microtonal accidentals.

Large time signatures are now supported with ease

Large time signatures are now supported with ease

Students will be pleased there is video support and this is an excellent feature considering how prevalent composing for film is in the GCSE and A Level briefs. It would be a great feature to use in Key Stage 3 too – when students are often introduced to film music.

Editing

I liked the new ‘System Track’. This reminded me of online notation editor, Noteflight, and how bars can be added and removed, and this would make Dorico a good follow-on for students who have been using Noteflight.

There is a great deal of finesse in the editing potential Dorico Pro 2 offers and, much as this might not be immediately applicable to students in schools, it will be an important set of features for advanced students and those considering further study.

What I love about Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 is that you can start to write immaculate-looking scores and the time spent fussing over nuances will be saved by the software’s ability to create clean-looking scores with ease.

New tools for Dorico Pro 2

Dorico Pro 2 brings a set of new and very useful arranging/composing and editing tools that includes explode, reduce and multi-paste.

Explode is going to be so useful for students experimenting with how to expand (or explode) material across instruments. When I tried this, I thought the distribution of notes was quite effective but this quick process means you have more time to experiment with the voicing by saving time in clicking in lots of notes. This is going to be a powerful feature for those working on coursework as is the new reduce feature (which does the opposite of explode).

For teachers who are arranging music, these features will be particularly useful as will the new smart staff management features which allow you to create extra staves for solo instruments and ossias and divisi for section players.

Lots of exciting additions to Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, including support for ossias and other extra staves such as those required for divisi strings

Lots of exciting additions to Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2, including support for ossias and other extra staves such as those required for divisi strings

Many music teachers create bespoke arrangements for their classes and Dorico is going to be a time-saver, and a joy to use, when creating what often can be complex arrangements that attempt to embrace the skills of the individual students.

The way divisi is handled, and how it accommodates at times complex needs, will be of most use to the budding string orchestra arranger.

Elements 2 – a good place to start

This entry level version might be a good place to start if you’re interested in exploring the potential of Dorico. I needed to spend time learning the workflow after decades with Sibelius but I found copying out scores (rather than trying to ‘compose’) helped me to gain some experience of the interface.

Elements 2 has the features of the Pro but has some limitations that should not reduce the creativity of students (such as only 12 players maximum). The new features of extra staves, divisi and reduce/explode are also missing from this version. I’d find these too useful to not have and would rather have the students use the Pro version to benefit from them. If you have ambitious students who are working on microtonal works, they’d also miss this in Elements.

Elements seems to concentrate on the writing process (as Engrave mode is not in this version) which was the feature I found most alluring about a potential move from Sibelius to Dorico. Now I’m finding this intuitive approach to writing very compelling and something I think students would enjoy.

A 30-day trial

I highly recommend music teachers in particular get a 30-day trial of Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 and have a go: try and do an arrangement for a class or ensemble. You’ll see that some of the editing processes that would have taken some time might now reduce and you can see your scores being even more legible.

I’m enjoying seeing the development of Dorico and teachers should be part of it so that more voices can contribute to ensure it supports what we aspire to do in the classroom and enhances what budding composers want to and could achieve with their composing.


About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music.

Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay.

In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper Dreams. Opera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012).

Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.

Website: www.steven-berryman.com
Email: info@steven-berryman.com

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‘The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing’: Review https://musiceducation.global/the-novello-guide-to-sight-singing-review/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-novello-guide-to-sight-singing-review https://musiceducation.global/the-novello-guide-to-sight-singing-review/#respond Thu, 15 Mar 2018 18:12:16 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42985 The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing

The Novello Guide to Sight-SingingChoral director Brian Cotterill reviews Novello’s new sight-singing guide

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The Novello Guide to Sight-SingingThe Novello Guide to Sight-Singing

Introduction

Choral director Brian Cotterill reviews Novello’s new sight-singing guide


Key information

  • Title: The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing
  • What it is: Sight-singing guide and online resource
  • Authors: Ralph Allwood & Timothy Teague
  • Publisher: Novello & Co
  • Price information: £18.99-£19.99
  • Available from: Amazon.co.uk / Musicroom.com / Scorestore.co.uk (with a 5% discount)

Ella Fitzgerald once said that ‘the only better thing than singing is more singing’. A major problem for so many potential singers though has always been how to sight-read. Sight-singing is different from sight-reading on other instruments because it involves pitching notes oneself, rather than ‘simply’ playing the correct note.

As a choral director, I have often found that the most useful singers in a choir are not necessarily those with the best voices but those who can sight-sing accurately.

This work – and it’s much more than just a book – is a fantastic publication. It can be used by students, teachers and choir directors alike. There is so much in it that it is, dare I say it, the ultimate resource.

Sight-reading has always been the scourge of music exam candidates. The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing should be in everyone’s music case. The authors have used their huge experience to produce the first truly interactive resource to teach the art of sight-singing.

The book

As a text book, this will be of immense use to singing teachers in lessons with their students but can also be used by students on their own, outside lessons. Although necessarily extremely detailed, the book guides the student through the theory and skills required to sight-sing effectively, notably rhythm, intervals, melodic shape etc. I particularly like the way the authors advise students how to pitch intervals – a common difficulty among singers.

The exercises are cleverly chosen from ‘real’ pieces of music and each one focusses on a particular aspect of sight-singing. The annotated musical examples in the book, while initially appearing quite daunting and reminiscent of university students’ analysis assignments, on closer inspection give a vast array of tips and techniques to improve one’s skills.

Additional Case Studies, Example 1
Additional Case Studies, Example 1

The book provides explanations, exercises and tips and tricks covering:

  • basic music theory
  • scales and stepwise motion
  • larger intervals and awkward leaps
  • fast and effective reading of choral scores
  • examples from popular choral repertoire
  • general good practice for choral singing

I don’t know of another book which brings such a thorough approach to the art of sight-singing. Singers are taught to notice things in a score as they sight-sing (arpeggios, scale passages, repeating patterns etc), aspects of sight-singing which are crucial.

Additional Case Studies, Example 2
Additional Case Studies, Example 2

The book is extremely thorough; indeed, perhaps a little too thorough for use by a student on his or her own. Nevertheless, for use with a teacher or by a choral director, it is a box of delights.

The online Soundcheck resource

The unique aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing is its online Soundcheck resource. By logging into SoundWise, not only is the whole book available as an E-book on screen but also all the exercises are available for practice, each pitched for both high and low voice.

Once the chosen Soundcheck exercise is on screen, the student can try to sing it (through the microphone of his or her computer) and the performance is then ‘marked’. The student can try each exercise as many times as he or she likes, hopefully improving his accuracy. ‘Stars’ are awarded to celebrate achievement.

Following a successful ‘performance’, the student is encouraged to do a ‘lap of honour’ by singing the exercise again. This helps confirm the skills used (and also checks that the previous performance wasn’t a fluke!).

SoundWise’s Soundcheck resource
SoundWise’s Soundcheck resource

This online resource is of huge value and is the main thing which, for me, puts The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing in a different league from the old and crusty sight-singing books I have on my music shelves. Here, for the first time, the student can practise the art of sight-singing on his or her own with an online ‘teacher’ who marks every exercise instantly and will do so 24 hours a day – fantastic!

The SoundWise online aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing can be accessed on all media devices, including phone, tablet and personal computer, so is available for use anywhere – in a lesson, at home, in school etc – I even tried it in the bath!

In conclusion, I highly recommend The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing. It will no doubt establish itself as an extremely useful resource in the choral world. If I have one reservation, it would be that the book can appear too detailed for the student working alone, especially if he or she is young, but for use by adults, teachers and choral directors, it will doubtless prove invaluable. Ella Fitzgerald would have approved.


About the reviewer

Organist, pianist, choral director, composer and teacher, Brian Cotterill spent over seven years as Director of Music at Lanesborough School (the choir school of Guildford Cathedral) before becoming Director of Music at St Edmund’s School in Hindhead, Surrey, where he oversaw the running of seven choirs every week.

He has undertaken choir tours to Salzburg, Rome, Venice and Tuscany, which have included performances for Pope Benedict XVI. Brian is the official accompanist of Song Circle, a chamber choir formed from members of the BBC Symphony Chorus.

Web: http://briancotterill.webs.com
Email: brian.c@talktalk.net

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Review: The London A Cappella Festival 2018 https://musiceducation.global/review-the-london-a-cappella-festival-2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-the-london-a-cappella-festival-2018 https://musiceducation.global/review-the-london-a-cappella-festival-2018/#respond Mon, 05 Mar 2018 17:26:21 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42972 King's College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

King's College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling TonesThe London A Cappella Festival (LACF) is an annual fixture on the UK choral scene, attracting performing groups from all over the world as well as hundreds of workshop participants and concert-goers.

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King's College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling TonesKing's College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

MUSIC:ED reviews the vocal extravaganza

The London A Cappella Festival (LACF) is an annual fixture on the UK choral scene, attracting performing groups from all over the world as well as hundreds of workshop participants and concert-goers. Based at Kings Place, with satellite events taking place at nearby LSO St Luke’s, the festival runs for four days and is an ambitious mix of concerts, workshops, children’s events and showcases.

Curated by a cappella supergroup, The Swingles, this year’s festival – the 9th – ran from 24-27 January 2018. Media partners, MUSIC:EDand sister site, Chorally attended on the last day, enabling us to sample workshops, showcases and the final concert.

What struck us first and foremost was the friendly, almost intimate, atmosphere of the event. Festival-goers were in evidence from the moment we arrived, hanging out on the ground floor of Kings Place or chilling in the basement where most of the action takes place. Riding down the escalator, we saw the foyer open up to reveal the showcase stage, situated between Hall 1 (where festival concerts take place) and Hall 2 (which hosts festival workshops). With Vocal Dimension Chorus’s showcase in full swing and an appreciative audience standing or lounging on banquettes or the floor to listen, applaud and sing along, there was a feeling that this festival is as much about chilled-out participation as spectating. Many of the people around us seemed to know each other and we sensed that people come here in groups – families, friends and, above all, fellow choir members.

All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus
All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus

This was echoed in the first workshop where participants were quick to shed bags, coats and even shoes in their eagerness to get comfy for the warm-up – a two-minute meditation-style exercise led by the beatboxer from all-female contemporary vocal group, Musae (stepping in at the last minute to cover for Huun-Huur-Tu, a throat-singing group from Tuvan on the Mongolian border, who’d had problems getting visas). While the rest of Musae watched from the stage, Mel Daneke and fellow singers, Jessie Litwin and Sam Creighton, led 80 of us in a session exploring what it takes to prepare for a performance. It’s always good to feel the fear and do it anyway and we found ourselves sharing some quite intimate experiences, including moving across the floor to music representing water, air, earth and fire, discussing where we feel confident and where fearful and, for eight lucky people, lip-synching a stage performance to a backing track! I found myself next to LACF’s Festival Patron, choirmaster and broadcaster, Gareth Malone, and was delighted to see him getting stuck in as we swam, flew, stomped and sizzled our way through the session.

Musae's workshop
Musae’s workshop

The second workshop was a sit-down affair in which beatboxer supremos, Grace Savage and Hobbit, talked us through the basics of beatboxing. Not being as au fait with the contemporary a cappella scene as I might hope, it took me a while to work out why beatboxing had been given such a prominent spot in the festival until I realised that a cappella groups performing any kind of music with a groove need a ‘rhythm section’ and beatboxers provide that. I counted about 120 participants in the workshop and it was great to see everyone having a go at this most challenging of musical forms. As before, people were keen to get stuck in and the hall was soon full of impromptu vocal drum grooves and faux-electronic whistles and woofs. The audience had its fair share of beatbox aficionados, all keen to jump on stage and improvise with Grace and Hobbit, and, for me, this encapsulated the spirit of LACF – an event where lovers of a cappella can congregate to listen and learn, share and network and, above all, perform. You could almost feel the thirst for knowledge in the Q&A section and there was no sense that people felt intimidated – rather, this was a friendly community of a cappella brethren, united in the study and practice of group singing.

L-R: Grace Savage and Hobbit improvising with a member of the audience

Post-workshop, we hung out to three more showcase performances by NoVI, The Rolling Tones and The Gold Vocal Collective before making our way into Hall 1 for the final concert by The Swingles. Founded by Ward Swingle in 1963, this London-based group performs everything from Early Music and Bach to contemporary folk, pop and jazz. With effortless blending and consummate control, they are hugely impressive and well deserving of their reputation as masters of their craft. For me, the path they tread between their obvious classical training and the need for vocalese to sound ‘cool’ can be a little unconvincing at times but this is more than made up for by their ability to bring nuance to their dynamics. So many of the other performing groups ‘belted’ their numbers that it was a joy to listen to quiet as well as loud singing!

Contemporary a cappella group, The Gold Vocal Collective

The group was joined on stage towards the end of the night by many of the other festival headliners – including Musae and New York Voices – as well as Gareth Malone. The warm camaraderie between the performers and the audience confirmed that LACF is a labour of love and a place of sanctuary for the a cappella community. Roll on next year!

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Review: ‘Scarlet & Gold’ https://musiceducation.global/review-scarlet-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-scarlet-gold https://musiceducation.global/review-scarlet-gold/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 17:42:59 +0000 https://musiceducation.global/?p=42978 'Scarlet and Gold' 2017

'Scarlet and Gold' 2017MUSIC:ED reviews the Bands of The Household Division’s annual concert at Cadogan Hall in London

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'Scarlet and Gold' 2017'Scarlet and Gold' 2017

MUSIC:ED reviews the Bands of The Household Division’s annual concert at Cadogan Hall


‘What,’ I hear you ask, ‘is MUSIC:ED doing at a concert by the Massed Bands of the Household Division?’ It’s a cold and frosty night in Central London and here we are in our best bibs and tuckers rubbing shoulders with the Army’s finest – what’s the link?

Quite simply, it’s about careers. Specifically, careers in Army music. Forty new cadets sign up to play in an Army band every year. You can enrol as young as 16 and stay on till you’re 55. You get to train at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, as well as to continue your studies at the London College of Music on the BA Hons or BMus course if you want. And you get to wear a cool uniform.

In fact, the uniform is what this annual concert at Cadogan Hall calls itself after – that and the well-known march by Lloyd Thomas. Scarlet and gold are the colours of the Household Division‘s parade uniform and they deliver military music on State Ceremonial occasions such as Trooping the Colour. Band members are drawn from the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) and, according to Major General Ben Bathurst CBE in his foreword to tonight’s programme, ‘all of them are passionate about music’.

So it’s with a pleasant sense of anticipation that we settle into our seats and the lights dim to reveal not only the Massed Bands seated onstage but also an assortment of players dotted around the hall, poised to deliver a welcome fanfare. And what a fanfare it is! Stirringly performed by the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry Band, it’s a fitting start to what the Household Division’s website calls ‘an evening of musical pomp and grandeur’.

The trumpeters are followed by a welcome from the Household Division’s Senior Director of Music, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Roberts, and an introduction to compere, Alasdair Hutton, best known for his many years presenting the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. This warm, genial Scotsman, dressed from head to toe in tartan, is the perfect host, introducing an impressive array of ensembles, conductors and soloists over the next two hours.

The ensembles range from the small (the Household Division Saxophone Quartet) to the large (the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra). Conductors are drawn from across the Bands of the Household Division while soloists include winner of the 2017 Household Division’s Young Musician of the Year Competition, Stephen Shepherd (saxophone), Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate, Corporal James Sandalls (violin), and Honourable Artillery Company Band reservist, Ben Godfrey (trumpet).

What is particularly exciting about this eclectic musical evening is the range of styles covered – from traditional brass band music to Latin American, from sacred music to jazz, from classical music to specially commissioned new music like Nigel Hess’s New London Suite, performed to a film depicting the hustle and bustle of the capital. According to the programme, ‘this tapestry of London life starts with Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian’s journey across the newest bridge over the River Thames, followed by London Eye which depicts a flight on the riverside wheel and the panoramic views it affords. It concludes with Congestion Charge with its oom-pa-pas, whistles and jeering from the clarinets capturing the stressful attempt of Londoners to go about their business in the face of overwhelming odds.’

What’s also exciting is how well rehearsed and polished the performances are and with what precision they are delivered. Which is not to say that the concert lacks heart. On the contrary, the humanity of each player is evident. From small touches like the choreographed introductions to certain pieces (two players brought the house down with their po-faced pacing to some rather sombre music) to the evident respect afforded by the players to their conductors, there is a sense that these musicians take great pride in their work.

Here’s Major General Ben Bathurst again: ‘The Army is all about talented individuals working as a team and, as a result, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Being in a military band is exactly that, each musician playing their part and being able to depend on each other to do the same. The result is absolute commitment and performance to the highest of standards.’

Which brings us back to the start – careers. Perhaps it’s best to leave you with the words of Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Roberts – again, in the programme: ‘To lead State Ceremonial music has been the highlight of my career and the greatest honour of my life. Throughout my long career within the Army, I have been afforded the greatest opportunities to develop professionally and to perform on the world stage at events that, as a young musician, were beyond my wildest dreams. The musicians you see tonight are the most dedicated, talented and passionate men and women I have had the honour to work with and I consider myself hugely fortunate to conduct them and to work alongside them on a daily basis.’

We head off into the cold, happy to spread the word.

Scarlet & Gold ran from 6-7 December 2017 at Cadogan Hall.

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