Category: Musicianship

Musicianship is the craftsmanship of making music. It is the skills to become a better musician.

How to Promote Literacy Through Music

Rhythm and Language

Enjoy this article from contributor, Jude Young, about the great value of rhythmic training in the young.

Maria Kay has highlighted the integrated relationship between literacy and music in the earlier years and has suggested a few simple activities that will assist you in developing children’s skills.

Usha Goswami, a professor from Cambridge specialising in cognitive-developmental neuroscience, discovered that perceiving rhythm is important in association with literacy. She has dedicated her time and research specifically to do with children that are dyslexic.

In 2012, these findings were presented on BBC Four’s ‘Growing Children’. In this programme, she highlighted why rhythmic-language activities are important in preschool for supporting language development. These typically include songs, nursery rhymes, language games, clapping, stepping, large motor movements, and action rhymes.

Syllables And Rhythm: Great Assistants for Learning Language

Syllables And Rhythm: Great Assistants for Learning Language

Words are broken down into syllables, explained as “chunks of sound”. For instance, a word like “ex-am-ple” consists of 3 syllables. Being able to break words down using this method is one of the important skills children use to break up a word in a simple unit when spelling or reading. 

The rhythm in songs also reveals syllables in all the lyrics. Here is an example of a rhyme, “Can You Hear the Falling Rain”, and you will notice how syllables in each word are given a note. For example, “fal-ling”, maybe a single word but contains 2 syllables. It is also sung on 2 notes. 

Audio Specialist from Direct Appliance Rentals, Karina Wolfin says, “Assisting young children to recognise syllables by pointing them out in music happens to be an effective technique to help children break down a word. By adding in movements to point out the syllables provides even further emphasis. For this reason, playing instruments, dancing, clapping, and marching assists with embedding essential literacy skills.” 

Musical Activities: Making Learning More Enjoyable

Musical Activities: Making Learning More Enjoyable

Here is an example of a music activity:

Can You Hear The Falling Rain?

Can you hear the falling rain?

Listen here it comes again.

Down the river, down the lane,

Tapping on the windowpane.

To highlight the rhythm in the song use sticks (claves), tap a drum, or clap hands. When using an instrument like a drum you can change the sounds for the falling rain, flowing down the road, a window, or river. 

This is a simple rhyme that you can also use to discuss rain and the sounds that it makes on different surfaces or flowing into a river. You could also compare these sounds to water that comes out of a tap or the waves that crash onto the beach.

Syllable Activities

Here is an example of one of the activities used to identify syllables:

Holding a drum, give the children a beater, giving each child a turn. Ask each child a different question. For example, “What did you eat for breakfast?” Each child must reply by beating out syllables on your drum while they speak. One example of an answer would be “ce-re-al”, 3 beats (syllables), jam and toast, 3 beats (syllables). 

Children that do not know how to tap rhythms, often have difficulties with spelling. Even older kids often benefit from using a tapping technique to tap out rhythms present in words. This method breaks the words into more manageable and smaller units making it easier to spell and read. Being able to pay attention to sounds in words is very important to become proficient in literacy. 

———- Jude Young, contributing author to Alive Drumming.

Appreciate your songs more with Song Rhythm Tracks!

Whether you are learning a new tune, jamming, gigging or cutting your latest album, these tracks are what you need!

The Primacy of Rhythm in practicing popular music

hands on bongos

When learning a new piece of music, when should a musician work on getting right the rhythm and feel of the piece?

Introduction

I have long believed it has to be the very first thing to get right and there’s little point playing notes at all unless they are in the desired rhythm and feel.   Tempo, however, is a whole other subject – there’s a lot to be said for precision and even playing tunes at markedly different tempos to internalize the piece better.

Timing is the bedrock of music:  “When a note is struck at the wrong time, it’s the wrong note”.  Getting playing in the right rhythm as soon as possible is why I’ve always sought out structured and inspiring rhythmic backing.  This ultimately lead to  “Song Rhythm Tracks“. Continue Reading

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Smart Music Creation

painting femaleJazzGroup

What’s meant by “Smart Music Creation”?

Smart” often means that technology has been added to something that previously had not had it.

With ‘music’, the term ‘digital‘ has been used for the distribution of consumer music in a ‘digital form‘ – Audio-CD, mini-discs, DAT and later the revolution of online distribution through the iTunes Music Store.

Smart Music Creation‘ could perhaps be considered to be where computerized devices help with the creation of music – the synthesizer, the drum machine, and MIDI generally. Drum Machines and Synthesizers are really new musical instruments lending themselves to new musical sounds and therefore new genres of music. That’s not smart really, it is just a different type of instrument.

Enter – Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)

The MIDI platform has been around for 30 years or more and deserves the name ‘Smart’.   It automates the playing of the instruments by encoding and reproducing the act of playing
that  note,
on  that  instrument
with  that  intensity
precisely at  that  time.

That’s not just a new type of instrument, it is a way of codifying the playing of any and all instruments. Complete orchestral scores have been codified and rendered with MIDI. Great performances have been captured using MIDI recording. MIDI doesn’t have to mean sub-standard music – it can, if used with care, mean superb musicianship and great music production. Unfortunately, too many substandard performances have been codified and rendered with MIDI, leading to bad experiences and a bad reputation for the technology.

Enablement versus Truly Smart Music Creation

MIDI is a great enabler.

We shouldn’t blame MIDI for what we have, and haven’t, done with it over the last 3 decades. For truly ‘Smart Music’ what we need is to go further, more intimately marrying technology with music production.

incredibleTrumpet
IncredibleTrumpet

The innovator – Band-In-A-Box

The first, mass-adoption innovation from MIDI was the song-based accompaniment application – PG Music’sBand-In-A-Box” available on PCs and Macs. This delivered on its promise of providing tailored accompaniment for songs. It helps students understand the form of the songs they play and to provide backing music for enjoying and learning new songs. Importantly, the interface or ‘language’ of the application is that of traditional music notation and concepts. It doesn’t rewrite musical terminology, it adopts it and extends what can be done with it. Band-In-A-Box truly is Smart Music Creation.
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Why do these Song Rhythm Tracks sound so totally great?

drummer AJAZZGO2017

These Song Rhythm Tracks do sound totally great, don’t they?

This is one of the most frequent things I hear.  The great sound quality often comes as surprise, perhaps because of the widespread familiarity everybody has with ‘Midi Drum Machines‘, which don’t satisfy in the same way as Song Rhythm TracksMidi Drum Machines and Song Rhythm Tracks are two very different products; we summarize their differences in the comparison section below.

The Song Rhythm Tracks Way

Song Rhythm Tracks
Song Rhythm Tracks

Here are the three top reasons why we believe these tracks are so great to jam to, to gig to, and to cut records to.

One – Great Recordings of Great Drummers – Song Rhythm Tracks are arranged from careful studio recordings of excellent drummers.

They are not constructed from midi files fitting together “samples” from single drum hits to form a mechanical style but rather multiple longer-form full recordings by top studio drummers, lasting from up to 8 bars at a time where you hear subtle drum rolls, variations in ride cymbal taps, complex fills and more.  The rhythmic style comes from talented drummers that are very experienced in the particular style be it Reggae, Salsa, Bossa, Rumba, Tango, Rock, Country, Jazz, Pop, Celtic, Praise & Worship, Blues, and lots more!

Two – There is natural variety promoted over the repeats.

That is, a number of recordings of all aspects of playing, fills, post-fills, shots and more are taken and selectively chosen while sequencing and engineering the final audio.  This provides the natural variety one gets with drummers.  It helps prevent the drumming becoming monotonous and repetitive.

Three – The arrangement is always spelling out aspects of the song’s form.

This might have a larger contribution than one might imagine.  It is what real drummers do, but drumming software rarely does.   The drumming is indicating

  1. When you are returning to the ‘top of the form’ again
  2. When your sections are ending and starting again
  3. When you are playing a bridge section
  4. Whether you are playing a middle chorus or, alternatively, the first or last chorus.   This not only helps you keep place while you are playing but it makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable to listen to, or play along with, as well.

All this takes a lot of careful preparation, curation, huge storage, and sophisticated algorithms.   We feel this cannot be achieved on mobile devices themselves which is why our solution involves cloud services working with the mobile App. Continue Reading

Song Rhythm Tracks – Users’ Testimonials

Every musicians view

We canvassed some opinions from social media.  It is always interesting to see how others view Song Rhythm Tracks.  See what you think.

No.1 for Musician’s Usability

      Ethan – Kyoto, Japan. Sax player. Plays pop, rock, blues, jazz, bop, ballads, everything really

Ethan Algan
Ethan Algan

IMMEDIATE MUSICIAN’S USABILITY.   What’s different about this App is that it makes it feasible for the average guy, with very little effort, to play their songs to very engaging arranged rhythm tracks. I’ve tried lots of them and I haven’t come across any other app that comes close to that. This app combines a musician’s player, a setlist manager and an arranger in the one app. It’s really quick to select arrangements and then you can put them into setlists and keep changing and reordering the lists as your set evolves. Now I just grab my sax’ and my mobile phone and either play a setlist or quickly search and find tracks as I go through my books of lead sheets. If I don’t have a track for a tune, a minute later I will have and will probably be playing it. For me, there’s nothing else that has this sort of immediate musician’s usability.

Maverick and a True Innovator for the practical musician

          Sandra –  Perth, Australia. Plays guitar. Likes folk music.

Sandra Sutton
Sandra Sutton

TRUE INNOVATION.  What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Only perhaps that this App is a true innovator. A maverick you might say. It seems to do everything differently. It wasn’t what I was expecting but now everything else I’ve tried seems redundant. What do you really want to do? To play with flashing lights – pretending to be hitting real drums? Or to get an MP3 file which is a professional quality backing track to a song you are playing? That, I think, is the innovation. That’s what you get here. It’s like a cross between the ‘Music’ App and a musician’s backing-track service. You select the track you want and the Alive Drumming servers get you it. Then you have much more musician-friendly setlists and player than you get with the ‘Music’ App. Playing becomes a real joy instead of struggle. It’s what all of us musicians want. We want to play our instruments and have great rhythmic backing with a minimum of fuss and bother. That’s what this App delivers. A true innovation for the musician.

Continue Reading

How to practice, then how to jam?

illustration WyntonMarsalis

Here are my views on how to go about practicing and jamming.

This is such an important part of the journey of becoming a musician. I wrote this down for the benefit of a musician just setting out on his journey, wanting to know what the key things were that would determine their success.  I know I certainly did not go about it the right way for many years.  I had not had any musical education as a child, but as an adult when learning music for the first time, had the benefit of a private teacher but never really addressed this important issue.

Learning Melodies in Private Practice

If you are learning a new, perhaps challenging, melody for the first time, in private practice, then sure, do count out the meter and use a metronome / click-track selectively and judiciously to check your timing, but, as soon as you’ve confirmed you’ve got it, asap stop forever using the metronome or click track on that tune and don’t use it again for that piece of music, because what was once aiding you to get better rhythmically will now limit your rhythmic feel and hold you back.

When Jamming or Gigging with Other Musicians

“Let the Melody by your guide”.

Every musicians view
Every musicians view

When jamming or gigging, don’t count in your head.  By this time you should have internalized the song by private practice and be ready to communicate it with others and counting will detract from listening.

If you have the melody in your mind while performing and improvising it will help you keep place without any need to count.  Also, where there is a pause in the melody, supplement with your own melody to help with this.  For example, if the melody has a two bar rest then filling that rest with your own ‘fill melody’ will support using the melody to keep the place in the tune.   Keeping the melody in your head will be the least distraction while listening to the other players unless your sense of rhythm and timing is so good and you are so tight with the other band members that you don’t need even that.  If you are struggling to keep your place then a strong hold on the melody can be the best thing to help this.

 

When Practicing Alone or With Others

What to do when you are playing the tune over regularly to internalize it before you play it with others, or even if you never get to play with others?

Professional musician backing tracks

Firstly,  it is important to get a sense of the form of the music, and secondly, it would be good also to always practice and play, in the rhythmic style of the piece.   Consider an unrealistic, optimum situation were a real human band of experienced musicians who know the piece well already are in your practice studio ready to jam along to.  They will also need to accommodate you by stopping and starting at your command.  That concept has been best addressed by professional musician backing tracks supplied by vendors such as ‘Aebersold’.  They are a great option, but not always a practical one.   If you have purchased one of these, and it includes your tune, in key and style and similar tempo you will be playing it with your band, then, great, do include playing along to it as part of this practice.   It can be really enjoyable and allows one to practice improvisation with the aural checks on harmony and form you would not otherwise have.  That is if you improvise over the form and drop a bar or forget a chord change you should hear that and be able to correct it.

Play with the Greats!

Another great option is to play along to artist’s performances of the tune.  Say you are learning Autumn Leaves and you have recordings of it by various artists in your record collection, then put on those recordings and play along, ‘accompanying’ with chords or a baseline, depending on your instrument.  You are interacting with top musicians who are undoubtedly playing the piece well – nothing you internalize there will be as lifeless and damaging as a click-track.  I believe at this time when you are playing and internalizing a tune, it is important to practice it in as many ‘practice formats’ as possible.  Those previously mentioned and also, playing alone the melody by itself, and then the melody and the baseline, then play the baseline and sing the melody, then play the chords and sing the melody, then play the chords and play the melody together.  Do you get the idea? The more variety of ways you hear and perform the tune the better your aural knowledge of it becomes.  Many great educators give this advice and it really works.

Getting into the groove!

So, what about rhythm and timing when you are doing this?  I think the best option is to have a rhythm backing track playing that does not have the baseline or chords but does represent the musical form of the piece, where sections start and end, where the energy changes as the performance moves to a bridge (or “middle-8”) sections and to/from middle choruses, which are generally the place for improvisations, and even where four-bar phrases occur etc.   If this rhythmic backing is also alive and human and responding to the musical form the song rather than metronomic and repetitive in its delivery, and is in the rhythmic style you will be playing the piece, you not only have a great foundation for learning the piece but also a hugely enjoyable one as well.

Click-tracks consider harmful

Essentially, it’s the same argument that went for playing along to click tracks.  A click track may expose many faults you may have with the meter and your placement of the chords, your baseline or melody, but it will also install a deadening of the other rhythmic aspects that should be happening and importantly it will not outline the form of the song.  The negatives of the click-track I think actually outweighs the positives.   I suggest never using a click track at this stage; rather use a Song Rhythm Track that has a great sense of rhythm from the audio of real drummers playing real drums in the style you will be playing it and will outline the song form of the song you are learning.  This is a good idea even if you perform in a drummer-less ensemble.  One can always additionally practice the piece without rhythmic backing to ensure one can maintain one’s own sense of rhythm and timing without the backing track, but it’s good to get a start from great rhythmic backing first.  So, how to get great-sounding, human backing tracks in the musical form of your song? There are now Song Rhythm Tracks from Alive Drumming providing exactly that.

Song Rhythm Tracks

Song Rhythm Tracks are a new type of backing track composed entirely of rhythmic backing (no melody or harmony) arranged to the musical form of the song — it’s “songform”. These tracks are complete performances like one gets from a professional drummer. They have a count-in, introduction section, choruses and characteristic endings, framed by fills showing where sections start and end. Even musical bridges and middle choruses have higher intensity where appropriate to the style. All this without a typical arranger’s interface thereby keeping it simple. One can select a track in under 30 seconds — under 15 seconds once one gets the hang of it.

The App’s player has tempo adjustment and a facility to sequence the tracks for your gig or jam session. It is for musicians of all abilities. New musicians use the App to provide an accompaniment to songs. They get a rhythm that is sympathetic so they learn to keep time, get into the groove and internalise the song’s musical structure – All this while enjoying engaging and inspiring rhythms. Gigging musicians catalogue their backing into setlists and use it to guide performance. Having quality rhythmic backing, with a setlist facility and a musician’s player, all in the one App is so convenient one finds oneself using this rhythmic backing more and more.

Song Rhythm Tracks are truly high-quality rhythmic backing that is convenient to select and play. You are not going to get tired of these backing tracks. You are not going to have to sequence anything. You will find that the player and setlist’s user-interface encourages continued use. You will get to appreciate the form of your songs more and you might include these tracks into your own single and album releases.

Whether you are learning a new tune, jamming, gigging or cutting your latest album, this Song Rhythm Tracks provides a solution.

Check out samples of the audio at Alive Drumming’s Samples page

Check out these articles from Alive Drumming that give further insights into the thinking behind the product –

When to work on your rhythm?

Why songform with rhythm tracks?

Download the Song Rhythm Tracks App on the Apple App Store

Try Alive Drumming’s sampler apps to sample previously arranged tracks of popular tunes. It is then easy to use the app to adjust these to your practice and performance requirements. All the sampler apps are the same Song Rhythm Tracks app but with the included sample tracks.

 

When to work on your “Rhythm”?

illu trumpet

When learning a new piece of music, when should a musician work on getting right the rhythm and feel of the piece?

We have long believed it has to be the very first thing to get right and there’s little point playing notes at all unless they are in the desired rhythm (feel and groove).   Tempo, however, is a whole other subject – there’s a lot to be said for precision and even playing tunes at markedly different tempos to internalize the piece better.

Timing is the bedrock of all music:  “When a note is struck at the wrong time, it’s the wrong note”.

Getting playing in the right rhythm as soon as possible is why we have always sought out structured and inspiring rhythmic backing.  This ultimately lead to  “Song Rhythm Tracks.

Rhythm and Timing

Practice Makes Permanent

One of the most repeated terms used to, and by, musicians is that “practice makes perfect”.   I’ve heard this altered to, “practice makes permanent”. i.e. if we repeat a thing over and over then we do internalize it and it becomes a facility we have “without consciously thinking about it”.  This is why we can do complex coordinated movements without much conscious thought such as driving cars and even using a knife and fork.   If you’ve never done these things in your life before they can be very challenging for the very first time, but once performed daily one doesn’t even recognize them as a challenge anymore.  It’s as if an entirely different part of your mind is assigned to the task.  So, what is important is that we are very selective about using this repetition technique and make sure it affects don’t work against us because if what we are practising is not beneficial then it will get internalized just as readily….   So, practice can make perfect;  It will eventually make permanent, but that permanency can defeat you as well as help you.

Developing your own sense of timing

A key aspect of music is rhythm and timing – it’s what can make music come alive, and it’s what can kill it as well.  It’s essential that we develop good rhythm and timing.

A Pulse!

If you haven’t yet developed the sense of that regular pulse that is present in most modern music – pop, folk, country, jazz – playing along to something with a pulse is of great benefit because wherever your pulse is lacking it will be clearly shown and you will automatically adjust to follow the pulse and keep the timing.  Great: That’s a real win.   My recommendation is to be very selective about the use of metronomes and click-tracks:  There’s more to rhythm than a pulse!

But not just any pulse!

Misuse of Metronomes and click tracks Considered Harmful

Always using a click-track when you practice and when playing together in a group will likely work against developing your own human interaction on the pulse and detract from the rhythmic nuances that end up being beaten out by the demanding, oh-so-regular, ‘click’.  In a similar way also, counting when you are jamming with others will be a problem:  Counting the pulses within the meter, such as 1-and-a, 2-and-a,  is an absolutely invaluable aid when learning a new, perhaps rhythmically challenging melody: I’ve heard it said that if you cannot count a melody or rhythmic idea out, you don’t really know it:  It is great to count it out to ensure we really know it, but once you have internalized that melody, it is time to stop counting it and feel the rhythm and communicate with the others you are playing with without blocking them out by counting in your head.

The Jazz educator Steven Sedergreen in his book, “Start Playing Jazz Piano Now“, writes, “Time and feel are intuitive rather than mechanical. Reliance on mechanical means such as counting and the use of metronomes are poor substitutes for feeling it. Time emanates from within the body and move outwardly, a natural feeling that should not be restricted”.  (chapter 21, para 4) Continue Reading

Why Song Form with Rhythm Tracks?

Dealing With Song Forms: Tips for Drummers

Check out the article above, “Dealing with Song Forms: Tips for Drummers” from the Learn Jazz Standards website. It is great advice for drummers on how to reinforce the song form while drumming.

Ever wondered why “Song Rhythm Tracks, and not just, “Rhythm Tracks“?

It’s because the drumming should always be outlining the form of the song you are playing.  That’s fundamentally the role of the drummer, or the rhythm track if you play without a drummer.  The article above, which is tutoring drummers, explains this very well.

Always play in “song form”

You shouldn’t be using a rhythm track that doesn’t outline the form of the song because, if you do, that then counteracts the form of the song and therefore defeats the song you are trying to play.  This can be subtle, particularly if you haven’t considered it before.  New musicians often haven’t and wrongly believe that any metronomic sound or groove will do.  They miss out terribly and not having the songform outlined will actually hamper your progress. Continue Reading

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