Textbooks, OERs, and a Free Scale Book

The end of our spring semester and academic year is a good time to reflect, and this post will focus on a couple of things that should be of interest to college students and teachers. Last fall I joined a Faculty Learning Community (FLC) at my university, tasked with discussing and developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) for current and future courses. While I was already aware of OERs, this faculty group gave me the opportunity to delve into them in much greater detail, and discuss other pedagogical issues with colleagues from across campus. In addition to myself, the members included a diverse group of faculty from education, health sciences, history, political science, English, communications, chemistry, psychology, and mathematics. We ranged in experience from first-year Assistant Professors all the way to Full Professors with decades of teaching experience. Participation in this FLC was a year long commitment, with monthly meetings. It was a great experience, and I would recommend it to any university faculty who have the opportunity to participate in a group like this. *One perk that we did not know we would be receiving prior to joining was a new Samsung tablet, and a stipend(!)

One of the driving reasons behind the formation of this FLC is the rising cost of college textbooks. If you haven’t bought any yourself or paid for someone else’s lately, you are in for some severe sticker shock the next time you visit a college bookstore. There are several reasons for this high cost, but they are beyond the scope of this post, and were beyond the scope of our FLC. To sum things up, many college textbooks are far too expensive for students to reasonably afford, with the end result being that many simply do not buy them. As you can imagine, this impacts passing rates, retention, etc. While faculty have the academic freedom to choose the textbooks they feel will best fit their courses, it is important to at least consider the financial burden on students. This is where OERs come in. While music as a discipline is lucky when it comes to textbook costs – if you don’t believe me check the cost of an introductory biology book, for example – I was able to find and present on several great OERs for music. I have used many of them in the past, and in many cases they are as good or better than their paid (or higher cost) counterparts.

OERs aren’t the answer to everything, of course. Developing quality course materials is a time-consuming process, and the convenience of well-researched textbook and ancillary packages from big publishers can’t be underestimated. It is a thorny question, and our FLC did not come up with all the answers. However, we did our part to present the issues to other faculty in our respective departments, and discovered (and even created) some new OERs.

To finish out this post, I am including an OER developed a few years ago, a book of intermediate scale studies. My original thought was to publish this text at some point in the future, but I’ve decided to share it here as an OER, under a Creative Commons Attribution License.  Provided that you give appropriate attribution, you are free to do the following:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

You may already have developed something similar for use in your own studio, but if you are looking for something or simply want a change from your current materials feel free to check it out! DOWNLOAD HERE: Intermediate Scale Studies for Horn

Here is a list of other free (or low cost) OERs for music. There are of course many more, but these are the ones I use on a regular basis.

Naxos Music Library *Free access if your university has a subscription.

SmartMusic *Student subscription ranges from $4 to $12/year

Sight Reading Factory *Student subscription as low as $2/year

Horn Matters *Free

Hornexcerpts.org *Free

IMSLP *Free

 

Performing from a Tablet

I took the plunge recently and performed from a tablet. Overall, the experience was very positive, and I thought it might be worth sharing some thoughts. I’ve noticed my colleagues and others using tablets for the past several years, and while I understood the benefits – convenience, organization, etc. –  I just didn’t have a compelling reason (until now) to make the switch from paper.

The impetus was an upcoming performance of Dana Wilson’s song cycle for soprano, horn, and piano, Love Me Like a Beautiful Dream. After preparing the horn part individually I realized in rehearsals that my performance would benefit from using a full score, which I’ve done many times in the past, especially with new music. However, the page turns were so fast and frequent that it proved difficult to do so with a paper part. After considering a few other options, such as reducing the part and attaching the pages to a large board (percussionists do this frequently), I decided to explore the tablet option. Here’s the equipment I used:

  • Tablet – Galaxy Tab A 10.1 with S Pen 16GB (Wi-Fi)I already had this model in my possession, courtesy of a program from my university. While not a top of the line tablet, it was more than adequate for my needs. Its 10.1 inch screen makes it one of the larger tablets out there, without getting into significantly higher-priced iPad Pro territory.
  • Footpedal – PageFlip ButterflyNot the priciest model, but a reputable brand with lots of good reviews. The bluetooth connection is strong and dependable, and setup is very easy.
  • Operating System and Sheet Music Software – Android OS and MobileSheets Pro I had to do a bit of searching to find a suitable music reader for Android, as the most popular app, forScore, is only available for iOS. I wanted an easy-to-use app that would allow me to make and save annotations using my tablet’s stylus. After trying the free version of MobileSheets, I upgraded to the paid version.

First, the positives:

  • The performance went very well, with no malfunctions or user-error with the tablet, footpedal, or software.
  • Page turns with the footpedal were easy and seamless.
  • Annotations in the score were easy to make and save using MobileSheets. The zoom feature allowed for precise markings.
  • Backlit screen means no worries about lighting.
  • Don’t have to worry about loose pages getting out of order.
  • Easy to organize and transport hundreds of works – anything in PDF format can be imported, and the software’s import and organize features are user-friendly. I can easily see myself using my tablet in lieu of a stack of books and solos, especially on vacation.

And now, some drawbacks:

  • Coordinating the footpedal for fast page turns took some practice, especially when standing. By the time of the performance I felt pretty comfortable with it, but in order to have my right foot poised and ready to tap the pedal, I ended up putting more weight on my left foot. This created some fatigue that I don’t normally experience when standing. Using the footpedal while seated avoids this issue though.
  • Despite the screen being larger than many tablets (with the exception of the iPad Pro), I still found the display a little smaller than I was used to seeing with printed music. You can zoom in, but then the entire sheet does not fit on the display. A tablet with a larger display is an option, but not one I’m willing to consider at this point.
  • While I didn’t experience any issues with this, I would stress the importance of making sure your tablet and footpedal are fully charged before a performance, and that all alerts are turned off. *Bluetooth must still be enabled in order to connect to the footpedal though, and set your display not to automatically sleep.

Though I haven’t decided to scan and import all of my sheet music and books to a tablet, I have been using it frequently for works that are already in PDF format. This list is continues to grow, and I foresee myself using a tablet more frequently in the future.

Comparing Microphones for Recording Solo Horn

Here’s a video comparing three different ways to record a solo horn.

  1. MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone – placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  2. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in XY configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.
  3. Samson C02 Condenser Microphones – stereo pair in NOS configuration placed approximately 6 feet in front of the horn.

The above are three common microphone techniques. There are many more, but my limited skills and equipment prevented me from exploring others.

This little project came about for three main reasons:

  • While I am most certainly not a recording engineer, I teach an Introduction to Music Technology course, and have an interest in recording techniques. I enjoy learning about the equipment and principles, and used this video as a way to put some ideas into practice.
  • Back to back comparison of the two types of microphones I own – ribbon and condenser. I’ve used both in various situations, but had not compared them in this way. For more information on microphones, see here.
  • I also wanted to try out a new way of recording – using independent audio and video equipment, rather than the all-in-one approach I have used for years. Though it took a little more time to set up, I think the end product was pretty successful. Syncing up the audio and video was less tricky than I anticipated.

Before getting into more discussion of the results, here’s the video. Separate audio files are also embedded if you would prefer to listen to those. I chose an excerpt from Otto Ketting’s Intrada because I’m performing it in a few weeks, and also because it has lots of contrast in a short amount of time.

Ribbon:

Condenser Pair XY:

Condenser Pair NOS:

Even with the extremely low cost equipment I am using, hopefully you can hear a difference among the three techniques. To me, the XY configuration has the best overall sound, although there are elements of the ribbon that I like quite a bit. Ribbon microphones are very popular for recording brass instruments, because of the warmth they bring to the sound. Higher quality microphones should of course yield more perceptible results, although my cheap MXL ribbon is ok for my purposes. I hope to do some more videos like this in the future, with different techniques and ensembles. In case you are interested, here is the equipment I used (microphones are listed above). Assuming you have a decent laptop, all of the other gear is very reasonably priced.

  • Audio Interface/Preamps: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Computer: 13 inch, MacBook Pro, ca. 2012
  • DAW: Logic Pro X
  • Video Camera: Canon Vixia, ca. 2009
  • Video Editing: Final Cut Pro X

While there are some great all-in-one recording products out there, if you do lots of audio and video recording of your horn playing it might be worth exploring some of this equipment.

Gear Reviews: Stand Light, Bluetooth Speaker

Two items I’ve recently added to my gear bag are a battery-powered stand light and a Bluetooth speaker. I initially purchased each of these items for specific purposes, but have found them so useful on a day-to-day basis that I thought it would be worth sharing. Click on the image or name of each product for a link.

Kootek Clip-On Book Light

I originally bought three of these to use for our brass trio recording back in January. Most stage lights make noise, so the lighting during a recording session needs to be minimal. They came in very handy for the session, and for several other performances afterwards. The multiple LED bulbs have two brightness settings, and the battery life is quite good, several hours per charge. Charging takes a few hours, and it comes with a USB charger and A/C adapter. One note about these lights is that they should NOT be operated while plugged in, as it can damage the battery. The base includes a large clip for attaching to a music stand, but it is also sturdy enough to allow the light to stand on its own for table or desktop use. For the price these are great lights!

Bose SoundLink Micro

I picked up this speaker to use in a “Smart” classroom that was having technological difficulties with the sound system. It was a bit of an impulse buy, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting. I wanted something powerful, but still portable enough to stick in my bag and lug back and forth to various classrooms. This was the first Bose product I’ve owned, but the company is well known for their high end speakers and noise-cancelling headphones. I also figured that if the speaker turned out to be a dud or simply not right for my purposes I could always return it. As it turns out, this device has become one of my most-used pieces of technology. Its dimensions (3.87″ H 3.87″ W 1.37″) make the SoundLink Micro incredibly portable, and the rubberized outer layer protects it from the inevitable bumps and scrapes that come with frequent use. It is advertised as waterproof, but I have not had the opportunity to put that claim to the test. In addition to classroom use, I use it regularly in my practice sessions at home, as well as in sectionals and chamber music rehearsals to play my metronome and tuning drones. It connects very quickly to a smartphone and/or laptop. Battery life is excellent, and setting up the Bluetooth connection is fast and easy. However, the best feature of this speaker is the sound. You really do need to hear it to believe the size and volume that it can produce. It will fill a room – not as well as a full-blown stereo system, of course – but what it lacks in power it more than compensates for in portability. One drawback to the SoundLink Micro (and all Bose products) is the price tag, which is significantly more expensive than other similarly-sized Bluetooth speakers (see the JBL Clip 2). I would be interested in comparing the JBL Clip 2 to the SoundLink Micro. My suspicion is that the Bose sound would be superior to the JBL, but maybe not by much. Regardless of the pros and cons of this particular product, I highly recommend a Bluetooth speaker for any serious musicians. I’ve used mine so much over the past several months that I replaced my office stereo system at school with a larger Bluetooth speaker, the JBL Charge 3. It’s less portable than the Bose, but since it will primarily stay in my office that’s ok with me.

 

 

Book Review: The Creative Hornist, by Jeffrey Agrell

During the summer months I usually make it a point to read both for business and pleasure. Throughout the academic year, many great books, articles, websites, and other forms of media come across my desk, but alas most of them get put aside in favor of more pressing tasks. Thankfully, the summer allows me to relax a bit and catch up on some reading. First on my list this year is Professor Jeffrey Agrell‘s new book The Creative Hornist: Essays, Rants, and Odes for the Classical Horn Player on Creative Music Making , which actually fits very nicely into both the business and pleasure category. His writing is well thought out, eminently practical, and just plain fun to read. It is an excellent companion to his book Horn Technique  (see review here), and contains both expanded versions of previously published articles (see The Horn Call) as well as new material. Those who are familiar with Agrell’s work will know that he has an incredibly fertile mind, full of intriguing thoughts on both large and small scales. As with Horn Technique, my mind boggled at the sheer amount of ideas found in these pages, any one of which could become the basis for extended study. To me, The Creative Hornist  is less horn-oriented than Horn Technique, and provides a template for teaching and studying on any instrument. The bottom line is if you are a musician, you should read this book! The topics he covers range everywhere from reinventing the dreaded undergraduate “scale test” to general ideas on creativity (the SCAMPER method).

Other chapters address ways to incorporate technology and improvisation into the traditional paradigm of horn lessons, which Agrell dubs the “Chicago Model” – i.e. the path to becoming the next Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is a path which Agrell acknowledges has great merit, but which can also result in a relatively narrow range of musical skills.

One theme that comes through in every chapter is that creativity takes work! But Agrell’s book takes the mystery out of what being creative actually is. Because teaching and learning this way goes against the established paradigm in music schools, it may initially present some difficulties. However, it is  arguably just as effective at training competent players and almost certainly better (in my opinion) at developing overall musicianship. Needless to say, I am eager to try some of these ideas with my students this fall.  The Creative Hornist  is a great summer read to keep you inspired and give you a running start for the fall semester. For more information, visit the book’s website, http://thecreativehornist.com/.

Equipment Update: Budget Recording Gear for the Classical Musician

Departing a bit from my previous “Equipment Update” posts, this one is not about horns, mouthpieces, or mutes. Instead it is a basic introduction to recording equipment for the classical musician, with some inexpensive, but functional, recommendations. I’ve owned recording equipment of one kind or another since my undergraduate days, starting with a Sony Minidisc recorder paired with a small Sony microphone, and later upgrading to a variety of handheld audio and video recorders manufactured by Sony, Roland, and Zoom. These were all great devices; portable, easy to use and of high enough quality to use for auditions, recital recordings, and YouTube videos.

Recently, however, I began to wonder if it might be possible to purchase individual components and put together a relatively inexpensive system suitable for live classical recording. I knew from the outset that it was neither feasible nor desirable to purchase the high end gear I’ve seen professional engineers use. My purpose was primarily educational (I teach an Introduction to Music Technology class), though I do plan to use my equipment for some future projects. I’m happy to say that for around $300, I succeeded in finding decent components which get the job done at a level equal to, or better than, the handheld devices listed above. So, what will you need if you want to do the same? Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Laptop or Desktop Computer For the amateur (as I most certainly am when it comes to recording equipment), this is probably the single most expensive component. Luckily I already own a slightly older, but still perfectly serviceable, laptop (13-inch MacBook Pro). A desktop computer would be just fine as well, although less portable than a laptop. If you are in the market for a new laptop or desktop, don’t worry about needing lots of computing power for basic recording needs. Games and other graphic-intensive applications require far more RAM and processing speed. My 4 year old laptop runs my recording equipment just fine. In my opinion, either Mac or PC is fine, choose the platform you are most comfortable using.
  • Audio Interface The next piece of essential equipment, the interface serves several functions: it converts the analog signals from your microphones into digital signals that your computer can process, provides phantom power to your microphones, and functions as a preamplifier. They can be relatively cheap (less than $100), or very expensive (thousands of $$). It all depends on what features you want and how many microphone inputs you need. After some searching around and inquiring from knowledgeable sources, I decided on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, available for around $150. For my purposes – live solo or chamber music recording in a recital hall – I didn’t think I’d need more than two microphone inputs. I can always upgrade at some point if more inputs become necessary. So far I’ve been very pleased with the Focusrite, it’s sturdy, easy to connect and set up, and functions as advertised.
  • Microphones This is a deep rabbit hole, and my ignorance about them was one of the big reasons I avoided going beyond handheld recording devices. However, after familiarizing myself with the various types (see this tutorial video for a great introduction), I decided to take the plunge and purchase my own. As with audio interfaces, microphones can be had for $100, $1000, or $5000+, depending on the brand, type, and various other technical details. For brass instrument recording there are lots of good options, but I went with a matched pair of small-diaphragm (cardioid pattern) condensers, the Samson C02. These are definitely on the low end of the price spectrum, but they had good reviews and came with stands and cables (these are NOT the microphones pictured at the beginning of this post). Other microphones I considered at a similar price point include the Rode M5 and ART M-Six. There are certainly better microphones out there, but for the money spent, I think I got an excellent value.
  • Software (DAW) The term DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is generally used now to refer to recording and editing software, but at one point in the not-too-distant past actually meant a separate device or devices. If you’ve been keeping up with the math, you know that I’ve already reached the ca. $300 budget mentioned at the beginning of this post. The great thing about the DAWs I frequently use is that they don’t cost anything, and are fully functional. For several years I’ve used Audacity, a free, open-source DAW that incorporates many of the features of more expensive software. It is user-friendly, and simple to set up with my audio interface. I have also been using Studio One 3 Prime, a free version of the popular Studio One software by PreSonus. GarageBand is free for Mac users, and is another great way to get into the world of DAWs. There are lots of great options out there, many with free trial versions. As a teacher, I prize ease of use pretty highly, and all three of the DAWs mentioned above perform well in that category.

So there you have it, a bare-bones but hopefully useful guide to recording equipment for the classical musician. There are so many other great tutorials online that I felt it unnecessary to go into too much depth about any of the various components. Far more knowledgeable contributors have written and recorded excellent demonstrations on a plethora of recording topics. Among my favorites is a series produced by Murray State University. See below for the links:

If you’re a novice like me, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by all of the technical information on recording. However, as a 21st-century teacher and performer I felt I owed it to myself and my students to learn something about technology which has become so ubiquitous. It took me a little while to wrap my head around the basics, but now that I have a grasp on them I’m excited to experiment with different microphone setups and other parameters. If you are curious what the gear mentioned above sounds like, here is a rehearsal recording made using it. The excerpt is from the Trio for Horn, Trombone, and Tuba by Frigyes Hidas, which my colleagues and I will be performing this summer at the International Trombone Festival and the International Horn Symposium. It was recorded in a small classroom using a fairly close X/Y pattern microphone setup. So that you can get a clear sense of how the equipment performed, no editing has been done other than trimming the beginning and end of the clip in Audacity. I’m very pleased with how everything worked, and am looking forward to recording with this equipment in our recital hall and other venues.

 

Kentucky/Ohio Tour and Technology Presentation

James Boldin, Jacob Coleman, Jeremy Marks (photo by Bradley Kerns)

October has been, and will continue to be, a busy month, with concerts and other activities happening every week. Last week my colleague Jeremy Marks and I shared a faculty recital at ULM (performance videos coming soon), and then traveled to the University of Kentucky in Lexington and Ohio University in Athens for some additional performances and masterclasses with their students. A huge thanks to our generous hosts Bradley Kerns, David Elliott, Lucas Borges, C. Scott Smith, Joseph Brown, and Laura Brown, for their hospitality and kindness during a very busy part of the semester. Both schools have very fine music programs – there is some great teaching and playing going on in the horn and trombone studios there! In addition to performing and teaching at these schools, I also gave a brief talk called “Technology and Horn Playing.” In my correspondence with David Elliott at the University of Kentucky prior to our visit, he requested that I speak to his students about my experiences using technology as a horn player in the 21st century. The presentation went well, and it is one that I plan to continue to develop in the future. Being somewhat familiar with technology, I created a series of bullets to use as talking points and as the basis for future discussion. Those points are listed below, with active hyperlinks where applicable and a few explanatory comments that weren’t in the original handouts. I hope you find them useful, and feel free to comment if you feel so inclined.

TRENDS

  • Mobile apps – ubiquitous
  • Facebook “Live” [for performance/audition preparation and promotional material]
  • Short Promo/Informational Videos (2 minutes or less) [Better to have several short videos on a topic than one long video. Research shows that shorter videos are more engaging to viewers.]
  • Texting/Messenger/Instant communication (Email old fashioned?) Snail mail now prestigious?
  • “Research” being done through social media (“where can I find…”)
  • Playing advice on social media [A mixed bag of sometimes helpful and sometimes irrelevant advice.]
  • Online lessons/master classes [More and more popular as technology improves and travel costs increase.]
  • YouTube great for discovering new repertoire – going to conferences is even better!
  • Death of compact discs – replaced by streaming services and websites like hornexcerpts.org

RECOMMENDED DEVICES

WEBSITES I USE EVERY DAY

  • www.random.org Create random lists of….anything! Sight-reading, scales, excerpts, etc.
  • www.toggl.com Time and task tracking software. Free, easy to use, with mobile apps.
  • www.drive.google.com Great for organizing/collaborating materials

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED WEBSITES/APPS

SOCIAL MEDIA…BE WARY

  • A powerful tool in the right hands, but can also be damaging to careers and personal well-being
  • Keep a tight rein on what you post, share, and/or like on social media. If you have to ask yourself “is this appropriate?”, then it isn’t!
  • Turn off commenting on YouTube videos [Some of the comments you receive will be less than helpful, and those who really want to reach you will use email or some other method of contact. In my experience, leaving comments on for YouTube videos invites trolls.]
  • I prefer blogging to social media – less reactionary, gives the opportunity for more reasoned discourse.

Review – MRI Horn Videos: Pedagogy Informed by Science

In Report No. 3 of my series on IHS 48 I very briefly mentioned a fantastic presentation by Eli Epstein and Dr. Peter Iltis titled “MRI Horn, The Inside Story: Pedagogy Informed by Science.” In short, they have been doing some groundbreaking research involving the bio-mechanics of horn playing, and have created a YouTube Channel devoted to sharing their findings. If you have not yet been able to attend one of their presentations, the videos will do an excellent job of catching you up on the present state of their research. Using some remarkable technology – Real Time Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or RT-MRI – Iltis, Epstein, and a team of scientists in Germany have been able to capture detailed footage of what happens in our bodies when we play the horn. There is much more research to be done, but their preliminary findings are very exciting, and have the potential to greatly improve our understanding of how to play (and teach) the horn. There are quite a few other MRI videos of horn players circulating on the internet, and they are all fascinating. However, the “MRI Horn” channel does the best job I think of providing the scientific and musical background for the study, and gives us a framework for understanding what we are actually seeing in the videos. Without further ado, here are the first two episodes:

Each episode is several minutes in length, but if you really want to understand what is happening in the MRI videos floating around out there you should take the time to watch them. One of the main goals of their study is to measure and analyze what elite horn players actually do when they play the instrument, and use those findings as a way to positively impact horn and brass pedagogy. As Epstein points out in the introduction to the videos, much of horn pedagogy is based on what horn players feel and think is occurring inside their bodies. RT-MRI technology shows what is really taking place, versus what we think is happening.

“But what about ‘Paralysis by Analysis’?” you might be saying at this point. “Won’t all this information just confuse students, when they should really be focusing on time-tested methods of teaching and playing the horn?” While I understand this concern, I think these videos and the MRI studies can actually help combat Paralysis by Analysis by helping us focus on useful information and eliminating extraneous physical concerns in our teaching and performing. But don’t take my word for it! Watch the videos yourself and come to your own conclusions!

Brief Reviews: Quality Tones App and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets

Today’s brief reviews will consider two new products for brass players: Quality Tones – an app for iOS and Android devices – and The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, from Mountain Peak Music. Both provide a creative, fresh approach to learning fundamental musical skills.

app-iconQuality Tones was designed by Spencer Park, a member of the San Antonio Symphony Horn section, and is available for a reasonable price on both the Apple Store and Google Play. I first heard the term “Quality Tones” at a master class given by William VerMeulen, though the concept can probably be traced back to Arnold Jacobs. Essentially, quality tone studies are meant to train the brass player’s mind and body to produce any pitch at any dynamic, with varying lengths, articulations, and tonal shadings, all with a consistent and beautiful tone quality. The Quality Tones app provides a means to achieve that end, by presenting a fully customizable selection of random notes, dynamics, articulations, etc, presented on individual “slides.” The app is meant to be practiced with a metronome, and notes can be repeated until the desired effect is achieved. After trying out the app myself and with a few students, I found it both fun and easy to use. The capacity for variation built into Quality Tones is fantastic, and training sessions could easily be created for a wide range of playing levels. Development is ongoing, with updates planned for adding drone, tuner, metronome, automatic slide advancement, and tone/decibel feedback features. One other tweak that might be helpful is to include time signatures for each quality tone study.

Horn_Cover_Web__91885.1442358992.225.275The Big Book of Sight Reading Duets, created by David Vining (horn version edited by Heidi Lucas), provides a progressive, enjoyable path to  improved sight reading. I’ve been using this book for the past several months in my teaching, usually beginning each lesson with a few random selections. It has rapidly become a favorite among my students, who are quick to remind me if we forget to begin a lesson with it! Despite several quality publications on the market, sight reading still remains a mystery to many students, who often avoid practicing it out of an ill-founded belief that one either can or can’t sight read well. While it is true that some otherwise competent musicians struggle with sight reading while others seem to have an almost uncanny gift, in my experience it can be improved provided that the necessary time is invested. These duets make putting in that time less of a chore. The 100 duets are grouped by difficulty, and each skill level includes a range of styles and challenges. Transpositions as well as bass clef versions make the horn edition by Heidi Lucas even more effective. While it might be tempting to immediately dive right into this book, I strongly recommend that students and teachers first read the Introduction, which is full of practical sight reading advice, and perform the clapping duets found in the beginning. Your students may scoff at the idea of clapping rhythms, but they won’t after the first couple of examples. In some ways the clapping duets are more challenging than the regular examples, and demand an even higher level of concentration and rhythmic integrity.

If you’re looking for some innovative ways to approach the interrelated topics of accuracy and sight-reading, check out the resources above. You won’t be disappointed!

Comparing Mobile Metronome Apps

If you are a musician and have a smart phone then you need to own at least one metronome app for your device. The cost of these apps generally ranges from free to a few dollars, while their functionality rivals that of much more expensive stand alone metronomes. Of course, this cost balances out when weighed against the price of the phone itself and monthly service fees, but since you have to pay for those anyway if you own a smart phone you might as well shell out a few more dollars for a great metronome app. There are a number of great products, both free and paid, and it can be a little confusing sifting through the Android or iTunes stores to find something that will do everything you want. Here is a chart which compares the main features of three metronome apps I’ve used extensively. They are all good products, but as you will see looking at the chart they each have their strong points. Briefly, my favorite app for ease of use is Frozen Ape’s Tempo. It looks and sounds great, and is very easy to adjust. The metronome with the most flexibility and potential for customization is Visual Metronome by One More Muse. It has a staggering amount of possible meters and subdivisions, but is a little more difficult to navigate. Tunable by AffinityBlue has the most features. It has a very functional metronome and a great built in tuner, which can be used simultaneously. The record function is also handy if you don’t have a separate digital recorder available. Have a favorite metronome or tuner app that you don’t see here? Feel free to share in the comments section.

*Update. One PSA I forgot to mention is that when using the tuning drone function on a mobile device, I highly recommend plugging it into a set of external speakers. In my experience, using the speakers on your mobile device for tuning drones can completely wreck them.

 Name Tempo Visual Metronome Tunable
Developer  Frozen Ape  One More Muse  AffinityBlue
Platform  iOS; Android iOS  iOS; Android
BPM Range  10 – 800  1 – 800  10 – 300
Subdivision/Meter  Yes (quarter, eighth, sixteenth, triplet) 1 through 13 beats per measure Yes (quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourth, triplet, quintuplet, sextuplet, septuplet, nontuplet) 1 through 9999 beats per measure Yes (quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, quintuplet, sextuplet, septuplet) 1 through 16 beats per measure
Tuning Drone  Yes (one octave chromatic)  Yes ( four octaves chromatic)  Yes (seven octaves chromatic)
Tuner Function No  No  Yes
Tap Function  Yes  No  No
Presets  Yes  Yes  Yes (but limited)
Other Functions  Free “lite” version available Very flexible customization of subdivisions and meters. Free “lite” version available. BPM can be set to tenths of a beat. Visual waveform tuner, record function, multiple tempermaents
Screen Shot  tempo visual metronome tunable
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