The Drum Duel: Acoustic vs Electric kits

Everything, it seems, has gone digital these days: music, games, keyboards – even how we pay for our morning coffee. While everything is evolving into the digital era, can electronic versions truly make the original product better? Looking at this from the perspective of a percussion student, performer or teacher, we ask: Do electronic drum kits really measure up to its acoustic predecessors?

yamaha-drums

One of Yamaha’s electric kits.

Electronic drum kits have come a long way since their introduction to the music industry in 1976. In recent years, newer drum kits have addressed many of the shortcomings of early electronic drums. Basic entry-level units aside, the more professional kits, built from brands like Yamaha and Roland, have been geared toward creating a sound and playing experience that is nearly indistinguishable from the traditional acoustic kit. With focus on high quality digital sounds (these kits can simulate effects like muffling, microphone position and ambient acoustic), multiple triggers, realistic hi-hats and multiple outputs, these features go a long way in making these sets more enjoyable to play.

So what are the advantages of playing and learning on an electronic kit?

  • Little noise, if desired – the drummer can adjust the volume to fit their surroundings, or use headphones for nearly silent practice. No more need for pads or mesh heads to dull the sound of acoustic drums.
  • More compact design which makes these kits an ideal solution for small rooms and not a nightmare to move once assembled.
  • Most electronic kits have the ability to simulate the sound of different kits, like a vintage jazz, powerful rock or spunky Latin.
  • They create easy wirings for performances and gigs, by using a line-out or MIDI connection. No complicated microphone set ups required! Same benefit applies for recording sessions as well.
  • Most include a built-in metronome and practice tracks, which is great for students.
  • For band rehearsals, electronic drums can be lowered to a volume to match the rest of the group, which helps a great deal in cramped practice spaces or small groups.
  • No risk of electronic drums becoming scratched or warped in if treated badly or left somewhere damp.
  • No need to tune an electronic kit!

Next, we’ll take a look at the electronic kit’s disadvantages:

  • Most drummers will agree that electronic kits lack the authentic feel or sound the same as an acoustic one. While technology continues to improve on this, it’s difficult to replicate the sound and feel of real drums, cymbals and hi-hats, even with a top-of-the-line electronic kit.
  • Some electric drum kits (though usually basic models) do not include pedals, but supplied with trigger pads which are hard to play at fast tempos and insensitive to the light touch.
  • Electronic kits do require external amplification from a specialized drum amplifier/monitor, which is an added cost.
  • Some electric drum kits have very limited positioning options, making it difficult for all ages and sizes to play comfortably.

In the end, which is better? The answer likely lies in your situation and ultimate goal as a percussionist. For students learning the ropes, an electronic kit provides all the necessary staples to get started, and parents won’t have the headache of constant noise during practice hours. Professional musicians may favor acoustic kits because of their sound, feel and visual appeal, especially if this is what they are used to!

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Some Kind of (Wonderful) Spark

Documentaries about music education are a rare find – though when you stumble across one, they have a way of tugging on your heartstrings.

Music, unlike other academic subjects (I’m thinking of you, mathematics), has such a universal, emotional appeal. Anyone and everyone can sense a connection to music. You don’t need formal training or years on the road or in the studio to have such deep appreciation for the world’s most beautiful language.

Enter Director and Producer Ben Niles, creator of ‘Some Kind of Spark’, a film documenting the lives of seven inner-city children attending a special music program at Julliard in New York City. (Mr Niles is no stranger to making movies – his latest film, ‘Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037)’ won top honors at the Sarasota Film Festival and was screened in over 30 countries in 5 different languages.)

‘Some Kind of Spark’  features the personal stories of these children and their teachers, shot over a two year period, beginning in 2010. It shows the powerful impact music can create, regardless of who you are and where you come from. It follows these kids inside the classroom, in their homes, and on stage.

The film also acts as a chilling reminder about the decline of money invested in music education in US schools over the past quarter century.  (It’s not much different here in Canada, unfortunately) This trend, Niles notes, is not looking good for future generations:

[It’s] compromising our children’s education and jeopardizing our culture. Low-income children-children who also tend to be from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the performing arts-are missing out on the immense value of music training on a child’s development. Children who study music do better on standardized tests in both math and reading and are more likely to go to college. And music programs are proven to be an effective tool in keeping kids off the streets and preventing teen violence. Through music study they learn many life skills such as problem-solving, self-discipline, creativity, empathy, compassion, and the value of hard work. Not to mention that many students-including the poor, the disadvantaged, and the emotionally disturbed-who might otherwise be unreachable can often be taught through the inspiring power of music. (http://www.somekindofspark.com/)

As an independent film, the film’s producers will not take money from Julliard to help fund post-production costs, citing that it is not meant to be a promotional tool for the world-renowned school. It’s aim is to squarely raise awareness about the powerful influence music can have on our children’s lives.

To raise money for this project, Niles’ team has put in place a few online campaigns to garner support. One is backed by Women Make Movies, which allows any donation to be tax-deductible. There’s also an online campaigned featured on  Kickstarter.com.

So, music friends, if you are in a position to donate, please do! Any amount is appreciated. It’s a project we can all feel good about.

‘Tis the season for holiday recitals: A preparation checklist for students

 

Make sure you're ready for your holiday recital this year!

Make sure you’re ready for your holiday recital this year!

Recital prep 101! Helpful pointers for students working towards a performance this holiday season

Annual or biannual recitals are often a chief component of music schools’ curriculum no matter where you go. And, as a music teacher, I agree that student recitals and concerts are a great way to showcase students’ hard work and give them an extra little push to excel at their instrument.

Regardless of all the benefits of performing, students will get nervous when it comes time to play in front of a crowd. Some don’t worry too much, or they use their anxiety as a way to adrenalize themselves when on stage. For others, their nerves can get the best them, sometimes with catastrophic consequences to their self-esteem once the show is over and curtain is drawn.

The best advice for these nerve-wracked students? Be prepared! Here are a few things to remember in the weeks leading up to your big performance:

Do mock concerts: Have as many little “mock” or mini-concerts in front of a small group of family and friends as you can. It’s often said that it’s easier to be in front of a room full of people you don’t know, than in front of a handful of those you do. If you can get through your piece fluidly in front of your parents, siblings, fellow students or friends, it’s a good indication you’ll be fine playing for a bigger, more anonymous group!

Record yourself: Playing while recording is a good simulation of what it feels like to play for an audience. Additionally, the benefit of hearing yourself played back allows you to correct the mistakes you never may have realized you often make, and add some polish – a touch of rhythm here or sprinkle of dynamics there – to create an even better sounding piece.

Practice mentally: Not all preparation involves playing over and over again! (Though this is never discouraged…) It often helps to mentally prepare as well. Close your eyes and visualize your hands on your instrument as you play, or how you would  breathe and say lyrics as you sing. Visualize the music in front of you, line by line; see what the notes look like and hear what they sound like. Mental preparation is more effective than students think, and will make you more confident in what you’re getting ready to play.

Know the notes: Make sure you know your song, inside and out. Notes, rhythms and finger patterns or positioning should be close to second nature in the week leading up to your performance.

Practice daily: Even if just for 10 or 15 minutes, it is essential for students to practice their piece(s) every day when preparing for an upcoming recital.  Daily repetition will help in memorizing and becoming completely comfortable with the song. For vocalists, it will help to memorize lyrics. Ideally, singers will want to be able to recite their lyrics out loud, just by speaking them as if reading a poem, without any melody.

So you’ve practiced your song for weeks now. You’re ready to go! With the big performance day finally here, what’s left to do? Some tricks to settling any day-of anxieties when you take centre stage:

  • Don’t think you have to start playing right away! Take your time, get comfortable. Adjust your seat, get your music ready, take a deep breath and then begin.
  • If you make a mistake, keep going! A few wrong notes or chords here and there will not be obvious to your audience; if you stop playing completely to starting over, however, it will be noticeable.
  • Try to keep a steady pace. We tend to rush through things when we’re nervous, which increases the chance of making a mistake.
  • Remember you’re up there to showcase your hard work, and your teacher, parents and friends are proud of you! Try to turn your nerves into excitement.
  • Smile, enjoy your time up there, and have fun! Chances are you’ll think it went by too fast when it’s all over.

With these tricks in hand, I hope students will make the most of their recital days. It truly is a fun experience once the nerves are gone and encouragement is there!

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Those in the Ottawa area are welcome to join Barrhaven Music Academy’s annual Holiday Concert, coming up on Saturday, December 22, starting at 12:00pm, at 30 Clearly Ave. Admission is free, but donations of non-perishable items will be gladly accepted for the Ottawa Food Bank. For more information, visit www.barrhavenmusicacademy.com.

 

Want to de-stress, strengthen your lungs and improve musically? Join a choir

With the success of television shows like Glee, it’s not surprising that students young and old are starting to appreciate how much fun singing can be. But did you know how beneficial it can be, both physiologically and psychologically? A few studies have shown that the benefits of singing, while great in a one-on-one environment, can be multiplied when in the right group or choir setting.

20121121-120917.jpgSo, prospective and current vocalists, have you through about joining a choir or singing group? Here’s a few reasons why you should consider it:

Exercise major muscle groups in the upper body

Singing exercises all the major muscle groups in the upper body; your abdominals, diaphragm, shoulders and back all get a workout each time you belt out a tune. Singing is an aerobic activity that improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system and encourages you to take more oxygen into your body, leading to increased alertness.

Additionally, with the help of stronger back and shoulder muscles, singing helps improve posture, especially with performing groups. In a choir, it is very vital to sit and, more often than not, stand properly and gracefully.

Develop healthier lungs

Any vocal student or teacher will tell you a fundamental key to proper singing technique and endurance is correct breathing. In a choir or group setting, singers often will learn to negotiate very long passages in one controlled breath, which is very, very good for the lungs. Inhaling deeper fills every inch of our lungs’ capacity and enhances the way we use them, making them more efficient and stronger over time.

It’s been observed that singers breathe remarkably slower than the non-singers. Research suggests breathing slowly, whether regularly or by practice for a few minutes a day, is enough to help some people nudge down bad blood pressure. Meditation, yoga and similar relaxation techniques that incorporate slow, deep breathing have long been thought to aid blood pressure, by relaxing and dilating blood vessels temporarily.

Build confidence and musicality

Students who sing together will increase their self-confidence and also build and understanding of teamwork as the unit works together towards a common goal. In other words, it gets the group physically and mentally active in a new way, and gives them the chance to learn and grow from the other singers in their group.

No to mention the fact that it lets students be creative! Singing groups provide a great artistic outlet for students to express themselves and gain personal satisfaction, improving their overall sense of musicality and appreciation.

Become a better singer

As rehearsals pass and time goes by, choir members will notice development in their singing proficiency, even if minute or gradual. Individuals who’ve had no prior vocal training, those that would see themselves stumble over the harder pieces at first, will slowly increase their repertoire and musical stamina. And, in a group setting, it’s possible this progress will be even faster thanks to encouragement from not only a choir director, but from your fellow singing peers.

Even seasoned vocalists who’ve had, or continue to have, vocal training will see their development increase as their choir experience expands their repertoire and adds to their weekly practice routine.

Eventually, the team of singers (both novice and advanced), will have been exposed to varying speeds of songs, reading new music and memorizing lyrics, which builds up stamina. As a choir matures they will develop a kind of group ‘cohesiveness’, ultimately bringing them more commanding voices and polished techniques as they go.

Get rid of stress

If you’re one that regularly spends their week in front of a computer monitor, scanning heaps of prescribed school reading, or sits through hours of traffic on the way to school or work, a change of scenery and pace is always a good thing. While stress adds up in our daily lives thanks to work or family struggles, being part of a choir or singing group will allow you ‘de-stress’ on a consistent, proactive basis. Think of singing as a way to let off steam in a healthy and positive way. Furthermore, music has a way of igniting our emotions; singing, in turn, is one of the few activities that allow you emotionally peak and delve into an elevated mental sphere, to find release and resist burnout.

Choirs are often seen as the perfect complement to any singer’s regular practice routine. Just like playing in a band would benefit a guitarist or drummer, performing in a choir or singing group will help all singers improve, whether it’s a weekly practice or monthly get together. Ultimately, choir rehearsals won’t even feel like practice – just another opportunity to sing your heart out.

And, as Ella Fitzgerald once said, “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

 

The importance of rhythm – and why all students should master it!

What is Rhythm?

The word ‘rhythm’ stems from the Greek word rhythmos, meaning “any regular recurring motion, or symmetry”. In music, rhythm is about when notes, chords, and other musical sounds begin and end. As a result, rhythm is the essential ingredient in all music.

No matter what instrument a student is learning, everyone needs good rhythmic foundation. Melodies, scales and chord patterns are all dependent on a piece’s rhythm. The importance of developing a strong sense of pulse or rhythm is a crucial element when learning to play – and being taught the basics of rhythm starts in the very first lesson.

And, as students’ progress, it will become easier for them to understand why something doesn’t sound exactly as it should – more often than not, it is rhythm which needs work or changing. By developing a good sense of rhythm students will be able to better identify when the pulse or beat is off.

Mastering rhythm is essential for many “rhythm section” instruments:  bass, drums, and rhythm guitar and piano. Even melodic parts, like vocals or lead guitar, need to understand the rhythm in order to play fluidly with accompaniment.

Learning Rhythm

Rhythm exercises should be a part of a student’s daily practice regimen.  Mix rhythm exercises together with scales, arpeggios, songs, and various techniques.

Here are some tips to develop rhythm:

1.    Use a metronome

While playing with metronomes will no doubt make everything tougher, it is a great way to get used to playing with an outside beat. Sometimes, when students tap the beat themselves, or count aloud, they unknowingly slow down in the harder spots, or speed up towards the end of a piece. Using a metronome will allow practicing with a steady, constant beat.

2.     Practice rhythmic exercises

Start out simple and work your way through more complex patterns. Clapping and counting rhythms out loud is a great way to become more comfortable with rhythms, especially for students who learn best through auditory methods. For visual learning, write in the rhythm (1 + 2 + 3 + 4+…) in before playing or clapping.

3.     Understand the time signature

Rhythm is expressed, stated, and describe with a time signature, which defines the note duration and time relationship. A rhythm in 4/4 time will be different than one in 6/8 time, so make sure you understand these values first, before counting or playing.

4.     Watch out for rests, ties and dotted notes

More complex rhythms will have these components which will increase difficulty.  Make sure to spot these tricky parts and work on them separately at first!

5.     Start slow

Any new rhythm should be practiced slowly, giving full value to all notes, rests and any other markings in between. Start as slow as needed so there are no unwanted pauses between sections or phrases – and challenge yourself to go faster once you have mastered a lower speed.

6.     Listen and play along

Listening to the piece before attempting to count, clap or play it will help your ear identify if you are doing it correctly or not. For another challenge, try playing along with the recording and see if you can match the rhythm, once you have a good grasp on it!

Not sure where to begin with your rhythm practice? Download the exercises below!

Exercise 1: Rhythms – Beginner

Exercise 2: Rhythms – Intermediate

Exercise 3: Sixteenth Notes

Exercise 4: Triplets

Exercise 5: Dotted Rhythms

Exercise 6: Syncopation

French music lessons now available in Barrhaven, Riverside South communities

Barrhaven Music Academy opens its doors to students seeking music lessons in both French and English

Press Release

Barrhaven Music Academy’s studios in southwest Ottawa.

OTTAWA – With the rise of French-speaking families moving to the city’s southwest neighbourhoods, a call for music instruction in both official languages has finally been answered. After officially opening its doors earlier this month, Barrhaven Music Academy is now providing students the chance to learn music in English, French, or both.

“We have a great team of qualified, professional teachers working with us and we are happy to offer French music lessons to our community,” explains co-founder Ashley Martyn, 25. Students of all ages can now register for piano (the school’s most popular instrument) and violin in either language. Barrhaven Music Academy aims to offer French music lessons for all instruments in the near future.

As University of Ottawa alumni, Martyn knows well the importance and benefit of learning in more than one language. Four years of post-secondary study in a bilingual atmosphere strengthened her knowledge and appreciation of both English and French, and she wants Barrhaven Music Academy’s students to have those same advantages while learning in an environment that “provides a bridge to professional, academic, cultural, and personal growth.”

It’s no wonder that Barrhaven, with a population climbing to 84,266 in the 2011 Census, has seen a rise in demand for French language services. The community is already home to three French elementary schools: Michaëlle Jean, Jean-Robert Gauthier and Pierre Elliot Trudeau; together all three have a combined population of nearly 1,300 students.  There’s also Barrhaven’s first French high school, École Secondaire Catholique Pierre-Savard, built in 2009, housing students from grades 7 to 12.  And, don’t forget the adjacent community of Riverside South, home to an additional 3,300 households and projected to be the fastest growing community in the city with an anticipated annual growth rate of 13.5%. Two French schools are nestled within Riverside South’s boundaries as well: École élémentaire catholique Bernard-Grandmaître and the French Catholic Secondary School Franco-Cité, with a student body of over 1,100.

Founded in 2009 as a home-based music studio, Barrhaven Music Academy has shown notable growth and acquired an excellent reputation as a haven for quality music education. Their newly-renovated location on Woodroffe Avenue include a handful of teaching studios with state-of-the-art sound isolating technologies and warm, inviting colours that promote a fun, friendly learning environment.

With the introduction of French music lessons, Barrhaven Music Academy is enthusiastic to give francophone families the opportunity for their children to learn music in their first language. “It’s another way we can give back to our community,” Martyn affirms, “and music itself is a universal language.”

For more information on Barrhaven Music Academy and to register for lessons, contact 613-459-6027 or info@barrhavenmusicacademy.com, or visit their website at http://www.barrhavenmusicacademy.com.

Why you should get your piano tuned…regularly!

Piano is likely the most popular instrument for music students, especially for young beginners when choosing what musical direction to take first. That means a lot of parents will invest a great deal of money into buying an acoustic piano for their child to practice on and progress with, which is great in the long run and well worth the price.

However, many students, parents and teachers alike don’t realize how often a piano should be serviced. Once a year? Every time it’s moved? Many experts, including Ottawa-based Tuner-Technician Kazimier Samujlo, B. Mus., B. Ed., actually disagree with both answers. He recommends a piano be tuned at the change of every season. That means, in countries where the climate changes three or four times a year, your piano should be tuned each and every time.

Is it worth it, though?

The Piano Technician’s Guild (www.ptg.org) explains why it could be: Because your piano contains sensitive materials such as wood and felt, it’s affected easily by climatic conditions. Extreme swings in temperature can cause unrecoverable damage to the instrument. When the weather goes quickly from hot to cold, or dry to wet, the piano’s materials will warp and change, causing some parts to swell and contract. Ultimately, this can affect a piano’s tone, pitch, action response and touch.

On top of seasonal tunings, Samujlo goes one step further and often suggest his clients follow an all-around care routine for their beloved piano. “A regular maintenance program keeps your piano operating perfectly, makes the player happy and willing to practice more,” he explains on his website, http://www.manotickpianotuning.com.

Regular care involves the following practices to consider:

  • Keeping your piano clean. Clean the keys by occasionally wiping them with a damp cloth and drying them immediately.
  • Avoid cleaning with aerosol spray polishes that contain silicone.
  • Maintain consistent temperature and humidity where your piano is placed. It’s important to keep your piano away from a heating register in winter, an air conditioning vent in the summer, a fireplace, a frequently opened window or outside door, and direct sunlight.
  • Play your piano regularly. Tuning a piano after years of not having been played often requires more repair than just a standard tuning, such as a pitch raise. As a piano ages without being used, it may begin to develop more major problems — like rebuilding or reconditioning.
  • Keep all food and drink away from the piano.
  • Select your technician with care (Hiring a certified piano technician, like Samujlo, is your best assurance.)
  • Never, ever, perform repairs yourself.
  • When it comes time to move, use only a professional piano moving company to do the job.

On top of regular tuning, a certified and experienced piano technician will be able to help sort out a handful of problems that you may encounter with your piano. Services often include refurbishing, restringing, cleanings and appraisals to make sure your instrument looks, feels and sounds as good as new.

Kazimier Samujlo is based in Manotick, Ontario, and provides piano tuning and repair services in and around the Ottawa area. To get in touch with him, call 613-692-2701 or visit his website.