Jul 16

Technology in Music


Technology In Music

There are many musical purists out there who eschew modern technology when they could be making use of it.  I don’t know if this is because they don’t want any distractions in the pursuit of mastering their instrument, or if they are afraid of the learning curve.  Technology should be viewed as a facilitator, an aid if you will, to help you get the most of your instrument.  After all, unless you specialise in woodblocks, your instrument of choice was refined and improved by the technology of the day to become the model you own.  If you don’t like the modern version of most instruments, there are always older models available and if you are that much of a purist you will find a way to get one that suits you. Or you could be the pain-in-the-arse kind of “perfectionist” who is closed minded and never satisfied.  I don’t envy you this trait if you are.

When you practice, I’m sure you will have been advised to use a metronome.  That didn’t exist until it was patented by Johann Maelzel in 1815. Did people mistrust it then and actively avoid this “new technology”? No.  The paper and pens used to transcribe music had to be invented and made useful enough to work, as did the candle, gas light and electricity that followed.  Even the system of notation needed tweaking to standardise it.  And then, written music was held to ransom by the quality of the notation transcribed, accuracy means nothing if you can’t read the scrawl. Music then went from being written to printed – I wonder how that was taken at the time.  It’s really hard to find an excuse to not use printed music, however much of a purist you are.

Since recording was invented around 1880 there have always been huge differences of opinion about it.  Leaving aside hi-fi type debates about “valve warmth Vs clinically clean digital”,  as recording has become refined over the years, the availability of the technology has ended up in our pockets on our phones and iPods.  There are huge gains to be made by recording oneself and listening back to what could be improved upon whilst practicing.  I even know people who record most nights performances and analyse it after the gig.  Great if you have the time to do the analysing and rectifying each time you listen back.

Since computers became available to the masses in the mid 70’s, thousands of talented programmers have introduced all kinds of software to help musicians.  There are ear training apps for iPhones to full-blown recording studios that run on a laptop, like the one I am using right now.  I composed and recorded the sound track for a couple of TV documentaries and a few hundred radio jingles on this one. That recording software, I use Cubase, has the ability to record me playing and play it back.  I can see in both notation form and piano roll format the actual notes I played, how hard I hit them and for how long. It also has a metronome and can play other tracks for accompaniment.

Most of the major classical pieces, and indeed other songs are available in midi file format which, when imported into my recording software gives me the full arrangement on individual tracks that I can mute or unmute at will, dropping out say the lead instrument and substitute my own.  I can see the short score, or individual parts in notation form.  It’s also a great way to listen to a piece of classical music, especially following it on the score, you can stop and start when you want and really dig deep into the orchestrations, or change them if you want, who cares, it’s called experimentation.  It’s really a fascinating process and you will always get something out of it.

Imagine you hurt your right hand, fellow pianists.  Well, pop a two-part invention into Cubase and mute the notes of the right hand – usually they have been separated anyway – then you can join in and get your left hand chops up to speed while your right hand is recovering.

If you have to do any serious transcription, it’s really useful to have the ability to slow down what you are listening to in order that you catch every nuance.  There have been tape recorders around that do this just for practicing or transcribing.  It’s possible in software now of course, or in iPhone apps and the like and sometimes the transcription process can be done automatically for you, although I highly recommend you check the results thoroughly as this is far from a perfect process yet.

I do a lot of outdoor gigs and technology has helped enormously in this.  Gone are the days of sheet music flying off the stand in the wind, despite the many “stage pegs” clinging on for dear life.  I don’t need a light either.  My iPad displays the music for me and is back lit and too heavy for normal gusts of wind to bother it.  Also, I have recently been asked to do requests that I know half of.  No problem, I can normally just jump on to the internet from anywhere I am and download the music direct to the iPad as quick as your connection will allow.  I can even change the key and have the lyrics up if I want. For the not so feint-hearted, I had a last minute change at a wedding once and was downloading the second song while playing the Wedding March as the bride was coming down the aisle.  A little too close for comfort in that instance, I’ll admit, but the point is, it was do-able.

Of course, if you play a brass instrument, you will also be aware of the curse of the “splattered” sheet music.  It could be your spit, or it could be somebody else’s.  I’m just saying, an iPad can be wiped clean and sterilised if you are concerned about this, otherwise, take your chances or try to play with gloves on.

The iPad and similar tablets are being taken seriously thank goodness, in the music world.  Aside from the novelty iPad “orchestras” there are a number of apps that will enable you to digitise your sheet music and import them for display on the iPad.  Those of us that carried round books of 200 songs only to use 10 of them from each book will see that this is a vast improvement. Music notation apps are also available that allow you to input the note information and it will produce a lovely, clear page of music that can even be used to go backwards a little and actually print out the page, maybe for others without an iPad to be able to use.

There have always been advances in technology in whatever instrument you play and the tools we have used to help us practice or record on paper.  Modern technology of today has many advantages from the obvious to the not-so-obvious.  You can even help keep your conscience clear and your carbon footprint down when you think of the weight of the many items you would normally carry with you and all musicians like you on a flight.  No need for a briefcase full of music, a metronome, some kind of recorder/player if you do lots of transcriptions…..all of these tools and more are available in app form for all kinds of instruments.

There are apps and programs to train you, drill you, aurally strengthen you, aid you in teaching and entertain you. Plus it’s not just the convenience, it’s the benefit of not having to squint in bad light to read that tatty old dog eared sheet, (is that an E or a D?). It’s all just so much more comfortable. Technology in music is a good thing.  And all you have to do is press any key to begin.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *