Using Computer/Recording Technology with Private Lessons

Dennis Bell
Submitted: Wed, March 13, 2013 - 11:33am EDT
The addition of music/recording technology, within the structure of private lessons, has added many extra benefits to the outcomes of what we have come to expect from a traditional piano/vocal training environment/process.

Having been a long time award winning record producer, composer, arranger, conductor & professional pianist has given me extra tools which I bring into my private teaching practice. I have used computers and music technology since it first became available in the 1980's and currently teach the musical use of it in college. I privately teach in my recording studio and am able to access all those music/recording tools which help, immeasurably, in my student's learning process and outcomes. Hearing audio feedback from their recorded vocal, pianistic and songwriting performance, which they bring home to their practice environment in the form of CDs or computer/iPod files, is a priceless tool for me.We can analyze and discuss the musical/ technical positives and/or problems and how to improve or use them in their musical development.

In addition I am able have students orchestrate accompaniments to their songs and/or create practice tracks to use in their practice environments, (eg vocal accompaniments, adding instruments to simple songs for beginner's or rhythm section tracks for piano lessons in jazz improvisation). Music software, such as Digital Performer, Logic, Cakewalk & Protools are invaluable aids in this process.

Age is not an issue and I have used technology with children as young as 5-6 years old to the adult beginner or the "returning to piano/vocal lessons after giving up lessons in their younger years" student. Younger students are, generally, pretty computer "savvy" and they take to the use of it, alongside their music lessons, with enthusiasm.

In addition I use the studio to train producers, arrangers and engineers in the use of MIDI, music sequencing, audio editing and audio engineering. In songwriting courses I am able to teach rhythm, harmony, using standard methods, with the addition of software programs like Sibelius (a full featured music notation program).

As MIDI keyboards are purchased by students for home practice, where most have computer access, interested students are now able to build a fairly inexpensive home studio. Adding a few inexpensive powered speakers, inexpensive or free software, such as garage band for the Mac, enables students to easily build their own computer based music environment with simple USB connections. The more advanced, interested students can add to these tools by adding small mixers, inexpensive microphones and small audio interfaces (for vocal recording etc).

Hearing yourself at home with a cd or file produced during your lesson is often an ear opening experience for a music student. It provides the type of feedback that is not possible when a student is in the actual performing/practicing mode. Their concentration and focus is on performing the music for me as the result of a week of (hopefully) daily practice. They're not easily able to separate themselves from that process and actually hear the music they play or sing. The dynamics, the form, the flow, the breathing/enunciation in voice are now available for the student and teacher to listen, analyze and build upon.

I am of the school that believes that music always comes first and technology second so I emphasize music as the primary element in music studies and technology as a tool to help the them reach their goals more efficiently using an aural understanding of what they are actually producing and expressing through their instrument.

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