Category Archives for Music

Next-Generation Video Tools for Music Instruction

Video recordings have been an important tool in music education for a long time. But now, video-based practice and feedback, sewn tightly together, are becoming a vital part of applied music instruction and learning. There are a variety of reasons why hearing and seeing oneself perform daily can make a big difference in musicians’ development. And there’s the practical side too: video-practice using the right technology allows teachers to teach with detailed feedback even when student and teacher aren’t in the same place at the same time!

Video for Self-reflection and Self-critique

  1. Recording Improves Musicianship

Recording yourself allows you to listen to your performance from the impartial perspective or standpoint of an audience member, critic or teacher. Whether you record a single phrase in a practice room or a full-length concert performance, recording allows you to stand back and listen as if it were somebody else’s performance, gaining insights you never could otherwise. As musicians we can then refine and improve our sound to align with our gathered insights. You listen to how musical your playing is – are you being as dynamic and tasteful as you could be? Is your approach appropriate for the genre or style? Recording sharpens your musicianship so that you can gauge every facet of your playing or singing with an impartial ear.

  1. You Sound Different Than You Think

Just as anyone who has recorded themselves on video before has noticed, the actual tone of voice or instrument that others hear is very different than what you hear in your own head. This is especially important for vocalists as their self-perceived tone differs more dramatically from what their audiences hear. Recording yourself allows you to understand how you actually sound to listeners which is essential for delivering a excellent performance! Greg Foot explains this in a great video.

  1. Performance Practice Makes Perfect

In addition to listening to the recording, seeing yourself on camera is great for performance practice as it is very important to see what you look like while singing or playing your instrument. Do you sit properly? Is your back straight? How is your bowing technique? Are there any bad habits you should be working on? During playback, you can then make those critical judgment calls, hear weaknesses, and more clearly hear how close your actual playing is compared to where you think you should be. Fixing these small technical imperfections will work wonders for improving your tone, confidence, and stamina.

All in all, the ability to reflect on one’s own playing and take action based on reviewing playback is a huge leap in a musician’s development.  The more we can do to foster clarity of musical concepts within ourselves, the more consistent musicians we become, and the more joy we can produce when we play.

Video for Feedback!

Video recording becomes all the more useful for a student when the players and teachers can have a dialogue around the recording even when they’re not in the same place at the same time.  Web applications for audio and video sharing like WeVu.video, made for private sharing and pinpoint feedback, make this possible. As a student of music, you need someone at a higher level to push you past your current abilities; a teacher or mentor who listens and identifies what you can do to improve. Moreover, as many academic studies have suggested, instrumental music teachers should not only concentrate on instruction, but also give appropriately weighted and timed criticism and praise. Teacher approval and disapproval have a considerable effect on students’ motivation to study music, especially if given consistently. If a low-cost, private, efficient video web application can supplement face-to-face instruction, musicians can make progress faster and more effectively. They’ll know exactly the things they need to work on without having to wait for the next in-person session with an instructor. Thesedays, with this kind of web software for sharing and feedback, all the student needs to record herself is a phone!

Drs. Robert Taylor and Jonathan Girard, Professors and Band/Orchestra Directors at the prestigious UBC School of Music, have been leaders in using video software like WeVu to great success. As Dr. Taylor emphasized, these video tools are timely and ensure that none of the advice students receive are forgotten. When asked whether he had any advice for instructors hoping to implement this in their course, Taylor is very enthusiastic:  “Jump right into it! This tool had an incredibly positive effect on my classes and it’s revolutionized the School of Music admission process. There isn’t a lot to worry about in terms of student reception, because they actually find it way more intuitive than we do thanks to all the different technologies they use on an everyday basis. This kind of tool is very powerful and will deliver.”

Step by Step Guide to cheap, effective video auditions for music and voice – Part 2

In this two part series, I provide a guide that helps you do an effective video audition for post-secondary music programs, on a budget. I’ll dive in to the differences in sound quality between premium recording equipment, dirt cheap audio recording, and the mic that’s on your iPhone. You will be guided through the step by step procedures of how to set up this equipment, buy or borrow it cheaply, and edit it quickly with great results.

Part 2: Video Best Practices and Audio-Video Synchronization 

In this two part series, we guide you to do an effective video audition for post secondary music programs, on a budget. We’ll dive in to the differences in sound quality between premium recording equipment, dirt cheap audio recording, and the mic that’s on your iPhone. You will be guided through the step by step procedures of how to set up this equipment, buy it cheaply, and edit it with speed.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to record your audio and video simultaneously through separate equipment. We’ll show you how to set up and record various audio equipment (Part One) and how to maximize your phone’s video camera (Part Two).

THINGS YOU WILL NEED

iPhone (or Android, or whatever other device you have for video).

Clean Room With a Window

Clutter will look unprofessional and could affect the room’s acoustics, colouring your tone in unpleasant ways.

Natural light beats artificial light when you’re on a shoestring budget so try to shoot in a room with a window.

Lamps and/or Daylight

Try to choose only white or yellow light and avoid blue light sources. When combined with daylight, white and/or yellow lights can give off a very professional and pleasant look.

Try to stagger your light sources height and length wise. For instance, combine your window with a lamp on a desk and a flood light on the floor.

Face towards your light sources and have the camera face away from them. You never want light coming from behind you in these videos.

Gig-Appropriate Attire

Most music schools require you to wear a full black suit to performances so dress business casual at least.

Something to Hold your Phone

Under no circumstances should you have another person holding your phone or even a good camera. The device MUST be stable. Everyone should have a mini flexible tripod for their phone, especially musicians. Here’s the Amazon.com search for “phone tripod”. They’re not indestructable, but they’re pretty good value for 12 dollars!

If you have a good camera and a real tripod, that’s a great alternative to the phone for the video.

Combining your Audio and Video

You’ve already read about how to get good quality audio recordings on the cheap in Part 1 of this series.

Import your audio and video both to iMovie. Leave the volume on your video untouched for the time being.

Line up the wavelengths from your video audio and your exported mp3/WAV audio that you recorded using your DAW. You’re basically just matching the pictures of the sound here so that they’re in sync.

Slide down your the video’s audio until it’s muted.

Watch through the whole video to see that your video is perfectly lined up with the audio from your DAW.

Finally, export your video as MP4 or .MOV to 720p or 1080p if possible. Some newer phones shoot in 4k- this won’t make your performance better and will make it exponentially longer to export.

Then, if you want to share your video in a secure way for others to comment on, sign up for your own private audition video hosting site at WeVu.video!

Click here for part 1 of this series to learn best practices on recording audio

We’re working on part 3, where we will compare the audio fidelity of cheap, mid-level, and premium recording setups.

Step by Step Guide to cheap, effective video auditions for music and voice – Part 1

In this two part series, I provide a guide that helps you do an effective video audition for post-secondary music programs, on a budget. I’ll dive in to the differences in sound quality between premium recording equipment, dirt cheap audio recording, and the mic that’s on your iPhone. You will be guided through the step by step procedures of how to set up this equipment, buy or borrow it cheaply, and edit it quickly with great results.

Part 1: Overview & Audio

Recording video auditions can be a super stressful affair for senior students. The seemingly endless array of options when it comes to recordifng equipment or the uncertainty of whether or not your recording is of a high enough fidelity adds a lot of unnecessary stress. To address this, I’ll be going through exactly what equipment you’ll need, where to find it affordably, and how to shoot and edit your audition. At the end, I’ll be comparing the audio fidelity of a premium Shure SM7 mic, a cheap SM58 mic, and an iPhone mic as they record the same audition. Finally, I’ll point you to a free service that you can use to share your audition with the schools you apply to.

This is by no means a totally comprehensive guide to audio recording; instead, it’s a quick and dirty guide to getting your audition together on a budget.

AUDIO

THINGS YOU WILL NEED

1. iPhone (or Android, or whatever else. If you’re using your phone for audio, skip this section).

2. Digital Audio Workstation.

  • §  This is software that allows you to record and edit audio.
  •  Many of them are free and have great trial offers. I’ll be focusing on the ones you’d look at as a beginner.
  • Garageband (Mac) is super easy to use and Ableton Live (Mac and PC) lite gives you an incredible set of capabilities

3. Audio Interface

  • This is a magical box that converts the audio from your playing to information that a computer can understand.
  • You get what you pay for here, but a cheap second hand 1-2 input interface like an M Audio M-Track will do just fine.
  • The interface takes the XLR or 1/4 inch cable that attaches to your mic/instrument and then sends the signal into your computer.

4. Microphone (if you play anything other than guitar/bass/electric keyboard).

  • If you have a good interface and use your DAW effectively, a cheap condenser mic will do. In particular, an indestructible workhorse like a Shure SM58/SM57 is great and you can find them for around $50 on Craigslist or a garage sale if you look hard enough. Here’s a guide: https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/best-cheap-mics/ . If you get one, it’s worth keeping.
  • I would strongly recommend against a USB mic like Blue Snowball – they leave out a lot of the depth and dynamic range you’d get from a condenser. Only go for a USB mic if you’re on a very, very tight budget.
  • For drummers, one well positioned mic will do reasonably well if you spend more time editing on your DAW. More on this below

5. 1/4 inch or XLR cable

  • Connects your instrument or mic to the interface. XLR’s for microphones and 1/4 inches for electric instruments.


AUDIO SETUP

Plug in the Audio Interface to the USB port of your computer. You may have to download a free driver for some interfaces. For this example, we’ll be using the inexpensive M Audio M-Track, whose driver can be found here.

Vocalists and acoustic instrumentalists will plug the ‘female’ end of your XLR (the one with three holes) into your mic and the other end into your interface. Electric instrumentalists can plug one end of their 1/4 inch to their instrument and the other to their interface. If you wish to capture the sound of your amp, set up your mic 6 inches away from the middle of it.

Vocalists and horn players can simulate soundproofing by singing/playing into a stack of towels or a few thick sweaters. You’re not looking for sharp studio quality here – you just want to capture your tone as cleanly as you can and minimize background noise.

AUDIO EDITING

I’ll be covering an extremely basic guide to EQ and compression here. In Lehman’s terms, compression makes your playing’s dynamics (loud vs quiet) more even and smooth while EQ cuts out or boosts certain frequencies.

For the sake of this tutorial, turning on the stock compressor on your DAW software will do just fine. You can find it under (plugins -> dynamics -> compressor).

Reference the EQ screenshots below for an idea of what frequencies to cut and boost depending on your instrument.
Leave your EQ totally flat (don’t touch it) if you’re playing piano.

Voice

Horns & Guitar

 Bass Guitar

 ​Click here for part 2 of this series to learn how to edit and sync video to your audio with speed.
 Stay tuned for part 3, where we compare the audio fidelity of cheap, mid-level, and premium recording setups.

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