MIDI Connections

I was very interested in your “Have Fun with MIDI” posting and I’ve started using some of this music in my classroom. The school has a music keyboard and, on the back, there are two sockets marked “MIDI IN” and “MIDI OUT”. Does that mean I could connect it to the computer and play the music with the, much nicer, sounds on the keyboard. If so, how do I do this?

Yes, you can connect the keyboard to your computer. The simplest way to do this is with a USB MIDI Interface with in-built cables, 1-in/1-out. This will come with software to install the drivers. You must plug the “Out” cable into the “In” socket on the keyboard and the “In” cable to the “Out” socket. Once the drivers are installed, your computer will detect when you’ve got the interface connected. If you are using vanBasco’s Karaoke Player, right click anywhere on the player and select the “MIDI” Tab. Set the Output Device to “USB Audio Device”

If you are using Windows Media Player, Windows will probably set the MIDI output automatically. If it doesn’t, go to Control Panel> Sound & Audio Devices> Audio and set the MIDI player to your device. If you’re using simple music software like GridPlay, Music Box or Compose World, you will be able to set the MIDI output device from the, user-friendly, onscreen menus.

Of course, when you have an external MIDI instrument, the fun really starts when you use it to input what you are playing on the keyboard into your computer software, but we’ll save that for another day!

The Role of the Amateur

That amazing organisation, CoMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) is putting on a 1-day conference, next month, to explore “the role of the amateur in contemporary music”. Now, if you think that is only of interest to weird folk who use their musical instruments to create ‘traffic’ noises and turn up their noses at anything ordinary people recognise as a good tune, then think again!

“Changing Dynamics” is about reaching out with new music, making amateurs the centre of the creative hub of 21st century music-making. CoMA knows all about that: since its foundation in 1993, it has commissioned numerous works from leading UK and international composers and formed amateur ensembles to perform them. The CoMA summer school and regional events often prove to be life-changing experiences for those who discover that they are creators, not just consumers of music.

At CoMA events, amateurs and professionals come together to create and perform exciting new works. The guiding principle placed before the commissioned composers is to create a repertoire that is artistically challenging yet suited to the technical abilities of amateur musicians. Amateurs are introduced to all kinds of improvisation and there is tuition in composition for absolute beginners, as well as fresh inspiration for experienced composers.

“Changing Dynamics” is for “musicians, music teachers, schools, festival organisers, local authorities and music organisations” and will be held at Blackheath Concert Halls, Trinity College of Music, London, on 22nd February. See www.coma.org, for further details.

More About MIDI

I promised a link to more beginners’ information on downloading and playing MIDI music and here it is: mididownloading .

Although MIDI is used a great deal by pop musicians, there are plenty of classical sites around. The Classical Archives is a brilliant resource for music teachers. In addition to thousands of classical music titles, it has biographies of composers, a ‘History Tour’ and lots of useful MIDI information.

Classical Music Archives

Classical Music Archives

Have Fun With MIDI!

With so much emphasis on downloading audio to play on iPods, mp3 players, etc., many people who have discovered online music only recently are unaware of the fun and usefulness that can be derived from the many free MIDI resources available.

In order to play music in MIDI format or to use simple music software, most basic users have no more need to know anything about the technicalities of MIDI than Internet Explorer users have to grasp internet protocols befiore they can go browsing. Suffice it to say that MIDI is a ‘language’ in which music instruments and devices which control them can communicate. Very often, this communication takes place without the user being aware that the sounds emerging from the computer are in this format. Games and music played by simple software send MIDI messages to the soundcard, which automatically interprets and performs them, through its in-built sounds. Since midifiles (they have the .mid extension) only contain instructions for playing the music, not the sounds themselves, they are very small. Even if you only have a tiny hard drive, you will be able to save thousands of them!

Nearly all computer operating systems have a default media player installed which plays any midifile you click on. There are hundreds of sites where you can play, or download, files in practically any genre. (If you’d like more information about playing/downloading, Check back -I’ll post a link when I get an opportunity to upload the relevant article.)

Probably the best, and most useful, player for beginners is VanBasco’s Karaoke Player. This plays .mid and .kar files. The .kar files have lyrics which can be displayed by the player. Volume, key and speed of playback can be adjusted and playlists created. This has lots of potential, both for home use and for use in community/classroom situations. On the VanBasco site, there is lots of helpful information, including how to combine playback with live recording of a vocal. It is a great place to begin an exploration of MIDI on the web. www.vanbasco.com

Click here for a free download!

Get vanBasco’s Karaoke Player NOW – totally FREE!

If you’re feeling more adventurous and you’d like to get into creating your own MIDI or Karaoke files, the free Anvil Studio software looks user-friendly. there are several ways of inputting music. Notes can be entered on a stave, by means of an onscreen music keyboard or guitar frets. It allows the mixing of MIDI and audio tracks. You can download it at www.AnvilStudio.com.

Kodaly and Wider Opportunities

I just saw an interesting announcement about a one-day workshop to be held in Bedford, England, on 4 February. It’s called ‘Wider Opportunities Through Kodaly’.

The composer, Zoltan Kodaly, revolutionised music education in Hungary (early 1900s) by developing a system of music education which started by helping young children to absorb the melodic and rhythmic characteristics of Hungarian folk music through singing and rhythmic activity and, as they grew, the musical materials to which they were exposed became gradually more complex, following the same developments that occurred in music history.

It’s always fascinating to analyse a great composition, to strip away the surface details and to see the universal musical ideas that give it structure and emotional appeal. The Kodaly approach encourages an intuitive involvement in music and young musicians who have been raised on Kodaly ideas frequently amaze audiences with their musical maturity.

It’s not unusual for these virtuoso young performers to share a platform with very young children, who are involved in the performance by means of the simple ideas on which the piece is constructed. Similarly, the composer, Paul Nordoff, developed ways of involving children with autism and other special needs. These are examples of what I was trying to express (very badly!) in my last blog. It’s a good job that music has no need of words to make its meaning clear!

For details of the Kodaly workshop, visit www.waterhouse-music.co.uk

Music and Communication

Do you like my new blog template! Many thanks to Patricia Muller for this! (see link at foot of page) It’s called “Connections.” I love the graphic, which seems so richly symbolic. I may change it when I integrate this blog with my website but, for now, I’m greatly enjoying it.

Connections/communications are, of course, what a blog is all about. They’re also what music is all about. In a shared experience of music, diverse people can be connected to one another in a way that transcends barriers of language, intellectual ability and life experience. This is why I’m writing this blog and why I’ve spent most of my available time over the last four years running a website aimed at promoting creative and inclusive music. Someone asked me recently, “There’s a lot of mention of inclusive music on your site, but what does it mean?”

‘Inclusion’is a somewhat ‘dirty’ word, at the moment: people have come to equate the term with a political correctness that insists that everyone must be able to do the same thing, at the same time. I certainly don’t mean that ‘high-flyers’ should have their wings clipped and be held back by the pace of slow-learners, nor do I mean that those who need special provision should be placed in a mainstream setting when this has a negative effect on their performance or on that of the majority.

What do I mean, then? Well, the glorious truth is that in music people can participate or respond, each on their own personal level. As a teacher and facilitator, I have been responsible for providing music-making opportunities for adults, including former professional musicians who have been struck down by disability and, at the other end of the spectrum, for young children, and for younsters with profound and multiple learning difficulties. I found that I could use the same musical materials with all of them. It was as though the music were stored in a box, to which each had an individual code and it was my job to help them open the box. There was no need for ‘special’ music and it was impossible to predict what their preferences would be.

Yes, music is a great way in which to connect with people and the web is a great meeting place in which these connections can be made. Blog on!

(In case you’re as new to this as I am, to leave a comment, click on ‘0 Comments’ or ‘xx Comments’ at the top of this post and you will find the submission form. I look forward to connecting with you!)

Virtual Instruments

I bought myself a great Christmas present – a copy of Garritan’s ‘Personal Orchestra’. The sounds of each instrument of the orchestra, plus a Steinway piano, have been sampled for this software, which can be used to play the music recorded into sequencers and notation programs. It’s great to hear my music for violin and piano played on a Stradivarius and a Steinway!

With a MIDI keyboard, or other MIDI-enabled controller connected, ‘Personal Orchestra’ can also be played ‘live’ and it’s really motivating to explore ideas when the auditory feedback is so good! It’s reminded me of the importance of putting good quality, and well-tuned,  instruments into the hands of beginners.

I’d be the last person to suggest that a prospective instrumentalist should play at a computer if they have access to a real instrument of appropriate quality and have some realistic prospect of learning to play it. I’m sure, though, that many would achieve greater musical satisfaction and development by by working with virtual instruments. Never having played the violin, to date, I’m too old, and have too little available time, to have any real hope of becoming the violinist I can hear playing in my imagination but, with this software, it wouldn’t seem such an outlandish idea.

Computer-based resources can often be accessed by disabled people using special access systems. On the Garritan website, there are examples of ways in which the, Edinburgh-based,  Drake Music Project is using Garritan virtual instruments with disabled players ( http://garritan.com/drake.html ). One is a recording of an 18-year old woman with cerebral palsy realising her dream to play Massenet’s “Meditation”. She is using the Garritan Stradivari Solo Violin with E-Scape software developed by the Drake Music Project. (http://www.garritan.com/mp3/Rhona-Massenet.mp3).

Improvisers Unite!

I’ve only been blogging for a few days and I’ve been delighted to find how quickly a focus on this type of activity has opened up new links. On a blog by Argancel, I found this great introduction to tagging bookmarks on del.icio.us,”Bookmarks online and Web 2.00“. He was suggesting that those interested in improvisation adopt a common tagging system to share the interesting articles and sites they come across. this seems like a really helpful suggestion. There are so many different ways of improvising and it’s a subject which of its nature defies formal classification and eludes many searches which depend on titles. Argancel is particularly interested in piano improvisation, whilst my focus is on ways into improvisation for beginners. I’ve never visited del.icio.us but I’m certainly going to check it out, at the earliest opportunity. Thanks, Argancel!

Adults Starting/Resuming Music Lessons

As a new year dawns and thoughts turn to fresh starts and new experiences, many re-discover the desire to learn a musical instrument. Some may have had lessons as children and long regretted their lack of perseverance. Some may even have preserved their desire to make music in spite of put-downs and discouragement. Deep down, they have a sense that music is too important a part of themselves to give up on.

Learning a musical instrument is not like learning to drive or to master long-division: we feel that our music is so much part of us that it’s hard not to feel personally rejected when someone is negative about our music-making. Teachers have big responsibilities and a lot to answer for!

Yes, it’s scary for an adult to go looking for a music teacher and it’s something they like to plan carefully. It’s good to know that there is a website where every aspect of taking up an instrument and finding a teacher can be considered: “Pay the Piper”, at http://www.paythepiper.co.uk, looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each instrument, how to get lessons, how to practise, measuring your progress, how much it will cost – everything the prospective pupil needs to know!