New Music School for Songwriters

I know scarcely anything about pop music and I certainly don’t intend to spend my time trying to write a hit song! I am, though, fascinated to find out what makes other composers ‘tick’ and I endeavour to support and encourage those just setting out on their creative journey, whatever road they may take. Thus it was that I found myself attending an “Introduction to Songwriting” day with The Songwriting Academy, founded last year by Martin Sutton. I thought it would be a bit of fun and interesting – an innocent bit of ‘me’ time. I was surprised to find my day was also motivating and personally enriching. I came away feeling a little envious of young songwriters who can look to the Academy to set them on their chosen path!

Those of you who do know something about the pop scene may be aware that Martin Sutton is himself a multi-platinum selling songwriter and producer. He has brought together a team of award-winning writers who have sold over 200 million records for well-known artists. From their collective experience of writing for the world’s charts, they have developed a system of learning to guide the student “from the spark of creation to producing a
record ready for the charts.”

Having experienced Martin’s “Introduction”, I am sure the  team will deliver. Course providers, especially in such a commercial arena, are often careful not to give too much away at a first encounter, but that is clearly not Martin’s way. He packed into the day as much information and experience as was feasible. I recognised a kindred spirit, passionate about sharing and enabling. In other words, a committed  teacher. In music, we must grow and live out our learning and that is what the Academy’s team of “publishers, record labels, managers, agents, lawyers, accountants and song pluggers” will facilitate for lucky students.

To find out more, visit www.thesongwritingacademy.co.uk

Sol-fa Syllables for Some Major Scales

Here is another screen capture from the free “Learn Tonic Solfa with GridPlay” software. This grid allows you to play the notes of four major scales on a modulator which is labelled with both letter names and sol-fa syllables:

solfamajscales

The various grids included in the software present scales in different inversions for different learning situations. For example, simple songs often use a range from low ‘so’ to the ‘mi’ above the tonic.

Ashampoo_Snap_2015.02.02_17h28m54s_007_GridPlay- -MRDTLSx4-grd-

Teachers could edit these grids in the parent program, MIDIgrid, to add other keys or ranges.

Below is a PDF file showing both sol-fa symbols (Kodaly) and notation for several major scales:

Solfa and notation

Support for Non-specialist Music Teachers

One way in which I try to achieve the Full Pitcher aim of widening music access is by supporting non-specialist teachers through resources made available on the website. This includes online playback of all the music, simple software to deliver my own teaching materials and activities, tried and tested over a long career teaching a wide range of ages and abilities (my avatar photo has been around for a while! ), classroom projects, creative activities for children, songs to share

Online Music
Online playback enables teachers, unable to read music or play an instrument, to learn new repertoire. Where they are able to access the internet in the classroom, they can explore the online activities with pupils and use the playback as accompaniments. The website is available worldwide, 24/7, and this is particularly helpful where teachers are working in isolated or poorly resourced settings. The music is available as pdf downloads, of which a significant proportion are free. If the music is too high, too low, or needed notated for a different instrument, I am happy to respond to requests for adaptation.

Creative Software
GridPlay is a non-editable version of MIDIgrid, a remarkable piece of authoring software, which I have used to support my own teaching, from pre-school to adult education and with all abilities. GridPlay Level 1 (3-7) Level 2 (8+) and Carers/Teachers (severe special needs) are not prepackaged lesson plans, suitable only for one situation, on one occasion. Rather they are ‘tool boxes’ of repertoire, virtual instruments and activities which have resourced my own teaching and which I now make available to others.

Inspiring Confidence
As I have done all the work ‘behind the scenes’, it is not necessary to have any special knowledge of computers or music to get ‘hands on’ with the software although, of course, some musical experience can enable wider application. Nor are these intended just for use seated around the computer, although they can be used in that way. The accompanying e-books  suggest how each activity can be carried out away from the computer and integrated with singing and acoustic instruments.  The latter is the preferred way of using the resources. GridPlay Creative Explorations Level 1 and Level 2 comprise virtual instruments, lyrics of songs, some with sheet music and all with backing tracks, teacher notes suggesting individual and class activities for each grid.

Songs and Activities
T
here are numerous songs  for which lyrics and playback are provided online,often associated with free PDF free downloads. These songs, located on the Seasonal and Kids’ Pages of the website, are all accompanied by simple creative activities.

Classroom Projects:
The “Creative Classroom” projects pages cover all key stages. There are also teacher notes for non-specialist teachers with copious suggestions for using the Easy/Classrooms Ensembles  as a basis for improvisation.

Why Non-Techie Teachers/Amateur Singers Should Download This Software

Now, here’s an offer that has potential for many musicians! Most would like to be able to create their own scores if it didn’t mean spending weeks learning to use software and parting with wads of hard-earned cash. To celebrate the 500,000th installation of their software, FORTE Music Notation are, for a limited time, giving away the Basic version of their software.Basic is readily accessible by beginners dipping a toe in for the first time, while more advanced versions are powerfully featured in the hands of more experienced users. But, even for those who don’t actually want to create scores from scratch, it has other useful functions.

Singers in amateur choirs often need support to learn their parts and there are several websites which provide free MIDI files for this purpose. FORTE will import these files and display them in notation and then afford various ways to customise them. Providing they have been recorded as type 1 MIDI, as they are on most choral sites, each voice will be displayed as a separate track. Clicking on ‘Mixer; opens the volume control for each track, so the desired voice can be brought out. it is especially effective if a different instrumental sound is used for each voice, which is done by selecting in this sequence: Home – Mixer- Click on track – Properties – Instrument. On the right hand side of the MIxer ribbon is the Master Volume and a tempo slider, so playback can also be slowed down at the same time. Singers can improve sight-singing as they follow the cursor through their part, as the music plays back.

MIDI files can be very useful for the music teacher, particularly in providing accompaniments. Available audio files are often not in the appropriate key and are usually too fast for instrumentalists. In FORTE, MIDI files can be very quickly transposed to any key and this is shown in the introductory video. Tempo sliders are found in the Mixer, Playback and Record ribbons. As described for singers, the volume of each part can be adjusted in the Mixer, to support a particular voice or instrument.

Rounds and repeated accompaniments/ riffs often feature in music lessons and these can be quickly entered in FORTE using copy and paste, as demonstrated in the introductory video. .They can then be assigned distinctive instrumental timbres to facilitate learning of parts.

There are numerous pieces in the program’s library – folk songs, music by a range of classical composers, hymn tunes, etc.These constitute a useful resource for sight-reading and study. They can be printed out for performance, orchestration and arrangement.

All in all, not a bad package for free!!! So get your hands on this lovely gift and share it with your friends. FORTE Basic is available as a free download until 14th September from http://www.fortenotation.com/en/lp/giveaway/

For more information about MIDI files, see http://fullpitcher.co.uk/midifun.htm

Have fun!

The Joy of a Community Musical

I spent yesterday at an event that clearly underlined how rewarding and joyful inclusive music-making can be! I arrived at 10.15 for a 10.30 start on a workshop preparation of ‘The Haslemere Highwayman’ to find that some early birds were already eagerly getting the feel of the perfoming space in the St. Bartholomew’s Church. A core team from the cast, which aged from 3-87 and included children from the primary school, members of the church choir and local talent from other choirs and amateur dramatic societies, had done some work on learning the songs and principal roles. At the designated time, they would be joined by anyone who cared to come in and take part.

The daunting task of rehearsing this motley crew for a Haslemere Festival performance in the evening fell to composer Stella Coussell and musical director Clive Osgood, assisted with props and slick stage management by Zoë Clarke. Except that this talented trio didn’t appear to be in the least daunted! There were lots of songs with catchy tunes and lyrics, as well as more challenging music for experienced singers. At the evening performance, there was also plenty of opportunity for audience participation, with Zoë holding up large cue cards.Stella drew great performances from the younger cast members, who rehearsed all day with amazing enthusiasm and concentration, tribute to the engaging quality of both her writing and direction!

The story goes that the the Haslemere Rector in the 1790s was also a highwayman: Well, a pile of brass tags from stolen mail sacks were found in the house of Rector, James Fielding, so he must have been! After much research, composer and librettist, Stella Coussell, deftly wove this tale together with others from local history and legend to create an exciting and atmospheric storyline. This embraced, amongst other things, the Great Storm of 1795, which was recreated by Clive Osgood on the organ, with enthusiastic sound effects from the audience. Everyone was challenged and successful, the ‘goodies’ in the story triumphed and it had a romantic ending – what more could one ask? Thanks, Stella, for a great day!

Teaching Tonic Sol-fa and Standard Notation Simultaneously

Some years ago, a group of music educators who were great fans of John Curwen’s sol-fa method, developed in Victorian times, founded the Curwen Institute and one of them, William Swinburne, wrote a book, through which they hoped to renew the use of sol-fa in UK schools by teaching the method in parallel with notation.This was the “New Curwen Method”, published by Stainer and Bell. Sadly, it looks as though the venture wasn’t well supported and the Institute seems to have disappeared (as its founders have aged or died?). I believe that the book is now out of print but there are copies available from Amazon. It was based on the idea of teaching with a giant stave on a whiteboard against which the teacher would form the sol-fa hand signs. Doh (Do in Kodaly system) would be marked with a square at the beginning of the stave. Kodaly’s system was also a development of John Curwen’s ideas. In the Kodaly method, pupils initially learn to read from rhythmic stick notation with the first letter of the sol-fa syllable under it. It is possible to combine the two by writing sol-fa letters on a stave, with stems and dots to indicate rhythm.  “The Kodaly Method” by Lois Choksy, published by Prentice Hall. has  an appendix of songs in progressive order, in addition to examples of stick notation and hand signs.
 
In my  free software Learn Tonic Sol-fa With GridPlay, described on this blog, I try, in some grids, to parallel the New Curwen Method by writing the sol-fa syllables on a modulator which is as close as I can get to a musical stave. The pitches of these syllables can be ‘played’ with the mouse, so the user can check  pitch accuracy when singing from the syllables.
Ashampoo_Snap_2015.02.02_16h12m17s_003_
This example is in C Major but the layout of the grid could be used as a template for other keys.
 The software also includes fully chromatic C-based ‘notation’ grids in different registers.
Several posts on my blog deal with aspects of tonic sol-fa, so if you don’t see what you want in this post, check the ‘Category’ menu in the sidebar for more on this subject.

Adding Music From CD to iPad, for Beginners

As promised, in this post I will describe adding the music from a CD to the iPad music folder in the simplest, most direct way I can.

Many people now have an iPad as their sole computing device because it’s a supremely simple and portable way to access the things computers are most commonly used for. However, it doesn’t have a fraction of the functionality of a laptop unless you can hook it up to a computer to manage content! So, to add the music from a CD, we must obtain access to a computer running iTunes software (PC or Mac) and  a CD drive:

1. Connect iPad to the USB port of the computer.

2, Open ITunes software and login with the Apple ID used on the iPad.

3. Click on “My Music Tab” to open the music library for the account.

4. Insert an audio  CD

   -A message will appear asking you to confirm that you wish to add all the tracks on the CD to the library.

Either
5. Click on “Yes” to import the entire CD

         – iTunes imports all tracks from the the CD into an ‘Album’ of the same name.

Or
6. Click on “No” to select individual tracks. (Remember that audio files can take up a lot of storage space)

     In the list of tracks, untick all the tracks you do not wish to import. Then click on Import CD (top right of window)

      – iTunes imports just selected tracks from the the CD into an ‘Album’ of the same name.

 

7.  Start to drag the Album to the left – a list of places will appear to which it can be added. Drag it to the named iPad      and release.

     -iTunes adds the Album to the music folder on the iPad

 

So that’s it! Of course, we could have imported the audio with lots of changes of settings but the beginner should just accept the defaults.

 

To add a file to the from the computer to the iPad’s music folder:

1. Open the drop down file menu and select “Add File to Library”

2. Navigate to the file, select it and click “Open”

    -iTunes adds it to the list of “Songs” in the Library

3. From the Song list, start to drag the file to the left

   – a list of places to which you can add it appears

4, Drag the file to the named iPad in the list of locations and release

    -iTunes adds the file to the music folder on the iPad

(Change from ‘Album’ view to ‘Song’ view in the drop down menu, top right of ‘My Music’ window).

iPad Music Accompaniments for Novice Users

Are you a singer or instrumentalist who would like to play accompaniments/ backing tracks on your iPad but don’t know where to start? If so, fear not because here are some simple free, or low cost, apps to get you started:

Many music books now come with audio cds of performance and accompaniment tracks but more and more we are finding that we want to make music away from the home audio system and the iPad has the potential to be a great music player. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that most pupils never use the cds that came with their books. Apart from the inconvenience of needing access to the audio system, I think this is generally because the playback is too fast. With the apps I introduce here it is simple to change the speed, or key, of a piece. There are also more sophisticated ways to personalise playback but I will leave those to a future post.

The simplest way of controlling accompaniment recordings has to be Jam Player   from Positive Grid.

What you see here is exactly what you get – wheels to control pitch, speed and volume and create a simple loop to repeat a section.

Another great player for the novice is AudioStretch from Cognosonic Pte Ltd The free Lite version has some limitations – pitch can only be shifted -2 to +2 steps and tempo control is from 60% to 100%. In other respects, it functions in just the same way as the full version. Again, the controls are very clearly set out:

 

Either of these apps will load music from your i-Tunes library. You can also use the ‘Open In’ option for Safari downloads or Mail to import files into AudioStretch.

“But, how do I get the music from my CD into i-Tunes on the i-Pad?” you may well ask. This ridiculous process is a source of great frustration to me, too! I will cover it in my next post.

Family and Group Music Making

 

Activities shared by the whole family are the stuff of precious memories. And creative activities, in particular, are a potent way to build a strong family or group identity. At the present time, there is an ever-growing awareness amongst parents and educators of the many extra-musical benefits of children’s involvement in music. Sadly, though, the importance of the social milieu in which music is experienced is usually overlooked. Unless children observe that their parents and teachers are also emotionally involved with the music and value it themselves, only the most dedicated will sustain motivation. It isn’t necessary for adults to be skilled or knowledgeable musicians to enthuse youngsters, only to join them on their musical journey.

Computers have often been blamed for causing fragmentation in family life and encouraging children to spend long periods in isolation. But computers don’t have to be isolating. Today, there are many interactive applications that can simultaneously engage the interest of users with very different levels of knowledge and skill.

On The Full Pitcher website, we make suggestions for using our online music scores as the focus of activities shared by groups of mixed age and ability. The same principle is applied in our GridPlay software. One, of many examples, is the arrangement, ‘One Man Went to Mow’, on the Summer Music page. In this, the written parts are for experienced instrumentalists. However, the very simple tune of the song can be substituted for any of these parts. It is an easy song to sing and there are suggestions for involving a very young, or disabled child.

Often, lyrics and playback are available online for ensemble arrangements. When one or more members of the group plays an instrument the parts can be downloaded at very modest cost and they can play along with the online track. Our tuneful downloads for beginners on flute, clarinet, recorder, violin and cello have very simple piano accompaniments so that elementary pianists can enjoy ensemble playing from an early stage. Those parents who wish they hadn’t given up on the piano may find these arrangements a way back in!

Most music is flexibly arranged, with optional parts suitable for beginners and for the basic instruments most likely to be available. Suggestions are often made about ‘how to improvise with this piece’. Sometimes a lot of mystique surrounds the improvisation of music and people often think it requires lots of skills they couldn’t hope to have! In truth, it is a very natural thing to do. We improvise all the time in various aspects of our daily lives and music is, really no different. It has been said that all we need to improvise is ‘the courage to move from one note to the next’. What better way is there to develop the confidence and self-trust, necessary to explore,  than just ‘having a go’ and learning to improvise together in the accepting and sharing environment of the family circle?

Families with disabled members should be aware of our custom arrange & print service. We are very happy to supply custom-arranged prints to meet the needs of would-be musicians with disabilities that prevent the playing of conventional instruments, or who must play them in unconventional ways. Of course, a person doesn’t need to be disabled to play an unusual instrument!

We want our resources to be accessible for all so, if you need something different, please ask. If you simply want the music transposed to a different key, we will usually request that you purchase the standard version and then we will email you a custom part free of charge. If you want something more complicated like an arrangement for an Allcomers orchestra, we will charge a modest fee.

These are some of the places on our website to mine for family-friendly materials:

Kids’ Pages
Creative activities for parents and teachers to share with children age 3-7 (Level 1) and 8+ (level 2).

Seasonal Fun
Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas pages have lyrics, audio and melody parts for a seasonal selection of our Miscellaneous Scores, together with activities to share with family, friends or classmates. Downloads of ensemble arrangements can be purchased from the Miscellaneous page.

Music for Beginners
Our music downloads for beginners on flute, recorder, clarinet, violin and cello have very simple, but satisfying, piano accompaniments to enable those with elementary piano-playing skills to join the beginner in an ensemble experience, right from the start. These could be a way back in for those parents who regret abandoning the piano as teenagers, as so many do!

Miscellaneous Scores
On this page full ensemble arrangements of many pieces which feature on Kids Pages and Seasonal Fun pages will be found, as well as any other downloads for which we do not have a dedicated page.

 

Our family-friendly software:

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level
Activities to share with younger children. No previous musical knowledge is required to start exploring. the included ebook has lots of ideas with which to get started.

GridPlay: Creative Explorations Level 2

Explore and improvise, right away. even if you do not play an instrument or read music. These grids have been used from age 8-Adult. The included ebook contains words and music for many songs, in addition to copious activity suggestions.

GridPlay for Teachers/Carers
Songs and activities to make music with friends and family, however severely disabled

 

 

New Chidren’s Music Activity Page

The latest addition to our ‘Kids’ Pages’ of creative approach music activities is a traditional 3-part round. Words and music are given for both C and Bb instruments, with suggestions for learning and performing the song. A jukebox presents audio files for unison and 3-part versions and each section repeated as an ostinato.  It is hoped that children will also create their own ostinato accompaniments. Readers of my earlier post on Singing Rounds in The Classroom who downloaded the materials to which it linked may find this page a useful additional resource.

The Level 2 Kids’ Pages, of which this is an example, are directly addressed to children but, as with all our resources, we really hope that parents and teachers will explore and share music with the youngsters. We can’t overestimate the value of such shared activity!

Sing Together – A Round