Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Professing, Middle Fingers and Taoism

Students from the music school sometimes see me out in public (like in Sam's club as I'm getting socks). This one student walked by, smiled and said, "Hi, Professor."

It's my seventh year at USC and 10th year teaching college full time and, still, it is disconcerting when someone calls me "professor."

I guess it's nice for my ego. Certainly I've learned a lot and I think I share it well. Still, I've never been comfortable as a big authority figure.

Sometimes my students are surprised when they mention a piece of music I don't know.

I learn from my students. I think that makes me a stronger teacher, not a weaker one.
Here are two new things my students have mentioned:

One of my students shared with me some comments about slide technique from an Alessi master class. As I understood it, Alessi was suggesting that the thumb shouldn't be too flexible. Instead it should be like an extension of the arm.

Another student just visited the Edwards trombone factory to buy a new horn. The factory rep talked about gripping the slide between the thumb and the middle finger (as opposed to the second finger). Apparently there is a tendon that leads through the arm directly to that middle finger. Therefore, one's slide placement should be more consistent.

I never thought much about how to hold the slide. I've always taught: a light grip and keep it comfortable. I even have a section on my bonezone website where I talk about all the "spring hinges" from the shoulder to the tips of the fingers. Hmm, I may have to revise that.

I hope I never stop learning from my students (or from any other source). As soon as I stop growing and learning, I need to get out of this business.

I need to reopen that copy of the Tao te Ching...

Here's one:

Knowing you don't know is wholeness.
Thinking you know is a disease.
Only by recognizing that you have an illness
can you move to seek a cure.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Droning Away

After years of struggle, it appears victory is at hand.
OK, maybe a little too dramatic but it has been years and it has been something of a struggle.

To the point..
Ever since I bought and started using the Bootcamp CD from Tune-Up Systems (http://www.tuneupsystems.com/) I have wanted to make a basic drone CD. Over the years I've tried many solutions with varying degrees of success.
Now, thanks to some freeware on the web, I'm close to a viable tuning CD. (Boring for you, maybe, but satisfying for me).
Here are the links for the freeware..
Wavepad Audio Editor: http://www.nch.com.au/wavepad/
NCH Tone Generator: http://www.nch.com.au/tonegen/index.html

I think they've even updated this software over the stuff I've downloaded and am using. Since you can set the tone generator to any frequency, it only takes some patience (well, a lot of patience) and a pocket calculator.
2:1 octave
3:2 perfect fifth (or multiply the root frequency by 1.5)
5:4 major third (or multiply the root frequency by 1.25)
10:4 major tenth (root times 2.5)
I haven't done the minor chords yet but the following math should work.
6:5 minor third (root times 1.2)
12:5 minor tenth (root times 2.4)

Basically, I set up the frequencies I want, record them in wave pad and then mix them together (an option listed under "edit" in wavepad).
A few other comments:
I preferred triangle waves.
On major chords, I mixed the higher voices in at less then 100% so they wouldn't dominate.
In wavepad, I ultimately decided to include multiple octaves of one tone in a single file.
Also, save the files as .wav format, not .mp3. Much higher quality (sadly, much larger file sizes too).

The end result: something to play along with to ensure you are in tune. In other words, tuning with the ears, not the eyes. A little thing, maybe, but worth it's weight in gold. Here's a brief ten-second example of a major chord:

Soon, I'll at least have a CD for my students to practice with. I'm still not sure what else to do with this project. The files are too large to post on the web. Commercial product? Free zip files?

I do think this is a valuable tool everyone should be using.