Category Archives: Technology

Making the most of music notation

One of the advantages of Google Reader is that it can draw your attention to something you’d otherwise have missed – such as Tom Rudolph‘s Berklee Music Blog entitled Making The Most of Music Notation. To date there are seven posts – all very informative and intelligently set out with many useful hyperlinks. I’d recommend this blog – especially to those starting out in the the field of music notation technology.

And it’s a wrap!

I was asked recently about the benefits for pupils of being recorded – and those recordings being posted on this blog. Normally the answers would be fairly straightforward:it allows people who don’t normally access our lessons a chance to hear them play – peers, family, distant relatives, class teachers, management, the general public etc.

  • it provides a deadline by which pupils are meant to have arrived at a polished performance
  • it allows more performance opportunities than the normal diet of concerts could allow
  • it provides a record of work

However, as this question followed hot on the heels of a recording session, some benefits of the recording session itself (as opposed to the broadcast) sprang to mind:

  • the pressure of being recorded promotes a focus and concentration not easily summoned up in weekly lesson
  • although the option of a second take exists (unlike concerts) nobody really wants to do this and the red light always feels special
  • the moment of truth allows pupils to experience the difference between thinking a performance was ready and realising that, under pressure, it is not quite as ready as it seemed – this all happens in a friendly atmosphere and no recordings are posted without the agreement of all concerned – pupils are invited to suggest a date when a replacement recording might be made
  • when a pupil in a group lesson is recording a solo, the others learn that part of teamwork sometimes means simply taking a back seat

Zoom H2

Anyone who is a regular on this blog may have noticed that the last few posts of the term pointed to new mp3s of pupils playing. The reason for this sudden increase in recording activity was that I received as a gift a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. It is handy not least because it fits in the inside pocket of a suit jacket!

Previous recordings had been done on a mini disc recorder and, while the recording quality was very high, so too was the faff factor:

  • record item(s) – which had to stay on the recorder until I got home, as there was no USB interface
  • transfer recording(s) in real time into a wave editing program at home
  • take the opportunity while there to cut out any extra run-in/run-out time, add fade-outs etc.
  • convert the wav files to mp3 in iTunes – ensuring that I had set (in Preferences) the importing to mp3 and not AAC (Advanced Audio Coding – Apple’s own format) which was not, at that time, WordPress compatible.
  • post to the blog

Now, I don’t see it as my job to advertise the Zoom H2 on behalf of its makers, but I would like to flag up some benefits for the educational user:

  • as soon as a recording is finished, simply plug into speakers and press play – no need to rake around looking for it – far less, return home and reformat. Pupils like to hear their work as soon as possible and this couldn’t be easier
  • the recording quality is very high
  • there are many choices* to allow one to offset quality of recording (sampling, bit-rate etc.) against practical factors (file size, upload time etc.)
  • you can record straight to mp3 to save converting later
  • where you’ve recorded to wav and then realise that you’re going to need more space on the 512 Mb SD card (provided) before you are going to have access to a computer, you can convert from wav to mp3 on the H2
  • the H2 can be powered by mains (adaptor included) or battery – more suitable when restricted access to power points prevents the ideal placement of the H2 – a low battery warning appears to save you losing a great performance – I pushed this to the limit recently and was able to make many more recordings after the initial warning had appeared – although this would probably not be the behaviour of a professional journalist
  • you can store recordings in one of eight folders – which helps to avoid confusion when pupils in different schools are recording the same item
  • once connected to a computer, you can turn off and save battery power as the H2 is then power through the USB connection
  • the H2, once connected to a computer, functions like any other external drive – this allows you, for example, to change the file names from STE 000; STE 001 etc. to something more meaningful like Mhairi – Wedding Song. These names, once applied, will then appear on the H2
  • when connected by USB the H2, where preferred, can act as an external mic and record to programs such as Audacity – this may be an easier way to keep an eye on levels
  • recording level is initially set by choosing one of 3 mic gain settings – and thereafter by adjusting the level numerically, while keeping an eye on the level indicators
  • where it turns out that the performance was not as loud as testing suggested, you can amplify after recording – on the H2 or later
  • long performances/discussions/interviews can be split into sections (which them become separate files) on the H2
  • there are 3 recording modes (90 degrees for a solo player/speaker; 180 degrees for a linear ensemble/panel of speakers; surround – ideal for small, circular ensemble/class discussion etc.
  • using the line-in function, you can record listen again programmes
  • additional features include: guitar/bass tuner; metronome; tripod (to allow the H2 to stand on a stool, desk etc); mic stand attachment; headphones; foam protector (to reduce wind noise when recording out of doors); small canvas carrying bag (to prevent scratches on the display)
  • software updates can be downloaded to the SD card and will be taken on board the next time it is inserted

There are many more features I’ve yet to explore and there are also many rival products which come in a good deal cheaper than the H2 but, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this had been designed with the educational user in mind.

* range of recording qualities

  • wav44.1kHz/16bit
  • wav44.1kHz/24bit
  • wav48kHz/16bit
  • wav48kHz/24bit
  • wav96kHz/16bit
  • wav96kHz/24bit
  • mp3 48k; 56k; 80k; 96k; 112k; 128k; 160k; 192k; 224k; 256k; 320k;
  • mp3 VBR (variable bit rate – where the sampling rate varies according to what is being played – presumably a narrower range of frequencies – including spoken word and silences – would require less information to be processed – thereby reducing file size)