The MusEDLab will soon be launching a revamped version of the aQWERTYon with some enhancements to its visual design, including a new scale picker. Beyond our desire to make our stuff look cooler, the scale picker represents a challenge that we’ve struggled with since the earliest days of aQW development. On the one hand, we want to offer users a wide variety of intriguing and exotic scales to play with. On the other hand, our audience of beginner and intermediate musicians is likely to be horrified by a list of terms like “Lydian dominant mode.” I recently had the idea to represent all the scales as colorful icons, like so:
Read more about the rationale and process behind this change here. In this post, I’ll explain what the icons mean, and how they can someday become the basis for a set of new interactive music theory visualizations.
I have started working with a startup called Musicto, which creates playlists curated by humans around particular themes. For example: music to grieve to, music to clean house to, music to fight evil. My first playlist is music to sing your hipster baby to sleep.
These are songs I have been singing to my kids, and that I recommend you sing to yours. It isn’t just a playlist, though. Each track is accompanied by a short blog post explaining what’s so special about it. New tracks will be added regularly in the coming weeks. If you’d like, you can follow the playlist on Twitter. If this sounds like the kind of thing you might enjoy putting together, the company is seeking more curators.
I complain a lot on this blog about the traditional teaching of music theory. Fortunately, a better alternative exists: Everyday Tonality by Philip Tagg. Don’t be put off by the DIY look of the web site; the book is the single best explanation I know of for how harmony works across a broad spectrum of the world’s music.
The good people at Noteflight have started doing weekly challenges. I love constraint-based music prompts, like the ones in the Disquiet Junto, so I thought I would try this one: compose a piece of music using only four notes.
The music side of this wasn’t hard. My material tends not to use that many pitches anyway. If you really want to challenge me, tell me I can’t use any rhythmic subdivisions finer than a quarter note. Before you listen to my piece, though, let’s talk about this word, “compose.” When you write using notation, the presumption is that you’re creating a set of instructions for a human performer. However, actually getting your composition performed is a challenge, unless you have a band or ensemble at your disposal. I work in two music schools, and I would have a hard time making it happen. (When I have had my music performed, the musicians either used a prose score, learned by ear from a recording, or just improvised.) Noteflight’s target audience of kids in school are vanishingly unlikely to ever hear their work performed, or at least, performed well. Matt Mclean formed the Young Composers and Improvisers Workshop to address this problem, and he’s doing amazing work, but most Noteflight compositions will only ever exist within the computer.
Given this fact, I wanted to create a piece of music that would actually sound good when played back within Noteflight. This constraint turned out to be a significantly greater challenge than using four notes. I started with the Recycled Percussion instrument, and chose the notes B, E, F, and G, because they produce the coolest sounds. Then I layered in other sounds, chosen because they sound reasonably good. Here’s what I came up with: Continue reading
My son is deeply obsessed with Batman, like any four year old should be. His favorite articles of clothing include a Batman sweatshirt, Batman pajamas, and Batmobile-shaped slippers. When he plays Batman, he imagines his powers to include shooting bats out of his hands. And he loves the Batman theme song.
In fact, the boy loves this theme song so much that he insists I sing theme songs for all his other favorite superheroes. This is easy for Spider-man, who also has a great 60s vintage theme song. But I had to make up songs for Superman and Iron Man (which has meant improvising goofy lyrics to John Williams’ theme music and the riff from the Black Sabbath song, respectively.)
The only version of Batman that’s really age-appropriate for a four-year-old is the sixties one. This is just as well, because the late Adam West’s Batman is the best version all the way around.
Solange Knowles is Beyoncé’s artsier younger sister. “Cranes In The Sky” is her biggest hit so far. It manages the rare feat of being both extremely catchy and extremely weird.
Solange helpfully explains her songwriting process on the invaluable Song Exploder podcast.
One of our key design principles at the NYU MusEDLab is not to confront beginners with a blank canvas. We want to introduce people to our tools by giving them specific, real-world music to play around with. That was the motivation behind creating presets for the aQWERTYon, and a similar impulse informs Ableton’s approach to their online music tutorials. The Groove Pizza comes with some preset patterns (specials), but there aren’t direct prompts for creative beatmaking. This post introduces some prototype prompts.
Recently someone posted this performance of the chaconne from Bach’s violin partita in D minor on an eleven-string guitar.
My favorite interpretation by an actual violinist is Viktoria Mullova’s. I appreciate her straightforward approach, without all the romantic schmaltz.
I also enjoy the version from Morimur, and I’m not alone. This is one of the most popular classical albums of all time:
Ableton recently launched a delightful web site that teaches the basics of beatmaking, production and music theory using elegant interactives. If you’re interested in music education, creation, or user experience design, you owe it to yourself to try it out.
I’m currently working on a book chapter about the Disquiet Junto, the internet’s most innovative creative music community, run by author and blogging inspiration Marc Weidenbaum.
As part of my research, I conducted a survey of the Junto mailing list. Here’s a summary of the first 130 responses. Continue reading