Milo meets Beethoven

For his birthday, Milo got a book called Welcome to the Symphony by Carolyn Sloan. We finally got around to showing it to him recently, and now he’s totally obsessed.

Welcome To The Symphony by Carolyn Sloan

The book has buttons along the side which you can press to hear little audio samples. They include each orchestra instrument playing a short Beethoven riff. All of the string instruments play the same “bum-bum-bum-BUMMM” so you can compare the sounds easily. All the winds play a different little phrase, and the brass another. The book itself is fine and all, but the thing that really hooked Milo is triggering the riffs one after another, Ableton-style, and singing merrily along.

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My music education

I’m writing a chapter of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Technology and Music Education. Here’s a section of what I wrote, about my own music learning experiences.

Most of my music education has happened outside of the classroom. It has come about intentionally, through lessons and disciplined practice, and it has come about unintentionally, through osmosis or accidental discovery. There has been no separation between my creative practice, my learning, and my teaching.

My formal music education has been a mixed bag. In elementary school, I did garden-variety general music, with recorders and diatonic xylophones. I don’t remember enjoying or not enjoying it in particular. I engaged more deeply with the music my family listened to at home: classical and jazz on public radio; the Beatles, Paul Simon and Motown otherwise. Like every member of my age cohort, I listened to a lot of Michael Jackson, and because I grew up in New York City, I absorbed some hip-hop as well.

In middle school we started on traditional classical music. I chose the cello, for no good reason except that I had braces and so was steered away from wind instruments. I liked the instrument, and still do, but the cello parts in basic-level Baroque music are mostly sawing away at quarter notes, and I lost interest quickly. Singing showtunes in chorus didn’t hold much appeal for me either, and I abandoned formal music as soon as I was able.

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What’s up with Ethan

Here’s a quick update on what is going on in my life. First, most importantly: Milo is walking but not yet talking; he’s waving, but not yet high-fiving; he’s eating with a spoon, but only getting the food into his mouth two thirds of the time. He’s totally delightful.

Milo in the playground

Since I graduated from the NYU Music Technology program in January, I’ve been mainly working as a researcher for the NYU Music Experience Design Lab, under the leadership of Alex Ruthmann. The major project we’ve been doing has been an online audio production course focusing on the music of Peter Gabriel. It launches May 16th, and it’s going to be a wildly futuristic experience for everyone involved. Click the image below to learn more and sign up. Did I mention it was free?

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Tabla Breakbeat Science

Update: we’re working on an album. Listen to it here.

Last semester I did a project for my psychology of music class that studied the way people clap to funk/dance music. I was testing to see whether my subjects knew to clap on the backbeats or not. I didn’t give them any prompting as to how they were supposed to clap, and most people did their best to clap to the beat one way or another. The most interesting response came from my buddy Shashank, a classically trained tabla player from Bangalore. There are plenty of Indian musicians at NYU, but most of them are culturally very western — a lot of them play metal, and you’d think they were from suburban New Jersey if you didn’t know otherwise. Shashank, on the other hand, has had close to zero exposure to western music. He attempted to clap tabla patterns over the beats in my study, with strange and interesting results.

After the project was over, I thought it would be cool to hear Shashank improvise on the tabla over various classic breakbeats. We did a couple of recording sessions, and they were a lot of fun.

Tabla Breakbeat Study recording session

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Where I’m at

Update: I now have a functioning prototype of my thesis app. If you’d like to try it, get in touch.

Hi internet friends. Just wanted to give a quick summary of what’s going on with me at the moment, if you’re interested.

The most important thing going on with me is, of course, my son Milo. He’s starting to eat solid food now, grabbing and holding onto things, and generally lighting up the universe with his radiant adorableness.

Waiting to board the plane

The other big thing is that I’m graduating from NYU’s Music Technology program this December. I’m done with everything except for my thesis and a little light mopping up.

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My top five SoundCloud tracks

The internet has spoken! These are the tracks of mine that you like the best, in order of listens. It comes as no surprise to me that three of them involve Michael Jackson, and two involve the Beatles.

Wanna Be Startin’ Something megamix by ethanhein

Bitter Sweet Symphony Megamix by ethanhein

Human Nature Megamix by ethanhein

Prudence Never Can Say Goodbye by ethanhein

Na Na Na Na by ethanhein

How do you have a career as a musician?

The odds of your making a living performing your own material are small, vanishingly small. But there are a lot of ways to make a living in music. If you do succeed at the singer-songwriter path using the tips listed in the other answers, mazel tov. In the likelihood that the singer-songwriter-musician thing doesn’t pay the bills, ask yourself which aspects of the music world you like and which you don’t. That will help you broaden your options and make it likelier you’ll wind up doing work you enjoy.

I have one friend who’s a full-time professional singer-songwriter, touring on the lesbian folk circuit. She puts out albums once in a while but those aren’t a major source of revenue; they seem mostly to serve as souvenirs from her gigs. She supplements her touring income with some freelance non-musical work around the sides. Her life is possible because a) she’s just unbelievably good at what she does, b) she’s well-connected to a warm circle of fellow singer-songwriters who form a mutually supportive scene, and c) she doesn’t mind living on the road for long spans of time. I did a little light touring with a band that she was also in, and it just killed me. I couldn’t take it, even for a few days at a time. I need to be close to home. So no touring musician life for me.

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Blues for the Jews

December is always a complex month for half-Jewish mutts like me. When pressured to self-identify, I usually just go with “Jewish” for the sake of simplicity, but this is in spite of not having being bar mitzvahed, not knowing any Hebrew, having only the vaguest idea what all the holidays and rituals mean, and having no relationship whatsoever with God.

My mom is Jewish, so that’s enough for the tribe to have welcomed me as one of their own, but it’s a complex question as to what that membership means. Wikipedia has two separate articles for Judaism and Jews, to distinguish the religion from the ethnicity, and I definitely belong to the ethnicity more than the religion.

My most significant personal connection to the tribe, aside from family Passover seders and Seinfeld appreciation, has come through music, specifically klezmer music. I may not know my way around the Torah, but I know my harmonic minor modes inside and out.

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