Monday Mailbag – Making Custom Student Worksheets

What program do you use to create your worksheets and publications?

It may shock (or horrify!) some of you better designer-types to know this, but I create almost all of my worksheets and practice incentive materials in Microsoft Word. I’ve discovered that with the use of tables, you can accomplish just about anything in Word. That said, I do use a few other programs for other related purposes.

For more graphic intensive design work I use either Fireworks or Print Shop. There are probably some much better options out there, but I started using Print Shop when I was ten years old and am so familiar with it that it has remained my go-to software for design work. It’s a low-end program, inexpensive to purchase, and very intuitive. I started using Fireworks when I got into web design and have gotten comfortable enough with it that I often use it for print design work as well.

Whenever I’m creating worksheets that use portions of a musical staff/musical examples, I create the excerpts in Finale (when I bought Finale several years ago, I did a ton of research and the best price I found for it was the academic version at aabaca.com – I definitely recommend getting it there!) and then export them over to Microsoft Word. It’s amazing the things you can accomplish with most programs if you spend enough time scouring the help menus, searching the forums, and learning how to trick it into doing what you want. 🙂

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Finale Notepad Available for Free Download

According to the Finale blog, today is the day that you can get your copy of the new 2012 Finale Notepad – for free! After switching from a free version several years ago to a paid NotePad, I’m thrilled to know that Finale is now making this fabulous software available for free again. I have the full Finale version in the studio, but NotePad is a great starter level software for students who want to notate their own compositions.

HT: MusTech.net

Studio Website Advice Worth Hundreds of Dollars!

I don’t know how I missed this Powerhouse Website Suggestions post by David Cutler (author of The Savvy Musician) back in May because I love keeping up with everything he writes, but I’m glad to have recently come across it (via his latest newsletter – you can sign up for it on The Savvy Musician home page).

Anyway, if you are thinking about designing and launching a studio website, already have one and want to improve it, or are considering a complete revamp of your studio website, you can get hundreds of dollars worth of fabulous advice just by reading his post with links to existing websites and his critique of each one. My studio website is badly in need of a revamp, and I know I’ll be studying this collection of websites and suggestions as I develop my new site. In fact, just reading the post inspires me to get a move on with several redesign projects! Hopefully the Music Matters Blog revamp (that has taken forever!) will be done soon and I’ll be able to spend some time working on a new studio website.

Also, if you have a studio website and want to include it on the Studio Website Listing, just send me an e-mail with your studio location and website address and I’ll add it to the listing. This page of websites will be much more prominent in the new blog design!

Free YouTube to mp3 Converter

ManiacTools.com is my latest greatest find on the world wide web! 🙂 Tagged “The Best Music Tools,” you’ll find a treasure trove of helpful software programs for a variety of needs. I was impressed with their free m4a to mp3 converter, so I signed up for their newsletter to be alerted to new developments and additions.

They just released a free YouTube to mp3 Converter Studio that I’m super excited about! YouTube has become my go-to site for musical performances and I have often wished there was a good way to capture the audio for later listening. ManiacTools.com has made that wish come true! You can add multiple YouTube videos just by copying the links and then download them all simultaneously. By default, the downloads are saved to the My Music folder as an mp3, but you can change the output folder and also elect to download as a WAV file instead.

The program is intuitive and easy to navigate. And so far it works seamlessly!

iTouch Skype

Most of you know that earlier this year I took on a Skype student who lives in Germany. I am more and more amazed at the incredible technology we have right at our fingertips! For example, the other day just before our lesson was scheduled to start we had a severe thunderstorm going through our area. I had to shut down my computer, but thought I would try connecting with my student using the free Skype app for my new iPod Touch. And guess what?

It worked beautifully! Pretty cool, huh?!

Check Out My Latest Tech Toy!

Yes, it’s true. I am just now getting into the latest mobile technology. And really through no fault of my own. I’ve been contemplating the purchase of an iPod Touch or iPad for a while now, but hadn’t settled on which path to choose. The folks at YourVirtuoso.com made it easy for me. At the MTNA conference this year, one of the coupons in our little coupon book had info about their website with a link where you could visit and be entered in a drawing to win a free iPod Touch. I had completely forgotten about it until I got an e-mail last week saying that my name was drawn as the winner!

My beautiful 32GB, 4th Generation iPod Touch arrived at the end of the week and I’ve been in love ever since! 🙂 It’s been great fun exploring some of the available apps, synching it with my iTunes account, configuring all the settings, and using their new Facetime feature to chat with my sister across the country. So, so cool!

And now I’m trying to rack my brain and remember all the great apps that everyone has told me about over the past several months. Any suggestions? What are your favorite apps? Any fun music education ones that you like to use with your students? I can’t wait to put this to good use in my studio!

Monday Mailbag – Free Scale Chart and Tips for Making Your Own Progress Charts!

I am searching everywhere for a template for individual progress charts and a master to keep in the studio so all my students can see how everyone stands up. Any ideas?

Probably one of the most valuable skills I have learned on the computer is how to use tables to create forms and worksheets of all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s fully-customized assignment books (like I create for all the practice incentive themes), piano scale fingering diagrams, or simple charts (like these key signature charts), a good working knowledge of tables will help you get the job done!

Here’s a free scale and chord progress chart that you can download for use in your studio.

For those who are interested in having an editable template to start with to create their own charts, you can download the MS Word version of the scale and chord progress chart. The symbols may not render correctly (unless you have the Bach Musicological font installed on your computer), but it will at least give you a start with the table layout. Here are a few tips to help you along the way (for PC users):

  • To merge multiple cells into one cell, just highlight all the cells, right click the mouse, and select the “merge cells” option.
  • To change the type or thickness of the border (or to remove the border) around specific cells, highlight the cell, right click the mouse, and select the Borders and Shading option.
  • To change the size of the cells, just hover the mouse above the line you want to move until it has the double arrows and then click the left mouse button and drag the line to make the cell/row/column as big or small as you want it. You can also specify exact dimensions using the Table Properties option when you right click the mouse while hovering over the highlighted cells.
  • All of the table options are also accessible by clicking on the Table option at the top of the screen when you have highlighted the table or a portion of the table. Experimentation is often the best way to figure out how to best utilize all the options!

If you’ve never worked with tables before, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but every minute you spend to experiment, learn, and create, is well worth it. Consider it an investment with guaranteed returns as you find yourself creating all sorts of great-looking and well-designed materials for use in your studio!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Review and Giveaway of Recording on a Budget by Brent Edstrom

For years I wanted to learn the secret to making CD recordings of my students’ playing. I searched and searched on-line, talked with various techy people at workshops, and scoured bookstores looking for the answer. I knew there had to be a simple answer somewhere, but it eluded me at every turn. Then finally, one day I discovered a free audio recording software through a friend, and a few steps later my first “recording studio” was in business! The post in which I described this elementary set-up – Record Audio CDs in Your Studio – has become one of the most popular posts on the blog. Not many months later, I learned an even more effective way of making quality audio recordings using a Clavinova.

However, the few tidbits of information I’ve been able to offer on this topic pale in comparison to the fabulous new book published by Oxford University Press: Recording on a Budget – How to Make Great Audio Recordings Without Breaking the Bank by Brent Edstrom. Mr. Edstrom is incredibly knowledgeable about all things audio, yet still manages to communicate in a way that is easily understood by those of us who don’t understand all the technical jargon. The clean, well-organized layout is accompanied by lots of helpful graphics and photographs that contribute to an even better understanding of the material. There is also a password protected companion website with sample audio files.

The book is an excellent fit for both the recording enthusiast who wants to dig in and understand the nuts and bolts (discussions of acoustics, microphone frequency responses, mixing essentials, etc.) and the creative musician and/or teacher who just wants to know enough to be able to make quality recordings of live music. It’s not the type of book that most people would sit down and read cover to cover, but it’s an invaluable reference that should find its way into the hands of every musician, band director, classroom music educator, independent music teacher, and anyone else who wants to effectively utilize the audio recording capabilities of today!

And you could win a copy of Recording on a Budget for free, compliments of Oxford University Press! Just leave a comment below and you will be entered in a drawing to win this book for yourself. The drawing will be held at noon (CST) on Thursday, March 31, using a random number generator. Enter now for your chance to win!

Equipment Needed to Live Stream a Recital

After the post about my upcoming Christmas recital, several of you left comments or sent e-mails asking what equipment was necessary in order to live stream a recital. This will be my first time experimenting with this, but from what I can gather here’s what I’ll need:

  1. A USTREAM account.
  2. Laptop computer with access to the internet (via a wired or wireless network).
  3. Built-in video recording capabilities or a camcorder. I’m planning to use my digital camcorder to capture the video feed, while also recording to a miniDV at the same time.
  4. Good sound capture capabilities. The instruments will need to be mic’d and you either need to use a built-in mic from the camcorder or computer, or use a direct line input from the sound board. We are planning to use the latter option in order to get the best sound quality with the least feedback.
  5. Really smart, savvy equipment operators! I’m having a friend of mine run the sound board and another friend run the video camera and laptop. Both of them have lots of previous technical experience, so I’m hoping that even if we run into some glitches, they’ll be able to troubleshoot and find solutions!

Unless I’m forgetting something, I think this is all we’ll need. I’ll keep you posted, though, as we get things set up and I’ll let you know what all I learn along the way!

A New and Exciting Era of Recitals!

Growing up, one of my least favorite things to do was attend recitals. I think most of the other students and audience members felt the same way. So it has been my personal mission to make our studio recitals not only tolerable, but immensely enjoyable and something that students and families look forward to. It made my day a couple weeks ago when I asked a friend if he would run the sound system for our Christmas recital this year. He eagerly agreed and said that when his daughter stopped taking lessons several years ago, his biggest disappointment was that he would miss the Christmas recital. (Looks like I’ve got a sound man for life, huh?! :-))

As you all know, it takes a TON of planning and preparation to pull off a recital, but it is so worth it! And the students love being able to invite their relatives and friends to be a part of the Christmas celebration with us. It is unavoidable, though, that every year there are far-off family and friends who would love to be here, but just can’t make the trip. Well…in one of the most exciting discoveries of the year, I think this will be a problem of the past because now there is a way that anyone can attend the recital virtually! Enter: USTREAM.

USTREAM is a free online television station that enables registered users to broadcast their shows and events via the internet to viewers around the world! I’ve been exploring the site this past week and not only can you broadcast through your channel, but you can also record and archive events so that they can be accessed and viewed at a later date. We are just itching to give this a try in my studio, so we will be live streaming the Christmas recital this year and you are invited to join us and be part of the experiment!

The recital will be on Thursday, December 16, at 7:00 p.m. (CST). Just go to my USTREAM channel: http://www.ustream.tv/user/nataliewickham at that time to watch the live broadcast. Since this is our first time giving it a try, there may be glitches, but hopefully you will bear with us and give us feedback that will help us make improvements in the future. And if any of you decide to live stream a studio event, I’d love to know about it so I can tune in and watch. Plus, I think there are tons of other possibilities for this technology. For instance, there’s an option to invite viewers to be co-hosts, so I could see multiple studios across the country connecting with each other for a joint event of some sort. If any of you are interested in trying something like this, we should brainstorm and see what we can come up with. What FUN!