Review of Ear Master Pro


I have yet to review a product I liked better or found more musically resourceful than Ear Master Pro, an ear training & sight-singing software! This program is loaded with exercises to help improve students’-even teachers’-ear and sight skills, and I found it to be very nicely laid out, as well as user-friendly and effective.

Upon opening the program, you can first choose a mode and activity from the options pictured below. (Yes, there is even a “Jazz” mode! I’m not super familiar with the jazz style and I didn’t delve into that mode extensively, but I do find it pretty neat they have that as a feature.)

Within each activity, there are different modules you can choose from (some activities have over 20 modules while others have 1), and then you can choose what lesson of the module you’d like to start with. Once you do all that, you are set to begin your activity!

I found the interactive interface of Ear Master Pro to be pretty straight forward and easy to navigate which was really nice considering how many features it has. To be quite honest, I really enjoyed some of the activities myself. Naturally, I have a poor sense of rhythm and am definitely a “by sight” pianist, but I thought I’d give a rhythm dictation activity a try and…I ended up liking it. I believe some contributing factors to me liking this training program so much is 1) the good selection of activities, 2) how much you can customize the activities to fit your needs, 3) it has a fun, educational and techy feel, and 4) the fact that it utilizes so many different aspects on the computer: onscreen piano keyboard and staff, computer keys, the ability to use built-in audio functions or hook up a midi keyboard.

One thing I think is huge about this program is the clear sound quality it has. So often ear training games, sites, or CDs have very tinny or muffled sound, and that can really affect the listener’s ability to distinguish what they hear-especially if they are doing melodic dictation. I can see having Ear Master Pro in your studio as a teaching/training tool for your students being incredibly instrumental in helping them improve in areas from simple rhythmic dictation to chord identification.

Even if you’re not convinced yet to go buy your own downloadable copy, you should definitely download the trial version of Ear Master Pro and try it for yourself! There is also a Teacher Edition you can take a look at on the site.

 

 

Review and Giveaway of Supersonics Piano by Daniel McFarlene


I’m greatly inspired by Mr. McFarlene’s (creator of the Supersonics Piano website and piano music) innovative spirit and how he takes full advantage of the modern technology available to us today. All of McFarlene’s music is completely digital and can be downloaded at SupersonicsPiano.com, making it possible for you to have his songs at your fingertips within minutes wherever you are in the world. The piano music offered on the site ranges from elementary to early advanced, each with its own modern flare.

I love Mr. McFarlene’s ambition behind his site and music, but unfortunately I did not fall in love with his music like it seems some have. As I played through his songs, I felt like many of them lacked strong melodious character. What I mean by this is that the melodies were either hard to detect or abstract, and the harmony would seem to collide with the melody in various songs rather than complement it. On a more positive note, however, because of the recurring patterns incorporated into his songs, I can see McFarlene’s music being an awesome resource for earlier level students learning how to identify patterns throughout a song!

On the Supersonics Piano website you can also find duet/trio music, as well as audio recordings and McFarlene’s video channel.

Starting the 4th of August Supersonics Piano pieces will be featured in the Piano Maestro app and Daniel McFarlane has generously offered this code: JTS3MSUPERSONIC for Music Matters Blog readers to gain access to the entire app one month free!

Additionally, we are having a giveaway! Comment on the post saying you want to be entered and three lucky winners will each receive a single print piano e-book of your choice (from Levels A, B or C) which can then be printed, accessed on your smartphone, iphone/tablet, and computer.

If you are looking into purchasing some music on Supersonics Piano website you can use this code: musicmatters to receive a 10% discount. But don’t waste too much time, it expires 8/6/13.

Supersonics Books A, B, & C; The Lake (Intermediate Piano Book)

Free Giveaway of 44 Birthday Variations by Forrest Kinney!

Those of you who have been around here for a while know that my teaching philosophy and approach has been largely influenced by Forrest Kinney and his Pattern Play books and teacher workshops. I am excited to share that he has a new website and has been working on lots of projects to share with fellow pianists and teachers!

And, even better, he has graciously offered to giveaway a complete set of his new 44 Birthday Variations to one Music Matters Blog reader! You can listen to sample recordings of them on the individual variation pages (e.g. here’s the New Age one). Just leave your name in the comment section below, and a winner will be selected using a random number generator on Friday, July 11, at 12:00 noon (CST). I know you and/or your students will love these!

Review of Fiddlewax Blue

Fiddlewax Blue is an interactive iPad or iPhone app developed by Alex Kumpf that allows the user to experiment with different chords and keys without a piano. The app has a variety of settings that you can change such as what instrument you use (preset or custom), what key you want to mess around in (CM, bm, e harmonic, etc), which of the 8 functions you want displayed, and even more I didn’t delve into much.

Before I tried out the app, I watched this tutorial (below) by Alex Kumpf to get an idea of what its features were and that really helped me see and understand what it was capable of doing. It was really hard for me to grasp what the Fiddlewax Blue app was by just reading the description, so it was nice having a visual aid.

And then here is a video of him giving viewers a sample of what it looks like to actually “use” the app:

Fiddlewax Blue also has a feature where you can record compositions you create within the app and either email it to yourself or access the recording through your computer later.

I like the idea of this app and the potential it has to give users a greater understanding of musical keys and chords, but after dabbling in it for a while, I felt like it could have been a bit more user friendly and the sound quality could’ve been better. However, I’m sure these are things that will be updated the longer the app is available.

Review of Black Key Blast by Wendy Stevens

Black Key Blast By Wendy Stevens

Wendy Stevens has produced many music resources over the years, spanning from theory tests (which I personally benefited from), to piano music, rhythm books, and now one of her most recent products: Black Key Blast-a beginner pre-staff songbook. In this book you’ll find 6 upbeat and energetic pieces with accompanying teacher parts, and lyrics to boot! Just to give you an idea of what you’d be in for, check out the title for each song…

- Movin’ and Groovin’

- Click Clock Click

- Round and Round

- My Imaginary Friend

- I Am the Princess

- Ninja Power

Natalie and I decided to play through Black Key Blast together to get the full effect, and I’m really glad we did because it helped a lot! When she and I finished the book, I really liked, “I Am A Princess” because I thought the student and teacher part complemented each other very nicely. I can’t say I felt the same way with the other songs after we had played through all of them. It took Natalie and I a couple times of playing through each song to really start getting an idea of what the duets should sound like. Even still, with some of the duets, Natalie commented, “They just don’t seem to fit.” Each part was actually quite fun, but, but it was just a bit challenging to get the duets to flow rhythmically and melodically.

I watched Wendy’s YouTube video for her Black Key Blast book and it definitely helped with understanding how the songs should sound. The songs in Black Key Blast seem like they’ll be really fun and exciting for beginner students to play as a solo or duet, but once those teacher parts come in, I can definitely see the students finding it a lot more challenging rhythmically. Even though this wasn’t my favorite elementary book, I do think your little students will enjoy learning these songs and even the challenge that may come with playing the duets!

To purchase your own copy click here>> Black Key Blast

To check out Wendy Stevens’ site click here>> ComposeCreate

Review of Learning Strategies for Musical Success by Michael Griffin

Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Michael Griffin has become quite a familiar name for Music Matters Blog readers. Just from the little I’ve been exposed to his work and the little I know about him, Mr. Griffin is a thoroughly impressive music educator and has definitely earned the recognition and promotion he’s received on the blog. Author of Music and Keyboard in the Classroom and developer of Music Education World, Michael Griffin has produced yet another excellent resource for the music community!

I might’ve not agreed with everything in the book, but very rarely do I come away from reviewing a product feeling INSPIRED! While reading the book, I discovered that Natalie uses some of the very same methods that are encouraged for greater musical success-methods that were used to teach me and help me excel in my musical endeavors, particularly the “student-teacher” method Griffin discusses.

“We learn…
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear 
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what is discussed with others
80% of what is experienced personally
95% of what we teach to someone else.”
-William Glasser, American Psychiatrist (found in the book)

Developing this fact-based, informative, well-researched, and personal-perspective book was clearly no walk in the park. I can only imagine the hours that were poured into getting this work published! By the time I finished the book, I was inspired to keep learning and challenging myself; I was inspired to strive more for excellence and be willing to work hard to achieve that. I felt like Mr. Griffin clearly communicated his message-and with a passion: “With a growth-mindset, and repeated and sustained effort, we can substantially improve in our endeavors.” He definitely holds to a similar theory in musical excellence and success as Einstein did in genius: “Genius is 1 % talent and 99% hard work…” I appreciate Mr. Griffin’s desire to re-instill this in people because the mindset to work hard and not take your talents for granted is deteriorating quite rapidly in our society-especially in younger generations.

If you’re a music educator-or maybe even hold another occupation-I believe you will find this book incredibly beneficial and inspiring! Plus, the book is nicely laid out into six chapters with thoughtfully divided sections and includes numerous illustrations, making it very “reference-friendly.” Take a peek inside!:


(Pg. 74, Figure 19: Higher-Order Thinking Skills)

“The self-directed action of doing something for its inherent value, for the sake of self-growth, is characteristically exhilarating, gratifying, uplifting, and enjoyable.”  -David Elliott (This is a quote used on pg. 77, section “Enjoyment”)

“Successful people overcome obstacles and even turn them to their advantage.” (pg. 81, section “Attitude of Mind”)


(Pg. 120, Figure 26: Multiple Intelligences Model)


(Pg. 121, section “Multiple Intelligences Theory”)


(Pg. 124, section “Music and the Brain”)

I loved portions of chapter 3 (“The Soft Skills of Achievement”) and chapter 6 (“Music and Intelligence), and found chapter 6’s, “Music and the Brain” section particularly fascinating!

To find out more about the book and/or get your own copy, click here! And if you’re interested in staying up-to-date on Griffin’s latest musical strategies, hop on over to his blog: Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Enjoy!

 

 

Review of Coffee with Ray by Nick Ambrosino

Coffee with Ray by Nick Ambrosino

In this easy-to-read story, you will follow the journey of Matt, a deeply frustrated piano teacher, who is desperate to find something that will help him enjoy the career he chose over seven years ago because of his love for music. You will also find he likes coffee. You will also find he drives a lot. You will also find Matt meets a man named, Ray. With all these things combined, you will find yourself in the midst of Matt’s quest to discover how to become the piano teacher he wants to be and to see the success he wishes to see in his students as well as himself.

One thing I did appreciate in the story, is that Matt is encouraged to take the responsibility he needs to as the music educator and to look more at what his students accomplish, rather than them being accomplished. Having the vision for students to become well-rounded musicians is something that I believe is hugely important as an educator, but you have to be willing to take one step at a time. I believe this is sometimes overlooked by teachers, parents, and even students-not just in music, but in other fields as well-when it’s something that really needs to be recognized.

Because of the underlying philosophy that is expressed and adopted in the book, and the use of some cuss words/phrases, I can’t recommend this product as a whole. But if you’d like to find out more about Coffee with Ray or its author, check out the links below:

Coffee with Ray
About Nick Ambrosino

Overview of Go for the Gold! Recorder by Kevin Babuder

Go for the Gold! Recorder is a multi-touch book created for a Mac or iPad and can be purchased through iTunes to read and enjoy in your iBooks. This is a beginner edition and from what I’ve read, to take full advantage of the interactive aspects the book offers, it’s best to use an iPad.

Not only will readers learn the basics of playing the recorder, but they will learn about different sports as well as some fun facts about different countries’ geography, culture, and music. This book has somewhat of an “Olympic” theme to it!

I love it when multiple subjects are incorporated into one resource because, at least from my own experience, when events, historical figures, and/or subjects are correlated, I tend to retain that information a lot longer. I’m not sure why exactly this is, but it seems like our brains naturally gravitate toward retaining pieces of information that relate to each other-especially when they’ve been learned at the same time. The ability God’s given our mind and memory is incredible!

According to the website, it appears that when you purchase the interactive book, the student receives a one-year subscription and it’s not a one time purchase. That detail is pretty unclear if you’re just looking at the product in iTunes. On the website, it shows that Go for the Gold! Recorder has some competition involved and that there’s also a “teacher” subscription you can purchase. Check out the website for more details about these things!
To view on iTunes:

Review of The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia & Laurie Patterson

The Songs of Hollywood

I can’t think of any other title that would be more appropriate for this book. It might be a plain and simple name, but let me tell you, this book is chock-full of “songs of Hollywood”!

Personally, I love some of those old classic songs and dance numbers that Hollywood incorporated into their 20th century movies (especially “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”). And even though the music style in movies has greatly changed since the “golden age,” I still really enjoy and gravitate toward music/dance movies that are well done and artistic.

Although I didn’t read this book cover to cover, from what I did read, I could tell the authors put many hours of hard work into this project because of the careful attention to detail and timeline. The book includes many, many lyric excerpts  as well as thumbnail pictures off to the side of certain movies-which I believe kept it more intriguing and visually appealing. Along with excerpts and pictures, each chapter includes lots of historical notes about songs, artists, song writers’ perspectives, the movie, the time period, or the entertainment industry itself. The book does reference some not so “golden” incidents from history, so just be aware of that if you pick it up to read.

Songs of Hollywood did delve into some songs and movies that followed the 1920-1950’s era, such as “Mary Poppins” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but it primarily seemed to track the progression of songs that hit the limelight during the “golden age.”

Like I said, I didn’t read this all the way through, but I enjoyed what I did read and getting a history lesson in one of the biggest industries of our society! If you’re in need of a helpful resource to prepare for a workshop, group class, or are just interested in the evolution of 20th century Hollywood music, The Songs of Hollywood would be a great place to start. At the back, the book has several pages of chapter references, a credits section, a general index, and a song index.

After writing my review, I found this endorsement on the back of the book and wished I had seen it earlier because it would’ve saved me from having to write anything:

The Songs of Hollywood is a brilliantly researched, highly entertaining cornucopia of facts, tracing and defining the evolution of the use of songs in film. It’s a fascinating read, bursting with information about the great songwriters, performers, producers and directors who transformed a novelty gimmick into an art form.”
-Richard M. Sherman, Composer/Lyricist of Marry Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Jungle Book