8 - How MIDI Helped Brenna
(ã 1997 - revised 10/04)
MIDI Helped Brenna
My daughter Brenna (12 years old as I write this) began taking flute lessons this summer. She progressed rapidly due to her previous musical experience from years of piano lessons and her strong desire to learn a new instrument.
She was doing well, but was developing a bad habit during her practice time. When she would make a mistake she would “wriggle” her fingers over the flute keys and start all over, from the beginning of the particular piece, seldom playing a piece all the way through in its entirety. These repeated starts-and-stops were frustrating for everyone concerned. Worse, this behavior was being reinforced because this was the way she practiced!
Brenna’s teacher and I realized that something had to be done to correct this “problem” before it became a permanent habit. We encouraged her to work out the trouble spots separately, then play each piece slowly and deliberately until it could be brought to tempo and played all the way through without stopping and starting over. This was helpful, but I felt we needed to do more. Then I had an idea that would not only help Brenna, but also make her practice time more fun at the same time.
Brenna’s teacher had a book with all the piano accompaniments corresponding to each of the flute lesson songs. I thought that if I recorded these accompaniments as MIDI songfiles, Brenna could practice her lessons along with a nice accompaniment whenever she wished. The accompaniments would encourage Brenna to play her songs through to the end (even if she made a mistake) since the accompaniments were not going to stop for her! This simulates an actual performance situation. I explained to Brenna that if she hit a clunker note in a concert setting, the orchestra would keep playing regardless of any personal mistakes she might make.
Another benefit to recording the accompaniments as MIDI songfiles, is the ability to adjust the accompaniment tempo to whatever was comfortable for her. Eventually, she could bring the tempo up to speed as she became more confident in her playing. (Tempo speed adjustments have no affect on the pitch of a MIDI file. This is very unlike a tape recording -if you speed up or slow down a tape, the pitch will change. Not so on a MIDI file!)
I borrowed the piano accompaniment book and recorded the accompaniments as MIDI songfiles using Cakewalk Pro software on one of my computers. Now came time for the big test! I surprised Brenna by having one of the accompaniments playing as I called her into my music room/office. She was delighted, and could hardly wait to get her flute and play along. This was a very good sign, indeed!
The gist of the story is that this simple idea had an immediate effect, improving the quality and enjoyment of her practice time. She is now playing each lesson from start to finish without the annoying restarts. Not only that, but her musicianship and creativity on her flute is noticeably becoming more skillful. Brenna has a great time changing the typical piano accompaniment sound to any other instrument sound she is in the mood for. She simply selects an instrument name from the list (in the Cakewalk software). NOTE: The current version of the Cakewalk software used today is called SONAR
Brenna can play along with a guitar accompaniment, strings, brass or whatever else she chooses from the Instrument Selection List. She can now experience a variety of instrumental accompaniments, making her practice time much more interesting and fun!
Brenna’s teacher and I are amazed at what an impact this has made in such a short period of time. Although I knew it would help Brenna, I had no idea what a truly valuable this technique would prove to be!
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