Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Novelty vs. Utility vs. Reality pt.3

Utility – the electronics

The march of technology has not completely passed the world of classical music.  There are several electronic tools we use in the practice room.  Sure there are electronic instruments, but they are more toys as I can’t teach from them or take gigs with regular orchestras.  I do have an electric and enjoy it on occasion, but that’s for another post.  The tools I’m talking about here are the tools of the practice room – tuner, metronome, and quick recording devices. 

The metronome started out as a mechanical tool, but modern electronics can offer more features in a smaller package.  I had been using the same metronome for a good 10 years and finally decided it might be time for a new one when I broke the kickstand on my current one.  One would think a neat little electronic gizmo with a bunch of buttons and lights and a pretty little screen would be interesting, but no.  The thing beeps at me.  That’s about it.  Not much to play with there.

Well, it does do more than just beep, it’s a tuner.  Most devices now are combo metronome/tuners.  The electronics all fit easily in the same size box, so why not?  The only stand alone tuners now are the kind that clip on to the instrument.  I’ve never tried one of those and don’t really care to.  The tuner simply supplements the work my ears and brain are already doing.  It’s mostly just there to keep me honest and check the initial tuning of the instrument.  I don’t have perfect pitch, so when I first get going in the morning, I need a reminder of a true A 440.  The tuner offers a little more room to play though.  Even though I don’t have perfect pitch, I like to try to sing an A first thing to see how close I am.  Beyond that, not much of a toy.

There a good video of Heifitz on youtube watching slow motion video of himself playing as a practice tool.  Recording is one of the best ways to get a truly objective idea of how you sound.  We all know we should do it and we all hate it.  I have used many tools in the past to record myself with great success, when I actually do it.  The problem is, I hate to do it.  I don’t mind recording myself so much as I hate to take the time to listen to it.  There are some dedicated recording devices that are targeted at musicians, with better microphones than your standard voice recorder, but I don’t know anyone who has one. 

All of these functions could actually be accomplished with just my Droid, but I don’t use it for any of them.  All the metronome apps lose time.  It’s apparently very difficult to properly allocate the resources to keep that perfectly steady click going.  And a metronome that’s not perfect is useless.  I know there are tuner apps, but I’ve honestly never tried them to know how accurate they are or aren’t.  My metronome has a good tuner on it already, so I’ll just use that.  I can do voice recordings with my Droid, but I hate doing that, so I don’t.  Besides, I do actually have a nice microphone and real recording set up for when I need to produce good recordings. 

So, while there are a lot of electronic tools in use, none of them are particularly exciting.  The tools are simple, dedicated things that do their one or two things very well.  As much as I love the novelty of a new gadget, these tools are nothing to get excited about.

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