This week's post feels a little gratuitous, but it's a service that I have found quite useful over the past couple of months, so much so that I have been surprised by it! Thanks for watching and let me know if you've found this useful as well. :)
Filtering by Category: Reviews
So, who doesn’t love a good gear list???!!! As with any good gear list, I included things that cover a range of prices, and just had to list one thing that is very difficult to find! There is so much stuff out there to help us as musicians, it can be hard to zero in on things that actually help us improve. Read on to see what makes up my favorite brass-nerd-band-geek top 10!
10. K&M trombone stand - $65 - coming in last...the lowly trombone stand... I know, not terribly exciting, but essential nonetheless… Having recently done some minor damage to my primary instrument by knocking it over on an older Hamilton trombone stand, I decided it was time for something heavier duty. The knock-over was my own dumb fault, but it wouldn’t have happened on a larger stand with a wider base. So, problem solved, and K&M stuff is generally pretty good quality. These stands aren’t super cheap or compact, but they are very stable and sturdy.
9. McAdams metronome - $??? - if you grew up in Texas during the 1980s, and you were in marching band, the McAdams metronome was likely a fixture of your high school band life. Big, loud, indestructible, the Model 10-A was the current model back then. My dad picked one up for me many years ago when a new model was out and the 10-A was on closeout…love that thing. They have some new fancier models that are digital and have all kinds of bells and whistles, but I love my old analog McAdams… huge metal switches, a large dial, and a 1/4” output for distribution to your favorite bass-amp-hooked-up-to-an-inverter-powered-by-a-car-battery. Yes, that is really how we used to get that super loud click out on the marching band field! Old school, bay-bee!
8. Logic Pro X - $200 - I should really put Garageband in this slot, but I’m continually amazed at what Logic Pro can do, and for only $200! Most DAWs are quite pricey for the home user to buy into, and I know for my uses, I am unlikely to outgrow the capabilities of this software. Logic has a pretty amazing feature that many people don’t know about - that is sheet music/score production. I have yet to get in to this aspect of the program, but you can produce scores and parts from recorded tracks, as well as import Finale files into Logic. Pretty powerful stuff.
7. Rode Video mic pro - $229 - you might look at a shotgun video mic and think, on the surface, it only does one thing. I have had a Videomic Pro for a few years not, and I’m continually amazed at what they can do. Obviously, it accels at recording spoken word into a DSLR or other camera. It does this very well, and with a fuzzy windscreen (dead cat), it can do it just about anywhere. For Youtube videos, Periscope, and other casual video production, these things are gold. Where I became really enamored of mine was in recording solo trombone. I know, go figure. This mic, when set about 10’ back and aimed at a 45 degree angle to the bell, produces a warm and very complementary sound for me when recording myself playing trombone. That was a surprise to me. Usually I run it in to my Zoom H5. Simple setup, great results.
6. Foamy earplugs - $0.31 - you are conserving your hearing, right??? Huh? Honestly, I hate playing with earplugs, but a friend of mine at work has a handy way of using them, where he keeps them basically just sitting in his ear but not pushed in so they’re not blocking any sound, and when he knows a loud part/sound is coming, he can quickly just tap the plug into his ear. The key is it doesn't have to be shoved down deep into your ear to get some protection. They make these in skin tones that are subtle for stage use. 😃
5. Evernote - FREE, or $49.99 for an annual Premium plan - Really???!!! An organizational app as one of the top 10 tech tools for musicians??!! Well, if you enjoy staying organized like me, and you have a large amount of correspondence, articles, writing, ideas, projects, receipts, and emails to keep track of, this software is simply fantastic. When I first looked at it, I couldn’t really see the value in it, and I used an app called Notability for quite a while. Notability is great, but it doesn’t have quite all the bells and whistles that Evernote has. Here’s a great video (and Youtube Channel) about many of the amazing features of Evernote. The major things that make it awesome for me: incredibly robust search function (even searches text inside photos), keyword tagging of notes, web browser clipping extension, and an embedded email address through which you can send things directly to Evernote for saving. It also records audio natively… cool!
4. Best Brass practice mute (trombone, trumpet, euphonium) - $129 - These days, who doesn’t use a practice mute? I love this one. It’s small and light, and fits in the bell of my horn in my case. I use it frequently. It also can be a great practice aid to develop your multiple tonguing. I’ll have to make another video to show what I mean! ProTec is now making a much cheaper version of this mute. The original Best Brass brand was/is about $120… The new ProTec copy is about $35 on Amazon. I can’t speak for the quality of the ProTec version, so check one out before you commit.
3. Rode NT1 microphone - $249 - As a straight up large diaphragm condenser mic for brass applications, this mic works great for me. It sounds great and is priced reasonably. Maybe not as ideal as some much pricier ribbon mics, tube condensers, and others, but it sounds great and also doubles as an excellent mic for voiceover, audio-for-video, podcasting, and Skype. It requires 48 volt phantom power, so you’ll need an interface for your computer, or a Zoom recorder with XLR inputs to run it.
2. TE tuner - $3.99 (iOS)/$1.99 (Android) - This is probably my favorite iOS app of all time. It is also available for Android! This thing does it all. Priced at $3.99 for iOS and $1.99 for Android, this app features an excellent tuner. Besides the tuner, it has a waveform analysis function and a built in recorder. This thing is great for recording your practicing on the go, and listening back. Includes a good metronome as well. Excellent value and best of all, I always have it with me.
1. Zoom H5 (or used H4, or H6) - $270 (H5) - The Zoom family of recorders is quite an amazing piece of technology. The H4 was the original unit that I was familiar with, and a number of years ago it was the fancy recorder that replaced everyone’s Sony DAT Walkman. Those were great recorders too, but the ability to record to CompactFlash and transfer to the computer quickly and easily made the Zoom recorders truly a step ahead. Now, Zoom makes a few different models that will suit just about any needs for the modern musician. I currently have an H5. This recorder, in my opinion, should be the cornerstone of any musicians’s audio setup. You can make stereo recordings via the onboard X/Y microphone pair. You can plug in two mics via the XLR inputs. You can plug in a 3.5mm plug equipped mic (like the Rode Videomic Pro). The H5 can serve as the audio for a DSLR while producing video recordings through its line out, and on and on… The Zoom has a 1/4” tripod mount, a built in tuner and metronome, and a small built in speaker for quick reference playback. There are a couple of features that are not so obvious, but that come in extremely handy for the self-producing musician…. The unit will record a safety track in parallel to the main recording, but at -12db to the settings on the gain controls. This is great when you don’t have the time or extra help to get a thorough level check. With experience, you’ll know about where your levels need to be in most situations (especially when recording solo), but the backup track gives you insurance that you get a usable recording without any clipping. Finally, the Zoom H5 and H6 can be used as USB audio interfaces with your computer for recording to your favorite DAW. No need to invest in another audio interface for the computer. So, for sheer flexibility and options that these recorders give you, they are the top of the list here!
I hope that gives you some things to think about. I’d love to hear about any favorite practice or productivity aids in the comments! Do me a favor, if you haven’t subscribed to virtualtrombonist.com, please head over and look for the subscribe box at the bottom of any page.
So today I find myself on a bus for a better part of the day, and with lots of time on my hands, children at daycare, and an electrical outlet for my phone charger, I'm doing what any technology junkie would do: spending the entire drive catching up on articles and video that I've bookmarked! One thing I keep coming back to is the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Philharmonic. The folks in Berlin have done something very smart by outfitting the Philharmonie with a professional television studio and rigging their setup to broadcast all of their concerts live in HD. Another brilliant thing they've done is to feature the talents of Sarah Willis, fourth horn in the orchestra. Besides being a fabulous musician and having her own very successful "horn hangouts" online, Sarah has done a number of interviews that are accessible on the digital concert hall. The Philharmonic recently performed a program featuring a new work for trumpet and orchestra by HK Gruber called Aerial. The soloist was Hakan Hardenburger, for whom the piece was written. I got sucked in to watching an interview that Ms. Willis conducted with Hakan and the program's conductor, Andris Nelsons. I'll just get right to the point, the interview, and Mr. Hardenburger's insight into the process of playing and learning the piece was so fascinating, that I immediately bought a 7-day pass for the digital concert hall and watched the program on my long bus ride. What an amazing concert, soloist, and orchestra!
It's no surprise to anyone that an online digital presence is the future of classical music. Berlin has done it right. Not only can you watch live concerts in HD with fantastic audio quality, but they have an amazing back catalog of concerts, interviews with soloists and conductors, and documentaries about the orchestra. Know I will be binge-watching quite a lot of Berlin Philharmonic concerts over the next 7-days!
As we enter fully the era of constant connectivity and faster internet connections, this type of experience is only going to become more prevalent for all musicians. People fret that the Internet and mobile technology is going to make everyone more detached from their audience. Using the talents of Ms. Willis as an example, I don't think this could be further from the truth! What is now clearly critical is having the ability and desire to speak to an audience, conduct an interview, and otherwise engage people in a personal and informative way. Oh! It's those people skills my parents used to always talk to me about!
I feel fortunate the U.S. Marine Band has begun to live stream many of our own concerts. The band also has some very cool projects on line now, with my favorite being the recording and release of free PDF parts and scores for every March John Philip Sousa ever wrote! Their adding enough that the band is hiring a third full time audio engineer as well.
Ok, back to my looong bus ride and my digital concert hall ticket! If it seems I'm being secretive about where I'm headed, then well, I am! The Marines don't do anything the easy way, and today is no exception. More about our trip later when the cat is out of the bag!
Recently, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate in the International Trombone Association's annual competitions as a preliminary judge. The particular competition I helped with is called the Gilberto Gagliardi Competition, and it is open to trombonists aged 18 and under. If I remember correctly, there were about 33 entries this year, and the prescribed music was the Concerto by Rimsky-Korsakov. First of all, I heard some fantastic young musicians. Prelim judging was accomplished via recordings residing on a web server, and all candidates were assigned a random number. There were a number of fine trombonists in this group. The level of playing for high school and college-level freshman was very high! While judging, each candidate was known only by their number with no other identifying information, and in fact, we (judges) have never seen the names matched with their audition numbers. You can read the names of the Finalists, alternates, and honorable mentions here. Notably, 3 of the 6 names appear to be female, which is an awesome trend to see in young trombonists!
This blog post is not about trombone playing per se, but more about the "delivery method" when you are performing via a "tape" round. The competition has clear guidelines about submitting your recording (one continuous file, no edits within movements, live pianist required).
One of the biggest weaknesses I heard in many of the tapes was a lack of awareness in mic placement. Many of the recordings were recorded with levels set too high, which made for a distorted final product. You could tell the player was making music and had worked hard, but I would have loved to have heard a few candidates under better recording conditions. Now, I am no recording engineer, but I do believe through experimentation in your practicing (you do record your practice sessions, right???) you can get a good handle on a simple placement that works well in most general settings. You can make a quite good tape with very limited equipment, but it will take some experimentation to maximize any approach. The first thing I would suggest is, get your mic/recorder placement figured out first. Try different placents during your practice sessions and rehearsals with your pianist. I would start with your recorder centered left to right in your room, and about 1/3 of the way from the back wall. If your room is small or an odd shape, I would put it about 10 feet away and centered on your position, or as far away as you can get it without putting it right up against a wall.
If you are using an iPhone or Android device, know that the built in voice memo recorder uses automatic levels to adjust for the source volume. This is good and bad. Good because you recording likely won't be distorted, bad because you get a constant "limiting" effect when listening back. The phone adjusts the volume down once it gets too loud, which in a piece like the Rimsky-Korsakov, happens frequently! There are a ton of recording apps for the iPhone. Look for one that records WAV files, and that allows for manual control of the recording level. The new lightning connector mic from Zoom makes a lot of sense. At $99.00, it's a pretty economical solution. I haven't tried one, but it says it works with the iOS version of Garageband, so that ought to be a pretty simple solution. For a little more flexibility, and something that might not become useless with the next generation of idevice, you could go with a Zoom H4n or H5. The advantage of the higher-priced Zoom units is that both recorders have 48 volt phantom power. This means you can eventually plug an external mic into the recorder, offering much better sound quality. The H5 in particular offers a lot of advanced features, and will likely be the only recorder you ever need for personal/portable use. It has an adapter that allows it to use 4 different XLR mic inputs. Of course, like all things electronic, there are many more opinions and solutions available, at all price points! Other companies like Marantz and Tascam make great options, as well. Look to YouTube for the many online reviews of personal recorders.
Most of all, when you record an audition tape, take your time. Plan to make your recording at least a couple of weeks out from the submission deadline. That way, if you have a bad playing day on your one-and-only recording session, you can always schedule another day! Along that same line, do yourself a favor up front and plan for two sessions of recording if possible. This will take a lot of the pressure and stress off by not requiring that everything be recorded in one session. The ITA submissions allow for different movements to be recorded on different days, you just can't edit WITHIN a movement! So, you could have done the first and third movements of Rimsky-Korsakov in one session, and saved the softer and more sustained second movement for another day.
Finally, listen to your recording. I know this sounds painfully obvious, but some of the candidates I heard would have no doubt heard the undesirable recording outcomes had they listened back to them. If you hear a problem and don't know how to fix it, then ask someone! There are many resources online, your own teacher, band director, or feel free to email ME! I will do my best to help or put you in touch with someone that can.
As always, happy practicing and enjoy experimenting with recording. It's a great way to make practicing new and interesting when you get in a rut, and it can be very useful down the road!
The Virtual Trombonist