Music Tech and Piano – some quick notes

Music Technology:

Basically divides into a few categories:
1. Student skill development [Alfred Music theory series, several iPad music “games” like NoteWorks, for ex.]
2. Recording,
A. audio
B. video
3, Playback/Distribution – how will the student hear it/view it? Email the file? Make a CD/DVD?

With any technology, DO NOT start with “how do you get it to work”, also known as “What buttons do I push?”
Start with these two questions:

  1. What would I like tech to do for me?
  2. What capabilities does this tech have? [Sometimes I’ll make a quick list of things a gizmo will do on a card – NOT how to do them, just what it will do. That will remind me later when I’m trying to figure out how to get something done.]

For example:

I might think “I’d like to be able to video record my student playing in a lesson.
Then I remember that my smartphone will record videos.
ONLY then do I try to figure out what buttons to push to make that happen.

If it doesn’t work – since I know the gizmo has the capability, then the problem is that I’m not pushing the correct buttons.

[Practice is just as important in using technology to teach as it is in piano!]

So after a few uses in lessons, I might decide I’d like to get better quality. That might be because the video is shaky – wonder if I could put my smartphone on a tripod, or a music stand in a custom smartphone stand, or duct tape it to the ceiling……..
Or if I’d like better audio, maybe there is a different microphone I could plug into the phone.

  • Start small and simple.
  • Play with it [a.k.a. “research”].
  • Practice with it so that you don’t have to think about how to work it – that way the lesson flow isn’t interrupted.


Small portable recorders are nice and can be simple or complicated – the advantage is you can see everything right then. Getting the files out of the unit, though, usually involves connecting it to a laptop/desktop computer. Examples from Zoom, Tascam, Roland, Korg <– portable recorders on Amazon

Smartphones are handy, portable, and you may already have one. There are many apps available – some free – that are more useful than the built-in apps that come with the phone. If the file is small enough you might be able to email the audio file to your student or their parents.

A laptop/desktop setup can be very powerful – but is probably too cumbersome and overblown for a music lesson. You don’t have much time in a lesson as it is!

I like taking the “this is an experiment and it might blow up” approach. When I’m trying something, I’ll tell the student, “Let’s try this and see if it works.” I’ll often video the student while playing, trying to catch a mechanical problem – but if they know I’m recording, many times the problem disappears, because they are more conscious of what they are doing.

I sometimes use an iPad for quick audio [Voice Record Pro 7 – it’s free] or video recording. I also have a vintage 1997 Mac in the room that I use for MIDI work – I’ll use it to record the student, and then the computer tell the keyboard what notes to play when……. so the student can hear exactly what they played on the same instrument they played it on.

You do NOT need the “latest greatest thingy” to do something cool and useful. Most of my students are fairly impressed that I’m using a computer older than they are……. [No, it won’t get online. I could do it, but it would be too much trouble!]

A Yamaha Disklavier is basically an acoustic piano with MIDI. [That’s a very simplistic explanation, by the way.]

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