Cover My World #6: Maroon 5 Meet the Muppets with Moves Like Jagger

It’s refreshing to have your expectations not just exceeded but upended and turned inside-out.   After spending a little time in LuieLand watching clever mash-ups of cover songs, I thought I had this Jane Lui thing figured out.

Then I went over to MOG and listened to her latest album Goodnight Company  The song styles are constantly shifting, while managing the neat trick of sounding both meticulously crafted and effortlessly performed. Classically trained in voice and piano, her compositions mix those influences with soul, pop, and r&b, then throw in bits of Broadway and Dixieland to keep you guessing.

At times her voice is layered (“Edelweiss“) and accompanied by an eclectic chamber ensemble that includes an accordian, strings, piano, celeste, percussion, and synths.  (Check out the Casio SK-1 in the clip below!)  On other songs, her voice is laid bare against a single acoustic piano or guitar (“Yellow Light“, “Illusionist Boy“).  No matter the context, the vocals sound pure, natural, and unforced.

Jane just started a tour that includes stops and meetups in NY, DC, and Europe. If you can’t make one of the shows below, check out her music on CD Baby, or spend a little time in LuieLand.

Sep 22 NYC NYmonsters meetup: Grand Army Plaza Statue view
Sep 25 Washington DC DCmonsters meetup: Mitsitam Cafe view
Sep 29 London Regal Room view
Oct 01 London Londonmonsters meetup: Hyde Park view
Oct 04 Zurich Cafe Henrici view
Oct 04 Zurich Zurichmonsters meetup: Cafe Henrici view
Oct 08 Brugge Bruggemonsters meetup: Cafe Vlissinghe view
Oct 10 Lille Le Biplan // La Cave view
Oct 11 Amsterdam Jet Lounge view

FDG Celebrates Verizon on iPhone with Music Apps Sale

To welcome Verizon iPhone users, Frontier Design Group (FDG) has all of their music apps on sale this week for $0.99.  That’s an 80% discount for iShred, GuitarStudio, and PianoStudio, which are normally priced at $4.99. If you miss the sale, go ahead and spend the five bucks — they’re worth it.

The FDG apps distinguish themselves from the typical iPhone instruments by implementing performance controls that let you put some personality into your playing.  The guitar apps support picking, strumming,  note-bends,  hammer-on, pull-off, and slides.

You can dynamically increase the volume on guitars by playing closer to the bridge.  The electric guitar app (iShred) includes a full complement of adjustable effects, and GuitarStudio contains nice-sounding six and twelve-string acoustics, as well as a nylon string guitar.

There are three instruments in PianoStudio (two Grands and an Upright), and the interface allows you to play chords, single notes, or phrases with a single button.  The volume for each note in a phrase can be programmed in the phrase editor, while individual note volume and sustain can be controlled by the iPhone tilt sensors.

All apps include record and playback functions, and an AirPlay feature that lets you listen to other user’s songs and share your own.  Control and flexibility come at a price: these instruments can take longer to master than your typical toy app.  Fortunately, the FDG folks appear to be serious about support — the online help is helpful, and there are user forums, online documentation, and video tutorials available.

You can learn more at the FDG site, Facebook page, or YouTube channel.  Of course there are plenty of user videos out there, including this subway performance of Take Me Out by Atomic Tom, featuring dual iShreds.

Check the How-to-Buy guides if you’re interested in gifting drums, keyboards, a guitar or bass.

#3: Gifts Under $100,000

Olive 06HD Music Server for Audiophiles – $4,999

What is “HD Music?”  Well, it depends on who you ask, but most music advertised as HD is distributed in a lossless format at a minimum of 24-bit/96 kHz resolution. Translation: there is no compression, and the signal is sampled 96,000 times per second, with each sample coded as 24 bits.  [MMT will devote a series of upcoming articles to exploring the HD Audio scene in-depth.]

Here’s how Olive describes the 06HD:

The new Olive O6HD is the world’s first music server to combine the convenience of digital music with an audiophile sonic performance. It starts with a state-of-the art differential DAC along with a dedicated linear power supply for the analog output stage. Add to that our patent-pending design methodologies and enjoy a warm, full-bodied, and spacious sound with an exceptionally realistic soundstage.

Translation:  it won’t suck, like the sound you get when plugging an iPod into your stereo system.  You can feed it CDs, or send them to Olive for loading.  They are taking pre-orders now, with a planned ship date of mid-December.

OPPO BDP-83SE – Blu-ray disc player with SACD and DVD-Audio – $899 to $2,500

Sadly, the Olive is a stereo-only device, and cannot play the surround tracks available on SACD and DVD-Audio discs.  For that, you’ll need to add a universal disc player.  Sure you could spend more, but why would you when the $899 list BDP-83SE can be had for as little as $1,499?

The OPPO BDP-83 Special Edition Blu-ray Disc Player is an exciting upgrade based on the highly acclaimed BDP-83. Already well known for its exceptional audio and video performance, the BDP-83 is upgraded with an all new analog audio stage and improved power supply to become the Special Edition. Designed for the discerning audio enthusiast, the OPPO BDP-83 Special Edition Blu-ray Disc Player delivers an exceptionally wide dynamic range, ultra low distortion, accurate sound stage and jitter-free music clarity via its dedicated stereo and 7.1ch analog audio output.

~ oppodigital.com

Since it has been discontinued, you can either pay a premium price now, or wait until the successor model with 3D Blu-ray is released at a list price of $499.  But hey, it’s Christmas!

Rock ‘n’Roll Fantasy Camp – $2,999 – $9,999

The next scheduled camp is being held in New York from January 12 – 17, 2011, and features Roger Daltrey.  If you’d rather play rock star in the Bahamas, Tommy Lee headlines the President’s Day weekend camp at Atlantis February 17 – 20, 2011.

Prices do not include travel, accommodations, or groupies, but you can bring your own for an extra $499 – $699.  The Atlantis camp includes a special package for young rockers, ages 12 – 16.  And you are welcome even if you have never played an instrument before.  Here are the highlights:

  • Small group instruction from celebrity musicians
  • Campers are placed in a band with a rock star counselor for the entire duration of camp
  • Write and record an original song with your band!
  • Perform live on stage to a sold out audience at a major rock venue
  • Special guest and counselor-led master class sessions in drums, bass, guitar, songwriting, etc.
  • A souvenir DVD of your performance at the grand finale concert

Steinway Limited Edition Imagine Series Piano – $89,000 to $180,000

Modeled after the white Steinway grand piano that John Lennon presented to Yoko on her birthday in 1971, each Imagine Series piano incorporates John’s signature, medallion, and a portion of the Imagine lyrics and sheet music.  The music desk of each piano includes one of four original drawings by John.  There is a model to fit any home and every budget, assuming your piano budget starts at $89,000.  That will buy you the 5’7″ Model M.

The Steinway rep that MMT spoke with said there will be only 100 pianos made, and the first one (a Model D 9′ concert grand) had just sold at a premium price of $230,000.  If you have room for the Model D at home, it can be yours for around $180,000.

Happy Holidays!

How to Buy a Keyboard

by David D.

(No. 4 in a Series) For this installment, we consulted Will Kaplan, professional keyboard player, composer, and music editor in residence at Warner Bros. Studios.

Like guitars, there are plenty of variations on keyboard instruments to keep the first-time shopper dizzy. Everything you need to know about buying an acoustic piano is at the end of this article, but we will start by focusing on electronic keyboards in three major categories: Digital Pianos, Synthesizers, and Workstations.

Digital Piano – There are two basic types: consoles, which come with built-in speakers and a cabinet to mimic an acoustic piano, and stage pianos, which are designed for portability and have audio outputs for connecting to an amp, PA, or powered speakers.

Yamaha Arius YDP141 88-Key Digital Piano with Bench

Yamaha Arius YDP141 88-Key Digital Piano with Bench

Yamaha CP-33 88-Key Stage Piano

Yamaha CP-33 88-Key Stage Piano

Synthesizer – while a digital piano is typically limited to just a few (mostly keyboard) sounds, synthesizers are designed to reproduce the sounds of many instruments, as well as unique electronic sounds.  A synthesizer will allow you to program your own sounds, and interface with a computer through midi or USB ports.  Synthesizers also have audio outputs designed for connecting to an amp, PA, or powered speakers.

Yamaha MM6 Package

Yamaha MM6 Package

Workstation - A workstation adds sequencing, recording and other capabilities to a synthesizer, allowing you to output complete works of music with an integrated production studio.

Korg M50 73-Key Compact=

Korg M50 73-Key Compact Workstation

Some features cross over these categories, and there are keyboards that fit between them.  As discussed in Part 1 (How to Buy a Musical Instrument), buying a brand-name will ensure a certain level of quality, enable you to find replacement parts when repairs are needed, and get you a higher resale value when it’s time to trade up. For keyboards, here are the brand names you should consider:

  • Korg
  • Roland
  • Yamaha

That’s it.  There are other companies that make fine instruments, but these are the most popular brands, and you will be able to find multiple models in every category from each of these manufacturers.  Having too many choices not only makes it harder to arrive at a decision, but you often end up less satisfied with your final selection.

Keyboard Specs

If you like to dig into the details, there are all kinds of specs for you to pore over, but the ones that everybody should care about are:

Number of keys – A full piano keyboard has 88 keys, and most digital pianos have the same number.  Many synthesizers and workstations also come in 61-key and 73-key versions.

Action – there are three basic types available:

  • Synth action – light, springy keys, similar to an organ
  • Weighted action- provides some resistance to mimic the feel of an acoustic piano
  • Hammer action – adds small hammers to a weighted action keyboard; graded hammer action increases the resistance as you move from the top notes to the bottom

Polyphony – the number of simultaneous notes an instrument can sound; you may only have 10 fingers, but when using sustain and sequencing, you will want many more notes to sound (acoustic pianos can sound all 88 notes at once, workstations can have up to 128-note polyphony)

Multitimbrality – the number of simultaneous voices (or presets, or programs, or patches) an instrument can sound, e.g., piano, bass, drums, horns; used mostly for layering sounds and sequencing

If you plan to take your keyboard out of the house, another important spec to check is weight.  A 61-key synth may be just over 10 lbs., while an 88-key weighted action keyboard will be closer to fifty.

Before choosing a keyboard, think about the type of music you want to play, the sounds you will use most often, and how the keyboard will be used.  The features you want in a keyboard for a home studio can be very different from the ones that are important to you in a live performance.  We asked Will about other considerations:

What should a new player look for when buying their first keyboard, and what should they avoid?

Simplicity in design is crucial. A new player should receive as much help as possible so easy-to-use presets, drum patterns and the like are important. A weighted keyboard is probably best for someone with piano experience, but weight is a consideration if the owner is contemplating playing out.

What is the minimum amount they should expect to spend?

These days you can get a usable keyboard pretty cheap. Anything halfway worthwhile is probably $500 – 1k to start.

Would you recommend anything different for a young beginner vs. an adult beginner?

I don’t think the key factor is age anymore. Computer literacy is a more compelling consideration. A kid who can set up a website is going to have an easier time with a workstation than an adult who can’t work a TiVo.

Should they consider used?

Sure, but pay close attention to the condition of the exterior of the keyboard. If it’s battered, there are probably circuit boards that could be close to coming apart inside.

Some Final Words on Shopping

In Part 1, we suggested that you buy brand-name equipment at a price that is appropriate to the level of commitment you (or the recipient if it’s a gift) have to the instrument. If you are unsure of the commitment level, it’s OK to buy a sub-$500 keyboard to test it out.  Just know that if you (or your kid) decide to pursue piano or perform in public, you are going to want something better.

Also be aware that most of the keyboards in this lineup do not come with speakers, so be prepared to spend some more for those — around $150 to start.  The good news is that you can use headphones to practice without embarrassing yourself or bothering others.

Electronic keyboards are generally reliable, are of consistent quality, and you don’t need to be a skilled player to know how good they can sound. So you can feel more comfortable buying used or buying online than you might be with other instruments.  As always, it’s best to take along someone with more experience when shopping, especially when evaluating used equipment.

Everything You Need to Know about Buying an Acoustic Piano…

is in the The Piano Book: Buying & Owning a New or Used Piano by Larry Fine.  This is a big topic, but if I had to boil it down to one sentence, it would be this:  Buy the best Yamaha piano that you can afford and will fit in your home.

It can be new or used, but if used, have it evaluated by a piano technician before finalizing the purchase.  This should be considered a long-term investment, and you will be spending a few thousand dollars at least.  Larry used to publish annual updates, but that information is now available in a separate book or online at http://www.pianobuyer.com/.

Buying a musical instrument for the first time can be a daunting task. Each instrument is surrounded by its own vocabulary and mythology, and unbiased information is hard to find. This series will provide straight-forward advice for anyone looking to buy their first (or first “real”) keyboard, bass, guitar, or drum set.

Where should I buy?

1. Your Local Music Store

If you have a local music shop with honest and knowledgeable help that is well-stocked, has a reasonable return policy, can perform repairs, and offers fair prices, buy there.  Unfortunately, if this is your first purchase, it may be hard to discern the answers to many of these questions.

If possible, ask a teacher or other music professional for advice.  But you should also educate yourself and do some research before stepping into the store.  For pricing, know this:

Nobody should pay the list price for a musical instrument

When a new model is introduced and is in high-demand, some dealers may try to sell at list, but instruments are typically discounted 25 to 40% from the suggested retail price.

Most manufacturers set a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) for their dealers, which limits the price that can be advertised.  The MAP may is usually 33 to 40% off the list price, though dealers can (and do) sell for less.  Check online before you head out so you know the MAP (or “street price”) of the product you are shopping for.

2. National Retailer or Chain Store

You may not have a local music shop, or they might not carry what you are looking for.  Is it bad to buy from a big chain?  The answer depends what is available in your town, and how well a particular store (local or national) is run.

Many of the arguments against buying from national chains are more religious than fact-based, but if your faith shuns the big boxes, then be true to your guitar god.

Some of the advantages: they usually have a good assortment of instruments in stock, often in multiple colors and finishes, and generally have decent return policies.  On the other hand, there is commonly high turnover, the staff can be indifferent, and it can sometimes get too loud to think, or too busy to find help.

Avoid retailers who only sell musical instruments seasonally or as a small side-line business.  Their pricing usually won’t be great, the staff may be uninformed, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to get help, parts, or repairs if needed.

3. Online Retailer

There are plenty of online retailers, and for most instruments they carry remarkably similar collections at near-identical pricing.  This should not be the first choice for most first-time buyers, but if you know exactly what you want, and you can only find it online, be sure to choose a dealer with good shipping and return policies.

Online retailers can be used to find the street price for most instruments; are a good source for information and comparisons; and may also provide customer reviews.  Although the reviews can be helpful, don’t be put off by one or two bad reviews among several good ones — some people are just never satisfied.

You should probably ignore reviews from people who have never bought or used the product they are reviewing.  Some reviews become a forum for zealots to preach about (or curse) their chosen (or enemy) brand.  Others just give people an opportunity to waste your time:

Man, these are great sticks. I don’t own em, and I haven’t played them, bit I like them.

~Posted by StratMan420

An advantage of buying online is having the product delivered to your home, especially if it’s a particularly heavy or bulky item.  The big disadvantage is the inability to actually put your hands on an instrument and hear it, particularly if it is one that is prone to variations in production.

[Affiliate Disclosure:  MMT has affilliate relationships with several online retailers, including, Guitar Center, Amazon, Best Buy, and Musician’s Friend.  See About Affiliates for more information.]

4. Craigslist, Classified Ads, and Used Equipment

For most people these days, classified ads means Craigslist, and this is where we start talking about used equipment.  If this is your first purchase of a musical instrument, Craigslist is probably not the best place to start.  But if you do want to shop for used gear, enlist the help of a knowledgeable friend to help you evaluate the ads and equipment and be sure to follow the guidelines to avoid scams.  The most important rule:

Deal locally with folks you can meet in person

If a Craigslist purchase turns out to involve shipping, Western Union, escrow accounts, or other complications, run away and don’t look back.

Although there are deals to be found on Craigslist, they are probably best left to experienced buyers.  For your first instrument, it’s better to work with a dealer who can offer returns and other help if needed, and to buy equipment that is sold with a warranty.

5. Online Auctions / Ebay

Ebay is the last place you should go to look for your first musical instrument.  Although you will see new equipment advertised, the deals are no better (and often worse) than what you will find at reputable online retailers.

There are several potential problems with buying used equipment on Ebay.  Unlike Craigslist, you will usually not be able to hold or hear the instrument.  After the agita of the auction, and assuming you won, you will have to complete the transaction according to the rules of the seller, then wait for your package to arrive.  And since most Ebay sellers are amateur shippers, there is always a chance that your equipment will arrive damaged.

What should I buy?

MMT recommends that you buy brand-name equipment at a price that is appropriate to the level of commitment you (or the recipient if it’s a gift) have to the instrument.  It varies by instrument, but there will be a minimum amount you should spend to make sure the player is not discouraged.

Why “brand-name”?  Several reasons — first, you can expect to get quality that is commensurate with the amount paid.  It will also ensure that you can find replacement parts when repairs are needed, and have a higher resale value when it’s time to trade-up.

How do you measure the level of commitment?  The best way is to first take lessons with a qualified teacher using a borrowed, rented, or school-provided instrument.  If that’s not possible, then be honest with yourself.

Do you (or they) show a lot of enthusiasm for new things, then kick them to the corner after a few weeks?  Or have they already shown their commitment by drumming for hours each day on a practice pad, or composing music on a toy keyboard?

The rest of this series will look at popular instruments and give specific advice on how much to spend and what to buy.  Happy Shopping!

The Major Pentatonic Scale

A pentatonic scale has five notes, which in the C Major pentatonic scale are as follows:

C – D – E – G- A

Take a look at the notes and intervals, and think about what’s missing. The C Major pentatonic scale is the C Major Scale with the fourth (F) and seventh (B) scale tones removed.  By removing these tones, we also remove the intervals of a minor 2nd (semitone) and diminished 5th (tritone). The dissonance of these intervals is what creates much of the tension in traditional Western music.

By removing the most dissonant intervals, pentatonic scales can evoke a more relaxed, even dreamy feeling. They are commonly used in Asian music, and are often referred to as having “no wrong notes.”  This also makes them popular for improvising in rock, blues, or jazz.  Pentatonic scales were used in ancient Greece, in folk music from all over the world, and are a near universal part of our musical language, as Bobby McFerrin demonstrated at the World Science Festival last year.

Guitarists can refer back to our previous post covering the minor pentatonic scale on guitar.  Bass players can think of the major pentatonic scale as the My Girl scale.  [click to continue…]

Free Friday: Andrew York Edition

July 1, 2010

Although he may not be able to compete with Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, Andrew York has an international following that includes classical guitar masters Christopher Parkening and John Williams, who have covered his compositions including “Sunburst,” played by Andrew below.  He also won a Grammy for Best Classical Crossover Album for Guitar Heroes (2004) with […]

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Circle of Fifths Part II: The Inner Circle

May 21, 2010

Another look at the Circle of Fifths, and the relationship of relative minor keys to major key signatures.

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Play > 100 Years by Five for Fighting

May 8, 2010

Nate is back with an excellent tutorial on 100 Years by Five for Fighting. Get Nate’s breakdown of the chords and melody here. Get the sheet music from musicnotes.com: Get the song from iTunes or Amazon:

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Theory 101: Chord Inversions for Piano

April 5, 2010

From our last post on Building Piano Chords, you should be able to form root position chords in any key.  Root position simply means that the chord is played with the root as the lowest note.  (The root is the reference note for a chord: the tone the chord is built on and named after.  […]

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