The Myths and Realities of Chinese Made Musical Instruments

trumpet-300For more than a decade now band directors have lamented the influx of ultra low-cost musical instrument brands being made overseas in China and in other countries.  The complaints have, for the most part, centered around intonation problems, lack of durability, and difficulty in getting repairs done quickly.  To have heard the complaints back in the late 1990’s one would have thought that absolutely nothing good in the way of musical instruments ever came out of China in those early years.

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Why Low Cost Musical Instruments May NOT Be Such A Bad Thing

computermoney300If you are a public school band director you have to face the facts.  No matter what you say, no matter how you say it, you will still wind up with inferior quality instruments being brought into your band rehearsals.  We have complained and argued about the percieved poor quality of these instruments, coming from dozens of different manufacturers and being sold in stores along side the Barbie dolls and NERF guns.  For nearly twenty years we have complained about instruments that break at the slightest bit of excess pressure or repair parts that are almost impossible to get.  The question is, in the last twenty years have things really changed and in reality, is a $125 trumpet really a bad thing?

You may not be happy with the answers I am going to give you...

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A PLASTIC Trombone? Right!

plastic-trombone-300Okay, I know the physics says that you can make a brass instrument out of pretty much any resonating tube, but the idea of playing on a piece of PVC pipe just bugs me....  Today I stopped into my local music retailer to pay off a bill and sitting behind the counter was a brilliantly colored yellow trombone.  Walking around the side to get a better look I realized it wasn't just a fancy paint job, it really was made of PLASTIC!  Images of little plastic toy trumpets still wrapped up in a Christmas box breaking in my chubby little hands immediately filled my mind with fear and foreboding.

At the very least the purist in me screamed that there was just no way that an instrument like that could possibly sound good.  At the worst I began to harbor a fear of the coming zombie apocolypse for I had been told that this was one of the possible signs to look for before it started...  

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Avid Mbox and Mbox Mini Audio Interfaces Now With Free ProTools Software

cw 260x260 MboxSPECFor those of you in the market for putting together a new digital audio workstation (DAW) setup in your home or in a school music lab Avid has changed its lineup of the popular Mbox audio interfaces to include two models that now ship with a free copy of ProTools Express.  The Mbox interface provides four channel recording, two XLR inputs with phantom power, two 1/4" inputs, and two balanced 1/4 inch outputs.  It connects to your computer using a standard USB interface cable.

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SmartMusic Adds Large Variety of New Pop Music To Its Repertoire

mic-closeup500The growth and popularity of SmartMusic as a music education tool shows that the program definitely has it's benefits.  Until now though most people would assume that it was primarily being used in school settings or in concert with private lessons.  Now it appears that MakeMusic is pushing hard to broaden the appeal of SmartMusic to other musicians as well with the announcement of a newly expanded partnership with Hal Leonard publishing.  SmartMusic has always carried the more popular lesson books and solo material but now they are set to expand to a whole new range of current pop music from big names like Kelly Clarkson, Aerosmith, the Beatles, and dozens more including titles from the Rogers and Hammerstein music library and Disney.  

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Lindsey Sterling Plays Dubstep Violin- Beautifully!

Lindsey Sterling Playing Dubstep ViolinI love seeing instrumental pieces like this go viral on YouTube.  Take a look at the video below to see violinist Lindsey Sterling playing a dubstep piece called Crystallize she wrote in a frozen wonderland out in Colorado.  When I showed it to my daughter she immediately started begging for me to teach her violin which is of course is in the only instrument family that I totally stink at. Oh well, my wife was a violist so I have already told her that she gets the honor of passing on that tradition. :)

By the way, here is a link to Lindsey's web site if you want more information about her music, but go figure, at the time of this writing her site was down probably from all the traffic as a result of the popularity of this video. You can also see more of her videos and information over on her YouTube channel as well.


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More MIDI + Kinect Music Creation

Kinect being used as a MIDI controllerA few weeks ago I did a post on some Brits at Noise Solutions that are doing some interesting work using the Microsoft Kinect bar together with PC software to allow people to create music using nothing more than body movements.  The computer is running software made by a guy by the name of Chris Vik from Melbourne, Australia and he has some of his stuff up for view at his Kinectar web site.  

This isn't your old Theramin junk, it's actually pretty cool.  

Click the Read More link to see the video of their latest efforts.



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New Musical Instruments Marry Jello With High Tech

Jeltone Jello PianoOn Friday, February 17th during a live webcast the annual Georgia Tech Guthman Musical Instrument Competition will be available for all to watch.  Each year this eclectic mix of new and strange musical instruments takes the stage to see whose design will win what some people have gone so far as to call the X-prize for music.  In reality it is quite a bit less than that, with the top prize only being $10,000.  Still, the honor and prestigue of having your creation featured in this competition is definitely worth some cool points.  Last year's top winners fail to impress me much, a strange electronic table instrument called Mo Kitchen and the MindBox Media Slot Machine are interesting but a little bit boring IMHO.  In contrast the 2010 winner, the Double Slide Controller makes my trombonist heart beat with extended enthusiasm.


Read on for more videos about some of the 2012 Guthman Musical Instrument Competitors

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Making Music With A Kinect Sensor and A Laptop

Making Music With A DIY Kinect and PCI want to thank the guys over at the Noise Solution blog for showing me some really cool new DIY tech that makes an excellent substitute for the Soundbeam musical instrument.  For those that don't know a Soundbeam is a very pricey (like $5,000 pricey) device that senses movement and turns it into sound.  It is most often used in music therapy and as a way to help special needs individuals create music when they have limited mobility or dexterity.  To make a long story short, the guys at Noise Solution have rigged up a cool Do It Yourself substitute for this device using around $100 of off the shelf parts and some home brew software.  

The video below shows you what they have accomplished.  They have also done a similar music creation project using Wii remotes that is very impressive as well.  Read on to see the video.

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JamStudio Makes Practicing More Fun

Guitar FretboardThanks to a Twitter post from @SmartMusic I have found a neat little online rhythm generator that can easily be used to provide background accompaniments when having students practice scales and other exercises.  Having the background beat going really does help younger students keep focused and steady, plus it makes even simple sounding exercises a lot more impressive to the ear.   Best of all it's free and fairly easy to use.  

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Teachers You Should Meet- Steve Park- French Horn

One of the great things about being a writer for Teaching Music is that I get a chance to talk to some great teachers that normally I would never meet or probably even hear of.  This month in preparation for a piece coming out in the April issue I got to meet Steve Park, an Adjunct Horn Professor at Utah State University.  The topic was on trumpet stuff (you'll just have to read the piece in the magazine if you are curious) but along the way he gave me some great tips for helping a few of my floundering trumpet and horn students.  Sometimes it just takes a different point of view to help you see a new way to teach something and teaching it in that new way can make all the difference.  

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  • An example of why we need to teach music and arts education in our schools:

    The Global Search for Education: The Master – Renée FlemingPosted By C. M. Rubin on Nov 19, 2013 “Study after study has shown that arts education develops students’ creativity and problem-solving skills, attributes that are crucial for success in almost any field.” — Renée FlemingL to R Vera Kahn,…
    www.cmrubinworld.comThe Global Search for Education: The Master – Renée FlemingPosted By C. M. Rubin on Nov 19, 2013 “Study after study has shown that arts education develops students’ creativity and problem-solving skills, attributes that are crucial for success in almost any field.” — Renée FlemingL to R Vera Kahn,…

  • Hey music teachers, download a free, complete, beginning band method book to use with your students this fall.

    A new band method called Sound Fundamentals is being provided for free. Print it or use it on a tablet with all of your beginning band students!
    www.musicedmagic.comA new band method called Sound Fundamentals is being provided for free. Print it or use it on a tablet with all of your beginning band students!


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