Sunday, September 11, 2011

iPads, cellos, and medical economics, part I


Truth be told, I'm not a very good cellist.

I've played off and on since grade school, never reaching any great level of proficiency. In my adult years I've dabbled a bit, not taking the instrument very seriously until earlier this year when I resumed lessons for the first time in 40 years.

It's much easier to learn an instrument in the Internet Era. I've learned more about, for example, vibrato technique by visiting YouTube than I had with hands-on teaching. And anyone and everyone has posted a video of themselves playing something. You can see plenty of Rostropovich recordings, but if you'd rather, there are plenty of 7 year olds whose parents have posted videos of a very scratchy performance of Suzuki book 1.

The most elusive quality in the art of the cello is intonation. The cello has no frets, so you have to place your fingers exactly on a spot to generate the proper pitch. Early on the process might be characterized as "just kind of guessing". The more you practice, the better your guesses become.

The most helpful thing I've found for my intonation is to play with someone else, typically a pianist. The piano's pitch isn't going to change, and it isn't the pianist's fault if your note is just off a little bit. Playing a duet forces me to play as accurately as I possibly can.

I shouldn't take this personally, but it's always been almost impossible to find a pianist who can join me at any regular interval.


The greatest invention for frustrated rank amateur musicians since the tuning fork is GarageBand. This software, packaged with an iMac, is a very nice music processor. It's not the easiest software in the world to operate, but with a few trips to YouTube to watch GarageBand tutorials I learned the art of multitracking. Multitracking is when you play one line of music into the machine, then play a second one which you can layer on the first one, up to eight tracks. Musicians only 20 years ago would have killed to get such a seamless program.

I can now play duos, trios, or as shown in the above screen-shot, quartets with myself. For now, pay no attention to the checked "Autotune" box in the lower left corner.

For $100 I built up the prestigious Klengelhasser Recording Studio, which consists of a Blue Snowball microphone I got at 40% off at (can't beat that deal with a stick), an $18 mic stand, a $15 set of monitor headphones, and assorted extension cords.


This is all nestled in between the toy box we have for our grandchildren in the family room and our computer station.

My "studio time" is limited by other members of my family watching TV, talking, or the phone going off. I made one pretty decent recording only to have my wife open the dishwasher in the last measure. I kept it anyway. I thought the tinkling of the dishes together gave the recording a rather pleasing "patina". Still, I really wanted to be able to move my "studio" into some other room so I wouldn't have to compete with "Buried Alive" or "What Not To Wear" or all the other stuff the distaff members of my family enjoy.

To be continued.

1 comment:

  1. Which stand did you buy? I have a blue snowball but can't find a stand that can screw onto the bottom. What did you do to get this to work? Thanks!