Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Strings Without Boundaries

Hi All.

On Tuesday, June 28, I was in Pittsburgh, PA, at Duquesne Universi, representing NS Design at the Strings Without Boundaries Workshop. This is a great workshop each summer and I was really pleased to be there. As part of the day, I gave 3 presentations.

First, I had the opportunity to speak with the teacher-track students at the conference. This was essentially a Q and A session and we touched on the topics of recruitment for school programs using bowed electrics, the importance of good monitoring for dynamic performances, setting up electric ensembles, and the differences between active and passive instruments. Next, I gave an elective session for students on the nuts and bolts of amplification. Here, we covered some of the same topics for a totally different set of students. These included monitoring, speaker size, speaker placement, use of DI boxes and preamps and other amplification-related topics. Finally, I finished the day with an electi session of effects-processing. In this session, we really got into the nitty-gritty of reverbs, time-based effects (delays, chorus, and flangers), filter effects (phasers and wah-wahs), harmonizers and pitch shifters, looping, and distortion. We covered a bunch of vocabulary and parameters of all of these great effects as well as practical uses of all of them. If you would like to see some of my sessions on effects, check out and search “electric violins”.

All in all, Strings Without Boundaries is a great event and if you are interested in expanding your improvising and alt styles skills, I highly recommend this event. Special thanks to Julie Lyon Lieberman and Stephen Benham for inviting me to be part of the faculty this year!



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lamar Stringfield Haydn Orchestra 2011

Here is a new video of me performing with the Lamar Stringfield Haydn Orchestra on Friday, June 24, at Meredith College ini Raleigh, NC. It is a great example of how electric bowed instruments can be incorporated into a tradition school program. Thanks, especially to Todd Miller, guitar, and Matt Vooris, drums. Enjoy!

NS Design’s Instruments Electrify the Classroom

Hi all -
The following article appeared on the NS Design Blog recently. I thought I would share it with you today.

Music educators across the country are discovering that electric stringed instruments offer a new, powerful way to engage young musicians. As the string education community has begun to embrace what it terms “alternative styles”—including jazz, rock, and many kinds of fiddling and world music—electric string instruments are attracting attention for their ability to play amplified without feedback, and their ability to incorporate electronic effects.

Teachers at the forefront of electric string education are quick to point out that the advantages of the instruments extend beyond performance settings. Amplification gives some students a new sense of empowerment, and for many, it clarifies the challenges they face with their playing technique. The process of creating and refining sound electronically requires students to think about aspects of music they would not need to consider with an acoustic instrument—a valuable means of engaging a generation already steeped in technology.

NS Design recently interviewed four different players, including educators who use electric instruments in their classrooms, as well as performers who use electrics to attract new audiences to the possibilities of stringed instruments in general. We are proud to work with these musicians, and we hope that sharing their perspectives will inspire other teachers and students to new musical endeavors.

New possibilities

For Scott Laird, who is Instructor of Music at the North Carolina School for Science and Math in Durham, NC, technology serves both as a pedagogical tool and as a focus of instruction, and NS Design’s instruments are a centerpiece of the classroom. Laird’s performance career has revolved around the electric violin and the technology associated with it. As an educator, he champions a “blended curriculum” of classroom instruction reinforced by online resources, such as D’Addario’s Web site The Lesson Room, to which he has contributed several videos. In his classroom, Laird says, electric instruments serve the dual purpose of facilitating performances that would not be possible with their acoustic counterparts, and engaging students in a more complex understanding of music.

Laird says that overcoming the amplification barrier is the biggest practical advantage to incorporating electric strings in an educational setting. In so doing, educators can remove the restrictions that often keep string students from trying jazz, rock, and other amplified genres.

“From a performance standpoint, it completely opens up what you can do with a bowed instrument because volume is no longer a limiting factor,” Laird said recently in an interview. “The great violinist in your school can play with the jazz ensemble.” In addition, NS instruments’ precise tone and volume controls of offer practical advantages in orchestrating student performances. “We use the NXT Bass to accompany the wind ensemble,” he said. “It lets us get just the right amount of volume and a really warm tone.”

But besides expanding performance options, Laird explains that electric instruments make students think about music in new ways. The precise control NS instruments offer over their output signal—and their ability to use electronic effects—requires students to plan and analyze the sounds they wish to create.

“Electric instruments ask students to think about tone quality as it relates to an adjustment knob, a reverb tail, a delay. These are questions that traditional string students normally don’t have to answer,” Laird said. “One of the main things teachers are called upon to do is encourage students to step out of their comfort zones.”

Scott Laird also sees an improvement in his students’ musicianship as a result of electric instruments’ tonality and interface abilities. “When you’re amplified, your mistakes do not get covered up,” he said. “Your inconsistencies from a technique standpoint are obvious. Kids can plug an electric violin straight into a laptop and record themselves playing a Bach Partita, and hear the subtle inconsistencies in their bow technique and intonation.”

Yvette Devereaux, a Los Angeles-based violinist, conductor, composer and educator, who performs on an NS CR-5, attributes a similar advantage to the electric violin. But she says that, in addition to offering students a clearer technical picture of their playing, electric violins empower students on an emotional level. As a teacher of younger students, Devereaux has a first-hand view of how playing amplified can help students overcome their insecurities.

“When a student tries an electric violin plugged into an amp, you get instant gratification,” she said. “Students hear all these undertones and overtones that they can’t get right away on an acoustic violin. The violin becomes not just a violin anymore.” Playing amplified also allows some students to understand their playing in a wider musical context. “Right away they feel like they’re part of a current situation,” she said. “They say, ‘oh wow, I can play this anywhere!’”

Inspiring from the Stage

Outside the classroom, a number of performers and organizations have used NS instruments to reach out to young audiences in performance settings. One such group, the Los Angeles-based Elevation Orchestra, is an ensemble that includes 17 string players (including several NS players) as well as a rhythm section of bass, drums, and keyboards. Targeting underserved urban audiences, the group strives to expand its listeners’ musical palates by applying classical string instrumentation to contemporary, pop-inspired compositions.

“The elevation orchestra was created to let everybody know that string instruments are not just for classical music, but are actually behind a lot of the big groups in pop music that you hear today,” said Ryan Cross, the group’s founder. “NS instruments help us kick that goal.”

The group has commissioned work from arrangers who have written for Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Earth Wind and Fire, and Stevie Wonder, among others. Cross and members Chris and Adrienne Woods performed at NS Design’s exhibit at the 2011 Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, California—one of three annual international trade shows for music products, and the largest of its kind in the U.S.

NS Design has also worked with motivated performers to make instruments available for special events with significant educational impact. In 2010, the company loaned a quartet of instruments to the Colorado Symphony for a performance of George Crumb’s piece “Black Angels” at the Denver School of the Arts. Violinist Erik Peterson organized the performance and, with help from NS endorser Dr. Gregory T. S. Walker, arranged to let students try the instruments hands-on. Peterson said that the experience revealed the value of pursuing approaches to string education that might have seemed radical even in the recent past.

“To have that exposure was very good for them,” he said. “They were excited to hear the piece and excited to try the instruments. We can’t just approach string instruments in the way they were approached a hundred years ago. There are musicians and audiences for all different types of music.”

Catch the WAV

As part of an initiative to encourage the adoption of electric stringed instruments, NS Design has launched a pilot program, called “Catch the WAV”, to make its four-string WAV Series electric violin available through participating retailers at a special pricing to schools and educators. Educators who are interested in taking advantage of this program should contact their local NS Design dealer for assistance in finding a dealer contact. (To find a participating dealer, contact .)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

FL Studio Mobile

"Get FL Studio Mobile"

Check out the new FL Studio Mobile. I love this product and use it all the time for production of songs, rhythm tracks, and for my Digital Music Production Classes.

Image-Line is pleased to announce FL Studio Mobile is now available from your local App Store. There are two FL Studio Mobile applications:

FL Studio Mobile: For iPhone & iPod Touch, G3 & G4 with Retina display support - $14.99 introductory and $19.99 later.

FL Studio Mobile HD: For iPad 1 & 2 - $19.99 introductory and $24.99 later.

FL Studio Mobile Out Now!

FL Studio Mobile is available in iPhone/Pod and iPad (HD) versions.


Load and extend projects in the FL Studio desktop version
Resizable, stackable piano keys & reconfigurable drum-pads
Stuffed with FL Studio quality instruments, drum kits & loop files
99-track sequencer, Piano roll editor & Step sequencer
WAV, MIDI & FLM (project) import/export
iPad HD version, iPhone 4 Retina Display support
Compatible with the Akai SynthStation 25

Just go to the App Store and if you have an iPhone/iPod Touch FL Studio Mobile OR if you have an iPad FL Studio Mobile HD.


What about Android OS? It's on the roadmap, stop nagging! We have a development team working on a low-latency Android audio-engine and there are many screen resolutions and device specifications to consider, it's not as simple as you may think :)

Does this mean FL Studio on Mac OSX soon? FL Studio Mobile is not a port of the Windows version of FL Studio. It is the product of a completely separate development team, and code, so FL Studio Mobile, while compatible with FL Studio has no impact on FL Studio development and vice versa.

Can I load my own samples? Not in version 1.0. We plan to enable user uploads in a future update.

Can I use VSTs? No, iOS does not support VSTs and frankly the devices it runs on don't have the CPU power to perform the synthesis you are used to on a desktop. FL Studio Mobile uses high quality sample based instruments made from Image-Line plugins and sample packs.

Give it a try!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Commencement 2011

Last weekend a busy one for me and all at NCSSM. We held our 2011 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday and then on Sunday, we held commencement ceremonies for our On-line students. My orchestra performed an awards ceremony on Thursday, Commencement on Saturday and then I played solo violin for the ceremonies on Sunday. I had a great deal of time at these events to think about the commencement season and what it means to me today. I realized that this year represented my 25th year of commencement exercises for students. My first was in 1987 in Palmyra, PA.

Over the years, I believe that my perspective on commencement and its relevance to my life has changed drastically. Back in 1987, it represented the end of a first year of teaching and an opportunity to regroup and prepare for the next school year. I had graduate work to attend to and a bunch of things to figure out about teaching. As the 1980's progressed and into the 1990's, commencement came to represent the beginning of the summer and opportunities for windsurfing, beach trips, and camping. It was essentially the beginning of vacation. Later in the 1990's it came to represent closure. An opportunity to close the door on one year and prepare to, all too quickly, open the door on another. As the years have moved on, each has had its own significance, and over the years one starts to look a great deal like another.

One of the great challenges for a teacher of high school age students is to remember that each commencement is the most important one to the students in that class. They are proud of their accomplishments, excited for the challenges that lie ahead, and certainly, a bit apprehensive about the changes that are about to come in their life. I remember the magnitude of the event in my own life and I truly try, each year, to honor that crossroad and celebrate with my students both in my actions and in my thoughts. In doing so, I do feel that each commencement, for me, has been a bit more meaningful.

I want to take a minute today to share what commencement means to me this year. I have found in my reflection over the past week that I really want to be better. I want to be a better teacher. I want to be more scholarly. I want to plan more exciting lessons and be more inspiring. I want to be a better musical authority on the repertoire that I select for the various orchestras that I conduct. I want to be a better father, husband, colleague, mentor, and professional. There have been days over the years that I thought I had this stuff pretty much figured out. I have been teaching orchestra for a long time and have felt like I knew what I was doing. It seems the longer I do it, the more I realize how much I have to learn. I have come to realize that I can always be more "present," more in the moment. I can prepare more effectively. I can study more deeply. I can participate more fully in all of the activities that are necessary to success in this life. I have come to understand over the years that the only way that one can stay viable is to stay unsatisfied. I want more out of myself. I want to be ever-developing as a person, scholar, and musician. The only way to make this happen is through action. I have to continue to study, listen, learn, reflect, and implement new ideas into all that I do.

For my dear students in the class of 2011, (and all other classes that have gone before and will come in the future) I challenge you to continue to desire to improve. We can always do a little bit more, be a little bit better. I know that I haven't achieved all that I can yet. I promise that I will keep trying to get it right. I will keep working to achieve the little goals. For meeting the little goals leads to attaining the big ones! I challenge you to do the same.

To the class of 2011: I wish you all great success in college and in all that you endeavor in life. It had been a pleasure to be a small part of your life at NCSSM. You have enriched mine.