Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mixcraft - Music Making for the Mac Challenged

So you don't have access to a Mac? Did you actually listen when your tech advisor told you not to buy one? So now you are stuck without GarageBand. In my search for a PC replacement I come accross Mixcraft 4. It is looking promising. I haven't spent too much time on it yet but it looks like a powerful music creation tool. It has lots of clips that you drag and drop to create your own song. It supports multiple tracks and it also records instruments and voice. There is lots of support for Midi instruments as well.

I gave it to one of my students to try out. I wanted her to compare it to GarageBand. She liked it and put togther a neat little clip (and if I can figure out how to upload it I have her permission to share it). When I asked her she said that she preferred it to Garage Band. I think that the included clips are a little longer and have better variety (not completely sure though.)

I spent a couple of hours trying to hook the Rock Band instruments up to it (like I did with the Mac and Garage Band). No luck. Now that doesn't mean it can't be done - it just means that I have not figured out how. I am still new to the world of digital music creation.

It isn't free, but the $65 price tag won't break the bank either. Go on over and download the free trial. Let me know what you think. If you have any other music editors/creation tools I would love to hear about them.

Rock On - Garage Band Style!

Well, we did it. Rock Band instruments work just fine while hooked up to Garage Band for the Mac. It was not too terribly hard to hook them up and set them up. I downloaded a quick little program called Game Pad Companion (as recommended here). Then it was as simple as configuring the buttons to match keys on the keyboard. We then used the musical typing tool in Garage Band. It really was quite easy, and it sounds pretty realistic. The video I have up above is of my classroom neighbor (and his students) messing around with it. There are tons of instrument sounds to choose from - but the lead electric guitar is definately the best.

One problem is that we have not found a way to use two or more instruments simultaneously. You have to record each track and instrument separately (otherwise the instruments fight over the musical keyboard). In the video you can see the girl at the drums waiting for her turn to record a drum track.

Hooking the Rock Band instruments up to the Mac is a neat trick but in reality you can achieve more with a Midi keyboard - or even just working directly from the computer keyboard. The advantage is using the student's kinisthetic learning. They are used to the shape and feel of the guitar - many of them play real guitars (and even more play Rock Band or Guitar Hero). The touch is familiar to them.

Too bad we didn't actually have any musical talent.

Monday, January 5, 2009

7 Things Meme

Donna DesRoches invited me to join in on the 7 Things Meme. Here are 7 things you may or may not know about me.

1. Before going into Education I spent 3 years in the College of Engineering at the U of S. I finally decided that I wanted to spend more time working with people. It probably explains my fascination with technology. I don't regret any of the time or money I spent in Engineering.

2. I used to be quite involved in 4H. I did woodworking and electrical projects (which have really helped me with my current tinkering). I was even involved with the alumni through university. 4H is a very good organization. I think that once my son is old enough I will get involved again.

3. I took accordion lessons when I was a kid. I never really liked it.

4. I used to play the trumpet in high school. I did like the trumpet. Unfortunately during my grade 12 year I developed a spontaneous pneumothorax after a band festival (essentially I blew a hole in my lung). I spent 2 weeks in the hospital with some of that time in the intensive care ward. Never really played again.

5. I enjoy camping and the outdoors. My last four years of university were paid for through treeplanting. Even after spending all day out in the sun for 3 months at a time I never ever got a noticable tan.

6. My mom and dad were both born at the same hospital two days apart. My paternal grandmother (holding my dad) and my maternal grandfather (holding my mom) met in the lobby and both joked about trading babies. My grandmother already had a boy and my grandfather wanted boys. For the record neither got what they wanted until my parents got married.

7. Last of all I am afraid of heights. I took a job roofing for a couple of months just to try and get over it. I was the guy who got to clean out the gutters on the four story appartment buildings. I can now deal with heights but I am still not comfortable. That is actually how I try to deal with lots of my fears. Anybody want to help me out with my fear of having way too much money?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rock On!

So did you spend a wad of cash on Rock Band 2 this Christmas? Did you have to buy an expensive console to go with it? Did you lose hours to playing the the happiness that is Rock Band and or Guitar Hero (but secretly feel guilty about the price)?

Well you are not going to like me very much.

Last night I was over at a friend of mine's. Now I had been perfectly happy to scoff at anybody who lost hours of their life playing these rhythm music games. Then he had to pull it out. And I played it. And I liked it. And my wife played it. And she liked it. Rats. Big fat expensive rats. We were driving home and when I reached to turn up a song on the radio she asked "You are thinking about Rock Band too, aren't you?" Yes. Yes I was.

So after drinking too much coffee on the drive home I sat down to think about it. I was jealous and wanted Rock Band II. But I have one problem. I am cheap (cut my own hair cheap). Friends have tried to call me frugal but they are just being nice. So I started looking for a free open source clone. Enter Unsigned. A free open source rhythm music game. It felt just like Rock Band. The bonus is that apparently XBox 360 instruments connect to PC's quite easily. After some reading it looks like Wii and PS2/3 versions will too - but with more work. (I already have experience hooking WiiMote's up to my laptop.)

I was surprised to find out that the program runs well on my low end work laptop. I have only been using the keyboard to play and it is fun. Later this afternoon I intend to go and rent a XBox 360 guitar controller to try. There looks like a reasonably active community that creates charts for existing music (charts are the part that tell you when to hit the buttons - the actual game). You are supposed to own a real copy of the original music. There are more free tools for doing it yourself.

The cons? It is not as pretty as the real thing. The song charts are user created so most of them don't have all of the instruments and don't have all of the difficulty levels. (Why don't they make more easy levels? Not all of us can play on expert!) The program actually isn't even finished. All we have now is a beta version. If you try and play a song on a difficulty level that hasn't been created then all you look at for the entire song is a bunch of empty frets. The songs and charts are a little bit annoying to download - you usually have to move the files around to two different directories.

It definatly isn't perfect - but I am sure that there are flaws with the money I am saving too. Until I win the lottery I will continue being cheap and playing this free game. It's fun.

Now where did I leave those hair clippers?