Monday, February 16, 2009

iLife '09: Garage band artist music lessons are awesome

Scarlet expressed an interest last year in learning to read sheet music again. To that end, we asked for an M-Audio KeyRig 49 for Christmas.

Since I was a teenager, I've had a sort of background interest in music. I used to sing in choirs, and have been in operas and operettas on and off. I can read music well enough to plunk out vocal parts on the piano and can hack out chords and the like, so I thought I'd be able to teach Scarlet a little bit about how to play the piano as a way to help her read music better.

I still have my old synthesizer keyboard from 1984. It doesn't have velocity support, but it can act as a MIDI source, and I have a MIDI to USB adapter that has been demonstrated to work correctly with GarageBand in the past, but the newer USB music keyboards are lighter and more portable, so they make a lot more sense for our office space. Besides, GarageBand running on a mac is far and away a better synthesizer than that old Seiko keyboard could have ever hoped to be.

So that was the plan, and that's fine. But when the MacWorld keynote in January demonstrated the Learn To Play features of iLife '09, I was intrigued. Well, we finally got our hands on a copy of iLife '09, and I was so impressed with the free lessons (they really got Scarlet started on the right foot), that I bought an artist lesson for myself: Sara Bareilles' Love Song.

It's not really my genre of choice - I'm more of an alternative rock fan than a pop fan - but in the limited selection available, it was the lowest difficulty piano choice available.

Sara is an excellent teacher, and the song is certainly both playable, interesting, and reasonably approachable. I don't play it exactly the way the sheet music says I should. I play the chords and I simplify the rhythm a little bit to suit me (I'm not sure she would really approve, but I don't have enough left-hand / right-hand disconnect to do it her way).

There are a few improvements I would make, and they're minor:

1. While you can choose to replace the sheet music with the chords, it would be really nice to display the chord names above the staff the way you often see in real print music. I'd be able to see the chords more easily, while still pulling rhythmical cues and the vocal lead off the page. As it is now, the only prayer I have of keeping up with the full speed track is just with the chord track and winging it.

2. They really, really need to not let the time pointer get so far to the right before they scroll the music. I need to read ahead a little bit, and I pretty often get to the end of the screen and wind up getting surprised by what comes next when the next measure finally scrolls in.

3. The selection in the artist store is obviously too limited to be realistic. Not only is it obvious that this will change as more artists get on board, I'd be stunned if artists don't start tripping over themselves to get into the store.

But apart from those minor complaints, I have to say, the whole concept is really a blast. It's the best $5 I've spent on computer software of any kind in at least a year.

No comments: