Karl Sloman (Part 2)

Part 2 of 2

Karl Sloman is the owner/operator of four music schools operating under the Wizdom Academy name in Ontario, Canada. I was introduced to Karl through TIP member John Favicchia, who had just done a string of clinics for him and was inspired by his use of technology and very unique approach to education. After a few phone conversations, I decided to fly up to visit Karl’s schools and see what he was doing. I think you’ll find his outlook and work ethic to be inspiring and thought provoking. You may not agree with all of his ideas, but there is no questioning his passion and drive. As the interview is quite long, I’ve decided to stretch it out over two issues.

Please talk about your programs for developmentally disabled students and elaborate on some of the technology you’ve developed to help them play music.

This is an area that I am very passionate about and is often overlooked by musicians. If you want to make a difference to the world of music in your community and you want to see music from a different perspective, consider starting a music program for persons with disabilities. I use the same process for our Adaptive Music Program as for our standard program but incorporate the special requirements of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities are not any different than you or I. I am disabled in that I have difficulty solving quadratic equations. In addition I cannot play drums with the coordination of Thomas Lang (mind you most of us are disabled in this regard). The students in our adaptive program have similar issues. They are smart, think like us, but have some characteristics, normally physical, which limit what they can do.

The Adaptive Program began in 2004 when I played a 60 hour drum marathon (then a world record) to raise awareness for music and the disabled for the Thames Valley Children’s Centre in London, Ontario Canada. I raised about $1,700 through my efforts and gained attention from many local politicians in the region. I even received a medal for my efforts! When the event was done the CEO of Thames Valley asked me if I would be interested in developing a music program for their centre and I jumped at the opportunity.

With the initial money I had raised we purchased a keyboard, drum module and electronics that would convert wheelchair outputs to usable signals for our equipment. Then began the great experiment! The majority of students who perform in our program have cerebral palsy. They are intellectually strong but their bodies do not function well. In most cases the students are wheelchair-bound and some cannot even speak. They must communicate via pictograms or letters on their wheelchair trays. We hooked up wheelchairs to interface boxes and found that we could get signals from the switches in the headrests.

The program is based on standard music instruction working through music theory, rudiments, coordination etc. The other section of the program focuses on performance with the development of a band called Trainwreck. From the beginning, the students were in charge of music selection for the band. The band is now 4 years old and performs regularly for a variety of audiences. The music ranges from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Oasis. We have played to audiences up to 3,000 people and receive standing ovations for the performances. The program has been such a success that our students have been invited to participate in the province-wide Kiwanis Music Festival where they are formally judged on their musicianship. In these competitions our students have made a huge impact on both the judges and audiences.

Nicole Turner (Bass Drum), Chad McClinchey (Snare) and Jennifer Zubko (Hi Hats)

Nicole Turner (Bass Drum), Chad McClinchey (Snare) and Jennifer Zubko (Hi Hats)

Since the inception of the program, I have developed a drumstick with electronics built into it. The stick triggers the drum modules when it is hit on any surface. With the assistance of the Thames Valley Children’s Centre, we have also built a number of interfaces to convert signals for our musicians.

If anyone wishes to know more about the program, I will certainly assist them (contact me at wizdomacademy@sympatico.ca). The program is immensely satisfying and it makes a positive impact on the students’ lives.

Can you elaborate on your use of Guitar Pro and other software in your teaching.

Guitar Pro, in my opinion, is the best teaching tool on the market. We utilize Guitar Pro for all instruction. For those not familiar with the software, it is designed for both PC and Mac and allows one to download tablatures from the internet and manipulate those files. Each instrument can be removed from the mix and played separately. The program can print out the music in tab and standard notation. It even allows one to compose using the software. I believe the most powerful element to the software is its ability to loop sections of the song. This allows one to slow the part down without pitch shifting. The program also has a graphical selector switch which shows the notes on the neck of the guitar and on the keys of a piano.

Guitar Pro is a program that no musician should be without, even if you use it to simply instruct your students on its existence and the power it gives any musician. I recommend that everyone try the program (I do not represent the company in any way). Guitar Pro will give you a one month trial free of charge. Go to their website at http://www.guitar-pro.com/en/index.php.

Please describe your use of video and other tools and what titles you find particularly helpful

My position on Video is it is the best enhancement tool on the market to ensure your students remain inspired. Where else can you have a professional musician instruct your students at any time? The only drawback to video is it does not respond to the student. However, that is why you the instructor are there! The other great thing about video is YOU learn while the student is learning from the masters of the instrument. The top titles we use in the school are mostly drum videos and are used in this order:

Although we use other videos, the ones listed above are staples. But any video is better than no video!

We also use Sibelius software in the school for producing all of our music notation. The program is easy to use and brutally powerful, I have used other programs but I find this one to be the most comprehensive. It also can import midi files. This allows you to import a Guitar Pro file, edit the music and then export it back to Guitar Pro. Sibelius also has the ability to scan in music and recognize the notation using OCR (Optical Character Recognition).

Computers are the single greatest tool we use in the school. We essentially run the entire school on computers. Everything from administration to operations is done on computer. For those who are critical of computers my only comment is, you are being left behind and will become extinct. Most of your students live on computers and see them as a natural interface to the real world. The internet is a wealth of resources for the musician and you can find almost anything related to music. There are some music websites which are a must for musicians. The top websites we use are:

Youtube.com – the world of video at your fingertips and this site is the King. Youtube is a wonderful resource for videos of bands and persons doing instruction, however be careful with the instruction because some of the information is not accurate.

Also, as for copyrighted material, purchase the original disks ! If you don’t and you instead download them from Youtube it will not be long before companies cannot afford to produce the videos in the first place!

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