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Technology for the Traveling Drum Teacher

tip-logoby Mike Sorrentino

Last month we talked about setting up a modern teaching studio. In this month’s article we’ll deal with a subject that many of us face: what to bring to a lesson that you’re teaching in a student’s home. While the vast majority of my teaching happens at my private studio, I do have two students whose homes I travel to. Some of you teach exclusively “on the road”, and many of you have a combination in your teaching practices. With today’s technology, it’s pretty inexpensive and very easy to carry everything you need in a small briefcase. I’m going to ignore the obvious items to bring: metronome, pad, sticks, etc. and focus on the other items that I bring, as well as some items other teachers have mentioned.

For many of us, almost all of our needs can be met by carrying a laptop computer. In my computer I have my music collection (in the form of Itunes), an HD screen and player for watching DVDs and videos, wireless Internet accessibility (both students I travel to have wireless routers in their homes) and recording software. With a headphone splitter adapter plugged right into the headphone output, I’m all set for the student to listen and/or play along. Just about any lesson that I teach in my studio can be taught with my laptop at the same level of professionalism. I think the laptop is a pretty obvious necessity for today’s music teacher, but what about some a little less obvious? Or what about tools that, when put in a briefcase, are even smaller and lighter than a laptop?

Listening is the most vital part of learning any instrument. Looking back I’m astonished (and embarrassed a bit) at how little music we used when I taught in a store in the 1990’s. The store simply didn’t provide us with the equipment, and bringing my own gear to and from was not a viable option. Today’s Mp3 players eliminate that problem. Whether it’s the ubiquitous iPod (I have three!) or one from another manufacturer doesn’t really matter. Having an entire music collection at your fingertips is just a great teaching tool. Consider having one a necessity, not an option. Mobile recording is becoming easier and much less expensive as well. I have two pieces of gear that I bring to my mobile lessons when I don’t bring my laptop. The first, as I’ve mentioned in a previous article, is my Zoom H2. This device has two microphones built right into it and it’s no bigger than the palm of my hand. The recording quality is more than good enough for a lesson situation. More importantly it’s easy and fast to learn. For me, this has been very effective for recording a student playing and then listening back. It’s not a multitrack recorder, so it’s not very good for recoding a student playing along with say, Groove Essentials, but for a quick listen for critiquing purposes, it’s great. For the multitrack needs I use either my laptop or my next tool.

Multi-track recorders are getting smaller all the time. These “pocket studios” are perfectly suited for the traveling drum teacher. The one I use is a Boss Micro BR digital recorder. It’s a hand held four-track recorder that can record on two tracks simultaneously by using the built in microphone (not very good honestly) or a stereo line in/mic input. I often use this to record students playing along to tracks. It’s a fairly simple process with a little advance thought. I put a play along track into the unit by simply taking a line out of my Ipod (where I have all the Groove Essentials tracks) and record it straight into the Boss in stereo. I do this before the lesson. I then record the student playing along with the built in mic. It sounds acceptable, especially with some of the eq’ing and other options available onboard. For college applications, placement, auditions etc, I wouldn’t recommend this set up. I would use my laptop and nicer mic’s or have the student come to my studio, preferably. But for a quick application on the go in a lesson format where time is of the essence, I have no complaints. There are many of these units on the market and the prices continue to fall.

For watching DVDs I prefer the large HD screen on my laptop, but not every lesson warrants watching a DVD. (Don’t tell my bosses that!) If I know I’ll be watching something then the laptop comes with me. If not, I bring the smaller tools. If I want to access the Internet quickly, sometimes I’ll use my iTouch. That also has some videos in the memory as well. The screen is really too small to be effective in a lesson, but sometimes in a pinch it works. A few teachers I have spoken to have had good results with portable DVD players. The prices on those units are falling very quickly. And last but not least, if you’re in a student’s home, and it’s not being used, you could probably use the family DVD player/TV.

These are some of the technology and toys I bring to lessons on the road. I’d love to hear what you use. Feel free to send an email to mike_sorrentino@hudsonmusic.com. Until next time, have fun and I’ll see you in the forums.

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