From Hearing to Playing: The Technology That Goes Into Performing a Song

I am truly amazed with how technology has become such an integral part of my personal and professional life. After teaching school for thirty years, I retired and within 5 months had a mild heart attack. A stent was inserted in one of my arteries through a quarter inch abdominal incision. In the past, open heart surgery would have been required! THANK YOU TECHNOLOGY!

In music though, technology hasn’t made me a better performer, but sure has allowed me to become one. Here are the steps I take to learn a new song to get ready for performing.

Let’s start with small speakers in a restaurant. I hear a song I like so I hold my cell phone upward towards the ceiling and use Shazam to identify the title and artist that I’m hearing. If I like the song as a listener, I know my audiences will respond positively when I play it on my sax or flute.

Next, the work begins when I get home, on my laptops. I find my recent song on youtube followed by iTunes karaoke. If can’t find a suitable back up version, then the process stalls, unless I can find one on another site.

Now that I found one, the real work begins. On my second laptop parked next to my first in the living room is a music writing program called finale. Once I prep my new project, I listen to the original sung version dozens of times until I have the melody and rhythms etched in my head. The following phase called transcribing is the long and sometimes tedious one, as long as three or four hours on occasion, usually broken up into a couple of sessions.

After I print out the manuscript on… oh yes, the printer, the fun actually begins. Since I worked on the song for four plus hours, including the listening part, I know the piece pretty well but it still needs fine tuning on my horn accompanied by iTunes through my mixing board with digital reverb to enhance my sound. A few years ago reverb was a suspended spring in a separate unit that was very touchy to use.

Now that everything is in place, technologically speaking, what I like to do is practice the written notes over and over until I blend with and become part of the back up music. Funny, no one ever complains if I repeat the new piece 20 times if necessary. Most people don’t realize the preparation that goes into a live performance.

I’ve had people come up to me and say they had to turn around in their chair (in an outdoor restaurant) to see if I was actually playing. The expression is: “Is it live or is it Memorex?”

After I achieve that near perfect blend of back-up and dynamics, intonation, style, and techniques following the basic themes, it’s time to move on. When I play the melody the first two times, my mind starts to respond with new, hopefully aesthetically pleasing ideas, that I express on my horn.

All this is because of TECHNOLOGY! From beginning to end, the tools I use to prepare for performing a song are; a speaker, cell phone, shazam, laptops, iTunes karaoke, finale, a printer, and a mixing board with reverb. When I first started playing, none of these tools existed, or at least weren’t accessible to consumers. I’m thankful I can perform today, in a time when I can make my process so efficient for the benefit of my listeners.