A great way to learn tunes.

Up here in northern Michigan, there are very few musicians and it's 
hard to learn new tunes. Over the years I have resorted to playing 
along with recordings in order to pick up new tunes and ideas. 
This has been both a lot of fun and quite successful.

I like to put together "programs" of tunes I want to learn & then 
kick back with the I-pod (or burned CD) & play along with one tune 
after another. Tunes jump into my head sort of by "osmosis" -- 
without the slightest glimmer of the dreaded concept of "practice"!
Practice is every bit as evil as homework.  While I'm sure there 
are legions of folks who would violently disagree with me on this, 
I highly encourage anyone within earshot (eye-shot?) to NEVER, EVER 
PRACTICE --- just  P L A Y !  I've had a lifetime of HIGH musical 
fun by religiously following this policy.   

Anyhow - often tunes are not recorded in exact "concert pitch", 
sometimes they're way off and sometimes just a little bit, but often 
enough to require retuning your instrument when going from one tune 
to the other. This can get old fast & takes away a lot of the fun of 
playing along with recorded music.

Then again, sometimes tunes are recorded just too darn fast (or at 
least too fast for easy learning).

A very good way to deal with these problems is to use an excellent 
and completely free "digital music manipulation program" called 
"Audacity". I can't say enough good about this sweet little program! 
I use it nearly every day in my musical endeavors. Audacity is 
available at this URL:  http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ as a 
free download.

The remainder of this article will illustrate an example of how I 
use Audacity to change the pitch and modify otherwise "offending" 
aspects of recorded tunes.

I start with a dozen or so tunes that I want to learn , in this 
example, all are in the key of "D". (I make seperate "programs" for 
tunes in different keys.)

First we need to edit (re-pitch, slow-down, adjust volume if needed) 
each of the tunes. All this (& more) is very easily accomplished using 
Audacity. Here's how:

A) Fire up Audacity.  Hit "file"  then "open", select the first MP3. 
   A graph of this tune will appear in the main window.
B) If the recorded volume of the tune is too low, highlight ("edit", 
   "select", "all") the entire tune then hit "effect" then "amplify" 
   then "OK" (Audacity will not automatically allow "clipping" or 
   over-driving which causes distortion). 

C) If a tune is played too fast, highlight it, hit "effects" 
   then "change tempo" (don't hit "change speed" as this changes the 
   pitch too -- "change tempo" does not change the pitch). 
   Move the slider exerimentally to the left & hit the 
   "preview" button. If the tempo change is to your liking, then 
   hit "OK". If you realize you made a mistake, Audacity's "edit" 
   then "undo (whatever)" works great. Audacity has no limit on the
   number of "undos".
D) To pitch the tune to concert pitch, hi-light the entire tune and 
   hit "effects" then "change pitch". In the "semitones (half-steps):" 
   window,  experimentally type in small numbers such as 1 or -1 or .5 
   etc (checking regularily using the "preview" button) until the tune 
   is at the desired pitch. Hit "OK". 
E) Once this first tune is all re-pitch, speed and volume-level 
   corrected, save it by hitting "file" then "export as MP3".  

Repeat steps A through E for each of the tunes.

Once all the dozen or so tunes have been tended to, you can:
- Burn the MP3s to a CD for playing on any CD player
- Play on your computer
- Send them to an I-pod MP3 player (my favorite) 

If going the I-pod route, here's a "trick":
Name (or re-name) each of the tunes like so:
etc etc

Spacing out the numbers (like 004, 008, 012 etc) leaves room 
for inserting additional tunes at a later date. Tunes thus 
numbered will be played sequentially.

Another "trick" when using an I-pod:
Once all the tunes are thus named, fire up I-Tunes & then right-click 
on the first tune (in this case, D-004-West-Fork-Gals.MP3). Then click 
"get info" then "info". Where it says "album", type in something like 
"D-to-learn" & hit "OK". (Note: if there is already something written 
in the "album" field, erase it first -- it's not needed here). Repeat 
for each of the dozen tunes, making sure that you type the same words 
for each (in this case, "D-to-learn"). Then sync your I-pod. I use 
this "trick" to "group" these dozen tunes together so my I-pod can 
locate and play them sequentially.  All you have to do is turn on the 
I-pod, select "albums" & then select "D-to-learn". 
The above is an example how I personally do things with clawhammer  
banjo. This method & the tried-and-true learning method of  
playing-along-with-recordings works for just about any instrument.

Here's a suggestion that pertains to clawhammer banjo playing,  
I re-pitch all tunes played in the key of "A" to the key of "G". 
The reason for doing so is that "A" tunes are really played using 
"G" fingering but with a capo at the 2nd fret. It's easy to drop 
down a whole pitch by hi-lighting the entire tune then hitting 
"effect" then "change pitch" and then, in the "pitch: from" line, 
enter "A",  "up" then "G". Hit "preview" to see if this is what 
you want & if so, hit "OK". If not, you can still hit "OK" and 
then easily repitch using the above "semitones" method.

Dennis Havlena - W8MI

PS: Be sure to follow Audacity's simple instructions concerning
downloading the file named "lame_enc.dll" which enables saving as 
MP3 (silly "rights/patent issues" disallow Sourceforge from including
MP3-downloading capabilities in the Audacity download --- 
the "lame_enc.dll" approach is a legal work-around).  

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