By Shane Cadman
As everybody knows, the wrong tools in your toolbox—or no tools at all—aren’t going to do anybody any good. Unfortunately, many of us get so busy that we never evaluate what tools we have, if they’re in working order, and if they’re delivering results. To evaluate them, we need to know what the goal is when using them. As a music educator, your goal is to get the best performance you can get out of your students. So, what tools do you have in your toolbox to help them achieve that goal, and are you using them?
While your training and experience as a musician and educator can go a long way in guiding and growing your students, we know that they are going to have to put in many hours on their own to see the improvement that you, and hopefully they, would like. Up until recently, most practicing was done in the solitude of the student’s bedroom, and if you were lucky, with a metronome. If you were really lucky, they would be playing along with a Music Minus One-type recording. Thanks to advances in technology, there are better, more effective, and more fun ways to practice, and once again, Roland is here to help.
This article features two Roland products: the MT-90U and the eBand JS-8. There are similarities between the two, but there are some important differences as well. Because of these differences, there are good reasons for having both in certain situations. The best part of both of these is that they make it fun to practice, and let’s face it: We all know how hard it is to practice when it’s not fun. Not only does it turn out to be a chore, but it usually ends up being unproductive for most students. So, now it’s time to turn that around! Keep in mind that while either of these products would be great to have in any home, they are powerful tools in any private studio, piano lab, or classroom. Be warned though—if you have these around, students will actually show up just to practice, and that could be something you’re just not ready for!
So, with all that build-up, let’s get to it...
The Roland MT-90U is a powerful stand-alone music player that can play not only MP3 and WAV files, but also Standard MIDI Files, or “SMFs,” using high-quality internal sounds. Songs in all three formats can be loaded into the MT-90U from a USB flash drive, and then played back through the built-in speaker. MP3 and WAV files will play just as they would in any other player, but there is an additional feature especially useful for musicians: The tempo and/or pitch of the audio files can be adjusted, and not necessarily at the same time. Not too long ago, if you slowed down the tempo of a recording, the pitch went down with it, and it went up if you sped it up. Thankfully those days are gone. With the MT-90U, you can change the key of the music without changing the tempo, which makes it great for vocalists. You can also change the tempo without changing the key, which makes it great to practice with, particularly when working on difficult passages. And yes, we’re still talking about audio files. Add to that the Center Cancel feature, which minimizes whatever is panned to the center—usually vocals and solos—and you end up with a Music Minus One-type recording, which is great for practice and live performances, as well as for karaoke.
While the audio features are powerful, the real power lies in the MT-90U’s MIDI capabilities. For those not familiar with MIDI, it is basically a language that conveys musical information such as pitch, duration, volume, etc., but it is not actually music. MIDI requires an instrument—usually some sort of sound module, a piece of hardware or software with built-in sound samples—in order to produce actual sounds, and then some sort of speaker so that you can hear those sounds. Fortunately, the MT-90U is a MIDI player, sound module, and speakers all in one.
While playing along with original audio recordings is fun—and great experience—there are certain things that can be done with MIDI that can’t be done with an audio recording. While you can change key and tempo to some degree with audio recordings without affecting the sound dramatically, there are no limitations with MIDI, as you are not actually altering a recording. Also, while the Center Cancel feature on audio recordings is good, it doesn’t always work completely. With MIDI, the vocals aren’t there in the first place, so you don’t have to worry about them getting in your way—you just have the backing band. And this is not just limited to vocals. You can mute any instrument you want, or even multiple instruments. As you can imagine, not only is MIDI great to practice with, but you can use it for live performance as well.
The MT-90U has 348 realistic MIDI instruments onboard. As a result, you get a high-quality, great-sounding accompaniment, regardless of whether it’s a piano, a jazz combo, a rock band, or an orchestra (or most anything else you could want to back you up). One of the nice things about MIDI is that you can change the instrument for any part—remember that MIDI is information about music, not the actual music itself. This means that if you’re playing a piece of music with a piano accompaniment and you wonder what it would sound like as played by an accordion, no problem. Don’t like it? Simply change it back, or change it to something else. All you’re really doing is telling the music player what instrument to play, so have fun with it and be creative!
With MIDI, there is more to it than just having a back-up band. Many music publishers sell MIDI files, either with music books or on their own. These files are great for practicing, as you can “solo” parts or leave parts out. For example, a piano student can mute the left hand of the MIDI file so he can work on that part, while the right-hand part is played via MIDI (or vice versa). Also, sections of the music can be selected and looped in order to isolate difficult passages to practice.
Finally, the MT-90U is small enough and light enough to sit on top of most pianos and keyboards, and you can take it with you where you go to play. With icon-based buttons and a backlit LCD display, it’s easy to read and use.
You’re probably starting to see the power of the MT-90U, and perhaps light bulbs are even going on with fresh ideas about how to get the results you want from your students. Not only is the MT-90U a great tool for home and classroom settings, but you can use it to play backing tracks for recitals as well, creating a fun experience for students and audience members alike.
There are many tools out there for guitarists these days, but we all know that without the right tools, and the right guidance, progress is very slow. For most musicians, rock and jazz musicians in particular, it’s also about being able to play with other musicians. Of course, then the challenge becomes finding reliable people to play with who are good enough. Then there are the issues of rehearsal space, transportation, etc. So, how do you overcome these obstacles? With the Roland eBand JS-8, of course.
While the eBand is marketed primarily as something for guitarists to jam with on their own, there’s much more to it than that, and it’s not just for guitarists. In addition to a guitar input, it also comes with a microphone input, so anybody with a mic will find this useful as well.
These days, when musicians are jamming along with recordings, they’re usually using their favorite MP3 player to play along with. One of the first things you’ll notice on the eBand is that it has the ability to play MP3s and WAV files straight from a USB memory stick or an HD/HDSC memory card, right through the eBand using the built-in speakers. If volume is an issue, the student can plug headphones into the headphone jack and listen without disturbing others.
Another powerful feature in the eBand is that it can connect to a computer via USB, and be used in both directions. This means, first of all, that you can use your computer to load music onto the memory card in the eBand. But wait, there’s more! You can also use your eBand as an audio interface, letting you record right into your computer without the need for a separate audio interface. On top of all that, you can play audio from your computer through your eBand, using it as your computer speakers.
The eBand also has a built-in COSM® preamp and BOSS effects derived from the BOSS GT-10 Guitar Effects Pedal, so guitar players can easily have the same sound as their favorite players, or even create a brand new “sound” for their guitar (or whatever else they may run through the eBand). In fact, creating sounds is simple with eBand. The EZ TONE feature provides a quick, intuitive approach to tone-creation based on graphic icons in a Tone Grid. You can be sure that having the same sound as Jimi will get them practicing.
Now that you have a great-sounding, excited guitar student anxious to show the world what he or she can do, it’s time to do some recording. Remember that the eBand is an audio interface, so your student can record into a computer using the eBand. But what if he or she doesn’t have a computer or recording software? Not a problem—you can record straight into the eBand and store the performances on a memory card. It comes with a 1GB SD card, and can accommodate SDHC memory cards of up to 32GB in size, letting you store thousands of WAV/MP3-format songs per card.
And what about recording a new solo or vocal part over the one that’s already there? No problem there, either—the eBand has Center Cancel. However, this is not just your ordinary Center Cancel. In almost every other device, Center Cancel only minimizes audio panned to the center of the mix. The Center Cancel in the eBand can actually be panned anywhere in the stereo field, which is great if that guitar solo the student wants to play over happens to be on either the right or left side of the mix, or anywhere in between.
Again, this article is about getting your music student to improve, which brings us back to the need for practicing. While the great onboard effects and the ability to import, play, and record songs will be a great help to motivate students to play more, that’s just the start of it. The eBand comes with 300 audio-loop phrases onboard for backing tracks and rhythms—with additional phrases added online all the time—and some even include companion guitar effects pre-programmed to match the loops. This way your student can practice exercises and improvisation with a back-up band. That’s right, exercises. We all know how boring it is to practice scales and arpeggios, but imagine if you had a band to play along with. This is where your creativity as a music educator comes in: You can create exercises and etudes to go along with the loops already provided in the eBand.
Another great feature of the eBand is that you can adjust the pitch and tempo of imported songs, as well as the onboard phrases. You can actually slow down the pieces without changing the pitch, which is a great way for anybody to learn difficult parts. On top of that, you can select a start and end point in a piece of music for a particularly tough part, and then repeat that section as many times as needed in order to master it. Once mastered at a slow tempo, it’s simply a matter of gradually increasing the speed of the music until the desired tempo is reached. Add to that the Center Cancel feature, and collectively this is what we call the Phrase Trainer. As you can see, the Phrase Trainer is a valuable learning tool. On top of all of this, there’s a tuner and metronome built into the eBand. In other words, everything any guitar student could want or need is right here, and it’s priced to fit most any budget.
Both of these products are powerful learning tools that would encourage learning with any student. Reviewing your specific needs will help you arrive at which of these, if not both, is the best option for your teaching situation. Remember that you can always contact Roland with any questions you may have regarding these products. You can reach us by phone at 323-890-3700 or by email at email@example.com.
For more information on the Roland MT-90U, go to:
For more information on the Roland eBand JS-8, go to:
To see a demonstration video on the Roland eBand JS-8, as well as many other Roland products, go to: