Using MMA As A Practice Tool

Music Essays

Sax Zen

Clean your Sax

Optimal Reed Installation

Légère Reeds

Writing Intros

Beginning Improvisation

Akai EWI4000s Links

My Favorite Music

Introduction to MMA

MMA Grooves

Practice with MMA

As many of you know, especially if you are a MMA user, great sounding backing tracks are pretty easy to generate. But, did you know that you can also use MMA as a effective tool for practising?

In my musical life nothing annoys me more than having to listen to someone playing an instrument with no sense of time. A learner I'll certainly forgive; but, when it comes to someone who should know better and justifies his or her erratic tempo with a comment like “Oh, I like to give the song feeling” or “So and so varies the tempo.” Well, no. Don't. Please Don't.

Very good musicians can and do vary the tempo of a piece to emphasize certain phrases, etc. But, for the most part, they maintain a pretty strict tempo. And, I can assure you, that long before they started to vary the tempo they learned to play or sing strictly in time. And you can learn to do the same. It just takes practice.

In the old days we'd be forced to use a metronome or play along to records. Metronomes aren't the best tool since it is too easy to cheat by inserting a few beats or measures when the going gets tough. Metronomes don't track bar numbers, so you really never know where you are in a piece. Records and CDs are better, but it can be hard to play in the same pitch as the recording. You never know if the piece has been deliberately changed, if it's a funny key the performer likes or if your equipment is off. CD technology is better than that stack of 78s you have in your basement for this, but certainly not perfect.

Oh, if only I'd had a tool like MMA when I was first learning to play! Life would have been so much easier, my teachers would have yelled less at me and I'd probably be a better musician. Oh, if only!

But your life can be better. Just create some tracks in MMA and sing or strum or play a melody along with the chords. If it's a bit too hard, change the tempo. Simple. And you don't need this article to get you thinking about such things.

But, there is more to practising.

There are a lot of simple ways to use MMA to become a better musician.

A simple scenario: you play in a concert band (let's assume you play a Bb clarinet) and you just can't play an important solo up to speed. For this example let's pick an easy song “The Mexican Hat Dance.” I've copied a few bars of sheet music:

Nothing too complicated. Just lots of notes. Fast notes. If you just practice this without a metronome or other rhythmic aid I guarantee that you'll be speeding up and slowing down. So, let's create a simple MMA file which will play the song for us on a MIDI device (I assume that you already know how to compile MMA files and play the generated MIDIs).

// mexican hat dance
Set Speed 100
KeySig Bb
Time 3
// For a Bb instrument transpose up 2 semi-tones
Transpose 2   
Begin Drum-Snare
  Tone SnareDrum1
  Sequence {1 0 90; 2.5 0 80}
  Volume m
Begin Drum-Hat
  Tone OpenHiHat
  Sequence {1 0 90 * 6}
  Volume ppp
Begin Solo 
  Voice Piano1
  Volume f
  Articulate 80
  Octave 5
  Accent 1 50 2.5 40
Mset Melody
 Begin Solo Riff
/// Here's the song ... just 8 bars 
Tempo $Speed
 z * 9
Inc speed 10
Tempo $speed
RepeatEnd  5

Some Comments on the Code

  • At the top of the file we have set the variable “Speed” to 100. This doesn't (yet) affect the playback tempo.

  • The proper time for this piece is 6/8 ... which is actually 2 beats to the bar (like a 6/8 march). But, to make life a bit simpler in creating all this we're going to use 3 beats to the bar. It all adds up in the end.

  • The key signature was set to Bb. This is important. Without it you'd have to set all the accidentals in the “Solo” section by hand.

  • The “Transpose 2” line is needed if you intend to play along on your clarinet (or tenor saxophone) while the song plays on your computer. Otherwise you'll be sounding pretty odd.

  • We've created a very simple rhythm section. A snare drum on beats 1 and 2 and a hi-hat on each eight note.

  • The entire melody is set into the variable Melody as a series of “MMA Riffs.” This makes it very easy to duplicate on the repeats.

The key to the entire file is the repeated section. We go though the song five times. And each time though the tempo is increased by 10. So, when you play along it'll get a bit harder each time.

Feel free to play (pun ... ha, ha!) with this file. Fiddle (another pun) with the tempo settings, etc. And don't forget to have fun!

Not got your copy of MMA yet? Grab it from:

It's free and fun ... what a deal.

The entire contents of this article as well as "MMA" and
"Musical MIDI Accompaniment" are (C) Copyright Bob van der Poel.
All rights reserved.

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This page "mma-practice-tool.html" was last modified on Thu May 12 18:42:43 2016