Free Online Courses

If you haven’t been paying attention to the continuing development of online courses being offered for free by major colleges and universities, you really should start looking if you have the desire but not the money to learn all sorts of things.

Currently I am taking a 6-week Berklee College of Music course on Introduction To Music Production (i.e., how to set up and use a computer-based recording studio), and next month will take Introduction To Music Improvisation by well-known musician Gary Burton. Both of these, as well as courses in Intro Guitar and Songwriting, are offered through the Coursera site, which also has tons of courses in many subjects from 62 world universities. These are “live” courses – the class presentation is on video, but there are assignments with deadlines and forums where you can interact with other students.

Individual major universities also have open, free course material that can be viewed at your leisure – MIT’s OpenCourseWare was one of the first, and they are now part of the edX collaborative with Harvard, Wellesley, McGill, Rice and others.

Most of these free opportunities do not earn you official college credit – but if you want to know about the subjects presented for your own use and education these are a great resource. And given the cost of a college education these days plus the difficulty grads have getting a job in their fields afterwards, we may be evolving ways to harness people’s skills without needing an expensive piece of sheepskin – check out this NPR piece on doing brain research via public computer games, and another on a new book about hacking your education.

Friday Faves 02-15-13

Firstly, some sad news for sewing and knitting folks in the Boston area: the venerable Windsor Button shop is closing its last remaining store, on Temple Pl. in downtown Boston, due to lease non-renewal. Read about it here, and stop by to pick up sale items as they liquidate their inventory.

Secondly, some more sad news that can be helped: the “fiercely independent” bookstore Longfellow Books in Portland ME suffered massive water damage during last week’s storm due to frozen pipes in the building over their store. You can help them out by buying ebooks from their website, gift certificates (which give them cash now and you/your giftees books later), and/or donating directly. See this letter from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance for more information.

Thirdly, you may recall that I recently recommended a Kickstarter project by ThinkMusicTechnology for an iPad app with musical note handwriting recognition for creating scores. They’ve now canceled the KS project as it wasn’t going to reach their (very ambitious) goal despite much interest. But they are looking for other funding resources and still plan to develop the app – so if you are interested, sign up for their mailing list at their website.

Create Your Own GarageBand Loops

Today’s post is rather geeky! Since for this year’s RPM Challenge I am working with a musical partner for the first time we decided to do our recording projects using Apple’s GarageBand. GB is fairly easy to use and at this point has been improved and cross-pollinated from Apple’s pro Logic app sufficiently to get decent results.

One of the functions that makes GB easy is Apple Loops. GB comes with a large collection of pre-recorded/programmed live and electronic (MIDI) snippets that can be dropped into your song project and then “dragged” with your mouse to duplicate as many times as you wish.In the screen shot below (click to enlarge) I have dragged the loop “club beat 001” from the list of loops at the bottom right into the track area in the middle, and when this was captured I was using my mouse to drag from left to right on the loop to cause it to start copying itself:

Gb loop


But suppose you want to create your own loops? First, a legal caveat: do NOT use music you did not create yourself unless you have obtained the rights to sample it! (Apple’s built-in loops are royalty-free for commercial use).

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