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Some great online resources for musician-learners

Photo of a piano
19/02/2016

If, like me, you enjoy a stable day job that allows you to follow a passion for musical endeavors after hours (be it a choir, garage band, chamber group or the solitary pleasures of learning an instrument), the library has more than just a trove of music listening possibilities. There are some choice online resources in the collection to help you grow your musical chops.

Here’s an idiosyncratic list of discoveries I’ve made recently and have bookmarked for future use. I’ve been a dedicated amateur singer for four decades and have recently rediscovered my deep love for jazz. I was recently overjoyed to discover that Freegal stocks most of the album tracks in the Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long series. This is a much-beloved learning resource for jazz musicians of nearly 150 albums of tunes that, as advertised, let you play (or sing) along with a backing rhythm section of piano, bass and drums. (Back in the day, the albums – vinyl, naturally – came with an enclosed booklet of tunes, and if you were really serious, as my father was, you acquired a variable-pitch turntable to fine-tune the tuning notes at the beginning of each side.) What makes the series a seminal learning tool is Aebersold’s practice of hiring top-notch sidemen and his comprehensive breakdown of topics from improvisation basics to advanced theory. The tracks from Freegal, alas, have no accompanying sheet music, but many are repertoire staples that can be tracked down easily in the excellent collection of free fake books available from the Internet Archive.

Even if your singing is strictly limited to the shower (where the accoustics are often excellent), check out Aebersold’s All-Time Standards collection, which includes Summertime, A Foggy Day, My Funny Valentine, and other classics. (You will be prompted to log in with your library card to stream or download the tunes.)

If jazz isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other music-training resources worth checking out. If you’ve dabbled in songwriting and are keen to learn more, Lynda.com offers two courses explaining basic harmony and songwriting techniques. Once you’ve mastered your composition and are ready to lay down some tracks. Lynda.com offers introductory and advanced training on a variety of music recording and mastering software (from the rudimentary but enjoyable GarageBand to full desktop studios, such as ProTools and others.)

Further afield, Access Video on Demand has a number of intriguing programs related to musical training. In Exploring Fiddling Styles, fiddler Dave Rimelis demonstrates Latin, Cajun, Celtic, Blues and Old Time fiddling techniques. Of particular note to singers, Music to Your Ears: Finding the Perfect Pitch discusses the brain science behind pitch identification. Classical musicians looking for more insight into composers’ lives may enjoy AVOD’s concise biography series, including the lives of Bach, Mahler, and others.

These are just a few examples of helpful aids for those pursuing a musical avocation. I’ve really just begun to explore the collection in this way, so if you have discovered similar gems you’d like to share, by all means please add them to the comments.

And keep practicing!