Computers Make My Job Easier or No They Don't

Everyone is aware how much computers have worked their way into nearly every aspect of our lives.  Teaching tap is no different, at least for me.  Granted I'm a bit of a tech-nerd, but nevertheless some of the tools available are REALLY helpful (and occasionally hurtful).

Currently I use a macbook when I teach for a variety of reasons.

1.  Speed control - There is an app called Djay (See the sidebar for a link) that allows me to control the speed of the music I play which is very helpful to adjust for students who need to go slower or want to go faster.  It also has cue points which allow me to jump into any specific spot in the music just clicking a button.  In addition to that it automatically calculates the BPM of each song and allows me to sort by it so I can make up a combo and then look at the BPMs to find music with a speed that would work well.

2.  Garageband - I use this for choreographing and rehearsing routines.  It is not the best music editor BUT I can still do the edits I need to and more importantly I can instantly control what part of the music plays and whether or not it repeats.  This is great if there is a section of a dance that needs a lot of work.  I quickly (quickly is key here!) set the start and end point of the section of music I want to play and put it on repeat.  This allows me to go watch the students closely and help individuals having problems without running back to stop and start the music.  It seems like a little thing, but once you are able to do that, you'll never want to go back to stopping and starting the music each time you want to run a section over and over with music.

The next great thing about Garageband is that I can record my voice saying the steps over top of the music.  This is helpful in so many ways.  First of all it helps me remember the choreography quickly and hear how it goes with the music.  Secondly it helps the students learn the names of the steps and helps them to hear how they go with the music.  Granted I can shout the step names over the music over and over, but it's so nice to record it once and then have it play when I want (one button click can shut off the voice playback so you can easily choose when you want your voice heard and when you don't).

You can also record the actual tap sounds over the music so the kids can hear and understand the timing and shading even better.  This has proved to be a very effective tool.

3. iMovie - Video notes are the best.  I used to write out my dances in short-hand which was good for feet but occasionally left me without knowing the actual rhythm and often without knowing the upper body movements.  iMovie fixes all that.  My Macbook has a built in webcam which allows to me record straight into iMovie without the need for a separate camcorder.  Once the video is in iMovie I can scan it quickly by running my mouse over the clip.  This is key because I can scan the video very quickly to find the spot I need as opposed to just playing it normal speed or fast forwarding/rewinding.  Also when a student misses class they can ask me to send a video of the latest part we learned.  All I have to do is export the video and send it.  Very easy.

So what's the downside?

1.  Djay - you HAVE to have iTunes and have all your music in there.  For most people with a Mac that's not a big deal, but it leaves you no choice about using a different music program.  (The reason you need iTunes is that Djay uses the music database from iTunes instead of generating it's's complicated).

2.  Garageband - There's nothing like being halfway through a routine and the music just stops!  As a newer version of Garageband gets released it tends to run slower and slower on older Macs which sometimes leaves you without enough power to get through a song.  Granted this is about 3% of the time and simply starting the song over fixes it (don't ask...I can't begin to know why something doesn't work and then 3 seconds later pushing play again makes it work).  Also keep in mind I push my machine hard - because of my editing and extra voice and tap tracks I end up with 15-20 tracks of audio all playing at once.

3.  iMovie - Dropped frames.  In other words sometimes when it records it drops out a few seconds.  No big deal unless those few seconds are the intricate footwork you need to see.  Again there are probably several reasons for this such as using an older Macbook, using the newest version of iMovie, unrelated (I've stumped the guys at the Apple Genius Bar more than once!).

There are other issues as well but that covers the basics.  Don't get me wrong the benefits FAR outweigh the drawbacks but there are always glitches to deal with (some of you with iPods have experienced issues so you know what I mean).

So right now I'm trying to convert to using a new music program called Reaper (morbid name I know).  So that requires shifting all of my audio files into the new program!  Why would I do that?  The app is faster and more stable than Garageband on my Macbook.  It allows instant speed change which is great for rehearsal (yes Djay does speed control but I don't really want to be using Garageband and then have to switch to Djay to get speed control, especially if I've already set a specific section to repeat in Garageband).  It allows me to edit music more easily as well.  BUT...I basically have to learn how to use it (300+ page manual...oh boy!).  I also have to transfer out all of my garageband files - music, voice, and tap into separate tracks for Reaper.

Stay tuned and I'll tell you how it goes.



  1. Hey, I love your videos. I am just getting into tap in college and they are a great supplement. I am a bit of a nerd myself and use logic on an 8 year old power mac. Have you tried condensing all of your music loops and melodies into one track? I think you have to essentially export them as one track and then re-import them into a new file. You could then just lay your voice and tap sounds on top and you should just have three tracks running. Maybe you have thought of this, I'm not sure, but I've done scores for musicals and when I get a lot of tracks going my computer freezes. I know you loose control over the individual tracks, but it sounds like you are just turning on and off the vocals and tap sounds which you could still do.
    Anyway, thanks for the videos. Peace.

  2. Jed,

    I've considered bouncing but there are a few issues with it - when I record the taps i like having control of each individual track volume which if I bounced the tap/vocal tracks I would have to use envelops which are a pain in the butt. Also it is not always a matter of track happens sometimes in projects with only 2 tracks! I think it's a combination of buggy software and me using an older Mac. I appreciate the advice though. I'm actually finding Reaper to more useful and faster to work with and much more stable as well. Thanks for reading my blog!


  3. Thanks for the djay tip! I hadn't heard of that program before; looks AWESOME!

    And I was going to suggest the same thing as Jed- Do a bounce down of your edits down to a stereo master. That will reduce the load on the processor. When you do the bounce down, retain the original file in case you aren't happy with the master mix, and you can re-bounce it down any time.

    ~Morriss Partee
    Squirrel Trench Audio

  4. Hey Rod,
    Great post!
    We are currently working on a start-up app and web suite as part of a start up weekend in Wellington New Zealand.

    Our app helps dance teachers manage their class so they can focus on teaching and less on the paper work that seems to build up.

    It would be great to hear you thoughts on our product.


  5. P.s I will recomend Djay to one of our clients.

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