Monthly Archives: November 2010

why rock band 3 will save music education… or video games. maybe both.


(image from Engadget)

I just woke up from a weekend of Rock Band 3 (yes, I play video games, though haven’t in a while), and I’m pretty sure someone got confused when they put a MIDI out port on my keytar. (The good news: I now have a keytar!) This is a big deal.

As fun as Rock Band was, and as great as it was in getting people interested in music, it was always limited by the fact that all you ever did was press five colored buttons and strum some bar in a weird facsimile of playing an instrument. Close, but not quite. The Rock Band drums were about as close as you got, though playing a song on the Expert level was pretty much like getting behind a real drum kit.

WIth Rock Band 3’s new slew of instruments — and why release a rhythm video game without another collection of plastic instruments? — things got a whole lot more interesting, as the keytar, pro guitar, and drum kit have midi capabilities. I played a couple songs on the expert setting of the Pro Keys instrument, and it was about the same as my fumblings behind a keyboard for my high school (and now faculty) band. When I was in the middle of a song, I realized that I wasn’t just mashing buttons together, I was playing real notes and chords to make up the song. It was pretty great (and on one song, I even got ranked #18 on the Rock Band leaderboards — not too shabby!).

But now, I can take that MIDI keyboard and — with the right adapter — plug it into my computer and use it with GarageBand as a real MIDI keyboard. The new guitar controller actually has six strings and 17 frets instead of five buttons and a strum bar, and it, too, has MIDI out — another real-deal MIDI controller ready to be used with GarageBand, et al.

This is huge.

In my head, I can see an after-school activity or unit in a class starting with Rock Band, working up to the Expert level, and then playing those same songs in GarageBand (hmm… I wonder if you can play Rock Band while using the MIDI out at the same time), recording the results and playing them back. This could make instruments more accessible and definitely more fun to practice than ever before.

There’s a Trojan horse situation happening here, though I’m not sure if it’s to sneak real music education into video games or to sneak video games into music education. It will be fun either way. (Did I mention that I now have a keytar?) 

reflecting on #TEDxYouth@Dwight

It was short on planning and time to execute, but TEDxYouthDay@Dwight went off about as well as could be expected. It was a short day of five talks, but the five talks were so full of passion and inspiration that I’d put them up against any of the TEDx Talks that I’ve seen in the last couple of years. I’m incredibly grateful to our speakers for making up for the “looseness” of the day with their powerful messages.

Would I do it differently next time? Absolutely — and I plan on renewing the expired TEDxDwight license that I never got the chance to take advantage of a growing passion around TED Talks at my school. But the day was also a lesson in what not to do.

I should have known from time spent organizing TEDxNYED that it takes a team of people and a lot of time. When I pitched the idea to faculty about TEDxYouthDay during our orientation, there was definitely some interest but the idea kind of died on the vine — as most schools years do, this one definitely got away from me. I would have let the opportunity pass if it hadn’t been for meeting a parent at last month’s parent-teacher conferences that kickstarted the event and secured our two outside speakers.

Rachel Chapple spoke about her work with Real Stories Gallery, a not-for-profit online visual arts HIV prevention campaign. An AV situation led to us “restarting” her talk, but did nothing to take away from her powerful message. 

Dwight eleventh grader Sukrit Puri gave a very impassioned talk on world governance, and very eloquently and entertainingly explained why democracy might not be the best path. 

Chris Rainier encouraged the crowd to never lose a sense of adventure with his photos from travels across the world and his absolutely thrilling and world-record-setting skydive over the Himalayas.

Marc Ian Barasch told us about the Green World Campaign and how it all starts with one seed — and also how it’s not just about planting trees anymore.

Twelfth grader Daniel Maren batted clean-up (metaphorically — he was the fifth speaker) and left everyone with the sense that it really is possible to be the change when he brought together ballroom dancing, education, and a plan to save orphans around the world.

It was an amazing day and, though I’ll always wish that some organizational and audio-visual things went smoother than they did, it was a very successful, if modest, affair. I’m so thankful to everyone that pitched in on very short notice and made sure that things went as smoothly as possible — from the AV and network setup to Livestreaming to making sure that we had juice for the kids who came. It wouldn’t have been possible without their help. (And next year, I know better than to think I can host an event and also provide technical assistance…)

Watch live streaming video from tedxyouthdwight at