Thursday, July 21, 2016

Top 10 Song Covers That Will Blow Your Mind

As human beings we are mesmerized by a beautiful voice. Whether we sing like the seagull from The Little Mermaid or can sing like Mariah Carey, we’re awed by the talent that only a few of us are blessed with. A voice can give you goosebumps, it can move you to tears, it can make you stand up and clap—there’s pretty much nothing more captivating than listening to someone with a pure God-given talent. And even though Auto-Tune is kinda cheating, it only does so much—you can’t get a dog to bark into the mic and make it sound like Michael Bublé. But there’s something special about raw voice, without tone-correcting software or sounding like Buy You a Drank.

1. Thinking About You by Frank Ocean - Cover by Tori Kelly

That’s why I’ve put Tori Kelly’s cover of Thinking About You by Frank Ocean first, because it’s nothing but her voice, her guitar, and this beat-boxing girl. You may recognize her name, because yes she’s famous now and has had some hits, but she started off as an unknown posting videos of her singing on Youtube. She later went on American Idol, but didn’t make it far. Maybe it was her song choice or maybe it was Simon Cowell, but her voice in this video is absolutely stunning and blows my socks off every time.

2. I Have Nothing by Whitney Houston - Cover by Jack Vidgen

This 14-year-old boy in Australia’s Got Talent has got some major pipes on him. Wait for it. Just wait for it.

3. Titanium by David Guetta and Sia - Cover by Madilyn Bailey

A Youtube singer from Wisconsin, Madilyn Bailey, blew up when she did this absolutely beautiful acoustic cover of Titanium, which now has almost 75 million views. Get it gurl.

We asked Madilyn why she chose to cover Titanium and she said, "I chose to cover Titanium because it was originally a dance song, but if you listen to the lyrics it's actually quite tragic. So I wanted to make a version that really emphasized the lyrics and allowed it to be the beautifully tragic song that it is." 

4. A Whole New World from Disney’s Aladdin - Cover by Nick Pitera

This Disney duet is sung by talented Nick Pitera as Aladdin and Nick Pitera as Jasmine. Yep he sings the female vocals, and he’s better at them than most girls.

That switch though.

5. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen - Cover by Richie Castellano

Richie Castellano, a band member of Blue Oyster Cult, did an epic cover of Bohemian Rhapsody—all by himself. He sings the vocals damn amazingly and plays all of the instruments, cutting it all together and making this video showcase of his talent.

We asked Richie why he chose to cover Bohemian Rhapsody and he said, "I remember being 12 years old in the movie theater with my dad and hearing Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time. I was completely blown away and it immediately became my favorite song. I borrowed a Queen CD from my uncle and recorded the song on a cassette over and over on both sides so I could keep listening to it without having to rewind. I started learning the song on guitar and then piano (it only took me 20 years to learn the rest of the parts!). In 2011 I had the honor of meeting and performing for Queen's drummer, Roger Taylor. The experience left such an impression on me that I decided to commemorate it by doing this video."

6. Waves by Mr Probz - Cover by SoMo

Originally Youtube-famous for doing song covers, SoMo now has several of his own albums and tours the country. He’s a very talented singer (and a heartthrob), who has made a huge amount of melodious renditions of top songs with his smooth voice and impressive vocal range. Some of his download-worthy covers include Pony by Ginuwine and his amazing Drake medley, but I chose his awesome rendition of Waves by Mr Probz. I also encourage you to hear his raw voice in his rendition of Lotus Flower Bomb by Wale, one of his first videos he uploaded on Youtube. It's just him and his guitar, or him and his piano in his cover of Something by The Beatles. The boy has got major talent.

7. Trap Queen by Fetty Wap - Cover by KHS and Josh Levi

Kurt Hugo Schneider (KHS) does an amazing piano cover of Trap Queen, slowing it down and turning it into a love ballad. Josh Levi sings the vocals, and the melody gives you chills, especially soon as the chorus hits. As good as the original is, this is as close as anyone could’ve gotten to being just as good. I’ll be downloading this immediately.

8. Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd - Cover by Walk Off The Earth

First of all, wtf is that instrument they’re playing?! I had to research it—it’s called a Harpejji. Wtf is a Harpejji, I need it.

Walk off the Earth is a musical group from Ontario, known for their awesome innovative musical videos, and their cover of Can’t Feel My Face is super entertaining.

9. Teenage Dream by Katy Perry - Cover by Mike Tompkins

This A Capella version of Teenage Dream is done by a guy called Mike Tompkins, who sings not only the vocals but all of the instruments’ parts too. He labels each clip of his face doing each instrumental part, and all together he sounds exactly like the original song. And if you are just as entertained by his facial expressions as I am, I highly recommend you watch his A Capella cover of We Are Young (which is also super catchy).

10. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston - Cover by Zendee Tenerefe

This Youtube video of a random girl singing at a karaoke machine in the mall (it’s now been discovered her name is Zendee Tenerefe) has over 30 million views—and it’s because she sounds exactly like Whitney Houston. Watch the guy mopping the floor in the back shirk his work to watch, hiding behind a shelf and occasionally coming out from his hiding place to mop for a second.

And an Honorable Mention...

I just watched this 9 times.

A video posted by Best Song Covers (@bestsongcover) on

On the Recent Phenomenon of Pokémon Go

Pokémon has demonstrated unambiguous and lasting appeal across cultures and generations. Since it took the world by storm in the mid-1990s, the franchise has dominated multiple forms of media - television cartoons, film, card games, video games, and a great number of others. The premise is simple: there are several hundred monsters, each with unique characteristics and powers, that can be captured, trained, and battled. To attain supremacy in the eyes of your peers, you must capture all of the monsters and train them to be the strongest.

Pokémon Go! is the latest iteration of this phenomenon. It is a video game that employs a relatively new and unusual technique: augmented reality. Using the mobile device’s GPS and camera, the game allows the player to locate and capture Pokémon in “real life.” That is, you can detect Pokémon in your vicinity and, by physically walking to the area in which the Pokémon reside, “see” them (on the mobile device’s screen) and capture them. Players can form virtual communities and interact similarly. If there are a great number of people flocking to a park or other public area only to stand and stare at their phones, then there probably is a “gym” or similar draw of significance at that location.

The success of a video game depends largely on how “immersible” it is – that is, the degree to which it can draw in a player and make him or her feel like they are actually there. The experience is identical to that which defines good film: the viewer is able to “suspend his/her disbelief” and feel like they are actually there.

Augmented reality is the latest tool, and possibly the next step, in enhancing the “immersibility” of media. But it may be instructive to consider how older media was able to achieve the same effect.
The oldest games may no longer be interesting to young gamers today, but at the time, they were no less immersive – despite the absence of any “reality” or “realism.” Nevertheless, players were able to suspend their disbelief because the games could still appeal to key senses – namely, sight, touch, and hearing. The content of the screen captures the rapt attention of the player, who must focus in order to avoid missing important visual cues. The controller becomes an extension of the player – the player’s movements become those of the character they control. No less important are audio cues that alert the player when danger is nearby.

Most gamers would not hesitate to add: music is also critical. Good music sets the tone, defines the atmosphere, and provides additional audio cues in many cases. Inappropriate or poor music detracts considerably from what may otherwise be a great game. Good music is key to immersibility. And, in fact, music can be so strong a factor that even years later, merely listening to music from a video game can instantly draw a player back into that experience. It may very well be the ultimate component of immersibility.

What do you think? Share with us your experience!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ten Tips to Improve Your Posture for Piano Performance

Proper posture for piano performance is challenging to develop – and even more difficult to learn if you have already developed bad habits! However, it is crucial for developing good technique and for keeping your body healthy and happy as your pour hours of time into practice.

What is good posture? What is the “correct” and proper way to play a piano? Here are ten things to keep in mind:

1) Keep your fingers curved and relaxed. Strain and tension will tire your fingers quickly and make it challenging to play.

2) Keep thumbs straight but relaxed.

3) Align head, shoulders, and hips for balance. This is key for maintaining proper posture. Don’t slouch!

4) Rest your feed on the floor or a footstool.

5) Keep fingers curved out during performance, and never concaved.

6) Use the weight of your arm to press the keys. The most important thing to remember in all of these tips is that the way you play should not fatigue you. You should be building up endurance to be able to play longer and more demanding pieces.

7) Keep your wrist flexible to reduce tension.

8) Align pinky finger, wrist, and elbow.

9) When reaching for notes, lean side to side rather than scooting on the bench. There’s no need to waste energy scooting around. You’ll also develop a “home base” this way and avoid the need to reposition yourself.

10) Play pinky finger near the tip. Don’t press the whole pinky flat on the keys.

Did we miss anything? Have you developed any bad habits that you need to break? Let us know!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I Remember Dave (Brubeck)

The year was 1983 when I was called into my Boss’ office at Columbia Pictures Publications.  Sitting there were three gentlemen (one of whom I thought I recognized).  They were the legendary Dave Brubeck, his Attorney and his Music Director/Conductor.  My Boss introduced me and told me that I was to be the Creative Editor assigned to publish the Brubeck catalog (once our deal could be finalized).  When I shook Dave’s hand, I looked at him and said “It’s a Raggy Waltz”. “Not Take Five?” he replied.  I said, “oh yeah, that too.  But in my Freshman year at North Texas State University, my piano teacher assigned “It’s a Raggy Waltz” as one of my pieces for that semester.” 

His Music Director immediately chimed in “Hey, I went there too.  When were you there?” We talked about the school a little (and how incredibly difficulty that particular transcription that I was assigned was to play) and my credibility was immediately established.  We agreed that we would first recycle some of Dave’s older arrangements (which had been lovingly and very skillfully prepared by Dave’s brother Howard) and then try to create new arrangements that would be more playable by a broader segment of the market.

One of those original books, The Genius of Dave Brubeck. Book 1, remains in print to this day. 

Going forward, every time Dave released a new Solo Piano recording, we would produce a matching folio with intermediate level arrangements.  Dave also created collections of music more directly intended for the piano teacher/student market; jazzy but also classical/baroque in style. 

Our Educational Editors and Arrangers also had a great time using Brubeck’s music to create and publish new simplified piano, band, orchestra and choral arrangements.  Dave contributed to the choral catalog with a number of original compositions … serious music … and they were extremely well received. 

Fast forward 17 years.  The phone rings, I answer, and it was Dave.  He wanted to talk about his next record and about some of the music that would be on it … mostly standards and evergreens (all well-known tunes) with a few Brubeck originals.  At the end of our talk, before hanging up, Dave said “Don’t forget me, Dave”.  I assured him that could never happen. 

Thirty minutes later, the phone rings again.  It was Dave’s wife, Iola.  “What did you say to him?” I told her about the conversation we had had and she said “Well, he hung up the phone and went straight to the piano and wrote a new song he’s calling “Don’t Forget Me” and he’s dedicating it to you”. 

A few days later, a copy of the manuscript arrived and I ran to the nearest piano to play it. The song ended up being included on the CD “Dave Brubeck Quartet: Park Avenue South”In the liner notes of the CD, Dave wrote “The ideas for a song come to me in many different ways.  A bird call (‘Strange Meadowlark’), a poem (‘Hold Fast to Dreams’) or sometimes a spoken phrase.  I concluded a phone call not long ago with my long-time friend and associate at Warner Bros. Publications, Dave Olsen, saying “Don’t forget me.” Then, immediately sat down at the piano and wrote the tune you hear on this recording.”

Then, as now, we won’t forget you Dave! Your music lives on in all our memories. 


Monday, July 18, 2016

Ten Pieces with Unusual Time Signatures

Time signatures convey important information for performers. The notation indicates how many beats are in each measure and the value of one beat. For example, one of the most common time signatures, 4/4, means that there are four quarter-notes per measure. Other common signatures include 3/4, 6/8 (six eighth-notes per measure), and 12/8.

Of course, sometimes these frequently used signatures are insufficient when conveying more complicated musical ideas. Complex time signatures, like 5/4, and other less common signatures are valuable to express more challenging meters, in which rhythmic patterns change. 5/4 could be read as (2+3)/4 or (3+2)/4 depending on where the stressed and unstressed beats fall. A well-known notorious example is the theme from The Terminator, which uses the time signature 13/16. In that example, the rhythmic grouping is 3+3+3+2+2 (or: 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2 1-2).

What are some other examples of unusual time signatures? Here’s a list we came up with. What did we miss?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Top Five Summer Film Scores

It’s only the middle of July, and already we’re in the doldrums of summer. With school long over, and things slowing down as people go on extended vacations, the rest of us are left wondering how to spend whatever free time we have.

Fortunately, this is the season for summer movie blockbusters! (Well, maybe not this year, but historically…) Often, blockbusters are simply sequels in major franchises. Here are a few of our favorite film scores. What are we missing? Let us know!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Smokey Robinson Honored with Gershwin Prize

Singer, songwriter, and founder and front man for the vocal group The Miracles, Smokey Robinson has been awarded the prestigious Gershwin Prize for popular music. Robinson is a Motown legend, both for his renditions of beloved songs like “My Girl” and for his own hits, including “Shop Around,” the first Motown song to sell one million copies.

Awarded annual by the Library of Congress, the Gershwin Prize is named after brothers George and Ira Gershwin. The pair composed and wrote the lyrics, respectively, for a large number of Broadway, film, and classical works. Robinson is the eighth recipient of the Gershwin Prize, joining Sir Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, WillieNelson, BillyJoelCarole King, and joint winners Burt Bacharach and Hal David.