Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Getting Creative with Whatever We Have On Hand

On Monday, my daughter graduated from Elementary School, and as part of the graduation ceremony, there were several "talent" presentations, ranging from dance performances to musical performances, to a visual presentation on horse training and a student who showed fencing (seriously, it was cool to see :) ). My daughter said she wanted to sing for the talent portion, and she picked the song "The House That Built Me" by Miranda Lambert.


Once we knew that she wanted to do that song, we scouted the net for an instrumental version of the song. It took some searching, as most of the "karaoke" style tracks were MIDI performances and sounded very artificial. We finally found a version that was a recording made with actual instruments, including dobro and slide guitar for authenticity.


Then came the next challenge… how to encourage my daughter to simulate singing in front of an audience with what she would hear. I've kept most of my musical equipment from back when I was a performing musician, including microphones, a mixing board, studio monitor speakers, and outboard effects. Hooking up a microphone and a CD player, I was able to give my daughter a controlled environment to help her practice singing.


The problem I saw with this was that, while it would amplify her voice, it wouldn't give her the real feeling of how she would sound and what she would hear. As we talked about this, I thought this would be a fun little project for us to focus on together. Using the gear we had on hand, what could we do to make an environment that would be similar to what she would hear, so that she could practice and focus on her technique correctly?


As we considered ideas, she did something interesting… she took my little guitar practice amp, plugged the microphone into the input, and adjusted the amp so that it could be heard without feeding back, and then adjured the effect knob so that it had a little reverb on it. I explained that reverb simulates the space in an area where the voice would travel, and creates a short delay, like she'd hear in real life. With that, she was able to practice, focus on her technique, and effectively gauge how her voice might sound to her in a larger room than where we were practicing.


Her performance went well, I'm happy to say, and I'm proud of her both for her performance as for her willingness to be creative to help solve a problem. I explained that this kind of "out of the box" thinking was a hallmark of being a tester. Often, the method for testing something might be totally different than what we originally envision to test an idea. I was prepared to use a bunch of sophisticated outboard gear, mainly because I had it on hand, knew how to use it, and I thought it would be fun to get some bragging rights for showing my kid some cool gear. Her solution was totally different, but it worked, and it was up and running way more quickly than my original idea would have been. I smiled and told her that, many times, the best solution to a problem is the simplest solution that is effective.


I've told my kids that they can approach and accomplish anything that they set their minds to, but I'll admit it… I enjoy seeing my daughter think like a tester :).
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