Brian K. Shepard Music Technologist Site Menu

Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with the way things work. Combine that driving curiosity with my love of music, and music technology was a natural result. I first began to work with music technology in the 1980s when computers and synthesizers were just beginning to make a major impact on the music industry. Although technology now occupies a large part of my musical life, I have never lost sight of the fact that the music comes first. Technology, as good and valuable as it is, will always remain a tool for the creation, recreation, understanding, and teaching of music. One of my primary goals at the USC Thornton School of Music is to ensure that our faculty has access to, and understanding of, the pedagogical applications of technology in the teaching of music. Another goal is to prepare our students for the technological demands of life as a 21st century musician. It is no longer adequate to be merely a performer, composer, or teacher. Today's musicians are expected to be able to make their own recordings, create and edit video, use computers to compose and arrange music, as well as to network and promote themselves and their performances. My job is to help our students gain those vital skills while continuing to hone their musical talents.

Internet2 Activities

I was an early proponent of high-bandwidth videoconferencing for musical purposes, and in October 1999, I conducted the very first demonstration of a private music lesson over Internet2 with full-frequency, uncompressed audio and video. Since that time, my research into the musical capabilities and opportunities of high-performance networks has been ongoing, and in April 2006, Internet2 recognized my work with their inaugural IDEA Award. I have demonstrated and presented my research at numerous conferences and workshops around the world, and it is published in the National Association of Schools of Music's Proceedings (pdf). It has also been featured in a number of media outlets including CNN's Technology Week In Review and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as in The Christian Science Monitor, Discover, Symphony, EdTech, AV Technology magazines, and most recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Because musical videoconferences require more responsive microphones and loudspeakers than those used in a typical videoconference, the sound produced by the loudspeakers is often picked up by the microphones and retransmitted back to the original site as an echo. In October 2009, after nearly 10 years of research into issues of audio quality and echo control for musical videoconferencing, I released my software ECHODamp to educational and performing arts institutions around the world. This breakthrough application allows participants to control echo in a videoconference without sacrificing audio quality, and musicians may now experience the sound of a full, uncompressed frequency spectrum, without echo, even after the audio has traveled thousands of miles. Recognizing the importance of quality echo control in the high-performance network environment, Internet2 honored me with a 2nd IDEA Award in 2010 for ECHODamp.

Interactive Learning Objects

In addition to my Internet2-based research, I have also focused a lot my energy and research on the design and creation of interactive learning objects for music students. My idea is to create easy-to-use and single-focus learning objects that students can run in a lab, or on their own computers, that teach or reinforce concepts from a variety of music courses. Because of the flexibility afforded with its free player software, these objects are all created in Max from Cycling '74. Feel free to download, use, and distribute these learning objects. I only ask that you don't remove the copyright information from the objects.
  • Sound Basics
    Demonstrates basic sound wave concepts like frequency, amplitude and wavelength
  • Equal Loudness
    Helps reinforce the concepts of the equal loudness contour curves
  • Oscillator Wave Types
    Lets the student see and hear the four basic wave types: sine, triangle, sawtooth, and square
  • Combining Sound Waves
    Demonstrates how sound waves interact with each other. The student can both see and hear the result as they manipulate different frequency sound waves
  • Phase Cancellation
    A simple demonstration that shows what happens when a sound wave is mixed with an out-of-phase copy of itself
  • Beat Frequencies
    Demonstrates the concept of beat frequencies in both an audible and visual manner
  • Beat and Sideband Frequencies
    Extends the concept of beat frequencies into their audio-rate equivalent: sideband frequencies
  • Harmonics
    Combines harmonics, up to the 16th harmonic, as students see and hear the result
  • Just Intonation
    Allows students to experience the differences between Equal Temperament and Just Intonation in intervals, chords, and a Bach chorale excerpt
  • Tone Row Matrix Generator
    A random tone row generator that produces all forms of a serial row: Prime, Inversion, Retrograde, and Retrograde Inversion. The perfect gift for the lazy serial composer who has everything except a new tone row
  • Additive Synthesis I
    Lets students combine simple oscillator tones at various harmonic relationships while you hear, and see, the result
  • Additive Synthesis II
    A much more elaborate demonstration of additive synthesis, using as many as 16 partials and harmonics
  • Subtractive Synthesis
    Begin with a complex oscillator sound and allows the student to shape it with audio filters
  • Oscillator Sync
    Breaks down and demystifies this common, but poorly understood, synthesis technique of controlling one oscillator with another
  • Ring Modulation
    Allows students to experiment with this common signal processing technique by combining two sound sources and outputting their sum and difference frequencies
  • FM Synthesis
    Breaks down the complexities of this popular synthesis technique into its basic components allowing students to understand all the parameters of Frequency Modulation Synthesis
  • Audio Filter Types
    Allows the user to apply a number of different types of audio filters to various common sound sources
  • Audio Filter Controls
    Clarifies the function and use of the, often confusing, controls and indicators found in the typical audio filter
  • Audio Filter Modulation
    Lets students manipulate the center/cutoff frequency and resonance of a lowpass filter in real time with a number of different modulators
  • The Color of Noise
    Lets students hear and see the different "colors" of oscillator noise
  • Wavetable Oscillator
    Lets the student create complex additive synthesis effects with a single mathematical table oscillator
  • Grain Source
    Allows the user to isolate single grains from the "cloud" of granular synthesis to help them hear and understand the individual manipulations that occur within the grain source of a granular synthesizer
  • Shaping Sounds with an Amplitude Envelope Generator
    Students use an ADSR amplitude envelope generator to create basic sound articulations
  • Multi-Stage Envelope Generators and Additive Synthesis
    Combines six oscillators, each with its own multi-stage envelope, to create complex additive synthesis sounds
  • Envelope Generator Behavior Modes
    Lets the student hear and see the different envelope generator behaviors based on whether notes overlap or not
  • Dynamic Amplitude Envelope Generator
    Allows the user to create dynamic amplitude envelopes that change based on their playing style
  • Tempo to LFO Rate Calculator
    Allows the user to calculate the LFO rate in Hertz based on the musical tempo in beats-per-minute
  • Low Frequency Oscillators
    Demonstrates the various types of low frequency oscillator waves and allows the user to see and hear their effect
  • Audio-Rate Oscillators
    Lets the student use audio-rate oscillators, instead of low frequency oscillators, to modulate an audio filter and another oscillator
  • Function Modulator
    Demonstrates the use of mathematical formulae as a modulation source for synthesizer modules
  • 16-Step Sequencer
    Allows the student to apply a 16-step repeating sequencer to a variety of modulation destinations in a synthesizer
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