An Electric Guitar, a Tube Amp, a Hymn, and the Dream of an Electric Guitar Orchestra

The idea of having an electric guitar is nothing new. It’s been done before in the studio by the likes of Brian May and in live situations by somebody like Glenn Branca. However, that does not stop me from being fascinated by it. As a matter of fact, I still dream of establishing a purely electric guitar orchestra in the Philippines. I don’t know if that idea has already been implemented in this godforsaken country where I live but I hope to turn that idea into reality.

Anyway, as I was going through and studying the hymns that will be sung at the UCCP-MCCD on Sunday, I ended playing our benediction hymn (“The Lord Bless You and Keep You”) on the piano. The idea then came to me to create a test recording of my electric guitar plugged into a tiny tube amp,  a Bugera BC15 (a hybrid actually with a tube preamp and solid state power section). Okay, I know some snobbish gearhead somewhere in cyberspace would have their negative impressions of it but who cares anyway? As long as it can do what I need, I’m happy. Guess what the piece I used for the test recording. It’s the benediction hymn. Not much of a puzzle at all, right?

So, I plugged my guitar into the amp, mic’ed up my amp with my trusty old condenser mic, took the hymnal from the piano and into the other piano (where my recording equipment is located), and I began reading through all the parts while recording. Since it’s SATB, I recorded each part into four different tracks, mixed everything, performed some post-production processing, and ended up with this:

 

So, on face value it seems like I’m trying to channel a cheap Brian May impression. Brian May is, after all, Brian May, and nobody could match what he could do. The point here really is not imitating Brian May (although it somewhat sounds like it), but experimenting and figuring out how a tiny amp and an electric guitar would sound like as an ensemble instrument. It’s kind of like an electric rondalla ensemble, the kind of thing I’m dreaming about. For my ears, it sounds nice although opinions by others may vary. I’m happy that I could realize something like an electric guitar orchestra in a studio setting.

This got me into thinking: I suppose it really is possible for me to organize an electric guitar orchestra here in the Philippines. The thing required to turn this into reality is to get around 12 note-reading guitarists equipped with their electric guitars and tiny amps (with overdrive). This, however, is fraught with certain problems:

1. In a performance situation, having at least 12 guitar amps would be difficult to control. No matter how tiny they can be, each amp can be really loud. This leads us to problem number 2:

2. There are lead guitarists that have an inflated sense of ego. They would complain they are not loud enough, so they would turn up their volume. Eventually everybody starts competing for volume. It can be a big headache.

3. Financing such a project can be expensive. To sum it up, I cannot afford it and the future of an electric guitar orchestra being financially compensated for what it’s worth seems nil.

Possible solutions include:

1. Hooking up each amp into a mixing board. However, the entire point of an electric guitar orchestra is to simulate an acoustic one i.e. I will treat an electric guitar and an amp as a single instrument. Positioning each amplifier in different sections of the performance hall is essential in how I perceive an electric guitar orchestra should sound like. Hooking up each amp to a mixing board with the output ultimately coming from PA loudspeakers would completely destroy the ambient effect I am looking for.

2. Hiring for attitude, training for skill. I should try to employ humble and open-minded guitarists willing to learn how to read notation. I should avoid those who try to be extra special with egos bigger than Yngwie Malmsteen.

3. Getting a grant and looking for sponsors. Perhaps I should turn this into a proposal for a local arts society or foundation and see if they would finance me. Are there local foundations out there who would give a rat’s ass about a project like this? I don’t know. I could try finding if I got the time. Perhaps there might be a couple of rich people out there who have the money for such.

I wonder if this electric guitar orchestra dream of mine could become a reality here in the Philippines. Maybe somebody out there would support it.

Steve Stine’s Songfire Now Available

Songfire

GuitarZoom, one of my long-term employers, has another very useful course for anybody who’s interested in learning new songs on the guitar in a fast and intelligent way. This new course is called Songfire. Written by GuitarZoom’s guitarist-in-residence and professor of modern guitar at North Dakota State University, Steve Stine, This new course offers a no-nonsense approach that could enable any guitar beginner into hearing how most songs work and then eventually learn them in the process.

Now, for those who think they can become instant virtuoso players with this course, you are mistaken. This course is NOT about gaining virtuoso technique in an instant (it takes years of hard work and practice to gain that). This course is more about being able to play many of the songs you hear and enjoy on your guitar in a fast way. This course is not about being able to play your favorite songs note by note, but it is more about being able to understand the underlying harmonic structure (chord progressions, etc.) based on what you hear. Upon finishing the course, you’d be able to listen actively to many pop and rock songs and be able to play through its chord progression in a matter of minutes.

Okay, maybe some will be disappointed that virtuoso guitarist Steve Stine released a non-virtuoso course. Well, that is not the point of Songfire. Songfire’s intent is to give learners the ability to hear music as a whole and be able to at least play a semblance of it, following along the chord progression WITHOUT reading notation or tab. B ear in mind that seemingly simple, sort of entry-level topics like those in Songfire could easily lead any beginning guitarist to be stimulated into getting deeper into the workings of music, eventually figuring out what most of us would consider virtuoso technique. The positive and pleasurable effects of being to successfully learn a new song can always lead to bigger things, musically speaking.

If you want to get access to the course, just click on the Songfire image above. As usual, sheet music and text by none other than yours truly.

Answering the Call

It’s was the first Saturday of the year that I had formally worked with both the choir and worship band of UCCP-Makati Church of Christ Disciples. It was tough and challenging yet at the same very fulfilling. I have seen the logistical challenges that I would face should I try to unite both choir and worship band. The task seems daunting but I hope for the best. I am really hoping that I’m being of any help to that rather small community of believers.

Just this morning was the time that I would call testing the waters. Although I had played with the worship band a couple of times, it was the first time I would be at my most active. I was directing the band while playing lead guitar. I played with the church’s regular pianist and choir conductor through a number of songs. I was trying very hard to demonstrate that there need not be a divide between a traditional piano-and-choir-group and a contemporary worship band. In my mind it should just be a single worship group that is engaged throughout the worship service. Next Saturday I will be hauling again a number of items from my home studio to the church, teach music theory and instrument technique in the afternoon, rehearse with both choir and worship band.

As things go at this time, it seems that the worship band isn’t ready yet for the rather technical aspects of playing the kind of music featured in the anthem section of the worship service. I aspire to be able to pass down whatever skills I have to the band and the choir so that every musical aspect of the service could be covered by both as a single unit. It doesn’t have to matter whether they are singing traditional hymns or covering the kind of stuff that Don Moen and Ron Kenoly would play. I am optimistic that this will happen given training and patience.

Like my studio persona, I am a teacher, equipment technician, musician, and music director rolled into one package. It’s tough work where I do not expect any remuneration of sort. What lies ahead of me are more challenges from both a personal and professional perspective. Why would I be crazy enough to put out such effort every week? It’s because I am answering the call of The Lord. I have no other justification for it. God has called me to use my skills for his purpose. I will abide by what I believe is my calling and purpose in life. So it has begun, my life as a volunteer music worker.

Testing Acoustic Guitars and Jamming at Lazer Music SM Bicutan

IMG_0490

The crazy staff at Lazer Music SM Bicutan: Allan (left) and Mark (right)

Because of the affordable high quality gear and friendly people, the Lazer Music store at SM Bicutan has become one of my favorite places. It’s this particular shop where I usually spend time looking at stuff, talking to the staff, testing a lot of stuff, and jamming with the staff and other customers while my son is sweating it out at a nearby Wushu class by White Tiger Wushu Zhan. It’s also the shop where I purchased one of my electric guitars (the red one with humbuckers). Last March, when I visited Lazer, I was (as usual) acting like a kid at a candy shop and looking at all those guitars with amazement and wonder. I then had fixed my eyes on this particular guitar:

IMG_0596

The nice, shiny all-solid wood Greg Bennett by Samick dreadnought between the classical guitar and the black dreadnought with cutaway. I want one of those!

I tried out this guitar in a variety of tunings and brought out my Zoom H4n recorder. Allan (the manager I believe) brought out another guitar and we started jamming on whatever came into our minds. Occasionally, Mark (a staff member) would sit on the drum kit and play some simple rhythms. If my memory is serving me accurately, I was playing the guitar in an open C tuning while Allan was playing standard. And so, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the kind of mess we had made out of those guitars (The guitar I’m playing is primarily at the left channel of these recordings):

For only around Php 7,000 (about 175 USD), it’s a rather cheap all-solid-wood guitar that sounds amazing. We admit we were making a mess out of that entire jam, but it was all just for fun. We had a blast thus the objective has been met. I was unable to buy the guitar though but what the hey. I’ll find another one like that should I get the budget for that.

Tuning and Piano Maintenance

I own a number of keyboard instruments, one of these is a beloved old, locally made upright piano left to my care by my mom. She bought it for my sister around 1987 and it has been in a state of deterioration until 2012 when I had decided to have the piano reconditioned. After having it reconditioned, it became our keyboard practice instrument. From October to April, the piano’s tuning drifted to a about 50 cents lower than what it should be. My good friend, Kuya Cesar Wycoco, recommended that I call and hire master piano technician, Leonardo Wayan a.k.a. Kuya Nards, to get it into shape.

In contrast to the somewhat reserved and sophisticated Kuya Cesar, Kuya Nards had an air of flamboyance and an astounding level of confidence surrounding him. This is because he really knew his stuff well. He was loud but very entertaining while he worked. He had warned me that given the quality of the upright piano I have (which is somewhat mediocre given its built and post-flooded state), that it would be a challenge getting it to equal temperament at A = 440 Hz. However, he had managed to get it to that tuning, and so the piano sounded wonderful afterwards.

The good thing about hiring Mr. Wayan was that he really knew pianos. He did not mince his words when he said that he was surprised that the piano was already reconditioned when he first saw it. Believe me, it was far worse before he had touched the piano. At the very least, the money I spent last 2012 for piano repairs had at least turned the piano into something workable. Mr. Wayan, being seasoned piano technician for many hotels around the metro, claimed he could have done a much better job at reconditioning the piano than the people I had previously hired.

I got more than a bang for my buck by hiring Kuya Nards. He was a thousand pesos cheaper than the guys who worked on my piano before, he offered me amazing piano tips, was very honest in his dealings, and he even went on to provide a tuning wrench for free.

As part of a self-maintenance plan, he left me a 6-mm square socket wrench and some “Shoes Glue” so that I can perform tuning myself. This morning, I found myself tuning the piano because the upper register had drifted to a few cents lower. My suspicions were confirmed when I measured the tuning of A4 against a chromatic tuner and it registered around 432 Hz. I decided then to tune the piano to A = 442 Hz to solve the problem.

I used the socket wrench that Kuya Nards gave me to do most of the work. Because I didn’t have any rubber mutes, I used a thumb pick fixed to my right index finger to pluck each individual string as I tuned. I started out with A4 and then tuned A5 based on my 442-Hz A4, and then tuned an octave’s worth of keys based on the sound of 4ths and 5ths. Afterwards I tuned the rest of the keys.

I am quite happy with what I was able to accomplish. Maybe in a few more weeks of hammering away at the keys, it’s gonna drift lower again, so I expect to tune the piano again myself about two weeks from now. Maybe I might ask Kuya Nards to take me in as an apprentice. Hmm, now that’s a thought worth considering. Maybe afterwards I might offer a piano tuning service. But perhaps not at this time. If I gain more experience tuning pianos, then I might consider doing that professionally. Kuya Nards said that typically hotels would commission guys like him to get a piano tuned every week, so I’m not at all surprised that I had to tune the piano myself today.

If you’d like to get in touch with Kuya Nards to get your piano back into shape, leave a message in the comments section, and I’ll send you a private message regarding his contact details.

 

Using the Five Most Important Synthesizer Modules

Good day. This is Mark Galang with another post about music production in compliance with the requirements for the Berklee College of Music course called “Introduction to Music Production”, hosted for free by Coursera. In this post, I will discuss how to use the five most important synthesizer modules. These are your oscillator, filter, amplifier, envelope, and low frequency oscillator or LFO. For this tutorial, I will be using three kinds of software synthesizers namely RGC Audio’s Z3ta +1, MinimogueVA, and Mothman 1966. We can also consider this tutorial as a sort of crash course into subtractive synthesis.

1. Oscillator

In any synthesizer (even those that play back samples), the oscillator is the sound source. It produces the waveform/s that you need to shape to produce the desired sound. The most basic parameter we get to control in an oscillator is the waveform selection. We usually have a number of waveforms to choose from including sine (fundamental frequency only), pulse waves such as square and triangle (fundamental frequency + odd harmonics), and sawtooth waves (fundamental + odd and even harmonics).

In the Mothman 1966, three waveforms are available called diamond (triangle), 8-bit saw (sawtooth), and wind (sine):

01a - Mothman 1966 Osc

The MinimogueVA (obviously modeled after the Minimoog) has a couple more parameters other than standard waveform selection. You can adjust the tuning and the register of the oscillator as well as apply an overdrive (distortion) effect.

01b - MinimogueVA Osc

The Z3ta is the most complex of these softsynths. Its oscillator section has more choices for waveforms along with more parameters to shape them. There is even an option available for users to draw their own custom waveforms.

01c - Z3ta Osc

2. Voltage Controlled Filter (VCF)

More complex waveforms such as sawtooth can often sound harsh, and this is why a filter (more properly called voltage controlled filter or VCF) is present in all synthesizers. The filter functions much like an EQ except that in synthesizers, we can expect its parameters to change over a short period of time. The most common kind of filter in a synthesizer is a low-pass filter, the rationale being it is the best filter for cutting out brightness or harshness in the fastest way possible. In a synthesizer, the cutoff parameter is probably the most important. In a typical low-pass filter, raising the knob or slider for cutoff will raise the cutoff frequency meaning that you cut off less of the high frequencies and make the sound brighter. Lowering the cutoff knob will cut more high frequencies, making the sound of your oscillator darker.

One of the fun things about using these synthesizers is when you are modulating the filter’s cutoff, either manually or through an LFO. Sometimes you may want the realtime use of the filter cutoff to be more obvious. This is where the resonance parameter can be very useful. Increasing the resonance will make your use of the filter more pronounced. When the resonance parameter is up to a particular level, some of the high frequencies seep through as you turn the cutoff knob or slider to either direction.

The Mothman’s VCF features the basic control parameters:

02a - Mothman 1966 VCF

In the MinimogueVA, the filter’s resonance is aptly called emphasis. Contour Amount adjusts the Q of the filter and velocity adjusts how fast the cutoff knob responds:

02b - MinimogueVA VCF

The Z3ta’s filter can be changed from the standard low-pass to others such as notch, band pass, and high pass:

02c - Z3ta VCF

3. Amplifier

The synthesizer’s amplifier works by raising the amplitude of the signal coming from the oscillator after it passes through the filter. The most basic control over the amplifier is the master volume section of the synthesizer as shown in all three featured synthesizers:

03b - Mothman 1966 VCA

03a - MinimogueVA VCA

03c - Z3ta VCA

However, we can also have more specific control over the amplifier, allowing us to shape how each note is articulated. This is where we make use of the…

4. Envelope

The envelope is one component of the amplifier that adjusts the amplitude of the sound at certain points over a very short amount of time. The amplifier’s envelope has four parameters:

Attack Time – The amount of time it takes for the signal to reach peak amplitude after a note on command (i.e. pressing a key).

Decay Time – The amount of time it takes for the signal to reach the designated sustain level.

Sustain Level – A designated amplitude level during the main sequence of the sound’s duration. The level of the sound after decay time has passed.

Release Time – The amount of time it takes for the sound to go from sustain level to zero after a note off command.

These parameters spell out conveniently as the acronym ADSR.

By adjusting these parameters, we can emulate the responses of various instruments such as the organ, violin, brass, piano, etc. For example, the organ has a “switch” type of envelope, and so we would set attack to 0, decay to 0, sustain level to any amount desired, and release to 0. If we want the synthesizer to have a piano-like response where the note dies off slowly after pressing a key, we set attack to 0, have a long decay time of about a few seconds, and then set sustain level and release time to 0. If we want the sound to “swell”, we set the attack time above 0.

The amplitude envelope generator is pretty much standard in all three featured synths, although the MinimogueVA has got envelope controls for filter as well and the Z3ta has additional parameters beyond the traditional ADSR:

04a - Mothman 1966 Envelope

04b - MinimogueVA Envelope

04c - Z3ta Envelope

5. Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO)

Other than willfully adjusting all the parameters of our synthesizers with our hands, you can assign an LFO to do this for you in a cyclical manner. An LFO typically operates at a frequency below the threshold of hearing, typically at a repetitive pattern determined by the kind of waveform used and the rate at which the LFO operates.

We can use the LFO to have control over the oscillator for vibrato effects, the amplifier for tremolo effects, and the filter for automatic filter sweeps.

The Mothman’s LFO can be assigned to the oscillator or filter. You can select the waveform as well as adjust its speed.

05a - Mothman 1966 LFO

For the MinimogueVA, the third oscillator (OSC3) can be used as an LFO and can be assigned to various parameters:

05b - MinimogueVA LFO

As for the Z3ta, we can make use of the modulation matrix to route the LFO to control the other components of the synth ranging from the oscillator to the main volume control:

05c - Z3ta LFO

And so this ends a rather lengthy discussion about the five most important modules of any synthesizer.

It took me quite a while to write this tutorial but I think I could improve on this tutorial through video and audio examples. As of this time, I’m not capable of capturing video for a demonstration. If time permits, I will record some audio examples that demonstrate the functions of each synthesizer module.

“Trolling” the Trolls 2: One Suggestion on How to Overpower the Trolls

If you have read my previous post, Trolling the Trolls, you may then define troll as a critic who has the objective of putting someone down with words yet has no capability of demonstrating skill necessary for improvement. One way of dealing with such lowlifes is to overpower them. We all know that the troll’s only objective is to make themselves feel better by bashing other people’s accomplishments (especially when they have nothing of worth to show). Here’s another way of dealing with them.

Now, I don’t advocate impulsively bashing the troll back since the troll would get the kind of attention he/she wants. Since a troll is a fool, it is best to either ignore them or answer their opinions in a logical fashion that will destroy their arguments. However, Mike Johnston has another idea.

Mike Johnston has posted what he calls “The Most Important Video I have Ever Uploaded”. It probably is one of the best suggestions out there to overpower the negative impact of trolls:

Even musicians can be guilty of being trolls. If you’re one of them, please stop. Your not helping anybody. Why don’t you offer positive comments or constructive criticism instead?

“Trolling” the Trolls: A Piece on Dealing with Criticism

A huge part of being a musician is the fact that one would always be under some sort of criticism. I know for one thing that I am not exempt from that. There will always be people who will hate you for no reason at all. You would be thankful for a few who would actually give out criticism because they care and they want you to improve. Unfortunately most of these people who are called “trolls” on the Internet really have nothing good to say. They only care about bashing or slandering you with words. If you think about it, it just shows how insecure they really are about themselves and they try to find self-worth in trying to hurt other people with words. If you ask me, that’s a truly miserable experience.

Whenever I watch videos of people playing their beloved instruments on YouTube, most of them would leave the comments section open for the public to use. Occasionally, you will see people posting positive, heartwarming comments, something that would give you the drive to continue on doing what you love. Most, however, would try and put you down. Many times I have been at the receiving end of such things. Back in the days when I had limited equipment (from 2003 to 2009, I produced music with a Pentium III PC and a consumer-level sound card!), I get comments like my music is overblown, too long, poor production values, overly ambitious, pretentious, etc. Some were even cruel enough to suggest that I forget music altogether and take up something like tennis! Now, how are those comments of any help might I ask? They aren’t. They just exist to hurt you.

So, how do you respond to such things. Never give up! Take all of those things as a challenge. All my life I have had to face critics ranging from my own parents to some stranger who knows nothing about my life and my passion for music. I had moments when I cried because of such painful words. Still to this day, I have to deal with how low my self-esteem has become because of mere words. The thing is that critics will not go away. They will always be there. It is best that you take those comments into consideration and take them as pointers for improvement. While we recognize the fact that the impulse to feel angry or sad will always be there after a critic attacks harshly, it is best to always use your cognitive faculties to look at the criticism from an objective standpoint.

Back in the days when I just used a Pentium III to experiment with sound and produce my music (I still have those albums in this website where I made use of such equipment), I felt deeply hurt when critics attacked the quality of my recordings and the quality of my voice. But then again, after all that emotion had passed, I evaluated myself. I realized the fact that I didn’t have the right equipment; it’s something that I had to accept. I also realized that I needed to read and learn more about the various facets of music production i.e. using EQ, effects, mixing, etc. Looking back, I’m glad that I risked putting my music out for the world to listen to; otherwise I wouldn’t have learned. Fast forward to the present day, I am at the very least scraping some of my living expenses from a variety of musical activities. Given my age now, I think I would have been worse off had I followed the troll’s advice of going for something like tennis! At least music gave me something to hope for that is achievable. If I tried tennis with my present weight and bad knees, I would be laughable.

To anyone reading this who has been shot down by any troll’s words, here’s what you can do:

1. Allow your emotions to be felt but control how you respond to them. It’s all right to feel sad, angry, bitter. You really can’t help it. It’s natural to feel that way. But then, make use of those emotions to drive your creativity. Maybe you can write a song about it or do some other thing. Express that emotion in some positive way. It wouldn’t really help at all if you try and kill the troll. That wouldn’t be of benefit at all.

2. Study the critic’s words. In certain instances, criticism has some kind of basis. Try and figure out why it was said in the first place. Maybe there really is something there you can use to improve. I for one had to swallow my pride and see if there really is anything in there for me to consider. Discard the bad, take note of the good.

3. Accept the fact that you cannot make everybody happy. Despite any measure to improve, you will always be under attack by some critic or two. The Canadian band Rush exemplifies this fact by continuing to create their brand of music, despite being ignored for years by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and attacks by famed critics like Robert Christgau.

4. Continue on working towards your goals. Never give up. At the very least, your creativity will bring forth achievements that will be gratifying to yourself and to others. Hey, at the very least there still will be one or more people who would like your work. For someone like me, it’s enough drive to for me to continue. Even if nobody would like what I put out, I’ll still try because eventually my persistence and hard work will pay off.

As a consolation, try this out. Look up a video on YouTube of any musician performing. Many times you will find trolls posting harsh comments. Try clicking on their profiles and see if they themselves have put out any smidgen of creativity like an original song or a performance. Many times, you will find that they really don’t have anything to demonstrate except for their harsh words. You will see how empty such people really are.

Here’s an example: Look into this video of a guitarist testing out the Bugera BC-15 practice amp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-1ArtTkGpc

Here you will see Japanese guitarist Akira Wada testing out the amp. You will see here comments by this guy saying, “oh god,stop it! he plays like a 12 year old student..,”and this guy  saying, “I had to watch again OMG he is playing like a 13 year old in a guitar store.Perhaps it’s to sophisticated for me to understand.It made me chuckle, for whats it’s worth.” The funny thing is that these people have the balls to post such comments when they themselves have nothing to show. All words people! Can they demonstrate how a mature man should play guitar. It’s best for them to shut up because if you inspect their YouTube profiles I don’t see any videos of them playing like Steve Vai or Allan Holdsworth or Eric Clapton even. It just demonstrates how fools use empty words. I remember reading Proverbs 15 when dealing with unqualified people who speak empty words. Verse 2 reads, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Seems to me that there are two kinds of critics, the “wise” ones who actually know what they are talking about (useful for learning) and the fools a.k.a. trolls who could not demonstrate what they are saying and only mean to hurt people.

For those trolls out there, I challenge you. Is this a guy who plays like a 12-year old?

If you could play better than this, I MIGHT listen to you. Otherwise, you aren’t worth my time.

As Jean Sibelius once said, “Pay no attention to what the critics say. Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic!” It has the similar tone of Proverbs 12:16 which reads, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” I remember Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland insulting Dream Theater. Did Dream Theater paid attention to his attention-grabbing antics? He was simply ignored.

“Reality” Shows and Creativity

I’m a composer. It is expected that I be creative and that I love creativity, no matter what form it may show up. Creativity is evident in a lot of things, and new media is no exception. Part of that new media so to speak are those TV programs we now call “reality” shows. As much as these kinds of shows push their way to greatly exaggerate or distort reality (just like professional wrestling), I would be first to admit that there are certain “reality” shows that I like watching. However, for a “reality” show to become interesting to me, it has to show people being very creative and expressing themselves through actual skill and talent. Therefore, in terms of these kinds of shows, you won’t expect me to watch “Survivor”, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, “The Hills”, “Teen Moms”, or anything like that.

As I said, I appreciate a series that really highlights creativity. Some of my favorites are ones that involve food. As a composer and musician, I like trying to gain insight into how they work their creativity into something that couldn’t be preserved in their actual physical forms. Shows like “Top Chef”, “Cupcake Wars”, and “Cake Boss” are some of those shows that spark interest in me. These chefs are really dedicated to their art despite full knowledge that their creations will eventually end up in someone’s gut (and septic tank) after a few hours. Since food involves the senses, whenever I watch these kinds of shows, I try my best to see (or hear) what their equivalents might be in sound. If I take that approach, then perhaps I could mirror what I learn from these culinary shows from a gustatory aspect to an auditory aspect. I aspire to make music that is excellent and more than satisfying, something you would always come back for more. It’s kind of like having a comforting home-cooked meal or some haute cuisine.

I also tend to take that kind of approach when watching something like “Project Runway.” I certainly am not a fashionable person, but I can readily appreciate how designers would craft wonderful creations out of fabric. It’s kind of like how a composer would build a piece out of plucked strings, struck objects , and blown tubes. The kind of ethic and creative insight behind such endeavors deserve to be commended.

The thing is that these sorts of “reality” shows have a very interesting visual element to it. The question now is would a thing like “Top Composer” work well on network TV? I’m guessing that it wouldn’t work well. I mean that as much as you’d love people scream their soul out on “American Idol” or “The Voice”, I doubt that watching a composer scribble notes or record so many takes of a few bars of music on a DAW to be an exciting prospect. Would it be exciting to watch someone like John Williams, Philip Glass, or Randy Newman as head judge giving out a challenge such as, “You need to write and record a 12-bar blues combined with 20th-century serialism using a maximum instrumentation of 16-14-12-10-8 plus rock band,” to composers like myself. I mean your ordinary viewer would have a hard time understanding that, so it wouldn’t really fly as far as something like Top Chef. But who am I to say that? After all, I’m not some network executive like Chuck Lorre who could predict what show concept can become a hit.

P.S. If Bravo TV comes up with something like “Top Composer”, I would watch it. I might even try to audition for it.

Dealing with the Six-String Bass Guitar

The electric bass guitar certainly has a very interesting history. If it were a person, you would know that one of its ancestors was the orchestral double bass and from the other side is the electric guitar. Most people would know a bass guitar to be a four-stringed instrument, but as bass players wanted to extend the range of their instruments, instruments with more than four strings have been developed, the five-stringed version with the low B being very popular. However, I have chosen to go one string further with a six-string bass.

I started playing a four-string bass when I was a teen and then I went up to five, and then more recently the six-string bass. While there are those who hate the six-string bass by being too much to handle, I personally love the instruments flexibility and range. I’m assuming people didn’t realize that the six-string bass was supposed to make people’s lives easier. If you’re surprised that I’m saying that, try playing a two-octave arpeggio over a four string. I’m quite sure that it’s a stretch. On a six-string bass, you can play the same arpeggio over just a span of six frets. If I use the four-string technique on the six-string, I could cover three octaves.

The way I chose my tuning is a matter of convenience. For a while I was playing my six-string bass in the standard fashion: all fourths from B to C. It was wonderful at first. But being a guitarist as well, the C at the 1st string can sometimes be off putting. I could manage with that C well, but I wanted my guitar technique to translate into my bass playing. This is why I decided to tune my bass like a baritone guitar (an octave lower of course) and so the tuning is (from 6th to 1st string) is B, E, A, D, F#, B. It’s a step higher than the Guitarron Mexicano. The great thing about this tuning is that I could use my guitar techniques, one of the most important is the CAGED system. I could also use certain techniques I’ve learned from fingerstyle guitar i.e. classical/flamenco-style tremolo, barre chords, etc. Rather than putting energy into learning techniques specific to the standard six-string bass tuning, I’d like to concentrate more on writing and making music and so the baritone guitar tuning helps a lot by saving up my neurons for something else. It’s just more efficient for me that way.

Given the size of the neck, the six-string bass guitar can be unwieldy. Thus I am not surprised why John Myung wants his six-string bass guitar to have a neck width comparable to just a five-string. At this point, I really can’t have a choice on that matter. It’s rather difficult to find a six-string bass guitar in the Philippines unless you have one crafted for yourself, so I’m very fortunate to have found one at a budget price. All in all, the six-string bass guitar has been of great help for my music.