I have been working with jazz pianist Steve Nixon (http://freejazzlessons.com) for a while now, and I got myself the opportunity to work with his Blues piano mentor: the legendary Bruce Katz! This new piano lesson DVD called the “Breakthrough Blues Piano Method” features my detailed transcriptions of Bruce’s Katz’s techniques as well as examples of his own blues improvisations. So, if you’re interested in getting your blues playing to another level, go visit http://www.freejazzlessons.com/breakthroughblues/ to get yourself a copy of this course.
About four years ago, I was in a rather curious phase in my journey as a composer. I was involved in writing and producing music that had what’s called “brainwave entrainment”. The works that I wrote for such a purpose pretty much sounded like this:
Take note that it’s best to listen to this music with your eyes closed and with headphones on:
This particular piece that I entitled “Night Sky” was released under a record label that was called a7records and is now known as Roundwaves. Now, what the heck is the purpose of all this? Music written with brainwave entrainment techniques (a.k.a. binaural beats) is part of what we can call “functional” or “applied” music i.e. music that is not solely written for simple listening pleasure or entertainment. Such music includes those used in film, video games, animation, etc. If music for movies enhances the viewing experience to a whole new level (try watching films without music, they suck!), brainwave entrainment music is designed to put you in a particular state of brain activity. Why? The theory is that setting your brain’s electrical activity into a particular phase will help facilitate various functions such as eliciting sleep, improving concentration, helping you to relax, excite you, etc. As it is universally known, music is a very powerful agent for altering your state of mind. You feel pumped up when listening to speed metal as you go across the freeway. You kind of feel very cheesy when you hear David Pack sing “You’re the Biggest Part of Me”. You kind of what to bob your head up and down when you hear some kind of four-on-the-floor drum and bass hit. Music with brainwave entrainment built into it is kind of like that too.
Now, the question is how do we actually go about writing music that is theorized to have the effect of relaxation, sleep, and other effects? Here goes:
- Know what kind of effect you want to elicit first before you go write your track. Do you want your listener to just relax and chill? You need your music to elicit an Alpha wave response. You want them to go to sleep? Go Delta wave. Go ahead and read up on what these brain waves are and what they’re associated with. Start by reading this Mental Health Daily piece.
- We need to generate the basic backing track for it, and that basic backing track is something that has a binaural beat that is equivalent to the brain wave activity you are trying to produce. To do this, you need two sine waves, tuned to a barely audible bass or contrabass frequency, one panned hard left and the other panned hard right. Now, it is VERY IMPORTANT that the two sine waves are tuned in such a manner that the difference between them will create an oscillating beat equal to that of the frequency of the brainwave you’re trying to elicit. For example, the sine wave to the left is tuned at 50 Hz and the sine wave to the right is tuned to 38 Hz. The difference between the two is 12 Hz, the upper limit of Alpha waves. The easiest way to do this is to use Audacity to generate these sine waves that are tuned to the exact frequencies you need. The length of this binaural beat track (or tracks) depend on how long you want your music to be. Usually 8 to 10 minutes is enough.
- Make sure that the sine waves you use for your binaural beat is in key to the music you are going to write. This is plain musical common sense. Why? First of, you want to make the music as pleasant sounding as you want. Tune your sine wave to a root or a fifth. Second, anything atonal or dissonant will only irritate your listener. For instance, if my music is in the key of G and I want Alpha waves, my left sine wave is in 24.5 Hz (G0 if A4 is 440 Hz) and my right sine wave is 36.5 Hz (about a microtone below D1 if A4 = 440 Hz). 37 minus 24.5 is 12 so I expect my binaural beat to match Alpha waves. In some instances, you may have to adjust the pitch of your sine waves accordingly if your music changes to distant keys. The point is that your sine waves (more or less) have to be in tune to the music.
- As for the amplitude of your binaural beats, it should be kept to a minimum as possible. You bury it in the music and it should be more felt than heard. This is the reason why we usually tune our sine waves to bass frequencies.
- When your binaural beats are set, write your music over the binaural beats. Notating it first on paper (or your scorewriter) or improvising over it doesn’t matter as long as you get to have appropriate music over it.
- Make sure that the music is LONG. We are not writing a radio hit here folks! Not everybody can fall asleep, concentrate, relax in just under a minute or two.
- You can write in any genre as long as it is appropriate for the effect that you want. You surely won’t want screaming metal guitars on your sleep music, right? It’s just common sense.
I suppose these steps should be enough to get you started in writing your first brainwave entrainment piece. If you all think I missed out on something, please leave your comments below.
A good way to spend a break from transcribing music to jam freely to some random backing track found on YouTube. It’s one way to have fun and try to develop/enhance chops.
Months ago, I recorded some background music for the splash animation of “Ultimate Metal Concepts for Guitar”, a course by Eric VanLandingham released by GuitarZoom. The above video says it all.
Music by Mark A. Galang
About a year ago I believe, I worked on this physics-based game called “Archery: Shoot the Apple”
I was successful in designing sounds and composing music for the game from scratch. The good thing is that anybody can still purchase the game from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for $0.99.
The thing that amuses me most this time is how they describe my sound effects as “funny”. I would take that as a compliment.
It’s been so long since I last posted something here as I was very busy with graduate school activities and work as usual. I find it refreshing that I got some time now to write something. This past week, I completed a 10-minute piece which I submitted to my composition teacher, Dr. Kristina Benitez, and got some useful feedback from her. This coming trimester, my new task is to expand that piece into a multi-movement suite. Expanding it into a suite is very doable since that piece has a lot of ideas going on. The next question now is whether or not I can get it performed or at least be able to record a good mockup of it. Because of that, I started to explore the Sibelius 7 Sound Library.
These past few days, I was occupied with testing out the Sibelius 7 Sound Library on my MacBook Pro, and so I decided to dig up my musical history. I’m not very fond of listening to the old stuff I’ve written and recorded since it feels very much like reading your high school diary (the thought of which makes me cringe). However, in this case I wanted to hear what it would be like to try out my old compositions on a new sample library.
I use a number of sample libraries in my music production in various formats like NI Kontakt, Apple EXS24, etc. and I also used to have the old Sibelius 5 sound library. I was quite fond of it when it came out (even though it was far from perfect), and so it was very exciting for me to use that new library for the first time. Hearing my old, old works on new sounds gave it new life. It still sounds far from perfect of course but the Sibelius 7 Sounds are usable to create orchestral mockups. The percussion and piano sounds were excellent although the tremolo is still has that slight machine gun effect. The other samples like strings, woodwinds, and brass are okay. As with many sample libraries, I found the guitar samples to be less than satisfying. The classical guitar samples could have been good except that it can be oddly squeaky because of the default fret noise setting. Imagine hearing playing single scale notes with every note being accompanied by a fret squeak, and so it sounds so unnatural. The solution to that would be to dial down the fret noise knob. Steel string guitar sounds are okay. The distorted guitar sound is probably the most awful of the bunch. It’s a good thing that I’m a guitarist as well and so I wouldn’t need to use those guitar samples anyway.
I said a while ago that I’m not fond of listening to my old recordings but I did find something good about that little exercise. I was able to uncover musical ideas that I would call diamonds in the rough. Bits and pieces of melodic and rhythmic themes here and there would make good material to expand for a variety of compositions that I could craft in the near future. I just hope that I get the time and patience to further explore them.
So, going back to my graduate school composition work, I plan to expand that into a suite. I should probably start once the weekday hits, or maybe I should talk to Dr. Benitez first to plan it all out. After scoring it in Sibelius, I will tweak the hell out of the MIDI to make it somewhat realistic and then practice all guitar, iPad, and piano parts before recording. That should enable me to submit a good recording by the end of the term. Afterwards, it will be time to work on my graduate thesis. Seems like I should savor these light-load days as I will be very busy in the next few months .
I was browsing through my Facebook page when I found this string of comments from a Steve Stine post:
One of the guys who commented on the new GuitarZoom “Guitarists of the 80s” course said, “Hey buddy! Are you reading the music to these leads as you play??”
Steve replied, “Tom, just wrote them out in my head and played them…”
Most of the time (myself included), many musicians write out their music inside their heads and just go out to play them. Another thing is that most of these musicians don’t have the time (or patience!) to write them out on paper for themselves. Let’s face it. The fact still stands that music transcription requires time, effort, and heaps of patience. These musical geniuses (like my buddy Steve Stine) give folks like me some kind of employment, and I am very thankful for that. Such musicians provide one big reason why I have a career as a music transcriber.
Perhaps there will come a time that the compositions inside my head will bring me great financial reward to the extent that I’ll just hit “record”, start playing, and then I could never be bothered to write them out on paper for myself. That would be a time that I will probably hire someone just like me to write them all out.
Until then, I’m the one being hired to do that sort of documentation. I really got nothing to complain about.
My frustration with Windows-based systems has gone up to an all-time high. It has become increasingly difficult to work properly with it. My current data management frustrations have just tipped the scales, and so now I have decided to get a Mac system. I’m not keen on spending money just for the sake of becoming up to date with the latest technology, but the situation has called for me to get an upgrade if I want to keep working properly. Yes folks, as of this point in time, I’m using a MacBook Pro to write this entry.
Last 2012, I discovered how difficult it was to use a Windows laptop for a live rig (even if it is loaded with a good amount of RAM and a top-notch Intel processor), the latency and audio quality (even with ASIO drivers) was just unacceptable. I performed every tweak I can think of, used an external audio interface, and a stripped down Windows XP installation, only to find out that it will conk out during a live performance. Had I been using a MIDI controller that had no internal sounds, I would have been toast.
On my Windows desktop, it is not unusual for me to experience a crash at least once a week whenever I’m working on a music transcription/engraving project or video game BGM (background music work). Those BSODs represent lost time and opportunities that aggravate me to no end. Add to that a failing hard drive and I could just scream mad out of frustration. I said to myself that I can’t afford to have something like this happen to me on a frequent basis, and so I purchased this Mac.
My initial test on this particular machine involved using Main Stage. I was blown away regarding how easy it is to use. I could easily cook up the keyboard rig of my dreams, connect this MacBook to one of my digital pianos, and start playing as if I was like one of those classic Prog Rock keyboard heroes like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (minus the cape, spinning pianos, and knives). Sibelius worked wonderfully on it. Logic Pro X took a bit of time to figure out, but it wasn’t as hard as learning Cakewalk as a newbie.
As a composer and musician, I would really want to focus on just writing and recording music. I don’t have the patience to tweak for hours on end just to get things working. I want to just plug in and have a go at it rather than frustrate myself further with going over system and software adjustments. The night that I received this machine proves that. I’m not surprised why there are many musicians who prefer Apple’s Mac over a Windows PC for their work.
So, should I keep my Windows system. Of course, I’ll still keep it. Matter of fact is that I’ve managed to get it to work once more. The only problem is that I can’t rely on it as much as I used to, so it will probably serve as a backup machine or a general, all-purpose home office workstation with a secondary function as a recording rig. As far as music-making is concerned, I suppose I’ll transition to this Mac in a number of days.
Okay. If you are one of those 10 in a billion readers of this blog, you might be aware of my views towards Facebook (not so pretty). However, given the sort of livelihood I’m trying to keep, it is necessary for me to engage in social media. I realized that (regardless of how much I dislike it) this should be done. This is something I learned from a seminar conducted by Filipino advertising guru Roberto Caballero (they guy behind the WOW! Philippines advertising campaign). Therefore, I have created another Facebook account. The big difference now is that this new account is strictly from a professional visibility standpoint. The likelihood of seeing yours truly on Facebook as “Mark the Person” is highly unlikely.
Anyway, should you find it within reasonable bounds, please visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/markgalangmusic. “Likes” are much appreciated. Thank you very much. Now, it’s time to go back to chores and writing music under my work-for-hire contracts.