A Glimpse of Life as a Full-Time Music Educator

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About nine months have passed since I accepted a full-time post as a music teacher. I currently teach mostly group piano/keyboard classes ranging from the 2nd to the 12th grade in varying skill levels ranging from beginners to advanced, some of them are at a virtuoso level. As the school where I’m currently assigned gives a rather considerable amount of workload, I barely have enough time for what is my primary musical medium and discipline: composition. Other than rare occasions where I can record little musical ideas here and there or film a piano improv every now and then, I have lost time for it to the point that I have no idea where to find time to finish the musical that I have been working on for the past two years. I do think, however, that having done this so far has been a blessing for me. I am very grateful to the Lord for having led me to the place where I am at for many reasons.

It is no accident that I am at this place. It is all part of God’s grand scheme of things, an opportunity for me to become a tool for young people to gain skill and knowledge in music. This in itself, I believe, will pave the way for the next generation to serve Him through music and lead others to Him through praise and worship. I pray that those who have received my instruction would eventually convince others of their need for a savior, given man’s wretched and sinful nature, and that it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ’s completed work at the cross that they will come into fellowship with God.

The process of teaching is intellectually and emotionally taxing. Each day at school, I have to pull out every intellectual and emotional resource available. Every real teacher gives out eveything in an effort to properly equip his or her students as much as he or she would do for her own children. No wonder teachers act kind of surrogate parents for their students in the classroom or in the teaching studio, the sort of effort that cannot be matched by any amount of financial remuneration. It all boils down to the love of serving and imprting knowledge that keeps us teachers going.

Having been holed up in my home studio prior to teaching full time, it has been a refreshing experience. Meeting and dealing with all sorts of personalities is a given. It can be so frustrating at times to the extent that sometimes I just want to run away and hole myself up again in my studio, writing and recording music by myself. However, doing so will only make me to revert to what I once was: a human analog of the Dead Sea. The bigger picture of things as an educator shows much more promise. Effecting changes in the lives of students through music is worth all the effort.

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Working with the particular department I am in is not without its perks. I can say that a teacher is the ultimate perpetual student. We have to learn more to be able to teach more. Each challenge we face allows us to learn new things. In a span of months, I have acquired skills that I only dreamt of having once. You can’t help but absorb some degree of knowledge, skill, and insights from colleagues who plan, work, and perform with you. As far as performing is concerned, the team I work with is a blessing from God: they are among the best musicians I have performed on stage with, bringing to life some of my arrangements of wonderful Christian songs in four school concerts. In the process, I even picked up learning how to play some woodwinds and brass instruments as well.

This point in time, I would say, is the eye of a storm that I would call student recitals. It’s a bit relaxed now compared to the preparations we had done for our students. In about two days, all of that is about to change as we start setting up the stage for the recital on the weekend, with the hope tht our students do well and give glory to God through music. Perhaps I would write more about my experiences as an educator in the days to come if time permits, but this is all what I can say for now.

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Bruce Katz’s “The Breakthrough Blues Piano Method”

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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.

How To Write Brainwave Entrainment Music

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Throwback Thursday: Recording BGM for the GuitarZoom Course “Ultimate Metal Concepts for Guitar”

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.

New Blues and Metal Guitar Courses on GuitarZoom

It’s been a while since I wrote anything that refers to GuitarZoom, the organization where I mainly work as a music transcriber, social media moderator, music theory and guitar answer guy, and now as a composer of background music. Anyway, GuitarZoom has a lot in store for this year, and this includes a couple of Blues and Metal courses.

For the serious intermediate metalhead guitarist, here’s a good course on Metal by Eric VanLandingham:

http://guitarzoom.com/ultimatemetalguitarconcepts/

(FYI, the music that you hear just before the lesson kicks in (the Djenty BGM you hear during the animation sequences) was written, performed, and recorded by yours truly.)

If you wish to be able to utilize pentatonic scales effectively, especially in a blues setting, you have to check out this upcoming course by Casey Smith’s called “Ultimate Power Pentatonics for Guitar”

(Again, intro animation music by yours truly.)

All of these courses come with my sheet music transcriptions in standard notation and TAB.

For more information regarding these courses as well as upcoming promos, go visit http://guitarzoom.com. For any questions regarding course content, music theory, guitar playing, or anything music in general, you can always email me at mark(at)guitarzoom.com. (FYI, I don’t handle customer service stuff and technical issues, but I’d be more than happy to talk about music with all of you.)

The K-12 Education Upgrade in the Philippines: Is it a Solution to Poverty?

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I’m close to completing my M.A. in Music Education. All I need to do now is write my thesis, something that’s scheduled for June of this year. In my music education seminars with one of my favorite professors, the K-12 program is discussed a lot. Matter of fact is that one of my projects for “Current Trends in Music Education” is a syllabus and sample learning plans for grade 12 music track students. It’s called “Music Production, Composition, and Sound Design with Computers”, something that I hope will be offered in schools by the time the first batch of Filipino grade 12 students start their work. I have to say first that I am all for this education upgrade in the Philippines. It’s one step that perhaps the Philippines is going somewhere towards improvement. Some people (my professor included) would even boldly claim that the K-12 program is the solution to poverty in the Philippines. Thinking about this, I would like to look into it deeper and see if it’s true. Is K-12 implementation really the solution to poverty in the Philippines?

The intents and purposes of the K-12 program are good. In a nutshell, the K-12 program is designed to better prepare the students for employment and/or higher learning right after secondary school. It is assumed that the K-12 program will produce fresh high school graduates who are ready to enter the workforce immediately, allowing themselves to be contributors to society as seen in all first world nations. I see this as a very good thing, having been denied many times of employment opportunities when I was still at the college level. The K-12 program is meant to address that problem by churning out workforce-ready individuals. It is assumed that we no longer have to see job ads that require just college graduates or college-level students. Sounds good, right? On the surface, many would say yes. Reality is a different thing, however. There is some level of certainty that these future graduates of the K-12 program would have the skills and knowledge necessary for employment, but the question now is where will they get jobs?

The hard reality now hits us. Many college graduates in the Philippines have it hard getting employed. I’ve experienced this myself. I was trained as an occupational therapist and I passed the boards back in August 2004. The problem was that I could not get a job at hospitals. Now, why is that? Many hospitals (yes, even commercial ones) prefer volunteers just because they don’t have to be given even a small transportation allowance. It’s a cost-cutting measure while gaining the ability to offer professional-level rehab services. Seeing that the culture in Philippine hospitals is like this, it made no sense to me at the time, especially that I already had a family to support. Volunteering simply will not enable me to pay the bills. It’s a despicable practice! A person who works has to be paid the correct wages. The premise is that rehab professionals have to slug it out for a minimum of 3 years with no salary just to gain fillers for their resumes so they can go for jobs abroad.

Speaking of going abroad for employment, at this point in time it is the aspiration of many Filipinos because of the scarcity of good-paying jobs in the Philippines. Local employers only offer paltry sums for wretched, grueling hours of hard work. Let’s face it, folks. You can’t expect a call center agent earning a gross amount of Php 20,000 to provide a good standard of living for his/her family when 32% of that will go to taxes. How many years will such an employee have to spend in order to save enough to place a partial sum for a small house and lot in Cavite or Bulacan? Will such an employee be able to sustain paying off the mortgage for 10 years or more? The point is that there are only very few jobs in the Philippines that would allow for an acceptable standard of living. If such is the case of your call center agent nowadays, the situation would certainly look grim for future K-12 graduates simply because there is no assurance of them being able to get employed right after they graduate. College graduates have it hard nowadays, and it does look like it will be harder for them future K-12 graduates if things do not change. The only glimmer of hope for these K-12 as well as college grads would be to go where the grass is greener: abroad!

We always hear of the government giving praises for the OFWs they barely support. OFWs are rightfully called heroes since a big chunk of the Philippine economy is due to their contributions. OFWs have to go through all sorts of crap and hell in their host countries as they try to bring home the bacon. It’s sad that many Filipinos are forced to fly away from home and be torn away from their families for employment instead of doing such things by choice. Many enlightened Filipinos have the government to blame for this. It seems to me that the K-12 program is a platform for training more OFWs for the Philippine government to send elsewhere in the world and then simply milk them dry via taxes. It’s an open secret where most of those taxes go that I don’t really have to spell it out.

I do think that it is stupid to send out cows to the neighbor’s grassy plains when you have the capacity to plant some good grass yourself. Now, what do I mean by this? The Philippines can have the capacity to bring more foreign investors in to create more jobs for Filipinos if only the Government would take out protectionist economic policies as outlined in the 1987 constitution. Such policies only keep the oligarchs (who are unable to compete in an international scale) in power. Should such economic policies be lifted, highly competitive foreign investors would come in to offer better services and good-paying jobs, forcing local businesses to step up their game. It can be a win-win situation if you ask me. If such economic restrictions are lifted, we can have access to better services, technology, products, and great-paying job opportunities from both local companies (who should be forced to compete) and foreign (already competitive) businesses. Such third-world to first-world stories have been seen in the likes of Singapore and South Korea. It’s very possible for the Philippines to go such a route, which is possible only if radical changes are made in the government and in society itself!

Going back to the question, is the K-12 education upgrade in the Philippines a solution to poverty? I would have to say it is not a complete solution. If these future K-12 graduates find employment as OFWs, we can say that they will be able to improve their lives and contribute to society and the economy. I would have to admit that. However, with our current presidential system of government, protectionist economic policies, rampant corruption, and the Filipino culture of having too much freedom and a lack of discipline, I would have to say that the Philippines will remain to be the sick man of Asia despite the implementation of K-12. For things to improve, us Filipinos have to start opening up our eyes and minds to the idea of change.

A Jazz-Prog-Rock Fusion Band’s Early Beginnings

Since going for anything musical full time in a professional capacity, I decided to form my very own jazz-prog-rock band with two guys from graduate school, namely Diamond Manuel on trombone and Jeffrey Abanto on guitar, bassist RJ Sy (Karl Roy Band, Kastigo, etc.), and drumming virtuoso and chef KC Puerto. Together, we’re Hi-5! Nah, just kidding. We’re an unnamed jazz-prog-rock fusion band that is currently in its infancy. The video above is an excerpt from our two-hour first rehearsal session together where we had the audacity to take a crack at Alan Pasqua’s “Proto Cosmos” (popularized by the Tony Williams’ Lifetime band and Allan Holdsworth). I am quite pleased with our first session together as we were able to go through a somewhat tricky piece and survive it, hahaha! Other than this piece, we also had loads of fun with a free improvisation session. Hopefully, we’ll start working on original music as well as a couple of covers to spice things up.

The spark of it, all, however, was this free improv session with Diamond: