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.

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Life as a “Single” Guy – Stories Through Musical Improvisation: XVII. “At Ease with You”

I recently got this KORG KARMA workstation just right about the end of a relaxing vacation. I then decided to mess around with it once I got home and see what I can do with it. I thought to myself it would be nice to try and write a more or less picturesque description of what went on during that time I spent on vacation.

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.

My Version of Kadsagurongan Using a Sample Library

“Kadasagurongan” is a tradional Maranao kulintang piece that I learned how to play when I was taking my “Teaching Philippine Music” elective at the Philippine Women’s University School of Music. This recorded version was made possible through the use of “Philipperc”, a Philippine indigenous instrument sample library developed by Stephan Marche of Detunized.Com using my samples of kulintang and other Philippine instruments.

Philipperc: New FREE Philippine Percussion Library from Detunized!

Hey folks! Before anything else, I want to greet everybody a happy New Year!

Now that we’ve got the 2015 greeting out of the way, I just would like to post about something I’m really excited about: It’s the new Philipperc Ableton Live and Kontakt percussion library from Detunized!

The story behind Philipperc is this: I’ve always wondered about how I can get Philppine indigenous instrument sounds into my compositions without actually owning those instruments. For one thing, instruments such as a Kulintang set are expensive. Just so you would have an idea, in cultures such as Maranao and Maguindanaon, Kulintang sets are properties of the wealthy, treasured heirlooms that can be used as dowry for weddings! To be frank, I don’t have the money to purchase a set of babendil, agung, gandingan, and kulintang for myself. But then I had the good fortune of being enrolled in the Philippine Women’s University School of Music where I’m finishing my master’s degree of music education. It just so happened that it had the perk (pun!) of getting access to the musical instrument museum where they have this awesome collection of Philippine indigenous instruments. I spent one Saturday afternoon sampling a set of agung, gandingan, dabakan, and a kulintang. I also recorded a number of tongatong samples for good measure.

I sent these samples over to my good friend, Stephan Marche, CEO of Detunized, and asked him the favor of developing the samples as a virtual instrument. He went on to do this and developed versions for Ableton Live and Native Instruments Kontakt. He then asked me to go write some demos. To cut the long story short, it was awesome!

What is Philipperc really? It’s a sample-based virtual instrument for Ableton Live and Kontakt that features samples of Dabakan, Agung, Gandingan, Kulintang, and Tongatong. This instrument is intended to be used by composers, music producers, and music students, especially those who are studying indigenous Philippine music. At this point, Philipperc is available at no cost whatsoever! Therefore, I would advise you to get a copy now as this is, I believe, the first Philippine percussion sample library ever developed in history. I’d love to say it’s sort of groundbreaking in a sense. Should Philipperc take off well, we could probably go on and make a more comprehensive library with more Philippine instrument samples like kudyapi, bungkaka, kubing, etc.

To download Philipperc, just go to http://detunized.com/free_live_packs/ and look for it. The prototype version I’m currently using is laid out as a drum rack, so if you have something like an Akai MPC or a Roland Octapad MIDI Controller, it will be great.

Now, what does it sound like? Here’s the demo I wrote for the release of Philipperc. It’s called “Where Coast and Mountaintops Meet.” Enjoy!

Lunch Break at the PWU School of Music Recital Hall

This is probably the first time I spent my lunch break on music rather than on food.

What’s happening here is actually a test of recording equipment. This is a video recording of myself and Jeepney Joyride trombonist Diamond Manuel performing a free improvisation jam. Everything here is completely improvised. The first piece is a 20th-century classical sounding ditty influenced by the likes of Bartok, Varese, Messiaen, Zappa, and maybe a bit of Debussy. The second piece is a pretty straightforward swing jazz in C minor.

Now, as to why I was testing recording equipment, I was checking recording levels on my Zoom H4n because I’m supposed to record Diamond’s trombone recital this coming Saturday morning. He will be performing his recital program on December 6, 2014 at the Philippine Women’s University School of Music Recital Hall. It’s free admission, and safe to say that I don’t think anybody’s going to hear this sort of jam session at the event.

The test did come out great on my Zoom H4n. I have to say, however, that the video posted here is from my crappy smartphone and so the audio quality is not so great. Since I usually have to take videos for my research, I suppose investing money on a real camcorder isn’t such a bad idea.

So, if any of you are in Manila on Saturday and happen to have some free time, please drop by and watch Diamond Manuel’s trombone recital. Cheers!