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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Solo Piano Music by Mark A. Galang Featured on “The Eskalets” by Christine L. Villa

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About two months ago, I received a commission to write solo piano music for “The Eskalets”, a short story in DVD format by Christine L. Villa, a children’s book author and poet. For this particular project, I chose to perform and improvise a mashup of four of my solo piano compositions. For now, I can perhaps call that particular mashup as — guess what –“The Eskalets”.

If you’d like to discover the story of four baby robins and and their journey starting from their nest up until they learn how to launch themselves up into the air, click on this link (or the photo above) and purchase the DVD direct from Christine. I am sure that the captivating story of the Eskalets would teach your children the value of family, the way to deal with adversity, and the road to becoming independent.

Remembering “Archery: Shoot the Apple”

Archery - Shoot the Apple

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.

Berocca Aluminum Tube Kazoo

It’s true: You can create musical instruments out of garbage. Being inspired by Frank Zappa as well as the Landfillharmonic, I decided to go create an improvised instrument and improvise some solo quasi-trumpet garbage jazz on it.

I’ve been taking Berocca (the fizzy vitamin tablets) for the past three weeks now as supplements. As a result, I have these leftover aluminum tubes. I thought that perhaps I can turn these tubes  into musical instruments so I made a kazoo with one of them. I cut out the other end of the tube, place some kind of wax paper membrane on the other end, secured it with a hair tie, and voila I got myself a kazoo. I wanted to know how it sounded like  so I filmed myself. It sounds okay to me and I think it would be useful in various musical creations. At the very least, I can grab the attention of my cats with it. It’s either the cats love it or it emits certain sound frequencies that they themselves can only hear so well that it’s annoying.

Cycfi Research Neo Pickups Now Available!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Yes, folks. Cycfi Research has decided to release the latest incarnation of the Neo Pickups. The Neo Pickups are full-range, low impedance (active) pickups that can be powered via lithium ion batteries (the kind of stuff that powers your smartphone). If you’re a luthier or a DIY musical instrument builder, this might be the thing that you are looking for. If you have luthiery knowledge plus the capability to understand wiring diagrams, then these pickups might just be the thing you will need to amplify any steel-stringed instrument such as guitars, mandolins, pianos, etc.

The Neo Pickups are for serious hackers and DIYers only. If you’re an end-user (such as myself), these are not for you. You will need the assistance of somebody who knows electronics well in order to get them working for you. As far as I know, end-user versions of the Neos are currently under development. However, I do think that this initial release will pave the way for the end-user version to make its appearance.

I have used the prototype pickups before, and one thing I could say is that the sound of these pickups is comparable to a canvass i.e. the transparent sound of the pickups plus EQ for filtering will allow you to get all sorts of guitar tones that you can think of. At the bare minimum, you can emulate single coils from Strats,  humbuckers from Les Pauls, a shamisen, a classical guitar, a dreadnought acoustic, and other kind of stringed instruments by merely getting a spectral analysis of the instrument you wish to mimic and then apply the information to create EQ settings that will let you get the sound that you want. Goodbye piezos as far as I’m concerned.

To purchase your set of Neos, please go to http://www.cycfi-research.com to purchase. It costs $25 per coil so a set of six coils for your guitar costs $150.

For more information, read Cycfi Research’s own announcement at http://www.cycfi.com/2014/04/its-official-neo-series-now-available/.

Going Back to Facebook?

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.

The Joys of Using Contemporary Technology and Electronic Musical Instruments

In an ideal situation, I would have a perfectly soundproofred and treated recording studio with a live room, a vocal booth, and a dead room. I would have the drum kit of my dreams in its own booth mic’ed up properly, and I would would have another room for guitars, a grand piano inside the live room, a rack of synthesizers, an orchestral room (with instruments), etc. I could go on and on about what I would like to have. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints would not permit this. I don’t have a million dollars to fund such things. Thanks to latest advances in technology, I don’t need too much equipment in my home studio.

I actually make a living with an electronic piano from the ’80s hooked up via MIDI, a couple of guitars, a condenser mic, a multi-effects pedal with modeling, a tube amp, a number of VST instruments, scorewriters and a DAW, an audio interface (that I should replace soon!), and other bits and pieces here and there that make noise. That’s about it. Thanks to VST instruments, I have access to great quality sounds that about 10 to 15 years ago I would not have such as orchestral sounds, horn sections, and drums. Many thanks to the people who have made home recording a lot more convenient!

At this point, I don’t have the funds for acoustic treatment or soundproofing, and so I have to make do with recording acoustically using a number of workarounds such as putting a thick comforter or blanket over my amp and mic for recording electric guitar old-school style, recording vocals during the “dead” hours of the day (or inside the car using my Zoom H4n). So far, I have been successfully recording acoustic stuff this way, not the most ideal thing in the world. However, these workarounds will certainly fail if I were to record acoustic drums. Not only will I have a lot of difficulty finding mics (which I don’t have) or the quietest pieces of hardware around, I will also be in trouble with my wife (who will most certainly wake up to the noise of drums) as well as the neighbors. I had experienced getting a phone call from an irate neighbor once when I was rehearsing with Jacob’s Ladder (about 15 years ago!), and I’m not going to have that kind of trouble again. And so, the solution for that would be MIDI capable electronic drums. I found this video that will explain better how electronic drums are advantageous over acoustic drums, fully convincing me that this is the way to go if I’m going to do drums faster rather than programming those parts (a tedious process, BTW):

Speaking of workarounds, even highly acclaimed bands like Haken (my son’s current favorite) use such techniques to record their albums. The next video shows how Haken vocalist Ross Jennings records some of his stuff:

As you can see, you can record vocals in an attic with some blankets, duct tape, and a good mic hooked up to a DAW. Of course, nothing beats a professional recording studio for the job, but workarounds like these augmented with today’s technology can deliver results that are pretty much close at the fraction of the cost.

These things, dear readers,  are only a few examples of the joys of using contemporary technology and electronic musical instruments.