Bruce Katz’s “The Breakthrough Blues Piano Method”

Breakthrough Blues Piano Method Cover

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.

Advertisements

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.

Moving to an Apple-Based System

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.

Early Evening at Cycfi Research, Inc.

Last Saturday, I got invited by the man behind the Cycfi Alpha, Mr. Joel de Guzman, to visit his facility somewhere in Quezon City to discuss ideas and possibilities regarding music as well as the innovative projects he undertakes. Realizing that this was one of those opportunities that I should not miss, I gave Joel my schedule and when I would be able to go visit. Fast forward to around 5:45 p.m. yesterday, I was with my son at the gates of what appeared to be a 21st-century-state-of-the-art residence, complete with tight security, a laboratory, and a properly built and well equipped studio. The first impression I got was he pushed the concept of SoHo to the extreme. The gate was opened and Joel welcomed us into his home office and conference room.

Joel de Guzman Cycfi Research Inc

(Mr. Joel de Guzman)

Joel de Guzman is one of those rare, forward-thinking individuals. He is an IT consultant, software developer, musician, instrument maker, and open-source advocate. It’s not off target to say that he’s the local Bob Moog. He strongly believes in give-and-you-shall-receive philosophy so much that he posts his designs and concepts freely on the web which include his hexaphonic pickup design and the carbon-fiber/glass truss rod. He is a living testimony of a person who has been blessed so much because of his belief in giving. One could easily see that the gates and storehouses of heaven have opened up for him because of his unselfish attitude in life.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly exciting and forward-looking ideas for making music. Right there and then, I realized that I was in a presence of a genius. The things we were talking about were mindblowing to say the least. Joel was particular about how he could use waveshaping to explore new timbres and techniques when using the full-range hexaphonic pickup that he has been developing. The math of it all was mind-boggling to me (being a person who has struggled with math) but I guess I had enough knowhow to understand how I could use it. The idea of synthesis using the guitar’s strings and pickups as an oscillator has been expored by a number of other institutions. Companies like EHX have played with the idea by developing the POG and HOG pedals and Moog Music even has its own guitar for that purpose, but Joel made me realize that you could do more than that with his full-range pickup, a parametric EQ, and a waveshaper. He also had the idea of hiring me as his child’s music theory tutor. Sadly, I could not accommodate his request, given the distance I would have to travel to go there and give lessons.

After discussing ideas about how we could work together, Joel gave us a tour of his facility. The Alpha prototype was in the process of a paint job so he was not able to demonstrate how it sounded like. We went into his recording studio and he showed me a Fender Stratocaster with the prototype hex pickup installed. The pickup sounded rich on a Marshall combo that the guitar was plugged into. More than that, the hexaphonic output of his pickup was also connected to his Logic Pro based DAW. How it sounded like was something I have never heard on any other guitar. It was phenomenal! Imagine having individual control over each string having its own excusive output routed to a dedicated channel. Andres Segovia once said that the guitar is an orchestra unto itself. Joel’s hexaphonic pickup pushes that to a whole new level. I was very fortunate enough to have tried it for myself.

Mark@Cycfi Research Inc 01-28-2014

(The author smiling like an idiot with Joel’s Fender Strat and the Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup)

It sounded crazy good with each string having a different position in the sound field starting with the low E string panned hard right and the high E string panned hard left. Since the pickup had a flat frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz, you could do all kinds of things with it and a parametric EQ. One of Joel’s intentions in developing this pickup is to disprove the idea that a full-range pickup is brittle sounding. Upon strumming my first chord on his guitar, I realized that he was right. Noodling with Joel’s Strat for a bit made me see all sorts of things that you can do with it. Some of the more basic things I thought I can do with it is faking an acoustic guitar with a solid-body electric (without the need for piezo saddles) and simulate any kind of pickup. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Applying distortion to it while it is rigged in a hexaphonic manner was very interesting: full triads sounded very nice and very different. Rather than the aggressive high gain sound you usually expect from your typical humbuckers running into Marshall stack, it sounded more like a guitar orchestra. You could actually play your thirds with the gain all the way up to 10 without sounding harsh or dissonant. I could already imagine setting up six amps in a room or hall, surrounding both guitarist and audience, with each string’s signal going through each amp, exuding music like you’ve never heard before. An added bonus is that the pickup is so quiet even with distortion that the only thing a noise gate would do in this instance is to turn down the ambiance from the amp itself. Another thing currently in development is for this pickup to function as a sustainer. Once Cycfi Research finalizes the design of this pickup, I’m very sure that the serious musician will have to rethink about how to make a sound with a guitar. The question of single-coil versus humbucker would not matter with this kind of pickup. Rather than getting a pickup installed to give your guitar a certain kind of character, you can get the exact kind of voicing you want with this hexaphonic pickup by just using EQ.

Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype

(Cycfi Research Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype)

To cut the story short, I was very happy and honored to have met Joel. I hope that this will be the start of a mutually beneficial working relationship. More important than that is the fact that I have met a new friend who has the same sort of passion that I have for something new in music, finding ways to make music that’s really progressive.

To find out more about Joel and his projects, visit http://www.cycfi.com.

Play Blues Now: New Steve Stine Course @ GuitarZoom

Steve-Stine-Play-Blues-Now

A few days prior to Christmas 2013, I was working long hours to complete transcribing the sheet music for this course while juggling other important tasks such as our church’s Christmas concert rehearsals, finishing my composition for the said concert, working on other projects, being a parent and homeschool teacher, graduate school stuff, and others. It was a tough time, and though I’m able to relax for now I do have other things that I have to complete. Anyway, going back to the course, this is a beginner blues course for guitar by none other than in-demand modern guitar pedagogue, Steve Stine.

To cut things short, this is an excellent course (in my biased opinion) for anyone who wants to know the nitty-gritty on the Blues. It covers the essentials of the Blues from the rhythm up to improvisation and soloing, making it a very complete course that will enable you to do what it says: Play Blues Now!

If you want to purchase the DVD and book, please click on the image above. Sheet music transcription by none other but yours truly.

“I Miss You” by Shean Cleofas and Lenny Nabor

I remember some time around 2012 when I arranged this song for songwriter Lenny Nabor:

This version of Lenny Nabor’s “I Miss You” was interpreted by Shean Cleofas with arrangement by yours truly. I thought something that sounded like “Everything But the Girl” would suit the song well.

If there would be one thing I’d change in this present recording would be the dynamics. The piano overpowers everything else. I’d also make some changes in the overall mix, should I be given the opportunity to do so. So, Lenny, if you’re reading this, I hope you give me a chance to mix it. I just need a copy of the vocal track.

Apparently, Lenny has plans of working with me again on another song. I’m about to make a sample arrangement of a few bars for that new song. Let’s wait and see (and hear) what would happen next.