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.

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.)

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.

Old Stuff, New Stuff

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 .

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.

 

“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.

Steve Stine’s 42 Days to Blazing Guitar Solos

About a month ago, I started working on what was once called Steve Stine’s “Essential Techniques for Guitar”. This is a compendium of pure guitar technique, teaching you the “how” of lead guitar soloing. After weeks of grueling transcription and completing the sheet music, GuitarZoom has released what is now called “42 Days to Blazing Guitar Solos”.

If you are at least an intermediate electric guitar player want to do everything from nailing famous guitar to creating your own solos from scratch, I suggest going to the link below:

42-days-to-blazing-guitar-solos

Other than working on this course, I just completed transcribing another blues course and I’m working on a number of things simultaneously. Therefore, I can say I’m busier than a bee. I guess that’s it for now. I hope that over the next 42 days, you’ve transformed yourself into a guitar hero under Steve Stine’s tutelage.

Steve Stine’s Songfire Now Available

Songfire

GuitarZoom, one of my long-term employers, has another very useful course for anybody who’s interested in learning new songs on the guitar in a fast and intelligent way. This new course is called Songfire. Written by GuitarZoom’s guitarist-in-residence and professor of modern guitar at North Dakota State University, Steve Stine, This new course offers a no-nonsense approach that could enable any guitar beginner into hearing how most songs work and then eventually learn them in the process.

Now, for those who think they can become instant virtuoso players with this course, you are mistaken. This course is NOT about gaining virtuoso technique in an instant (it takes years of hard work and practice to gain that). This course is more about being able to play many of the songs you hear and enjoy on your guitar in a fast way. This course is not about being able to play your favorite songs note by note, but it is more about being able to understand the underlying harmonic structure (chord progressions, etc.) based on what you hear. Upon finishing the course, you’d be able to listen actively to many pop and rock songs and be able to play through its chord progression in a matter of minutes.

Okay, maybe some will be disappointed that virtuoso guitarist Steve Stine released a non-virtuoso course. Well, that is not the point of Songfire. Songfire’s intent is to give learners the ability to hear music as a whole and be able to at least play a semblance of it, following along the chord progression WITHOUT reading notation or tab. B ear in mind that seemingly simple, sort of entry-level topics like those in Songfire could easily lead any beginning guitarist to be stimulated into getting deeper into the workings of music, eventually figuring out what most of us would consider virtuoso technique. The positive and pleasurable effects of being to successfully learn a new song can always lead to bigger things, musically speaking.

If you want to get access to the course, just click on the Songfire image above. As usual, sheet music and text by none other than yours truly.

Using the Five Most Important Synthesizer Modules

Good day. This is Mark Galang with another post about music production in compliance with the requirements for the Berklee College of Music course called “Introduction to Music Production”, hosted for free by Coursera. In this post, I will discuss how to use the five most important synthesizer modules. These are your oscillator, filter, amplifier, envelope, and low frequency oscillator or LFO. For this tutorial, I will be using three kinds of software synthesizers namely RGC Audio’s Z3ta +1, MinimogueVA, and Mothman 1966. We can also consider this tutorial as a sort of crash course into subtractive synthesis.

1. Oscillator

In any synthesizer (even those that play back samples), the oscillator is the sound source. It produces the waveform/s that you need to shape to produce the desired sound. The most basic parameter we get to control in an oscillator is the waveform selection. We usually have a number of waveforms to choose from including sine (fundamental frequency only), pulse waves such as square and triangle (fundamental frequency + odd harmonics), and sawtooth waves (fundamental + odd and even harmonics).

In the Mothman 1966, three waveforms are available called diamond (triangle), 8-bit saw (sawtooth), and wind (sine):

01a - Mothman 1966 Osc

The MinimogueVA (obviously modeled after the Minimoog) has a couple more parameters other than standard waveform selection. You can adjust the tuning and the register of the oscillator as well as apply an overdrive (distortion) effect.

01b - MinimogueVA Osc

The Z3ta is the most complex of these softsynths. Its oscillator section has more choices for waveforms along with more parameters to shape them. There is even an option available for users to draw their own custom waveforms.

01c - Z3ta Osc

2. Voltage Controlled Filter (VCF)

More complex waveforms such as sawtooth can often sound harsh, and this is why a filter (more properly called voltage controlled filter or VCF) is present in all synthesizers. The filter functions much like an EQ except that in synthesizers, we can expect its parameters to change over a short period of time. The most common kind of filter in a synthesizer is a low-pass filter, the rationale being it is the best filter for cutting out brightness or harshness in the fastest way possible. In a synthesizer, the cutoff parameter is probably the most important. In a typical low-pass filter, raising the knob or slider for cutoff will raise the cutoff frequency meaning that you cut off less of the high frequencies and make the sound brighter. Lowering the cutoff knob will cut more high frequencies, making the sound of your oscillator darker.

One of the fun things about using these synthesizers is when you are modulating the filter’s cutoff, either manually or through an LFO. Sometimes you may want the realtime use of the filter cutoff to be more obvious. This is where the resonance parameter can be very useful. Increasing the resonance will make your use of the filter more pronounced. When the resonance parameter is up to a particular level, some of the high frequencies seep through as you turn the cutoff knob or slider to either direction.

The Mothman’s VCF features the basic control parameters:

02a - Mothman 1966 VCF

In the MinimogueVA, the filter’s resonance is aptly called emphasis. Contour Amount adjusts the Q of the filter and velocity adjusts how fast the cutoff knob responds:

02b - MinimogueVA VCF

The Z3ta’s filter can be changed from the standard low-pass to others such as notch, band pass, and high pass:

02c - Z3ta VCF

3. Amplifier

The synthesizer’s amplifier works by raising the amplitude of the signal coming from the oscillator after it passes through the filter. The most basic control over the amplifier is the master volume section of the synthesizer as shown in all three featured synthesizers:

03b - Mothman 1966 VCA

03a - MinimogueVA VCA

03c - Z3ta VCA

However, we can also have more specific control over the amplifier, allowing us to shape how each note is articulated. This is where we make use of the…

4. Envelope

The envelope is one component of the amplifier that adjusts the amplitude of the sound at certain points over a very short amount of time. The amplifier’s envelope has four parameters:

Attack Time – The amount of time it takes for the signal to reach peak amplitude after a note on command (i.e. pressing a key).

Decay Time – The amount of time it takes for the signal to reach the designated sustain level.

Sustain Level – A designated amplitude level during the main sequence of the sound’s duration. The level of the sound after decay time has passed.

Release Time – The amount of time it takes for the sound to go from sustain level to zero after a note off command.

These parameters spell out conveniently as the acronym ADSR.

By adjusting these parameters, we can emulate the responses of various instruments such as the organ, violin, brass, piano, etc. For example, the organ has a “switch” type of envelope, and so we would set attack to 0, decay to 0, sustain level to any amount desired, and release to 0. If we want the synthesizer to have a piano-like response where the note dies off slowly after pressing a key, we set attack to 0, have a long decay time of about a few seconds, and then set sustain level and release time to 0. If we want the sound to “swell”, we set the attack time above 0.

The amplitude envelope generator is pretty much standard in all three featured synths, although the MinimogueVA has got envelope controls for filter as well and the Z3ta has additional parameters beyond the traditional ADSR:

04a - Mothman 1966 Envelope

04b - MinimogueVA Envelope

04c - Z3ta Envelope

5. Low Frequency Oscillator (LFO)

Other than willfully adjusting all the parameters of our synthesizers with our hands, you can assign an LFO to do this for you in a cyclical manner. An LFO typically operates at a frequency below the threshold of hearing, typically at a repetitive pattern determined by the kind of waveform used and the rate at which the LFO operates.

We can use the LFO to have control over the oscillator for vibrato effects, the amplifier for tremolo effects, and the filter for automatic filter sweeps.

The Mothman’s LFO can be assigned to the oscillator or filter. You can select the waveform as well as adjust its speed.

05a - Mothman 1966 LFO

For the MinimogueVA, the third oscillator (OSC3) can be used as an LFO and can be assigned to various parameters:

05b - MinimogueVA LFO

As for the Z3ta, we can make use of the modulation matrix to route the LFO to control the other components of the synth ranging from the oscillator to the main volume control:

05c - Z3ta LFO

And so this ends a rather lengthy discussion about the five most important modules of any synthesizer.

It took me quite a while to write this tutorial but I think I could improve on this tutorial through video and audio examples. As of this time, I’m not capable of capturing video for a demonstration. If time permits, I will record some audio examples that demonstrate the functions of each synthesizer module.

Dealing with the Six-String Bass Guitar

The electric bass guitar certainly has a very interesting history. If it were a person, you would know that one of its ancestors was the orchestral double bass and from the other side is the electric guitar. Most people would know a bass guitar to be a four-stringed instrument, but as bass players wanted to extend the range of their instruments, instruments with more than four strings have been developed, the five-stringed version with the low B being very popular. However, I have chosen to go one string further with a six-string bass.

I started playing a four-string bass when I was a teen and then I went up to five, and then more recently the six-string bass. While there are those who hate the six-string bass by being too much to handle, I personally love the instruments flexibility and range. I’m assuming people didn’t realize that the six-string bass was supposed to make people’s lives easier. If you’re surprised that I’m saying that, try playing a two-octave arpeggio over a four string. I’m quite sure that it’s a stretch. On a six-string bass, you can play the same arpeggio over just a span of six frets. If I use the four-string technique on the six-string, I could cover three octaves.

The way I chose my tuning is a matter of convenience. For a while I was playing my six-string bass in the standard fashion: all fourths from B to C. It was wonderful at first. But being a guitarist as well, the C at the 1st string can sometimes be off putting. I could manage with that C well, but I wanted my guitar technique to translate into my bass playing. This is why I decided to tune my bass like a baritone guitar (an octave lower of course) and so the tuning is (from 6th to 1st string) is B, E, A, D, F#, B. It’s a step higher than the Guitarron Mexicano. The great thing about this tuning is that I could use my guitar techniques, one of the most important is the CAGED system. I could also use certain techniques I’ve learned from fingerstyle guitar i.e. classical/flamenco-style tremolo, barre chords, etc. Rather than putting energy into learning techniques specific to the standard six-string bass tuning, I’d like to concentrate more on writing and making music and so the baritone guitar tuning helps a lot by saving up my neurons for something else. It’s just more efficient for me that way.

Given the size of the neck, the six-string bass guitar can be unwieldy. Thus I am not surprised why John Myung wants his six-string bass guitar to have a neck width comparable to just a five-string. At this point, I really can’t have a choice on that matter. It’s rather difficult to find a six-string bass guitar in the Philippines unless you have one crafted for yourself, so I’m very fortunate to have found one at a budget price. All in all, the six-string bass guitar has been of great help for my music.