Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths! No, it’s not the title of a long-lost Harry Potter novel. But it is a sort of treasure map and decoder ring designed to help you figure out one of the most basic and important elements in music: how keys relate to each other. The circle of fifths neatly shows how key signatures reflect this relationship, and understanding its function is the first step in learning theory. The concept of the circle of fifths is sort of the grand plan that puts all the key signatures in a pattern.
Ask accomplished musicians what the essence of good musicianship is, and they will uniformly answer “good ears.” It all starts with being able to hear and understand music. What you play from there is a direct result what’s happening inside your head.
But what is it to have a good musical ear? And how do you improve it? Are there ear pushups?
Transcribing is an essential skill for a guitarist trying to amass as much information and knowledge as possible. Most people do it slowly and with much deliberation, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, transcribing can be fun and easy, especially if you get big assist from software. Software-based audio recorder-editors have essentially replaced the more cumbersome hardware tool-of-choice of yore, the multi-speed tape deck.
Even if you import all your beats from groove libraries, or have a friend who programs them for you (don’t we wish!), you can benefit by breaking down all basic beats—from hip-hop to swing to country to insane death metal—and plotting them on a simple drum-machine-style grid. Many drum programs still work using a grid, and the operation is simple, intuitive, and fast: click on a grid square with your mouse (or a keystroke) to add a drum hit, click it again to delete it.
So that’s why they’re called “dead” lines . . .
By Phil O’Keefe
You know the deal: There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done as deadlines hang over you like a Sword of Damocles, and you draw ever-closer to impending doom (or a ticked-off client — basically the same thing). What do you do? First, don’t panic: That only makes things worse. Instead, plan your course of action.
Figure 1: When you're on a tight deadline, wasted time is the enemy - and efficient use of the available time is cruci
We’ve seen a lot of live music apps for the iPad, including interfaces and signal processors from IK Multimedia, Apogee, and Peavey, plus recording software such as this spring’s release of GarageBand for the iPad. But beyond a couple pick-a-lick apps, there hasn’t been a really substantial instructional work that uses the tablet platform to its fullest potential.
Here’s a situation that you could conceivably experience sometime in your life as a composer or arranger: You write a song for a friend’s wedding, crafting a beautiful piece containing a stately melody and majestic chords. A movie producer at the ceremony hears it and wants to use it for the final scene in a Hollywood romantic comedy (which always end in weddings). Lucky you! But then the producer throws you a curveball: he loves the melody and harmony, all right, but it’s “too serious.” He wants it “jazzy.” What does that mean? What do you do to music to make music “jazzy”?
The art of sound recording and reproduction, whose fundamentals had remained essentially unchanged for decades, has undergone a fundamental re-shaping thanks to low-cost digital technology. Yet while digital audio has become part of our lives, some people are still unclear about the fundamentals—but we’ll take care of that in this article.
A recent New York Times issue devoted its entire Sunday Magazine to "Technology in the Classroom". One article was a photo essay of the history of gizmos and artifacts meant to facilitate learning, including the hand-held slate (those little personal-size chalkboards that look eerily like the new Kindle), pencil and paper, mimeograph machines, laptops, SmartBoards, and the iPad—the last of which is predicted to supplant the bloated and ruinously expensive paper-bound textbook model. (And about time!)
My name is Phil O'Keefe. I am an Associate Editor here at Harmony Central, but more importantly, like many of you, I have a real love for the art and science of recording. As a musician, engineer and producer, I spend countless hours trying to wax the perfect track in my studio.
The world would be a lot simpler if there was only one filter type...but a lot more boring! Different filter types give different responses that can change signals in multiple ways; the same type of filter that removes AC hum from a signal isn’t necessarily the best choice for removing high-frequency hiss from a signal. So, let’s take a look at different filter types and various filter parameters. Note: To enlarge any of these images, simply click on the image.
Digital Signal Processing (DSP) functions let you modify a signal in multiple ways, using digital technology. DSP can be done in hardware or software, but we’ll concentrate on the type of processes you’ll find in software digital audio editors (and increasingly, in digital audio workstations and sequencers).
Recently there has been an explosion of inexpensive high-quality portable recorders from virtually every manufacturer with a hand in the hardware recording arena. Just to name a few, Tascam, Edirol, Sanyo, Yamaha, Sony, Zoom, and Line 6 each have great-sounding units that record at mp3 and CD quality (or better), with very good-sounding onboard mics. All have features galore, including metronomes, in some cases.
When you’re working with VST instruments in a DAW environment, you don’t need to freeze, capture, or render them to audio files first before bouncing your mix to disc. The sounds are converted from a live trigger to a wave file during the bouncing process. This is one of the great things about VST: the MIDI instruments can remain in their current state and yet still wind up as audio on a bounced mix, without having to go through this extra conversion step.
Dynamics processors (compressors, expanders, and gates) are an essential part of today's recording and live sound world. Over the years, certain features have become standardized to the point where you'll find similar functionality, and as a result, similar parameters for controlling the processor. Let's look at these parameters, and what they do.
Meters, whether analog or digital, are a window into whether your signal levels are adjusted optimally for maximum headroom and minimum distortion. But compared to analog meters, digital meters have some major differences you need to take into account when recording.
If someone asked you, What was the simplest and least-expensive to get into computer recording? What would your response be? Would you immediately recommend your favorite DAW? Would you steer them to a lite version of Cubase, Live, or Cakewalk? And what about an interface? Do you even know what’s out there that is inexpensive and handles just the most basic needs? Well, these are the questions I grappled with when a friend approached me. Instead of getting overwhelmed and doing a ton of research, I made everything a lot easier for myself once I took into account the person asking the question.
When I first started transcribing guitar music professionally, in the '80s, it was kind of the worst of both worlds. The speed metal craze was in full tilt, making all of my assignments witheringly taxing. Yet digital technology hadn't really come to the desktop, at least in the affordable sense, for the lowly transcriber. So at the music publishers and guitar magazines I worked for, we used big two-speed open-reel tape recorders (both two-track and four-track), and we beat them to death. It was clunky and slow, but there was nothing better or robust enough to stand up to the constant shuttling necessary for precision transcribing.
Is pitch a subset of frequency or is it vice versa? Many people struggle with the relationship of these two terms, when in fact they are two different ways of looking at the same thing.
Pitch, in music, has to do with the letter name of the “note” (“note” often includes pitch, but isn’t necessarily synonymous with pitch). Frequency deals with the cycles per second of a wave. A waveform with sustained frequency in a given range (roughly that of a piano) is perceived as musical pitch. All pitches can be defined in terms of frequencies, and all frequencies can be converted to pitch (though this is sometimes less useful).
Most guitarists and other “analog types” I deal with still record using a combination of analog and digital gear. Many times I run into hybrid setups, such as a rehearsal room that incorporates an analog mixer, but that sees signals routed to a computer soundcard or other outboard recording device (such as a stand-alone Tascam unit) to capture the evening’s work. As such, much of my recording work still takes place riding herd over an analog board. I often bring my own board, as I’d rather schlep my portable Mackie 1604-VLZ3 to a rehearsal (and re-patch the mics and synths, etc.) than have to sort out someone else’s puzzle.
I use click tracks as a rule in all my recording projects, as they come in handy for three reasons: 1) they give me, the performer, a count-off and tempo to help me stay on the beat—even during rubato sections; 2) recording to a click means my song sections will divide up into intuitive sections (e.g., I know the fourth chorus in my blues jam begins at bar 37); and 3) it provides a reference for opening the project at a later date (whether by me or someone else).
In last month's HC Confidential, I laid out some of the considerations for creating the live, physical space for recording drums, see A Project Studio for Drummers, Part 1. As a drummer, that's certainly the most important part of the studio--having the right environment to play long, well, and comfortably. Now you must now think about how all that big boomin' sound is going to be captured for the ages. If you've never owned any recording gear, or have any idea on what you need, this article may help sort things out.
Once you've got your space issues and mic selection under control, it's time to outfit the control room (the part that's separate from where you play the drums) with your recording gear. There's no limit to the amount and variety of electronic gear you can bestow your studio with, but the basic essentials are a mixer and a recording device, both for recording multiple tracks as well as mixing down to a stereo master (often these tasks performed by the same machine, and often that machine is a computer). You'll certainly need some signal processors too, such as a dynamics processor (for compression, gating, and expanding) and an effects unit (for reverb, delay, chorus, etc.), as well as monitors and some other gear. But let's consider the individual components first, starting with the studio's central hub, the mixer.
Drummers who own and operate a home or project studio are in a unique position among musicians. Capturing a good drum sound is the hardest thing of all for home and project recordists—except if you happen to be a drummer. If you build a studio where you can lay down drum tracks in a multitrack recording environment—and do it well—guitarists, bassists, vocalists, and keyboardists will flock to you. The two most important issues facing drummers who want to set up a project studio are providing the optimum physical space to record drums, and assembling the right gear to execute that recording. Let’s look at the room itself and then explore a couple of approaches to miking the drums.
There are plenty of situations, both live and in the studio, where you have to be aware of phase. Phase has to do with two things: simultaneous signals and time (or time delay, as the case may be). You need both conditions to have a phase situation. Notice that I say "situation," because not all phase situations present problems, only when they produce undesirable musical results. Let’s consider the concept of phase first, and then look at the relatively simple concept of polarity.
In the last newsletter?s tech installment ?Converting Tempo to Real Time, Musical Time and Delay Time,? we looked at the relationship between tempo and real time. Common everyday applications of this conversion include knowing exactly how many bars 10 seconds of music is if your groove has a tempo of q = 96 (6 bars and one 16th note) and which part of the beat you?ll be on after exactly 11.5 seconds of music at q = 120 (beat 4 of bar 6). The former case lets you know how much music you can fit into your looper at a given tempo, and the latter case is good for scoring sound effects cues for film and video.
All music deals with time in some capacity. Time is the rate at which events unfold order, so that people can have a chance to make sense of them. Or, as the old joke goes, “The reason we have time is so that you don’t have to do everything all at once.” For music, time is about how musical material is released and absorbed by the listener. Musical information that comes too quickly can be confusing or chaotic. Info that comes too slowly is boring and predictable. When you’re pacing your music creations, you have to consider how to manipulate your audience’s mood, according to the messages in your material.
Wimpy Snare? Muffled Kick? Lousy Drum Part? There's Hope!
If a pop/rock/dance track doesn't have a great drum sound, you're in trouble. Big trouble. The Drum Replacement 101 solution is to have a drummer come along and play with the original track, then erase the old drums. But this doesn't always work, and if you try to add drums after the fact to a track that doesn't have them, the process becomes even more complex.
All music deals with time in some capacity. Time is the rate at which events unfold order, so that people can have a chance to make sense of them. Or, as the old joke goes, “The reason we have time is so that you don’t have to do everything all at once.” For music, time is about how musical material is released and absorbed by the listener. Musical information that comes too quickly can be confusing or chaotic. Info that comes too slowly is boring and predictable.
Look at music with a spectrum analyzer, and you might be surprised at what you see. For example, if you analyze a bunch of music that belongs to the same musical genre, you'll start to detect a pattern with respect to how energy is distributed over the frequency spectrum.
Created back in 1983 amid choruses of “it’s just a passing fancy,” MIDI looked like it was on the wane in the 90s, as hard disk recording became the main focus of recording. But with the advent of plug-in virtual instruments, MIDI has gained new life as the protocol used to trigger software synthesizers.
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