Ambient Bach: Stoyan Jams episode #2

I needed about a minute of ambient music and this is what happened. Three chords repeated with slight variations. Mostly stolen from Bach’s Prelude in C. Type these into MuseScore. Render in to WAV in MuseScore with samples for “strings”, then with “ooh”, then with “bassoon”. Copy these to Reaper. Cut some parts from “ooh” and “bassoon” so these come in later. Add generous reverb and some delay. Done.

Funny thing is that, depending on the listening environment, additional ghost instruments appear. For example on iphone earbuds I hear trumpets at the end. I think because of all the overtones (harmonics) and how they randomly interact with each other when the same notes are rendered with different samples and different delays and reverbs. Spooky.

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Auto-coloring tracks in Reaper

Coloring tracks in the DAW is a good idea so you can visually tell what’s what. And (in Reaper at least) it can be done automatically, as soon as you name the track.

How

First you need the SWS extensions for Reaper. Download and install and a new top-level menu called Extensions will show up.

Click Auto Color/Icon/Layout

Tweak to your heart’s content.

Finally, make sure the options Enable Auto Track Coloring and Enable Auto Track Icon are ON.

Enjoy!

Demo

Here’s a quick video of how auto-coloring works in action.

FGam: Stoyan Jams, episode #1

Well, hello and welcome to my podcast! This is episode #1 of what I hope would be a place to put up musical noises on some semblance of a regular schedule. Enjoy and happy new 2018!

This first one is a jam in F. This thing is based around the idea of skipping the third in an F chord, so the major vs minor is a little ambiguous. And replacing the A (or is it Ab?) with G. Spoiler alert: it is an A 🙂

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“So what do you do in music class?”

I’m taking Music courses in the local Santa Monica College. It’s awesome! The teachers are really dedicated and into it, the students are so talented, lots of them playing since 4-5 years of age. I’m probably the worst performer in the bunch. Definitely the worst singer. “There’s a dying animal in the back” is a oft-occurring observation re: my singing skillz.

“So what do you do in music class?”

Parents, friends and family ask me this question. I start mumbling something incoherent as a response. We sing, we play chord sequences on the piano, we train our ears to recognize patterns (intervals, chords).

We also jot little dots on paper. This is to help us study music harmony in the style that Bach kinda invented. Or perfected.

Say you have a melody (like “Twinkle little star”). Imagine 4 people singing it at the same time, some lower, some higher. The four voices singing “Twin…” form a nice chord, hopefully. Then maybe a different chord when singing “…nkle” or “star”. Some of these chord sequences sound lovely. Especially when Bach did’em. We try to study the sequences that sound nice in an attempt to figure out why do they sound nice. And in an attempt to come up with our own. In studying we come up with rules of what sounds good, usually. Bach didn’t have these rules drilled into him, we don’t think. He did what sounded good to him. But we, as mini-Bachs, just taking off the ground, can use some rules. And maybe one day we’ll break’em!

We jot little dots on paper. Below is an example of my homework. The prof gives us the melody line and the chord sequence “recipe” and we fill-in the other 3 voices. Enjoy. (The prof found an error in the second assignment, can you?)

Some boring terms if you want to geek out, dig in, go off and head on into music theoryharmony:

  • The 4 voices, from the highest to the lowest, are called soprano (the melody), alto, tenor, bass. Top 2 usually sang by women, bottom two by men
  • Roman numeral analysis – staring into a piece of music for prolonged times and assigning numbers to its bits and pieces makes it easier to think of the piece on a higher meta level and not be bogged down with the actual notes
  • Figured bass – the chord “recipe” you saw in the video. Dates back from Baroque times. Lets the performers have the freedom to fill in the blanks like I did in the homework. Except, you know, live. It takes me hours. Maybe one day…

10 gift ideas for musicians

You have a musician friend, family member, colleague, or, god forbid, significant other? Wondering what gift to get them? I’m here to help.

These items are all under $50, actually most under $20. And although some may look like toys, they are useful in the pro studio (or the bedroom studio) to add sparkle to a composition or just for plain fun. Time to make “Wolfgang” happy!

#1: Xylophone (Glockenspiel)

$46.99

Xylophone

OK, see what I mean when I talk about toys. But this is not a toy. OK, it is also a toy. But then everything is a toy. Where was I? Ah, story time.

I was in this studio and asked the engineer (who’s also a working film/games composer) if he can do any magic to make a few particular notes of my guitar solo sound more bell-like. Him: “Yo, why not make it real, yo? Instead of faking it, do the real thing.” Turns out glockenspiel is the composer’s favorite most useful tool. So we did use it. It was awesome. I went home and bought the same one, pictured above. And below.

See it in action:

So yeah, go buy your favorite musician friend, the Musical Hope of All Future Generations, a nice little Glockenspiel. They’ll love it!

#2: Melodica

$21.99 – $38.49

Melodica

Holy Molly, the melodica!

Gorillaz, do I need to say anything further? They have so many songs that feature the melodica.

And if you think it looks like a toy or is only for simple little melodies, just check out my favorite living musician, Jacob Collier, shredding on the melodica:

$21.99 get you a simple one or you can upgrade to the $38.49 one

#3: Kalimba

$34.99

Kalimba

Another cute little instrument that sounds unique. Check it out in action:

Go get the Kalimba and make the virtuoso-to-be jump for joy.

#4: Ocarina

$13.29

Ocarina

Something, something, legend of Zelda… The ocarina is kinda like a recorder, except not quite. It’s rare that you can create so much joy for under $15. Just watch…

Interlude….

OK, it’s time to move to percussion territory. “Sinatra” needs percussion. There’s no such thing as too much percussion. There are two things about music: rhythm and melody. You need the rhythm. You want the rhythm. You tap to the rhythm. You bop your head to the rhythm. Your heartbeat is a rhythm, you’ve lived with the rhythm all your live. OK, that’s plenty. Let’s go!

#5: Shaker

$12.56 – $17.99

Shaker

Every track needs a shaker. What’s shakin’? The shaker’s shakin’, that’s what’s shankin’. Bacon.

You can get a cute wee egg for $12.56 which is perfectly fine. Or you can go bankrupt spending 5 more bucks for the $17.99 bigger one.

#6: Clave

$8.99

Clave

Banging two sticks against each other, what could be more enjoyable? I’m pretty sure there’s a picture dictionary out there that shows a clave as a definition of “pure joy”.

What’s not as much joy is being in the same room when your Johan Sebastian plays those. They are loud.

#7: Tambourine

$11.95 – $20.95

Tambourine

This one is important. It’s not reserved for bare-chested old hippies too stoned to realize that Woodstock’s over. You can bet your left nostril that pretty much every single pop song on the radio today has a “tambo” track in there. Maybe just to “lift the chorus”, maybe all throughout, buried underneath and “propelling the song along”,

The tambourine is a necessity. Playing it looks deceptively easy, but it can use some practice. Imagine Future Star is in the studio and is asked to “just a add a tambourine on the bridge”. You don’t want this to be their first introduction to the Instrument. In a high-pressure situation no less. And then everyone goes “Pfft, dude cant even play the tambo”.

You can get this $20.95 Remo thing (Remo is a company that makes drums so this is not a toy) or for a few bucks less ($11.95 to be precise) acquire this sweet sweet doublygook.

#8: Cabasa

$15.95

Cabasa

You don’t see these everyday, do you? Just get a pair and let Mr/Mrs/Ms Cool get wild.

#9: Maracas

$15.99

Maracas

Just another percussion instrument to add to Genius’ musical palette. It’s cool, Latino (I think), passion, dancing… what’s not to love?

#10: Earplugs

$19.95

Ear plugs

Protecting one’s hearing is just too important. Especially for musicians, audio engineers, and similar folk. They should never leave the house to go to a concert, to a band practice with Bonzo The Loud Drummer, to a jam with Jimi-Who-Likes-Feedback, or jump on a plane, or, heck, even go to some obnoxious movie theaters.

The foam plugs you buy at the pharmacy are fine for industrial sounds, say if Future Star holds a day job at the airport destroying luggage. But not good for anything music-related (band practice, live show) because they don’t cut all frequencies evenly and everything sounds too muffled.

Do your musician bud a favor and give them the gift of a decent set of ear plugs. And maybe while you’re shopping type “2” in the “Quantity” box cause just maybe you’ll need ear plugs too… with all these new percussion instruments in your vicinity.

Bonus: Honorable mentions

The recorder and the harmonica are not explicitly in the list above because they are all too common and chances are that “Mozart” already has them. They do tend to find a way to sneak into your life, even if you never reach into your pocket and buy them yourself. If that’s not the case, by all means, procure one of those.

Also, if she/he own these ear-insults, they do come in different shapes. E.g. the harmonica your friend blows into is more likely in C. You can still get a weird one, e.g. in Bb. Or buy a chromatic one, that has all the notes. Or buy a harmonica holder ($12.99) so Mr.Bluesman can have his hands free to insult your hearing playing another instrument simultaneously. As for the recorder, there are wooden, more “worldly” ones, also tiny metal shrill ones… feel free to explore.

Color-coding tracks in the DAW

When recording and mixing using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software, e.g. ProTools, Apple Logic, Reaper, it helps if you color the individual tracks with different colors so you can tell them apart.

Compare before….

… with after:

It’s also a good idea to use the same colors consistently, so you always know where you are even when moving between sessions (songs).

Of course you can pick any colors you like, but here’s a set to get you off the ground:

  • Drums: magenta (aka pink). Also kick and snare always first
  • Percussion: black
  • Bass: blue
  • Vocals: green
  • Background vocals: yellow
  • Guitar: red
  • Solo: orange
  • Extras, synth, etc: cyan (aka light blue)

Again, pick any colors that speak to you, the important thing is to use them consistently.

Take care now, bye-bye then.

DIY sub-kick mic

As you may know a microphone is a speaker in reverse. So here’s an example of how I turned a useless guitar amp into a sub-kick (sub-bass) mic. 

Step 1: get a speaker

Historically people in the studio have used speaker cones from Yamaha NS10 speakers (studio monitors) because these were cheap and crappy and widely available back in the day. Eventually Yamaha caught up and started offering pre-made sub-kick mics, but that’s beside the point, we’re DIY-ing here, are we not?

The thing is you can use any speaker cone you have around. And once you wire the speaker cone you need some way to mount it. There are a lot of creative options out there. In my case, I decided to not bother and use an amp which solves the mounting challenges.

Here’s the amp with a Boss pedal for scale:

It’s a tiny thing I got as part of a Fender “starter pack” including a Squire guitar. It’s probably unsellable, that’s why I kept it around.

Step 2: solder a mic cable

I opened the back, tucked away the power cord and and unsoldered the two wires that went to the speaker. This way if later I decide to try and sell or use the amp as an amp, I can always restore it to the original condition. 

Next I took a short mic/patch cable, cut out one end and soldered it to the speaker cone. 

As you can see the shielding of the mic cable goes to the – (negative) mark of the speaker. The mic cable has three wires – you ignore one of them, solder the shield to the negative and the remaining one to the positive.

How do you decide which one to solder and which to ignore? Trial and error is one way. You can’t blow anything up so… But if you look at the connection of the mic cable you’ll see “pin” numbers. The one marked 2 goes to the speaker’s +, and pin 1 goes to the -.

Step 3: done

And this is it. Closing the back cover and it’s all done:

No more excuses not to have awesome low end on the kick drum. Or bass guitar even?

2 quick tips for memorizing key signatures with sharps

OK, wtf is this?

Ugh, so many sharps. Eventually you learn them by heart. Like – but of course one sharp is G major. Also e minor. But to get there you need some tools. The circle of fifths is one such tool. But you need to move on from there. You don’t have time to draw a circle (even in your mind) every time.

So this post gives you two ideas to figure out key signatures without resorting to the circle.

Majors with sharps: raise half a step

Back to the example. What on earth can this possibly be? And let’s start with majors first.

You know how to traverse the circle of fifths and go F (forget it), C is 0, G is 1, D2, A3, E4, B5. Aha – B major!

But here’s a quicker way. Look at the last sharp. It’s A♯. Raise it by half step. Here’s your answer – B major.

Yup, that simple. Raise the last ♯ half a step. And bear the sharp in mind. You’re raising A♯ not A.

Wanna try another?

What is the last sharp? F♯. Raise it by half a step. G major. Boom!

Another? With all the sharps?

The last sharp is B♯ (same pitch as C). Raise is by half? C♯. There you go.

Nice, it works! How about the minors?

Minors with sharps: lower a step

A minor key has the same flats and sharps as the major which is a step and a half above it. A minor has 0 sharps and flats, just like C major. E minor has one sharp like G major. Theoretically if you know your majors you can derive the minor, just lower it a step and a half. But that’s doing two things. There’s a shortcut where you only do one thing. Fewer possible points of failure.

Take the last ♯ and lower it a whole step. Makes sense, right? For the majors you raise half a step and and the distance between a major and minor is a step and a half. 1.5 - 0.5 = 1

So let’s try.

F♯. Lower it a whole step – E. Answer: E minor.

Nice, gimme another!

The last sharp is B♯. Lower a step. A♯. Here’s your answer. A♯ minor.

Finally…

A♯ is the last. Down a step – G♯. G♯ minor – last and final answer.

Now go practice!

Triads

Let’s talk triads.

As the name suggests it’s a combination of three notes. The simplest chords are also triads, e.g. C major chord is the triad C, E, G.

Anyway, there are four types of triads – major, minor, augmented and diminished.

In this post you’ll learn how to populate a table of triads that is a helpful tool when starting with triads. This is the end result:

Now let’s see how to make sense of this table, how to populate it and how to use it going forward.

Intermission

This post is part of series where I spill the beans of what I learned in Music Theory 1 class from an awesome professor. He gave us these little tools and tables that suddenly made so much sense, more than anything I taught myself from various online and offline resources.

Other posts in the series:

Tools to practice your newly acquired knowledge:

TL;DR

You already know intervals. Triads can be thought of as an extension of the intervals. Intervals deal with two notes (1 and 2). Triads deal with three (1, 2 and 3). The relationship between notes 2 and 3 is also an interval.

If you only think of the intervals between consecutive notes, then all you need to remember is where does major third go and where does minor third go. Simple. Only 3rds. Only Major and minor 3rds. Nothing else. Don’t you worry about 5ths. Forget scale degrees.

Depending on the intervals between notes 1, 2, and 3 you have:

  • Major triad. Note 1 to note 2 is a major 3rd, note 2 to note 3 is a minor third.
  • Minor triad. The reverse. 1 to 2 is minor third, 2 to 3 is major third
  • Diminished. Both intervals are minor thirds.
  • Augmented. Both intervals are major thirds.

Back to the scheduled program. Triads.

Here’s a scale. The simplest. C major. All white keys on the piano.

Number these notes. Call them “degrees” in the scale:

You only care about up to the 5th when it comes to triads:

And not even all five, just 1, 3, and 5:

Ignore all but these three (triad!) notes in the scale.

Look at the intervals between these. C to E is a major third. E to G is a minor third. (If this makes no sense, go back to the post about intervals)

Now let’s start populating out little table of triads.

The first entry means: a major triad (also commonly spelled “M”) consist of three notes where the interval between the first and the second is a major third and the interval between the second and the third is a minor third.

These three notes also happen to be the natural 1, 3 and 5 degrees of the major scale.

Coming up next – the minor triad. What could it be?

Oh by the way let’s populate the last column with 1, 3, 5. All triads use these three (triads!) just some of them move a little.

Now back to the minor triad.

The minor triad is created by lowering the third.

In other words, on our C, E, G example, the third E becomes E♭.

Look at the new intervals. 1 to 2 is a minor third, 2 to 3 is a major third.

We can put this new information into the table and move on with our lives.

Moving on. With our lives. What’s next? Diminished.

The diminished triad consists of two minor thirds. Is all. Don’t ask me why. That’s just the way it is. Diminished (small) consist of two of the smaller kind of 3rds (where minor is smaller and major is bigger).

In terms of scale degrees, you lower the third and lower the fifth as well.

Here comes the staff. Two minor 3rd intervals:

Last ‘un: augmented triad. Also commonly written as Aug. Capital Aug. Lowercase aug. Capital M. Lowercase m.

So, augmented. What could it be? Sounds big. Which was the bigger 3rd – major or minor? Major, that’s right.

The augmented triad has a major third between notes 1 and 2. And another major third between 2 and 3.

When it comes to scale degrees, you leave 3 be (it’s already major) and raise the fifth so the second interval becomes major.

That’s it, now you have populated the whole table of triads. Ain’t that cool. Look at it, just look. At. It.

Examples

Let’s see a couple of other examples. Cause, you know, not all triads start from C.

Let’s start with G and draw two more circles (pancakes) above it. That would be B and D.

G to B is major 3rd. (M!) B to D is a minor third. So M-m. A major triad. M. Cool. Then lowering the 3rd (by way of a ♭) gives you a minor triad (cause 1 to 2 is minor and 2 to 3 is major). Then lowering both the 3rd and the 5th gives you a diminished triad.

Finally restoring the 3rd where it was (major) and augmenting the fifth gives you two majors. And M and a M means two majors, in other words an augmented tried. Enjoy!

One more example. Draw an A and two more pancakes (notes) above it. What do you have? A, C, E. ACE. A to C is a minor third. C to E is a major third. So m then M is a minor triad.

Upping the third (with a ♯) gives you A to C♯ (a major third) then C♯ to E – a minor third. Looking back at the table you can see that M followed by an m is a major third.

Augmenting the 3rd note in the triad (which happens to be the 5th in the scale) gives you an M followed by an M. Two Ms is an augmented triad.

Bringing down the C where it naturally was, gives you a minor third (A to C), and lowering the E to E♭ means C to E♭ is another minor third. Two minors spell a diminished third triad. Enjoy!

That’s all, folks!

Now go practice!

Table of intervals: part 2

In the previous installment you learnt how to draw this table of intervals:

Now let’s figure out how to use it and also finish it up until it looks something like:

OK, let’s start by figuring what in the world is this interval supposed to be:

This is C and G. Let’s count the number of lines and spaces, starting with the initial note.

There are 5 lines and spaces. Same if you use the alphabet ABCDEFG and count C = 1, D = 2, E, F, G = 5.

You can also use the little helper tool and note the number next to G.

At this point we’re pretty clear these are five lines and spaces. Write it down.

Now you need to count how many semitones are between C and G. Using your keyboard, put your finger on C and count every time you move. You end up counting to 7.

So 5 lines/spaces and 7 semitones.

Time to look at the table of intervals. You find a row that says 5 (# lines/spaces) and 7 (distance in semitones). We have a match!

Therefore you conclude that the interval C to G is a perfect fifth. Success!

Now what if you have G♯ instead of G. What do you call the interval between C and G♯? G♯ is still on the same line. So the number of lines and spaces is still 5.

But what about the semitone distance?

Using the keyboard to count you end up with 8.

But in the table we don’t have 8. We have 7.

The interval is no longer perfect, because it was augmented with 1. Hm, what do we call it? Here’s an idea – we call it augmented fifth.

In conclusion, the interval between C and G♯ is called augmented fifth.

Now what if you have G♭ instead of G? Same 5 lines of spaces but different semitone number.

Using the keyboard and counting, you get to 6. (Starting from and skipping C, you have C♯ = 1, D = 2, D♯ = 3, E = 4, F = 5, G♭ = 6).

We don’t have a match in the table for 5 lines/spaces and 6 semitones. We have 5 lines and spaces, so it’s a fifth. Only the perfect 7 was diminished by one. How do we call this? You guessed correct – a diminished fifth.

In conclusion, the interval C-G♭ is called diminished fifth.

Let’s add this new information to the table: every time you add 1 to a perfect interval, you call it augmented and every time you subtract 1 you call it diminished.

Things are similar, yet a little different, when it comes to the intervals in the second column, the group #2 where the major intervals live.

Adding one still produces an augmented interval. Subtracting 1 is called a minor. Subtracting 2 is now called diminished.

So there you go – the last and final version of the table of intervals. Using this you can figure out any interval there is.

Let’s practice, this time with the major side of the table.

What is this? E to G.

Counting lines and spaces (including the starting point) gives you 3.

So it’s a third interval.

You find the third on the major side of things. It asks for 4 semitones. Is this what we have?

Let’s count on the keyboard. Put a finger on E and count every time you move. F = 1, F♯ = 2, G = 3.

So we counted 3 lines/spaces and 3 semitones.

The table asks for 4 semitones. But we have 3.

Looking at the bottom of the table for the short list of corrections.

You need to subtract 1 to get a 3 from a 4. So turns out the interval is minor.

To sum it up, the Answer to the question what is the name of the interval between E and G… it’s a minor third.

What about E to G♯? It’s still a third (3 lines and spaces on the staff) but with the 4 semitones it matches the number in the major pat of the table. So the interval between E and G♯ is a major third.

What about the interval E to G♭. Still a third (3 lines/spaces) but with 2 semitones in between (4 – 2 = 2). It’s diminished. All in all the interval E to G♭ is a diminished third.

And what about E to G-double-sharp? Again a third, but with 5 semitones between them (4 + 1 = 5), it’s an augmented third.

And this is how we counted the semitones…

E to G♭… F = 1, F♯ (aka G♭) = 2. Diminished third (because the regular major third asks for 4 semitones and major – 2 = diminished).

E to G. F = 1, F♯ = 3, G = 3. Minor third. (Major – 1).

E to G♯. F = 1, F♯ = 2, G = 3, G♯ = 4. Major third (a match in the table)

E to G-double-sharp (Gx is also A). F = 1, F♯ = 2, G = 3. G♯ = 4, A = 5. Augmented third.

Wrapping up

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. A table of intervals that gives you a way to figure out any interval.

Thank you for reading. Now go practice. Write down a random thing on the staff and go figure it out.

Here’s a start. C to A♭. We did C to G♯ above, and it’s the same sounds. But because it’s written differently, the interval has a different name. What is it?

OK, here’s some more random stuff I put on the staff for you to practice:

OK, now don’t scroll any more, before you’ve done these yourself.

Because I’ll give you the answers.

OK.

Got it?

No more scrolling.

Here come the answers now.

Stop scrolling.

Stop it!

I mean it!

Knock it off!

Enough!

Yo!?!

BTW, If I got any of the answers wrong, please tell me I’m an idiot, publicly on Twitter. (Shaming works miracles!) So I can correct it for the future readers who come across this page 104 years from now. Think of the children.

K, answers:

  1. fourth, perfect
  2. fourth, augmented *
  3. fifth, perfect
  4. second, major
  5. second, minor
  6. fourth, perfect
  7. fifth, diminished
  8. third, minor
  9. fifth, perfect
  10. fifth, perfect
  11. third, diminished
  12. fourth, augmented
  13. third, diminished
  14. second, minor
  15. fourth, perfect
  16. octave, perfect

* Augmented fourth (or diminished fifth) is the devil’s interval. It was banned by the church at some point as it sound jarring. And how can you blame the ole priest – if you play this interval on an organ in a echoey church, it’s not that pleasant. Nowadays we have our ears more sophisticated, we can appreciate weird stuff like this. Jazz. Blue notes. If played in passing and separately they are cool. If played together as part of a heavy metal composition – hell, yeah! The devil! It’s tricky though. Distorted guitars like perfect fifths. And octaves. Unisons. Maybe, perfect fourths if not too distorted. Playing diminished fifth on a distorted guitar requires them skillz.