Monday, September 19, 2011

Behind The Scenes: Aeris' Theme! .. .that's the link!

It's a Final Fantasy song, and this was the first song that I learnt on the guitar, which made my understand reading tabs. Of course, the song that came after that was Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Re-arranging this song was an interesting bit. I didn't know the chords for it, and I had to learn it on the spot, by ear and without touching the guitar. I find that an interesting moment for me to actually figure the chords out, the intervals, the voicings, and everything else.

More importantly, Omnisphere, once again, provides a very good response towards velocity on the MIDI keyboard. The most important thing about this song besides the whole reverberation factor that the instruments provide, is the feel of the song.

And I'm surprised, that I was able to capture emotions through Omnisphere. I always thought if I wanted to learn how to express myself, I'd do it through the guitar. But this, completely changed how I look at MIDI.

To be honest, I always thought of MIDI velocity as "stupid" thanks to Reason. Because velocity in that application works as... well, volume control.

But for Omnisphere, it's based off real samples that the producers/samplers really recorded off actual instruments (e.g. Burning Piano by the great Diego Stocco), so it gives you a hint of realism.

So, sharing my point of view with regards to this song (it's still on loop at the moment), I had to ensure that I was in the best situation to programme/record this. All notes were played by me through the MIDI keyboard, and, ensuring that I poured my emotions to what I played.

Including of how hard or soft I should be hitting the keys. Sure there are some times I paniced, and hit the keys too strong, or too light - which was later on adjusted.

Arranging stuff like these, especially with technology on your hands, the only thing I can say is .. spend time to nurture the "tone" of each notes. Each single velocity, is like adjusting how loud an instrument should be playing given a point of time in a score of any music.

Of course, being the fool that I am, I had to use more than one piano-related instrument that is associated with pads and all, and .. a good choir sample.

The choir bit really took the most out of me due to me trying to figure out the chords, what notes should be used, at which octaves, and ensuring the choir sounded as "real" as possible (I mean, playing that at a super high pitch, you might as well record a cat when you're squeezing its stomach).

I could go on with "picking the right notes", but I'll leave that to your imagination. After all, it was my ears, imagination, and vision that led me to this.. piece. Unexpectedly, it -does- sound pretty alright after a few listens. And relistening value is.. just somewhat there?

Finding the right chords, right notes, right harmonies, right scales, right accidentals, right rhythms, everything just creates music.

I hope I can spend more time producing something even better; something larger. And these minor cover songs are just to warm me up just in case if I need to arrange stuff with my guitar tracks (which should be coming soon!).

The next thing I need to figure out is to see how well BFD handles time signature variation at the rate it crashes on my Mac.

That's about it.

And if you would like to know how I get inspired to be more than an instrumentalist (which is the term I like to use when you specialise in playing a certain instrument), I'll state it here, and now, if you're reading this:

1) Listen to your most favourite album
2) Try to find behind the scene footages (There's YouTube now, no?)
3) Try and search for the person who's responsible in recording and engineering the session
4) .. just watch the sound engineer. Although he's looking at a screen, but he's also a minor "arranger" as he's the one producing the final product. He does not necessary need to look like a person in a suit, conducting an orchestra.
5) For conventional tunes, search Hans Zimmer. For modern and interesting tunes, search up Diego Stocco and Harry Gregson-Williams. My 3 all time heroes when it comes to composing, arranging and producing music.

For some psychotic keyboard works directly associated to MIDI, you should be looking at the one they call Jordan Rudess.

Haven't heard of them? I'm sure you have. Pirates of the Carribean? The Chronicles of Narnia?

More importantly. Forget what you know, and let your ears speak to you on what's right.

Thank you, to whoever listened to the tracks with the good feedback. They all go to Nobuo Uematsu! I was just having fun with his composition as a learning musician.

- Glacius

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When You've Lost It; Look Back.

When you think you've clearly lost it, and the world's against you. This is what you do.

Sit back, think about the past, reanalyse yourself and understand what made you the person you are today.

Yes, I'm talking about taking a big step backwards, understanding yourself, and seeing if you can actually accept what you did before that made you the person you are today.

And if you think you've lost all sorts of beliefs, turn back, and start your metronome.

I'm rather happy to share that I've turned myself back to 2004, understanding how I picked up speed and endurance on the guitar in fast playing on some certain licks.

Until today, there's a specific lick that I can play with speed. But if you slow me down and look at how I play, I'm cheating the notes I played. In fact, nothing comes out clearly sometimes (my case, all the time).

So, I decided to put "playing the guitar" one side, and take up "practicing the guitar". Sure, if you're playing a song and all that, that's really cool. But paying attention to the details on how you're playing and perfecting your mistakes - and UNDERSTANDING your mistakes, that's another different blow to yourself.

If you're a weakling, you might find that a bit demotivating. But if you're really up for a change, and improvement, I think that's the best step so far.

What pushed me to "go back to the roots?". Simple. Rhythm Knowledge by Mike Mangini. To cut things short, he and his students found a study that if you were to practice a certain technique, or part of a song, for 90 minutes per day, 4 days a week for 6 weeks, you'll sustain the ability to play that practice session for quite a bit, until you degrade.

Which is pretty interesting, because I used to play the A minor scale in reverse with quadruplets to familiarise myself with scales for the first time in 2004. Every single day without fail, I'd play that. Only because, that's the only thing I knew how to play back then. Exactly after a month of hard practice, I realised that I "shredded" on that quadruplet riff taught by my guitar instructor, and learnt the concept of scales on a guitar's neck.

But here's the magic. I never thought of "playing fast" or "shredding". I just wanted to play that A minor scale right. And playing it right and well, was my objective rather than "shredding".

If you were to ask me to play that A minor passage today, I won't be able to do it as well as I used to in 2004. My problem is that, BECAUSE I already mastered it back then (and not applying it to songs and jam tracks anyway), I am not able to play that passage at the same speed as I used to in 2004.

The common, and most saddest thing, about instrumentalists these days (drummers, guitarists, bassists, percussionists, violinists, cellists, violists, fluters (??), keyboardists, pianists), is that when they're self taught, they just want to jump into hyper speed on the first try. I'm not kidding about this. I've seen a couple of friends (and family?) of mine doing this. And it's really hard to let them know that to play quickly, you have to play slowly first. Master everything, and build up speed with patience.

Little do they know that they're actually killing their muscles to achieve what they have in mind.

I built my speed picking naturally, and I must admit that it isn't perfect. That's why I'm going through this whole "therapy" of "slowing down" (I even had issues playing clean & properly at 100bpm when I was doing a simple semiquaver [notes in 16th] practice!).

It took me a month of long hours of practice per day to realise that I was actually building up speed gradually, and naturally.

If you don't believe me, just attend Mike Mangini's next clinic and ask him about training on speed. Drummers have it as the worst when it comes to building speed without applying the right techniques and concepts. What Mike Mangini said back in 2004 when someone asked him that question, he said to never go against nature - this means never go against what your body can NOT take.

You have to build speed, gradually. The best way is to practice from slow, and eventually, it'll be quick. I did 2 repetitions of 90 minutes of the same thing with tempo variation (a few in 90, a few in 100.. a few in 120.. But didn't go more than that). And I realised that I was having fun rediscovering myself on what I did when I was a younger guitarist.

I was a guitarist back then, not a musician.

Of course, with life as it is now, since some of us might have jobs, or are attending school, or doing both at the same time (!!), all we want is to go home, and just pick up our musical instruments and start playing what we feel like playing. That's because we've already "mastered" the instrument based on our own expectations.

But we're never the master of our instruments. Even professional musicians are constantly seeking ways and methods to get better. And you can ask most professional musicians, I bet you most of them (or all of them) would say that they really missed the times when they could just sit down and practice, rather than to play, their instrument as they did when they were younger.

On another note, do not forget the most important thing. If you're not recording your 90-minute practice sessions, then pay attention to what you're playing:

- Make sure you're playing clean. Watch unethical habits that you could have applied (like mine was to string-rake when I wanted every note to sound clean).
- Make sure you're hitting the right note/notes at a time
- Make sure you're playing with the metronome.

More importantly, don't underestimate yourself. Playing the 6 same notes in a single measure for 90 minutes, you're bound to throw yourself off somewhere. So pay details to yourself.

Also, know what you're playing. Make sure you understand what you're playing. The notes that you strike, timing, and everything else. It's all part of the learning curve.