Studio Challenge: 2 Channel Approach

Recently in our recording lecture at college we were challenged recording an improvisational jam using as many microphones we wanted, however the catch was that we were only able to use 2 channels on the mixing desk. The concept was derived from back when multi track recording first came about and the limit to the amount of channels you could openly use was set at two. It was interesting hearing the results afterwards as the sound quality differed from what we as modern day consumers of music are used to hearing when presented new music. Three musicians ended up getting recorded in the end which consisted of a free improvised jam with six microphone set up, where three microphones were used for the drums – reminiscent of the Glyn John’s technique -, one microphone was used to pick up the ambience of the room and both of the amplifiers were assigned a designated microphone each. The drum kit was set up with a microphone in the kick drum (Akg D112, dynamic) and two overhead pencil microphones. 
We decided that it would be best to split up the channels by segregating the microphones on the drum kit to one channel as they would be easy to handle if they were all in one place, where as the guitar, bass and room microphones would be assigned to the other channel. Having less channels to work with saves us the hassle of having to adjust the levels of each track when mixing which can often lead to problems in the mixing process such as a conflict between tracks where one track drowns the other, as well giving the track a live feel which enhances the experience for the listener as they can get a feel for what it’s like to actually be able to hear what it’s like to experience the song live, this is thanks to two things, the room microphone picking up what all the other microphones are recording and bleed from the drum kit spilling into the other microphones.

Here are the finished products:

https://soundcloud.com/nettoboy123/the-key-of-life

https://soundcloud.com/nettoboy123/kettles-coming-at-you-in-the-night

Improvisation: “So What” By Miles Davis

A few weeks ago I performed a few jazz standards as part of an assessment for a drummer I work with which had to be performed in a small ensemble, and the solo I will be analysing is my own improvisation over Miles Davis’s “So What”. “So What”, having been released in 1959 remains a prominent example of modal jazz to this day as it centres around the second mode of the major scale known as the “Dorian mode”. The piece starts of in C major which means the scale that will be honed in on is the D dorian mode, however the key shifts between two key signatures after 16 bars of D dorian have been played, in this case D dorian modulates to Eb dorian – which is a semi-tone up from D – and changes the key to Db major for 8 bars before returning to C major for another 8 bars.

As a collective of students studying music, we wanted to not only perform “So What” but change it in a way that it’s still recognisable to the discerning jazz fanatic whilst adding in our own unique approaches to give the 57 year old classic a modern twist, and what we produced was an amalgamation of Chris Dave inspired grooves and psychedelic effects which gave us a style that almost lends itself to the trip hop genre. As the track progresses we arrive at my solo which manipulates the track yet again, however this time instead of focusing on modern elements we chose to transition into a swing groove which compliments the walking bass line I play during my solo, taking inspiration from swing jazz which was at it’s peak popularity in the 1940’s-1950’s. As for Mirron’s solo we decided to revert back to the modern groove as it allowed him to get a little experimental with what he was able to execute on the spot with his switchable effects unit. Jack’s solo consisted of me and Mirron dropping down in the mix to give Jack an air of creative freedom without having to worry about staying in time with us, as we could react to anything he played and the audience would be none the wiser.

On the day of the assessment we put together a rough structure as a reference point in case we got lost during the piece, however we did manage to improvise on the spot some changes to the structure as a form of creative intuition.

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My solo:

For my solo I primarily played a walking bass line as that provided context in the most logical way, but all the while adding in little idiosyncrasies that didn’t stray to much from what made sense. When playing a walking bass line I visualised the D dorian mode that the piece was centred around and added chromatic passing notes as I tried to reach a desired target note, the desired effect my style of walking bass line gives off is that off a rising and falling feeling. There are a few moments where I tend to focus on playing the blues scale (1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7) as I  want to demonstrate the evolution from one genre to the other in a subtle way, which I attempt to pull of by accenting the b5 which gives the blues scale it’s unique and iconic sound. If I was to perform this again in a similar setting I would work on being a bit more bold with my choice of notes (both non diatonic and intervalic) by integrating new ideas into my playing through improvisation over backing tracks , and probably work on interplay with the other musicians to signal the introduction of new rhythms, parts and so on.

This is the footage from the gig:

Instructive Plans

Setting your sights on a goal may sound simple enough, however in order to properly execute said goal a clear and instructive plan must be made and adhered to. Instructive plans look almost like a mind map in aesthetics and function in a similar way too, but the difference between the two is that instructive plans start off with your goal at one end of a board (if you have one, although paper is fine) and where you are now on the other, and what your left with is a large gap which is going to be filled with steps taken to achieve your goal until the goal and your current predicament are linked together.

My goal is to cooperatively own a recording studio with one or two other musicians and use said studio to rent out to bands, compose film, television and game soundtracks and teach music.From what I can tell, there are some candidates on my course already I can partner up with whose goals are similar to my own in one way or another.

First and foremost I need to work out what my first step towards reaching my goal would be, and this can be split up into two categories; long term and short term. Long term goals are not immediately effective in the sense that – as the name suggests – they tend to take a long time to achieve, whereas short term goals can be attained in a relatively short amount of time. So I my case, I have pretty much already achieved the first step towards my goal by finding myself someone who is willing to partner up with me to create a studio, this being an example of a short term goal as I have accomplished the task in a short amount of time, however I am currently in the process of completing another step which is gathering enough equipment to create a recording studio, I already own some of the equipment necessary for building a studio however it is still only a fraction of what is actually needed to create a studio of professional quality of which I want my studio to be. So this would be an example of a long term goal as I can’t complete it in a short amount of time.

In order to get work as a soundtrack composer I would need to know the relevant websites/ companies I would need to submit my material to get noticed. “Libraries” are the names of websites that composers submit their work to in order to get paid work from radio stations, television, films and games. This is one such website: http://www.wisebuddah.com/

There were a couple of things I took into consideration when I initially created my goal such as: Contacts, a perk of co-owning a studio is that whichever contacts you make and your partner(s) make can be pooled together to make an expansive list of contacts that you can call upon. Money, having a partner whose goal is the same as yours helps, especially when it’s something as financially draining as building a studio as you can pool your money into buying newer better quality equipment and more high end gear. However, one of the downsides to this whole endeavour comes with the renting out and teaching side of things as that can leave you less time to work on your own projects all the while still generating money to keep the studio going, although a way around this problem is to close the studio either on certain days of the week or whenever you have work that needs to be prioritized.

Fairy Tail Song Mash up Summary

In December last year, my college course put on a jazz orientated show for our HND improvisation assessment where my clique (or band you might say) compiled a selection of songs – we felt worked well together – sourced from an anime show we were all watching at the time (except for Seb the drummer) called “Fairy Tail”. Initially I was  the one who brought the idea forward to the group which made me responsible for taking over the organisation of the medley, however because of my tendency to procrastinate at the worst possible times, I left it a little late when coming up with the final version of the track mainly because of the sheer amount of source material from the Fairy Tail left me feeling indecisive about what tracks to use. Also getting the track finished earlier would have made a huge difference to the finished product as we had trouble finding the time when we could rehearse with all of the players, as some of us had other commitments that had to be upheld. Having this lazy attitude and indecisiveness when approaching the role of a musical director has proven to be a huge hindrance when trying to fit in a highly productive rehearsal, and in turn, this greatly reflected upon the final performance of the piece on the show. Looking back at the live performance there were some issues with the mix where our drummer couldn’t distinguish what was being played and was unsure as to when he should stop and start. The final performance could have gone a lot better than it did, however it could of gone a lot worse because at the end of the show the audience didn’t notice the major problems which is one of the perks of doing a mash up as you can make a few mistakes and everybody listening thinks it’s a part of the medley and as we gave a loud performance that only added to the smoke and mirrors.

Picking apart the performance, I’ve noticed that as a band we weren’t at our best during that performance  as we could have been a lot more tighter as a group had everything be sorted out earlier, although individually if one or two of us may have nailed everything perfectly unfortunately doesn’t make up for the lack of dedication and preparation the other band mates display.We decided as a collective that we were going to play this medley in a metal style which presented a challenge in the form of fast melodies and chords, which as I haven’t been practising as much as I used to and as a result showed up my lack of stamina – especially when I have to keep at a fast pace pace for a prolonged amount of time. I tried to remedy this by practising the parts I was playing every night up until the show, however I still lacked the necessary practice needed to pull off a clean performance with no mistakes.

This is the video of us performing the medley on the December show.


A few weeks after the show, we were asked by our lecturer if we would like to record something in the college studio seeing as though the music technology students needed to record some musicians for their assessments. And here’s the video for that recording session.

And here are the original soundtracks used in the medley.

Risk Assessment For A Performance

As one can expect from performing on stage as a musician, hazards are lurking around every area which may result in someone’s untimely demise if not adhered to correctly in terms of health and safety and risk assessment, and I think it goes without saying that having good health is of an utmost priority for living as well as performing. First of all, the key to doing a thorough risk assessment is knowing where the main problems occur during the set up of any gig – be it small or large, every show has a certain level of danger involved – such as:

Anything electrical connected to a mains outlet, which is without a doubt the most fundamental area you have to check extensively otherwise without proper grounding you’ll get an electric shock, Smaller gigs don’t consume as much electricity as larger gigs so the worst case scenario is that you would get a nasty shock, however in a larger situation like a festival this would almost spell certain death. Having regular maintenance on your instruments (Especially those with electric wiring), pretty much the same thing as the previous point I made, however the focus is primarily on the musician and how much they maintain their instruments, because if their guitar isn’t grounded properly then all of the voltage direct from the mains goes straight to the steel strings, which as we know is where a guitarist spends 99%. Carrying around circuit breakers as a fail safe in case theres any ungrounded wiring not accounted for is a handy way of preventing the previously from transpiring, by cutting of the flow of electricity before it can do any major damage.

As a musician, your ears are an essential tool for performing, writing and listening to music as they help process audio and transmit the data to your brain, so I don’t need to tell you how much of a hindrance hearing loss can be for a musician, wearing proper ear protection reduces the chances of hearing loss by decreasing the rate of vibration your eardrums are usually exposed to in a practice or live performance. Take regular breaks between rehearsals can help to reduce fatigue and muscle related problems, by allowing your body to rest you effectively prevent injuries like tendinitis and muscle strain which can keep you from practising and can cause irreparable damage to you if not properly treated. Lifting heavy loads must always be “carried” out (excuse the terrible pun) with the utmost care because if it’s done incorrectly you may face a crippling injury which is not ideal in the least for a musician, and so lifting should always come from the knee’s instead of the back as the leg muscles are a darn sight more sturdy than the back muscle’s.

Giant Steps and Lingus Solo Analysis

Released in 1960 by John Coltrane, Giant Steps has challenged many musicians when it came improvisation, as throughout the song it changes key three times using a compositional technique that Coltrane developed himself called the “Coltrane Matrix”. The concept of this technique is to shift the key centre of the piece in major thirds on the circle of fifths which spells out the chords formula for an augmented chord (as they are built up entirely of major thirds). However just playing through chords is just one of the hurdles this piece has to offer, as the tempo is set at a blistering 286bpm which many musicians struggle to keep up with both mentally and physically. Dealing with this piece requires time to get used to the shifts in key centre whilst soloing through the chords, learning different approaches to these chords can help immensely in playing through the piece.

At a glance, anybody reading the lead sheet will probably assume that the piece is in C major (C D E F G A B) seeing as there is no sharps or flats in the key signature, however, the beginning of the piece starts out with a B major 7 chord (B D# F# A#). The first chord played already contains notes that aren’t a part of the initial scale which leads us to think that maybe the composer intended to use chords from a different scale to change up the harmony. However, examining the following chords we see a D7 chord (D F# A C) which contains notes foreign to both the initial scale and the previous chord, making it a non diatonic chord change, but looking at the next chord after the D7 we see a G major 7 (G B D F#) which fits in diatonically with the previous chord which is suggesting a change in key to G major (G,A, B, C, D, E, F#) which at least gives two of the first three chords context, this also results in a perfect cadence from the V chord (D7) to the I chord (G). As for the next chord, a Bb7 (Bb D F Ab) appears which yet again strays from the newly established scale which hints at yet another key change, and judging by the next chord in the progression which is an Eb major 7 (Eb G Bb D) we see another perfect cadence, this time the key is in Eb major. Now here’s where it starts to get interesting, A minor 7 (A C E G) – which is the first minor chord to appear in the piece and believe me, that makes analysing jazz standards a lot less stressful which I’m about to explain – causes yet another change in key, but to what exactly, well the answers in the next chord which is a D7 CHORD!!! (Explanation Time) Having shown up earlier in the piece, we can automatically assume that the next chord is a G major 7 although just acting solely on assumptions can often lead to mistakes, however, going back to when the A minor 7 appeared I mentioned that having minor chords show up in jazz standard can make analysing much quicker and easier, this is because the most common chord progression in jazz is the major II – V – I which tends to start off with a minor 7 chord (although in some cases it may be a minor II – V – I which starts on a diminished 7 chord). Once you are able to identify these chord patterns throughout a jazz standard, you can utilise whichever soloing concept you like when you approach them in future as you get more and more familiar with what sounds good over it. In next pattern we come across next is another V – I in Eb major (Bb7 – Eb major 7). This next chord progression answers the problem we had the very beginning about the starting chord (B major 7) being non diatonic from the initial key (C major), because the next chord we encounter is a F#7 chord (F# A# C# E) which contains two notes from the B major 7 chord and reveals that F# is the 5th of B major giving us another II – V – I. Now that we’ve uncovered the three key signatures contained in this track, a pattern has started to emerge which reveals Coltrane’s genius compositional technique behind this monster of a piece known as THE COLTRANE MATRIX!!! This is where you take the circle of fifths and shift the key in major thirds – effectively creating an augmented chord, in this case it would be an Eb augmented chord (Eb G B) – and jump back and forth between said keys which creates a complex harmony which baffles musicians to this day.

Below is a video explaining different approaches to soloing over the chords in the easiest and most fluid way possible.

The video demonstrates a few different ways to go about soloing over the chord progression of giant steps in a simplified way. The first concept simply focuses on using broken chords (Arpeggios) that follow the chords on the chart very strictly. Having this approach allows the musician to get through the piece with minimal effort, however, relying entirely on this approach instead of integrating it into either one or all of the other approaches causes the solo to sound rehearsed and not spontaneous in the least. The second concept broadens that of the previous concept by introducing scales, as they have more notes to choose from compared to arpeggios and they need more time to get used to, although the flaw with purely using scales is that you begin to become “trapped in the box” which, as a jazz musician is very restrictive because you lose the feeling of freedom with being able to play freely through standard, this is when you should think about using the chromatic approach which I will explain later. Approach number three is pentatonic scales (Penta = Five and Tonic = tones), this is sort of the halfway point between scales and arpeggios as you have more notes than an arpeggios to work with but less than a full scale, yet again without stringing more than one approach together you fall into the same problem as the previous two approaches such as lack of spontaneity, musicality and being trapped in the proverbial “box”. Concept number 3, now here’s a more interesting approach to soloing over jazz chord progressions called “The Big Five”, in the video he demonstrates how to get from Bb7 to Eb major 7 – which he called Bb7 the “Big Five” of Eb major 7 – by using a Bb altered scale (Bb Cb Db D E F G Ab), all of the notes of the scale fit in with the Bb7 scale meaning that it’s a diatonic chord, however it doesn’t contain the target note he initially wanted to end on which was the Eb but instead contains most of the notes in the first four chords, and the notes that aren’t in the first four chords can be used as passing notes to give an “outside” sound, as he solos through the first four chords using this altered scale he arrives at the Eb major 7 which he arrives at by either using the D or the E note from the altered scale as a passing note to resolve the Bb7 chord. These are just a few of the examples given in the video which can be utilised not only when soloing over giant steps, but any jazz standard you may come across.

Ligus by Snarky Puppy synthesiser solo analysis (Cory Henry)

The solo starts of with Bass, Drums and Piano providing the backing for the solo which centres around four notes (E C A F) which spells out F major 7. The opening of the solo starts with a short, diatonic phrase followed by a few bars of space which is found a lot in jazz music as it allows the music to breathe and gives to soloist time to think about what to play next, he then follows it up with another phrase which is twice in length and acts as response to the previous phrase much like typical blues which uses call and response in solos to create something of a conversation in the music followed by more space. The next phrase he plays is a very jazz inspired swing line with some intervalic jumps added to a modal line with some interesting rhythmic slurs which almost gives of the effect of the piece of music slowing down, which is achieved through slipping in and out of triplet rhythms only to add more rhythmic complexity to this solo, meanwhile messing with the filters on his synth module to change the attack of his tone to sound almost like a jazz guitars neck pickup with most of the tone rolled off. This same rhythmic idea seems to carry on to the next phrase, this time with chromaticism added in to provide an “outside” sound to add harmonic interest to a somewhat diatonic solo. Skipping ahead a bit, we begin to see the integration of Latin style drum grooves which yet again adds more rhythmic complexity as well as Cory adding some cliche Latin motifs to demonstrate his awareness to what the people around him are playing. Further along in the solo Cory begins to integrate another keyboard as an accompaniment to help add colour to the phrases he is playing, this is where he starts to experiment with exploring ideas that are non diatonic to the key, but diatonic with the underlying chord progression played by the backing band, as the solo progresses, it begins to take on more of a free improv inspired approach where Cory – who is still playing around the chord progression – introduces complex harmonies and tight interplay with the drums to work towards building up to the peak of the solo. As the brass comes in, Cory’s synth tone drastically changes from the mellow jazz tone as he begins a call and response yet again, but this time playing in response to the brass section who tend to centre around playing diatonic lines, whereas Cory immediately starts his response off with the melodic minor scale changing into the Ionian #5 scale – which is the third mode of the harmonic minor scale – which adds a very colourful answer to the brass sections call, as things progress however, the call and response system gradually begins to break down and the two opposing sides start to meld together building up for the end of the track with an immense wall of sound.

Here is the solo in question:

Self Evaluation

Now it’s time for a little reflection, as a musician I often fall into the habit of rewatching old videos from previous shows I have performed on and I do so with a critical point of view. Doing this allows me to pick up on my strengths as a musician as well as my weaknesses, which gives me a chance to see where i’m falling behind or improving in areas such as: Musicality, Musicianship, Showmanship etc. So far looking back at my old performances I have managed to distinguish common characteristics in my playing that were either non existent, still needing work or worked on too much, and i’ve managed to list a few.

Strengths: Theory knowledge, Tone, Technique.

Weaknesses: No musicality, Poor Stage presence, Being overly critical on a performance and grimacing at the slightest mistake.

My stage presence in my videos was very rough around the edges as I was still trying to amass the courage and confidence to move around and put on a show for the audience, which often lead to doing bizarre things like kicking my leg out or jerking my head up quickly. I have been aware of my stage presence since level 3 a couple of years ago and have been constantly working on ways to conquer my fear of people laughing at me if I mess up in any way, and up until last year (which is 1-2 years after this initial realisation) I had only made slight improvements by being more expressive with my movements on stage, although they were subtle and I didn’t walk about at all. However this year I finally made a breakthrough during a gig at college where I started dancing in time with the music and being a little more interactive with the audience, which only left me with good feedback at the end of the show. Watching the footage from that gig has given me a more recent idea of my stage presence and what improvements can be made in the future, because, even though I made a breakthrough that means I can’t slack off just because I made progress. On the next show I aim to perform with more confidence and flair. Another thing I noticed from looking at my old videos is that whenever I made a mistake I would make a face similar to a scowl, which highlights to the audience the fact that you’ve made a mistake somewhere during your performance that you weren’t best pleased with. However, during my performances I have started to pull faces regardless of whether I’ve played the wrong note or not, this is because whenever I play music now I tend to lose myself in what I’m playing

Below is a link to a recording I did 4 years ago on a level 2 course at college. At this point the only theory knowledge I had obtained consisted of: The major scale, the minor scale, Dorian pentatonic scale and basic chord triads.

This is the first videoed performance I had ever done up to this point, and as far as all of the previous statements I have made regarding myself as a musician, I feel that this video highlights the all of my weaknesses perfectly. The problem areas are apparent from the beginning of the first song as I clamber onto the stage with a very awkward air about me, this shows my sheer lack of stage presence through my naturally shy nature. Everything except from theory knowledge has stayed the same since the previous recording as I had managed to learn more about modes and how to apply them, although I hadn’t quite utilised it in a live setting at that point.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwFLEGVZJ64 39:04 – 47:03

This performance was recorded a roughly 4 or 5 months after the previous recording, and straight away you can hear a comparable difference between the two. My practice back then focuses entirely on technique and tone as I was an avid viewer of guitar lesson DVDs which specialised in technique and little on musicality, which lead to my realisation that in the music I want to write, technique is only a means to an end instead of the basis of a track. As far as theory knowledge goes, in the space of a year, I had definitely experienced a few revelations that had helped me immensely in the learning process which is evident in the video, although in comparison to more recent performances, the amount of theory knowledge in this video is only basic knowledge to me now.

In the video below I have shown an improvement in my theory knowledge, tone and technique which is evident in my solo as I show a great a improvement. In the time between this link and the previous links I posted prior to this example I had spent an immense amount of time practicing and working on these problem areas to get the best possible results (which I spent 6 hours a day doing). I couldn’t of picked up on these problem areas if I hadn’t of looked back at the previous link with a critical perspective, this is proof that self evaluation can be helpful in a productive sense by providing inspiration and motivation to ignite an urge to constantly better yourself through hard work and perseverance.

 

This next video is an example of me trying my hand at songwriting for a show at college. For this gig we had to center around playing Jazz standards, but as my group were short on material, I decided to take it upon myself to write a piece to flesh out our set list a bit and try to do something outside of my comfort zone. Up until now the other videos showed a lack of musicality in my playing, but composing a piece really highlighted these problems and pushed me to learn more about how music works – albeit at this point it was to a basic degree. My tone and technique however seems to have been neglected in the meantime, as I hadn’t stuck to my 6 hour a day practice regiment for a few months, this is a result of my lazy personality taking the reigns, with the addition of my brief descent into having a dislike of music in general.

 

This is one of the more recent performances of mine, and as you can see straight away I am more comfortable on stage compared to the tricky video I referenced earlier in the blog, I look less awkward and more open around the audience, which is evident from the act and dress on stage (Christmas jumper as it was December at the time and slippers). I would say that wearing slippers on stage has helped to promote a calm mental state for me as I feel like i’m at home as opposed to standing on stage in front of a load of people, and also they have sparked up conversations with a few of the audience members who were perceptive enough to notice them, which also benefits me as I am getting familiar with the audience leaving less to be afraid of. I also move a lot more on stage in this example, due to my gradual rise in confidence deriving from the handful of other performances I have done. My tone and technique has suffered yet again due to my short attention span and the many distractions I have at home as well as in college (games, books, anime etc), which I am currently trying to correct by restricting what I do to certain times of day and focusing primarily on music.

 

Since I first picked up the guitar 9 years ago, I have noticed myself almost having a battle with music as I have a tendency to either progress rapidly or stagnate  dramatically when trying to learn new things. But after examining my development over the years through these videos, I have managed to deduce the following traits I need to work on the most to further develop myself as a performer and a musician.

Strengths: Stage presence, Chemistry with other band mates, Flexibility in playing styles.

Weaknesses(things I need to work on): Tone, Technique Musicality, Motivation.

I have already begun working on a regime that will help put me back on track with my song writing, performance and technical ability which will probably take up around about 6-7 hours a day If I can keep it up. The pictures below are of an idealized timetable I wanted to adhere to a few years ago, but instead of the 10 hours I had planned for each day, I could only keep my concentration for 6 hours at most.

This is the timetable specifying what areas I should work on each day. I chose to put certain topics (like fretboard) at certain times as they need the least amount of concentration which I could work on when I had to be away from my instrument (Breakfast, lunch, dinner etc).

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And below is the criteria I can choose from for each time slot listed above. Each lesson’s criteria is decided by my before hand – like a teacher’s lesson plan – going by what I think I need to work on the most.

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