Thursday, 1 September 2016

One Secret To Dramatically Increase Music Analysis

Imagine playing a game.

I have a guitar with me. I play a piece, your role is to identify whose piece it is.

A funky riff, with a swift but clean solo. You know you've heard this before. Or at least something like this.

Finally you say, 'Red Hot Chilli Peppers.' I smile, and just when your hope is building, I shatter it like a broken mirror, saying, "No. It's Guthrie Govan."

Why couldn't you guess Guthrie? (Assume that you hear Guthrie quite often). Why RHCP, when they are quite different. 

To a large extent, it is because you haven't analysed the music of both Guthrie and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Analysis is a broad concept, often very subjective. I'll try giving a general view blended with my opinion.

Analysis forms the logical part of music. As per Wikipedia, it seeks to answer, 'How does it work?" I think that analysis does not necessarily have to be always rational ; intuition works well too. Like in cases of guessing whose piece it is. 

Generally, music analysis lets you understand what's happening inside a musical piece; often leading to developing your own style of playing or singing. 

Therein lies it's importance. You can become a very avid listener when you become a proper music analyst. However, the balance should always be there, between feeling the music and thinking about what's happening inside. A proper analysis is when you 'feel the depths of the song leading you to realise what's happening and who is doing what'.

The secret that I'm talking about here focuses primarily on increasing your ability to understand a specific artist's music. When you properly listen to an artist or a band, you get to know what exactly is their style, and in which direction their songs usually go. 

I've seen that people put their playlists on shuffle and listen to whatever song that comes. However, if you want to analyse an artist's music, listen to that artist only. More precisely, listen to an album, keeping shuffle off.

This serves two main purpose -
1. You get to understand what the music does, and in turn realise intuitively a uniqueness in their music.
2. You get to know the overall feel of the album, creating a good platform to compare the sound of that album with another of the same artist.

This trick, to listen to an album without shuffle, has helped me a lot to understand artists and bands better. You also feel a sense of curiosity and explore more about the album, sometimes finding out weird facts that aid in further understanding of the album, and the artist.

It is very simple, and yet, very profound in understanding the nature of someone's music. It feels as if you are inside the music, inside their lives, feeling the emotion that they felt while making the song. It can titillate you to the extent that people start calling you 'weird'. 'Empathic listening' is how I'd like to label it.

Music becomes so much more, so much  organised and  so much enjoyable once you develop this. Trust me, it's worth it.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

How To Write Good Lyrics | The Base

It's all set: a good musical piece, a good idea for a song, the vocal lines for it; all that remains is the lyrics. The song is promising, it's future as bright as the sun on a clear day.

You then take out a pen and paper, scribble your idea, arrange your words here and there, and behold! The song is done. It sounds awesome.

But then, reality hits you after the release. Someone gives you an honest opinion that the lyrics aren't very good. You check, now like a critic, and true enough, they aren't.

This is quite a common situation for many of us. We struggle to write lyrics, or find good lyricists (which is rare). However, good news is, we all can write good lyrics. It's just a matter of time and practice.

Take the art of writing lyrics as a tree. There are techniques to play with words, of which you'll find plenty of articles, but it just constitutes taking proper care of the branches, flowers and leaves. The roots are the most important, though. They are the ones that your branches and leaves are dependent upon.

Of course, the tree should be visually attractive. But the foundation should be taken care of in the first place.

The root for writing any good lyrics is but one word: emotion. Emotion builds the base upon which you apply writing techniques to create good lyrics.

Here's the list of steps for building a good foundation for writing.

Step 1: Determine the feel of the song. Is the song sad? Or happy? Does it evoke anger? You decide this by hearing the instrumental.

Step 2: Decide the direction of the lyrics. Once the emotion is set, begin the writing. Will it be a story? Or a metaphorical idea of the emotion? Will it uplift you or make you question about things? Keep the emotion as the base.

Step 3: Check whether the song blends in with the lyrics or not. You've written a story, but does the song sound good with it? Maybe the song is demanding something else. Listen to it over and over again, at different times, and decide what blends well.

Step 4: Edit the lyrics. While writing, you just blurt out what you feel. Now it's time to use the left brain to analyse it. The technique part comes here. Rephrase, use different words, anything to make it sound better.

It's simple really, isn't it? You will need to practice to get the 'writing juices' flow out naturally. Your first lyrics will not be a good one. Keep on writing, until you can give your best work. Don't settle for 'good'. Mr. Stephen Covey has said, "The enemy of the best is often the good."

What was your first lyrics writing experience? Did you feel proud of it? Feel free to comment.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

5 Things You Should Know Before Entering A Studio (For the first time)

Would you not like to make a dashing impression on a studio, entering for the first time? Of course you would. Who doesn't?

'What's the big deal? It's just a studio." You might say. Well, it isn't. A first time studio experience can be devastating if you can't handle it properly. However, it can also be a great experience, if you know some 'tricks of the trade'. Here I'd like to share five such crucial tips which will help you have a good time at the studio, while also making a good impression.

1. Playing with a metronome. We all don't really care about that 'tick - tick' sound of a metronome, do we? Such apathy pays a great price while in the studio. Since everything has to be precise and perfect for your song, the timing is the first thing you need to get right.

Believe me, the timing will fuck you up. It might seem easy to play or sing on time while practicing, but the precise timing is hard to get. There will be somewhere where you'll rush or drag (see the movie Whiplash to get the concept clearly). And you cannot compromise on that. You have to get it right. You do it again and again until you do.

So I'd suggest, if you're thinking if recording a song, better get used to a metronome. There is nothing more frustrating than playing the same thing over and over again, just because you couldn't time it correctly.

Here's a good list of metronome apps. 

2. Sharps and flats. This applies to vocalists. While your voice may be perfectly smooth and always getting the right pitch, it doesn't pay off in the studio. Even a hint of a sharp or flat note can ruin a song. You have no choice; you have to sing what the song demands, with a consummate touch at each and every detail.

There will always be points where you'll go sharp or flat. Believe me, it's embarrassing to hear your own voice on a huge studio monitor, and even more when you've sung differently. While there is no definitive escape from the enemy of sharps and flats (except constant practice and experience), there are some ways in which you can minimise them.

The most important one is to pay attention to the notes you're singing while you practice. Always be aware of what you're singing, and whether you're singing it correctly. Don't just focus on the pitch, focus on getting wat you're singing right, in terms of notes. This will at least create a habit and you'll be aware of your notes.

Also, you should do vocal exercises. Plenty of them are available on YouTube. Warming up before a session is very efficient in getting the notes right, and also singing for a longer period of time.

3. Attention to detail. These three words can be said as the epitome of a studio. I've emphasised before, but I'll be saying it again - everything needs to be precise. Just like every moment in life matters, every second in a song matters. It has to be closest to perfection.

Since studio is for delivering a song, the perfection demanded there will be of delivery. So brush your techniques, your timing, your pitch, and everything else that matters in a song, because you'll need every ounce of those.

4. Proper tone. I've seen many, who are awesome players but have no knowledge of tone. If you are one of those, change that! The output should correspond to the input you're giving. Tone determines your output.

A studio will offer you a variety of choices, but like every other art, a tone is unique for everyone. If you delve a little deeper, you'll soon begin to realise what kind of tone you like. And if that same kind doesn't come out in your song, you'll be disappointed.

Make your tone properly, giving it a lot of time, tweaking here and there until it comes out right, before you enter the studio. Buy the pedals and amps that give you the 'right' tone. It's not an expense, it's an investment. You'll be much more comfortable with it, and the studio engineer will also be impressed, seeing that you've done your homework.

5. No Compromise on Quality. Musicians often get intimidated at the huge pressure of doing things perfectly, that they let go of some of the parts. This is precisely what you shouldn't do.

Producers will sometimes be irritated, and say that a certain piece will sound 'good enough'. Never settle for it. Take your time, pay more if you have to, but do not compromise on the quality of your song. Trust me, you'll regret it later if you do.

Also, keep reminding the engineer about how do you want the mix. The mix determines how the output will be. It will be a sad situation if you've given your best but the song isn't sounding good because of bad mixing.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

How You Can Create Original Music | A Practical Approach

A pro footballer can put the ball inside the goal in different ways. Many players are known for their distinct free kicks (think David Beckham), or corner kicks. The 'distinct' is what makes it original.

How did they achieve it? Simple: they practised so much that they knew what would happen if they did something in a certain way. Then they developed a style that reflected their way.

Originality does come with practice. In my previous article, I've talked about the duality of originality (please refer to it here). The philosophy behind it is done. Now it all boils down to practice.

Here are a few things to focus on while you practice, to develop originality --

1. Playing style. Everyone has a distinct style of playing. It will not be apparent at first, but it soon comes to light once you've practiced enough.

However, the 'practice' shouldn't focus on transcriptions. It should be on what you play for yourself. Just ramble on, play anything; first, you'll go towards covers, but slowly upon perseverance you'll realise that you have a way of handling those notes that comes intuitively to you. That's when you get your playing style.

You can test whether the playing style is actually yours or not, by simply singing what you've played. Or playing that in another instrument. Put it in a backing track, and see how does it sound. Unique? Then it's definitely yours.

2. Note imagination. This is something the great guitarist Guthrie Govan talks about. Before you hit a note, just imagine it (this applies to instruments only). If the note doesn't sync with the note in your head, find it. In this way, you won't just play repeated patterns, but something out of yourself. You'll also feel much more involved in your playing.

Another strategy is to sing your imagined note before you hit it. You'll get what sort of notes you prefer. After all, you have to love what you hear.

3. Technique Mastery. To be original, you must be willing to experiment. Try out different techniques, and check which one gives you the 'chills in your back'. Then apply the earlier two tips into the technique, put some rhythm, and you're on!

Likewise, there might be some technique you don't like; however, learn it first, then decide. I've never heard Dimebag Darrell use tapping, but it doesn't mean he didn't learn it (just hear the solo of one part of 'Walk' to check).

Master the techniques that you're fond of. That will prove very useful while making music focused on originality.

You must also be willing to improvise. To get tips on improvisation by the guitarist Guthrie Govan, click here.

What is your experience while making songs? Have you ever made songs that sound totally unique and like 'you'? What was your experience? Do let me know in the comments.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

How You Can Create Original Music | A Simple Philosophy

Have you ever tried making some music; realising later that it sounds very much like one of your influences? Why does it happen? What is it that makes great artists' music so unique and ours copied?

By original here I mean not just your own song, but your song which is actually your song. In other words, a song that you made, that reflects something entirely unique, something never heard before.

'Practice' may be the answer you have in mind, but I doubt it. It is one factor, of course; you cannot make a very original song in the first attempt. You need to do it over and over again. But there is more to it. Things more philosophical are at play here.

Upon much pondering, I've come across two aspects that can make a song original. This is like what physicists call the 'wave/particle duality' of a property of light. Light is both a wave and a particle. It isn't an either/or situation; light exerts both these properties at the same time. Similarly, originality has a duality; both are essential for it to exist. One is a philosophical one. The other is practical (that practice determines). I've covered the practical aspect here.

Since music is a reflection of who you are, your music will never be original unless you yourself are an original person. Now this is confusing. What does it mean to be an original person?

You'll get a lot of books on this, but here I'll give my own and perhaps the simplest definition of an original person: A person who lives upon his own values and beliefs, such that he fills the description of a person who is true to himself. This is a simple but a difficult thing to achieve. But the good news is, all of us can do it.

When you are original, you think nothing about 'what will others think about me?' This can also be translated as: you'll think nothing about 'what will others think about my music?' You'll totally be focused on getting yourself, or a part of you, out in that music.

When your music rings to the deepest part of you, that's when it 'touches' you. And that's when it becomes something entirely unique, because no one has lived the life that you have, and you're simply taking out your experiences and emotions associated with it into the music.

It's very simple, really. The deepest truths are usually the most simple ones.

Summing up, to create original music:
1. Be original.
2. Reflect yourself in the music you're creating.

What do you think about originality? Do let me know in the comments.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Stages Of Mastering A Technique and its Efficient Usage

In my previous article, I've written about the trend of technically focused music. (If you haven't read that, do give it a read here). This trend is usually seen in 'hard' genres, like rock and metal. It can also be seen in softer ones like Blues and Jazz, but it isn't very common as the former. Like I said there, the feel is disrupted when too much emphasis is placed on technique.

However, not to know a technique at all would be thinking on the other side of the extreme. I am reading a book 'Discover Your Destiny' by Robin Sharma, where I got a pretty good insight on the balance that we need to create in life, between the head and the heart, with the heart guiding your way. Just apply it in music as well, where the technique and skills become the 'head' part, and the feel and the emotion arising becomes the 'heart' part. Both must be in balance.

The book had one very powerful insight that I found useful if applied in music. Of course, it can be applied on anything (especially your life), but I am focusing on music here. It is about the four stages of mastery. Here, it will be about mastery of a technique.

We will take 'tapping' as our base technique, and go on with the show.

1. Unconscious Incompetence: At this stage, you do not know how to tap, and you do not know that you don't know how to tap. In other words, you are unconscious as well as incompetent when it comes to tapping. If you hear a tap, you'll simply ignore it, or will marvel at its sound, but won't know what's going on.

2. Conscious Incompetence: At this stage, you still don't know how to tap, but you're now aware that the thing you heard is a 'tap', and is done in a certain way. To quote the main character Julian Mantle in that book, "Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change". You can now make new choices relating to this technique, and this will lead you to become a better player.

3. Conscious Competence: At this stage, you have learnt tapping, but you have to be very conscious while you're doing it. You cannot really enjoy it, because your focus lies on getting the notes, and the piece, right. You keep on practicing, but still it gets difficult. This stage takes a lot of time.

4. Unconscious Competence: This is the stage where you've mastered the technique, and you don't even have to think about it while you're doing it. You can now totally engross yourself inside the music, while your hands are moving to play that wonderful piece which involves tapping. Tapping becomes second nature to you.

I personally believe that a technique should be added in your composition only after you've reached the fourth stage. It is because, at this stage you'll know exactly where the song needs the technique, and won't have as much desire to show off your technique, as you would if you were in the third stage. As my brother says, "Music should be expressive, not impressive." You will know when the song requires an expression to be done through tapping, rather than to impress someone even when it sounds filthy (with the song).

Since the major idea of this article is taken from the book, I'd suggest you read that book too, if you want to learn about life. You can find it here.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Trend Of Technique Focused Music

A technique is a way to do a certain thing. It utilises skill and knowledge of a particular field to get that work done.

Music has an abundance of techniques. Everything in it, if you delve deeper, has some kind of technique; be it simple or complex. It is a mind centred thing, therefore it is logical that it should be present everywhere.

The 'technique' I'm talking about here is, however, about the general use of the term. It means a complex way of doing something quite difficult, which makes people go, "Whoa! That guy is awesome." Or, "He is a really good player/singer. He did that (shredding at 240 bpm, or singing at the fifth octave of a note, or slapping the bass hard) so easily. I'm a fan of him."

Nowadays, priority is given much on technique in music. The composers often add all or at least almost all of the techniques they know in one song. With good reason, of course. They want recognition, and these days 'how good he/she can play' is one measure of it. And, of course, everyone loves that bit of attention; what better way to get them than by showing off techniques?

However, these short term benefits have huge long term costs. Let's look at it philosophically. The wise have always said, "Mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master." Techniques are mind centered. So, like the mind, they should also be mastered. And how? By using it the way you really 'feel' like using it.

However, what we usually see is that the techniques control the composers. They focus more on 'how can I make this song more difficult' than 'how can I make this song more meaningful or touching'. Often, the fast paced drumming or shredding, or a four finger tap, is put in places where it is not needed. It makes it sound difficult, of course, but doesn't gives any boost to the overall 'feel' of the song

The technically oriented music is a fully mind focused one, where little to no importance is given to the 'touch' and 'feel' of music. The purpose of music is, however, not to make it sound difficult but to make it reflect yourself, or a part of you, or an event, or anything else which you deeply feel and have a connection to. Focusing solely on technique defeats that purpose, and makes it sound dry.

So does that mean that these techniques aren't important at all? Absolutely not. Like I said before, they should be mastered. It is important for a musician to know the techniques used in his/her instrument. But it should be used in places where the song actually needs it, and it gives a boost to the feel of the song. For example, a song about fast paced inspiring thoughts coming and going, could be reflected by a good shred of a major scale. Or a good drum roll could give a good build up and intensify what the song is trying to convey. It all depends on your reflection in the song, and what the song is asking.

Leonardo da Vinci has said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Simple music, with use of few techniques here and there, which touches you to the core, is in the end, the most sophisticated one.