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Monday, May 21, 2012

What are key signatures?

What are key signatures? A key signature is a group of either sharps (#) or flats (b) that sit between the treble or bass clef & the time signature at the start of a piece of music. The number of sharps or flats tells you what key the piece of music is in. For example if the key signature has 3 sharps the song will either be in A major or F# minor. Ok so now thats out of the way lets understand why you want to know this stuff. Say you want to work out a piece of music by ear then you will need to have some boundaries. In music we only have 12 different notes (on a piano thats 7 white notes & 5 black notes), this is our widest boundary. Now in most songs we don't use all 12 notes, that would be like making a sandwich with the entire contents of the fridge. Instead we commonly use a selection of 7 notes out of the 12, which we call scales. (There are many different scales out there but to understand key signatures we are going to keep to the basic major scale.)                                       

To give you a visual of this here are all 12 notes or our widest boundary:
| 1  | b2  | 2  | b3 | 3  | 4 | #4 | 5  | b6  | 6 | b7  | 7  | 1 |
| C | Db | D | Eb | E | F | F# | G | Ab | A | Bb | B | C |

And here is 7 of the 12 notes or the "C major scale" or we can also call this the key of "C major".

| 1  |   | 2  |   | 3  | 4 |   | 5  |    | 6 |    | 7  | 1 |
| C |   | D |   | E  | F |   | G |    | A |    | B | C |

As you can see that the Key of C major has no sharps or flats in the scale. And in example 1 below you can see there are no sharps or flats in between the treble clef & the time signature. Therefore this song is in the key of C major.

Here is the "G major scale" or we can also call this the key of "G major".
| 1  |   | 2  |   | 3  | 4 |   | 5  |    | 6 |    | 7  | 1 |
| G |   | A |   | B  | C |   | D |    | E |   | F#| G |

As you can see that the Key of G major has 1 sharp in the scale. So in the example below you can see 1 sharp in between the treble or bass clef & the time signature.

The way I like to understand the word "key signature" is by thinking of these words separately.
We use a "key" to unlock something and a "signature" is a proof of identity.

Next week I will talk more about the similarities between different key signatures.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Musical notes are like colours, the octaves are shades, and timbres are like crayons, pencils, paint, texta, chalk & ink.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Writing a song is like drawing a sketch. Recording the arrangement is like coloring it in.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Understanding how musical note's relate to each other

     Today I would like  to share my knowledge on understanding music theory and how the note's relate to each other. The first thing to understand about music is that there are only 12 different note's or sounds. You might like to use the idea that if we were talking about food, then there are only 12 different flavours. All popular western styles of music are built on this idea. The next thing to understand is that some notes will sound good together while others will sound not so good. We call this consonance & dissonance. If we were talking about food then consonance would taste relaxed, like milk & bread while dissonance would taste tense like chocolate dipped sardines. Now not all 12 notes will sound like these extremes but will be either swing one way or the other.
   Now if you have ever played a instrument and hit a wrong note then you have experienced one of these chocolate dipped sardines, not so hot are they. So lets look at a way to understand these 12 different sounds. (Now next week I will explain about key signatures but for the moment lets take a leap of faith and play everything in the key of C). In the key of C, C is the first note of the scale so lets call C "one" which makes D "two" E "three" and so on. Also in between each note are chromatics (# sharps & b flats or the black notes on the piano). So Db will be called "flat two", Eb "flat three" and so on.
 Here is an easy lay out of the notes & their numbers.

| 1  | b2  | 2  | b3 | 3  | 4 | #4 | 5  | b6  | 6 | b7  | 7  | 1 |
| C | Db | D | Eb | E | F | F# | G | Ab | A | Bb | B | C|

So here is a description of each note (interval) relating back to the first note of the key signature.

C to C or 1 to 1: These notes together sound completely neutral as they are the same note. So they hold no tension and are completely relaxed. I like to call this the "Home" note as its the note you will want to finished your song on (if you want it to sound finished).

C to Db or 1 to b2 : This interval is very tense and will most likely remind you of the  shower scene in "Psycho" or if you play it low "Jaws"

C to D or 1 to 2 : This interval is also tense but not so dramatic, but will remind you of an ambulance or police siren.

C to Eb or 1 to b3 : This is known as the sad interval & can be found in all minor chords & scales.

C to E or 1 to 3 : This is known as the happy interval & can be found in all major chords & scales.

C to F or 1 to 4 : This interval is tense but in a majestic kind of way, think of the Queen entering the room. You would most likely feel a little on edge but in a rather royal kind of way.

C to F# or 1 to #4 : This is known as the devil chord and is rather tense. If you were caught writing songs based on the devils chord around the time of the Spanish Inquisition you would have had your head removed. A lot of my metal students love this interval.

C to G or 1 to 5 : The 5th is similar to first note of the key, it is a very relaxed sounding interval. The 5th also a very strong sounding interval and is also called a power chord (commonly used in all forms of rock music). I also like to think of this as your home away from home, such as a holiday house.

C to Ab or 1 to b6 : This interval is tense and rather dark sounding, lots of my gothic/emo students love this interval.

C to A or 1 to 6 : This interval is tense but rather pleasant at the same time. Much like a shower that's a little too hot on a very cold morning.

C to Bb or 1 to b7 : A very funky & tense sounding interval. You hear this in most funk bass lines.

C to B or 1 to7 : Lastly one of the most tense sounding intervals. If you finish your song on this note you audience will forever be left hanging or they will just hate you.


ps next week explaining key signatures

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The latest Ribbon Device blog: Cracking Compressors

Cracking Compressors, how to get them to work.

    Today I would like to share some knowledge I picked up about compressors.
A while ago a friend told me about a great book on the subject of mixing & recording audio
called "Mixing with your mind" by Michael Paul Stavrou. If your serious about recording music then
I well recommend reading this book.
    So compressors, that effect that sounds like its hardly doing anything at all and some case that's exactly what you them to sound like. A compressor does what the name says, it compressors the audio so you don't get those loud peaks that jump out and poke you in the ear. But be warned if you compress too much your audio will lose all its dynamics and your track will sound small & fatiguing to the ear.
     The thing I always found hard about compressors was the controls, what they stood for and how to use them. This was until I read cracking compressors by Mr Stavrou. Now I cant share with you that section of the book due to copyright, but I really recommend getting your hands on a copy. Nonetheless here are my thoughts on compressors.
    Essentially they squash the signal so the soft & loud become the same volume, now to do that you only really need one knob that gives you more or less squashing. And some compressors operate like this while others give you more control. Now if your going to squash something say like an orange then you want to know how flat you want to make it and the knob titled "ratio" does this. The higher the ratio the flatter the orange. Now you may have a few oranges & you may want some of the big oranges to be the same height as the smaller oranges. So you set the "threshold" so the smaller oranges pass through without being squashed while the tubby ones get squashed down to the same size. Now the "Attack" is how fast your squashing those big fat oranges. If your oranges are traveling along a conveyer belt & the attack is fast then every orange is going to get hit immediately while if the compressor is slow then the front of the orange will stay a little rounded. Now if you want the orange to stretched smeared across the conveyer belt then make sure your "release"is slow so it hangs onto the orange for as long as possible & if you want your orange to stay intact then make the "release" fast.

Well I hope this helps!


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The latest Ribbon Device demo is now available for your iphone or ipod touch.