Thursday, December 30, 2021

Goodbye 2021

Can you tell I just got a volume pedal and needed an excuse to use it?

The most exciting music theory part of this tune is the phrase structure. I'd been wanting to write a song with three-bar phrases for a while, and this is the song that resulted. Originally, the plan was just to have three bars of ambiance at the beginning of the tune so that the actual start would be surprising. However, as I wrote the tune, I decided to make the main riff three bars long as well.

In hindsight, I'm not happy with the mix on this track. I think I cut too much low end out, and if I ever revisit this track I bet I'll overcompensate and drown it in bass. Dear future me: please don't do that.

All in all, my favorite part of this tune is the verse riff and melody.

The guitars used in this track:
  1. Rhythm guitars were my Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Epiphone Les Paul Standard, both on the bridge pickup.
  2. Lead guitar was played my Fender Telecaster Deluxe.
  3. Squier Affinity Jazz Bass, as always.

Monday, December 27, 2021


This track was mostly done in LMMS, which has been my fix for electronic music sounds ever since I started making music. Something new that I've started enjoying, though, are the ZynAddSubFX presets. I'm not super interested in making my own patches, so it's awesome to have so many useful sounds ready to plug in and play, so-to-speak. In Alignment, the Rhodes Space2 preset features as the main arpeggio and chordal sound, while my own BitInvader patch holds down the low end.

I think with this track I have officially done quartal harmony to death. It's my go-to for a static, almost-minor sound for a reason, but I tend to gravitate to the same patterns every time I go quartal. I'll give myself a pass because I like this tune, but next time I'm likely to go quintal or modal. I liked the pairing of the quartal harmony with a whole tone scale bassline, despite the fact that there are no perfect fourths in the whole tone scale. In that way, you could see the bassline from this track as a continuation of the ideas in my Whole Tone Power Chords video from way back.

Drum sounds come courtesy of my high school drumset samples, and a couple LMMS built in samples as well. The guitar swells and solo were done on my Fender Telecaster Deluxe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021


Insistence is another track that seeks to unite my electronic and instrumental music processes into one sound. For years, I used to think of my electronic music as a fun side project that didn't have much to do with my guitar playing. Sure, there was some overlap, but I had very much separated the two musical approaches. That started to change in my Music Technology class, where some of the assignments forced me to combine MIDI and audio tracks in one project. Since then, my electronic production and guitar playing have converged, and this track is a good example.

Another idea that I thought about as I worked on this track was the role of the drumset in my music. It's extremely easy to program up a cool sounding drum beat with generic fills, play some guitar over it, and stop there. Of course, rock beats have their place. I'm a guitar player, there's no way I'm going to ever give up my beloved rock-n-roll backbeat. However, the drumset can do more. Writing the drums with the other parts in mind opens up a new world of possibilities. When the guitar solo comes in, though, it's all rock-n-roll.

I started this track off in LMMS to write the synths parts, so that I could then export the MIDI into MuseScore to write the drum parts. Nearly all of the synth parts were doubled on guitar, and on this track I mostly used my Epiphone Les Paul standard. I also used the default MuseScore piano sound to fill out the track. As I work on creating a cohesive blend of multiple styles of music, I've found that doubling parts between live instruments, programmed synths, and even a touch of generic MIDI piano all blend to create that sound I wanted. It's not a synth backing track with a genre-blind guitar solo on top anymore. It's a track written from the ground up with all of the physical musical instruments and electronic plugins contributing their strengths in service of a whole. These principles have guided my experimentation over this past year, and I think it's been the most exciting part of making music for me lately.

To summarize:
  1. The synths were programmed first in LMMS, including melodies, harmonies, and a bassline.
  2. Drums were written in MuseScore with the MIDI output from LMMS as a reference, so that the drum part could compliment the synth parts as best as possible.
  3. At the same time, the MIDI piano from MuseScore was exported so I could mix it in for color.
  4. The synth parts were doubled on guitar, with a few lead parts added as my ear guided me. 
  5. Guitar solo out, because improvisation is another great way to make music come alive.

Monday, December 20, 2021


This tune turns my usual method on its head a little bit. Okay, the guitar lead and rock feel aren't at all unusual for me, but the rest of the production was different compared to what I'd been doing lately.

First up, the drums were done in LMMS. It's the easiest way for me to experiment with different samples and have better control over dynamics, but fills are less convenient and it's a total pain in the rear to depart from the 16th note grid. That limitation didn't really hold me back here, as I was really just interested in putting together some loops quickly so I could play guitar.

I lifted the bassline from the A section of I Got Rhythm. It has just the right amount of swagger for this tune, while being tonally ambiguous enough to work in minor without alterations. I used my normal bass signal chain, which is Reaper's built in amp simulator and a ton of compression.

The synth was a last-minute addition that wound up, in my mind, stealing the show a little bit. It's a simple patch I threw together in ReaSynth, but it gets the job done and provides a break from the onslaught of guitar shredding. 

Aside from that, there's not much to it. Just a lot of notes, a wah pedal, and way too much distortion (which is the correct amount, of course). I got to bust out the automation feature I never use in Reaper in order to do the sweep panning of the tapping part, but other than that it was a fairly normal production for me. Onyx will probably go down as my grooviest tune of the year.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

NaNoWriMo 2021: In Review


Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and this time I joined in on the fun. I last attempted NaNoWriMo in 2016, when I stopped writing after eight days and only thirteen thousand words. Five years later, I've notched my second all-time NaNoWriMo win with Outside the Perimeter, a science fiction story that tackles themes of isolation and constant threats from without and within. I'm not going to talk much about the book itself, though, for reasons that should be clear quickly. I will, however, share my process and my experience.

I wrote Outside the Perimeter with one guiding principle: I didn't care if what I wrote was trash, because the novel isn't the goal. Writing fifty thousands words is the goal. I'm never going to edit, and nobody else is going to read this story. I finished NaNoWriMo, and that's the end of the road for my novel. Maybe next November, I'll write a sequel, but for now, it's over.

Being free of the need to be perfect or even good was key to my success this year. A lot of the NaNoWriMo advice I found in preparation for this month focused on how to write good novels, and I did hear a lot of good advice. However, that wasn't what I was aiming for this year. I did no planning, made no attempt at a character arc (although one snuck in anyways), and thought very little about continuity or smooth transitions. This book is a collection of scenes I wanted to write, in the order I wanted to write them. But of course, the goal wasn't to have a book people want to read, but to write fifty thousand words in a month. I wanted to enjoy writing, secure in the knowledge that it didn't matter whether people would enjoy reading it or not. This isn't a mindset for successful authors, because that's not my goal. I want writing to be a hobby that's fun for me to do, so I'm only doing the things that I find fun. Maybe one day I'll put effort into writing something good again, but until that day comes, there's no harm in churning out fifty thousand words of garbage.

My focus this year was on writing as a process, and winning. Mostly winning, actually. I wanted to produce words in bulk, whether they were good or not, and I met my goal. I actually finished a whole week early, which is great because I can focus on my final exams coming soon.

Every day, I wrote as many words as I could, so that I could take a day off occasionally without feeling guilty. I missed a few days, and wrote significantly less than my daily goal on a few occasions. But when the words were flowing, which was often, I managed to get far enough ahead that I could take breaks.

Unlike in the past, where I would try to get all of my writing for the day done in one session, I tried to take frequent breaks this year. Usually I would only write for an hour at a time, with the goal of a thousand words. Then I'd go do something else, and come back later for another hour. I'd only continue after that if I felt like I had something to say. My last day of writing, November 24th, was my biggest day: 5,045 words. My lowest non-zero day was 1,000 exactly, on the 18th.

My word count, as of 11/25/21.

As my graph shows, I started out by aiming for 1,667 words every day, just as recommended. However, I missed a day early on because I had a concert that night, and I was quickly playing catch up. That's when I came up with my method of 2,000 words per day, in two sessions of an hour each. This worked well for me, so I kept it up until the 13th, when I took another day off to focus on spending time with my girlfriend. After that weekend, my writing became much more sporadic, but because I stayed ahead of schedule, I was able to keep progress going by focusing on staying above the grey line.

In the final stretch, I took advantage of Thanksgiving break to write as much as I could. Because I didn't have to pace myself anymore, it was easy to push through to the end. And when I hit 50k, I saved my work, closed the document, and enjoyed the moment. I finished my story, and there was nothing left to do.

Although this was my first NaNo since 2016, I have participated in Camp NaNoWriMo three times since then, with just shy of 400 words to show for it. I may attempt another Camp NaNo this summer, perhaps with a smaller goal or a longer writing period. I enjoyed the process, and that's what I want to take with me into the future. I'm happy to be finished, so I can take a break, but I'm most happy about the weeks where I was able to write 2k every day, completely sustainably. Now the question is whether I can keep that habit going into the future. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


For the past few years, Piano Phase has been my favorite music to fall asleep to. It's also been the piece that I play for myself to help calm down my mind when I need to. It's amazing to me how much complexity can come from such a simple process and a single phrase of music.

So of course, I had to write a piece with a similar vibe while also using a completely different process that's more well suited to my style. Even so, I had to bust out quite a few new production tricks to get Infix sounding the way it does. This piece is a prototype; it's the result of me dipping my toes into the water of minimalism and ambient music without really committing to the process. I wanted to know if this is a style of music I could put more work into, and I think I can.

For Infix, I created a few different phrases roughly in the key of C, with varying speeds and lengths. I showed particular preference to odd numbered groupings, to make sure nothing would quite line up perfectly. Occasionally I threw in a drone, usually playing a not other than the root to provide a little bit of a different color. The point isn't to bombard the listener with C major the whole time, but rather to explore the ways different notes behave together without functional harmony there to set the rules.

Infix was written in LMMS using a lot of automation tracks.