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Sound Advice for Film

Sound Advice for Film

Ok, it may be a bad pun but I just came across this really good site and video with advice on sound recording in your films.

There’s some great advice here on audio perspective and mic placement.
It’s surprising what a huge difference audio can make in your films. It can have the effect of making your video captivating and slick or off-putting and cheap!

Lights online film school

 

There’s some great resources here at lights online film school blog with some more audio tutorials including advice on noise reduction and removing background hiss.

Posted in: General, Tutorials, Video

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Features Guide: Favourites & Notes

favourites featuresite featuresDid you know that at smartassmusic.com you can save music to review later, as well as add notes to each item?
This is a particularly useful feature if you use a lot of royalty free music and need to keep tabs on what is available and for what project. Remember, much of our music is exclusive so you won’t find it elswhere.

When you view an item, simply click on the heart icon icon in the track listing and it will save to you favourites folder.
From here you can add notes to each item by clicking the notes iconicon.
If you are logged into your account, all of this information will be saved, otherwise it will be discarded when you leave the site.

Here’s a quick video turoial on how to use the Favourites and Notes features.
For a larger version visit: http://www.smartassmusic.com/royalty-free-music/video-tutorials/fave-notes

Posted in: General, Royalty free music, Tutorials

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Effortless Piano Technique and Good Tone

piano_royalty_free_music_icon

The “Holy Grail” for pianists is to find an “effortless” technique which allows them to be at one with the instrument. This is something that has interested me for the past 20 years and which I believe I’m beginning to gain some understanding of.

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for ages but it’s such a huge subject! Most of what’s written below is taken from an email I sent to a colleague regarding piano students and how this may be of benefit to some of the more advanced pianists.

The whole subject of technique is extremely complicated and is not simply understanding the mechanism by which we play the instrument, but relies hugely on how we hear and think about music too.

For me, there is a distinct difference between “technique” and something which I shall call “mechanism”.
By “mechanism” I mean an efficient use of the muscles of the hand and arm which allows for “effortless” playing by means of gaining maximum effect with minimum input of energy.  Of course this is “technique”, but that word has other implications  such as ability to play thirds, octave passages and other specific technical difficulties which are a different concern.

Jazz musicians don’t need to build a formidable “technique” in the same way that a classical musician does but the ability to play accurately with precise rhythm and good tone, without conscious awareness of technique is vital. Although applicable to any good musician, this is a specific area of concern for improvisers because we cannot fall back on knowing  the notes .  Any physical discomfort is a barrier to improvisation as we need almost all of our conscious mind devoted to creating the notes in the first place. We also need to learn how to combat unwanted tension.  I once asked a very well respected teacher what one should do if experiencing tension and the reply was “play through it!” which is a familiar response and one I find at best unhelpful and can in extreme cases lead to focal dystonia.

Another problem which arises more often with students of Jazz/ improvisation is that they usually come to the piano at a later age and haven’t built up a technique at a time when their hands and wrists are more supple and still growing. As a result, many students play the piano with tension or at the very least a highly inefficient technique which wastes energy and produces a bad tone, usually with muscle stiffness.

My own approach is based upon:

  • Firstly “timing” the key correctly – nothing to do with rhythm, but rather, feeling the point at which the hammer strikes the string so that one can input the minimum required energy to gain the maximum affect.
  • Maximising the use of the small muscles of the hand (which are very weak but allow great independence) while minimising the work done by the long flexors and extensors which are joined to the forearm. This system of muscles and tendons is very strong and yet impedes finger independence, results in a stiffened wrist, finger  insensitivity and can result in pain if overworked. Most students I see (and many professionals) overuse these long flexors and extensors.

For me, the basic piano playing mechanism relies on:

  • allowing the hand to drop completely -thus allowing a loose wrist and removing unnecessary work from the Flexor Digitorium System in the arm.
  • For the finger to strike the key (“timing” the key/ hammer precisely)
  • The finger then supports the weight of the hand (rather like a house resting on stilts).
  • The fingers do not press at all- they support (they are never passive).
  • The next key is struck by a finger and the weight of the hand is transferred from the first finger to the next with no break – producing an “effortless” legato.
  • Additional energy required for most playing can be added by pushing from the arm or adding additional weight from the arm.

The “feeling” of playing a legato phrase is to drop onto the first note, then feel a  continuous connection with the keyboard throughout the phrase and finally pick the hand up at the end. Playing is effortless, with a good tone and extremely rapid.Although this sounds simple, most pianists are unable to achieve the correct results due to an overuse of the long flexors. These give the pianist a feeling of strength and security but they also “take over” work that needs to be done by the small, far weaker muscles within the hand. This means that the pianist may look as though he or she is performing the correct action but the work is done by the wrong muscle groups and the correct feeling will not be achieved.  Work must e built up from a very small sound,  learning to time the hammer precisely and to allow the arm to completely let go of the hand at the wrist. Only then can additional power be added.

Obviously this is only part of a comprehensive technique but the “mechanism” is essential.

This is a huge subject and one which produces much disagreement among pianists!
This is a really an introduction and I’ll be adding to this subject with images and video.
I’d love to hear the thoughts of other pianists.

Posted in: General, Piano Technique, Tutorials

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Online Audio File Converter WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3s

smartassmusic_100x100Have you’ve ever needed to convert your audio files quickly and not had the right software to hand?
We know exactly how frustrating that can be so we’ve just added a really cool feature to SMARTassMusic which allows you to convert all of your music into the most useful audio formats, and it’s REALLY fast 🙂

You can see here that in my account I’ve converted “Urban Symphony” to MP3 (128kbps) and I’ve chosen to convert “Insomnia” to all available file formats.

CONVERTER2If you login into your account and navigate to your “downloads” page you’ll now be able to download your purchased music in the following formats:

For explanations of each file type click here 

The converter is incredibly quick and when I tested  a 4 minute WAV  the site converted it to AIFF in 6 seconds!!

In your account area you can quickly review each purchased track by pressing the play button and  download the WAV file at any time. To convert the WAV file choose an alternative format from the drop-down menu an additional download button will appear in a few seconds.
To save server space your converted files are deleted after 24 hours but your WAV files are always in your account and you can revisit and convert/ download as many times as you want.

Posted in: Audio, General, Royalty free music, Tutorials

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Free Online Video Production Course

Video Production Tips

videoproductiontips.com

I came across this today and was so impressed-I signed up immediately and then found myself engrossed in the video tutorials and I’m a guy with very little time! And no, I’m not being paid 🙂
Video Production Tips is one of the best video orientated blogs around and they’re giving away a free online video production course (worth $67).
Don’t be put off if you get the pop up window – personally I hate those things but I couldn’t resist and I happily gave away my email address.
I was given a password to the protected area of the site which contains some really great tips (in the form of videos)  on all aspects of video production, including lighting,  scenery, titles, stop-motion, editing and lots more. There’s also some additional tutorials (which are available on YouTube) covering things like Windows Movie Maker, green screen techniques, file formats and camera info.

Video Production Tips is run by video professional Lorraine Grula, who has over 30 years  experience in video production, working primarily in the Nashville, Tennessee Video and TV News market.  Lorraine has  created video stories on every subject imaginable and has worked  primarily  as a hands-on field producer,  photographer and video tape editor.

Lorraine took her expertise into the classroom and spent two years teaching high school TV Production, building a small-town program into a nationally recognized one. Her students won over forty-five awards in just two years worth of teaching, including the National Association for Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) Student Award of Excellence, the equivalent to a high school Emmy.

Even if you don’t sign up, there’s loads of information here that’s useful to anybody and everybody interested in video production!

Posted in: General, Tutorials, Video

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How to Get Beyond Music Theory?

How to get Beyond Music Theory

How to get Beyond Music Theory?The subject of balancing a knowledge of theory with “instinctive” playing came up in a music forum the other day. It’s obvious that musicians have strong views on this but I really don’t see the two aspects as being in conflict with each other. In fact, I have very strong views on the matter! :-))

Learning How to be a Natural:
My whole teaching approach is based upon how to play “naturally” or “instinctively” but it’s also based in a very sound knowledge of theory.  When you learn an instrument you have to perform a great deal of conscious work because you need to tell your hands what to do. We learn this by moving through small conscious steps until each element is allowed to be controlled by the subconscious. We can then move to the next level. If you put in enough hard work you may eventually reach the stage where you can forget everything and just play – but  there’s really nothing instinctive about it.

When playing Jazz, I’m only content  if I’m able to play utterly within the moment and play (only) what I’m hearing in my head. As a result I may improvise within the chords, or outside of them. I’ll play whatever I feel at that moment and even though it appears and feels “instinctive”, it’s really no such thing, as this ability has been very hard earned and I’m still able to explain what I’m doing in terms of theory afterwards.

Learning to Hear:A knowledge of scales and harmony not only helps you understand the logic within different styles and helps you discuss musical ideas, most importantly, it allows you to HEAR the music better!
Very few people  have the ability to hear music and immediately and replicate it. For the rest of us the ability to hear music accurately can be made far easier by breaking it down into smaller elements.
If you familiarise yourself with the sound of a basic chord (for example C minor-C,Eb,G) and then add the 7th (C,Eb,G,Bb), add the 9th (C,Eb,G,Bb,D). It doesn’t take long before you can recognise this chord precisely, anywhere at the keyboard by recognising a combination of the chord quality and it’s texture (or voicing). For example a Cm9 played in “closed position” in the middle of the keyboard (Middle C,Eb,G,Bb) will sound rather ordinary, but open up that chord so that you have C in the bass with G above, then Eb, Bb and D – you have a large resonant chord. You could invert it so that you have C in the bass the add Bb (below middle C), D,Eb,G. It’s the same quality chord (minor) with a different texture. Learn all your keys and you can now recognise a minor chord with any extension in any position on the keyboard. (See Jazz harmony posts).
There’s no real difference between this method and recognising a particular model of car in different colours. Some cars may have slight modifications but it’s still the same car and you’ll recognise it every time. Instead of hearing a bewildering array of notes, you’ve brought it down to thinking about the smallest possible elements. When you come to play, you don’t think at all-you hear and you’re subconsious does the work that you’ve taught it.

Knowledge of scales and harmony enables students to make sense of the bewildering amount of patterns that we use in music. These patterns are entirely man made and many of them are learned in our childhood without knowing it. To western ears, Arabic music or Chinese music can sound very out of tune but it’s because the westerner’s brain hasn’t learned the same patterns. The same applies to Jazz. Many people don’t like Jazz because their brain can’t work out the patterns and it may sound discordant or agitated to them. This type of learning is below the conscious level and might be described as “instinct” in exactly the same way that we learn a language (and accent) when young. When we talk, we don’t think about how the words and sentences are made up (because we learned that when young) , although in order to teach somebody else we need to have a very good understanding of spelling and grammar.

Thinking Orchestrally:
It should be said that the piano lends itself to thinking theoretically because of it’s visual, logical layout. We can think orchestrally the whole time-and by “orchestrally” it matters not if it’s Ravel or Bob Marley. You can hear the notes and mentally overlay them onto the keyboard. The mistake that most pianists make is to play the piano! The best pianists are trying to emulate orchestras or Big bands or other instruments. It adds colour and another dimension to piano playing. Vladimir Horowitz is the most wonderful “orchestral” pianist. An example of pianistic playing is the wine bar “Jazz” that you hear, with loads of pointless runs and arpeggios.
Guitarists approach their instrument differently and find the guitar more of a “feel” instrument because they can’t really look at what they’re doing. Also, guitarists don’t have to learn a completely different shape for each key, anything like the extend that a pianist does. This does mean that they can learn faster without the need for much theory- but beware. I can’t tell you the amount of amazing guitarists that earn a fraction of what they could,  because they can’t read music properly.

Don’t Limit Yourself:My point is that a thorough knowledge of theory helps you HEAR music better and learn how to forget the rules and play from your heart. Without this, even with a lot of talent you’ll probably be stuck within one style and be musically restricted. I’ve seen it time and time again.

Posted in: General, Music, Tutorials

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Jazz Piano Harmony Tutorial


jazz harmony tutorial

This worksheet is another quick overview of Jazz piano styles within 2 sheets of A4 paper.
Whatever your standard, it’s always useful to be aware of these harmonic stylistic differences as it’s particularly useful for solo piano as you can mix and match the different approaches to provide textural interest.

Download Jazz Harmony Tutorial
Fig 1 shows the basic II-V-I progression in closed, root position and you should always be aware of this in the back of your mind.
Fig 2 Shows these chords opened up in 2 ways, to provide a more resonant chord using only the same notes.
Fig 3 is an example of Bebop voicings, which are usually very sparse using only 3rds or 7ths and thus known as “shells”.
Fig 4 extends the harmony by the use of added 9ths and 13ths. Notice that this is still based on the basic “open” voicings.
Fig 5 extends this idea and shows chromatically altered extensions.
Fig 6 shows the rootless voicings used by most modern Jazz pianists. These take the important notes of the open chords (3rd,7th and possibly 9ths,11ths,13ths) and inverts them to produce intervals of 2nds and to enable the chord to fit within one hand. These voicings are only effective in the tenor register of the piano.
Fig 10,11 shows how these voicings may be used when “comping” in a rhythm section. The right hand adds a stronger trumpet like element with an octave and 4th or 5th, boosted by the thick rootless voicing of the left hand.
If you’re familiar with these approaches in all keys then you’ll have plenty to work with, especially for solo piano.

Happy practising!

Posted in: General, Music, Tutorials

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Jazz Harmony PDF

Our harmony downloads are proving popular so here’s another Jazz Harmony PDF.
This sheet is titled “Practise Worksheet – intermediate” but it’s vital for all serious Jazz/Commercial pianists to know these chords inside out.

The first exercise is a simple series of II-V-I progressions in closed position, around a cycle of fifths. These are vital and even if I’m playing a weird large chord with loads of extensions and no root-I’m still am aware of the closed position voicing underneath it all!

When this is familiar, move on to the next exercise which then opens out these chords using an interval of a fifth in the base and adding the 3rd and 7th (or 7th and 3rd) above.
These voicings are absolutely vital to good jazz piano and indeed, good arranging. This style of opening out a simple chord uses the least amount of notes (in Jazz harmony) to the greatest effect.
The next exercise goes on to add extensions to these chords, utilising a bass note in the left hand and chord in the right.

The final exercise is to play the previous chord shapes in the left hand with the intention of leaving the bass notes to the bass player so as to allow the right hand to improvise.
There we have it-most of Jazz harmony, all on a single sheet of paper!

Jazz Harmony PDF download 

Posted in: General, Music, Piano Technique, Tutorials

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Jazz Harmony Tutorial

 Today I’ve posted a more advanced tutorial on harmony and in particular the harmonic extensions and voicings used in Jazz.
The “pretty notes” as Charlie Parker called them, are the higher notes of the chords (9th,11th,13th) which are vital to contemporary Jazz but also familiar to classical musicians from the works of Debussy and Ravel.

download jazz harmony pdf

It’s important to be able to instantly recognize these larger intervals in every key as well as to utilize them properly by means of good “voicing”.
To Jazz and commercial musicians “voicing” is the way that one places the notes of the chord across the keyboard (or among the instruments if arranging) and really, is of more importance than the simple choice of notes in the chord.

Posted in: Music, Piano Technique, Tutorials

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Basic Harmony PDF download

Learning harmony can be daunting for many musicians but I believe that if you understand harmony well it simplifies most musical styles so that you can gain a greater understanding.
It’s also invaluable for Jazz or commercial musicians.

You can download the PDF introduction to Jazz hamony below. Understanding this single sheet is probably more important than any of the more advanced lessons that you may come accross. It’s easy to skim over this thinking that you know it, but beware, you must understand it!


download “Basic Harmony” PDF

This sheet deals with the naturally occuring diatonic (major scale) chords (3 note chords) as well as the 5 qualities of chords that we encounter in Jazz playing (based on 4 note chords).

Thinking in numerals (or Roman numerals as here) is important because you can change key easily with refernce to only a single chord sequence (II-V-1 as opposed to Dm7-G7-Cmaj7)

Posted in: Music, Piano Technique, Tutorials

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