Maker Player Composer

Day 308 Week 44 Q4 Sunday, November 5, 2023

Today’s music world has come full circle to many hundreds of years ago when the same person could be the instrument maker, the instrument player, and the composer of music they played on that instrument. This was before the age of specialization when if you wanted an instrument, you probably had to make it. And if you had made up some music, you were the one who had to perform it. For a composer to expect other people to play, their works would have been nonsensical originally. I do not know whether this was 500 or 1000 years ago or longer, but having the same person be responsible for what was to be played and how it was to be played and to provide the performance themselves seems very exciting to me.

We are now back to that world in an authentic way. A modern musician. Often performs with digital instruments that are entirely software-based. This means they may plug some sort of a controller into a computer to produce the sounds everyone can hear. A significant portion of the sounds we hear are produced digitally. Sometimes they are terrible, and sometimes they are marvelous. Sometimes, they can be highly edited, changed, combined, and morphed by a performer. A performer has more control over their instrument today than has been the case for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In a similar vein, that very same computer used to produce the sounds can also be used to produce music scores or recordings in the service of music composition. Those same musicians who can control their instruments to an unprecedented degree can also control their composition and composition process.  That very same laptop can be their instrument, recording studio, and composer laboratory, complete with orchestration and arrangement capabilities.

For a person who is tremendously attracted to music, the tool kit has become more powerful than imaginable even 20 years ago, but ironically, it has brought us back hundreds or thousands of years to the point where the same person could be the maker and the player and the composer. Not everyone has skill in all of these areas, but they now have a lower barrier to entry to learn about all of these areas ever before in history.

The amount of time that it takes to make a physical instrument compared to the ability to modify, edit, and morph digital instruments was hundreds of times greater. The same is true for composition. To have all these tools at our disposal in the same laptop computer represents a musical revolution that many people are taking part in right now.

You, too, can be a maker, player, and composer.

Basically Bass

Day 89 Week 13 Q1  Thursday, March 30, 2023

There are many ways to begin to compose a piece of music. Songwriters can start with lyrics, piano and guitar players can start with chord changes, melody instruments can begin with the melody, drummers can start with the beat, and everyone else can begin with the bass line. Of course, the other groups can begin with the bass line if they choose to, but generally, they don’t. But bass players usually do, or at least this bass player does. I suppose marching bands could begin with a tuba in bygone years, but I bet they got edged out by the drummers.

I fully admit to being bass biased as I have been performing in public on bass since I was fifteen years old when I discovered an amazing thing. If the bass player played the wrong note, everyone else sounded wrong, and if the bass player was walking at a tempo of, say, 100 beats per minute, everyone else sounded like they were too fast or too slow unless they were playing in time to the bass. The exception is when a drummer is in the house, which is only the case for some musical styles at the beginning of the creation process.

As a fifteen-year-old, I wondered about this until studying physics and discovering that the universe was basically a one-over-F or 1/f place. Or, for a more common term, it is the spectrum of pink noise. Pardon the deep dive, but this is important. The concept of 1/f signals is a type of signal or noise variation with a power spectral density that decreases as the signal frequency increases. This type of signal is observed in various systems, including music, electronic circuits, biological systems, and even the stock market. So no, the entire universe does not follow this law, but the pink noise spectrum occurs naturally in various sound sources, such as waterfalls, wind, and heartbeats. It is also a common feature of human hearing, and some studies have suggested that pink noise can improve sleep, concentration, and memory retention. In music, pink noise adds depth and warmth to recordings and can be applied as an effect to various instruments and tracks to create a more natural and balanced sound.

Okay, back to English. Bass notes are of lower frequencies than the others; if energy is divided by a low number, it is higher. For example, if a bass plays a note as low as 40 vibrations per second and the top of the piano keyboard is a little less than 4000 cycles or vibrations per second, which number is bigger, 1/40 or 1/4000? The bass note has 100 times the energy as that high piano note.

The reason the bass wins is it simply outguns everyone else. So if you want to dance, what will you listen to? The clarinet? I don’t think so. If you want to establish a musical foundation, you had better rely upon the bass. It does not matter if an actual bass instrument plays it; it could be played by the power end of a piano, organ, guitar, tuba, string bass, bassoon, contrabassoon, or even the low end of a cello or a bass guitar. 

But you need low-pitched notes to establish the tempo and what key you are in, and when there are disagreements with the high-pitched instruments, they tend to sound like they made a mistake.

Where else does this apply in life? Certainly, in more than music, as mentioned above, from waterfalls to the stock market and to your heartbeat. Low-frequency energy is big energy.

You get the point. I think.