Posts Tagged ‘#logical’

In another time long ago, I made my living in injected molded plastics.  Long history but the memory I told a co-worker the other day was worth posting.  As you probably guess, I am not a conformist.  I have a hard time understanding why simple things are done wrong and I have a nasty habit of pointing it out sometimes.

As a supervisor of a night shift crew, we manufactured large panels of plastic for assembly in auto plants.  The machine operators were opening huge metal doors, pulling out heavy molded plastic panels and would trim excess plastic with blades and pack the parts in boxes, to be taken away by other busy bees.

When I started working there, I watched what they were doing for a long time.  I had time and motion training from the old days and I was really curious.  One night, I went to the machine operator with a tall stool.  I suggested he do a few changes in the layout and process and suggested he sit on the stool to be more comfortable.   He responded well to my suggestions but told me he could not sit down.  I stopped for a second and asked why.  He was told the could not sit down at his station.  When I asked the long of it – the owner/manager did not think you could work hard if you were sitting down.  I pondered this for a few days.

Then the following week on the evening shift I went into the offices and took out all the chairs and put them in the warehouse.  When asked about the incident I replied that I thought I was doing as instructed and making the company more efficient since I was informed that you cannot work hard sitting down.

In retrospect, I should have been fired and should have thought of that possibility,  I did not.  But the next day there were tall stools by each of the molding machines.

Up = (#/Sharp). Down = (b/Flat).

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
C C# Db D D# Eb E F F# Gb G G# Ab A A# Bb B

There are a number of discussions possible here. My point is the rose is a rose experience from my own limited understanding. Music theory is not my strong point. I know players that are very specific in the reference of notes or the progression used when naming them. It does make it easier to communicate – – – – – – To set up this conversation let it be understood that any note can be raised or lowered in increments of half-steps. Take your Root note and play the next highest note and you have ‘sharped’ the note. If you play the next lowest note you have ‘flatted’ that note. Up = Sharp. Down = Flat.

Any note. Any instrument. Any Western scale. Similar to the reference in Tuning; if pitch is too high it is Sharp, and if it is too low it is Flat.

We agree on common ground for the Titles of the Twelve. Looking at the piano as my standard example we need to notice the color of the keys not as a place on a musical staff or its place in a scale but as a compact representation of DISTANCE. The chart above uses the shading to mimic the keyboard and is not compressed or compact like the real piano is but if you play notes to the right they get higher by half-notes. Color means nothing to this reference. We rarely call the C note a B#, and we rarely call the F note an E# but this is a similar relationship.

Above you see the black notes have alternate names assigned to them. One way to help easy translation is to keep with one designator in the project. Give the notes names that are one system and not the other. Various way to think of it – a rose;

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B, C is a rose:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C

is a rose;

C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C

Along those lines I want to copy a recent comment from a great friend of mine and frequent commenter on this blog:

The math is easier if you name the root “zero.” 0 2 4 5 7 9 11 (the major scale). You can add 12 and get the same notes, just an octave higher. Subtract 12 and get the original keys. There are only 12 tones on a piano: 0, 1, 2, …, 11 After that, it just repeats.

The Mysterious Twelve is represented this way in the chart above. Starting with zero would change the Safe Seven representation to look like this:


0 2 4 5 7 9 11 12

This is true and practical to use when considering the relationships of notes especially when working with musical scores where you are talking multiple octaves and keeping the relationships common. For many musicians, songs can be described as patterns. For example, if you are beginning a Jam and following previous examples in the key of C, you could say ‘lets start out with C for a few measures, then go to F and then go to G and repeat. Ready, set go!’. The Safe Seven shows us this relationship as a number starting with the Root equaling 1.

The Jam could also be started by saying ‘key of C, let’s play a 1,4,5 progression. Ready, set, Go!’. In this relationship, 1 = the Root or C, the 4th = F, and the 5th of the scale = G. The next jam session might be in the key of Bb, but we can still state this as 1,4,5 and the musicians that know the Safe Seven in each key will easily translate. You would be surprised how many popular songs follow the 1 – 4 – 5 and similar patterns! Starting with 1 as the Root, allows this pattern to more easily translate to the Root, 3rd, 5th – as this matches the common chord progression associations.

The point being there are a number of names for our ‘rose’, depending on the need or project at hand. If we call C “C”, “B#”, “0” or “1”, we are still describing the relationship between the 12 notes. As with the sharps and flats naming structure, once we start with a system, use the system through the entire project to avoid confusion!

Once we simplify the 12 notes and we are now able to find any Major scale very quickly  (if you only did the exercise to find the other Major scales a few times you would see this is really easy….) and we can continue to explore the Major scales for other Keys.  This is the foundation of the musical theory pyramid.  It is important to understand how we get to the Safe Seven.  No, you do not have to memorize every note in every scale, although ultimately that will help a lot.  For now, try digging in and go over the Major scale for each of the 12 notes a few times.  As you play the new Major scales, sing (or hum!) the Do Re Me song along with the notes you are playing.  (tip for the day; as you hum each scale from the new starting note, you are changing keys!)

When we look back at the Safe Seven article, I showed a simple connection that I will repeat here:

C    D     E     F     G     A     B     C

1     2     3     4     5     6     7     1

There is a lot of math in music and music theory.  But instead of confusing things and making you change from your creative hat to your thinking hat, I find the math connection actually simplifies the confusion.  It allows me to see the connection the various notes have.  Personally, I HEAR and FEEL music more than I THINK it through.  I have friends that can convert and spit out scales, keys and modes as easily as some of us use Pandora, Spotify or I-Tunes to change a song.  I am really amazed at their skills, but that is something I am not all that good at.  But you will see how easy it is to understand the art and the science by following these posts.
If we look at the Safe Seven for each Major scale, we can make an easy conversion (or universal language) for describing note or chord progressions for ANY Major key.  I know, I keep on harping on the Major scales, but the others will be really easy once we have this understood and comfortable with the Mystery of the 12 and the Safe Seven, so let’s keep going.  For those of you new to this blog, I have no formal training and I am self taught.   I can assure you I am no genius.  If I can get this, so can you.  I just hope to make it a bit easier for you if you are just diving in or curious about how this fits together.

Knowing now that we call the first note the Root, and the same note higher or lower on the keyboard are called Octaves, we will begin a simple conversion;  Root = 1.  Each note in the Safe Seven can be represented this way by assigning it a value of 1-7.  We just assigned Root = 1, so moving up is easy.  In the example above, C is the Root so C = 1 and continuing the scale, D = 2, E = 3, F = 4, G = 5, A = 6, B = 7 and the octave is again the Root or 1.   Each Major scale can be represented the same way.  Use the Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half system to find the Safe Seven and then assign each to their corresponding number and we can stop talking about note names!  As we get more into chord structure and progressions, this will also come into perspective.  But let’s not get stretched too far.  Play with these exercises a few times a day and we will build our solid musical foundation quickly.  I will also go into the names of the notes as they change keys and this can be confusing to many until you see the method to the madness.

Now that we are back to audio channels, see the examples below.  Remember, that the channels run down from the TOP.  In some mixing boards, there is a ‘pad‘ switch – it could be above or below the 1st gain knob – that can determine which input type will be monitored by that channel and it can also change the input level or signal strength.  To reinforce the general definition below, if the audio source uses a battery or gets plugged into AC, it will need to be ‘padded‘ using this switch, where MOST microphone applications will not be strong enough if the channel is padded.

Whatever is plugged into the input jack on the mixer for that channel will send a signal to the 1st ‘gain stage‘.

This acts more like a flood gate than an amplifier in that it allows you to reduce the strength of the signal coming into that channel.  But it feels like an amplifier as when you turn it clock wise – it gets louder and if you turn it counter-clockwise – it gets softer or lower in volume……  This is the great balancer.  This knob determines how much of the signal gets distributed or sent to other out puts, effects, processors and recording devices, etc.  This is the foundation of the mix you are creating.   We start here and do not continue with the other knobs and gizmos in the ‘channel strip‘ until this is set correctly.

The biggest trick in setting this up for most band performances is – well – band members.  A lot of them do not trust the sound guys they have worked with for a lot of reasons.  Some performers will set their level (amp, energy, settings) really low during sound check, knowing once the sound is going they can turn themselves up so they can hear themselves.  Most often, it is just difficult to play really hard and loud like you will during a full band live performance when no one else is making noise.  Knowing all that, you need to start with a good level here so you can set the gain stage properly.  Generally, open microphones will need more gain than instruments like keyboards or mp3 players.  Things that get plugged into AC or use a battery will probably have a stronger signal strength than those that go directly to the snake/mixing board.

As a caution again, make sure the amplifiers are turned all the way down before you plug anything into the mixer once the full system is connected.  We tested the House PA and Stage monitors before the band got here, so before you start plugging in instruments and performers, turn the House PA amplifiers down.  I also turn the Monitor Sends down all the way so you do not hit the monitors with some pretty ugly sounds.  If you use fantom power for your microphones or other devices, I have heard people suggest you do the same whenever turning this function ON or OFF.

Now we are ready to move through the rest of the channel.  I am old school, and I like to start with the mixing board ‘clean’.  With all knobs and gizmos set to center or neutral.  Some guys like to start off where they left or pre-mix, but I have seen many situations where that theory gets yanked.

Above board design has the +48 fantom power switch.  When pressed in it will send appropriate voltage to the microphone or device.  Best to have Master faders turned down during this part as well.  Underneath is the pad/Line switch.  This you can safely determine a good guess in advance depending on what type of instrument is plugged into that channel.  You can always start with pad pressed in and gain stage at minimum to be on the cautious side and then release pad and turn gain knob as you watch the signal LED’s.  Get good performing signal as opposed to good practice level and see where the gain stage knob is pointing.  Try to get signal meters and LED’s close to the red or overload stage, and then back off the gain stage knob just a little.  We may need the extra head room when we add EQ, use ‘inserts‘ etc.

This board and many others offer a HPF (‘High Pass Filter‘).  When depressed it will allow mid and high frequencies to go through the channel and process normally.   So, it really cuts or turns down the really low end signals.  This is where the frequencies and ranges of instruments in an earlier LSR series come into play.  Instruments like, flutes, acoustic guitars, vocalists, cymbals, snares cannot make sounds in the low end.  The over-all mix will benefit if you use the HPF and cut the very low frequencies on those instruments.   Microphone stand rumble, bleed over from the kick drum into the snare along with a number of other unwanted sounds can be eliminated before they even get into the mix.

Next series we will continue down the signal path.

When you start off with well-balanced levels on all inputs, you can make changes in confidence.  During sound check; which is AFTER Gain Staging and setting up the board for the current event, you added each band member and their related instruments to the process and you have good levels on all tracks/channels.  I try to grab a few minutes once all drum inputs (including drummer vocal pic or other percussion and tone generators) are set properly to have the drummer play for a few minutes without other musicians.  This helps get the feel of the entire drum kit and this is when you would balance all the levels.  The hi-hat for example, might not be hitting the meters in the upper range but it sounds really loud if its fader is up to the nominal level.  It is helpful to know once the board is set you can turn the volume on any track DOWN any time you want.  You just do not want to turn anything up beyond the sweet spot except for the occasional solo or special piece that might need additional reinforcement or boost out in the audience.  And as always, try to return to the sweet spot area once the section is over.

Some mixing consoles allow you to assign tracks to separate signal paths or additional outs.  These can be grouped to a single sub fader when running system in mono.  You can then take the individual drum tracks out of the house mix and send them only to the bus for your drum kit.  Assign this bus 1 for example to the Mains and the fader now for bus 1 will allow you to adjust the volume level of the entire drum kit (not the drummer’s mic if he or she also sings) with one fader!  If you need to change the volume of the kit as the event goes on, you can keep the blend and balance of all levels by using the bus 1 fader.  This might come in handy more than you might think, and it is easy to set up.

Then I do the same thing with the vocals if you have more than two vocalists on stage.  They can also be grouped to bus 2 for example and you can adjust vocals with one fader and not worry about changing the balance of the singers/vocalists on stage.  Brass and string sections and even a number of guests sitting at a table can also be grouped the same way.  You can still change the EQ setting for each channel in a group or bus and you can still change effects levels anytime you want without affecting the balance. 

Now if you think about it, we have grouped similar instruments together, set them up to control group volume with a single fader and we have the tracks and effects returns that might need minor adjustments during the event isolated and easy to see or adjust.  Your job now consists of only a few faders out of all the channels plugged into the mixer.  You are now in auto-pilot. Do not change anything major unless the performance or venue dictates a change.  From here you coast and make things better with ever smaller adjustments.  Time to add the glitter.

For most situations the process above will set you up in a comfortable area where things can all be heard at balanced levels, not too loud and instruments do not compete for the same frequency space.  For this step it is better to think  of sound from low frequencies on the left and higher frequencies on the right.  In many ways like a piano;  lower notes are on the left and increasingly higher notes as we go to the right keys.  Have your drummer hit one of the cymbals really hard with no other noise and see if it produces tones or frequencies like the lowest key on a piano.  It cannot.  It is in a much higher range.  Have the drummer punch the kick drum a few times and see if it makes frequencies as hi as the cymbals just did.  This is a simple explanation that gets applied to all instruments and vocals being blended into a smooth mix.   When using EQ, you can shift the range of frequencies for each sound so it does not compete or collide with other sounds in similar frequency ranges.  Often vocals and guitars are in neighboring groups.  Try using EQ to edge one signal a litter higher in the frequency group and the other a little lower.  So they still sound good and accurate like they are on stage, but just enough so the listener can more easily hear the two sources as individual elements in a wider landscape.  Similar situation with kick drums and the bass guitar.  Both occupy the very low end of our hearing spectrum.  If they are both deep in the low end, they might not be discernable as two performances.  You can try lowering the low end EQ a little on the bass guitar for example, but add some hi-mids and or a little hi end frequencies so the strings pop in the mix a little when struck.  It will still support the low end for that punch, but you will be able to hear the individual bass notes better without a lot of added low-end volume that can cloud or muddy up the low end.

Plain and simple, the lyrics are about my daughter.  As a proud parent, I am often overwhelmed by  the innocence, beauty and unlimited potential when holding a new-born in your arms.  Not to get weird here, but there is nothing like it.  As I cradle, rock or talk baby-talk, it is difficult not to think about the new life I am holding, how fascinating they are and to drift into thoughts of what will happen in their future and how we can make that path easier.  This song also features Gary Jefferson on vocals.  You will hear him a lot on my tunes, and he was the vocalist in the demo recording the band did in the studio.  He has pulled me into a number of projects and I often ask him to help me with mine.  There are so many musicians I depend on and work with regularly.  I will introduce you to them and the work they have done in future posts.

Most of the music is sequenced along with the drum tracks, I play the rhythm guitar parts and had a friend come in for the guitar solo, while my wife adds back-up vocals.  All grown up and with children of her own, the meaning of this song gets deeper and closer to the heart every year.

“Slick as A Dream” (c) MSK 1988

Slick as a dream, this beauty machine

Sharp and so cold, young – just as old.

Moving so sweet you can feel the heat

Smiles of sorrow can’t wait ‘til tomorrow.

One thing you’ve learned: love has to be earned

Pain must be shared, embraced if you dare.

Nightmares are gone, but she carries on

Can’t forget her, love lasts forever.

Tender love cries slowly hypnotize

The helpless day now melting away.

And if you dare she’ll become aware

Give those who bleed whatever they need.

She knows exactly who she is.

And exactly what she needs.

This is a good time to walk around a little if you can. If you have a helper that can baby sit the board for a while, slowly walk around the venue.  Listen to the various instruments as you walk to different sections and notice how each area sounds as you pass in and out of range of the main speaker clusters. Listen again for areas that ‘drop out’, especially in the main audience areas.  Talk to the host.  Make adjustments and respond to their suggestions.  Interact with the audience if you are good at that sort of thing.

Bring all that listening back to the sound board.

What adjustments can you make to improve the house mix?  Is a player sounding great when you are right in front of the stage but fades quickly if you are back further or at the bar?  Does the kick drum or one of the vocalists sound muddy and hard to hear clearly.  Listen to each instrument again.  Use the headphones and solo tracks do they sound muddy in the headphones too?  If so, you might need to change the EQ settings or other audio processors, change microphone location, REPLACE the microphone cable!, put rings on the drum heads to stop heads from long ugly tones, hey, there is a lot of stuff that goes into making the band or performance sound good.

It can go wrong.  I have gone up to drummers during sound check to ask them if they have any objections if I tune the drum heads for them before the gig.  Far too many drummers don’t know how to do this and far too many more don’t know that you even can.  If the kit is out of tune and generates all sorts of random harmonics and overtones, there is no way to get it to sound ‘awesome’.  It can sound loud and it can sound full, but it will never sound good.

I have probably upset a few performers as well by asking that they tune their instruments before we start playing.  One of the benefits of also being a musician in a number of bands is I can tell when something is out of tune.  I don’t think I can get drunk enough that playing out of tune is a good thing, but there obviously are a few out there.  If they cannot tell the difference that is worse than being too drunk, but we all sound and play better when everyone is in tune.  Some bass players can’t tell any more so you have to politely step in once in a while.

In a large club in front of a packed audience, the lead vocalist roared into the microphone, ” I ain’t got shit in the monitors, sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…”.

I responded with a simple but effective test that I could do from way out in the audience.  I reached up to the main faders and yanked them down completely before he got to the “…… sound guy,  I got nuthin’ up hear at all…” part.

So he ended up with the band now reduced to stage volume.  As he was saying …’sound guy …’  He was booming through the on stage monitors at an amazing decibel level.  He apologized to me and the audience when I turned the mains back on and we rocked out the rest of the night.  The house was loud enough that he could hear them more than the mains and he was not used to that feeling.  That the sound guy would not have the vocals loud enough in the main mix and he would need to hear the monitors really loud on stage.  He ended up really happy with the mix and did not have to scream all night over the band stage volume.  Keeping things solid can include a number of unexpected challenges that are better met head-on, but these business relationships should also be kept friendly and cooperative.

Have spare cables for everything, even if the sound system does not use it.  Power cables for devices and amps.  Adapters for audio cables.  Tape, markers and paper.  I bring guitar cables and a few spare mic cables everywhere.  Batteries.  Small hand tools.  Power outlet tester.  Flashlights.   Drum head tuning keys.  Zip ties, the list could go on but session after session, someone will need those things for the show to go on and you will be the champion pro.  You gain cooperation and trust for the next gig.  Win win.

We all know the saying about weak links.  When you have so many components – each connected with cables and software and processors, it can take a while to troubleshoot the system when you have a failure.  Yes failure.  If you are the sound guy or gal and things don’t work or it sounds bad, YOU are the failure!  There are basic steps you can take and I can describe them in a generic way, but that type of advice will not apply to every system out there.  No two clubs or sound companies have the same sound equipment.  The best advice is to keep the number of links in any chain as low as possible.  The more links, the more of them that could be or eventually become weak.  It is not always practical to have a spare of every component, but finding local music and sound stores open in your area is getting tougher.  If taken care of properly though, most professional PA equipment available today will last a long time.  More on “Maintenance and Tips” in a future SLR series.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.