Learning Music – Day 12

November 4th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

Writing music is addictive! I was up till 3am last night working on a new piece and reading about music production. This music vibe doesn’t seem to mesh very well with being an early riser! Is there something about music production that transform people into vampires?

Oh, it’s already past midnight… better get to bed… wait… one more little tweak… should only take a minute…

Two hours later…

Frak… it’s past 2am already… okay, one last edit and then that’s it… for real this time!

Thirty minutes later…

Okay for really real now… I mean it! Save and close… Don’t even think about it… save and close! Click it! Now!

Finally lying in bed…

Wait… I wonder if I should try a…

I don’t feel this new piece is mixed very well, nor is it my preferred style of music (it’s a bit funk-like), but I’m okay with that since my goal for this project was to work on incorporating some bass. I wasn’t even going to finish it last night, but I got it to a state I felt was good enough to call it done.

I used the electric bass as more of a foreground instrument than a background one. I’m still a little uncertain about how to incorporate bass with a melody on top. That’s something I’d like to learn soon. I’d probably be better off if I could learn to compose with instruments instead of relying on loops so much. Presently I find it difficult to identify a bass and a potential melody snippet that I feel would mesh well together.

If you want to give it a listen, here it is:

Electric Bass by Steve Pavlina

I also bought a book called the Dance Music Manual by Rick Snoman. Thanks a bunch to Marius van Dyk for the recommendation. This book got rave reviews on Amazon (no pun intended), and it covers many different aspects of music production: music theory, different styles of electronic music (house, trance, techno, etc), processing (compression, effects, etc), using samples, incorporating vocals, creating drum loops, mixing, mastering, and more. I thumbed through it for 30 minutes last night and already learned a few things. What struck me right away was the incredible attention to detail that goes into creating top quality work in this field. For me I think that will come later. First I want to learn to compose with broad strokes.

A few people also told me about an iPhone app called NanoStudio. Thanks to Ariella Baston for providing the final nudge to check it out. NanoStudio has tons of 5-star reviews, and I’m impressed with what people have been able to do with it. I wouldn’t have thought someone could make a decent DAW for a phone (DAW = digital audio workstation, i.e. music production software — I’m learning the acronyms!), but apparently someone did. I decided to buy a copy (only $15), so I can play around with making music on the go. It also works on iPad, so it may be easier to use on the larger screen.

Growth Accelerators Applied to Music

When I want to learn something new, I consciously apply the 7 principles that we use at the Conscious Growth Workshop and that I wrote about in Personal Development for Smart People. These principles are growth accelerators, so they help me make faster progress. The principles are universal, so they can be applied to all sorts of goals and pursuits, even when you don’t have a clear destination in mind. I also think it’s a lot more fun to learn quickly… as opposed to slogging ahead at a snail’s pace.

The 3 core principles are truth, love, and power. There’s no specific order they need to be applied. They actually work best when you apply them together since they synergize so well.

For this music learning pursuit, I started with the principle of power, which means diving in and taking action right away. No excuses. No hesitation. Just go.

If you don’t feel quite ready, go anyway. If you have a really good reason not to go, go anyway. If other people don’t want you to go, go anyway. If you don’t have time, go anyway. Nothing happens till you’re in motion.

If you stumble, trip, fall, or otherwise fail, that’s fine. You’ll learn from it. Fail because your lack of skill or some genuine obstacle knocked you back. Don’t fail because you defeated yourself in your own mind. Do your best, and let that be enough. There’s no shame in doing your best and falling short. There is shame in holding back.

To me this means diving in and trying to create some music. I already had GarageBand on my Mac, so I watched some tutorial videos and started trying to compose something with it.

To apply this principle, just go. It really is that simple. If you don’t know what to do, frakkin guess. Be totally impulsive. Go with the first thing that pops in your mind. Embrace mistakes, invite feedback, and keep learning. Your impulses will calibrate themselves over time. Initially you may look like a chicken running around with its head cut off, but eventually you’ll identify something shiny to run towards, and you’ll already have some momentum on your side.

I also began to apply the principle of love. This is one of the most underused principles. People overlook it all the time — and very much to their peril. Love is an incredibly potent growth accelerator, and it greatly enhances all the others.

In terms of practical application, love is essentially social support. It’s encouragement. It’s advice. It’s mentoring. It’s plain and simple, good old fashioned, 100% natural, biodegradable… HELP.

To apply the principle of love, you basically shout to the world, “Help me!”

But don’t be the kind of person who asks for help and then does nothing about it. When help shows up, welcome it, receive it with gratitude, and apply it immediately. Otherwise you’re squandering your social support, teaching others that you aren’t worth helping.

People generally like offering help, support, and encouragement to those who will truly benefit from it. It’s frustrating to try to help someone who isn’t serious and wastes your time. It’s rewarding to help someone who will respect and apply your advice. This will often make you want to help this person even more, especially if your help is being leveraged to create further positive ripples.

If someone asks me for advice, and I give them what I feel is good advice, and a week goes by and I see they’ve done nothing with it, how likely will I be to take this person seriously the next time they ask for advice? Most likely I’ll ignore them and direct my attention to people who seem serious.

When you ask for help and it shows up, respect the help that arrives. Even if you think you’re getting bad advice, do your best to harbor a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the fact that someone is trying to help you even a little. This is an important vibe to cultivate.

I respect the heck out of musicians who are much more skilled than I am. I know I could learn a lot from them. So when I ask for help, and such people give me some tips, I try to apply them quickly if I’m able. I can’t follow every lead simultaneously, but I can follow a lot of leads. And when people see that I’m serious and that I appreciate their help very much, it invites even more support.

You can try to go it alone, but why bother? It’s much faster — and a lot more rewarding — to make your journey a social one.

Another way to apply the principle of love is to be open to collaborating on projects, like trying to co-create a song together.

I won’t blindly follow someone’s advice if it doesn’t feel right to me, but if I’m on the fence, I push myself off the fence and onto the side of trusting and taking action. So if I’m not sure whether to buy that book someone recommended, I buy it and read it. If I’m not sure whether incorporating bass is the next thing I should work on, I do it anyway.

I recognize that other people know a lot more about music creation than I do, and their advice is likely to be more helpful for me than my own default decisions. I don’t have a clear enough understanding of what steps to take in order to learn what I want to learn. But other people already have clarity about those steps. They can often envision my next steps better than I can. Over time I’ll be better able to guide my own learning, but for now I’m still developing my music instincts, and so I typically get more mileage from relying on other people’s advice. This can shave a lot of time off my learning curve.

This power-and-love approach has been working wonderfully so far, and now I feel the time is right to start incorporating some truth. So I expect to devote more time reading about music and educating myself to fill in the gaps in my experiential knowledge.

It’s one thing to have a DJ advise me, “you should apply a compressor here.” I’m sure his advice is good, but I don’t understand why I should do that or what the alternatives are. It’s therefore helpful to read several pages on the mathematics of compression, to see pictures of what it does to the sound waves, and to read some do’s and don’ts about its application. This is a nice complement to my experiential learning.

Experientially I still think the next step for me is to figure out how to incorporate some bass and a melody in a song and have them mesh well together. Presently the how-to aspects of that are a mystery to me.

It’s past 2pm already? Okay, one last edit and then that’s it!



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