JTM Music

Sydney Recording Engineer / Music Lessons / Music Entertainment Provider

Music Education

How to get better at your instrument - A practice guide

Music EducationJTM Music Administrator

One thing I have noticed is that people who don't reference their playing fall into the trap of not knowing what they actually sound like. When you are in the moment practicing or playing music your brain is most likely focusing the majority of your brain function to what your limbs are doing. Once you are comfortably performing your piece of music you are able to dedicate more or your brain power to listening. I call it being in an instrument bubble. High school students are very much culprits of this. There are the odd few who listen to their peers and start developing this technique, which is good but.. back to referencing.  There are two ways to reference. A) Record yourself and B) Have a friend listen to you. This is important for two reasons. The person listening has 100% of their brain power on listening which means they can pick up on minor things that you may not notice in the moment. Once these things are identified you can tweak them and repeat them until you are happy with it. I'm talking here mostly about rhythm. You need to understand and be able to "feel" the space between each beat and place your notes within this space. Beginner and intermediate musicians have an inconsistent sense of time-space and play notes late enough or heaven forbid early enough to sound "amateurish". On the flip side there are musicians who have such a solid sense of time-space that they push and pull within this. This is beyond being in time...

Moral of the story, get a friend to listen to you and give quick and concise feedback about your rhythm. You will be all the better off for it.

Bonus info: Making the cd skip

I call this technique making the CD skip. Lots of people say to practice small sections of your music to become familiar with it and feel comfortable playing it. The trick is to loop your section paying attention to keeping the time-space the same. Loop it and make the chunk seem like there is a cd skipping. Even go one step further and loop a section that is irregular ie in a bar of 4/4 play the last crotchet from the last bar and turn it into a 5/4 loop. What this does is train you to place your notes consistently and gives you the anticipation to not be flustered by the upcoming section. Also looping a section of music in this way also lets you experiment with minor tonal and rhythmic subtleties or nuances.

Rhythm is the skeleton of music. Without rhythm you can't lock in and your music will always sound undercooked..

Written by James

Owner Founder of JTM Music

How do I get better at guitar? Answer: Record at home

Music EducationJTM Music Administrator

I notice that a lot of teenagers that play guitar or bass don't know much about recording at home. Specifically about interfaces, microphones, hardware, amps and software that can help them achieve this. When I was growing up I bought a Zoom H4 when they first came out. It is a hand-held 4 track recorder with 2 inputs and 2 condenser mics in XY for recording stereo. I put this in front of my guitar amp and connected a pair of headphones to it for monitoring. These days you can do multitrack recordings on an iPhone using garage band (see my other recording interface blog). There are other apps like MTSR that turns your phone into essentially what was my Zoom H4 for free. Firstly: To get a decent sound that is able to be edited you are going to want to invest in an interface. Most likely a USB interface that comes packaged with some guitar modelling (amps and effects). The first thing that springs to mind is the Line 6 POD range. There are a few different models in this line ranging from a 1 input Studio GX guitar interface or a POD 2.0 to a 2 input UX1 or UX2 (mic and guitar) interface. Buy them brand new for $150-$300 or hunt around on Ebay for a deal.

Past the POD's are Native Instruments line of Guitar Rig which retails for $299. But then you will need an interface. (See my interface blog for more info).

There are lost of entry level setups for guitarists that are on a budget. Big companies don't realise the potential market for upcoming teenage guitarists that have a few hundred dollars to expand their guitar possibilities.

You can't go wrong with a line 6 pod. The only other thing I would suggest is invest in a decent USB mic and something like a Fender Mustang. This amp has a decent array of effects in it but you can come into trouble if you don't know what you are doing. These types of fender amps tend to be quite trebly and need to be EQ'd properly. Fender Mustang amps also have USB compatibility which is handy to plug it into your computer.

You can achieve quite a lot with 1 decent mic and an amp that has some digital effects and I think that the earlier you get into playing around with FX on a guitar. The earlier you will start painting your own tones and figuring out what you like as an artist.

Feel free to email: admin@jtmmusic.net If you have any further questions.

Essential Microphones for the Home Studio

Music EducationJTM Music Administrator

This is a quick guide on what you will need, in order to produce a variety of different music recordings as well as having flexibility within your mic choices for sessions. This is aimed at muso's who are getting into recording or audio engineers just starting out and looking to build up a collection of mics or just to be familiar with the types of mics used in different scenarios. Types of Mics with short descriptions:

Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone (LDC)

These mics are great for recording vocals, drums (overhead or even placed sideways inbetween the floor tom and kick drum pointing at the snare), guitar amps, acoustic guitars and piano. Large diaphragm condenser mic give a clear and rounded frequency response while capturing some of the "room" sound.

Google Search for LDC's

Small Diaphragm Condenser Mic (SDC)

These are commonly referred to as "pencil" mics and can quite often come as a "matched" pair, meaning that they are the same in specs. Again, they have a wide range of frequency response and are a little more directional than the LDC. You can use these for recording drums (overheads), great for acoustic guitars and drum hi-hats. A little more of a specialist mic, but useful across certain instruments especially if you have a pair. Not really used for vocals much..

Dynamic Microphones

These are the everyday work horse mics that come in a few different styles. The desirable characteristic of these mics is that they pickup sound at a close proximity. In other words it has to be pretty close to the thing you want to record. The first is the standard dynamic vocal mic like a Shure SM58 or Sennheiser E835. These mics are primarily used for live vocals, studio vocals tend to be recorded with LDC's. The reason for dynamic mics being used more in live performances is due to the above mentioned comment about proximity. LDC's pickup waaay too much around them to be used live. LDC's are more susceptible to feedback.

The next dynamic mic is the Shure SM57. Honestly, this one mic alone you can get sooo much bang for buck. I would highly suggest purchasing one or even two of these mics. Their most iconic use is on snare drums. An SM57 on a snare is always a good starting point. Million dollar studios still use a 57 on a snare just because "it works". 57's are also good on guitar amps (sometimes paired with an LDC to capture the frequencies the 57 misses out on). I've also seen a 57 taped to a SDC to mic a hi-hat. You can also get away with using a 57 for a live vocal if you run out of 58's but they don't have as good sibilance (hi frequency glimmer).

The next is a large diaphragm dynamic mic. These are generally always kick drum mics or maybe used on a bass cabinet. These mics are the blend of brute strength combined with low frequency response. If you put an LDC near the port hole of a kick drum you run the risk of the air pressure ruining the condenser diaphragm. LDD mics can take more of a "hit" so to speak. Try these:

AKG D112

Audix D6

Sennheiser e602

AKG-d112.jpeg
Audix-d6-1.jpeg
sennheiser-e602.jpeg

This is pretty much all you need to know about mics in a start-up scenario. There are most definitely other types of microphones but this blog is about practicality and building up a starting kit to get a home studio going.

Applications for mics and evolution of mic purchasing:

My suggestion would be to buy a decent LDC to start off with. You can do soooo much with 1 of these and I would dare say that you can record an entire album with just this mic. You can get crystal clear vocals, drums, guitar amps, acoustic guitars and then you can DI your bass and keys. There is no reason why you couldn't use this mic to capture brass, woodwind or other strings as well.

The next expansion is an SM57 (preferably 2!). With a decent LDC and 2 57's you can record decent drums, vocals and a guitar amp at once.

Where the 2 57's will really come into play is when you purchase a matched pair of SDC's and a kick mic. Once you have this you can record good drums, guitar amps, bass amps, vocals, acoustic guitars and any other acoustic instrument.

Bare minimum bag of mics needed for demo's:

1 LDC for vocal overdubs and mono drum overhead.

1-2 SM58's for vocals

2x SM57's (one for guitar amp, one for snare)

1x LDD for the kick drum

2x SDC's for drum overheads (glyn johns method is great way to record drums especially for demo's). You can also use these mics for acoustic guitars or the drum hi-hats (you choose).

That is pretty much it. After that all you will be doing is upgrading the mics you have or purchasing more of the same thing. But many of these you will keep for most of your recording life....

Questions? Use the contact form.

Regards,

James

What is the best interface for recording in a home studio?

Music EducationJTM Music Administrator

After many years of experimenting with different types of gear and mics and software I think it’s pretty safe to say that there is no right or wrong way to go about recording music. In the digital world we get extremely overwhelmed by choice. Just yesterday I spent what was supposed to be a 30min guitar lesson teaching my student how to use their new Boss GT-1 multi fx pedal. 60mins later we wrapped up and only touched the guitar a couple of times, but how enriching was this experience? This brings to mind a couple of things: a) Music is much more enjoyable when you experience it with other people, whether you are teaching, learning or playing.

b) Give yourself limitations! Limitations give you a ground or base floor from which to build your musical house. Without limitations you are tying to build a house on quicksand! Example: When you open up Xpand in pro tools and are confronted with what seems like an endless sea of synths and software instruments. Just pick 2 and try to construct your sound, work with one that you hate the sound of for longer than 3 seconds and really listen to it. You can construct anything you want once boundaries are set. If it is always changing, you never create, you just spend all of your time searching...

The limitations in the multi fx pedal scenario were: Choose 1 amp and put reverb on it for channel 1. Channel 2 is the same setup but with an overdrive pedal for a crunch sound. Channel 3 is the same thing but with some delay added for solo’s. You get the gist right?

The first thing to mention before this is that the signal coming from a mic is analogue. To get this into your computer to edit, it needs to be converted into a digital wave. This is called Digital-Analogue conversion (DA). There are also AD (analogue – digital) convertors but they come in later.

Another word on digital and analogue, digital is like taking individual pictures and splicing them together (sample rate) analogue is a smooth flowing silky wave of audio bliss.. I digress...

Low Budget (Under $100)

Honestly there is no reason why you can’t record music with the digital device that sits in your pocket. Yes, your smart-phone. There is a usable mic in every smart phone. If you look for a multi-track recording program or simply use garage band (comes with Iphones) you can record any sound. There are even pre loaded stock drum, piano and other sounds. Remember to create, not search...

Second to that would be a cheap USB mic on Ebay for ~$50 or a decent USB mic on Ebay Under $100.

After the USB mics you basically have to go the interface route.

*Side note* If you don't know what an interface is. It is a piece of hardware that sits on your desk and is plugged into your computer via (most commonly) a USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt connection. An interface contains a few key steps in the recording process.

Mic Preamps - The XLR or sometimes combo XLR/TRS (guitar lead) inputs. A mic preamp is the physical circuitry that takes the audio signal from your mic or guitar and converts it into a useable wave form.

After this wave or voltage has been created it gets sent to the A-D Convertor. Once this happens, your interface is ready to send the signal to your computer via the above mentioned cable.

You will need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to get this wave file and save it. The first port of call is Garage Band for Apple users. This is a great program that is mostly easy to navigate and work out. Just make sure you select the right input when you first open up the program. Audacity is a free program that can do this and does a decent job for people starting out on a low budget. After Audacity is getting maybe an old version of Sony Acid Pro or a program like Reason, Ableton, Cubase (Nuendo), Apple Logic or Pro tools. Have a read on these.

Low to Mid Budget Interface ($100-$250)

Bare minimum interface would be a 2 channel M-Audio, Presonus, Focusrite, Apogee etc..

One website I use quite often to look up gear is Turramurra Music, they have competitive prices and friendly staff. If you don't live in Australia, Sweetwater (USA) have a comprehensive website. As well as trusty Ebay.

A little about Mic's

First mic would be a Rode NT-1A (~$250). This mic allows you to record decent drums, vocals, guitar amps and even bass amps. You could record a whole album with this one mic alone…. Read my Mic Blog for more info.

Second mic is the trusty old Shure SM57. Great on snare drum and guitar amps. (read my "miking guitar amps" tutorial for mic placement). I bought 2 many years ago and they have had a solid workout! I can't ever see myself selling these.

After that all you really need is a decent kick mic (D112 or D6) and some cheap overheads like the Behringer C2 or Rode M5 or equivalent.

That's all I need to mention about mic's in this post. People that know more about mics won't be reading this post because they already have chosen themselves a decent interface.

Mid Budget ($200-$500)

This is where you get into the 4 channel interfaces. 4 channels is quite handy due to the fact that you can record 4 sound sources at one time. You could realistically put 3 mics on a drumkit and DI the bass and track your rhythm section in one go. Other setups might be a stereo keyboard and 1-2 vocal mics.

Again, Focusrite, Presonus, M-audio, Apogee.

I might also mention that in this budget is where you can really score some bang for buck on used gear. Used audio gear is a GREAT way to start out. Everything is cheaper and you don't pay for the polished sheen on the casing, but it's about what is inside that counts!

Mid-High Budget ($500-$1499)

Before I even start, if you are in this bracket there is no point looking at anything other than the Soundcraft UI24r. Read My blog post on it..

Entry level 8 channel interfaces, High-end 2-4 channel interfaces (better preamps) and pretty good 8 channel interfaces.

This bracket is where things blow out a little.

The "in-the-box" producers fork out around $500-$1000 for a 2 channel interface that has 2 great preamps for recording vocals and keyboards like the Apogee Duet or Universal Audio Apollo Twin. Other recording enthusiasts use their $500-$1000 to get  a pretty good 8 channel interface. Not to say you couldn't pickup a decent 8 channel interface for around $250-$500 if you shop around. I used a Presonus Firestudio for along time and it served me well.

This is where you can really start doing more in-depth multitrack recording like multiple mics on a drumkit or a rock band or a small ensemble. For instance you could put 2 OH (overhead) mics on a drumkit, a kick mic (D112 or D6) and an SM57 on the Snare, an SM57 on the guitar amp, DI the bass and then have 2 channels left for vocals or keys. This is a great setup for tracking demo’s. You want to just punch out the recordings and get it done. No one wants to sit around overdubbing (re-recording) tracks because your interface doesn’t have enough inputs. You just want to capture it once and move on.

#Just a quick in-depth note about preamps if you still don’t know what they are. A preamp is the electrical circuitry that amplifies the microphone signal coming into the interface. Every preamp has it’s own characteristic or “sound”. Some may sound clean, some warm, some crystal clear etc.. Basically, the more money the preamp costs, the cleaner, warmer, brighter and noisier you can get your mic. Cheap preamps sound gritty and tinny/lifeless. You can still get a pretty decent sound from most of the preamps in the aforementioned interfaces. It’s only when you start forking out thousands of dollars for preamps that you really hear a difference… or do you??

High Budget, Getting into Semi-Pro and Pro Gear (Above $1500)

These interfaces are the cream. The one’s that you only really own if you can justify it or have money to burn. These interfaces have superb preamps and great digital-analogue convertors. But if you are reading this, you either don't know about these or can't afford them yet. Lynx, Prism, RME, Universal Audio Apollo 8.

Pro Rigs

I’ve been watching a lot of studio interviews and pro rigs consist of mostly stand-alone preamps like BAE, Neve, SSL, Universal Audio etc... They would then run these into some rack gear (rack mounted hardware) such as a channel strip (EQ, Compressor and preamp in one) or a compressor like an LA-2A or Avalon. Then they send this signal to an AD convertor (this is a piece of hardware that converts the analogue signal into a digital signal) and finally into Pro Tools through a high-end interface as mentioned above. People seem to be raving about Burl Audio. One of the most popular engineers in the world uses Focusrite Rednet. A lot of these engineers use desks or consoles such as an SSL (Solid State Logic) or an API to mix their sessions. The only person I have seen not use a console is Greg Wurth in his personal studio. He uses an analogue console in Steve Vai's studio.

 

SO there it is.. A semi-quick breakdown of interfaces for the "home" studio.

Questions?

Contact me through the contact form.

 

Regards,

James

How to achieve a Band 6 in HSC Music 1 Aural Exams

Music EducationJTM Music Administrator

One problem I found is that music students come into the Preliminary Music course with a lack of knowledge of musical terminology. I reflect on my University days where I used to sit around and just talk about music and be critically analysing music without ever really consciously recognising it. But this is after I finished High School? To be able to talk about music and critically analyse music it takes a certain thought pattern to be able to do this. Luckily, having studied this, I devised a powerpoint on how to properly structure your sentences, in order to logically answer each of the 6 concepts of music. I have also provided a video lesson on how to deliver this content to a class.

Powerpoint Download