Sunday, August 29, 2010

Practicing Your Scales Effectively

One of the first things we learn in music is scales. We're told that these are the building blocks of music but that doesn't mean too much to us initially. So we learn a couple of scales, starting at the lowest note, going up an octave (maybe two) and then come back and stop at the root. This seems to be the method for at least the first couple of months. We may then learn some songs, maybe some licks from our favorite solos. The scales however, still remain a step away from the 'real' music that we're learning. Aside from atonal and 20th century music that stays clear of scales on purpose, all popular music uses scales; in fact, the same scales.

Up and Down

All too often I hear students practicing their scales in the method listed above. Up and down, up and down. In the music we hear, the scales are rarely used that way. It's the equivalent of learning to paint using the same color combinations over and over. Aside from trying to getting familiar with the scale and trying finger exercises, scales shouldn't be practiced this way. Once  you learn a scale and and committed it to memory, you should be practicing it in other ways.


One thing that happens a lot in music is patterns. Music is filled with musical patterns repeated at different intervals and different rhythms. Once you learn the fingering for a scale, it's time to try a couple of patterns and play those through the entire scale. There are innumerable combinations but I'll give you a couple of starters.

1. 1-2-3-1, 2-3-4-2, 3-4-5-3, etc. - this is one of the most well known patterns. It's used in pretty much every type of music. It's simply taking three notes of the scale and then returning to the first note. You then take the next note in the scale and use the same pattern. Remember this can be applied to any scale, including pentatonic scales. The idea would be the same but the 'number of the note' would be different. For example a minor pentatonic would look like this: 1-b3-4-1, b3-4-5-b3, etc.There are also a million variations on this.

2. 1-3, 2-4, 3-5, etc. This is essentially the scale in thirds. Any and all intervals should be done here. Remember to do the intervals backwards too. Eg. 3-1, 4-2, etc.

3. 1-3-5, 2-4-6, etc. This pattern outlines all of the triads in the key. Try to identify the triad as you play it. Also try different patterns within this pattern by jumping from different triads. Eg. 1-3-5, 3-5-7, 2-4-6, 4-6-8, etc.


Another important aspect of practicing scales is rhythm. First of all, your scales should be practiced with a metronome. You will also want to practice them with drum beats and rhythm tracks. When practicing with the metronome, start with just playing through the scale like you normally would but using different note lengths. Start with a slow speed using eighth notes. Work up speed gradually. This is the best way to get speed in your playing. Next, try triplets, then sixteenths. Then try swing eighths and then swing sixteenths. Then you can try combination of different values eg. eighths with triplets.

Dynamics and Phrasing

Another exercise is to play the scale using different rhythms but also to incorporate dynamics and phrasing. For example, play in eighth notes but accent certain notes. Start with one accent on the beat, and then try accents on different notes in the bar. Also, try different phrasings, ties and slurs.

Changes In Time

One thing jazz musicians will do will go through the changes in a song, playing the relevant scale for each chord in time. It doesn't have to be a jazz tune to do this. You could take the circle of fifths and play one scale per bar. A great exercise that helps ingrain your scales is to play a continuous line through a set of changes, just playing the scale for each chord. For example for the first bar you would play a C major scale and then in the second, you would play the G major, without stopping in the middle of the phrase to start at the root. Try to keep this going as long as you can through a set of different keys.

Making Music

One of the best ways to learn how to use your scales is to just try and start 'making music' with them. That means just taking the scale, play a phrase, and then try and play the next logical phrase. Of course, the 'next logical phrase' will mean something different to everybody. Whatever style you're into, or what you're trying to accomplish, you want to have your music have some sort of logic to it. Musical language is much like our own language, it follows a lot of the same general rules. First of all, we speak in phrases. That means making a statement, taking a breath, then making a new statement. Try and make your musical phrases breathe, just like the way you speak. Make sure you try different octaves and fingerings. Also, incorporate different dynamics and articulations for each phrase. Make the phrase come alive. At this point we're just trying to play one phrase after another in a logical way.

Bringing Life Into Boring Old Scales

There are many more avenues to take with this but keep it basic at the beginning. Incorporate one or two of these exercises into your daily practice. Don't do them all at one sitting. You don't need to practice these for hours, as long as you're consistent. By practicing these basic exercises and incorporating them into your daily schedule, you'll find your playing, phrasing and improvising taking on a whole new life.

Bret Battey - Sinus Aestum (2009)

Bret Battey - Sinus Aestum (2009)

Bret Battey is a composer of audio-visual artworks. He uses "custom software and generative techniques to create hybrid sound and image evocations of distinctive ways of being in the world". This work "Sinus Aestum" needs to be seen in high quality visuals and audio. I was lucky to see this work presented in Bath Spa last year. Quite incredible. However, the vimeo excerpt gives you a good idea of the piece. Enjoy.

Sinus Aestum (Luna Series #3) (2009) from Bret Battey on Vimeo.

"Sinus Aestum (Bay of Billows) is a dark lunar plain articulated by threads of white dust, like tips of flowing and silent waves. Drawing from this image, the sound and image composition "Sinus Aestum" presents one sound-synthesis process and nearly 12,000 individual points, which are continually transformed and warped, restrained and released, without cuts, to form compound, multi-dimensional waves of activity moving through unstable states between plateaus of pitch and noise. Mathematical processes are transformed into a contemplation of the continual ebb and flow of human experience." Source:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Diego Garro - Patah

Diego Garro has just uploaded his piece Patah to vimeo. Do visit this work. This piece is also available in high quality and surround sound for public screenings. The power in this work is the alignment of electroacoustic music composition with a similar spectral approach in the image material - a truly other wordly result but so well matched. Diego teaches on the Music and Technology courses at Keele University, UK.
(blog author opinion!!)

You can see this video on Diego's vimeo page.

Diego Garro - Patah

PATAH ver2 from Diego Garro on Vimeo.

"Stylistically, this composition is rooted in the tradition of Electroacoustic Music; however, Patah is an investigation into (mainly abstract) spectro-morphologies articulated in both the audio and the visual domains. A possible viewing strategy, which is somewhat in line with the composer’s design, may consider the role of the sonic material in permeating the ‘fractures’ (‘patah’ in Indonesian) of the streaked visual textures and the dramatic effect that results from such interaction."

More information:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Perfectionism for Musicians

Something that a lot of musicians and artists often deal with is perfectionism. I know this first hand because it's something that I have to fight everyday. Perfectionism is debilitating in the fact that it can stop you from doing the thing that you love the most. It causes stress and undue friction within your own life. And, can actually cause the opposite effect of it's 'purpose' in the first place. While there is a place for high artistic standards, when your standards become so high that nobody can live up to them, how are you supposed to create your art?

Getting Support 

There can be many underlying causes for perfectionism; we're not going to get into them here. We're only going to look at the problems and some solutions. One thing that is important to mention is support. If you're perfectionism is getting in the way of you actually getting anything done, one of the best things you can do is find some support. Support for perfectionists can come in two forms. One is psychological support either from a professional or a close friend. This doesn't necessarily have to be a formal thing, just having someone to talk to about this is usually enough to help people get out of the rut. The other type of support is artistic support. Musicians and artists need a community. Artists have always sought out other artists for support and comradery. This serves not only as a support and friendship but also artistic support. Other artists know what the artistic process is all about. They can also be helpful with ideas and usually a sense of healthy competition helps in getting a 'fire in your belly'.

Just Start

One of the best ways to get anything done is to just start. Perfectionists, as a rule over-think things and try to find the best time to do something. The best time to do something is 'right now'. For a lot of perfectionists, the start is usually the hardest part; the second being finishing and letting the project go. There are two things that usually stop perfectionists from starting and they both have to do with over-thinking. Either they over-think the entire project; seeing all of the steps that need to be taken, seeing all of the problems that can arise, and see all or the limitations of their inability to get the job done to their satisfaction. Or, they over-think their initial ideas; negating any thoughts as not right before working through the ideas. This pretty much kills the project from the get go. Over-thinking the beginning is usually enough to stop them from getting on the project. Of course the best solution is to just start but there is more to it than this. There must be some alteration in the mental process before the start. That means either shutting off all of the internal chatter, or changing the internal chatter.

One of the best ways to just get started is to set apart a short amount of time and just let ideas flow. Try half an hour to start and don't kill any ideas, just let them flow. You might want to try the Pomodoro technique. Have a set time everyday where you work on your art. This way at least something gets done everyday. You'll be surprised how often great ideas creep in when 'you didn't feel creative' in the first place. Also, always have deadlines for your projects. They don't have to be written in stone, but at least it gives you some kind of timeline.

Let It Go Already

The other biggest problem perfectionists have is actually finishing the project. While this may be a universal problem, perfectionists take it to a whole new level. Perfectionists have unrealistic expectations. They envision the perfect ending (and results), and nothing else will suffice. There are a couple of problems with this thinking. First off is rarely do things (especially in art) live up to the expectations we put on them in our own minds. There has to be some give with this. This will always be an issue and with every project you're going to have to decide a) when it's done b) if it's done c) if it's never going be done. Some projects don't turn out like we want and at some point we have to be honest, let it go, shelf it and look at it as learning experience. In short, you're going to have to decide if it's good enough to put your name on it and put it out there. Second, artists sometimes lose their objectivity. After working on a project for an extended period of time, you start to lose your ability to effectively evaluate your art. It's important to be able to take a step back and take a second look; usually after you've taken some time away and your mind is clear. Sometimes artists lose all perspective. This is where the community and support comes in. In this way, you can feel free to create your art, and when you're unsure, or just need some feedback, you can seek some outside input. Try and find objective, knowledgeable support. In this instance, family and friends usually don't cut it. You need to find a knowledgeable source that will be honest with you.

Kill the Editor

I've written about this before. One thing that may kill your creativity is being too closed or waiting for the perfect idea from the get go. Some people have no filter and some aren't as hard on themselves as perfectionists. The problem with waiting for the perfect idea is twofold. First of all, sometimes ideas have to be worked through before the gem shows itself. It's a matter of taking an idea in it's raw form and working it into something memorable. The other problem with waiting for the perfect idea is that our internal editor isn't always spot on as far as making creative decisions. Sometimes you have to try some ideas and then leave them for a while. Let the ideas perculate and come back when your mind and ears are fresh. It always amazes me how different some ideas sound the day after. Sometimes I'll write something and think it's the most incredible idea I've ever come up with only to be completely disappointed on the day after. On the other side, sometimes I'll just get something down and not think much of it only to be completely surprised on my second listening.

Great Expectations

Of course the definition of a perfectionist is someone who has impossibly high standards. Working through ideas and trying to create something extraordinary is one thing; never being happy with anything that you create is another. Some artists and writers go through their entire life not happy with their creations. You might be thinking that having high standards is what makes your music great and separates you from the rest. If this keeps you focused and motivated, then it works for you. If you create many pieces but never finish. If you finish projects but then hide them away. If you make excuses that 'you aren't quite ready' and need to finish one more project before putting your stuff out there, then there is an issue here.

Not An Excuse

Before you think that letting perfectionism go is an excuse to be mediocre, you're wrong. This is all about getting things done but also getting it right. This is for the people who have been working on the same three songs for a couple of years; or, the one song that never gets done. This is for people who don't try things or flip flop from one project to the next because they never live up to expectations. One thing about great artists is that they never accept anything but the very best from themselves and their art. There comes a time when you have to let it go. You have to work through the problems, take a step back, decide if it's a good representation of what you set out to do, and then move on. It's important to start, work through, finish and move on. If you miss one of these steps, your art will never see the light of day.

Working Through It

Having high standards for your art if great. Having completely unrealistic expectations may be stopping you from creating your best work. It may be something you have to work through often; most artists do. But there has to be a time where you just get to work. try not to over think things or look for the perfect results. It's important to just enjoy the process and let the editor in later. Do the absolute best you can do right now, evaluate, and then let it go. You may come back one day realize that in spite of it all, you've created something great.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer School Masterclass: Visual Music Collaborative Report

A very interesting workshop on visual music took place July 19 - July 23 2010 at Eyebeam, New York.

Summer School Masterclass: Visual Music Collaborative

Visual Music Collaborative Workshop - July 2010, New York

It was "led by Eyebeam Fellow Aaron Meyers, in collaboration with Re:Group artist, Aaron Koblin and in creative partnership with Ghostly International...Up to 11 participants will be invited to explore the relationship between music, sound, and dynamically generated imagery and motion. Topics will include sound-analysis techniques, advanced OpenGL programming, and interfacing with mobile control devices. Guest speakers and musicians provide additional insight. The master class culminates in an event where participants perform using work created during the week."
More information on the press release

More links

The workshop had a ompetitive application process. Applicants had to be at least at the graduate level of study, or have an emerging creative practice, and have established experience using OpenFrameworks, Processing, or an equivalent programming tool. Hence the imagery that has come from this work shop is based on programming processes.


A really excellent blog resource for contemporary practice on visual music, is the support blog for the event, set up to document and provide information that came from the workshop. The authors of the blog urge those interested in visual music to:
Check here often for inspirational visual music material and updates leading up to the workshop.

Visual Music Archive

 Visual Music Collaborative [Events] – Results

A webpage at has a written a results report, on the collection of work produced at the recent Visual Music Collaborative workshop hosted by Eyebeam this July in NYC.

See also: Eyebeam Flickr Stream

Example of Video from workshop

Lars Berg  - The illusionist

the Illusionist from Lars Berg on Vimeo.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Jon Behrens - Pure Cinema


experiments with "creating mats with liquid latex directly on the film emulsion then bleaching off all the excess image around the latex and using the clear bleached sections of film as a canvas to paint my film poem, I used special inks that were custom made just for me called Kenville Dyes I then to re-photographed it all on my beloved JK optical printer. I also created this films sound design.
2008, 16mm color sound 7 ½ min"

The Production and Decay of Strange Particles. from Jon Behrens on Vimeo.

THE PRODUCTION AND DECAY OF STRANGE PARTICLES In this film I began to experiment more with creating mats with liquid latex directly on the film emulsion then bleaching off all the excess image around the latex and using the clear bleached sections of film as a canvas to paint my film poem, I used special inks that were custom made just for me called Kenville Dyes I then to re-photographed it all on my beloved JK optical printer. I also created this films sound design.
2008, 16mm color sound 7 ½ min

This film is available for rental in 16mm from Canyon Cinema

For more information on me


Experiments In New Media presents an Evening of Pure Cinema by Jon Behrens
August 26th, 2010, 20h
The Grand Detour
215 SE Morrison, Suite 2020
Portland, Oregon, USA

For more information on this event see:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Center for Visual Music - VIMEO CHANNEL

The Center for Visual Music has set up a vimeo channel to show excerpts from Films from the Collection of Center for Visual Music archive. Many have been preserved by CVM and/or curated by CVM in programs seen worldwide.

This channel is an excellent resource for those wishing to see excerpts from the CVM collection archive and is worth keeping a regular check as more films are added to the channel. It is just wonderful to see William Moritz discuss Oskar Fischinger's work, to see the Lumigraph Film (c. 1969) by Elfriede Fischinger (excerpt). This is a very valuable vimeo channel for fans and scholars of visual music.

Center for Visual Music - Vimeo Channel