Absolute 5 — Simply Amazing!

Whether you are tired of using your same old sounds, or just want to be fully up to date  Steinberg’s Absolute 5 gives you the latest versions of their core VST engines with a huge variety of superb sounds. The possibilities of integrating these presets with your own tweaking of them is virtually limitless, with the only boundary being your imagination. Even there, the parts suggest possibilities even as you learn the new aspects of some old friends. Absolute 5 packages a bundle of VST instruments, many upgrades, lots of new presets all EXCELLENT.

More than ever, you want to hear these sounds on your best available sound system, and probably on headphones. The sounds tend to be complex, thick, and lush, designed to stand out in any mix, whether center stage or as a perfect background.

As always, a good starting point to learn and hear Absolute 5 is with Dom Sigalas. And he found an excellent starting point with Amped Elektra. This incredible electric piano is “deeply sampled” — besides a DI sound you get three very different amps, each with its own set of controls. The instrument’s own controls let you emphasize the electric or more “acoustic” sound, or mix them as you like. This in both sound and touch. This is the modern evolution of the electric piano.

Amped Elektra is also used in this video by Xantoné Blacq, showing you how he created an entire soul track using Absolute 5.

With my recent immersion in the world of electric bass I was very interested in the Electric Bass in Absolute 5. I should say basses: you can choose between J-bass, P-bass, MM-bass (MusicMan), All pickups, Neck-only pickup, Bridge-only pickup, and Stereo Rick. You can choose DI or amp sound, or my favourite – blending the two. Already an extremely wide range of bass sounds is further enhanced by five slots for different FX to add to the amp. I found it really handy to mix a clean DI sound with an amp loaded with FX, since no matter how far out there I got with the FX, the notes were always clear on the DI channel. And of course there are a variety of articulations, as well as natural and artificial harmonics. Listen to Dom using the muted P-bass at the 7:00 mark of the video.

The Player drop-down menu gives you styles (blues, country, funk, jazz, metal, pop, rock, R&B) as well as playing styles like avoiding open strings for a more even sound, walking bass, and finally octaves. The Stereo Rick gives you the Rickenbacker two-output capability so that you can blend up to four different signals from the two DI’s and two amps. I spent a LOT of time playing with these sounds and I’m sure I just scratched the surface!

The next VST instrument is Backbone, which is called a “Drum Re-Synthesizer” but of course it has expanded far beyond just drums. While it is still great for generating drum tracks and original sounds, its presets cover all sorts of instruments. If you are new to Backbone, check out Dom’s earlier video on Backbone 1.1 to see the vast collection of instruments in the presets. In his Absolute 5 video, you have to see and hear what Dom does with a sample of an 808 Kick to get an idea of the re-synthesis power that Backbone brings to bear on any of your samples.

PadShop 2 is included in Absolute 5 along with a fantastic new library of sounds: Polarities. This library contains both electronic and acoustic instruments which you can use as the presets but which you have all of the functionality of PadShop 2 to work your own magic on.

Sounds of Soul is an expansion of Retrologue 2, and along with the incredible library of new sounds you can pick out some presets taken from very famous songs. Retrologue 2 has become my go-to synth, and Sounds of Soul has expanded my sonic palette immensely, including some of my favourite sounds from Motown!

Future Past Perfect brings very modern sounds to Groove Agent 5. The genres covered here are neo-ANYTHING. These are so modern-sounding they are probably tomorrow’s hits. This upgrade would be worth it just for the grooves, but it includes so much more, including the ability to edit the grooves in Groove Agent 5 to your exact specifications.

Steinberg’s Absolute 5 is an enormous collection of fabulous sounds with some of the best sound design tools ever. You owe it to yourself to watch Dom’s overview.

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Is Studying Her Book with Ariane Cap a No-Brainer?

Yes, in my opinion it is.

I was fortunate to be able to join one of her cohorts myself, to see her teach and also the reactions of her students. We were a mixture of levels of ability, plus those who had studied with Ariane Cap before and “newbies”.

Studying with the author of the book you are learning from is often a prestige thing — and certainly studying with Ariane Cap is something to put on your CV — BUT this is a hard book and it takes a teacher who is an expert in the system to really teach it. Other teachers are liable to give up on it, or to try to breeze through it, not forcing the student to put in the hard work that will make them a much, much better player at the end. Ariane does this and gets great results, even if you are a pro to begin with!

I pointed out in my review of The Pattern System for the Bass Player that she is one of the finest teachers in the USA and beyond. But even knowing that it is amazing to watch her in action. The book is the central focus of the course, but as you work through the book she stresses creating your own variations on her exercises, giving plenty of examples. Improvisation is also encouraged from Day 1.

Learning in a group is a great way to hear others’ questions and concerns and encourages you to share your own. The sense of camaraderie is a great experience, feeling that the other students are cheering for you with no sense of competition. In fact, the cohort I was in was comprised of very nice people, some I hope to stay in touch with. As Ariane teaches several different groups at a time, she brings what she learns in each group into the others. It’s like extra sets of feedback which helps all groups, while allowing each to be small enough for individual attention.

The experience is VERY interactive . Ariane encourages questions, comments, and even critiques. She often strays from the book to add extra material on general bass playing which is invaluable.

She notes students’ bad habits when she sees them, which is a bit embarrassing but considering her own high level of virtuosity is extremely valuable. It is also much less painful with the support of the other members of the cohort. And she manages to check on every student during group exercises.

Shy students need not contribute, although it really does help to get into the spirit. In the group that I was part of there was no negative reaction to any student, but lots of sincere support. Much of that is down to Ari’s own supportive style. I noted that several students had taken other courses with Ari, which is the ultimate vote of confidence.

The price a terrific bargain to study with one of the finest bass teachers in the USA, if not the world! I should note that with the size of the book and her individual attention, the 10-week session is unlikely to get beyond the first half of the book, but again at the price it is worth taking a second session to reinforce what you have learned and to finish all of the great content.

For each pattern, anywhere on the neck, Ariane insists on students knowing where the tonic is even though it is not usually the starting note for a pattern. She turns many exercises to listening to the distance of a note from the tonic as an ear-training exercise that is very effective. Some of these variations seem to come to her on the fly, and it is very impressive to watch!

I invited comments from the students, and got back not a single complaint. The best comment sums up the general impression. (I have Mark’s permission to use his full name, and I think such an excellent comment deserves recognition):

The material in the Pattern System Book is pretty dense, and I would have tried to get through it much faster on my own.  By studying the material at a slower pace, I feel like I have absorbed it much more deeply.  The accountability of being in a group is great, and helps me stay focused.  Some of the material is really hard!  But staying focused and sticking with it, I can see daily improvement in my fretboard knowledge and playing.

Mark Rosenthal

I agree with Mark whole-heartedly. I myself would have tried to get through it more quickly, but Ariane has put a system in place to keep you from doing this, as it would definitely produce inferior results, thinking you have mastered what you have not. Simply using a metronome at strategic points, you quickly note where your personal problem areas are, and of course there are strategies provided to shore these up. And each week she posts what to practise the coming week, and how to do it. Each session is recorded, so that if you can’t be there live one week, you can view it later. It’s also handy to go back and review some of the concepts.

So again, studying The Pattern System for the Bass Player with Ariane Cap is a no-brainer! But you don’t have to take just Mark’s and my recommendations, just check out her testimonial page to see students as well as pros comment on her teaching and playing (and I will note that Victor Wooten’s praise is from 2010, and she has improved greatly since then!).

Need I add that her courses have my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION?

The Pattern System for the Bass Player is an Instant Classic!

Ariane Cap has outdone herself with The Pattern System for the Bass Player!I raved about her previous book, Music Theory for the Bass Player, and her new book (with Wolf Wein) takes that theory and applies it to learning to play the bass thoroughly. The previous book is NOT a pre-requisite for this new one, which has no overlap with it. It presents a new approach to the bass that includes learning the neck in every key, improvising on each new topic, and a wide variety of exercises to keep practice from ever becoming boring.

Ari and books

The Pattern System for the Bass Player has a 5-pattern system at its core, but these are not the same patterns that get repeated endlessly in other books.The smoothness of these unique patterns make it possible to keep the flow going no matter how radical a shift you encounter in a tune or exercise.The true genius of this system becomes apparent with the connection between keys. This is a major stumbling block for all but the most accomplished players, and yet most books skip over it or teach truncated versions at best. In this book you practice all possible connections of keys all over the neck, allowing you to stay in one area no matter how the harmony changes. You also have the option of changing places anywhere and being able to feel instantly comfortable with the chord changes in this new area.

As you learn each area of the neck, your learning is reinforced by specific exercises, improvisation, and scalar variations. Another excellent addition is a focus on visualization, which is a powerful tool. I found out how powerful after I managed to mangle BOTH of my index fingers and was unable to play at all for two weeks. Visualizing the exercises kept me in the loop. I did have to practise extra hard the following weeks, but in any other course I would have been dead in the water.

The book covers both major and minor scales, triads, and intervals.Where are the modes? Where they should be, in my opinion, treated as major or minor scales starting on different notes. Why complicate a progression like Dm7-V7-Cmaj7 with three “modes” when they are all just parts of the C major scale? Rather than just “running changes” you can think about what you are playing and more importantly, think ahead!

This is not an easy book, but I would recommend it for ALL bass players, even beginners. It would take more time for a beginner to master, but the solid basis it provides is well worth taking the time to absorb the method. Having a teacher would help, but get the book and show it to a prospective teacher. If they refuse to teach from it, I advise you to look for another teacher. Yes, it’s that good. Ariane Cap is one of the finest bass teachers in the USA (and beyond) and it makes no sense to study with someone who doesn’t realize the quality of her work.

I’ve seen a lot of bass method books, some quite good, but nothing that comes even close to The Pattern System for the Bass Player. If you play bass, get this book! It’s that simple.

My very highest recommendation!

 

Dorico now available on iPad!

iPad owners have just entered into the world of professional music notation with the free version of Dorico for iPadDorico SE provides all of the same features as its version on the Mac, giving you two parts of notation for free. If you have a Dorico account you can upgrade these to four parts. And of course there are more complete versions for sale as well. Take 2 minutes to watch the intro video to see Dorico in action on the iPad here.

If you are new to Dorico I’d recommend that you start with the free version and work through its interface. However, the iPad versions are completely compatible with the Mac versions, so current users can take their work with them easily with their iPads.

If you own an iPad, you have to check this out!

And BTW, Steinberg still has their special offer on Cubase: buy Cubase Artist and get Cubase Pro FREE! Details are here.  But don’t wait; the offer ends soon!

Band-in-a-Box for Mac 2021 – Users’ Dreams Come True

New and Improved – with features that YOU requested!!! How often have you read that from some app’s ad only to buy it and wonder who would ever have requested these new “features”? And that’s only if you can guess which ones they are. Well in Band-in-a-Box for Mac 2021 PG Music shows you the requests and explains how they are integrated into the new version.  The page promises 59 but in fact the list includes 61, so work is obviously ongoing. You can see the list and also see and hear them in the video HERE. There are also 49 new features in the DAW plug-in! These guys have been hard at work during a very challenging year. Check out all of the new plug-in features HERE.

Box cover

With all the brutal weather they have had to endure I was not really expecting PG Music to come out with a 2021 version of Band-in-a-Box but I’m glad I stayed in touch or I might have missed one of the BEST upgrades yet! You have some idea of the quantity of additions and changes, but the quality is stunning. I could never cover all of them in a blog post so I’ll whet your appetite with my own favourites and urge you to go to the web site to see all the new features!

My favourite addition, among many, are the 16 new Utility Tracks. There are so many uses for these it’s hard to know where to start: it’s like adding an additional 16-tracks to your existing studio recorder! You can use these for live recording, MIDI, Real Tracks, or even building up a track from existing BiaB music. With the BONUS 49 PAK you can even take single drums from those that used to be only available in ensembles, and build them into an entirely different style.

Audio harmonies can now be generated on individual tracks, which make the new Utility Tracks even more valuable. Adjust relative volumes, tweak effects, do whatever you like with each one.

All of these new tracks require an upgrade to the Mixer, which is now flexible enough to be resized to accommodate many different views such as only tracks that are playing, linked tracks, automatic show/hide during playback, any many more options. Also, the Mute and Solo states are saved with the song, saving time and smoothing your workflow.

The sound of Band-in-a-Box for Mac 2021 is terrific, with 24-bit audio recording, playback, generating, and rendering all available. And you can now mix in 32-bit float, which is higher precision than 24-bit, resulting in cleaner tracks with higher fidelity.

You can view audio wave forms on ANY track, not just the audio ones! This makes editing so much easier and precise.

Of course you are expecting more new Real Tracks, right? There are 202. Go to the web site to hear them in their own video.

You can fix “sour notes” within polyphonic generated tracks or ANY audio, from out-of-tune notes to those that don’t fit the chord. Clean up those unexpected “surprises”.

For guitarists, among the new effects is the “rotary”effect pioneered by The Beatles and Eric Clapton by plugging into the rotating horns of an electric organ (the Leslie effect). This is a classic sound instantly recognizable from the last 60’s. Also from the 60’s “coffeehouse scene” there are Real Tracks of dulcimer and other instruments that recall even more specific spots.

Jazz players now have better support for minor ii-V-I progressions, something that has been on a lot of wish lists for some time now. You can now workout in minor the same way you have been practising in major.

Add to all of this both 80’s and 90’s “Dublin rock” and 90’s grunge style and lots of GREAT new vocal tracks perfect for backing any singer and your musical palette has been greatly enlarged with classic styles as a basis for whatever you want to do with them.

For drummers the addition of Real Charts for ALL Real Drums is a HUGE addition. The charts are great for reading, but they are also playable as MIDI, meaning that you can cut and paste them into your own part and play them back through your own MIDI drum sets or send them to Real Drums.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the new capabilities, and biased towards making music. There are also studies from legends in their fields for you to learn things such as country guitar from the best in their fields. And many new instruments that can give a totally different sound to your arrangements such as pop vibes or jazz penny whistle or any other combination to make your sound stand out from the pack.

As amazing as the app itself is, there have been major changes to the plug-in that adds many of these new features to your DAW, to the point that they can become equal partners in your music making. With the plug-in, which comes with all versions of Band-in-a-Box, you can get many of these features into your DAW as an integral part of your workflow, rather than having to go out to a separate program and copy them in.

SUMMARY: 2021 is a big leap forward to the best Band-in-a-Box for Mac yet! I you have been putting off upgrading, or even if not, NOW is the time to upgrade! And if you haven’t got it yet, you owe it to yourself to get Band-in-a-Box 2021. Using a PC? Then check out Band-in-a-Box 2021 for Windows HERE.

Maybe the most important point from all the talk about this version is that PG Music is listening to you, their customers. So if you have a feature that you really want in the program, write to them or chat from their web site. Let them know and yours just might be the next feature added.

DON’T MISS THIS VERSION OF BAND-IN-A-BOX!

Band-in-a-Box® 2021 for Mac is compatible with the Intel and Silicon M1 chip and works on all Mac OS from Snow Leopard (OS 10.6.8) to Big Sur (OS 11) inclusive. (Note: Band-in-a-Box Plugin requires OS 10.7 or higher.)

Steinberg’s Improved AI Powers SpectraLayers8

Steinberg’s SpectraLayers8 owes its amazing advance in both features and precision to second-generation AI. If you work in production or post-production, or even if you just care about getting great sound, SpectraLayers8 is made for you.

While AI means many things to different uses, in SpectraLayers8 it takes much of the humdrum work necessary to get precise results that have been necessary for outstanding sound work and automates it seamlessly, leaving the sound engineer or producer (you) free to create anything from a perfect fix to a glitch to a totally new sound palette. I won’t tell you that this program is simple to use, but it IS a lot of fun to learn. Whether you work in Nuendo, Cubase (on ARA 2), or standalone mode, SpectraLayers8 gives you the power to create sounds that just aren’t humanly possible!

There are several editions of SpectraLayers8 and you can compare them here. Be sure that your system meets the System Requirements. I will be talking about the Pro version here. (You can download the free 30-day trial version here.)

From a single sample, SpectraLayers8 can match the ambience or EQ that you choose and apply it to any part of your work, including a whole piece. If you work in video, you have to see this demo of Ambience Matching in an existing clip. Notice the speed it works at: this is the new AI!

My personal favourite is “De-Reverb” (really called Reverb Reduction), which can reduce or completely take out reverb from a section, or whole piece. This is part of the fun of learning SpectraLayers8, because you can use this to make some sounds that are really “out there” from ordinary sound.

De-Bleed is similar, for removing intrusive instruments that bleed into mics and onto tracks. Like reverb, they can be completely removed or just toned down. (A little bit of bleed can give a more “live” sound to a track, without sounding sloppy.)

All of these demos are available on the New Features page here.

This is hardest program I’ve tried to describe because words just don’t give it justice. I urge you to watch and listen to the demos, then if you are still not convinced, download the free trial and give it a whirl yourself. You will be VERY glad you did.

 

Ariane Cap’s NEW COHORT begins TODAY (June 19, 2021)

I just received this exciting email from ArisBassBlog about her new Cohort that begins today. Sorry for the short notice but it JUST arrived in my inbix! Of course, you can enroll in her excellent course any time, but a Cohort is a very special version of it. I will reproduce her email here:

 

Hi all

this is a one-off email going to everyone who has the Music Theory for the Bass Player book and is enrolled in the Book Videos. 

I just want to make sure you know this cuz I get the emails after – Ari, why didn’t you tell me!

Here is me telling you the scoop:

We have a Summer Cohort starting tomorrow and today is the last day you could sign up for it.

What’s a COHORT? 

It is our 20 unit course that is an optional add-on to the book you are reading. 

We go through the book together, no prior knowledge required but don’t let that mean that if you are experienced you won’t get tons out of it. You will! It’s theory, improv, technique, knowing the fretboard, styles, fun stuff, songs! 100+jamtracks, 100+PDFs with TAB 

  • You got a lot of facility – your knowledge will deepen hugely, especially for groove creation, speed, and improvising!
  • You got little facility – you’ll hang on tight and learn tons. 

You can sign up for this course anytime, but you can only sign up for the COHORT right now.

What is special about the cohort is that you go through this course together with peers, coaches, and weekly homework assignments.
Nothing undoable, 45 minutes 5 times a week is all we ask (and your complete attention during those 45 minutes!)

You get assigned a coach.
You submit weekly assignments.
You see yourself getting better.

Many loved this so much they did it over and over again.
Our coaches are the BomB! we select them carefully from the finishers.

 

The last cohort started in January. We are now starting a new group. If there is another one, we don’t know yet, but if so not before New Year’s (that’s for certain).

It’s a forty-week commitment. The price of it is absolutely unbeatable for what it is. Monthly plans are available. 

Sign up here

If you are unsure and want more info, I am inviting you to our kick-off meeting tomorrow. 

If you tried before and didn’t make it, join us, too. We have something for you. 

Here is the info:

Topic: Summer Cohort Kickoff 

Time: Jun 19, 2021 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89613695807

Ari and the A-Team

 

Neon Drifts – Steinberg’s Incredible Neon Drifts Sound Set

For decades now music companies have been expanding their income by releasing sound sets that were not in the original package. These range from very good (such as Band-in-a-Box) to blatant money grabs by seemingly intentionally leaving things out to sell as “extras”. As we have seen so often, Steinberg has taken the high road to a new level. Their terrific Neon Drifts gives you more than just a terrific set of 150 new sounds. But let me put this in context first.



Cubase 11 contains a very powerful synthesizer as a VST plug-in, Retrologue 2. Over the past week this program has gone from one I senselessly forgot to my favourite synth and is my go-to for pure synthesis. It combines the best of the early era of sound synthesis with modern digital automation that does away with patch cords (a huge advantage if you can remember the amazing tangles of wires that used to be impossible to debug when things went wrong.)

Neon Drifts brings classic sounds of the 80’s and the games of the arcade years with a modern spin. This alone would convince many synthesists to jump at these sounds, but there are FOUR major reasons that you should be one of them.

NUMBER 1

There are 150 top-notch sounds that expand your sonic palette to new sounds that will seem vaguely familiar already, but are completely original. Not a simple feat to do for even a few, and here are 150!

NUMBER 2

You can modify these sounds with the full complement of Retrologue 2’s synth capabilities, which are immense. At this point I will recommend that you listen to Dom’s overview of Neon Drifts on YouTube to hear and see just some of the sounds and how you can modify them

NUMBER 3

If you pay close attention to the screen during the video, you will notice that the position of all knobs, bars, faders, etc. are shown with each sound, and update in real time to show you the effect that your sound sculpting is having and why. You can learn how the creators of the sounds got them, and learn how to do things that you like from the sound itself. This is an invaluable way to learn to make similar sounds, and give you great starts from which to begin your own personal library of sounds. And if you consider yourself a pro, you might want to consider “Look mum, no oscillators” which is true to its word, not generating its cool sounds using even the LFO’s! A master class on sound creation and synthesis.

Number 4

Maybe best of all, these 150 excellent, educational sounds will cost you $19.99! I had to put my glasses on to be sure I wasn’t mist-reading the screen, but that is the cost, and it makes Neon Drifts a steal!

I had to take time out from doing my taxes to work, naw, PLAY with Neon Drifts and it was the most fun I’ve had from a synth in a very, very long time.

IN SUMMARY: Retrologue 2 is a dream synthesizer that is made even more fun with the incredibly affordable Neon Drifts 2. I give it my absolute highest recommendation for quality and affordability. With the search for new sounds heating up so much during this last year, this is a product that will give every user their own advantage, because there are virtually infinite variations on all 150 new sounds. Buy it! And set aside a LOT of time to play!

Jazz Guitar Improvisation Strategies

SUMMARY: The absolute best book on learning jazz improvisation I have ever seen (and I have seen a LOT)! A complete course on learning to improvise that takes you on a long journey with small steps, but if you do the work you will get there. If you truly want to learn to improvise jazz guitar, get this book!

Unlike most books that claim to teach you to improvise guitar jazz, Steven Kirby undersells his great new method with the title Jazz Guitar Improvisation Strategies. Like most such books, he does make big promises about what you will be able to play after working with his book, but unlike virtually every one that I’ve seen, he fulfills them! This book provides a comprehensive method for learning to improvise.


Another crucial element that Kirby states right up front is that you, the reader, are responsible for your own learning, and he will guide you along the way. Your “duties” include deep listening to jazz (not just putting it on in the background at a party) and analyzing your favourite parts. This should hardly be called work if you are aiming to be able to do what your jazz guitar heroes are doing. For his part, Mr. Kirby will lead you from simple skills to more and more complex ones, never going beyond where you should be at any point. In fact, he periodically stops and tells you not to go beyond that page until you can demonstrate the skills he has been demonstrating, and you have supposedly been practising. He even shows you how to practise for maximum benefit, usually in sessions of 15 minutes. This is goal-directed learning, with small goals that you can attain in these short but intense workouts.

You may not believe that he will guide you to this level accomplishment, especially since most of us have tried several methods that have abjectly failed us even after months or years of practice. I strongly suggest that you read the entire book before starting to work with it, to get an idea of how comprehensive your work will be. I tried to retain my skepticism while reading the whole thing, but once I got to the last few chapters I was convinced that this is an exceptional method. I say this with some authority. When working for Just Jazz Guitar I came across at least one jazz improvisation book a month, often one a week. Most were warmed-over versions of their teachers’ methods that had already been published, and were not very successful as methods. This book stands head-and-shoulders above any of those books, and I am going to use it myself to improve my own improvising. I’m marking it in my calendar to give you an update in one year, but I don’t expect to be “finished” by then. There is always more to learn, and Steven Kirby gives you strategies to keep improving for years.

Kirby points out that many of the jazz greats loved and studied the music of J. S. Bach, and this is still an excellent way to learn to improvise. Bach was a master of single-line music that clearly expresses the underlying harmony, and there is a lot you can learn from listening and studying his music, and even playing it. HOWEVER, there is a catch, and an important one. As a guitarist, you might look for transcriptions of Bach on guitar, and this defeats the entire purpose. Transcribers virtually always add in harmony so you lose the single lines and your opportunity to find the underlying harmony for yourself. They also usually change the key, but this is much less important than the fact that many of their chords are guesses, and are often wrong. Sadly, one of the worst was Andres Segovia, who”beefed up” Bach’s magnificent violin Chaconne with 6-note chords; this in music for a 4-string instrument! This is just one example of hundreds, if not thousand of changes that Bach’s music has endured in transcription, and not just for the guitar. Some of the nuances of single lines are lost on piano as well as other instruments. So I urge you to listen to his music for solo violin and solo cello (aka solo violoncello).

Sets of his suites, partitas and sonatas for cello and violin are available in affordable books from Dover. For listening, I recommend the Cello Suites played by Yo-Yo Ma, particularly his later set which is more expressive, although either set is magnificent. For violin there are many choices: Itzhak Perlman plays a beautiful version, as does Viktoria Mullova, whose new recording includes both sonatas and partitas (her first recording is just the partitas). Mullova’s new version also benefits from her years of study of Baroque performance practice if you are interested in a more “authentic” style.

You may also want to use the IMSLP/Petrucci online library, with an enormous collection of out-of-copyright music that you can download in score, some in MIDI, and others in performance. All this is free, but if you use it extensively I would suggest a donation, and if possible subscribing for quicker access and to keep the library online for the future. (For $28.00 per year you have instant access to the music of thousands of composers, and the list grows daily.)

The listening and analysis are to serve the goal of being able to play smoothly over the chord changes, so that a listener can hear the underlying chord progression from a smooth line. This type of motion is what Kirby calls “flow”, which is different from the widely known psychological concept of Flow, pioneered by  Mihaly (“Mike”) Csikszentmihalyi . This is a state you reach when you are concentrating on something just slightly beyond your current knowledge, or creating something such as music, so that time seems to disappear and you “come out of it” minutes or hours later, having made significant progress. (I had the honour of speaking with Mike at a conference in Italy, and the list of famous musicians alone who participated in his research  is staggering!) I can only give you the short version, and I recommend Csikszentmihalyi‘s book “Flow” for a fuller explanation, as well as “The Evolving Self” which would fit nicely with the program that Kirby sets out to enable you to improvise beyond anything you believe that you can do now. Just one of Kirby’s techniques is a 15-minute practice session in which you set a goal that you can achieve in that time (and he gives several examples at different levels) so that at the end of the session you can do what you could not at the start. This is a perfect way to generate Flow, and also to give each session your best. Who could not find 15 minutes to practice, especially when you know you will achieve something? You will even learn how to set these goals by breaking down larger goals, so that after several sessions you will have achieved this larger goal, which itself may be part of an even larger one. And of course you can practice longer, as well as other things such as learning songs.

I am not just tooting my own horn by saying this is a book that NEEDS a review, because you can’t realize its incredible depth from a casual read in a music store, or an online blurb that is short and similar to supposedly similar books. This book contains a full course in improvisation with bonuses such as learning more subtle harmony, the inherent counterpoint in single-line writing, coherent voice-leading, and generating coherent and effective solo lines from simple 4-note cells. These cells are given to you at first, and once you learn them over the entire neck, you then create your own cells. One of the biggest bonuses comes from this, as you learn the entire neck by moving these simple cells over the entire neck, both vertically (up the neck) and horizontally (across in a single position). This constant reinforcement opens up the entire neck of the guitar as well as all keys.

Does this sound like a lot? It is! This is a book that you should study for years, and will keep you motivated as you learn more and more and enjoy your focused practice sessions. The feeling of accomplishment grows exponentially as you master something new in every practice session! You will quickly learn to improvise over simple progressions and gradually work out from there. There is no reason for this progress to ever end as you will discover the endless depth of music. Meanwhile you will feel more and more at ease in jam sessions, and even writing your own tunes.

I cannot think of a single excellent idea I’ve seen in any book on improvisation that doesn’t show up here, nor a single book that contains even half of them. This is simply the best book on improvisation that I have seen and one of very, very few that can work through without the need for a teacher. It is not a simple one though. It takes you on a long journey and you have to commit yourself to it and stick to the whole program: deep listening, analyzing, and playing. Sure, you may slip occasionally but you are working at your own pace and can pick up where you can comfortably play and get going again.

Do you need a teacher? Learning styles vary and you may want a teacher to keep you focused. This book would work well with a teacher guiding you, using it as a “textbook”. I cannot imagine a competent teacher who would not recognize the value in teaching with the book. If I found one, I would run to find a better teacher!

I can’t imagine a better book to learn improvisation from.

 

Steinberg Makes Podcasting Easy and Inexpensive

When I first looked into podcasting years ago, it required too much software and a lot of fuss for a pretty mediocre result. Since then I’ve had some ideas for podcasts but didn’t have the time or strong inclination to search for solutions. That has changed now that Steinberg has brought out WaveLab Cast. This is not a version of WaveLab, but rather a totally new program that is terrific for podcasting, from beginner to accomplished expert. It is an enormous gift to anyone who has wanted to try podcasting but found it too difficult, too expensive, or both. It is also great for other Social Media Content, as you will see when we get to features.

 



Your first view of the screen might seem cluttered, but it is actually very efficient once you’ve used it. Plus it saves you from clicking through level after level of complex screens. It’s all there if you know where to look. Steinberg is well-known for accompanying their software with excellent video tutorials and WaveLab Cast is no exception. So, you can either begin with an overview of the product, or dive straight into the first tutorial which demonstrates how easy it is to make a pro-quality podcast on your first attempt.

One caveat for installation: Be sure you have all of your VST dongles, keys, etc. in the USB port(s). I had to go through a tedious process of agreeing that I did not have the key (handy) and also to keep each one available to install later. Not a great way to start interacting with a very handy program, and an option to stop the process and start it again later would be very useful, but it was a stupid mistake on my part.

Once past the VST installation, the program is a breeze to work with. If you watch this video you will see that all there is to setup is to choose your audio interface. Then you can start adding content. Could it be easier?

As with most Steinberg programs, there are multiple ways to achieve the same end. I like to choose an “Audio Montage” because you have access to audio as well as other media such as external music files, video, and sound effects. You could set up your own custom format but most that you will ever need are already available for instant use under “Templates”. Here you have multiple tracks for recording audio if you have one or more guests, you are using background music, or you are adding video. You also have the choice between 44.1 or 48kHz for most of these. Remember that if you want to use multiple tracks for voices, you will need multiple mics and an interface to host them; otherwise for a single guest you can share a single mic, especially if you can get a “figure-8” or omni-directional pickup pattern on your mic.

To add background music you can just drag and drop a file into its track. “Ducking”, the process of lowering the background music when the host is speaking, can be difficult in many programs by using side-chains. WaveLab Cast makes it simple. Just select Music and then “Host” as the foreground sound (the “modulator” track) which is to be louder than the music. The ducking is done automatically, but you can choose to modify its intensity if you prefer. This is pretty much the norm in WaveLab Cast: it automatically chooses what it deems the most desirable choice, and if you want something else you are free to edit it.

Cross-fades in one track are as simple as dragging the new content to overlap with the previous. Cross-fading between tracks is a bit more difficult, but not much, plus not that common in podcasts. Ducking is more common.

As with any good program, once you have done a project or two, you will know the basics and probably want to have even more control. Once again, this is easy with WaveLab Cast because you can edit the parameters that you have been letting the program handle for you. A good example is “Enhance”, which can be controlled by the Track Inspector. It contains the most important editing your podcast needs to get a professional sound, and is very well explained in this second video.

WaveLab Cast is a great bargain at its suggested retail price of $70 (OK, one cent less) but retailers are selling it for even less (e.g. Sweetwater.com has it for $56 (again, one cent less).

If you are not already checking out your favourite retailer, you might want to watch this overview video. More information is available here. The online help documentation is here, while the operation manual is here. So you can see that documentation and support are extensive, as we have come to expect from Steinberg. You probably realize by now that this is unique among products in this price range, but that’s Steinberg!

For value for money, ease of use, and features, there is no way that I could give WaveLab Cast anything but my highest recommendation! If you do any podcasting at all, or are thinking about starting, this is the program for you. Even experts will see the advantages in the ease of use and high-quality output from this amazing program.