Ever listen to one of your favorite songs and get chills down your spine? Does hearing an old track ever bring you vividly back to the time when you were obsessed with it? Do you ever find yourself unconsciously tapping, moving, and shaking to music?
The ways that music affects our brains are incredible. We’ve all heard the famous saying “Mozart makes you smarter,” but what if other music could do the same and more? Apart from being a powerful emotional release, performing and listening to music has been proven to have numerous health benefits. After traveling through our eardrums, musical sound waves hit over a dozen different parts of our brains.
Something that fascinates me endlessly is the relationship between music and memory. Music passes through the cerebellum, which is responsible for storing memory and movement. According to neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya, an “Alzheimer patient, even if he doesn’t recognize his wife, could still play the piano if he learned it when he was young because playing has become muscle memory. Those memories in the cerebellum never fade out.”
The link between mind, body, and music is amazing. In a study mentioned by the Harvard Health Publishing, patients who listened to music before, during, and after surgery were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rate levels compared to those without music. Even patients that listened to music while unconscious during their surgeries had similar results. Pretty unreal, huh?
Music also has astounding emotional benefits. A study completed in 2006 showed that people who suffered from chronic pain were less likely to experience depression after undergoing music therapy. Due to its ability to activate dopamine production, music can also trigger shivers, pleasure, and your fight-or-flight response.
It’s incredible how much is happening in our brains when we pop on our headphones! If you’re interested in learning more about music and neuroscience, there are tons of books and online resources to look at. To get started, here’s an interactive tool from the University of Central Florida about our brains on music.
Ya like jazz? Yes? Well who comes to mind when you think about the smooth tones that characterized the 40s and 50s? Is it Louis Armstrong? Or maybe Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima. While all of these men were incredible singers, more often than not they outshined a whole group of female jazz artists that were just as good, if not better.
One of my favorite artists, Billie Holiday, dominated the charts back in the day. She rose to fame in a time following the Great Depression, with a new flavor of music that became known as “swing.” With songs like I’ll Be Seeing You and Easy Living she quickly made a name for herself. Her music also incorporated a strong element of the civil rights movement, with Strange Fruit serving as an emotional depiction of the effects of racism.
Another notable singer from the time was Ella Fitzgerald, who popularized scat singing through songs such as Dream a Little Dream of Me and A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Perhaps one of the biggest women in music at the time, she was also popular on the big screen, with a role in Pete Kelley’s Blues and making guest appearances on TV shows such as The Frank Sinatra and The Ed Sullivan Show.
One last artist I’d like to point out is Dinah Shore. Her melodic voice fits perfectly with the instrumental background and perfectly characterizes the aged feeling that comes from listening to this genre of music.
Each song by these artists tells a story. Some tell stories of injustice, some of hardships, and some of love. But these stories are what helped women gain a foothold in the music industry and will forever be timeless on any jazz playlist.
The Booms and Baps of Music Production: Getting Started
Now that you have chosen a DAW to create music in (If not, refer to The Booms and Baps of Music Production: DAWs), it’s time to get started creating your own track. However, staring at your computer screen with a new project can be daunting, especially if you are still learning it. Fear not! These guides are meant to help you gather your footing in music production by sharing my own experiences and tips I’ve learned from the pros (aka YouTube). Whenever I look at a new project, I typically already have a genre that has inspired me. It is a good idea to start learning different genres of music and determine which one you would be most interested in. That way, you can learn the key characteristics of the genre and jumpstart your next project.
First, I start with the chord progression or the drums. You can start with either one and many people prefer one way or another, however it is all up to you on where you would like to start. Now, some may believe that suddenly a lightbulb enters your head and then you begin creating your track as if someone inserted the instructions into your brain, but that is not really true. Most inspiration comes from experimentation. In order to create a chord progression, I have to search for the right sound and come up with an exciting pattern that I enjoy. Honestly, sometimes I am just tapping on my MIDI keyboard and playing something randomly while I’m scrolling through synth presets and end up using that. It’s even more exciting that way because it feels like it is your subconscious creation. You can do the same thing with the drums too, create a drum kit to your liking and play around with beats and rhythms that you like and remember there are no limits. Add two snares here and add four kicks here, as long as it has rhythm you have drums.
If you’re like me though, inspiration can still be tough to find and even then, creating professional sounding music can be tough. So, services such as Splice or Loopcloud could help give you that extra edge. I personally use Splice and have found much inspiration in their catalog. Splice or Loopcloud are services that for a monthly fee (Splice is $8/month), you can peruse a collection of samples, loops, and individual notes or drum hits and download them or drag it into your DAW directly. It is very helpful for producers looking to add extra elements to their music. If you’re thinking that you’re unoriginal for using samples, then trust me, I understand. However, it is what you do with the sample that makes it yours. Plus, professionals sample audio all the time.
I would also recommend googling free sample packs and see what comes up. People are always giving away free sounds which may be part of your new hit. I hope these tips help new producers learn more about the world of music and remember, create the music that makes you happy.
Let’s Get Psyched about creating a podcast. Making podcasts is rewarding and, thankfully, pretty simple too. If you don’t have everything you need at the start I think it would still be worth it to try and make do with whatever you do have and advance what you have as you go. This way by the time you have your ~preferred~ setup your podcast has matured to the point you want it at.
Step 1: The idea & purpose
If you’re planning to start a podcast you may already have your idea going, but either way it’s worth it to do an ‘purpose’ that you write down or say aloud. This can simply be a written statement you put in the description, on your social media, or even just in your personal writing spaces. This could also be a short first episode setting the premise of what you are doing, which is what I like to do when I start a new project.
This can help both you and your potential audience have an idea of where the podcast is going and why you are doing it. Knowing why you are doing something will help keep the work cohesive, and it’s good for brainstorming. If you ever feel stuck you can go back to this mission statement and remind yourself what you’re in it for. And if you ever feel like you don’t connect with the purpose anymore you can go back and change it. This just gives an easy and trackable way to see how you feel about your content and evaluate what you’ve been doing!
Step 2: Make a sample episode
The best way to learn anything is to try it. Just sitting down and making your first episode will teach you a lot. Do you like free flowing? Does it help to have notes written up? Do you sound natural? Are your ideas coming across the way you hoped? It has always been difficult for me to listen back to old material and watch old videos, but it’s the most helpful thing you can do for yourself.
I’ve found that scripting does not work well for me at all. I sound very unnatural if I plan my thoughts too much and it’s slightly less exciting to record that way. However, not scripting at all doesn’t work for me either. I like to have bullet points, highlights, something to guide me if I get lost in thought, but I like to keep them brief so I can be more engaged in thought while recording. They really just serve to give an episode direction and cohesiveness, but most of what I say is freehanded and I find that has served my purposes best. But there is no one way to do it and you may find something else works way better for you. The best way to figure it out is to try and learn along the way.
Step 3: Equipment
You know it makes sense this would come before 2… but anyhow the equipment needed for a podcast is simply a microphone (depending on the type you may need an interface), something to record into (laptop, computer, tablet, maybe even phone), a pair of headphones, and software for editing.
There are so many ways to do a podcast and setups can go from ‘simple and affordable’ to ‘complex and studio grade’. I use an Audiotechnica AT2020 microphone, I got it used for $50 and I got my interface (Scarlet red solo) for $70 open box. I used to use audition to edit podcasts, but since I no longer have access to that I use Audacity and reaper for recording and editing. Audacity is a free software so it’s an ideal choice for anyone starting and not looking for something too complex that is also affordable. Reaper is also pretty affordable, a license can be obtained for as little as $60 depending on the use of the software. Lastly, I use a pair of Audiotechnica M50X headphones. They’re studio quality and not too expensive at around $100, but there are definitely cheaper alternatives if you aren’t looking to spend that much. I believe the M20Xs are much cheaper and still a good choice.
Step 4: Putting your stuff out there
Publishing a podcast is also a pretty varying part. This really depends on the purpose of your podcast and who you want it to reach and how much you’re willing to pay. Publishing a podcast can be free if you use something like youtube (there are also other options), but again this is something you’ll have to do further research into because popular streaming services like Spotify and Apple music require payment for publishing. If you’re just starting publishing somewhere like youtube is a great place to start. You can gain an audience while you work on your direction and content. I posted my first episode on a free wix website before I started the ‘Get Psyched’ Podcast through WKNC and it helped me learn a lot about how I wanted to make my podcast before it went on a bigger platform.
I hope this information is useful to anyone looking to start their own podcasts. The best piece of advice I have is to just have fun with it~ Making podcasts has become one of my favorite things and further developing my podcasts mission and topics has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve enjoyed having guests on my podcasts a lot, starting to turn my podcasts into videos, and using the podcast as a way to educate myself more. There’s so much that came out of podcast making I didn’t expect, so good luck on your podcast creating journeys~
Electronic music is one of those genres where tracks can transcend many different genres or even create a whole new niche sound. One could say that electronic music is on a spectrum where one track may flow between certain classifications but is awesome nevertheless.
Some of the biggest electronic genres include electro, house, techno, trance, drum & bass, and dubstep. All of which have subgenres typically associated with them. This beginner’s guide is designed to explain these six main genres and fuel your own research into the crazy world of electronic music.
Electro – Inspired by the funky era of music and the 808 drum machine, electro music takes hip-hop and funk and combines it with the tempo of the likes of house music to produce an electronically based funkiness with groovy rhythms. This genre of music has come back into the underground scene as of the early 2000’s and has grown since.
House – House music got its start in the late 70s in Chicago with a focus on 4/4 time (4 beats per measure) and the “untz” sound that many casual listeners may consider as most electronic music. It is one of the most changing genres in this guide and has more subgenres than I have fingers and toes to count. Some sub-genres include progressive house, deep house, and electro-house that all deliver a fresh take on the bass-focused genre.
Techno – A Detroit-born native in the late 80s, techno takes a dystopic approach to the up and coming house music by focusing on darker, faster beats. Some of the inspiration for techno music arises from the automotive industry that was in recession at the time. The term “techno” was coined by the media to describe the new, darker sensation of house music. Techno is another genre with difficult sub-genres to classify, but overall try to stick to a darker, almost mechanical sound focusing on grit and subtle rhythms.
Trance – Trance grew in popularity in the 1990s in the US but was inspired by UK house as well as techno music from the late 80s. Trance is typically described as a focus on melodic synths and builds that seem uplifting with drops that attempt the opposite effect. Most trance music is divided into two categories: uplifting and progressive trance. Uplifting trance focuses on the emotional side of music, creating happy atmospheres that help cheer up listeners. Progressive trance draws from futuristic sounds with long, aggressive builds and slower, milder drops.
Drum & Bass – As the name implies, drum & bass relies heavily on drum rhythms and basslines to deliver a quick and dirty experience. Drum & bass is the type of music that takes after dubstep and breakbeat to create a high octane experience. Most songs in the drum & bass category typically clock in around 175 BPM and will get anyone’s heart pumping at the conclusion of the track.
Dubstep – Dubstep’s birthplace comes from UK Garage and Drum & Bass in the 90s, featuring bass that can only truly be experienced from massive sound systems. Dubstep focuses on the low-end, trying to consume the listener in bass and aggressive rhythms. Across the pond, Americanized dubstep, hailed “Brostep,” focuses on the mid-range with distortion and robotic sounds being the key characteristic. Dubstep also has inspiration from hip-hop and metal.
This is a good starting point into understanding the electronic music world but there are tens, even hundreds of different genres and subgenres that fit into the umbrella term, electronic. Even today, people are creating new sounds and new niche groups that don’t quite fit the norm of conventional genres, but that’s what makes the electronic world of music so incredible; its versatility and ever evolving nature.
Scales may not always be the most exciting thing to learn about, most people would much rather just learn easy songs to start (that’s definitely my favorite way), but given how foundational they are to understanding an instrument and the basics of music theory, they’re a good place to go once you have the initial basics down. I did a blog post on ‘Learning the Basics’ a little while ago, it will be linked below for reference if you need it.
What are scales?
Scales are the ‘tonal base of music’ and are composed of ‘tones from which you can build melodies and harmonies’. Basically, they provide you with notes that sound good together.
On a related note, a ‘Key’ is a group of pitches or a scale that are used in a composition of music. So while a key and a scale aren’t exactly the same thing, we do use scales for our keys, so when we see a piece of music and find it’s in, for example, ‘the key of C’ we already know what notes will likely be in the piece, because we know the scale of C. Knowing scales is also useful when you start composing or improvising.
Half steps and whole steps:
The distance between notes and keys on a piano are called ‘Steps’. Visually a whole step on a piano is when two notes have a key between them. If two keys are right next to each other it is a half step (as seen in the image below).
Major Scales are based on the pattern above.
Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half (commonly written: W W H W W W H)
The C Scale is the easiest to perform because it includes only white keys. Since the pattern just so happens to work that way. But other scales, such as the D Major Scale, will include black keys. It still follows the same system of whole and half steps, but starting at D. So, if we follow the D a whole step we get E, and another whole step, meaning two keys over, is an F#. Then the next key, our first half step, is a G.
All major scales follow this pattern.
We play scales starting from the first note and down until we get to the same not in the next octave. So we go from C all the way down to C again, and then you play it backwards.
Now you know all the keys in a C major and D major scale, so you can improvise with these notes!
With a very wacky semester we experienced, I began my journey in music production. I have learned many things in the last few months from the likes of YouTube and personal experience and I want to share tips with those wanting to pursue music production.
The first thing a producer will need is a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW which acts as the base for all music production. A DAW is the software for a producer to actually make and organize music into full fledged tracks or for live performances. As it is hard to learn an entirely new software, it is important to choose the right DAW for your preference of music.
If you’re a college student like I am, then pursuing music production has to be a reasonable venture. There are free DAWs such as GarageBand for Apple users which is a quality way to get started. For Windows users, Audacity is a great option, however it is lacking in many of the features that other DAWs have.
On to paid options, I will mention that many paid DAWs have free trials and offer college students discounts for licenses. When it comes to beat making and creating full tracks, FL Studio or Ableton Live are considered the best. FL Studio is typically preferred by Hip Hop artists since it is particularly designed for creating beats from scratch. FL Studio also has a very sleek design and has powerful instruments/effects to help get you started. If you are into electronic production like me, then Ableton is the way to go. Ableton’s interface is in my opinion the easiest to learn and makes it easy to create music. For NC State students in the music program, NC State offers a Songwriting with DAWs class (MUS 270) which uses Ableton to explore music production, so if you are interested in taking the class I would recommend choosing Ableton. You cannot go wrong either way with the DAW you choose since many of us have access to YouTube and can learn as we go. However, I personally prefer Ableton Live myself.
There are other DAWs out there as well for producers working with video content. Logic (Mac) and Cubase (Windows) are great options for composing music for films or video content because you can actually upload videos into the DAW and have an easy-to-use music notation system.
There are many choices we all make, but I hope this information can help you make the right choice when it comes to producing music, since music makes the world turn! I plan to share more tips about the world of music production as I learn them, so we are all in this together! Keep creating!
So you’re spending a lot of time at home right now and you’re trying to find some way to spend the time productively, then you see that instrument in the corner and you have a brilliant idea, but you’re not sure how to start… You’re in luck! Cause my sister recently asked me to help her figure out the basics of piano (from this exact scenario) so I figure I can make a little post to get anyone in the same boat started.
First things first we have to learn the notes on the keyboard and how to read them.
I like to think of the notes as two clusters (separated by the black keys)
Cluster 1 is C D E, there are two black keys between these three white keys.
Cluster 2 is FGAB, there are three black keys between these four white keys.
This pattern repeats through the entire keyboard. The colors above match the pattern, so where the light blue C is, the following light blue is also a C but higher in octave. As we go to the right of the piano the octave gets higher (so the sound is higher). If we go to the left the octave lowers and the sound is deeper.
How to read the black keys:
This is where we get those sharp and flat notes.
A sharp is notated with a (#) symbol and a flat is more like a lowercase B (b).
A sharp is simply the black key to the right of a white key. So if we are at C and we go to the black key directly to its right we have C sharp. Right of D is D# and etc…
Flats work the opposite way. If we want to label a black key as flat we just have to take a white key and go to the black key on it’s left. So if we go from D to the black key on the left we have Db.
This means that a black key can have two names, C# and Db are the same note. Music theory is a lot lol, you don’t really have to worry about it right now but basically it depends on the key you are in which name you would use. But key signatures come later, first let’s just get comfy with the notes.
The last thing worth noting here is that two white keys appear next to each other between ‘clusters’. EF and BC. In these cases sharps and flats still work the same way. Fb is the same as saying E and E# is the same as saying F.
The best way to learn any instrument is to learn some simple tunes, now that you know the notes you’re ready to take on some youtube tutorials with confidence 😀
I’m no expert in music production, but I am trying to learn and I’ve realized that one of the most important things to decide when you’re learning to make music is what DAW you’re going to use. A DAW is a digital audio workstation where you record, mix and master music.
I have a macbook. so naturally the most available thing to me was to use garageband. But for some reason I heard a lot of criticism people have for the software. So I decided to try it out for myself and see what all the fuss was about. I did make my first ever song in garageband and I have to say, it’s not quite as ‘easy’ as some people make it out to be. I guess if you’re an expert you might disagree but as a total newbie I was still really confused during the whole process. I have used other DAWS like Abelton and Reaper, from what I can see I’d say that garageband really is a unique platform so I can see why it might turn people off. It did take me a minute to get used to it, and i’m still not that familiar with it, but it can get the job done. I wouldn’t bash it because I think different ideas need different ways to execute them, and I’d definitely see where garageband could have its place, but I’d understand why people aren’t too fond of the software. That being said I do think it has its place, I mean it totally works so it probably is right for some and not for others. DAWs can sometimes be hard to learn and I think some people will definitely prefer the look and feel of garageband.
Personally I have to say Reaper and Ableton are my top choices. So what do you think? Is garageband for you or do you prefer something else?
I really love Linkedin Learning, and a little while ago I took one of the courses named ‘20 Unofficial Rules of Songwriting’ (because my songwriting can always use some serious work). And I thought the course was pretty useful, so I figured I’d share some of the best tips I’ve learned (from videos like this and from personal experience), because songwriting is great and I think anyone interested should give it a try.
Don’t overthink it – This was my biggest problem when I started. I would contemplate every word I wrote and it took forever, it always led to me never finishing any songs. Yikes. But one day I just sat there and started singing and just let it be what it was, and I wrote the first song I ever finished. It wasn’t any kind of masterpiece but it made me realize that I was being way to uptight and it was ruining my creativity, so I think relaxing is a good way to combat that. To quote Rick and Morty ‘Good music comes from those who are relaxed, just hit a button’.
Improvise – I recently made a friend who wanted to start songwriting together and when we got together I realized we had totally different ways of doing this. I usually come up with an idea and then start building slowly. He just straight up starts hitting keys and improving until it feels right. And while I’m sure both ways have their place I also think improv is also just another form of being relaxed and letting it happen, so you might accidentally end up making something amazing. Who knows?
Listen more – My music teachers are avid that listening to a lot of music and analyzing what they do will help give you ideas. I have to admit they’re kind of right. Just listening to more music will help give you ideas and inspire your own work, and it’s just fun.
Think about talking to someone – This is the only technical advice I have (but if you are interested in more stuff like this I’ll link that course below) but writing as if you’re talking to someone is a real crowd hitter. It makes the music feel a bit more personal and natural and usually makes for good hooks.
Do you have any songwriting tips I could use? (anything would be appreciated)