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A Ridiculously Simple Explanation of Vocal Compression For Beginners

UPDATE: The graphic and article have been updated with a more accurate explanation of limiting. Last night, I was giving one of our mastering clients some mixing advice regarding vocal compression. I thought I’d post the email here for those of you who might still be struggling with the concept (I know I did for […]

“Ready, Able” by Grizzly Bear: A Compositional Analysis

A rhythmic and harmonic play-by-play .

“Amazing” by Kanye West: A Compositional Analysis

A look at Kanye’s minimalist hit from a music theory perspective.

Voice leading is a common songwriting or arranging technique which (traditionally) results in smooth-sounding chord transitions. To use smooth or ‘proper’ voice leading when arranging a chord progression for an ensemble, write each instrument’s part so that the performers will make the smallest note jumps possible or no jump at all if the note occurs in both chords (“common tones”). This technique is particularly important when writing harmonies for background vocalists because smaller jumps are easier to hear and sing against a melody. Soloists and lead singers are expected to break from this principle, since larger melodic leaps provide interest and can make a melody more memorable.  Read More →

Airy:  Spaciousness, often a pleasant mostly treble-based reverb sound.  Extended frequency response that runs up through the top end of the bandwidth.   Brittle:  Peaking in high-frequencies, weak fundamentals with slightly distorted or harsh highs.   Crisp:  Good high-frequency response with good transient quality   Crispy:  Constant, but perhaps random high frequency sounds not unlike frying foods.   Delicate: Extended high frequency range without being harsh.  Emphasis on high frequencies extending to 20 KHz, but without the peaking.    Edgy:  High frequency emphasis from about 3.5 to 6 KHz with harmonic content overly strong in comparison to fundamentals.  Can deal with high frequency distortion and rasp.   Piercing:  Hard on the ears, screechy and sharp.  Narrow peaks occurring between 3 and 10 KHz.   Raspy:  Harsh sounds in the 6 KHz range that sounds like a scratchy voice.   Sibilant:  S and Sh sounds are overly emphasized.    Sizzly:  Similar to crisp,... Read More →

The final section of the audible spectrum is the high frequency or treble portion. Humans theoretically are able to hear up to 20 KHz (that is, newborn baby girls can theoretically hear up to 20 KHz at normal listening levels; for the rest of us, considerably lower). So what could happen in the 16,500 Hz range if no new instruments can sound there?    It contains almost nothing but upper harmonics of treble instruments and room tone.  This helps solo instruments and vocals sound present and full, but also adds brightness and clarity to a mix   Most telephones cut off around 3.5 KHz yet you can still tell whose voice it is on the phone.  This tells you that practically everything needed to understand and distinguish any audio content pretty much lives below this range.   Pretty much only dog whistles operate in this range, so there is absolutely no need to worry about any more fundamentals or really any lower order harmonics getting in the way of any treatment you decide to apply.   Boosting... Read More →

Bright:  Emphasis on high-frequencies, specifically upper-mids with emphasis on harmonics.   Crunchy:  Exists between 2K and 4K, typically distortion based and generally pleasant.  Can lend rhythmic distinction to distorted rhythm parts.   Detailed:  Minutiae of the music are easily audible.  Present sounding, intimate and close with lots of articulation and transient response throughout the upper mid range.   Forward:  Present, in your face.  Detail present in transients and upper harmonics which lends a feeling of proximity.   Glassy:  Brittle sounding, too much upper-mid content especially with regard to harmonics in relation to fundamentals.    Grungy:  Lots of distortion with emphasis on odd harmonics.   Hard:  Excellent transient response combined with an overemphasis on upper-midrange frequencies.   Harsh:  Peaking in the 2-6 KHz range.   Metallic:  Emphasis on upper-mid range frequencies, specifically those that deal with odd order harmonics in this range.   Pinched: ... Read More →

Consisting of frequencies from 1.2 to 3.5 KHz, we once again have a nice range of frequencies to play with.  The high-mids contain lots of harmonics, especially the lower to mid order harmonics for the mid-range instruments.  The range of  2300 Hz gives you plenty of room to work with in carving out specific places for various instruments to sit.  Only the highest instruments can really play in this range:  the piccolo can sound in this band and it also accounts for the top octave or so of the piano, which most people know not a whole lot happens there.  So there are no new instruments sounding fundamentals to get in the way and cover up the harmonic content that you are treating in this band.   Additionally, this range is very important because it contains much of the sudden transient content.  Attack transients, sibilance, consonants and more all live in this register, so it is very important for understandability as well as punchiness, presence, and dynamics.    The human... Read More →

Honky:  When you cup your hands and sing into it, that is pretty much what honkiness is.  This is a frequency buildup around 500-700 Hz, so cut in that area or boost the lows.   Nasal:  Like when you pinch your nose and speak.  This is very similar to honky except that it is a bit higher around 800-1000 Hz.   Radio-Filter:  The most overused pop cliché out there.  I wish everyone would stop doing this, but to do it properly you should know:  Old radios had small speakers which meant poor bass response and sometimes weak highs as well.  They also had poor construction which means limited dynamic range.  So use high and low pass filters centered around 1 KHz.  Most of the effect will be accomplished by the high-pass filter.  The low pass filter can be adjusted to taste.  Compress heavily to limit dynamic range.   Tinny:  Sounds like it’s coming through a tin can.  To me this also indicates peaky mids which would be a significant bump at around 1 KHz.  Perhaps some high-end... Read More →

Note: This post requires a basic knowledge of intervals, which you can acquire by checking out my post Keith’s Crash Course On Intervals for Self-Taught Musicians. If you are not familiar with solfege syllables (do re mi fa sol), also read our Solfege Syllables To Intervals Translation chart.       This article comes as a response to a user question left in a comment on my article on modes. The question is: Why (supposedly) can’t we hear Locrian mode? Of all the seven modes derived from the major scale, Locrian is the only one considered to be a “theoretical mode”–one that our ears cannot actually hear. While there are supposed examples of Locrian mode, naysayers can argue that while these songs appear to be Locrian on paper, we hear them as a combination of chords borrowed from different parallel modes (“modal interchange”) or as being in a relative key.* First, let’s explore what makes this particular tonality... Read More →

Earlier I defined the mid frequencies as the ones between 600 and 1200 Hz.  These would contain higher portions of the harmonies, higher melodies, and a whole bunch of harmonics.   For most of music history, solo singers who could sing very high were coveted.  Coloratura sopranos and castrato singers were great assets because their voices could soar audibly above the rest of the orchestration.  Their vocals pierce because the sit above the normal range for the rest of the instruments.  This frequency bandwidth aligns pretty well with the upper reaches of the soprano voice and the high-flying notes of 80s lead guitar.   Now accompaniment instruments such as guitar and piano might also play in this register in band situations, however in this range the emphasis tends to be on notes other than the root or melody.  This allows the soloist or lead instrument to have the spotlight in this frequency band.   This is also the register where the frequency range starts to increase.  Previously,... Read More →

This Solfege Syllables to Intervals Translation Chart was designed to help self-taught musicians follow along in future FYM Blog posts, particularly our Compositional Analysis series. This guide uses intervals relative to the root note of the key going up in half steps. Also be sure to check out Keith’s Crash Course On Intervals For Self-Taught Musicians. Text (For Copy & Pasting): * do – Perfect Unison (Root) * ra – Minor 2nd * re – Major 2nd * me – Minor 3rd * mi – Major 3rd * fa – Perfect 4th * fi – Tritone * sol – Perfect 5th * le – Minor 6th * la – Major 6th * te – Minor 7th * ti – Major 7th (Leading Tone) * do – Perfect Octave (Root) For example: in the key of C, C# is called ra, G is sol, Bb is te, and so forth.     Also note that some of these intervals can have a different solfege name in certain contexts, but these are the “default” names... Read More →

This post is #2 in my series of music theory lessons. My feeling is that music theory resources on the internet are fairly scattered and typically not for beginners. Theory lessons shouldn’t make anyone run away screaming or scratching their heads, but good luck prying through Wikipedia’s music theory knowledge base, which explains things in thorough, but often highly confusing ways. Much of what I talk about in my Compositional Analysis series requires a basic understanding of theory, but anyone who is interested should be able to read along. I will be using these posts as references for that series. If anything is not clear, feel free to leave a comment. The distance between two notes is known as an “interval.” Each interval has it’s own name, and these names are useful for analyzing, understanding, and talking about music. I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, here are the 13* basic note intervals in order, with examples starting from C: Perfect... Read More →

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