Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

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   Dynamics 101




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      Your Home Studio Dot Com was envisioned, for the most part, to help capture the music that is in all of us. Some of us have more formal musical training than others but I don’t think there are any of us that couldn’t stand to reinforce or expand the scope of what we already know. Having said all that, I’ve decided to start a continuing series of articles on music theory, notation and the like.


      The first building blocks of music are notes. Notes consist of a tone and a duration (more on this later). Tones are sound waves of a particular frequency. The chromatic scale used in Western music consists of 12 tones and there are 7 of these 12 tone groups (octaves) with each group (octave) starting with a frequency exactly 2 times the one below it. For instance, the frequency of middle C (C4) is twice the frequency of the C (C3) below it and half the frequency of the C (C5) above it. In an equal tempered scale, which is used for keyboard instruments like pianos, the notes are evenly spaced so that the frequency of every note is 1.0595 higher that the note before it and 1.0595 lower than the note after it.


      If you were to look at a piano, you’d notice that there are black keys and white keys and they arranged so that the lowest tone keys are on the left and the highest tone keys are on the right. The white keys all have letter names starting with A and continuing through the alphabet to G. Then the pattern starts again (The lowest note on an 88 key piano is B, however). To locate an “A” on the piano, look for a grouping of 5 white keys and 3 black keys. “A” is the white key between the 2nd and 3rd black keys. The black keys all have names that begin with a letter name but they have either a sharp (#) or flat (b) sign appended to them. The sharp sign indicates that the note is the black key to right (higher) of the letter name and the flat sign denotes that the note is the black key to the left (lower) of  the letter name. “What about the groups of white keys that don’t have any black keys between them? Do they have sharps and flats?” Yes, Virginia, they do. In every chromatic scale, there are two groups of two notes that don't have black keys between them, as you noticed. They are 1) B and C and 2) E and F. If we refer to B#, we are really talking about C and Fb is E. This seems confusing but in actuality it’s pretty well thought out as you will see later.


      The next building block of music is rhythm. Rhythm, as it relates to music, involves the duration of the individual notes and any places, if any, where notes are not played (rests). To notate rhythm, a piece of music is subdivided into measures which are arbitrary divisions based on the time signature of the piece. For simplicity sake, we’ll stick with two time signatures—4/4 and 3/4. A measure of 4/4 time consists of 4 beats with 3/4 time consisting of 3 beats with the 1/4 note getting one beat in both cases. “What the heck is a quarter note?” In 4/4 time, a 1/4 note is 25% as long as a whole note and 50% as long as a half note but in 3/4 time, the 1/4 note is 1/3 as long as a whole note. “Huh?” A whole note has the duration of one measure regardless so in 4/4 time the whole note is 4 beats long but in 3/4 time the whole note is only 3 beats long. By the same toke, a whole note in 5/4 time is 5 beats long. Regardless of the time signature, however, a 1/2 note is always twice as long as a 1/4 note and an 1/8 note is half as long as a 1/4 note. Time divisions can go all the way down to 64th notes and beyond but rarely is anything shorter than a 32nd note used.


      The third building block of music is the key of the piece. This denotes the general tonality of the melody and harmony. In the case of the key of C, which happens to consist of only the white keys on the piano, the melody and chords used to harmonize the piece will consist of predominately just those keys. There is much more to this that will be covered in a later article so we’ll leave it at that for now. 


      The final building block of music is tempo. This establishes how fast or slow the piece will be and is expressed in beats per minute. A slow song may have a tempo of 60 or 70 bpm whereas a fast song may be 240 bpm. Changing the tempo of a song can change the mood and feel and is an important tool in songwriting. Typically, slower songs are felt to be more introspective and sometimes sad, whereas faster songs tend to be more upbeat—pardon the pun.


Next month, Diatonic Scales and Melodies