The Cat’s out of the Bag! Or, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard installed like a dream…

Yesterday was Apple’s release of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system.  And, like any good little Mac fanboy, I was there, and have the t-shirt to prove it!  I won’t discuss the hype, and the fact that few people were actually BUYING Leopard as opposed to just wanting a free t-shirt.  (Ok, time to turn off the cynicism now..)

To start the story off, my friend Rick had offered to help me install the eSata bracket for the Mac Pro.  Plus, he wanted to pick up his own copy of Leopard and a t-shirt.  So we met over at Apple store in Boca, and watched the nutty-ness.  It was amazing how many people walked by and KNEW what was actually going on.

After getting our hits, whoops, I mean buying Leopard, we headed back to work on my Mac Pro.  Rick had already added the eSata connector to his MacPro, so I let him do the work on changing the computer around.  What a reverse!  Usually, I’m the one fixing the computer while everyone else stands around and watches.  Fortunately, it was fairly easy to do.  The Mac Pro is VERY well designed, and it is fairly easy to get to all of the components.  Adding the connector went very smoothly.  While the case was open, I added a 500 gig drive for installing Leopard on.

Once the computer was back up and running, it was time to install the new cat.  There are two very helpful things to remember when doing an OS upgrade on a Mac… First off, holding down the Alt key while booting allows one to select which disk/drive the Mac will boot off of.  Plus, one can insert a bootable CD/DVD at that point and the system will figure out that it’s there WITHOUT needing to restart the box.  Second, when you get to the install wizard, the main menu is actually active.  Therefore, if you need to change you disks / partitions, go to the utilities menu and run the Disk Utilities (I *think* that’s the name.  Please correct me if I’m wrong!).  I had to use the Disk Utility to partition and format my new drive.  After that, I selected clean install, and Leopard installed onto the new drive.

Here’s where things got interesting (in a good way).  The first time Leopard came up it asked if I wanted to import programs and data from one of several locations.  One of those locations was ‘from another OS X drive’.  I said ‘what the heck’ and pointed it at my old Tiger drive.  Leopard says ‘OK, will take an hour or so’.  Once it finished and started up, ALL my programs and data had been copied over!  My email converted, my music and pictures were copied, everything came over great.  Well, iCal hiccupped, but I fix that tonight

I’d NEVER try that with Windows.  Doing an upgrade like that is begging for disaster.

Good job Apple!

And thanks Rick!  I appreciate the help!

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Another ‘Garageband rocks’ post

I’m beginning to really like Garageband.  I’m in the process of learning a bunch of new songs, and I need to create backing tracks to practice with.  There are a lot of midi files out there that one can use as backing tracks (No, I’m not going to link to them.  They are not THAT hard to find).  The good thing about midi files is that each file is already separated into tracks with instrument definitions, one can turn on or off each track, and the song can be speeded up or slowed down very simply without having to alter the wave file.  The downside to midi files is that the sounds are all created with your computer, so having a good tone generator is imperative.  So, I went out and found a couple of the songs that I needed for learning / practice and downloaded them.

Here’s where Garageband gets interesting…  To setup a song to practice with, I created a new Garageband project that was totally empty.  Importing the Midi file is so easy, it should be criminal… all I had to do was drag the Midi file into the Garageband track view.  Garageband automatically added the tracks, picked the software instruments, and loaded everything up ready to play.  Cool!  So, I played the song, and noticed that the bass guitar track was playing an octave too low.  I had to dig a bit to figure out how to change the pitch.  It turns out, it was dead simple.  When you select a section of music, a little left-to-right slider appears in the track pane with just a number.  I WISH it said something like ‘transpose’, but it doesn’t (at least, I don’t remember it being labeled that well).  So, I slid the slider up 12, the octave, and voila! the bass track was in the correct octave.  Also, it was easy to change the instruments to different ones to get different tones.

One of the really nice things about Garageband is that the software instruments recognize the General Midi instrument specs.  As long as the song has the instrument definitions included in the file, Garageband will assign the correct instrument.  No more fiddling with Channel 10 for the drums and all sorts of other rigmarole and gyrations that go into getting a midi file to sound right.

All in all, I was able to get my song created and sounding good very quickly.  That left a LOT more time to practice.  Which, is the point right now.  Gotta learn 10 songs in a week and a half!  It’s fun to fiddle, but NOT fun to have to know incredible amounts just to get anything done.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to walk away…

This is not one of my nice little ‘how-to’ articles.  In fact, most of the content is not nice at all.  But, it’s life, and in particular, it’s MY life…

First up, I changed a relationship that I’ve had with a friend for over 10 years.  Lately, that friend has turned up the sarcasm to offset my more serious demeanor.  I’m sorry that I haven’t made a lot of jokes lately, but that’s mainly because things haven’t been that funny.  I am really struggling through some hard times, and I need friends that help, not ones that are snide.  So, off they go…

Second, I left the band.  I have many reasons, some logical, some not.  I mainly feel that it is not the direction I wish to go in.

Having done both of those things this weekend, I thought that I’d be feeling depressed.  Surprisingly, I’m not.  I feel like some weights have been lifted, and I can now move on.

I’ll blog more about this stuff as things change…

Follow up on ‘Back to Basics – Post 1’

Well, I’m off to a good start… confusing some people, and not giving enough information for others… Sigh… Such is the life of a misunderstood author.smile_regular

First off, Rick asked me what a hi-hat was.  Here’s an article on drum kits that should explain a bit.  In fact, they have a specific reference to hi-hats.  Here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

A hi-hat, or hihat, is a type of cymbal and stand used as a typical part of a drum kit by percussionists in jazz, rock and roll, and other forms of contemporary popular music.

Rick also asked about my note duration references.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about modern notation.  The quarter note and eighth note are just different divisions of the beat.

My friend Rich thought that I was referring to how the band practiced this weekend.  I won’t go into details, but Rich wanted to know which hardware drum machines are good.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for Rich.  I haven’t had any personal experience with drum machines for a LONG time.  I’ve always used my computer for my drum machine for practice.  I know that Boss and Alesis both produce quality drum machines.  The only thing I would recommend is that finding one that easy to program be top priority.  Sounds can always be replaced.  It’s more important to get one that has a drum grid for entering beats OR it has a computer hookup to allow for computer editing.  Aside from that?  I have NO idea which one is better.

Back to Basics – Post 1 – Timing is everything

So, here is the first post in my ‘Back to Basics’ articles.  Let’s see how it’s going to go!

In an article I read from an interview with Steve Vai, he said something like "With the availability of inexpensive drum machines, there’s no excuse for having poor rhythm."  (Ok, so it’s not the exact quote, but it was something along those lines).  The quote is over 15 years old.  And it rings true as much today as it did then.

Why am I getting on this particular subject?  Because, this weekend, I was listening to a clip someone had posted for a new piece of gear.  What was really painful was that the guy had a drum machine running, but wasn’t even in the ballpark with the rhythm.  It was incredibly cool that the guy took the time to record some playing and demo the gear.  The sound was good enough that I plan to check out the gear myself.smile_regular  But, it got me thinking about how that’s one of the ‘basics’ that is really hard to get right.  And, it’s one of the most important.  People may not be able to quantify it, but a poor rhythm player will sound ‘bad’ no matter how good their lead chops are… smile_sad  (I know.  I struggle with rhythm ALL the time!)

Since rhythm is so important, how does one practice it?  And why is the quote about the drum machine important?

Computers and music seem to go hand-in-hand.  The recording software has virtually eliminated the monster boards and tape machines of old.  Almost every home musician has a computer with some sort of recording capability.  And those machines make GREAT drum machines and/or metronomes! 

The first thing to do is get software that emulates a drum machine and/or a metronome.  I’ll post a list of software in a later post.  I use GarageBand and Sonar, but that can be overkill for some people.  Next, build a simple one measure 4/4 drum pattern.  Bass drum on beats 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4, and a closed hi-hat on every eighth note (every half beat).  If you want fancier drum patterns, but aren’t a drummer, try this book on drum patterns.  But, I would suggest keeping it simple.  Now that you’ve got a basic pattern, either set your software to loop that measure, or copy it to many, many measures.  That sets up the computer side of things.

Now, on to the important part!  To actually practice rhythm, start with quarter notes.  Take any chord, and play it on 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Get your playing to the point that the bass and snare sound at EXACTLY the same time as your strum.  What you should hear is a very percussive chord.  That’s how you get a ‘punchy’ rhythm.  Then try eighth notes.  Again, you should have the same effect.  The hi-hat should disappear, or sound simultaneously with your strum.  If you are using a metronome, when playing, the click should disappear.  This is VERY, VERY tough.  But, the benefits very much worth the effort.

How do you know if you are getting better?  Record yourself.  With the drums.  With the metronome.  Is the playback the same as what you are hearing?  Be critical.  If you are not happy with what you hear when recording, put more time into it.  Use the K.I.S.S. principle (no, don’t try to hide behind makeup!)… Keep It Simple Stupid.  Play slow.  Play fast.  Always play perfectly.  Fancy rhythms come later, but one has to ‘lock-in’ with the drums to get a good sound.

One last thing… have fun with this.  Make up your own exercises, but always remember that the goal is good rhythm.  With a bit of practice it will come very naturally.

Back to Basics, the Introduction

This is going to be kind of a rambling set of posts.  I’d like to detail some of the important, but often (VERY often!) overlooked ‘basics’ for my hobbies / profession.

What got me to start writing about the basics?  Well, I always remember what my karate teacher told me… "A martial artist who understands the basics will always defeat a person who doesn’t".  So I proceeded to try to truly understand the basics of martial arts.  I don’t know if I ever succeeded, but I learned a LOT for trying to understand that stuff.

So, I plan to try to pass on the things that I think are important in guitar playing and / or computer programming.  I might even happen to throw some other ideas up.  Please, take an run with them, and add to them as anyone sees fit.

I’ll start tomorrow with some guitar tips!

Using what you’ve got…

This post is a hard one to categorize.  I’m leaving it as ‘Life in general’ because it applies to so many of the topics I talk about…

If you are a regular reader to my blog (what?  I’ve got readers? 🙂 ), you’ll notice that I’ve recently been talking about GarageBand.  This is pretty weird, as I’ve been a die-hard Cakewalk Sonar user for many years.  Well, let me re-phrase that.  I’ve been a die-hard Sonar PURCHASER for many years.  Cakewalk has been getting more and more ‘pro’ every year, and I’ve absolutely loved it.  With Sonar 7, they have stepped into the realm of professional multi-track software, that few companies can match.  And… it’s not fun for me anymore.  I don’t have a degree in music recording, nor do I have the patience to gain that level of experience.  I’ve purchased several upgrades where I install, make sure things play, then never boot the software again.  GarageBand feels different.  Sort of a cross between Sony’s Acid, Sonar, and Band-in-a-box, and it manages do combine them into something ‘fun’.  What’s interesting is that GarageBand is fairly inexpensive (iLife is like $79!) and Sonar is far more (more than $500!).  It is the difference between software that is entertainment, and business software.  Sonar, one can run a pro studio.  I certainly wouldn’t try it with GarageBand. 

But, even big studios need scratch pads.  I still remember my first trip into a ‘real’ studio, I saw a little four track recorder.  I asked the guy how much for it, figuring he’d NEVER need that with having a full studio available.  He said it wasn’t for sale.  He used that like a notepad because ‘it takes too long to set everything up just to capture an idea’.  I’ve never forgotten that.  Unfortunately, I never really understood it until recently, either.

What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t NEED a full studio for my music.  I can get by with the basics.

Now, why did I say that this story and idea apply to almost all my topics?  Just like anything in life, one must master the basics before going on to the pros.  Most people want to skip the ‘simple stuff’ and go right to the ‘good stuff’.  Unless one is incredibly gifted in that area, one will certainly fail.  And that’s not just about guitar playing.  Programming is another prime example.  Once you learn how the computer and the low level languages work, you can do just about anything.  But, skip that part, and the rest is REALLY tough.

This is a lesson that I seem to keep having to learn myself…  Back to basics!

Ok, this is just creepy…

Apparently, Microsoft released a new version of the Live Search in the last couple of days.  So, to test it out, I did the first thing that comes to mind (think for a second… what’s the first thing you ALWAYS do with a new phone book?)  Yep, I looked up my name.  Well, I did have the top spot, but that was because of my profile on Developer’s Express!?!  I went through 5 pages of searching, and not ONE hit for my blog, hosted on Windows Live Spaces.  Not a good start for a supposedly ‘better’ search engine.

But, that’s NOT the creepy part…  This is… I’ve know that there are other David Scheidt’s out there (we need to get a convention going guys!) and it is interesting that one is part of the Linux community, another’s a published author (the author list is gonna get added to by me at some point in the distant future 🙂 ), and so on and so on.  What I didn’t know was that one of them works the lighting for a play house in North Carolina!  How’s that weird, you ask?  Well, in high school, I usually ran our light board for the musicals.  At one point we PERFORMED ‘Kiss Me Kate’.  (No, I didn’t work the light board that year).  Want to go really freaky?  The last update of that page was my birthday (August 15th).

Ok, so maybe not so creepy… but lots of funny coincidences.  Hope the show went well guys!

Starting to play with GarageBand

Today finally found me sitting down and spending some quality time with GarageBand.  Talk about interesting…

First off, for anyone starting to learn GarageBand, add this link to the GarageBand FAQ to your browser’s favorites.  It will save some sanity.  🙂

Now, why would I know about this link already?  Because GarageBand (GB from now on) does things a little different than Sonar.  I started out with GB today with a blank project.  Ok, that part’s easy enough.  Next, I wanted to start building a drum track.  Not by dragging the clips in, but by creating the patterns myself.  I wanted something very basic, and the built in clips can get a little busy. 

So, I added a track, picked a drum kit, and tried clicking in the grid to add notes.  Well… THAT didn’t work.  WTF!?!  Isn’t GB supposed to be ‘easy and intuitive’?  Okaaayyy… Read the help system.  ‘Control key + click’.  Whatever.   So, I try that.  Wait a minute… THAT DIDN’T WORK EITHER!?!  Now, I’m becoming a little frustrated.  Next stop, Google.  Googling a bit brought me to the GB FAQ.  Turns out, you have to create a bit of space in GB to put make it editable. 

Ok, now we are cooking.  Except… no sound on my drum kit!  Maybe I’m just going crazy.  So, I tried dragging a regular loop in, and it worked.  I must be doing something wrong.  Turns out, I was in the wrong octave on the keyboard.  Here’s a minor feature request for any Apple-ites that read this blog… In the piano roll view, allow me to put the drum names in the keyboard instead of the note names! 

I went back to the FAQ a couple of times, because GB wasn’t Sonar.  I got my little loop working, and am happy with it.  I’ll start adding more, as I understand drums.

All in all, though, GarageBand looks like a VERY nice, basic, usable music creation studio.  More to come as I put things together.