Monthly Archives: February 2013

Feb. 23rd, 2013

Another week gone & another week closer to the GDC!  Already have everything booked & setting up meetings at the moment; I’m expecting it to be an exhausting (but fun) trip!

Good news for the “Bag it!” album!  iTunes has properly adjusted the price of the entire album to 2.99 as we had originally intended:!-express-lane-10-tracks/id586350795?v0=9988&ign-mpt=uo%3D1

This past week has been filled with eclectic Compositions & hopefully I’ll be able to show off at least a few of them in the coming weeks.  So by result, unfortunately this week’s blog update is a little thin on content.  Hopefully next week’s post will make up for it!


Feb. 17th, 2013

What a week/weekend!  Where to start (not in order)…

*Tried out a nice little Brunch spot called Snug Harbor.  Enjoyed the Food, Coffee, & Atmosphere… there are a lot of little cafes around here though, so I’ll try a few others before going back.

*Since V-Day Traffic was nuts, we decided to go hiking up at Solstice Canyon in Malibu Today.  A nice little hike with some good views.

*I started using this new tool from iZotope, Inc called “Iris” & Wow is it cool!  I’m on the trial period right now, but have no doubt I’ll purchase it soon… a very useful Sound Design tool (but it’s also easy to create custom instruments as well).

*I’ve got a few interesting projects on the horizon… nothing I can talk about yet (and it’s still not 100% confirmed), but I’m looking forward to revealing more info when I can!  Also creating my GDC Schedule to “map” out all the meetings & sessions.  This should make it easier to organize everything & schedule new meetings.

I’m really looking forward to this coming week… hopefully there will be some exciting news I can share!

My Birthday Weekend

26.  Born on Feb. 8th in ’87, I’m now 26 years old… seems that years fly by ridiculously fast as I grow older.  This Birthday Weekend was a good one though.  I got to eat (one of my favorite things to do) at some new places & stroll around Disneyland for the day.  Always a good time when you have good food and good friends.

Beyond that, I had the pleasure of bringing in a talented vocalist friend (Melody) for some session work las week.  This week should be full of creating SFX and interesting music tracks too, although I unfortunately can’t talk about or show off any of it.  Nevertheless, it should be a busy, but fun week… especially since the Man U vs Real Madrid game is on Wednesday!

Jeklynn Heights put up it’s Steam Greenlight (concept) page, so feel free to check that out if you’d like!

Bag it Album & a New “Old” Article

So, the daily updates are pretty hard to maintain… think I’ll be switching to whatever works best with my schedule (usually once or twice a week).  This week, I’ll be posting a new “old” article!  However, I just found out that “Bag it!” is featured on both the Nook & the App store for Valentines day :)  Seems like the perfect time to buy the game for your sweetheart & hey, why not top it off with the official soundtrack: CD Baby or iTunes


Vertical Thinking

By: Kole Hicks

In the world of music (especially when we are talking about Western music) there are two primary ways of thinking about, analyzing, and composing music.

The first school of thought is taught at most classical conservatories and is specific to that style of music, although it can be applied to many other genres.  It is called “Horizontal” thinking and differs quite a bit from the way that most of us think about music who have grown up in a popular music world.

The second school of thought is usually gained by personal experience through listening or playing popular music styles like Rock, Blues, and Jazz; however it can be and is taught in many different modern music schools.  It is called “Vertical” thinking and this is usually the most familiar and comfortable way that most of us listen to, analyze, and compose music.

Let me start by saying that neither method is superior to the other; they are just different.  However, if both methods are used or at least understood then you (the player or composer) can use the benefits of both Schools of thought to more fully express your musical intentions.

Without further ado, I will introduce and explain “Vertical Thinking”; which is usually the most familiar way of analyzing and composing music for many of us. 

When one listens to or composes music vertically, they are interested in what is happening at that moment in time.  They are more interested in the sound as a “whole” and how each different instrument interacts with one another to create a unified “sound.”  This way of thinking is used very often in popular music styles like Pop, Rock, and Blues; where chords/harmony are the backbone of the composition.  This is not to say that “Horizontal” thinking can’t be applied to popular music, nor does it mean that harmony does not exist in “Horizontally” composed music.

This is also why you see a lot of lead sheets in Jazz, Pop, and Rock, with just the chords listed and every now and then a rhythmic figure that is usually played by all the instruments involved.  Also, groove is usually much more prevalent in music composed “Vertically,” because a great amount of attention is placed on a short rhythmic pattern which is usually repeated many times (a common technique in popular music).  Depending on the style, this can be classified as a Riff, Groove, or Clave.

Please take a look at the Vertical Thinking example below as I demonstrate how a string quartet part may be written for a common Rock song.

Example Here

As you can see in this example, the Melody is in the highest voice (violin) and separates itself from the rest of the instruments by a different rhythmic pattern (1 half note followed by 2 quarter notes).  The rest of the instruments playing in a lower register, are holding whole notes and filling an accompanying roll.  Their purpose is to do nothing more than create a Harmonic foundation for something melodic to happen on top of it.  You could think of it as a Castle being built on top of a giant dirt mound.  The dirt isn’t very exciting compared to the castle, but it’s necessary that it stays solid so that the Castle can be built and decorated with all the things that make Castles cool.

You will also notice that the chord symbols are placed above each measure, as is common in popular music styles.  This means that if a guitarist or pianist comes in to the recording session, they know the chord to play at that certain time.  The rhythm they play is usually simple and improvised, as is also common in “Vertically” composed music.

Last but not least you will notice the note I made *Does not contain proper voice leading found in Horizontally composed music.  This isn’t always true, because a lot of Jazz stresses some voice leading; however most popular music styles are ignorant of or ignore the rules of voice leading.  If you would like to find out more about the topic of voice leading, please read Mike Philippov’s article here

For those of you familiar with the concept of voice leading, you will notice that many “rules” are broken; however I will just point out one.  If you take a look at the notes contained in measure 4 (the last measure) you will notice that the intended chord is a G7.  However, there is no third (B) held by any of the instruments and the 7th of the chord (F) is doubled by both the cello and viola, which is a big “No-No” for dominant 7 chords if you follow the rules of voice leading.

This concludes Part 1 of this 2 part series on “Horizontal and Vertical Thinking”.  I hope this article helped you better understand and become more aware of the VerticalSchool of thought and composing.  Look out for my next article on “Horizontal Thinking” in the future, especially if you aren’t familiar with that school of thought.

Until next time, take care and keep on composing fellow artists!

New “Old” Article

I’m going to repost a favorite article of mine from back in 2007… my how the time flies.

The Theory of Appreciative Comparison

By: Kole Hicks

This article is based on a theory borrowed from Psychology, but adapted to the musical world.  In Psychology, there is a theory that people can’t fully appreciate something (or appreciate it more) until they have the complete opposite to compare it to.  For example, if someone lives in the Midwest it is more probable that they will fully recognize and appreciate a warm sunny day.  This is because they have been able to compare the great weather they are having now, with blizzards and ice storms a few months earlier.  Where as a person living in California is less likely to fully recognize and appreciate beautiful weather because they are exposed to it constantly.

A common lyric used in many popular songs today wraps up the theory of Appreciative Comparison very well, “You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone.”  This serves as a good example because the two extreme opposites are exposed to this person (having something great and having nothing at all); and because of that, they are able to compare the two and in turn are more appreciative of the thing they once had.

So what I will be doing in this article is adapting this theory to the Musical realm in a practical way so that we (the artists) can more effectively write music and in turn have the audience recognize, understand, and appreciate our music much more.

However, before we begin using this theory in a practical way and applying it to our own music, we must understand the basic elements of music and compare their extremes to discover the most efficient way of expressing a change in a musical idea/emotion/etc.  Now on to the basics, there are 7 basic musical elements contained in most every song and I will list them below.

1. Melody

2. Harmony

3. Rhythm

4. Dynamics

5. Timbre

6. Form/Structure

7. Emotion

Melody refers to the arrangement of single tones that form a musical phrase or idea.  This is usually the most “catchy” part of the song and is easily identifiable in most pieces.  There are many extremes that we can use and compare with melody, but here is one example: A very consonant beautiful stepwise melody that moves slowly and gracefully// A very dissonant awkward leaping melody that moves fast and spontaneously.  Each one of these melodies implies different things and is more effective musically in certain situations than the other.

Harmony is the chords played “underneath” a melody as an accompaniment or the sonorities created with the melody (if you are thinking and composing horizontally).  Here is an example of two different ways you can use harmony.  Strictly Diatonic and a simple progression that follows the rules // Pandiatonic progression which doesn’t follow any rules at all, but still stays within the same key.  Obviously this isn’t the only difference or opposite that can be matched together, but it is a good example of how you can expand on the extremes of each element of musicality just by going into more detail.  As with Melody, the different Harmonies chosen imply unique and separate ideas and emotions too.

Rhythm refers to the note durations (of any musical idea/phrase) and/or sequencing of these durations to form patterns.  Rhythm is important and can be assigned to melodies, harmonies, themes etc.  Here are two opposites:Predictable rhythmic pattern that repeats // Unpredictable and violent rhythmic pattern that is through composed and never repeats.  Again, each of these has different meanings and is more effective at expressing certain emotions than others.

Dynamics refers to how loud or soft the music is at any one point or during a whole section/passage/entire piece.  Dynamics can be assigned to a particular instrument, group of instruments, section, theme, melody, etc.  These two opposites of Dynamics are very commonly used with great results musically: Very soft // Very loud.  This could mean that one section of music is played very softly and immediately after the next section is very loud.  Like the rest of the elements of music, each dynamic level and pattern has a different meaning.

Timbre refers to the sound quality produced by an instrument or group of them playing together.  Here is an example on guitar: A Guitar playing Sul Ponticello (by the bridge) which creates a very metallic and thin tone // A Guitar playing Sul Tasto (on the neck) which creates a warm and thick sound quality.  Other things that affect the Timbre of the music are: Articulations, Materials used to play the instrument with, etc.  Each Timbre and Sound quality has a different meaning and can effectively be used to express that meaning musically.

Form/Structure refers to the way the musical piece (or sections of the whole) is organized.  There are many ways you can form a piece of music and here is an example of two completely different ways of structuring a song: A very strict and balanced form which was intended and used throughout the whole composition process // A natural and intuitive form which was not pre-planned and is uneven in some sections.  Each of these ways of forming your music is completely valid; however their use is more appropriate in some styles and situations than others.

Emotion refers to the feeling you want to express and the listener to understand throughout the entire piece, a passage, melody etc.  Two different types of emotion that can be used in a piece of music (but are not complete opposites) are: Slightly irritated at something (like a bug flying in your face) // Unbridled fury and about to erupt with passionate Anger.  This example uses only one emotion, Anger, but the details are what separate them from each other.  Using different elements of Music that I’ve explained above, will be able to express these different levels of “Anger Intensity.”

That covers all of the 7 basic elements of music and hopefully you have gained insight into a new way of thinking and the amount of detail that can be placed into your song.  However, before I leave you I will give an example of the way that this theory can be used musically.

1. Lets say you are writing a song and you have the first section of music composed. It is a dark but melodramatic song.

2. However, after this section you want to express Triumph over this darkness. You’re not exactly sure where to start, but you want this to be a very expressive point in the music that everyone picks up on (try to make it as effective as possible).

3. This is where the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison” comes into play.  By understanding this theory and using the technique (that I will describe in the Second Article), you will be able to more effectively express your musical ideas (especially the changes) and plan out a course of action on paper.

Now this might sound very structured and condemning to the intuitive nature of music; however the technique I will be explaining in the second article, allows a gradation of participation.  It will be this way so that those of you who like to improvise for the majority of your musical compositions, will still find some use with the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” and the following technique.

This concludes the first part of the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” I hope this article has opened your musical mind and intrigued you to look forward to the next article in this 2 part series; which will actually deal with using the “Theory of Appreciative Comparison,” to more effectively express what you have to say to the listener and in turn the listener will be able to more fully recognize and appreciate your music.  Until next time, take care and keep composing fellow artists!