Rapper’s Journey 2 (RP2)

So for now, I’m just working hard on trying to build my own individual skill set. To do that, I’m memorizing certain drum beats at specific tempos. A lot of my time learning is actually just spent memorizing. Memorizing patterns, terms, sample names… The goal being that I’ll always have a good frame of reference to start my own drums from. Everyday I’ll also try to experiment. Playing around with new concepts and ideas seem to be the best way for me to memorize and internalize ideas over time.

 

In terms of standard material necessary to learn, I’m still looking into music theory. Chords and chord progressions seemed to be one of the necessary tools for making complex music, so I wanted that to be high on my list of priorities. Chords are essentially just layered notes (notes that are played together) that sound nice together.

 

From what I learned, people have worked very hard to make the pitches between notes of any instrument uniform. In terms of a piano, that means the difference in pitch between 2 adjacent keys are the same as any other adjacent pair of keys on the piano (be it a white key or a black key). With that being said, the step between any 2 adjacent keys is called a semitone and 2 semitones is a tone. From this we’ll define a scale, and from there finally we can define chords. To identify which keys are part of a scale, you can do this algorithm with any note:

 

1) Add the start/base key to your scale (this can be ANY key)

2) Do this 2 times

2a) Move 1 tone up, and add that note to the scale

3) Move 1 semitone up, and add that note to the scale

4) Do this 3 times

4a) Move 1 tone up, and add that note to the scale

5) Move 1 semitone up and you should arrive at the same note

 

All the notes you have recorded as part of the scale make up part of the scale. Now a ‘major’ chord is when you play the notes in your scale, but remove all the ones in even spots (indexes) in your list. An easier quick-hand way to do it is to just get a note, get the note 4 steps above that, the note 3 more steps above that, and play them all together; that will also make up a major chord. A ‘dominant chord’ is just when you also play the note 4 keys up from the highest note in the major chord.

 

Using this simple notion of a major chord and the concept of a scale, I’ve been taught by one of the youtube gurus I’ve seen online (a guy on youtube with the channel ‘worshipwoodshed’) that chord progression and movement can take place with other major chords in the scale to sound good. All I’ve really learned thus far is that a chord A played after another chord B, with a base note 4 keys away from the base note of chord A, will sound good when played sequentially.

 

The guy I’m watching is not too intuitive or clear on some of the material, but he has an exhaustive list of topics covered by his videos. At the very least, I can get a survey of music theory as a whole so I find which terms to search for the next video. I still haven’t gotten a hold of the term definitions from the last post, but Tuesday I’ll hopefully have a lot more to say.

Rapper’s Journey 1 (RP1)

Since I don’t make use of the blog all that much,  decided to start using it to document my journey as an aspiring rapper — to keep me motivated. I’m not exactly the rapper archetype, even less so than MCs like Childish or lil Dicky, but I’m inspired and moved by music and aspire to make great music of my own. I’m starting off using a free software called LMMS that frequently force closes on Mac, so save often if you do use it. It’s somewhat of a struggle to learn the software coming from a weak musical background, but with youtube tutorial videos on how to use the LMMS, it’s starting to get a little easier.

 

What I’m actually starting out with is using suggestions from a reddit thread (https://www.reddit.com/r/makinghiphop/comments/3zdlgd/producers_how_did_you_learn_how_to_make_solid/?st=j0itecda&sh=7e96b671) to learn. The gist I got from it was to learn fundamental music theory concepts like chords and scales, to follow videos of people making beats, and to make beats everyday. To start off, I’ve been learning the software, how chords, and scales work, and how to recreate a Travis Scott beat. The video I found was for FL studio ( a more popular ‘DAW’ — something I learned on the reddit subreddit that stands for ‘Digital Audio Workstation’ ). At first I thought this would be a huge problem, but I seem to be accommodating the changes in software fairly easily. One particular example was when the tutorial guide used a shortcut on the piano roll ‘ctrl-u’. I quickly Googled ‘ctrl-u piano roll FL studio’ and was able to find that it represents the command ‘quick chop’. From there I just searched for how to chop in the LMMS piano roll. I unfortunately couldn’t find a mirror command in LMMS, but no worries, the command was more of a convenience than a requirement. I can do exactly what the ‘quick chop’ can do by hand! Although it is a HUGE inconvenience, especially for an aspiring professional. Maybe I’ll try to make  a ‘quick chop’ option myself since the software IS open source (although I know it’ll probably be hell to work with code that complex, especially for an unguided newbie to the code base). Anyway, here are some foreign terms that I’ll try and learn before the next post on Thursday.  It came up in various tutorials found online. Hopefully I’ll have good definitions for them by then.

 

-low pass filter

-amplitude

-time

-cutoff

-res

-attack

My Thoughts on Sleep

Sleep is like that moment when your mom used to pick you up from a friends house as a kid. When the whole day was spent thinking of things to do, and a stroke of genius was only able to hit you at the last minute.

Sleep is the end of a perfect first date, where you say goodbye until the next encounter. It marks the temporary halt of the ongoing process of life, and signifies a termination of ongoing action. Like the subtle loneliness that creeps in after the separation from a group gathering, sleep indicates change. Disruption even.

 

For me, it marks the stolen down-time of life. The point where you can no longer function without impairment. Sleep is a greedy force that won’t stop until you pay it it’s due time. For a man such as myself who’s obsessed with the passage of time and the control I have over it, I’ve come to see it as almost an enemy. A physical law of nature to be fought vehemently, just as others have before me.

Sleep represents the constraint of my human capabilities. It’s a constant reminder that I’m tied to the laws everyone else is binded to, and am cursed to adhere to the human limitations. It reminds me that the unwavering pursuit of my dreams will always have the roadblock of insufficient time taken by sleep. Surprisingly, I recently formed a new perspective about sleep and see it as something else entirely —  a consequence of life.
Sleep isn’t only a consequence of life, but an indicator of a life well lived. It’s a reprieve from the unfaltering pressure of life, and is working more for us than we can imagine. This payment of time isn’t ill spent. Sleep gives us the chance to restart our lives with vigor everyday. It’s not so much of an annoyance than a reminder of our limits, and a temporary escape to deal with the endless triage of brain activity. Sleep is a vital and often under-appreciated part of our physiology, and rather than impeding you from following your dreams, sleep is the almighty origin that give us the context of pursuit in the first place. 

Lost Purpose

Recently I’ve been thinking about my motivation and self-purpose. I began to ask myself what it is exactly that keeps me going? Of course, it’s always some sort of passion that drives people but what I have as my motivating factor does not warrant that title. Years pondering what ‘the meaning of life’ means to me has brought me to the conclusion of ‘happiness’ as the goal, to which another couple years of pondering told me it may never be attained. A quote from Drake sums up what we all know about this fact, and even what keeps us motivated — “They say no one’s perfect, but you look perfected.” Just like humans can only be admired for their strive to achieve an unattainable ‘perfection’, people have a tendency to see the attempt at happiness as a means for happiness in itself. So yes, in summation, humans are masochists who enjoy the never fulfilled task for fulfillment.

What does this have to do with my motivation? Well as much as I consider myself different from a majority of people, I too must admit myself as one of these strange masochists who see beauty in the ‘struggle’ while constantly aiming for that aforementioned struggle to end. This means my motivation to work is to both create great products and eventually strike it rich. The two aren’t mutually exclusive though, and one goal can definitely be reached without the other (with a preference on the ‘rich’ part happening sooner rather than later). An overarching factor also playing into all of this is my overall happiness in general. Most times, I feel indifferent, so these small things do give me something of a boost in happiness. I can’t say that accomplishing ‘happiness’ is the same as obtaining money, although that is the only plan that I have for now. It’s the hope for the happy future that keeps on going, fueled by the expected happiness I think I would receive. This reward of ‘happiness’ isn’t  all that familiar with me, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine a happiness that could warrant the work put in to get it. In some ways, imagining this light at the end of the tunnel is the light that guides my journey itself, and frankly I have nothing much other thing to do than hope and strive for the best.

Acceptance

With a simple google search, you will see there are various different interpretations on the stages of grief. The 6 I think best encapsulate the stages of grief are as follows:

 

  1. SHOCK

 

  1. DENIAL

 

  1. ANGER

 

  1. BARGAINING

 

  1. DEPRESSION

 

  1. ACCEPTANCE

 

I have just finished my worst semester of college. My grade outlook: 3 Ds and an A (for a class on a language I already knew). This semester was supposed to be my last semester (officially), but very well may not be. This semester will ruin my gpa, and many job prospects. This semester has put me through a lot of stress, and walked me through these 6 stages of grief myself. Not necessarily grief about my grades, but a bigger picture.

It further led me through the grief of being different. From a young age, I always stood out from my peers…just not in the way that one would want to be. I was un-athletic but loved to play sports, I was bad at school but loved to learn, and had a wide range of ‘unique’ interests that many of the other kids in school couldn’t relate to. Back then, I won’t deny I was a weird kid, but I was unashamedly so.

I could work at something, and at the time, truly believe any dream was within arm’s reach. I worked hard to get praise from my peers, and making friends was just another one of my weird interests. No one thinks about ‘making friends’ as a goal in itself, most people can generally just, make friends. Fortunately, there were a few outliers like me at this time and I always found at least (probably at most also) one friend. One friend who was like me (or as close to that as I could ever have hoped). Even still, I always branched out to make new friends.

So what’s the point of this train of thought? Well…the point is that I’m different. Not just socially challenged, but in many other ways too. I’m proud to say that my social skills have blossomed from prolonged observation of the ones who do it best (high school jocks and t.v. personalities mostly), but some things can’t be changed so easily.

Studying and paying attention have always been challenging things for me to do. On a psychological level, yes, but also on a philosophical outlook also. Most of the time, information learned in school was dull to say the least. It wasn’t engaging, and became a painful task to do. Physically, I would say studying is equivalent to banging my head on a wall until my head became so cloudy I could not think properly. Psychologically, it IS what happened. I physically couldn’t sit and read a book about ‘world history’ without getting these uncontrollable migraines as a result of me trying to focus.

 

The sentiment of institutionalized, academic-induced pain is a concept that has stayed with me until college, and has forced me to resent the school system with a passion (among MANY other things, I’m now old enough to somewhat articulate well). I can now sit down with a book, but I have to have proper motivation for wanting to learn a subject.

 

The one thing I would like to refer to in this post is my overall lack of skills to perform well in school, even with all the previous (seemingly meaningless) hurdles overcome. I’ll explain it in the stages of grief.

 

SHOCK

When I first began taking my major classes at my university, I immediately began to notice a dissonance between myself and the other students. I somehow could no longer keep up. My study habits that I’ve built up over the span of intro classes could no longer rescue me, and I began to wonder how this could be. How could the professor I accused of being unclear have students getting As in his class while I’m receiving Ds? How could a student remember quotes from a passage I could only state an un-detailed gist for? This was both baffling and distressing and soon led me to:

 

DENIAL

After receiving my first D in college, I began to further question how I could be the problem. “No,” I thought, “It can’t be me.” This resulted in me studying extra hard in classes that escaped me the most. So mostly math classes. After receiving the previously mention ‘D’ grade (in a math class, not coincidentally), I worked hard at math, learning material way beyond my current capabilities. I learned many aspects of math from fundamentals of ‘Abstract Algebra’ to intro texts on ‘Statistics’, all the while denying the possibility that I just wasn’t as good. I placed the fault in my study habits, and ended up taking a stats class to win back my confidence in math and this class is where I experienced my stage of:

 

ANGER

In this class that I thought I was prepared for, I quickly found out after the first few homeworks, that I was not as skilled as I’d hoped. The training did NOT pay off. I was angry at myself and the field of mathematics as a whole, I was angry at the people who were good at it and made me feel stupid, and I was angry at the fact that this was no longer a pure result of improper study habits. Something I studied recreationally, for an extended period of time. What WAS the problem? It might’ve been me, “but let’s just be sure,” I thought. How about I take this to another level and study an entire course worth’s of content and give THAT a try? Which brings me to:

 

BARGANING                             

Finally, I accepted the fact I knew all along – I am not good at math. The only thing is I needed one more math credit, so I decided to take an intro level proof class to make it up. I could have taken an easier discrete math class, but I wanted to write proofs and ‘bargained’ to myself that since I shouldn’t do higher level math, I should at least put my hard earned mathematical improvement somewhere. Of course this didn’t work out (as I quickly observed after the first test), and so, in the middle of the semester I would spend nights staring off into space thinking about the hopelessness of studying for a subject as much as possible, to still meet a failing grade at the end. As you can probably tell, this takes us to:

 

DEPRESSION

I could not do math. I’ve made a big mistake. I chose the harder proof writing class over the discrete math class that probably would’ve been the wisest decision (being in CS, I’ve worked with pure discrete math probably the most out of all the subjects). I will fail this class, and I will fail future classes. These thoughts swarmed my head, and eventually I fell into a despair. There’s no story of how I exited the despair because I didn’t. I’ve reached the end of my journey and exploration of my mathematical skill, and was ready to accept the fact that this wasn’t something that could come easily to me. Maybe with a lifetime of practice I could get somewhat good, but then again, I feel the same way about learning to play basketball at the NBA level. Some goals can’t be reached, or even if it could, sometimes the work that put into the task isn’t worth the reward gotten out of it. Just as if someone who was told they could learn the all of aerospace engineering in a day would soon come to find out the impossibility of their task, so did I in being able to succeed in the class. I’ve now come to:

 

ACCEPTANCE

At this point, I’ve made peace. I continued to try just hard enough to try (as my performance always staggered after about the 10th hour of [non-contiguous] studying), and would accept any grade I would receive. Preferably, it wouldn’t have to be a failing grade (I REALLY don’t want to take another math class), but I’ve done all I could. I’ve studied, and studied, and studied, and still reached a dead end. This class was different though. It was never anything I didn’t understand on the test; I just couldn’t remember the theorems. The same theorems and lemmas that have probably had at least had 30 minutes allocated to each of them could now no longer be retrieved from my mind. Anyway it’s all done now and hopefully I can recuperate and learn from this crushing experience with a lesson learned: Shoot for the moon, but know you may not break the stratosphere.

 

 

 

 

Why Do I Attend College?

After leaving class disarrayed for the millionth time, I asked myself (for the millionth time), “Why do I attend college?”. Some of these professors are terrible at their job, and most of the time I figure out that the things they teach could be/are learned independently.  If anything, I guess school provides the motivation and structure needed that a lot of us couldn’t muster up with our own independent study. Again, a question arises — is that really a good justification to why we invest so much of our lives into these higher level institutions? When I say investment, I’m not only talking about JUST financials, but the emotional strain it provides and the unrivaled ability to shred apart morale. It’s kind of like the army, or prison with how some of these professors can really fuck with you. The worst part is, a lot of us willingly (and maybe knowingly) participate in this hegemony and have come to see our oppression as a natural thing. Most professors know they can get away with doing a horrible job and take advantage of the fact that a lot of students don’t know how to defend themselves in the face of a seemingly overpowering authority.
Back to the question, do we really NEED school?  Well, even the point made about motivation is kind of weak so let’s bring up an even bigger motivator — jobs. Unfortunately a lot of jobs require a degree — any degree — to do jobs that probably shouldn’t require one. For example, some jobs out there may require something of a communications degree when really all is needed is common sense. Why are college degrees made as qualifications to these positions? Presumptively, as quality control. Having a college degree can show a great degree of motivation to some employers, and the presumed effort is seemingly shown in your struggle. Aren’t some degrees more of a struggle than other’s? Why do some jobs hire employees of these degrees indiscriminately while still turning a blind eye to the qualified unemployed degree holders? I believe this stems from another kind of control which I like to call background control.

Alright, too off topic. Let’s focus on why I go to school. Or better yet, let me finish it up next week in a part 2.

If you trip on a ledge, don’t stumble your way into falling off a cliff

 

When you fall, you don’t always have to start from the beginning. What do I mean by that? Well, I commonly see a lot of people who set goals for themselves, and consistently under perform on what they set out to do. After about the first failure, discouragement creeps in and finally the goals are discarded. Now to decipher what’s wrong with this scenario, let’s consider a real life example.

Bob is addicted to smoking crack

Bob stops smoking crack

Bob joins AAA

Bob gets to a week in sober

Bob smokes again

Bob get’s his one week sobriety chip revoked

Bob starts from Day 1

Bob is angry that all his hard work meant nothing in the end,  decides he can’t stay sober and starts smoking again

Bob tries heroin

Bob never goes to AAA again

END

The thing with Bob is…well I guess it’s that he’s addicted to crack. The example may be extreme, but the point is that he didn’t see his progress as a goal in itself. Instead of taking heed of the strides he made during his journey, he treated his fall as an utter defeat. That’s akin to playing a video game, beating half the bosses, losing, resetting the game to level 1, and claiming you might as well not play anymore.

No! That’s not a good way to treat things! In our lives, we as humans tend to see our incomplete goals as lost causes. The thing is, giving in to this sick game of human psychology, we’re all unconsciously making the conscience decision to restart the game. To never backtrack on good progress seems logical, yet most of us see a fall where a stumble should be. Smokers who relapse after 5 years get punished by a removal of their blue chip, students will usually falter in their study habits with the outcome of one bad test, and an offender of petty theft may think of themselves as a full fledged criminal mastermind with no hope of redemption!

Anyway, all I ask of you the reader is to treat the stumble accordingly and be proud you even got so far as to even have the opportunity of stumbling because that my friend, is an accomplishment in itself.

Sitting in on Classes

I get many questions about why I sit in on classes as opposed to actually taking them. The first reason is to get knowledge just like any other class. Which always raises the real question, “Why don’t you just enroll?”

  1. I don’t have natural mathematical ability to be assessed on how fast I can learn

1a) If I enroll and do bad, it will mess up my GPA which in turn would lower my job prospects and grad school opportunities

1b) if I don’t enroll and don’t understand, I can follow at my own pace and not have to worry about falling behind

Well, most of the classes I sit in on are math classes that I would probably not do well during a normal semester. To be honest, I’m more of a self learner and usually like to learn on my own time from books. With math, it’s different though, somethings I read in higher level math books feel *impossible* for me to understand without a lecturer. My biggest guess as to why I cant seem to parse this type of information from books is that the authors of textbooks of higher math don’t know how to explain the material well enough to newcomers. In fact, I believe a lot of them, in a subconscious way, rely on the fact that their content will probably be taught by a professor. It’s not to say that this is a bad thing, as most mathematicians are expected to undergo some sort of formal education, and to assume that their content will be taught by an expert isn’t too much of a stretch.

Competition

Competition is what’s said to be one of the leading factors in the growth of human development, the drive we have between each other to be the best. This power can take shape in a variety of forms from the extremely beneficial motivator, to the most crushing force of despair. I myself find this force to start manifesting as the ladder, with the mental superiority of my peers slowly starting to wear me down. Every day so much work is put into becoming the best in what I do, but lately it seems as I’ve been busting my balls for naught, as if it’s suddenly become the impossible to even begin to reach any of my peers. To accomplish the impossible, I work as if any false step will keep me from over-reaching. The thing is, whatever I do I always look up and find someone better. “Well there’s always someone better than you” is what you might hear in response, but I’m not talking about someone, I’m talking about a group of people that may forever keep me from breaking into even the top 10 percentile. It starts to seem that regardless of how many hours of math I spend studying or how many things I try to learn about the latest cutting edge technology I’m always behind. Something about these computer science and math students demands the attention to be turned to the great disparity between their skill levels and — well, mine. Deep down I create excuses, explanations for this seemingly unexplainable gap in academic intellect. “Well, they probably had engineering parents they could rely on for extra help early on,” or “They only seem like they’re better because they work harder.” In reality, I know the truth. Some people are just naturally better at things. That’s not to say that environment and work ethic don’t play a role, but I believe inherent skill in one person can easily trump someone else’s hard work. I’ll get into that in another blog post further down the line, but there’s also another truth that seems to surface. A more personal one.

It’s uncomfortable to believe I’m this far behind, and keeping this excuse-based mentality buries the thought that I can in fact also reach my dreams with enough hard work. Why bury this seemingly beneficial ambition? Because the fear of crushed hope is a fear bigger than the others. Most of the time hope motivates us for the now and helps keep us going, but is it worth it at all when the fragility of our aspirations can so often lead us into despair? They say  ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,’ but is it really though? Even after deep contemplation, the answer to that question still eludes me. Still though, I refuse to believe that there’s nothing for me to do to reach that level. Even with the constant doubt of success and the gnawing feeling of failure, there’s an occasional compulsion to strive to be the best. Whether I’ll ever reach my goal is the true mystery.

Tips For College

Learning isn’t the same with everyone.  Don’t get discouraged if you’re not making the grades everyone else is — you’re there to learn (and unfortunately pass so you don’t lose money), and will use your knowledge that you learned just as effectively as anyone else in the workforce(or at least a good 50% of the workforce). Studying is essential (unless you have a photographic memory) and you will have to buckle down and cram things occasionally. Spend time analyzing how you learn and always seek the most efficient way to retain information. Acknowledge that reading the book doesn’t have to be the only way to study — and there are some pretty interesting methods out there. Some examples would be writing notes on your hand to see them throughout the day, having post-it notes all over your room, and even making scanned copies notes into your phone wallpaper. Some of these may sound ridiculous at first, but in my experience you have to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Soon enough you’ll start to realize that time is one of the most valuable resources to have, and the most horrible things to waste. Although I may make it sound easy to study, I personally have a hard time doing it and am constantly underperforming. The thing that matters is that I try, and know that there’s always room from growth. I’m not one to believe that anyone can do/be whatever they want with enough work put in, but I also know for a fact that I’ll never know definitively until I try.