Mid-February Music Progress

I’ve made some good progress in music lately, though I haven’t posted any new “noodles” for a while. I finally made it through the part of the Lynda.com video that talks about mixers, and I’ve been experimenting with that. The lectures at Coursera have been getting further and further out of my comfort zone (lots of terminology) so I’ve started making notecards! I’ve also been watching FL Studio tutorials by Andrew Aversa (aka Zircon). To me these tutorials are mindbogglingly complex and would be very intimidating, except that I “got to know him” by listening to an interview, and he is just such a nice guy.

Just today one of my new books arrived — it’s called The Guide to MIDI Orchestration. I expected that it would be a very dense book with tiny print, no pictures, and teeny-tiny little snippets of music scores. But I just opened the book at random and…it has pictures! The music score examples are readable! And the material sounds learnable. Ex. if you change around your wind instruments so that the low instruments are playing in their highest register and the highest instruments are playing in their lowest register (ex. bassoons high and flutes low), you get a completely different sound. That makes sense.

This video by Zircon is almost like looking over his shoulder…

This is one of his better-known songs — “Just Hold On”

Coursera.org and Lynda.com

I’ve been working on a couple of educational ventures lately!

Coursera.org has a series of online courses that you can take for free (it’s also possible to take the courses in another form, where you pay for them and get official certification for having completed them). The courses change every few weeks. It’s not like tutorials on YouTube, where you can watch the videos at any time. For most of the courses, the lectures appear once a week, and there is the option to take quizzes, do peer-graded assignments, and participate in a forum discussion group. The degree of participation is totally up to you.

I have started “Introduction to Music Production”

With the recent introduction of high-quality-low-cost software and hardware, the tools of music production are now available to the masses. Albums are made in bedrooms as well as studios. On the surface this is liberating. Anyone can make an album for the low cost of a couple pieces of gear and a software package. But, if you dig deeper, you will find that it is not so easy. Producing music requires knowledge, dedication, and creativity.  Knowledge is where this course comes in. No matter what kind of music you are making, there is a large set of tools that you will need to use.


I’ve also been watching some videos over at Lynda.com. This is a site with paid membership. Caution, once you have signed up, they will keep dinging your credit card every month until you specifically ask them to stop! And they will nag you to upgrade your membership to the costlier version so that you can take advantage of their downloadable homework material. But other than that, I am very happy with the site. The video tutorials are clear and professional; every single one I’ve watched has been high quality. I do love YouTube tutorials, with all their quirky individuality — but the quality is very uneven, and it’s hard to find tutorials that systematically cover a large swath of material by breaking it into manageable chunks.

So, thumbs-up to the folks at Lynda.com and Coursera!

So far my problem with these courses is that after each lecture I’ve said “Wow, that’s really cool! I always wondered what —– was”. But then several hours later I’ve already forgotten the new terminology. Also, I get to a certain point in the lectures where the material gets more difficult / technical, and I… switch over to a new course.


GIMP — GNU image manipulation program

Horsetail Nebula has expanded from being a “Minecraft World Creation” blog: now it’s covering a broader range of topics. I have some posts on The Amazingly Weird World that’s Out There Already (Astronomy, Cosmology), examples of inspiring art that show Different Worlds, and discussions of software. Here’s a software discussion.

The software that I am learning about right now is called GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Software. Some people think it is approaching the level of a  replacement for Photoshop. It is free, and open source. “Free” you probably understand already, though I always have trouble understanding why people would offer complex software for free (how can it be as good as the expensive versions)? That’s a topic for another post. “Open source” means that if you know what you’re doing, you can get right into the guts of the program and create your own extra tools, called “plug-ins”. You can then make these plug-ins available to other people. GIMP has plug-ins that add extra tools to your tool kit. You don’t have to worry about them right off the bat, but might find them useful later.

I bought a how-to book about GIMP called Grokking the GIMP

Grokking the Gimp

…which has clear explanations and excellent pictures, but unfortunately was published in 2000. I like learning software step-by-step and have been looking for more recent tutorials. I found a website called Lynda.com which offers a series of lessons. I checked out some of the free lessons and was impressed with the professionalism of the tutor, the clarity, and the level of detail. I decided it would be worthwhile to pay the $25 and sign up for a month’s subscription. One advantage of this approach is that since I have paid the money and only have a month to use the materials, I have to get down to business and LEARN it (instead of putting the book on my shelf and saying “this looks like a great book!”.

I’ve done up to chapter 2.2 already and so far GIMP looks a lot like my beloved Corel Painter Essentials 4. But already I’ve seen some new variations of tools that I suppose I could have done in Painter Essentials, but it would have taken many steps.

Wish me luck on this educational adventure, and I’ll let you know at the end of the month if the subscription to Lynda.com was worth the money!


“Blender” — amazing free software

A friend of mine is studying Game Design in college. When I asked him what he was up to this week, he said he was building a door in a blender.

door in blender


Or something like that. After asking more questions I found out that he is learning to use some software called Blender. It is FREE and PROFESSIONAL LEVEL — people actually make games with it. Hard to believe? Well, check this out


Blender is a professional free and open-source 3D computer graphics software product used for creating animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications and video games. Blender’s features include 3D modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, raster graphics editing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, soft body simulation, sculpting, animating, match moving, camera tracking, rendering, video editing and compositing. Alongside the modeling features it also has an integrated game engine.

I watched a few of the tutorial videos. This is some very very very deep software (I mean, it will do a billion and one things). But there were also some tutorial videos that were more approachable — they were mini-projects. “How to make a landscape” “how to make a fuzzy stuffed bear” “how to make a planet bursting into pieces”. For some reason these reminded me of the old Bob Ross painting shows  on TV…



…which gives you an idea how old I am, since he passed on to the land of Happy Happy Trees back in 1995. Anyway, the Bob Ross classes were formulaic (here’s how to paint a tree, here’s how to paint a mountain) — not “real” oil painting. But they got you elbow-deep into the paint, and you could continue learning from there.

Here are two of the Blender tutorial vids I watched this evening. This one is on how to build an island…



and this next one is an inspirational video on the creative process itself — encouraging you to just get out there and try stuff, and not worry if people criticize it…because, they will. So don’t let that stop you.

“I guarantee you, no matter how good you get in your art, or how correct you think you might be in your art, there is ALWAYS going to be somebody who says that it’s not the way it should be. Because for those people, they think art should conform to a certain thing.”


Thank you to my friend the Padawan Learner in Computer Graphics. Best of luck in your Jedi training, and thanks for telling me about Blender!


Help from Youtube # 1

I have a hard time with tutorial videos because they usually go over things too fast.


over my head

…but what if I just watch a ton of videos and see what I can pick up from each one? Rather than trying to understand a single one 100%.

So here is the first of a series of MC Edit tutorial videos. The author of this video said that he mostly uses MC Edit to copy and paste, to speed up the building process.


About half-way through the vid, he demonstrated the “clone tool”  — and got it to make something very similar to my disk steps!!!

When you set up the clone tool, there’s a place you can enter numbers. These determine where you place the clone of the second object relative to the first one, and how many of them do you want to make.

It doesn’t look like you could use this setting to make a spiral staircase, but certainly a “normal” one.

Thank you Lildudeoncampus for a helpful video!


tutorial 1

tutorial 2