Friday, August 20, 2021

A Phish Inspired Cardio Workout

If you've ever seen Phish perform You Enjoy Myself then you've likely noticed that there's a section where guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon do a choreographed bounce routine on little trampolines. They did this as recently as last Sunday, August 15, 2021 in front of a crowd of 30,000+ (COVID...what COVID?) on the beach in Atlantic City. Long-time fans may recall that Phish would also jump on the mini trampolines during Mike's Song.

Anyway, these little trampolines are called rebounders and they are great exercise! You definitely break a sweat and get your heart rate up. I don't know what brand of rebounders Phish uses on stage, but I've tried both JumpSport and bellicon and can recommend both.

My bellicon rebounder

I started last year with a 39" JumpSport rebounder and these are awesome trampolines. There's even a rebounder-focused gym in NYC called The Ness that uses JumpSport rebounders. Eventually I got a 44" fully-customized bellicon and I'm glad that I did! It has folding legs so storage is a breeze, and the jumping experience is unparalleled. Rebounding is now a regular part of my home gym workout routine. If you're worried that you'll get going too fast and accidentally jump off I haven't found that to be the case. I don't think you need a handle to hold onto.

My other favorite home gym cardio choice is a slide board, which you may or may not have heard of. Phish briefly used these as stage props around 1993. Trey and Mike would slide on them while performing the songs It's Ice or Glide. Both songs were new and pretty common back then so for a short while Phish did this quite often. I don't know why they stopped using the slide boards. 

To slide on a slide board you wear special booties over your sneakers. This helps make the surface extra slick, and basically you just slide back and forth. There's a lot more advanced stuff you can do as you gain confidence. You work out different lower body muscles than a trampoline but the slide board can be just as intense. That's why I love toggling back and forth between the two. If you're worried that you'll slip and fall, don't be. Just be a little careful as you step on or off the board. Once you're moving, balance is no problem.

If you're going to invest in a slide board you probably want one that has a solid sliding surface as opposed to the flimsy cheapo ones that a lot of places have for sale. The two best slide board brands by far are Brrrn and Ultraslide, and good news I believe these are made by or at least designed by the same team of people. The solid, high-quality material makes them very durable and a pleasure to slide on.

Brrrn started off a few years ago as a cold temperature slide board gym in NYC and now sells their Brrrn Boards direct to the consumer. You can buy Brrrn Boards on Amazon Prime (5-star rating!) or from Brrrn website. Whereas, Ultraslide is the grandaddy of slide boards - sustainably made in the USA for over 35 years. Ultraslide seems geared towards selling to NBA and NHL teams or college and youth athletic programs, but Ultraslide will also make a slide board for you! Ultraslide partnered with Brrrn to help make their slide boards, so either way you're getting the best you can get. I started with a 5 foot Brrrn Board (I'm short and my house is small) but I'm probably going to move up to a 6 foot board soon to intensify the challenge. Storage is easier than I thought it would be.

I'm just glad Phish never used a NordicTrack, Peloton or treadmill on stage! Seriously. Rebounders and slide boards are like acoustic instruments. There's no buttons to push or cords to plug in. It's all on you!


Adding a Bass-Line to a Melody

I've got some monophonic melodies that I like to play. Monophonic meaning that these tunes are just single melody lines, without accompaniment. I've either written or stolen these. Usually a little bit of both. Now I'd like to make them "polyphonic" by adding a counterpoint harmony line, like a bass-line. 

I guess these tunes are what some would call "cantus firmus", meaning: an existing melody used as the basis for a polyphonic composition. I certainly wasn't thinking of harmony or counterpoint when I originally came up with them. Adding a bass-line would be like adding a second tune pitched below the original to create two concurrent yet perceptually distinct lines (integrated yet segregated).

I wouldn't be playing these all at once on the same instrument the way a pianist or some guitarists might do. I'd overdub one part with the next or alternate back and forth. It's actually more of a composition exercise or study, more than anything else. Either way, I don't currently know how to come up with something like this that sounds good with the melody.

From what I understand, Renaissance period composers did not think about harmony in terms of chords. The melodic lines they created using counterpoint were focused on how the melodies interacted. I like that approach because I have always been blissfully unaware of what chords a pianist might choose if playing along with these melodies.

I'm aware that there are a few suggestions or best practices: 3rds and 6ths intervals sound good (produce clear harmonies); avoid parallel fifths (two fifths in a row), octaves are sometimes OK, 2nds and 7ths are dissonant. Use contrary motion - so if one line moves up, the other moves down (creates a sense of melodic independence). If you do move in similar motion try varying up the intervals. More actual hands-on research needs to be done to see if my ears agree with these guideposts.

What I'm thinking of doing could be something as "simple" as what the band Khruangbin does. Their guitarist Mark Speer plays the lead melody and bassist Laura Lee plays a bass-line that supports it, while drummer DJ Johnson provides the beat. Seems pretty straightforward.

Phil Lesh, the bassist for The Grateful Dead, took a unique approach as if he invented the instrument and nobody else played it before him. In Phil's case it was kind of like "Lead Bass", responding to and having a conversation with the lead treble sound of Jerry Garcia's melodic guitar lines. Phil could play it differently every time, partly because he was a gifted improviser and partly because he probably couldn't remember how he played it last time.

Moondog employed a lot of strict counterpoint in his compositions. Listening to his Moondog's music might show the way. Guitarist Jimmy Wyble was an expert at playing two simultaneous melodies on guitar. Maybe I could analyze his arrangements. Stevie Wonder played keyboard bass on some of his recordings.

There's also brass/horn harmony parts to learn from, how an arranger might write for a horn section where a lower pitched horn has one part while a higher pitched instrument like a trumpet plays something else. Studying how these interact might help. 

Hopefully it's easier than I'm making it seem. There's a book called Study of Counterpoint by Johann Joseph Fux that looks pretty cool. It was written in 1725.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

What Comes First - Cardio or Strength Training?

My at home gym is now pretty much complete. I have lots of choices when it comes to free weights and strength training equipment: Ybells, steel maces, kettlebells, medicine/slam balls, heavy wooden mudgar/karlakattai clubs, Equalizer bars, chin-up doorframe grips, resistance bands, and more. Even a bowling ball! 

For cardio my primary tools are a rebounder trampoline and a slide board. I also have a jump rope and an aerobic stepper, and I take regular walks of 2 to 4 miles in length. These walks are dog walks averaging about 25 minutes per mile, so I don't know how "cardio" they are but they are something.

Anyway, I like to do slide board before strength training. On the days I do slide board, I do it first thing in the morning, after a few minutes of stretching out and loosening up. I start out with an upright slide at a moderate pace and then gradually increase the intensity/speed in more of a hinged position. After 20 minutes on the slide board I do find that my energy when I switch to strength training is slightly more depleted than if I hadn't done the cardio beforehand. But that's no biggie.

Conversely, on other days I like to bounce on my rebounder mini-trampoline after doing strength training. The main reason for this is because after 20+ minutes of weights my body is very loose and limber and following that accomplishment with some trampoline fun is a good way to end a workout session. Also, early on when I first started rebounding the jumping would sometimes lead to a slight pain at the base of my neck, almost like a mild headache. This hasn't happened recently and does not occur when I do the trampoline after having already done some type of strength training workout.

You won't really find an answer to the question posed in the post title and that's because I don't know the answer. Each method has its pros and cons. By alternating cardio + weights one day followed by weights + cardio the next day I feel like I have the bases covered.


Going Keto vs Counting Calories

If you are exercising regularly and being mindful of what you eat, either approach will work. What I did initially was try to eat a low-carb, keto style diet. That, along with exercise, allowed me to lose almost 40 lbs and I never once thought about how many calories I was eating. 

I think keto may be best if you have a lot of weight you are trying to lose fast. Your body will eventually tell you whether or not keto is sustainable for you.

I felt great during keto. I reached a weight plateau about 40 pounds lighter than I was before and I stayed there for over a year. One month ago I started to think about calories, not carbs. I began to introduce things like fruit, oatmeal and sweet potatoes to my diet - things that would have been taboo on keto - with a daily calorie intake goal of about 1,600 calories. The result? I quickly lost an additional 6 or 7 pounds and seem to have reached a new, lower plateau. 

Now I am aware of low-carb and low-calorie and try to incorporate both into my choices. It's healthier and more balanced that way. Another thing I've done recently is amp up my cardio exercise by getting both a new rebounder trampoline and a slide board. Along with the 20 minutes a day of strength training I do, I now try and add 20 minutes of cardio.

Exercise and healthy eating go hand in hand. When you are exercising regularly you are less likely to want to make bad food choices, or when you do you do so deliberately knowing that your body has the metabolism to withstand the occasional indulgence. And when you are regularly making good food choices, it can lead to a better sense of well being which can give your exercise a boost or the motivation you need to stay active.