Self-proclaimed jack of all trades
Music Making・For DummiesDisclaimer:
This guide/tutorial is aimed to lift you (the reader) off the ground as quick as possible. Thus, I'm going to make it as simple as possible without too many complicated stuff, terms, theories, and labels. And hopefully, this will convince you (the reader) that composing is not as hard as you might think. For proper learning to music theory, knowing their terms, or knowing how to use certain software, please refers to the tutorial/article that is dedicated to them (like this one).
What are you going to find in this guide/tutorial:
- General song structure
- General harmony
- How to make a song even if you don't have a musical background
- Piano Roll Guide/Tips (Which mean, software like Anvil Studio, LMMS, Reaper, Cubase, Reason, and FL Studio works)
- How to use certain software (go find a tutorial for the software you're using, but I'm going to use FL studio interface as an example)
- In-depth harmony and music theories.
- How to read/write Partitures/Song notation (so if you're using a software that uses a partiture like Musescore, or Guitar Pro, you're on your own).
I have encountered many people either here, discord servers, and many places that they wanted to compose but don't know where to start. I have also seen many people just scramble notes into their software and those don't even sound like music. They are lacking the features that make it music. I hope this tutorial will guide them. Without further delay, let's get into the topic.
General things you have to know:
"Measure" (or bar) and "step" are there to "divide your attention", the thing that makes something music, a consistency. Whatever you compose, please stick with those vertical lines as your guide. If you think your music is too fast/slow, don't put the notes farther/longer. Stick with those lines THEN increase/decrease the tempo instead. It is probably trivial for composers but common people seem to ignore this important line and just go randomly place the notes without knowing this rule. So this need to spelled out loud.
Every piano roll interface should at least have a vertical line to split the different measure/bar. And a measure is (usually) divided by 4 steps. It can be more complicated, but let's stick with the default 4 steps for the sake of simplicity. But how are we going to actually use this? It's going to be in the later part. For now, I'm making you sure that you're aware of these first.
Side note: I'm not sure if the term "step" is musically correct, but ... you get my point.
General Harmony・Basic Triads・Major/Minor chords:
You're opening up a piano roll, you have no idea what you should do, "How am I supposed to know what I should do? I don't know which note sounds good to hear/listen?". I concur you're probably overwhelmed when you're looked at the piano roll (it did happen to me as well in the past).
Well, look no further! meet the basic triads, Major/Minor scale. What are these? These are a combination of notes that is "guaranteed to sound good". In piano roll, they're looked like this. For example, C Major chord:
To create a major chord, you just pick whatever the note as a base (C in this example) then look 4 grids above, then 3 more.
To create a minor chord, you just reverse the process. Look 3 grids above, then 4 more.
So the C Minor Chord looks like this:
You can try it right away in your software and hear how it sounds like. In case if it's not clear enough:
- Major: Happy sounding tune, relax
- Minor: Tension, sad, and the likes
Side note: In musical term, shifting one grid above/below is called "half-step" while shifting by two grids is called "whole-step". In case if you want to delve into a music theory later because they will be using these terms quite often.
Twisting Major/Minor chords:
So you know the members of C Major Chords are the note C, E, and G. You can, however, put it in any order you want. It's called "inversion". For example, you can twist it like this, and it's still C Major because they have the same note members (C ~ E ~G). They will still sound nice, but different "color".
Of course, you can do it like this as well, and it's still C Major Chord:
Arpeggio・A sequence of notes・A "broken" chord (More info):
Of course, putting all the notes together is somewhat boring. We can break them down into a sequence which we usually call them "arpeggio". Something like this:
Of course, you can get creative and use whatever model of a sequence as long as the notes are still inside the member of the chords. Here are some of the examples you can try (still using C Major chord):
Let's make a piece of music!
Right away? Yes! Once you know the basic triads, Major/Minor, you can literally make most of the pop song out there. And if you're still overwhelmed with the piano roll interface, let's make it easier by ignoring all of the black notes. In which, they're these ones:
Now all you need to do is to avoid all the black notes.
Side note: What I'm suggesting you to do is to use "C Major Scale" or "C Ionian Mode", in case you're curious enough and want to google what I'm talking about (tips: don't, unless you know what it is about).
Now, since we're avoiding the black notes, let's try to look around what is the available chords:
You see, B got a little funny 3 ~ 3 rows up, it's called "Diminish" chord. But we will ignore that particular chord and just focus on C to A. Using diminish chord is tricky and you probably are not going to use it often.
But before we are going to proceed further, we're going to set rules:
- Chord has to change for each measure/bar (see above about measure/bar)
- We're only going to create 4 bars, then loop it (generally music looped nicely if you're going to make it 4 or 8 bars)
- Use arpeggios for the chords, inverse/twist it if necessary.
I suggest the pattern need to be consistent. If it's ascending as I've sent, then all the rest of the bar need to be consistent as well, or at least it should be predictable. Don't just throw random arpeggio that does not have a consistent pattern! (Unless you know what you're doing. I've seen common people do it often).
How does it sound like in actual music? See here:
(Fun note: I just composed this randomly out of the blue while writing this thread)
And here is my fave progression ever, A minor - G major - F major - G major
- I probably still have some to talk about, but I will leave this like this at the moment.
- The important thing when learning anything is to do the actual work! Music making is no exception. No matter the theory you absorb if you don't do the actual work, you don't get the feeling. Again, hopefully, this guide is enough for you to get started.
- Comments, questions, critiques are welcomed (pointing about my grammar is also fine). But remember this guide is supposed to be lightweight.