Music Making・For Dummies (You want to create a music but does not have a musical background)

TheoAllen

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Music Making・For Dummies
By: TheoAllen
Disclaimer:
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)
What are you not going to find in this guide/tutorial:
  • 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).
Introduction:
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:
composing01.jpg
"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:
composing02.jpg
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:
composing03.jpg
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
Composers often use these to create various moods. For example, a battle theme tends to have minor chords as their main focus/tonality.

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".
composing04.jpg composing05.jpg
Of course, you can do it like this as well, and it's still C Major Chord:
composing06.jpg

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:
arp.gif
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):
composing07.jpg composing08.jpg composing09.jpg composing10.jpg
There is not much I can talk about arpeggio, all I could say is just "try to get creative with the pattern".

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:
composing11.jpg
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:
composing12.jpg
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.
Now, let's throw random chords, starting from C Major, and let's just use A Minor, F Major, G Major (It's already 4 bars). It is going to be like this (you can also try a different pattern to see how it's played out):Composing13.jpg
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

End Notes:
  • 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.
Also a useful resource (the whole of his channel is wonderful, check it out!):
 
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_Shadow_

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This is great work.
As for people that wanna make music with PC, it is easier than ever, even if you got no idea on music theory. In that case though, you will need a lot of time and experimentation. But still you are able to do stuff, without knowing a lot, just by using a good piece of software.

This surprised me when released. I am a Reason user, I just love this program, it's my thing.
@TheoAllen see the spoiler for Version 9 Scale's and Chords. While this tool can help a professional do things fast, it can also aid a beginner.
Notice: You can use your keyboard instead of a piano keyboard to do the same guys.

What you do here though, is great as I already said. You show people how to do stuff on their own, and that is the best approach in my opinion. I can't wait to see how many people will find this helpful, surely this can help anyone that wants to make music pieces for their games.
 

TheoAllen

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@Dreadshadow thanks for the free bump :p

This is my personal experience, yes, only by knowing the basic triads, I brought me so far that more than 75% of my music on my page/thread was mostly only by knowing these. Do I know a tonic chord, dominant chord, scale, etc? no. Absolutely just by knowing the basic triads. It just only recently that I know more theory and realized that I already did a lot of them. But yes, do the work is the most important part of the learning.

I saw your video, and yes it's good. It helps you to get started and to know the feel or each chord. Does the software allow you to "personalize" your music? or it is basically just "jam track generator"?

Also maybe you can also try to make music from scratch as well. It's a lot of work compared to your software, but you may learn a lot.
 

BlackRoseMii

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Wow, this is really really helpful!
I've tried to compose once, but my mind went completely blank. Wether I was using a program or an actual piano. I can only read notes and play a little, but that's it ^^° I always sneaked myself past that during the time I was taught XD.

I always had the problem that my hearing is more of a "individual" thing. As in, I can only imagine one note at a time, rather than several. Which put me at a big disadvantage when trying to come up with something. But actually imagining the notes as a pattern? I didn't even think about that. It would definitely make a lot of things easier XD
So thanks so much for this tutorial^^
 

_Shadow_

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@TheoAllen, Reason is a DAW. Meaning it has a sequencer you can add notes ad hoc by clicking your mouse, using your keyobard, or by plugging in a USB musical keyboard.It comes with samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, a huge bank of sounds and the fun fact is that it is based on simple concepts that can produce complex stuff.
What I love about Reason is that you make a virtual studio rack with synths and other stuff. You then cable route them yourself. You can add effects in any way you like, route signal merging it with others or splitting it to multi channels, it has a lot of things to experiment with.
You can make music as easy or as complex as you like. It has a learning curve, but what you will learn will apply on almost any other program out there. For example, learning what an ADSR envelope is, will help you on almost every modern synth out there.
It even comes with one of the easiest and most brilliant sound fx ever. It is as easy as applying an instagram filter on your photo.
The only thing that draws me back, is me being perfectionist. I want everything to sound exactly as I want, exactly just in time. That is kinda hard, because you need to sculpture the sound and then manipulate it as it plays.

Edit:
Actually this video can show you a few more things, with the sequencer, so...
 
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TheoAllen

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@BlackRoseMii Glad to hear that it's useful. I hope you find enjoyment in composing music :D
I always had the problem that my hearing is more of a "individual" thing. As in, I can only imagine one note at a time, rather than several.
Believe or not, I'm actually not different. The theory helps me "Maybe, this note sounds good if played together with this and that note" or "Let's just scramble the notes based on this chord and see how it sounds like". I just focus on a single note, the note that will be the main tonality, then add more notes below/above it

@Dreadshadow Yeah it's definitely a good piece of software. I can't say much about ADSR as I'm still also learning about it. Tried to make a modern synthwave, but most of the time I failed, I keep coming back to old-school sounding music. Mixing/Mastering is a different beast on its own and imo it's separated from theory of harmony. I might as well as list the software on the list I mentioned. Thanks for mentioning it!
 

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You should ask @Dimitris about synthwave he will hopefully help you out. Or maybe he can jump in here when he reads this reply. ;)
 

TheoAllen

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You should ask @Dimitris about synthwave he will hopefully help you out. Or maybe he can jump in here when he reads this reply. ;)
Oh no! I don't want to turn my tutorial thread into my support thread :p
 

Kupotepo

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@Dreadshadow, I didn't know that you create a music too.
@TheoAllen, you might to tell other beginner to move 1 or 2 octaves because some of the software might not hit the notes hard enough to hear the different when you play a low note. Do not ask me why. I cannot hear the different between octaves. Ask @MushroomCake28.
 

TheoAllen

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@TheoAllen, you might to tell other beginner to move 1 or 2 octaves because some of the software might not hit the notes hard enough to hear the different when you play a low note. Do not ask me why. I cannot hear the different between octaves
Under normal circumstance, not required. They should know and able to judge when the note is too low for them to hear, so they can adjust it to whatever the pitch they like (C3 is too low? use C4 or C5). And specific instrument may not actually produce sound when the pitch is either too low/high. But that is usually a very specific, and vary between the instrument that I'm not covering in this one.
 

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@TheoAllen, thank you for the explain. It is a flexible stuff because I did not know at the beginning. Now, I know. It is a basic stuff that some might not realized.
 

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You know, I've always wanted to make a little beginner's guide like this one but I never had the patience to do it! I can't really say much else other than well done Theo! There's a few other things that I would've added, such as note values for example, but that's just me who wants to cover the dry theory~ :kaoeh:
 

TheoAllen

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Idk zeb, what is the note value you're talking about? Tonic/dominant notes? If so, yeah that's going to be a theory-heavy :D
 

Meike

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This is beautiful! Awesome resource Theo! You made me want to play with music again >3> Why you do that?! haha
 

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This is the best thing ever. Thank you so much!
 

Zebestian

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Idk zeb, what is the note value you're talking about? Tonic/dominant notes? If so, yeah that's going to be a theory-heavy :D
Whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc.
Those are note values. To me, that's basic music knowledge but your tutorial works without those too.
 

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Thank you so much! This is probably the most beginner friendly tutorial on music making I've ever encountred! It's perfect to get your feet wet and have fun while experimenting before going on more advanced tutorials :D
 

ave36

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You should not ignore diminished chords. They are interesting and have their own distinctive sound: very tense, lost, anxious.

Also it helps to know seventh chords. Not necessarily for using them as chords: you can have a melody including notes that are sevenths to the root note of the chord that plays simulataneously with the melody; therefore you will "get the color" of the seventh chord without using it as such.

The seventh chords are:

Major 7th: airy, floating, relaxed, dreamy. Formula: 4+3+4
Dominant 7th: tense, sharp, attention-grabbing. Formula: 4+3+3
Minor-major 7th: severe, uneasy, noir. Formula: 3+4+4
Minor 7th: bittersweet, sorrowful yet hopeful. Formula: 3+4+3
Half-diminished 7th: mysterious, dim, shadowy. Formula: 3+3+4
Diminished 7th: anxious, emotional, lost. Formula: 3+3+3

As I said, you can include these chords directly (usually they should form from the notes of the scale, but sometimes the rules can be bent a little), or you can play a triad and include the correct 7th note in the melody. For example, the melody goes C-E-C-G, while the chord Am (A, C, E) is playing. When the melody goes C-E-C, it includes the notes that are already present in the chord, so its normal minor color is not changed. Then the melody goes G, forming the 7th chord A, C, E, G (which is the minor 7th Am7). Suddenly the bittersweet sound of the minot 7th is revealed.
 

TheoAllen

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You should not ignore diminished chords.
I'm suggesting to ignore diminished chord is for the sake of simplicity. From my experience, using diminished chord is for a specific situation. And again, you don't use it often.

Also it helps to know seventh chords. Not necessarily for using them as chords: you can have a melody including notes that are sevenths to the root note of the chord that plays simulataneously with the melody; therefore you will "get the color" of the seventh chord without using it as such.
This is a more advance theory that people should experiment themselves. I could include suspended chord or the chord function like tonic and dominant. But that seems like limiting. The goal of this tutorial is for simplicity so people are not turning away because there are a lot of "rules" to follow and terms to remember.
 

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This is great, thank you! You're wonderful at explaining things!
 

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