GM Music Composition
By: Freelancer Studios
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Music Theory 101: Your guide to making better music
-Choosing and Using Composition Software
-Melody and Bass
-Key and Time Signature
-Getting the most out of your Composition Software
indent-So you want to compose a song. How? What software should you use? How do you even use the software? What is a melody? How do you make a bass-line? If any or all of these questions apply to you, then you're reading the right guide. This guide was written in hopes of helping the composer-to-be enter a wide realm of sonic art: music composition.
indent-This guide is written as a sequel to (and is built upon) Music Theory 101 (by Freelancer Studios). Use both guides together for best results.
Choosing and Using Composition Software:
indent-To start composing music, you need some sort of software to do it, right? Right. So, what software is best for what you need to do? I'm sure you've heard program names like Fruity Loops, Sibelius, Noteworthy Composer, and Audacity thrown around. But how can you know which program to start with?
indent-Most people who enter the composing world want to start off cheap and easy, and what's cheaper than free? There is actually a surprising amount of free music software with more than mediocre results. The free software we'll be looking at is: Anvil Studio, Sound Club, TS-404, SimSynth, DrumSynth, DrumFlow, TrackAx, and Audacity.
indent-Anvil Studio is perhaps one of the best known free MIDI sequencing pieces of software around. It has a user friendly interface including a piano roll editor, a guitar TAB editor, and a clef editor. It includes a virtual keyboard that helps you compose as if you were using a piano/keyboard. Anvil Studios also can take input from external MIDI devices, such as MIDI keyboards. It uses your computer's inbuilt MIDI instrument library, but has an option to export to WAV (so as to keep the instrument sounds constant across computers). Overall, Anvil Studios is ta great place to start for MIDI composition.
indent-Anvil Studio can be found at: http://www.anvilstudio.com/
indent-Sound Club is a sample sequencing program similar to Anvil Studios. Like Anvil Studios, Sound Club has a piano roll editor and virtual keyboard, but, unlike Anvil Studios, Sound Club lacks a TAB editor and clef editor (composer). Also unlike Anvil Studios, Sound Club runs on a library of pre-recorded WAV samples, which means that when you compose with Sound Club, you're pasting short sound files together, rather than telling a MIDI translator what to do. This allows for sound consistency over multiple computers, but makes the initial file size bigger. The sample library available in Sound Club has a good range of instruments, and most are of pretty good quality. I recommend Sound Club primarily for its drum and bass samples, which can be mixed with your song through Audacity, TrackAx, or some other mixing software.
indent-Sound Club can be found at: http://www.bluemoon.ee/history/scwin/
indent-TS-404 is a virtual synthesizer which can be used for techno-sounding loops. It can produce some nice thick basslines, grinding rhythms, and electronic melodies. Once you get the hang of this cool little piece of software, there's really very few ends to the possibilities. TS-404 exports its samples and loops as RAW files, which can be imported and converted by Audacity.
indent-TS-404 can be found at: http://www.threechor...ad/ts-404.shtml
indent-SimSynth is a nice little sound synthesizer, which is used to make those weird noises you just can't seem to find anywhere. SimSynth can export to RAW (which can be a pain to work with) or WAV files. The nice thing about the WAV exporting is that Sound Club can import and use WAV files as 'instruments'. This makes it very easy to incorporate SimSynth sounds into Sound Club projects.
indent-SimSynth can be found at: http://www.threechor.../simsynth.shtml
indent-Another gem from the people at ThreeChords.com, DrumSynth is a synthesizer specifically for producing drum sounds. It comes with a pretty big library of already defined sounds to give you some examples, since it can be a little confusing. DrumSynth exports directly to WAV, which, once again, allows for simple integration into Sound Club.
indent-DrumSynth can be found at: http://www.threechor...drumsynth.shtml
indent-DrumFlow is a MIDI sequencer specifically for making drum tracks. It has a relatively large library of drums sets available, with more available for download. It also allows you to save your custom drum setups, so you don't have to search through piles of drum sounds every time you want to use the program. Because it exports as MIDI, DrumFlow sequences can also be imported into other MIDI programs, such as Anvil Studio, for easy integration into your song.
indent-DrumFlow can be found at: http://tnikolai.nm.ru/drumflow.html
indent-TrakAx is a music mixing program with video/visual sync capabilities. TrakAx makes it easy to align tracks of music together into one song. It even has the ability to change a track's BPM in order to align the music properly. Although it can be a little difficult to learn, TrakAx is one of the most powerful freeware mixing softwares available.
indent-TrakAx can be found at: http://www.trakax.com/software
indent-Audacity is a free music mixing and mastering program. It has a wide range of effects applicable to your tracks, and powerful editing tools. Audacity is user-firendly and easy to learn, and you seem to continually find new ways to use it. Audacity is also the one best music recording programs I've ever used, free or otherwise, so break-out your microphones and connector boxes.
indent-Audacity can be found at: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
indent-So we've got a good, long list of free software to start you off. You're now ready to get into the actual act of composing your own music. Someday, though, you may want to move into paid software. Although there are advantages to paid software, don't worry about it too soon. There are plenty of free things to keep you busy. And, when you do start buying software, programs like Acoustica Beatcraft, Finale, Sibelius, Noteworthy Composer, and Fruity Loops (plus countless sound libraries) are waiting for you to buy (and for me to write a tutorial about *wink*).
indent-You're now ready to start into composing your own music. It's exciting, huh? You've got all your software ready, your mouse is all warmed up, and your head is exploding with song ideas and melody riffs. But how do you get all the musical goodness out of your head and onto the computer? Well, here we go. Get ready to pour a cup of music juice into your composition software and come up with a freshly baked song.
indent-For our tutorial purposes, we'll start off using the piano roll editor to enter notes into our song. We're going to use this form of composition (for now) because most sequencers have a piano roll editor, so you'll be able to follow along relatively well with most software; all instructions given will, though, will be for use with Anvil Studios, with secondary instructions for use with Sound Club. Secondary instructions will be in parenthesis next to each step, like this (Sound Club instructions).
-Your First Song
1.Open Anvil Studio (Open Sound Club)
2.Your screen should look like this. If it doesn't, go to 'View' in the task bar, and then find and click 'Piano Roll Editor'.
1.To enter notes in the piano roll editor, left click on one of the squares in the large area in the middle of the screen. Drag with the left mouse button down for longer notes. The letters on the left side of the screen denote the notes corresponding with that horizontal sequence of squares. Try entering a few notes in the piano roll and click play. (For Sound Club, adding notes works the same, but you need to add an instrument. To add an instrument, click 'Voice' in the task bar, then click 'Add Voice'. Choose an instrument and click 'Ok'. The instrument will show up in the list on the bottom of the screen. You may now use the piano roll editor.)
Figure 3.1-Anvil Studios screen on left; Sound Club Screen on right.
indent-That's it. You've just composed your first song. If you listen really hard, you can probably tell it needs some work, but don't worry about it. We're getting the basics down and moving along slowly, but surely. The next thing we need to talk about is melodic and bass movement.
Melody and Bass:
indent-The most prominent part in a piece of music is called the melody. The melody is that part you hear outshining everything else: that beautifully sung part, that pretty flute solo, or that piano part that's just so pretty. Essentially, melodies are the series of notes that stick out, and are those by which the song is remembered. Melodies play a huge role in keeping the listener interested in the musical piece. Besides melodies, we also have basslines, or basso continuo. Basslines carry a piece along (or hold it together, however you see it), giving the melody a firm foundation to rest upon. Although both melody and bass parts can operate just fine independent of each other, melodies usually sound pretty stark without a bassline, and a bassline gets boring pretty quick without a melody. Other parts to a piece of music include counter-melodies, harmonies, and so on. For more information regarding the parts of a song, refer to Music Theory 101.
indent-Creating a melody line (and bassline) relies heavily on your song's chord structure. Chord structures are discussed in Music Theory 101, which you should refer to, but, for now, we'll take the basic chord structure I IV I V. Those Roman numerals stand for which part of a scale to use for the key you're composing in. For now, just know that in the key of C, the I IV I V chord structure is C, F, C, G (refer to Music Theory 101 for more information).
indent-So, now that you've got a chord structure, what do you do? Well, a melody line usually follows the song's chord structure. Try making a quick melody from the roots of the chords (the notes the chord is named after, in this case C, F, and G). Pretty cool huh? All right, now erase all the diddling you just made and let's look at adding a baseline to a melody.
indent-First, put this melody in your program. Add a half note, or two beats, in C. How do you know how many beats your note is? For Anvil Studios, one beat is four of the smaller squares made of dotted lines (the distance between the solid lines). For Sound Club, one beat is the distance between the solid lines as well, although there are no smaller squares. Once you've got your two-beat C note, add another half note in F immediately following it. If you've done everything right, the F should end at the thicker line (which denotes the end of a measure). Repeat this process again with another C, and a G. You should now have two measure's worth of notes.
indent-Now that you've got yourself a nice little diddy, try repeating the same notes an octave down. What you've just done is create an instance of the simplest form of harmonic melody and bass lines. By using the same notes in both parts, you've kept everything nice and simple. But what if you want to add more complex melody parts? Or maybe you want to add chords? Or more than two parts? There's just so much to cover that I can't possibly talk about it all here. Luckily, I've released another tutorial that can help you out in this area. Yes, once again, take a look at Music Theory 101, it really will help you out a lot.
Figure 4.1-Your melody with an octave in the bass part.
indent-Keyboards. The keyboard is one of the most useful arrangements of notes in all existence. Yet, for many, this wonderful tool is a mystery. How do I find which note is which? Why are there black keys? Why are the black keys in little cliques? Well, wonder no further, because your keyboard instruction is soon to begin.......and here we go!
indent-Despite all of the keys on a keyboard, there are only twelves notes available on it. If you don't know why there are only twelve notes, or why there are more than seven notes, take a look at Music Theory 101. In any case, these twelves notes are A, A#/Bb, B/Cb, C/B#, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E/Fb, F/E#, F#/Gb, G, and G#/Ab (# means sharp, b means flat; see Music Theory 101 for more information pertaining to sharps, flats, and why some are the same). The white keys on a keyboard represent the seven notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. These notes are all part of the C major scale (lalso known as the Ionian mode of C), so if you started at C and went to the next C on the keyboard, you'd have played one octave of the C major scale (more scale info in the other guide I keep mentioning). But where is C? A C note can be found to the left of every group of two black notes. From there just count up. Here, look at this:
indent-Hope that picture clears up any confusion. But, wait, the black notes aren't labeled! Don't worry, they're easy. A black key is the sharp or flat of the keys next to it: the sharp of the note to the left, and the flat of the note to the right (these double note names are called enharmonics...just read Music Theory 101). So, if you were wanting to know the name of the little black key to the right of a C, you know that it must be C sharp (because it's to the right of C), but it's also D flat (because it's to the left of D). The more you practice (and read up on enharmonics from other sources *cough*), the more all of this will make sense. Practice makes perfect.
Figure 5.1-The keyboard and its notes (screen shot from Anvil Studios Staff Editor/Composer)