Anyone else composing this way?
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Old 26-01-2015, 11:13 PM   #1
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Anyone else composing this way?

Recently bought a little music theory crutch/teaching tool for myself--Harmony Navigator Lite. Essentially its just a chord/chord progression auditioning software (it might be deeper, but I haven't gotten there yet). Basically its list the the chords I II III IV V VI VII (or i ii iii iv v vi vii) horizontally. At each numbered position it lists all/most of the possible chords vertically based on the key chosen on circle of fifths wheel in another window.

EDIT: I should add that when I say audition, it allows you to hear the chords on a variety on instruments.

First, I want to say this software has totally blown theory and composing wide open for me. Its allowing me to do things by ear while also teaching myself visually/symbolically the relationships between notes/chord shapes/keys etc. Maybe I'm not even saying it right...but its helping a ton. Highly recommended for 48USD

I also made the decision upon buying it that since we are so slow at the store that I'm going to compose some full arrangements with all place holder sounds--no sound design, no mixing, no FX automation. Just pure song writing. I only have a bare-bones version of FL Studio on my laptop. I open up the projects in the studio later and replace all the super generic drum samples and 3xOSC patches.

It is going really well. Over the last two days I've written three full songs in 2-3 hours each (with interruptions) which are miles ahead, arrangement-wise, anything I've done before. They are far from mind blowing timeless music...but for me are a big jump up in quality as far as songwriting...

So basically I'm building a chord progression in Harmony Navigator and exporting the MIDI to my DAW and going from there. Then I'm feeling out melody and bassline from the notes in the chords. Getting a 16 bar loop together than building backwards towards an intro then forwards...mostly just doing triangle wave bass, square wave melody, saw wave for chords. Crappy stock FL drums.

Anyone else writing like this in any fashion? Tips? Tricks?

Last edited by relic; 27-01-2015 at 08:21 PM..

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Old 27-01-2015, 01:09 AM   #2
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

I actually picked up the full edition of HN a few years back (now on HN2), it helped me a lot with learning how to put together progressions beyond the really obvious. The full version can actually do stuff like suggest progressions based on an input melody, and all sort of other things, you can even put together full songs inside it, bit more of an investment though.
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Old 27-01-2015, 01:36 PM   #3
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Excellent! I could do with this relic. Thanks man!

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Old 27-01-2015, 02:27 PM   #4
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

I use heaps of tools like this. Probably the most valuable is the [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
. I have the book and the app, but I prefer the book. It's entirely possible just to print an image of this off the internet, but I prefer the tactile nature of the wheel. Plus, the book contains some good explanations of how to draw theory from the wheel. I've used the wheel with people that know nothing about theory and they've been able to learn things on their own.

Of course, the Chord Wheel is somewhat limited in terms of forming chords beyond the most common ones. So I always have a chord and scale dictionary handy. I've got an old chord book from school but these days I mainly use apps on the iPad, more convenient.

My favourite is Piano Companion Pro ([Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
, [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
) which has chords and scales dictionaries as well as reverse lookups for both. It also has a circle of fifths which outlines notes, relatives, left and right and fingering (great for practise!), full list of scale chords, as well as lists of various chords (common, secondary dominant/leading-tone) also very good for inspiration.

Probably the only other one I turn to a lot is Scales & Modes ([Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
). It simply contains a list of modes: Major, Natural Minor, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian, Jazz Minor, Dorian b2, Lydian Augmented, Lydian Dominant, Mixolydian b6, Locrian #2, Super Locrian, Harmonic Minor, Harmonic Minor Mode 2-7, Minor Pentatonic, Major Pentatonic, Blues. You can reference each mode for a particular note. However, what's really valuable for me is that there's a second page which provides a description, how the scale is constructed and its degrees, the intervals and chord formations.

e.g.
Quote:
Locrian #2
The sixth mode of the melodic minor scale, with a minor feel but with tension caused by the flattened fifth and sixth.
Construction: w-h-w-h-w-w-w
Degrees: 1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7
Intervals: P1-M2-m3-P4-d5-m6-m7
Chord Formations:
Diminished Triad: 1-b3-b5
Half-Diminished 7th (m7b5): 1-b3-b5-b7
Half-Diminished 9th: 1-b3-b5-b7-9
.......
So yeah, that's probably a bit lighter than some would like. But I find it's much easier understanding scales when they're not fixed to the notes sometimes. I haven't looked at the above example yet, but I'd probably sit at the keyboard and bring it up on my tablet and practise making the scale at different points on the keyboard and finding which key is the most comfortable for me to learn on. Then once I've practised and learned the scale, it's very easy to transpose.

I haven't used Harmony Navigator. I'll check it out though, but I suspect it might be a bit too obvious for me. I think great as a learning tool, as you said a crutch. I kind of come at it from the other way where I like to find the notes and chords first and then figure out what they are. That being said, I could see a tool like this would be really helpful the next time I get stuck
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Old 27-01-2015, 02:43 PM   #5
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

this is what i sometimes use to work out chords [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]

very simple, yet very effective for me as i have a really shit relationship with music theory. granted it's simple, ut by using the different options it's nice to find out what chords are ok in the key i'm in and test them myself from there rather than just follow the suggested progressions
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Old 27-01-2015, 03:21 PM   #6
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

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another variety

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Old 27-01-2015, 04:43 PM   #7
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

@Peguinoid: Cool, I did demo the full version briefly. Those features you mention sound great, I just fear I'd just keep using it as a perpetual crutch though ;p

@[Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
. Thanks for the insights and apps suggestions. I've got a chord book, had one for a few years, but it never helped me much. For some reason when I bought it I thought I'd be able to just use it on its own...spent about three months randomly stringing chords together, lol.

As for figuring out the notes and chords first that is where I'm trying to get to--and I'm not so much caring what the technical names are, I'm more interested in learning shapes and how they relate to each other and to different keys. But I don't know enough to know if that is a good method.

That bit you quoted though, Harmony Navigator has information somewhat like that for each chord.

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: I've used autochords before I think. Certainly helpful. As you said, I like to audition chords I know will work together w/o being forced into typical progressions.

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: the more helpers the better : )

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Anyone else compose their entire song using temporary sounds? Not worrying about any sample choice, sound design or mixing until after you have at least a basic song (drums, bass, melody and chords) from start to finish? As I said in the OP, I've tried it with a couple songs recently, two of them I've brought to the stage of sound design/sample choice and some mixing. Seems to be working for me.

I had heard of the technique years ago when brostep-ish producer spoke about composing all tonal parts of his tracks with just saw waves, but foolishly blew it off b/c I didn't care for his music.

It has really helped me develop more thought structures for my songs.

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Old 27-01-2015, 05:24 PM   #8
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

I have a lot to say about this.

First of all, good on you for taking this route. When you think about most of the classic songs that people love, they were probably written at a piano or guitar. Actual songwriters don't start the process by designing a new instrument every time. This allows them to focus on the musicality, specifically form in relation to harmony (something I find really lacking in electronic music as a whole "ok I found my 4 chords that I like, time to copy paste them for 5 min" Try playing a Skrillex song on piano and see how it holds up.

Ok now on to your thoughts about music theory. Ok the way I view theory is, in a way it's not necessary, but if you're going to learn it don't half ass it. The reason being, if you just learn the basics and limit yourself to that, you are going to almost certainly come up with more boring stuff than you would by merring around by ear. Most of us have grown up here listening to all kinds of exotic harmonies. . The kind of stuff that you will only get to after studying theory for a good bit. But the point is, if you have a good ear, and hopefully you have at least a decent one, that material is already in your head somewhere. So, with the aid of a modern day sequencer, you should be able to access this stuff that's already there.

And also, in my opinion, if you are going to learn theory, you're going to have to memorize a bunch of stuff. If yo don't you're just making it 10x's harder for yourself. My advice is make flash cards for everything you can think of, key signatures (if anything do this one), chords diatonic to a key, inversion symbols etc. If you're actually going to get to the level where it becomes really useful, you're going to have to know there things. Reading an article on even intermediate level stuff will be a total headache if you have to stop and decode everything, and you won't get anything out of it. Good news is, there is actually less to memorise than you think.

Ok so by now you're probably saying fuck theory. And that's ok. What you need to understand is that voice leading is the most important thing. And that means that chords are voiced in such a way that each note moves as little as possible to get to the next chord. With this, you can pretty much go from any chord to any chord. So, you might try your new style of composing except totally using your ear instead of using theory. Or combine the two.

Phew. . Hope that helps!
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Old 27-01-2015, 05:39 PM   #9
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

maybe i'll look into this. i've been writing using guitar for so much as of late. when i played my first show for this project i am working on i had to relearn the songs (my process, even for guitar involves a lot of takes and much resampling).

SO much of what i do is between 5th and 7th position and in Amin (likely due to my preference for Dropped D chord voicings) but it was a big eye opener...

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Old 27-01-2015, 05:51 PM   #10
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
And also, in my opinion, if you are going to learn theory, you're going to have to memorize a bunch of stuff. If yo don't you're just making it 10x's harder for yourself. My advice is make flash cards for everything you can think of, key signatures (if anything do this one), chords diatonic to a key, inversion symbols etc. If you're actually going to get to the level where it becomes really useful, you're going to have to know there things. Reading an article on even intermediate level stuff will be a total headache if you have to stop and decode everything, and you won't get anything out of it. Good news is, there is actually less to memorise than you think.
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has some tools that help with that. i've been using mostly the fretboard identification one and interval ear training and they are pretty effective.

Cubase recently added Chord Pads feature where it lets you very quickly to scroll/preview through related chords by changing either voicing and/or adding 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc. It also shows you some common progressions based on the key and the chord you are on right now and it has a "proximity" diagram for chords (as well as circle of 5ths). So I've been
messing around with that occasionally and actually used it to write a transitional section to connect two existing ideas I wrote on guitar which was kind of cool.
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Old 27-01-2015, 08:05 PM   #11
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
Try playing a Skrillex song on piano and see how it holds up.
This made me chuckle.


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Old 27-01-2015, 08:26 PM   #12
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
I have a lot to say about this.

First of all, good on you for taking this route. When you think about most of the classic songs that people love, they were probably written at a piano or guitar. Actual songwriters don't start the process by designing a new instrument every time. This allows them to focus on the musicality, specifically form in relation to harmony (something I find really lacking in electronic music as a whole "ok I found my 4 chords that I like, time to copy paste them for 5 min" Try playing a Skrillex song on piano and see how it holds up.

Ok now on to your thoughts about music theory. Ok the way I view theory is, in a way it's not necessary, but if you're going to learn it don't half ass it. The reason being, if you just learn the basics and limit yourself to that, you are going to almost certainly come up with more boring stuff than you would by merring around by ear. Most of us have grown up here listening to all kinds of exotic harmonies. . The kind of stuff that you will only get to after studying theory for a good bit. But the point is, if you have a good ear, and hopefully you have at least a decent one, that material is already in your head somewhere. So, with the aid of a modern day sequencer, you should be able to access this stuff that's already there.

And also, in my opinion, if you are going to learn theory, you're going to have to memorize a bunch of stuff. If yo don't you're just making it 10x's harder for yourself. My advice is make flash cards for everything you can think of, key signatures (if anything do this one), chords diatonic to a key, inversion symbols etc. If you're actually going to get to the level where it becomes really useful, you're going to have to know there things. Reading an article on even intermediate level stuff will be a total headache if you have to stop and decode everything, and you won't get anything out of it. Good news is, there is actually less to memorise than you think.

Ok so by now you're probably saying fuck theory. And that's ok. What you need to understand is that voice leading is the most important thing. And that means that chords are voiced in such a way that each note moves as little as possible to get to the next chord. With this, you can pretty much go from any chord to any chord. So, you might try your new style of composing except totally using your ear instead of using theory. Or combine the two.

Phew. . Hope that helps!
It does help and I appreciate your enthusiasm. I'm taking it all in baby steps, crawling really. One thing that makes me feel good is that the first thing I noticed/learned using Harmony Navigator and writing in this way is that the progressions I come up with, the chord share a lot of notes and don't move very far from one to the next even if the first and last end up fairly far apart. Basically what you said in the penultimate 'graph of your essay there ;p


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Old 27-01-2015, 10:36 PM   #13
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Quote:
Originally Posted by relic View Post
One thing that makes me feel good is that the first thing I noticed/learned using Harmony Navigator and writing in this way is that the progressions I come up with, the chord share a lot of notes and don't move very far from one to the next even if the first and last end up fairly far apart.
Yeah, Harmony Navigator I am pretty sure restricts the key range so it will automatically do basic voice leading.
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Old 28-01-2015, 01:31 AM   #14
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

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Originally Posted by relic View Post
Anyone else compose their entire song using temporary sounds? Not worrying about any sample choice, sound design or mixing until after you have at least a basic song (drums, bass, melody and chords) from start to finish? As I said in the OP, I've tried it with a couple songs recently, two of them I've brought to the stage of sound design/sample choice and some mixing. Seems to be working for me.
Yep, I do it all the time. I usually use a shitty default piano preset and go all out on composition. (I used to use sine waves but the stacks of pure sines got annoying )
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Old 28-01-2015, 02:02 AM   #15
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

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Originally Posted by Mindsweeper View Post
Yep, I do it all the time. I usually use a shitty default piano preset and go all out on composition. (I used to use sine waves but the stacks of pure sines got annoying )
lol...yea...I figure if I can stand to listen to the song with crappy drum samples and dry, digital, single oscillator, basic shape synth patches a few times in a row, I've got something...



Also, FWIW...the brostep-ish producer I was thinking of is Flux Pavillon ...the one who did everything with saw waves first...

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Old 28-01-2015, 04:07 AM   #16
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

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. Thanks for the insights and apps suggestions. I've got a chord book, had one for a few years, but it never helped me much. For some reason when I bought it I thought I'd be able to just use it on its own...spent about three months randomly stringing chords together, lol.
Yeah, chord books are great. They get me all nostalgic. But the reality is that I only keep mine out for sentimental value these days (gift from an auntie). The problem with chord books is that they just list every chord, there's no way to refine the results.

Quote:
Originally Posted by relic View Post
As for figuring out the notes and chords first that is where I'm trying to get to--and I'm not so much caring what the technical names are, I'm more interested in learning shapes and how they relate to each other and to different keys. But I don't know enough to know if that is a good method.
Piano Companion is great for this because the chord lookup let's you press the keys in the chord your trying to identify and then it shows you the explicit chord as well as any other chords those notes could be used to make (with additional notes). This is probably the most valuable tool of all because C-E-G, E-G-C, G-C-E will all give the result of C Major. Whereas I know some people struggle with inversions and would possibly struggle to identify these on their own.

Quote:
Originally Posted by relic View Post
Anyone else compose their entire song using temporary sounds? Not worrying about any sample choice, sound design or mixing until after you have at least a basic song (drums, bass, melody and chords) from start to finish? As I said in the OP, I've tried it with a couple songs recently, two of them I've brought to the stage of sound design/sample choice and some mixing. Seems to be working for me.
All the time. I have done paid jobs that consists of sounds and compositions made solely with Apple's Jam Packs (now called Apple Loops). That's kind of why I always jump down people's throats who say "don't use presets" or "don't use loops". The reality is that if you're too busy focussing on patching synths and shaping drums, then you're losing focus on the music. Whereas when you use "factory" content, you'll very rarely find yourself in this situation. You can just put the sounds down.

Probably my favourite for composition is "New Sound" on FM8. If I have a musical composition and it still carries some emotion when presented as a collection of sine-waves, then I'm doing okay. If I load up "New Sound" and the composition dies in its arse, it's time to reassess its worth.
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Old 28-01-2015, 06:53 AM   #17
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

Process-wise I started doing something similar recently. Started writing/composing in LMMS, and then exporting the tracks to another DAW for mixing.

Since LMMS is like an early version of FL, it has the step sequencer that I like and I find it easy to use. Actually like all the instrument sounds, but it doesn't support outside vsts on my Mac so I'm not tempted to start mixing (or go surfing for 'better' sounds). I know I'm gonna do mixing else. Can tinker a little bit, but now I'm kinda forced to write.

Productivity has gone up a little bit already, so I'm quite excited.

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Old 28-01-2015, 03:03 PM   #18
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

I don't remember who suggested me
Piano Chords and Chords Progressions: The secret back door bla bla bla [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
and it seems pretty good.

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relic (28-01-2015)
Old 28-01-2015, 04:37 PM   #19
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

@[Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
I will have to check out that Piano Companion then. Sounds exactly like a learning tool I could use. And as you say, if the song holds up as all sine waves, one probably has something...assuming it still sounds good once one start's adding in better sounds. Thanks again for the suggestions.
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yea I just can't stop myself from getting distracted by sound design, creating a texture and mixing if I've got all my favorite tools in front of me. I learned all of that stuff before any theory or song writing.
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I'll be having a look at that book as well.

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Jaded (28-01-2015)
Old 28-01-2015, 05:45 PM   #20
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Re: Anyone else composing this way?

I don't think that could work for me because of the importance of the sound design in my stuff.

Maybe I'm wrong but it seems to me that all composition is done with a specific instrument's characteristics in mind, and working with init patches would condemn you to sustained sounds with more or less steady characteristics. If you write complex harmonies that work with sine or saw waves you won't be able to use very rich or complex sounds further down the line. If you write complex melodies so that your composition doesn't sound so boring with simple waves you won't be able to use dissonant, irregular or evolving sounds to play that.

I dunno, the kind of sounds I use tend do dictate the way I use them. Might be doing it wrong, or it might only be a problem for wankers like me who like sounds that have no place in music.

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