In the final part of this course, I will simply show you how everything you’ve learned fits together in a very simple piece of orchestral music.
7. A Basic Music Piece
In this final chapter I will show you a very simple music piece in the making. In the package for this book, you will find a “Final Track” folder, and a final_track.mid file, as well as ready stems – audio files containing separate tracks. Load the MIDI file to your DAW, and then add corresponding audio files for each of the MIDI tracks. This way you’ll be able to see how everything looks like and sounds like. Take a look at figure 7.1, which should give you an idea of what I’m talking about.
This is a very simple and short piece and it’s merely a draft – but it shows clearly how all the things explained in this book work in real life.
First, we pick up a music scale. I decided to use a basic scale, C Major. It is made of notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G. I have used these seven notes to create this music piece. Music is usually made of the notes from a given scales. So I’ve used C Major scale’s notes to build the melody and chords.
Of course, your music can use notes from outside the scale, but this is a bit more advanced knowledge. Anyway, a good idea for beginners is to first create a chord progression and build a melody upon these chords, not the other way around. This is because it’s simpler to build a melody when you already have the chords.
I’ve created a simple I-V-VI-IV chord progression, upon which I will build the melody. This chord progression is made only with the notes of the C Major scale.
I can create an entire piece based on these four chords.
To make things more interesting, I want to invert at least the first chord, as shown on figure 7.3.
The tonic is now in the first inversion, with a third at the very bottom. In addition, I have moved the entire chord an octave down. The chord progression sounds a bit different now.
Adding the Melody
Figure 7.4 shows a simple melody added. I said it already, but it’s a nice enough tip, so here it is again: when you’re a beginner, start with the chords, and build melodies upon them. It’s simpler :). Try to fit the first note of the melody to one of the chord’s notes – meaning, use one of the chord’s notes as the first note of the melody.
On figure 7.5 I’ve added some rhythm. The melody I’ve composed earlier already defined this rhythm, but now I’m emphasizing it with additional hits and percussion. By the way, the “transparent” notes on figure 7.5 are an option many DAWs offer – you can display inactive notes from other MIDI tracks to use them as a reference.
At this time, I decided that the piano composition is ready, so it’s time to transfer everything to other instruments – this is what we call orchestration :). I have muted the piano track, because I don’t need it anymore, but I left the percussion intact, as it is a part of the music piece I’m making here.
The Bass Line
I have written down a bass line – the lower part of the music piece – using long notes that follow the root notes of the chords: C, G, A and F. Writing the bass line this way is a simple way to create the low end of your music. The bass line can be a bit more dynamic, or very steady, like on figure 7.6, where it is played on cellos.
That said, even if this is a bass line, it’s placed between C3 and C4, so it’s not that low. Later on I will double it on basses that sound an octave lower.
Strings Playing Chords
Because my composition is simple and I’m not working on a proper orchestration right now, I decided to let the strings ensemble play the chords, as shown on figure 7.7.
The Melody Line
On figure 7.8, I’ve transferred the melody line onto high strings and I’ve added some additional elements based on the fifths of the chords. This way I can emphasize bot the root notes of the chords, as well as the fifths. I have used the staccato articulation here, that mean short notes.
Every virtual instrument has a set of articulations – various ways to make a sound. For example, strings can play legato, staccato, spiccato, marcato and a couple of other articulations. Knowing what kind of sounds a real instrument can produce and having a professional libraries allows you to create more realistic music.
Notice that I’m doubling the root notes first, then the fifths. In most cases I do not double the thirds.
Doubling the Bass
I have doubled the root notes played by cellos and moved them to another track, where they are played by French Horns.
As figure 7.10 shows, I decided to emphasize the rhythm, while still working with the chords. Thus, based on the main percussion rhythm, I have written down some notes played by staccato strings. I have doubled the third here, but it’s not a problem, because I have doubled the roots and fifths as well (more roots than fifths), so the balance between all three notes of the chord is kept.
Finally, I have doubled the entire melodic line that is now played by a choir.
Now, listen to the piano draft I’ve made at the very beginning, and then listen to the final version with all the other instruments. The notes, the scale, the chords, they are all the same, but the piano draft has been transferred to various instruments in various octaves. At the very end, I’ve added some basses, trombones and and additional fifths played by cellos.
I want you to notice the following: even if the music sounds complex, whether it’s a movie soundtrack or a radio pop hit, in reality it can be quite simple. The “complex sound” is merely an illusion created by dynamics and orchestration. If you know how to make chord progressions and how to write melodies, and how to double the notes and voice the chords, you can create your own music.
In this book you’ve learned the basics of music theory – the building blocks of music.
As I said at the beginning, you may feel lost right now, but don’t worry – once you start learning music composition, everything will become much easier to understand. Once you know composition, the world of music is open to you.