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How to make a cool synthesizer sequence
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Author How to make a cool synthesizer sequence
Kreis
Hi there,
this weekend I made this synth sequence and as I found that its far more easy to gain knowledge about the latest modules and technology than about music theory, I thought it could be helpful to share some basic knowledge . So here is the video:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLdQTCj-pec

and here is how I made it:

So first of all I started with a note. In my case it was "A". That means that the whole piece is based around this note in some way and that it is likely to occur most often. So which notes do you pick next?

Thats where the scale comes in. A scale basically defines a group of notes which fit nicely together. I decided to go with the minor scale which means that there are A, B, C, D, E, F and G to pick from. So all of the notes in the piece should be made out of these tones as they are part of the scale. Of course you could start on another note and use another scale to get your "working material"...

However, the B, F do not fit that nicely so for the melody I picked the A, E and G which are the root (A), fifth (E) (as it is the fifth note from the scale) and the seventh (G) (the seventh note as the name implies...). These are notes, that sound round and harmonic. So here is my melody:



And just to have some variation, I transposed two of the notes. That means, that they are an octave lower but still have the same relation to the root note:



Okay so now as I have my melody, how do I make a bass, that fits to that really nicely?

I started with the root note "I" (one) of the scale. So the bass is a sequence, just playing an A.
Then I went over to a C, which is the number III in the scale and finally to E which is the V (five) in the scale. I improvised a bit between these tones by using the transpose function of the Arturia Keystep, which is sequencing the bassline.
By the way: it would have been possible to not only play bass notes, but whole chord. In this case I would pick the same notes as a foundation but maybe I am going to write a bit about chords another day...
So as the bass is playing this progression I-III-V I improvised a bit with the notes and also added them in a higher Octave... Both the III and V sit very nice with the melody.
As a variation I added a VI and a VII note, which are the F and the G which introduce some kind of tension and are used to lead to the "next part" of the track.

So here is the overall arrangement:



So to sum it up:
- pick a root note, build a scale and with this material make a sequence
- this sequence can play all the time but in order to not get boring you should add some variation (both melodically (transposing, different notes etc.) and tonal (cutoff frequency, modulation, envelopes etc.)
- play a bass part on the root note of the scale and try different notes like III and V or II, VI and VII if you want to add tension.
- bare in mind to only pick notes which fit to the scale you are in

--> happy wiggling

By the way: There are several youtube videos which use this technique. So I learned something about music theory, analyzed them and made something in the same style. Here are some of those videos:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_P6bTPSHOEaj1FU6NPsCnZZVwG8d5o tc
whinger
I enjoyed the write up and explanation, thank you.
Trigga
perfect tutorial, thanks a lot! that's how most cosmic and berlin school sequences are made. then you can fiddle and noodle over it within the scale.
lookin forward to more of these tutorials!
Petesasqwax
Thoroughly enjoyed that, mate - absolutely beautiful synthery!
i.murray.fraser
Thanks for the detailed description of your process. You're absolutely right, there are so many posts about gear, but not nearly enough about process and theory, especially for beginners. I wish there were more posts like this. That's a nice little tune, too.
Tubefund
Great when some can explain things the easy way. thumbs up
aokjoey0
applause
Raytracer
We need more stuff like this! smile
felixer
Kreis wrote:
Okay so now as I have my melody, how do I make a bass, that fits to that really nicely?

you may want to study counterpoint. generally you work the other way around: make a bassline first and the write the melody on top. but wait, your melody is basically a bassline. just an arpegiated chord oops
Kreis wrote:

- bare in mind to only pick notes which fit to the scale you are in

how boring! no wonder it all sounds like vanilla ...
like zappa said: 'you need to put some garlic in your music'. pepper is also good, be more daring ...
DallasKnight
This is great!, thanks for posting
Muzone
felixer wrote:

how boring! no wonder it all sounds like vanilla ...


you could always add your wealth of expertise and experience to the discussion rather than just dropping a Q-bomb wink
felixer
well, the easiest (requiring no knowledge) is to change one (or more) of the notes by a semitone. up or down doesn't matter: just experiment cool
the other one is to go for a dissonant interval: augmented fourth/diminished fifth, minor ninth, major seventh. the dim5th was forbidden by the church as the 'diabolo in musica' (devil in the music) so that's always a good one to piss off some folks ... to me it sounds sweet and i'm not even a satanist. min 9th is also good. with a maj7th you run the risk of making the 'in love' chord if you also have the maj3d and perfect 5th ...
like i said: study counterpoint. one of the rules is to go by close step motion. so transpose some notes an oktave to make it more jagged. if you insist in keeping the notes you have ... you can only go against the rules if you know them! and stick with 'm if you want everything to sound sugery.
Muzone
I'm just conflicted by the "break the ruled" thing ~ sure you don't want to do the compose by numbers thing, but if your rule is to break the rules then it all gets a bit chicken and egg ?
I thinks as synthesists we're as much governed by choice of sound/timbre as choice of note and sequences that would sound cheesy when played by acoustic instruments can be the basis of great pieces with the creative choice of sounds & processing smile

Anyway, not to divert too much, I agree it's useful for people to sketch out their processes I'll try and clarify my thoughts and add something later.....
felixer
remember that all those musical rules where made in a world that was quite different to ours. just as we stopped burning witches (same era!) we should stop using musical rules from that time. and if you really need some rules, use the ones schoenberg came up with: 12tone music. that seems more in line with modern times (about 100 years ago, at least post-victorian).
esp when using synths that may produce 'inharmonic' tones it is just silly to insist on a harmonic system. it just doesn't fit at all!
LoFi Junglist
felixer wrote:
just as we stopped burning witches (same era!) we should stop using musical rules from that time.


Muffwigglers is a global board, and there a countries all over the world that still burn witches. So what's your point exactly?

Kreis, keep making these tutorials, you've managed to keep some pretty technical concepts relatively basic, which is going to help a few people dabble. Got Quantizers?
felixer
LoFi Junglist wrote:
felixer wrote:
just as we stopped burning witches (same era!) we should stop using musical rules from that time.


Muffwigglers is a global board, and there a countries all over the world that still burn witches. So what's your point exactly?

well, if you happen to live in a society that backwards and barbaric i guess the music should reflect that. but remember they stopped burning witches as it didn't help: the climate got colder and ever more harvests were lost, people got sick&died and revolts/wars broke out. and both in the 14th and 17th century in europe things where going pretty bad. now the climate is getting warmer again and everybody is worried about that seriously, i just don't get it despite the fact that it isn't as warm as in the 'high middle ages' (about 1000 years ago). and that was a really prosperous time. most artefacts you see in museums are from that period.
Daisuk
Here's a trick I've been toying with lately.

Run a 16 step sequence at whatever speed you wish into a mixer, and then into a quantizer (so no need to really know the music theory stuff, just chuck a sequence in and dial in something on your quantizer that you think sounds nice). Now, use the same clock that is clocking your sequencer into a sample and hold (running off white noise, or something random). Run the output of the S/H into a VCA, which you can control by another sequencer (or any CV source of choice, really, depending on how you want the variations to occur). Run the output of the VCA into the same mixer as the main sequence (I use a Happy Nerding MIA, which is excellent for this application). Depending on your mixer settings (which channel is overriding what, for instance) you'll get some nice variations to your main sequence everytime the VCA for the S/H is opened and the output of the S/H will hit the quantizer playing something that's in scale with the main melody, but some variation.

It obviously depends a bit on what kind of mixer you have (you might have to run the main sequence into a VCA as well, and have the CV that controls the S/H VCA invert control the main sequence VCA for them to interchange nicely). The variation in the sequence will also depend a lot on what CV source you use to control when the S/H is going to come into play. You can use another random source for this, or a sequencer, or an LFO or anything (or even mix between sources to get it even more varied). You get the gist. smile

Try it! Mr. Green
mrflannery
Cool thread! I figured I'd add my two cents. Try playing with laeding tones in your sequences. What's a leading tone?
Let's number the notes in a scale. C scale:
C - 1 - tonic
D - 2 - supertonic
E - 3 - Mediant
F - 4 - Subdominant
G - 5 - Dominant (power chord = tonic + dominant)
A - 6 - submediant
B -7 - Leading tone
C - 8 - octave

So the leading tone is the seventh. In a major scale the seventh is a half step below the octave (no black key between B and C on the keyboard). The leading tone feels like it leaves you hanging, with no resolve. It's a nice sound- Bach used them a LOT. The neat thing is that any note can be a leading tone into a new key or a new chord. So, the leading tone into say, F# is F, or the leading tone to C# is C.
A nice trick for moving around arpeggios.
orangehexagon
Indeed some basic music theory can go a long way.

I appreciate the effort and knowledge sharing. I would love to see more of this on the forum. Hopefully I can contribute here when time allows.

The circle of fifths is a basic tool everyone that is making western melodic music should know.



Take it to the next level and transpose relative keys for segments of a track. Transposition from minor to major and major to minor can yield some greatness.
orangehexagon
For further melodic exploration, I suggest doing a bit of research on serial composition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serialism
felixer
orangehexagon wrote:
For further melodic exploration, I suggest doing a bit of research on serial composition

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serialism

yep, that's a good one. but you need to make at least one sequece/series from thin air! and i must admit i like the music schoenberg wrote before he came up with this system quite a lot, so don't feel bound by it! he basically invented this system as he didn't like to be completely free ... and of course because he wanted to make sure that all the notes available were used equally! to create a music that has no up or down. no hierarchy ... he was good friends with kandinsky who did the same for painting ...
Kreis
Well, I was thinking about the whole "break the rule" thing also. I know that there are some people who think that learning music theory might ruin some part of your creativity and so on....

For me it actually helped a lot, to really understand what I am doing and to have a point to start from. So my recommendation: Go for it, learn it! ;-)

However I must admit, that everything composed using the basic rules (as presented above) sounds very "vanilla" to me, too. But this does not need to be a bad thing. I like it sometimes but was recently more going into the techno direction. Things are a bit different there in terms of music theory and for the style I am aiming at. I found out that the "standard" major scale would not give me the dark feeling I was looking for. I need to figure out some things and might do another tutorial on this topic in the next weeks....
felixer
try the dimished scale! stacked minor thrirds. that sounds pretty angry! strangely rarely used in heavy metal but often by king crimson.
the octatonic scale (aka whole tone, half tone) is a variation.
use the hexatonic one (whole tone: stacked major seconds) for a friendlier but equally strange (other worldly) atmosphere ... (debussy used that one regularly). these scales are symmetrical and all repeat at the octave. but you don't need to. i often use a scale that is wholestep, halfstep, wholestep and repeats every fifth. now you get the effect that you have a minor scale at the lower octave and a major scale at the higher octave. this somehow pulls it more apart, making the lower octave seem lower and the higher octave higher. taking that further you get to 'the land of sieves' (xenakis). he thinks of a scale as a set of notes that is 'let thru' and the rest is 'blocked'. then you can take any note in the whole range and 'allow it'. or not. all this is theory but not conventional.
no quantizers for that idea afaik. yet ...
also check the scales john mclaughlin used in his 'shakti/mahavishnu' days. many synthetic scales (=not based on an overtone series like major or (natural) minor). classical music/theory is quite poor as it really only has two scales. compare that to the indian raga system. use your imagination and don't get stuck! bartok is an interesting guy as well who used a lot of scales from the balkan. he studied that folkmusic quite extensively in his younger days and took advantage of it later in life.
junglll
Kreis wrote:
Well, I was thinking about the whole "break the rule" thing also. I know that there are some people who think that learning music theory might ruin some part of your creativity and so on....

For me it actually helped a lot, to really understand what I am doing and to have a point to start from. So my recommendation: Go for it, learn it! ;-)

However I must admit, that everything composed using the basic rules (as presented above) sounds very "vanilla" to me, too. But this does not need to be a bad thing. I like it sometimes but was recently more going into the techno direction. Things are a bit different there in terms of music theory and for the style I am aiming at. I found out that the "standard" major scale would not give me the dark feeling I was looking for. I need to figure out some things and might do another tutorial on this topic in the next weeks....


Theory is great! This is fun!
not too much is composed to fit the basic rules because it will be inescapably 'vanilla.' What it's really valuable for is that by know the patterns/rules it'll help you get some neat idea in your head onto paper or out of an instrument
felixer
junglll wrote:
Kreis wrote:
Well, I was thinking about the whole "break the rule" thing also. I know that there are some people who think that learning music theory might ruin some part of your creativity and so on....

For me it actually helped a lot, to really understand what I am doing and to have a point to start from. So my recommendation: Go for it, learn it! ;-)

However I must admit, that everything composed using the basic rules (as presented above) sounds very "vanilla" to me, too. But this does not need to be a bad thing. I like it sometimes but was recently more going into the techno direction. Things are a bit different there in terms of music theory and for the style I am aiming at. I found out that the "standard" major scale would not give me the dark feeling I was looking for. I need to figure out some things and might do another tutorial on this topic in the next weeks....


Theory is great! This is fun!
not too much is composed to fit the basic rules because it will be inescapably 'vanilla.' What it's really valuable for is that by know the patterns/rules it'll help you get some neat idea in your head onto paper or out of an instrument

mainly useful to compose without an instrument as the vocabulary is limited. same goes for composing for orchestra: you have a set/limited group of instuments/sounds. not too useful for synthesizers as you can make many more sounds and you have to hear 'm (try it out) to see/hear what works and what doesn't.
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