Juilliard Evening Division
Overarching ideas about creativity
We are cultivating a mental state that is:
relaxed but alert
focused on one thing at a time
optimistic: the attitude that “it isn’t good now but it will be”
playful: it can spend a lot of time moving the blocks around, trying new combinations and shapes, with suspended judgment
Things that may help you approach that state before you begin:
working at a specific time of day
having a clean physical and digital workspace, minimizing distractions
some kind of meditation/relaxation/focusing exercise
defining your schedule and tasks first
for me, this is the most important. To practice, everything in our class is going to be done on a clock - we’ll work in fixed periods of time, with the task defined beforehand and a break between.
Suggestions for workflow
At the end of every work session, export a bounce of your work. Throw it in a folder or an itunes playlist or something. Two months from now you will have forgotten most of your sketches, and it will be a pain to re-open all of your working files — make it easy for yourself to skim all of your work.
We’re going to be doing lots and lots of sketching, which could result in a chaos of half-remembered filenames. I suggest thinking about it as a “journal” and organizing your project files accordingly. I’m going to have one folder called “sketching” and save all of my projects in there named with the date first and a few descriptive words after, like “2018.09.09 choir drums tuba echoes”. This works well for me and might for you too.
Whether you are working in Ableton, Logic, or other software, you’ll need some basic skills. Here’s a list of things I assume you can do. If you have any gaps in your knowledge, I suggest setting aside some time each week to fill them in. Google for instructions and tutorials.
Navigation: move around in the track, zoom horizontally and vertically, loop sections
Audio Regions: cut copy and paste, adjust boundaries, loop, create fades in out and cross, adjust gain, use warp markers (Ableton) or Flex Time (Logic) to adjust the timing of a region
Tracks: create and delete tracks, choose software instruments
Mixing: change track volume and panning, solo and mute, EQ
MIDI: create midi regions, record midi regions, edit notes and velocities, quantize
Exporting: render wav and mp3
Global: change the tempo, use the metronome, add markers
DAW best practices
Stay organized: keep like tracks together, use colors and meaningful names
Learn hotkeys: figure out how to reference your program’s key commands. If your software lets you edit them, whenever you feel frustrated, or slow, or like you’re using the mouse a lot, ask, “can I make a hotkey for this?”
Save your customized instruments, effects and loops: build a personal library of sounds you’ve made.
Sampling is a kind of collage, and so has roots in the Cubism of the 19-teens. It was pioneered by the French in the early days of electronic music, and today is a core practice for popular music as well. Here are some notes on the history of the French school, as well as some notes on Ableton techniques.
20 minutes: scavenger hunt.
Go find interesting samples. Use software like Audio Hijack to record from Spotify, or Youtube. Cruise Freesound.org, YouTube Roulette, sample libraries. Get snippits of music, of speech, of natural sounds.
Things to think about:
The simpler the sound, the more versatile it will be. Solo instruments, tracks with more silence, sounds without background noise will all give you ‘cleaner’ materials.
Find samples that offer a diversity of sonic roles. There are lots of ways to think about this: with a spatial metaphor (foreground, middle ground, background), with an orchestrational metaphor (something low to be the “bass”, something high to be the “flute”, bright stabs to be “the trumpets”, glued together with mellow “horns”), a drum kit metaphor (the “kick”, the “snare”, the “hat”). Basically just find a mix of long sounds and short sounds, high sounds and low sounds (but know that you can make high sounds low, and long sounds short etc. with audio processing).
Don’t think too hard about your sounds yet. Find something interesting, record some of it, move on.
20 minutes: excerpt, shape, loop, organize.
Drag all of your samples together into your DAW. Let it create a track for each one. Give each one a different color.
Trim each long sample to a single musical gesture. This can be a long phrase, a short isolated sound, or a loop (use the loop function of your DAW to experiment. Don’t worry about getting into any specific tempo now). But try to make each one into a single coherent unit, something with a beginning middle and end. If you can pull out a couple of these gestures from a sample, go for it.
You may want to further process these as you go. Add fades, audio effects, adjust the volume, change the pitch – sure, but just trust your first idea and don’t spend much time trying to get it exactly right.
Try loading samples into a sampler (EXS24 in Logic or Simpler in Ableton) and playing them like as a MIDI instrument. (In Logic, a fast way to do this is to right click the audio > Convert to New Sampler Track; you can have it slice it up where each bit is a different note, or you can sample a whole region to all notes, just edit the EXS24 so the range of the sample is the whole range of the keyboard. In Ableton, right click > Slice to New MIDI Track. If you’ve added fades or transpositions etc. that change the sound, you will need to render the audio first: Logic > Bounce in Place. Ableton > Consolidate).
20 minutes: compose a 2 bar loop.
(I’m thinking of Chuck Close, who I remember saying on Charlie Rose something like: I don’t think of it as working on a giant painting for 2 years, I just make a little frame every day and fill it with a little painting. This 2 bar loop is our little frame.)
Set your DAW to loop over 2 bars. Turn on the metronome and choose a tempo.
Start filling the frame with selections from your samples. Anything is fair game: cut things up, change their pitch, throw things away. You’re just going to shuffle blocks until things start clicking.
Use Flex Time (Logic) or Warp Markers (Ableton) to adjust the timing of your samples, and the Transpose function to adjust the pitch.
Once you feel like your own sounds are articulating the meter well enough, turn off the metronome.
Compose a few more 2 bar loops. Choose your favorites.
20 minutes: from a loop to a phrase. Possibilities:
Turn 2 bar loops into 4 bar loops by doubling them and changing something (doesn’t matter what, mix it up) about the second one. (Try articulating the ending somehow to round out the unit: this can be as slight as a single note changed or as dramatic as a drum fill or riser.) 4 bar loops become 8 bars the same way, and 8, 16.
Turn a 2 bar loop into a longer trajectory. Repeat it some number of times, and delete elements from the early repetitions so that the layers accumulate, or make some other change over time.
Do your own idea.
Homework for 1/29: finish this section to your satisfaction. This is A. Repeat this process to write a contrasting section, B. Make a final track with the form ABA. Make the second A a little different. Work on it until you’re satisfied. Bounce and email to me; we’ll all share next week.
FYI: if you plan on releasing pro tracks from your sampling adventures, two things to think about: audio quality (mp3s recorded from spotify or youtube are not full quality) and copyright (learn more here).
Sampling 2: Building Your Own Instrument
Technique 1: turn any single sound into an instrument
In Logic: create a Software Instrument track and add an EXS24. Click EDIT (near the top right corner). Drag the region that you want to sample into the instrument. Tips:
Set KEY to be the original pitch of the sample. This will make it play the right notes.
Use the VIEW menu to see other options. Here are a few you are likely to use:
Playback: 1Shot - plays the whole sound even if you lift the key before it’s done
Loop - lets you specify a portion of the sound to loop. (Know that these Start and End values are measured in SAMPLES (44.1 thousand per second) so your values will likely need to be in the tens or hundreds of thousands.)
The piano keyboard below lets you specify the range of notes that trigger any given sample.
Use the main panel of the EXS24 to control the volume envelope, add a filter, add glide, detune, add LFO and more.
In Ableton: create a MIDI track and add the Simpler instrument. Drag a sound into it. Tips:
Classic Mode plays only as long as you hold the key down, and can loop a portion to create a sustained sound. 1 Shot plays the whole sound no matter how long you hold the note down (good for drums). We’ll get to slice —
Warp mode on will keep the duration of the sound the same no matter what pitch you play on it. Sometimes this makes a more natural sound, sometimes it degrade the sound quality.
Open the Controls panel to shape the sound with a filter, LFO, and envelope.
Ideas: find a single note or sustained pitch and sample it to play chords or melodies.
NOTE: if, before you bring your sample into the sampler, you’ve shaped it with fades or effects, you need to bounce a new audio region that imprints those changes into the sound itself. In Logic: control-click > Bounce in Place. In Ableton: control-click > Consolidate.
Technique 2: slice a sound into parts.
In Logic: select a region you want to slice. Control-click > Convert > Convert to new Sampler Track. Here you have two options: let it slice according to its own detection of where ‘parts’ start and stop (Transient Markers), or you can slice it up yourself into different regions, each of which will become a different key on the keyboard (do this first, then select all regions and convert to sampler track).
In Ableton: create a Simpler instrument and choose Slice mode. Change Sensitivity to make the slices larger or smaller.
slice a beat on the rhythmic grid (into 1/4 or 1/8th notes) and play as a drum set.
slice a vocal part by transient and play with an arpeggiator (I did this in my song 100 Tongues)
Technique 3: build a layered instrument.
In Logic: drop multiple samples into the EXS24. Use the volume controls to adjust the balance between them, and the pitch controls to align the notes (or create a chord).
In Ableton: use an Instrument Rack to stack different Simpler instruments together.
There are different ways you can divide up how the sounds are selected: they can all play together, or different sounds can be played by different regions of the keyboard which can overlap, or different sounds can be triggered by notes of different velocities (how hard you kit the key).
Technique 3: build a mixed instrument - a “drum kit” or “soundpack”
In Logic, drop multiple samples into the EXS24. Use the keyboard to limit the range of each.
In Ableton, use a Drum Rack.
Electronic musicians who work this way often think about sounds in categories:
a few drums (probably kick, snare, hat)
a few other rhythmic sounds
a few melodic elements, which can be bass tones or sampled vocals or harmonic pads…
a riser: something that rises in pitch over a few bars time to create drama
Project for 2/5: create 4 instruments, one of each type described above. Use only samples from our Grab Bag, plus any drums you want to include in your soundpack. Using these 4 instruments only, create a 1 minute piece of music.
Generating Material: Sound
A few works that inspire me from our class playlist:
Audio Effects - essential tools:
Understanding of the effects. This just takes time & exploration & googling.
Automation curves: changing parameters over time.
Entering Automation mode: key A (Logic), A (Live 10), clicking a parameter (Live 9)
Curves can be on the track level or the region/clip level
In Logic, this is a toggle that appears on the track in Automation mode. Automation drawn on the region will repeat exactly if the region is looped.
In Ableton, clips are automated in the Envelope panel of the Clip editor and tracks are automated in Arrangement view.
Shapes can be made in several ways:
Clicked in (making nodes one at a time)
Drawn in (pencil tool)
In Ableton, Clip Envelopes can be recorded with Session Record button (make sure Automation Arm is on and track is armed). In Arrangement view, make sure the track is not armed (or you will record over it) but Automation Arm is on; press global record button.
In Logic, Automation is read/recorded in 4 modes: Read/Touch/Latch/Write. Learn about the modes here.
Shapes can also be copied/pasted.
Bouncing: creating a new audio file with the effects embedded.
Commitment! While it can seem smart to leave your options open (leave your effects editable, leaving your parts as midi regions that you can tweak forever), committing is really helpful for moving forward and completing a song.
Experiment. When you make a sound you like, record it. Then you can keep experimenting with the original and you don’t lose good things you found along the way.
Logic: select what you want to record. Control-click > Bounce > Bounce in Place.
Ableton - two methods:
For a whole track: control-click track > Freeze Track, control-click track or region > Flatten Track, control-click track > Unfreeze Track
Or if this is too slow (because you have a lot on your track), create a new audio track, set the input to Resampling, arm it, solo the track you want to record, select the region you want to record, press record.
First exercise: Variations
10 minutes, pause, 10 more minutes. Our mental attitude for this is: fast, unfussy, playful. Quick decisions, gut instincts. Non-judgment. Start with a sample from the grab bag.
Add an effect. Play with the settings. Record some automation. Bounce (to a new track; mute that track). Repeat, adding each effect on top of the previous.
Use automation to articulate meter (work with a loop; turn on the metronome or work to drums).
Sometimes do a subtle touch. Sometimes try to break it.
Second exercise: Becoming the Opposite #1 - Flow - we’re going to turn a short burst of sound into an long sustained environment using reverb, delay and feedback, other effects.
Start a short sound like a drum hit or a short clip of something.
Add lots of long reverb.
Send it to a Return track / Bus. Put a Delay on that AND A LIMITER (essential). Set the Return track to send INTO ITSELF ! (Let’s call this the Feedback Knob).
Have you put a LIMITER on that bus yet? Do it. This is important.
Play the sound. Play with the Feedback Knob - turn it up to get it to feed back, then turn it down to manage it. As long as the Limiter on your effect chain it will keep it in a safe range.
Add more effects on the Return track. See what they do. Change their settings to modulate the flow of sound. Notice the difference between effects placed before the Limiter and after.
Record a performance. Bounce it.
Third exercise: Becoming the Opposite #2 - Composing a drum - we’re going to take a long sustained sound and use it to make a percussive sound by layering it with a drum.
Find some sound - perhaps your feedback
Choose a drum sound to layer underneath it. Trim the flow to be the same length and fade it to match the envelope of the drum.
Maybe add another sound on top. Fine tune.
Bounce it and drop it in a sampler (Ableton: go straight to a Drum Rack. Logic: EXS24).
For 2/12 make a 1 minute piece that is all about sound. Use sounds that you design, use lots of automation, make something interesting. Next class — bring your midi keyboard if you have a portable one!
Generating Material: Pitch
We’ve been focusing on sound for the last few weeks. Now we’re going to take the opposite approach and eliminate sound from the equation (almost) completely.
We’ll compose with very simple sounds.
Logic: to get an instrument that only plays sine waves, load an EXS24 instrument without loading any preset. To get some more color variety without being overwhelmed by options, try the ES E, ES M or ES P synths.
Ableton: the default Operator instrument is a sine wave. I’ve also been into the pATCHES wave selector — it’s a collection of ‘single cycle waveform samples’ (very very short sounds that when looped produce a tone of a certain color) prepared as instrument racks.
Approach #1: Variations over a ground bass
A 'ground bass’ is the name historically used for a repeating bass line. Working from a ground bass is the best way to get all of your parts to lock in harmonically with each other. The ground bass is like the first circles of this cat drawing, or like a single vanishing point for perspective drawing; by relating everything to it, you ensure that everything relates together.
Step 1: write a very simple bass line. This shouldn’t have any rhythmic interest at all — just long notes. Start with 4 notes, 1 per bar. Any 4 notes will do. Flip a coin if you have to.
Step 2: loop it, and on top play around (while recording) until you find a simple first layer on top of that that you like. It can be chords or a single note line.
Step 3: edit the last recording down to the part you like, loop that.
Repeat step 2 and 3, adding more and more detail. Tail, ears, whiskers.
Your ground bass does not need to be your ultimate bass line. It’s more like a guide line to keep other things related. A dancing, rhythmic, interesting bass line is a layer you write later.
Your ground bass line does not need to be the lowest voice, either. That gives a certain clarity to the process but you may find more freedom if you start with a high part.
You can do this process on the keyboard with synthesizers or you can do it with your voice or on an instrument; the process is the same.
Making some notes to yourself as you can can be very helpful. Notation, chord symbols, just a list of pitch letters, use any tool you have to help you represent and remember what the other layers are doing.
Vary the ratios of notes to rests. Your first layer is all notes, no rests, but the more space you build into the other layers, the more space you will have for your ideas.
Mute some tracks if you start to feel claustrophobic.
Writing at a slower tempo can help you create faster material.
You may start to feel trapped in your loop. When you’re ready, break free. Double it, and write a two-cycle phrase on top. Or create a long flowing line over many cycles.
Pachelbel’s Canon is a great example of this process is real time.
Approach #2: Variations over a melodic skeleton
This is similar to working with a ground bass in that we are conceptualizing music as having a foreground surface and a background which may or may not ultimately be audible.
It’s different in that our background isn’t there to give us a harmonic context but a skeleton for our melody. You can think about it like ‘connect the dots’ - the background gives us ‘dots’ to ‘connect’ with a more interesting line.
The skeleton can be any slower moving line, but strong melodies often have skeletons that are very simple: a part of a scale, or the notes of a triad. See the example above, the jazz classic Imagination, for example of a melody that has a clear, simple skeleton.
How to do it:
Step 1: write your skeleton. Record it in. Make it quiet. Loop it.
Step 2: record a new layer on top. Improvise a line that traces the skeleton but embellishes it. You don’t have to follow too closely — arriving early or late on your skeleton note is fine. If you make some mistakes or don’t like what you’ve done, try not to stop and start the program, just keep going — let the skeleton continue to loop and try something different.
Step 3: edit. Separate your favorite variations, clean them up. Keep all of them! Having several related variations will be useful as you build a whole song.
You can play with the metronome or a drum loop OR let yourself be free of those and figure out rhythm later.
Try recording at a different tempo.
Try tracing on top of one of your surface lines instead of just the skeleton.
Try constraining your surface line. Do just quarter notes, or eighth notes, or repeat a rhythmic pattern. Or decide that you’re going to approach each skeletal note from above, or from below, or by step, or by leap, or you’re going to play the same figure starting on each one, or...
‘Good’ melodies have:
a variety of types of motion: up/down, steps/leaps (but it should have more steps than leaps)
a single high note, somewhere in the middle of the phrase
general momentum rising at the beginning and falling at the end
a simple contour (make an arc with your skeleton)
Tweak these qualities to get melodies with more distinct character.
Play with elemental melody shapes. In The Wellsprings of Music, musicologist Curt Sachs traces two ur-melodies through many cultures and many stages of ‘development.’ These two shapes figure prominently in my own thinking about line:
Shape #1: The Tumbling Strain. It grows out of a cry: an intense burst of energy high in a singers range, which moves down to a low note of rest. As this cry becomes stylized, the descent becomes specific pitches, a scale, that can be decorated and embellished.
Shape #2: The Chant. This grows out of ritualistic recitation, where text is sung mostly on one note with another note occasionally used for closure or emphasis. These kinds of melodies have a more narrow range than the Tumbling Strain but have more forward motion. They move between just a few skeleton pitches, making less of a single arc shape than an oscillation. More stylized versions connect these skeletal pitches with scales, and decorate them in different ways. Gregorian chant is an example of a more florid version of this.
Approach #3: Motivic variation, or building blocks
A motive is a small element of a melody, perhaps a few notes, with a clear rhythmic and melodic identity. Creating music out of a motive and transformations of that motive can make what you’re writing “make sense” as your elements are all related.
Lou Harrison, in his Music Primer, attributes this list to Schoenberg’s student Adolph Weiss:
NINE WAYS OF VARYING A MUSICAL MOTIVE
Changing the intervals or notes & holding the rhythms
Changing the rhythm & using the same tones or intervals
Simultaneous combination of both of these methods
Inversion (reversing downward and upward motion)
Elision (of one or more notes)
Interpolation (of one or more notes)
the crab form (motus cancrizans, repeating the motive backwards).
Let’s practice by doing all of them:
Step 1: Make a MIDI region and click in or record a short melodic figure.
Step 2: Copy it, vary it according to one of the Nine Ways.
Step 3: Edit your variations together into phrases.
Composer Daniel Wolf on his great blog Renewable Music lists a few more ways to transform a motive: replace notes with rests or rests with notes. Lift all elements out, shuffle them, and put them in again. Preserve a general contour but stretch the intervals that make it.
Probably the simplest and most useful transformation is just transposition. If you repeat a motive a few times and transpose it by the same amount each time, you’ve created a sequence, a structure that organizes lots of music from Bach to jazz (Autumn Leaves is a very clear example).
Try starting with two motives. Make variations on each and compose with them.
The fundamental principle of all variation: keep something, change something.
DAW tools for working with pitch.
Ableton: MIDI Effects
Arpeggiator animates sustained notes.
Chord adds notes to each note you play.
Random adds or subtracts random numbers from your pitch.
Scale filters all of your notes into a single scale. Try putting Scale after Chord or Pitch or Random.
Logic: MIDI Effects
Arpeggiator animates sustained notes.
Chord Trigger lets you define what notes trigger what chords.
Randomizer lets you randomize different MIDI parameters including pitch.
Transposer can do simple transposition or filter all of your notes into a single scale.
Project for 2/26 (no class next week!). Go back to one of your previous projects and develop the melodic and harmonic dimensions — make melodies using some of the techniques above, and organize it into something close to a ‘finished’ track.
Generating Material: Rhythm
Approach #1: feel it and play it
Record a 1-bar loop in layers from the bottom up.
Use Quantize and editing to clean up.
Make it a 2-bar loop by doubling it and changing something the second time.
Approach #2: click it in
There are lots of great tutorials for building beats in different styles. I’m really impressed by Attack magazine’s series Beat Dissected.
A basic beat begins with a snare on the 2 and 4, a kick on the 1 and anywhere between 2 and 4, and hi hats on 8th notes.
Approach #3: transcribe something you like
Drop it into your project, cut out a loop, warp it to your grid.
On a drum track playing at the same time, build the same beat one layer at a time.
Try ‘transliterating’ - transcribing one instrument as a different instrument - say, the guitar riff onto the hi hats, or the bass part onto the kick, or the drums rhythms into melody parts.
To practice, let’s transcribe one bar of this beat from Motion Graphics’ song Anyware (original tempo is 78bpm).
Other ideas to get you out of your habits:
Linear Drumming: a drumming style with one constraint: only hit one drum at a time (and probably hit something every subdivision).
Syncopation: a syncopated rhythm is one that emphasizes the off-beats. If your beat is feeling square, try moving something forward or backward one subdivision of the beat.
Polyrhythm: on a separate track, make a loop that isn’t the same length as your beat – if your beat is in 4/4, try one that’s either 3 or 5 or 7 beats (or halves of beats). Loop it on top; it will fall in different places on each cycle, creating a constantly changing but still grooving phrase. Latin and African grooves are full of polyrhythms – the most common being 12/8 and 4/4 happening simultaneously.
Mix up 2s and 3s: all rhythms can be reduced to a series of 3s and 2s, so you can think about building up with them too. For example, the squarest way to divide 8 is 2+2+2+2, but you can also divide it into two 3s and a 2 (the most common order in music is 3+3+2).
Quantization and feel
A perfectly quantized rhythm sounds ‘right’ but can often feel rigid, uptight – a jazz musician might say it doesn’t swing, or a funk musician that it doesn’t have the right feel.
The magic of a good feel arises from variations in:
timing: small deviations from the grid
velocity: some notes louder, some notes softer
Swing is the most important of these: all of the off-beats occurring slightly ‘late’, and a slight emphasis on those off-beats.
One way to get a more natural feel is to play your beats in by hand and then only partially quantize them (possible in your quantization settings). Or only quantize parts of them: hip hop producers often quantize the kick and snare but leave the hi hats loose.
Different feels can be applied automatically with Groove Templates.
You can also explore making these adjustments manually.
Variation. Once you have a short loop you like, create a family of variations.
Variations with added and removed layers are useful for escalating and de-escalating energy. These layers can be written into the same MIDI clip OR they can be made on separate drum tracks for easier mixing & matching.
Variations with more density are good for propelling into formal divisions / points of change.
Turn your loops into longer phrases: double them and change something near the end; double them again and change something more near the end.
All of the ideas of Motivic Variation from last week are useful here: keep rhythm change notes / keep notes change rhythm / invert / elongate / contract / elide / interpolate / reverse.
Audio Drums: Chopping
Working with audio instead of MIDI closes some possibilities and opens others. I like it because it just feels more tactile.
The classic example of beat chopping is a breakbeat: a drum loop sampled from a funk album, sped up and edited into variations. Here are 3 to practice with. (Source: B. T. Express - Still good, Still Like it, Coke Escovedo - Runaway — track 38 from All The Breaks CD.)
A breakbeat will often be layered on top of another drum loop to provide some extra rhythmic interest.
Converting Audio to MIDI (and back)
Logic: Convert to Sampler Instrument / Ableton: Slice to New MIDI Track
Then create variations by editing the MIDI, and change the sound by changing controls in the sampler.
A common adjustment is to shorten the sounds: on the sampler envelope turn down Sustain and then turn down Decay to taste.
Rhythmic articulation of other sounds
Music feels coherent and tight when different layers/instruments are articulating rhythms together. You can do this by writing parts that line up and lock in together, but there are ways to yoke sounds together automatically.
Put a Gate effect on a track.
(Ableton) You can get a similar effect by warping an audio clip with the Beats warp mode, and choosing the single arrow that goes to the right under it, and turning the number down towards 0.
Assignment for next time: 4 beats, in a few variations each. Use a variety of methods to get to them, and design the sound of each one to suit the content.
Developing Form: From Loops to Song
First, a few housekeeping skills:
We’ve been making lots of sketches: beats, melodies, sounds. It’s essential that we have access to our past work when we sit down to create a song.
Use the User Library! When you make anything you even kind of like, give it a name (the weirder the better), and save it.
Ableton User Library is available in the Browser. Anything can be saved here: MIDI clips, audio clips, instruments, effects. Save by dragon into it in the Browser or pressing the ‘floppy disk’ icon.
Logic: you can save a customized instrument or effect setting in the drop down preset menu. You can save a midi or audio loop to the Loop Library by control-clicking > Export, Add to Loop Library. There’s not a way to see just your own custom loops separate from everything else, so you might want to name your loops something like “myInitials_loopName” so you can quickly search for all of yours.
Know to import material from one session into another.
Logic: File > Import > Logic File
Ableton: Drag any project folder from the Finder into the Places area of the Browser. Unfold the .als file to see individual tracks, which can be imported whole or just specific clips.
Use empty regions on a MIDI track to set out a visual structure for yourself.
Ways of thinking about form:
Literary: Exposition / Rising Action / Climax / Falling Action / Dénouement
Pop song: ABABCB — Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / End
Top 40 hit: Intro / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Middle 8 / Chorus / Out
Jazz Standard: 32 bars, 4 8 bar sections, AABA
EDM: Intro / breakdown / buildup / drop
Sonata: First Theme / Second Theme / Development / Recapitulation
John Cage Square Root: section structure matches the phrase structure. Pick a few small numbers, like 2334. Make phrases of 2 3 3 and 4 bars. Those 12 bars are the first 1 of the larger structure — double it and you have 2, and then make 3 3 and 4. Fill in the boxes with music. More info.
A form is a great thing to steal. Let’s practice with this Katy Perry song.
Ways to create an arrangement
Subtractive. Start with all of your layers going the whole time for the whole piece. Cut away from there.
Paint-by-numbers. Create a Form Template beforehand and fill in the boxes.
Organic. Build up phrases and sections as they feel right; create contrast where it’s needed; see what happens.
Assignment for 10/30: Create a rough draft of a song. Choose a few favorite things you’ve made from the last few weeks. Bring them into one project file. Develop the material by creating variations or adding layers. Create a form template with one of the forms above, or one taken from another piece of music. Fill in the template with your own material.
This week we’re going to stretch our skills by imitating something we admire.
Choose a track (or a section of one) that does something that excites you but perhaps mystifies you.
Study it by answering some questions:
Sound: describe each sound you hear. How many layers / instruments are playing? What are they?
Harmony: what chords are used? How often do they change? Do they change more often in one section of the song than another? Do the notes all stay in one scale? What scale is it? If they deviate, how/when?
Melody: is there one? What shapes does it make? Is it more about the notes it plays or the rhythm of those notes? How does the verse melody contrast with the chorus?
Bass: is it just playing the roots of the chords? Or is it playing other notes too? What rhythms are animating it? How does it relate to the drums (in particular, to the kick drum)?
Rhythm: What layers are providing the rhythmic activity? Are they playing complementary rhythms or are they playing together? What are the rhythmic patterns used?
Form: How many sections are there? How long are they? How many of those sections are unique and how many are repeated? What’s the order of those sections? How long are the phrases? How are they organized?
Tempo: What’s the tempo? Does it change?
Production: What kinds of effects are used? What other techniques do you think are being used?
Using your answers to those questions as guides, make something (can be just a section of a song).
Example: Aphex Twin XMAS_EVE10
This week we are going to make a sound or music score to accompany a video. The purpose:
learn how to work with video in Ableton or Logic
use the video to guide us towards a different music than we otherwise would make.
This project is open ended: just make something you like to video. You may edit the video if you like.
Working with video in Ableton:
Drop video into Arrangement view. You can edit just like audio.
To work with video clips in Session View, use the plugin VideoSync, which is expensive but lets you do a ton of things: warp video to the grid, trigger video with midi, do realtime video effects that synchronize with audio, more. Other video plugins include RokVid, Vizzable… but I’m particularly interested in EboSuite
Export works just like exporting audio.
Working with video in Logic:
Drop the video onto the timeline; it will open its own lane.
Detect Cuts is a very useful tool that shows you where the significant cuts in the video are.
To export movie with your composition, right click on the video lane and choose Export Audio to Movie.
I am self taught and do not mix professionally. I will tell you my thoughts anyway:
Mixing is the project of giving our music three things:
EQ is your primary tool.
Clues that you need to work more on this: “I’m getting tired of listening to this sound” “I can’t hear one of my parts clearly” “it sounds dull” “it sounds tinny” “it sounds like its in a box”
Use the EQ to emphasize parts of each sound that are desirable and suppress those which are unnecessary. For example: low rumble in any sound is often best cut entirely. Adding a little high end can help things sparkle. Mids often pile up and create a muddy thickness; turning them down a little in each part can counter this.
Sometimes a particular frequency will build up and get exhausting to listen to; find it by using a bandpass EQ with a high Q value (a narrow bell curve) to boost a narrow frequency by a lot, and sweep the spectrum until that frequency really jumps out at you. Then turn it it down.
Less is more: you will get better results by making lots of small adjustments than big drastic ones (which can make your sounds sound artificial).
Think about the whole spectrum as one canvas that you have to fill. To feel like your music is in ‘full color’ each part of the spectrum should have something in it, but not be too crowded. If you have many instruments that share the same part of the spectrum, they’ll be indistinct. You’ll have more clarity if you differentiate them in some way (either in time or by changing their color).
There’s a vocabulary of adjectives that can help you conceptualize the different aspects of sound: thump, rumble, bottom, boom, warmth, mud, honk, whack, tinny, crunch, edge, sibilance, definition, pierce, air, etc. You can get to know these by exploring the Interactive Frequency Chart and also experimenting with boosting different bands and hearing the effect.
Compression is your primary tool.
Most sounds have a wide dynamic range; sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re loud. This can pose a problem when we decide where to set their volume. If it’s loud enough to hear the soft parts, then the loud parts are too loud. If the loudest part are the right volume, the soft parts get lost.
A compressor compresses the dynamic range by turning down the volume when the sound is too loud (defined by a threshold you set). By taming the peaks of volume, we can turn up the quiet parts without the loud parts getting too loud. This helps us make sounds which always sound full and rich but don’t overpower.
When all of our elements are appropriately compressed, we can then set them into balance with each other. It’s much harder to balance each layer when their volumes are varying a lot.
I understand two aspects of character:
Use reverb to place your sounds in a specific location — is it close or distant, in a big room or small?
Putting many elements into the same space helps mixes cohere. Use an effects bus for this.
Less is more - good rule of thumb is to turn up the reverb until you can hear it clearly, and then turn it down a little from there.
Pan your low sounds to the center, and spread out the higher sounds.
All of the other effects can be used to color your sounds. This helps your music sound less generic, and more intentional.
If you’re using lots of software instruments this is especially important. They tend to have a clean, generic, out-of-the-box feeling, and you want to have a unique sound.
Digital sounds can be cold; warm things up with mild saturation / distortion / amp modeling.
Mixing is also organization
Group different categories of your sounds into different busses. Drums, voice, synth, bass, etc.
Balance like elements within each bus, then balance the busses against each other.
Step By Step
Name your tracks clearly and consistently.
Group tracks into categories (drums, vocals, basses, synthesizers, etc) by putting those tracks adjacent to each other.
Sort your categories in a consistent way (I like vocals at the top, instruments high to low in the middle, drums at the bottom).
Edit your tracks, removing any unnecessary audio regions. Trim regions so that they start when their content starts. Tidy up. Some tracks may take more tidying up than others; for example, vocal tracks may have silences in them that aren’t really silent but have breathing, mouth noises, room tone, etc. Cut these.
Color code your tracks in a consistent way.
Organize your signal flow
You probably have all of your tracks directly going out to the Master track. Let’s organize our signal flow using busses: if you have 5 different drum tracks, send all their audio out a single Bus and call it DRUMS. Do this for each category of sound in your track.
Find a reference or two
A reference is a piece of music that you love the sound of that sounds similar to what you are trying to create. Refer to it often to answer all of your questions as you mix: how are the instruments panned? What is in the foreground and what is in the background? How much reverb is there and on what instruments? Etc.
Balance your levels
Solo each bus, and roughly balance the volume levels of the tracks that flow into that bus. Then roughly balance all of the busses against each other.
Pan your tracks to fill out a 3D space. Good rule of thumb is to put the low sounds in the center and pan high sounds around left and right.
EQ first pass: clean up
Use EQ on each track to cut away parts of the sound that you don’t need and bring out the parts that you want. Use a high pass filter (high pass = lets the highs pass) to eliminate any low rumbly junk that might be present in the sound in a subliminal way. If you have, say, a guitar that sounds dull, use a bandpass filter to boost and brighten the high frequencies. Get each sound sounding better.
EQ second pass: carving
Now consider EQ for each of your tracks with your other tracks in mind. For example, carve away low frequencies off your keyboard so that it doesn’t mask the kick and bass. If your synthesizer and vocals are both in the medium-high range, cut some of that frequency in the synthesizer to make room for the vocals (and boost that same range in the vocals to make them pop out). This is how you can get more clarity in two competing parts without making either of them louder.
Compress each track to get a more present, more consistent volume. This is best done in moderation! Over-compressing makes mixes lifeless and tiring to listen to.
One case where you may want to compress hard (ie low threshold, high ratio) is on a layer that you want to sit in the background of the mix and be flat and consistent.
Parallel compression is a great way to get more body and tone to sounds without sacrificing their natural dynamic range: mix a compressed version of the sound and an uncompressed version together (this may be easy to do if your compression plug-in has a “Dry/Wet” knob).
Then you may want to try gently compress each of your group Busses.
Create a Bus, put a Reverb on it, and use Sends to send audio from your different tracks or busses to it. (You may want multiple reverbs on multiple busses to have more colors to choose from).
EQ that reverb — roll off some of the highs and lows to keep it from filling up too much sonic space and drowning out your instruments.
Free play with effects!
Saturation/distortion/amp modeling/tape emulation give you warmth and color.
Delays can turn parts into richer textures.
Auto filters and auto panning can create movement in the sounds.
Other effects can color our sounds in different ways.
Once we have a rough mix, we can work on fine tuning it. Balance the tracks within each bus, balance each bus against each other, EQ each bus to bring out its best colors and make space for the others, tweak your effects, etc.
My goals for your project are:
it gives you an opportunity to consolidate and apply knowledge gained so far in the course
it connects meaningfully with your own artistic goals
it’s something you can do well by the final class. I’d like us all to exit with something that feels finished and that you’re proud of.
You are invited to share works in progress. My goals for these sharings are:
we learn from you by going deep into your work
class feedback and brainstorming helps you move forward (you should tell us what kind of feedback you are looking for).
Our last class will be a concert.