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Intuition and Intellect

Putting sound together with apps is largely intuitive.  Let’s add the intellect now.


Writing stuff down

As you notice things you like, the intellect unconsciously catalogues them. Take the time to write these things down. Or record them somehow. You can use the same idea in different pieces by figuring out how to vary them.


Writing ideas down shows you what you’ve done. It creates choice and awareness. You can choose to do something you’ve done before (fully aware that you’re doing that), or do something new. That’s better than endlessly repeating yourself and feeling trapped.



You have a chord progression you wrote at some point. If you know you wrote it, you can choose to use it differently. This means playing it in a different style, a different speed, on a different instrument, or any other way that’s not the same as the first time you used it. If you don’t remember writing it, you’ll often use it the same way without knowing it. Which gives you the feeling that you’re repeating yourself without knowing how. Which makes you crazy.



Intuition is an important part of the decision-making process. But it only takes you so far if you don’t use your brain as another tool. Nobody builds bridges or buildings intuitively. Design ideas for a bridge or a building are often intuitive, but the way they’re put together comes from the brain. These construction methods come from centuries of trial and error. Exactly like music.


So start noticing what you do when you make music. Then write it down.




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Making and playing

Where to start? And how to make it seem simple…

Composition is about making. We all do it every day. Things like forming relationships, and having conversations are types of making. We make our life as we live it.

If we have a hobby, then the making is more obvious. Electronics projects, woodworking, rebuilding the engine of a car, etc. produce tangible results. We learn to do these things as we do them.

Music composition is no different. But it’s perceived as a calling rather than a hobby. That’s because of its history (all those dead composers we keep talking about), and its place in the art world. It can be intimidating.

And then there’s the part about doing it in public.

But like a hobby, it involves technique and craft that anyone can learn.

The first thing to do is just start playing with sounds. This is where apps come in.


These are made to be played with. They aren’t fake instruments; they’re apps that let you combine sounds. I’ll list some of the ones I have, and add others as I discover them. Send me suggestions for any that you discover.


Drop balls on a keyboard. This one is interesting because of the different cross-rhythms you can create. You can also sync multiple ball-drops to create chords.

Aural Flux

Drag elements onto the screen to create spacy textures. Adjust element positions once they’re on the screen. Choose between four moods as the texture plays.


Similar to Aural Flux, but more activity on the screen. Touch to place circles that grow until their edge touches another circle’s edge. As edges touch, delicate sounds emerge and the circles diminish to nothing before growing again. Add as many circles as you like.


The inspiration for Loop and Aural Flux. More spacy textures, but the most interesting one visually. Costs more, but still less than $5.


These are closer to improvisation than composition, but the two are related. Both are about putting sounds together in a search for something that sounds good. These apps don’t involve craft like composition does, but there are other apps that do. I’ll talk about those when they relate to other topics.

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Build your own chords

A chord is defined as two or more notes played together. Most chords are at least three notes, and if they’re three notes that’s called a triad.


If you want to make a three-note chord on adjacent strings, there are three ways to do this. .


  1. place one finger across three adjacent strings
  2. use one finger on one string and one finger on the other two strings
  3. use one finger per string


Let’s look at each in turn.


One finger across three strings – the barre.

3 note chords1

                 1                              2                                3


You can barre with any of the fingers. Use your index (pointer) finger or ring finger for now.  Barring can be painful if you’re not used to it. Change fingers from time to time.


Place your index finger or ring finger across all three strings in each example and press down.  Which is easiest?


Now play each example. If you’re strumming with a pick, numbers 2 and 3 can be tricky. The idea is to play only the three notes indicated. It can be difficult to miss the other strings. You can fix this problem by playing the notes fingerstyle.


One finger on one string and one finger on two strings

 3 note chords2

               1                              2                               3

This means that you have to barre two strings with one of those fingers. Try it with the shapes below. Numbers 2 and 3 aren’t so bad. For number 2, you can use your first finger to play the two first two strings and your second finger to play the note on the 3rd string.


For number 3, use your middle finger for the note on the 1st string, and your index finger for the other two notes.


One finger per string


This feels the most normal. Here are a few examples.


3 note chords3

              1                                2                             3


Some of these nine examples are standard triads (especially the one-finger-per string examples). Some are not. This is a way of taking things that you’re used to playing, and using them with things that you aren’t. Part of the reason for doing this is to find sounds that you aren’t familiar with. This helps you hear harmony differently. Hearing harmony differently gives you new ideas.


Moving it around


Try these on any string set.  String set 1 would be strings 1, 2, and 3; string set 2 is strings 2, 3, and 4; string set 3 is strings 3, 4, and 5, etc.


Now start moving between the shapes. Try moving them to different places on the neck. This is experimentation, so don’t expect to always find stuff that you like. Just play around for 10 minutes or so, and write down the things that you like.



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More two-note patterns

In the last post we created 2 note patterns with a minor pentatonic scale. Then we strung them together and re-ordered them.


This post is a bit more complicated.


Let’s take a look at the last set of patterns we looked at in the last post.


2 note pattern2 


fig. 1


Change it to this.

2-note sequence3

                                          fig. 2  

For each 2 note pattern, I’ve started on a note other than A. Then I maintained the amount of distance between the notes. Compare the two notes on beat 1 in figure 1 (A down to E)  with the first two notes on beat 1 of figure 2 (D down to A). You’ll see the same amount of notes between each pair (A G F E) – figure 1; (D C B A) – figure 2.  By the way, counting back in the alphabet means you’re going lower in the scale.


Compare beats 2 and 3 of figures 1 and 2. Same thing applies as on the first beat. Beat 4 is the same in both examples.


The space between the notes is called an interval. The interval is calculated by counting up from the bottom note. The first beat goes from the low A up to the D. This interval is called a 4th, defined by the number of notes from A to D: A B C D.


How many other 4ths can you find in the pentatonic scale?

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Learn your scales.

This means playing them enough to have them memorized. It doesn’t mean playing them from top to bottom over and over again. That’s robot work. Guitar players do it to be able to play as fast as possible. It’s ok to do that, but don’t make it the only thing you do with scales. Other things are possible.

Guitar scales and creativity

A scale is a set of possibilities. More specifically, it’s a set of possible patterns. As an adventurous creative type, you want to discover those patterns.

There are a lot. Approach this as play instead of work and it won’t feel so overwhelming. And remember that learning a little every day translates to a lot after only a few months. Be patient.

Finding patterns

If you’re a guitar player, chances are you know the minor pentatonic scale. If not, here it is.

minor pentatonic

There are 12 notes in the scale as I’ve presented it here. The pentatonic scale only has 5 pitches – A, C, D, E, G. I’ve repeated these in the second octave; then I added the C at the top.

You can create patterns with these notes in many ways. The simplest pattern you can make is 2 notes long. Once you have some, you can string them together in different ways to create a lot of variety.

Steps for making a two-note pattern

Every note that you use in this exercise has to be from the pentatonic scale above.

1. Choose a note. I’ll use A. Now choose a second note. Play the two notes sequentially.
2. Go back to the first note (the A). Choose a second note that is different than the second note that you chose in step 1
3. Continue until you have gone from the A to every other note in the scale. If you’re using the scale above, you’ll have eleven two-note patterns
4. Play them again and pay attention to the patterns you like the most. Write those ones down.
5. Now play the all the patterns that you wrote down in step 4 sequentially. This means that you’ll be going from the first note (the A) to another note, then back to the A, then to another note. Continue this until you’ve gone from the A to all the other notes in the patterns that you chose. You’ve just played one sequence of all the two-note patterns that you like. There are a lot more.

If my favorite choices are these…

2-note pattern1

Fig. 1


…then simply playing them in that order would be one sequence.

Here’s another:

2 note pattern2

Fig 2.


The two note patterns in figure 2 are the same as figure 1. I just re-ordered them. Find all the possible re-orderings.

I’ll explore ways of creating more patterns in the next post.

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