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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.

Apps

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.

Arpie

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.

Loop

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.

Bloom

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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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, part 8: Chord progression patterns

First some review. Remember the seven chords in the key of C from part !? I know. Hard to forget since you’ve been using them consistently for…however long you’ve been looking at this blog. But I need to write them down again because I’m going to do something new with them.

Cmajor          D minor           E minor           F major            G major            A minor             B diminished
    I                    ii                   iii                     IV                     V                      vi                   vii
Roman numerals! I know. Exciting! And it is exciting, because you’ve now risen to a new level of knowledge.
Well, ok, not yet. First you need to understand what these are for.

Roman Numerals?

Don’t ask me why we use roman numerals, and not regular arabic numerals for chords. The answer won’t help (I’ll tell you at the bottom of the page; you’ll see). I’ll tell you why they’re useful, though. They’re useful because they point to a chord’s function.

The function of chords

A chord function is basically what the chord is generally used for. For example, the function of the I chord (the C major chord in the key of C) is to provide a sense of coming home. That’s why it’s almost always at the end of a song. It makes things feel final. The V chord’s function is to create tension, and goes to the I chord most of the time: G (V) to C (I). All the other chords have functions as well, but they aren’t quite as well defined as these two.
 Instead of telling you what those functions are, I’ll show you. They’re basically defined by where the chord is most likely to go.

How to sound like you know what you’re doing

This roman numeral thing has been around for centuries. Some of the most familiar chord progressions you’ve ever heard follow these rules. And you know what they say about rules. You have to know them to break them. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be showing this to you.
Here are the rules:
The I chord (C major) can go to any chord it wants.
The iii (E minor) chord almost always goes to the vi (A minor) chord.
The vi (A minor) chord almost always goes to the ii (D minor) chord or the IV (Fmajor) chord.
The ii (D minor) and the IV (Fmajor) chord almost always goes to the vii (B diminished) chord or the V (G major) chord, and those two almost always go to the I (C major) chord
If you like diagrams, it looks like this:
iii  –  vi  –  [IV/ii]  –  [V/vii]  –  I      or      E minor – A minor – F major or D Minor – G major or B diminished – Cmajor – anywhere.
As we go forward, I’ll plug the roman numerals onto chords that I use. After a while it’ll make sense. Don’t force it. Unless you’re one of those people who like forcing things, in which case be my guest.
Ok. So now use that song form from the last post and write a chord progression for it. Follow these  roman numeral chord movement rules I just outlined  until you get used to them. Then start breaking those rules, and see what happens.
Then read the next post where I do the same thing.
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