• Co-Existing Basslines and Melodies

    The role of bass is very multidimensional in music, as it takes on both harmonic (chord) and melodic roles at different times.  Taking this into account, I think that it is very important to consider the role that bass will play in a track before developing a mindset for creating a melody with a higher pitched instrument.  In many instances I have gotten into a track where I had a dynamic melody as well as a melodic bassline.  At the time when I was putting it together, it seemed like a good idea as both fit with the drums and chord progression.  After taking a step back and looking at the finished product however, it was quite evident that the end result was somewhat convoluted.  That’s not to say that it is impossible to make a track with two strong melodic elements, but I do believe that it is a very hard thing to accomplish.  Another point to make is that this type of track will often times go over more listeners heads, as they do not have the patience to really listen for the different melodic elements.  With that being said, I would like to elaborate on four different techniques that can be very effective in forming a quality relationship between a bassline and a higher pitched melody.

    In some instances the bass line will stick solely to the root note, or only leave the root note very briefly before returning back to it.  When this is the case, you probably want to be more elaborate with the higher pitched melody that you are playing.  You also might want to focus your melody away from the root tone, as the bass has that tone covered.  When doing this, it might be a good idea to have your bass tones sustain longer and occur less frequently as the higher pitched melody should be creating the more dynamic movement.

    In other instances, the bassline will take on a primary melodic element to a track.  Although sticking to root tones can build a strong foundation to a song, there is something about a bassline with movement that really builds a dope groove.  When you choose to go this route, it might be in your best interest to really ease up on a higher pitched melody.  Longer sustained notes and simpler melodies with less movement will allow the bassline to really stand out.  With the bassline moving away from the root tone frequently, you might also want to try emphasizing the root tone of the chord with the higher pitched melodic instrument.  This can really help to reinforce the chord when the bassline is not.  Another thing to keep in mind, is that you probably still want to emphasize the root tone of the bass melody on the strong beats of the drums.  If you keep coming back to the root tone of the bass on the predominant kick drums, it will still provide harmonic reinforcement even though it is moving around.

    Another technique that is worth utilizing is a back and forth technique between the bassline and a higher melodic component.  You might want to have the beginning of a bar emphasize a higher pitched melodic phrase that ends with a longer sustained tone half way through the bar.  You could then have a bassline that starts out with a long sustained note that then transitions to a more melodic phrase at the end of the bar.  You could do this with either element starting or finishing.  With the bassline, it’s probably in your best interest to stick with the root tone when it’s the higher pitched melodies time to shine.  You might also want to have the higher pitched instrument stick with the root tone when it’s the bassline’s time to shine.  Don’t feel restrained to one bar when doing this either.  You could have one bar focus on the higher pitched melody with the next bar focusing on the bassline.

    The last technique that I will cover is probably the simplest, which involves having both play the same melody in different octaves.  When doing this, it is probably most functional to focus on the bassline.  The role that the bassline plays in establishing the root tone on strong beats (primary kicks), is crucial to the harmonic foundation of a track.  If you start with a higher pitched melody that doesn’t focus on the root tone, trying to insert a replica bassline in a different octave may not work out very well.

    When using AutoTheory it is very easy to get carried away with what you are doing compositionally.  The hard part is sometimes reigning yourself in and focusing on a structure that facilitates high quality simplicity.  From my experience it is pretty easy to get chords and drums right, but trying to do too much with melodies is something that I always need to remind myself of.  Understanding that the bassline and other melodic components of a song are there to PLAY A ROLE is crucial, especially when the potential for movement provided by melody is so tempting.

  • Open Arpeggiation

    Perhaps the best way of defining what AutoTheory’s Melody Lock does, is that of an “Open Arpeggiation System”.  Beyond the many other valuable features found within the program (including the actual Arpeggiator), the Open Arpeggiation elements represent a new and innovative technology within the pro audio world.  For those of us who did not receive a formal education on keyboard/piano, the Open Arpeggiation elements provide the tools to drastically improve our compositional ability.

    When we speak of a traditional arpeggiation device (arpeggiator), we can assume that it takes midi input of multiple notes (a chord) and arranges them into a melodic pattern of tones played individually.  Some arpeggiators operate in a very basic manner, while others provide multiple parameters allowing for more customizable patterns.  For many producers, arpeggiators serve an important role towards the creation of melodic content.  While arpeggiators have proven to be very popular, there are some definite limitations as to what they are capable of.  Primarily, traditional arpeggiators operate in a machine like manner.  Once you set the parameters of the device, it is not something that you can play in a creative and improvisational manner (unless you are using the AutoTheory Arpeggiator).  This often leads to generic, robotic and uninspiring melodic patterns.

    AutoTheory builds upon the concepts found within traditional arpeggiators by providing a system that allows users to easily improvise their own arpeggiation based patterns in real time.  This is accomplished within the Melody Lock of AutoTheory, where tones can be dynamically realigned (in certain mappings) on your keyboard to mirror whatever chord you have selected from the Chord Generator.  This allows users to keep their fingers on the same keys while the specified “chord tones” that are utilized within a traditional arpeggiator are moved to the locations held by your fingers.  This makes it very easy for all users to play out any type of arpeggiator based pattern in real time, without being confined to a grid based pattern.  All Chord Tones are colored black within the Melody Lock, while non chord tones are colored grey.

    The Chord Generator plays a very important role towards facilitating Open Arpeggiation, as it organizes the chords that fit together well.  Once you select a key and scale, chords are defined to be played with a single key.  You can also mute the Chord Generator midi output, should you want to only use it for dictating what chord the melody lock is set to.

    If you are looking to move a little bit beyond basic arpeggiation and more into music theory, you can utilize the Dynamic Scale mapping.  This allows for more functional use of tones not contained within the designated chord.  Non chord tones can definitely add to your melody, as they allow for the step motion between chord tones that is not present within basic arpeggiation.

    Both of these patented functions were designed with the intention of empowering producers who did not receive formal training on the keyboard/piano.  The resulting Open Arpeggiation System is a powerful tool that eliminates any limitations on your way to total creative expression.

  • Mixing Instruments that are Played in the same Octave/Frequency Range

    If you are looking to make a track that contains a lot of instrumentation, it can become very difficult to fit everything in.  When you start to look at things critically, you realize that in many situations (dependent upon which key you are in) you are really looking at two octaves (3-4) of tones to work within before things get kind of messy.  Once you get into the fifth octave, tones sometimes become kind of harsh.  You can deal with some of this problem by using a low pass filter, but then you aren’t left with many harmonics beyond the fundamental tone.  This lack of harmonic content is very problematic if you are wanting to use any type of modulation.  Going below the third octave is great for bass tones, but pairing multiple instruments in that octave would probably not be a great idea.  So if you are looking to fit more than two tonal instruments (bass excluded) into the mix, you are probably going to have to put two of them in the same octave.  This can be pretty tricky if you don’t approach the situation in the right manner.  When two instruments take up the same frequency range, you really need to make sure that they stand out from each other.  For starters you probably want to put the two instruments into the higher octave (4), as higher tones equal shorter and faster waves, which create more space.  Once you have that figured out, you can look at these four elements to provide distinction between your tracks:

    Pattern – It’s probably a good idea to make sure that each sequence of chords or melodies that you are playing occur at different rates.  If you have a complex melody that touches on six or seven tones, you are probably best served to use fewer and longer chord/melody tones with the other instrument.  If both instruments are playing elaborate patterns, they are going to confuse the listener.  If both instruments are playing simple patterns, the listener will get bored.  Ideally the listener is hooked by the more elaborate pattern, while the other pattern plays a supportive role.  Another way of dealing with this is to have one pattern start out complex, while ending in a simpler manner.  You can then have the other instrument start out simple, while ending in a complex manner. 

    Pan – When using different instruments within the same octave, you probably want to pan each instrument out in different directions.  This will separate them from each other, providing each with its own place in the mix.  It is also nice for providing a more stereo feel to your overall track.  When doing this you probably don’t want to pan each instrument too far, as the mix will become lopsided if you leave out one of the two instruments at any given time.  I try to find locations between 2-3 o’clock and 9-10 o’clock for this.  When you are building up to the chorus, you might want to leave certain parts out of the mix at different times before having everything going for the chorus.  Finding a balance where each instrument is separated but not isolated is important.

    Reverb – The depth of each instrument within an octave is also something that provides a high level of distinction between the two.  Having one up in your face while the other is more in the background will help define each as separate entities.  When doing this you might want to use the same reverb settings for both instruments, while adjusting only the dry/wet parameter.  This way the instruments will feel like they are in the same environment.

    EQ – Ensuring that there is differentiation between the harmonics of each instrument is very important.  With synthesizers, it is relatively ease to dictate the harmonic patterns of instruments.  With natural instruments however, you are pretty much stuck with what you get.  Something I have found success with, is focusing on one of the instruments second level harmonics while focusing on the other instruments upper level harmonics.  For the instrument that I want to focus on the second level harmonics, I will use a low pass filter to take out the higher frequencies.  For the instrument that I want to focus on the upper level frequencies, I will use an EQ notch to reduce the frequency range associated with the second level harmonics.  Instead of boosting, you can cut the areas of the other instrument out.  Although there is no way to get around the fact that both instruments fundamental tones will be dueling on a certain level, there is a lot that you can do to the following harmonics of each instrument to really differentiate the two instruments.  When you are using synthesizers, these principals are a lot easier to implement than when you are using natural instruments.  One way to deal with this is to use one natural instrument, and one synthesizer.  You can then adjust the synthesizer’s harmonics in a complimentary role around the natural instrument.

    Envelope – The envelope of each tone will also have a very drastic impact on differentiating the two instruments.  You might be best served to make use of one instrument with a fast attack, and another with a slower attack.  If one of your instruments sustains, then you are probably best served to have the other instrument decay.  The idea is to provide each instrument with its own pattern of dynamics.  When the envelopes are similar, it will be very difficult to tell the two instruments apart during parts where they each play a tone/chord.  These same concepts for differentiating envelopes can also be applied to modulation principles with LFO’s.

    The common theme with all of these parameters is CONTRAST.  When using two instruments within the same octave/frequency range, you really need to go out of your way to make sure that they complement each other.  I have found that adding a third instrument on top of the drums and bass adds a whole new dimension to your track.  When I listen to the Chronic and 2001, most of Dre’s beats involve a third tonal instrument beyond the drums and bass.  Learning to program synths is a very valuable skill, even if you are only doing it to compliment natural instruments.  Synthesizers are very flexible when you know how to use them.  Often times certain natural instruments just don’t work that great together, no matter how you mix them.  Using synthesizers in a complimentary manner solves this problem.

  • The Importance of Scales

    More than any other element, the scale that you choose provides the greatest impact on the mood and feel of your track.  The scale defines the spacing that will occur between the seven scale tones that you will be using.  This spacing has a profound influence on how chords will be defined, as well as the path that the melody will take.

    Major Scale: the major scale places major chords in the I, IV and V positions.  This is going to provide a simple, happy and positive vibe as the primary chords are major.  If you are looking to create an upbeat, pop style of song, the Major Scale might be a good bet.

    Minor Scale: the minor scale places minor chords in the i, iv and v positions.  This is going to provide a heavy, emotional and more complex vibe as the primary chords are minor.  If you are looking to make an intricate hip hop or EDM style of beat, this could work out well.

    Beyond the Major and Minor scales, lie a wide range of scales that blend major and minor chords in the ever important I, II, IV and V positions.  The Dorian scale places minor chords in the i and v postions with a major chord in the IV position.  The Mixolydian scale places major chords in the I and IV positions with minor chords in the ii and v positions.  They are just two of the many scales that break from a “major or minor chord only” approach.  One of the great things that AutoTheory empowers users to do, is easily work from a wide range of scales.  This allows producers to be very innovative with the directions in which they take their sound.

    In conjunction with the impact that scales have on what chords are being used, scales also have a huge impact on how melody tones connect with one another.  The spacing between the melody tones is the same as the spacing that occurs within the chords, so the implied mood and feel of the chords will be strongly present within the melody.

    Working from different scales is a sure fire way of adding diversity to your work.  Once you are able to get a grasp on the vibe of different scales, you can easily select a scale that is appropriate for the mood that you are trying to convey with your track.  


  • The Importance of Chord Tones in your Melody

    Harmony (Chords) and Melody represent two of the three primary elements of music.  Often times songs will include a melody (series of individual tones) being played over a chord (multiple tones played at the same time).  This is often accomplished with one instrument playing chords, and another playing a melody in a different octave.  It could also be accomplished with the use of a single piano/keyboard however.  Getting the melody to match with the chord progression is not the easiest thing in the world to do for a beginner (at least it wasn’t before AutoTheory).  This often relates to a lack of awareness towards chord tones.  Chord Tones are simply the tones that are being utilized within the chord that is currently being played.  When you are creating a melody, you should understand that chord tones will always sound good with the chord that is currently being played.  It is a good idea to utilize chord tones as the primary elements of a melody.  They should occur on the strong beats, and should occur during longer and sustained notes.  When your melody gets away from using chord tones as the focus, the lack of cohesion will be very apparent.  When using chord tones however, you should understand that they are spread out from one another.  Transitioning from one chord tone to another involves “leap” movement which does have some limitations.  Sometimes you want to use “step” movement to an adjacent tone for a more fluid transition.  This requires the use of non-chord tones.  Non chord tones provide tension as they are not harmonious with the chord currently being played.  They can be very effective when they are used in a supportive context.  You do not really want them to occur during strong beats or for long sustained notes.  You want to use them as a fluid transition into chord tones.

    The dynamic functions within AutoTheory’s Melody Lock make it very easy for users to make use of Chord Tones, as chord tones are remapped to fixed positions with the selection of each new chord.  The Chord Tones mapping is great when you want to make use of only Chord Tones.  It works in a similar manner to an arpeggiation device, but provides you with the freedom to openly improvise any pattern you want.  The Dynamic Scale mapping is great when you want to make use of non-chord tones to provide step movement to your melody.  These patented functions are not available in any other software.  They provide the inexperienced user with the power to generate high level music with ease.