• Workflow Efficiency and Diversity

    When you first start using AutoTheory, your inclination will probably be to overuse it.  You might be changing chords multiple times within a bar, and you likely will be pushing the Melody Lock capabilities to the max.  Once you get beyond that phase, you will realize that the music you are trying to make probably doesn’t require the level of musicality that you are now capable of.  You can then focus on being much more efficient and diverse with your workflow, while always creating chords and melodies that work well.  That’s not to say that you can’t make some really quality stuff that utilizes highly musical concepts, because you definitely can.  In many cases with today’s popular music genres (hip hop / pop / edm) however, the rhythm (drums & bass) is the element that is front and center with a melody and chord progression working around it.  AutoTheory empowers you to make sure that you are always getting the chord progression and melody right, and that you are doing this in as diverse of a manner as you choose.

    Key – The key that you choose is a foundational element of your track.  It serves as an anchor and establishes the “home” position of what you are doing harmonically.  Due to the unique layout of a keyboard, it is extremely hard for musicians to become equally proficient from every key.  Consequently, many people gravitate towards certain keys because of easier hand placement positions.  With AutoTheory, hand placement is the same easy alignment for every key.  This allows you to play from every key with ease, and presents you with the ability to be more diverse than people who have been playing for years.

    Scale – The Scale that you choose is also a very important element to your track.  It will determine the types of chords that are most effectively used, and will also determine the spacing for melody tones.  As with playing from multiple keys, it is extremely hard for people to learn how to play multiple scales in a traditional manner.  This requires even more diverse hand alignments that change dependent upon the key that you are in.  Very few people are able to effectively play multiple scales out of multiple keys.  As with the key selection, AutoTheory allows you to keep your hand in the same position with all available scales.  Dependent upon the style of music you are making, you will want to choose an appropriate scale.  The most defining factor of each scale is the chord that is in the I(i) position.  If it is a minor chord (i), then the scale will have more of a darker feel to it.  If it is a major chord (I), then it will have more of a bright and happy feel to it.  If you are into a darker feel, you should experiment with the Dorian, Phrygian and Minor Scales.  If you are into more of a happy feel, you should experiment with the Major, Lydian and Mixolydian scales.  It is probably in your best interest to experiment with different scales until you find the ones that work best for you.  There is a lot that can be done out of one scale.

    Instrumentation and Octaves – The Device Output section of AutoTheory operates as a great way of organizing your track.  It does this by keeping you aware of which octaves different instruments are playing at.  When you have different instruments playing at the same octave, they become harder to mix together as they are hitting on the same frequencies.  Consequently it might be a good idea to have somewhat of a plan going in, instead of just loading up presets without having any idea about what role (chords or melodies) they will play and where they will be located (octave).  Almost all music is defined by the elements of rhythm, harmony and melody.  Regardless of your creative process or where you start your track from, the end destination remains the same for pretty much everyone.  AutoTheory’s device output routing matrix allows you to design a winning formula every time with ease.  A common output layout might look like this:

    Bass Instrument – Melody Lock output (octave 1 or 2)

    Low Chords – Chord Generator output (octave 2 or 3)

    Higher Melody – Melody Lock output (octave 3 or 4)

    Higher Chords – Chord Generator output (octave 4 or 5)

    Without trying to be Beethoven, anyone can get a lot out of AutoTheory by consciously playing from multiple keys and scales while properly organizing your instrumentation across the frequency spectrum.  When your music is compositionally sound, you will be amazed at how easy it is to mix as well.

  • 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.

  • 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.