Pol­ish­ing up our track

We’ve nearly reached the fin­ish line! Let’s put the fi­nal touches on this track, dish out a few the­ory-led ar­range­ment tricks along the way, and walk you through a fi­nal playthrough at the end…

Computer Music - - Make Music Now / Music Theory Made Easy -


Through­out this whole process, there’s one el­e­ment of the track that we haven’t ac­tu­ally touched: our Phonec CM ris­ing synth part. This cre­ates a ris­ing tone that ends at the note be­ing held down. We can work with note pitches, lengths and ve­loc­i­ties to use this build for dif­fer­ent ef­fects at dif­fer­ent times: as the in­tro leads into the main loop, Phonec CM rises to a C ma­jor chord, and does the same thing just be­fore the mini-build. As verse 2 rolls on, Phonec CM throws out a few as­cend­ing notes (as pic­tured above) to keep things in­ter­est­ing.


We also haven’t re­ally touched our En­zyme CM pad sound, which has been play­ing two C notes through­out. This can help with a pad sound, be­cause it al­lows a bit of mu­si­cal ‘in­for­ma­tion’ to slip out in the in­tro with­out firmly com­mit­ting to one scale.

An­other way to keep things tonally am­bigu­ous is to use fifths and fourths. If you study the C ma­jor and C mi­nor scales, you’ll no­tice that they share cer­tain notes: C, F and G (they also share D, but we’ll ig­nore that for now).

F and G are the fourth and fifth notes of both scales, and so play­ing these doesn’t re­ally com­mit us to ei­ther a ma­jor or mi­nor key. This means we can bol­ster the pad part in the in­tro by adding a G (to create a chord with the notes C-G-C). This helps es­tab­lish the track as be­ing ‘in C’ from the start, but we only want it to be ob­vi­ous that we’re specif­i­cally in C ma­jor once the chords start. This way, we’re slowly un­rav­el­ling the na­ture of our track.


Our melody still needs a bit more touch­ing up to en­sure it doesn’t get too repet­i­tive. Dur­ing the first verse, it’s fine to re­peat the same melody, as we’re in­tro­duc­ing lis­ten­ers to what our track is like. The se­cond verse changes things up a bit al­ready, play­ing the melody with the higher synth in­stead of the lower one – but to our ears, it feel like there’s room for more flair and vir­tu­os­ity.

To solve this, we’ve gone through the se­cond verse, mak­ing slight vari­a­tions on the core melody in or­der to keep things as in­ter­est­ing as they pos­si­bly can be, pro­vid­ing a bit of ex­tra spice to ears that have heard this melody line be­fore. Chang­ing things up with a com­pletely new (or sim­i­lar) melody would also work here.


When things are build­ing up or down to a new sec­tion, we might want chords to rise or fall. For ex­am­ple, at the end of the se­cond verse be­fore the break­down, our ris­ers take things up, but maybe we can bring the chords lower to cool things down a bit.

In­stead of low­er­ing the notes into the oc­tave be­low, we take some of the notes and in­vert them, as pic­tured be­low. This means we get to change the range of the chords with­out al­ter­ing the char­ac­ter of the chords them­selves, pro­vid­ing a sense of move­ment when ev­ery­thing else stays the same.


Through­out the track, the pad has been play­ing a tonally am­bigu­ous C-G-C chord. This fills out some space be­hind the mix, and al­lows the other in­stru­ments to carry the har­monies and melodies… but by the time we get to the break­down, we need to ramp up in­ter­est and change some­how.

For this rea­son, we’ve ex­per­i­mented by hav­ing the pad play chords at this point. We use chords very sim­i­lar to those played by the main Chords track, al­low­ing us to get a new el­e­ment mov­ing where it oth­er­wise wasn’t. Since the break­down is de­signed to be more at­mo­spheric, a com­plex pad sound play­ing chords will add the lush in­ter­est we need.


An­other repet­i­tive el­e­ment in the track is the bassline. It uses held notes for the in­tro, but then re­peats the ex­act same pat­tern through­out the rest of the tune. For the se­cond half of the se­cond verse, we’ve switched up the pat­tern while keep­ing the notes the same. This new pat­tern still plays ev­ery beat, only it plays on the off­beat, hit­ting between the kicks in­stead of on top of them. This adds ex­tra pace to the tune at this point, as the bass part feels far springier and more re­ac­tive to the kick.

Later on, when the outro comes along, we’ve kept the orig­i­nal bassline but re­in­forced it by pick­ing out an ex­tra note. Again, this picks up the pace, so to speak, and pro­vides a lit­tle ex­tra ‘push’ for the fi­nal sec­tion of the track.


We haven’t spent much time talk­ing about drums and rhythms so far, as they’re slightly out­side the scope of the the­ory in this fea­ture – but, of course, drum vari­a­tions are cru­cial for cre­at­ing an in­ter­est­ing ar­range­ment that keeps on rolling.

Our drum files in Tu­to­rial Files al­ready change with the track, but we’ve cre­ated some slight vari­a­tions, too. In the se­cond half of the first verse, af­ter the melody drops out, we’ve dropped ex­tra snare hits to keep things pacy, and we’ve also added some ex­tra hits just be­fore the break­down. We haven’t gone for full fills, per se – just ex­tra hits to high­light other beats.


A bit of pan­ning will sep­a­rate those Low and High synths, which of­ten play in the same oc­tave. Lin­dell’s 6X-500 CM is great for pro­vid­ing some sat­u­ra­tion and get­ting the low-down bass notes to pop through on small speak­ers. Sidechain­ing the chords and pad parts against the kick adds ‘pump’, and you can also au­to­mate the send level from the kick to in­crease or de­crease this ef­fect in busier or lighter sec­tions. Au­tomat­ing the vol­ume for el­e­ments that play in the in­tro and break­down also helps keep the fo­cus on them.


Woo-hoo! We did it! We’ve built an en­tire track us­ing mu­sic the­ory knowl­edge, and we’ve made a few small re­main­ing tweaks us­ing some spe­cific tech­niques.

We’ve in­cluded a video of our fi­nal track play­ing through so that you can see and hear the fin­ished re­sult, and ref­er­ence the points we’re mak­ing on these last two pages. You can grab it in the Tu­to­rial Videos folder, and don’t for­get to check out the Tu­to­rial Files for ev­ery stage of the project as well – these will shed ex­tra light on the de­ci­sions we’ve made through­out this fea­ture, and give you a sound ba­sis to com­pare the notes we’ve cho­sen to the notes you’ve cho­sen.

We take fine con­trol over ve­loc­i­ties and tim­ings of notes to get the Phonec CM riser in key with the rest of the track

By in­vert­ing chords into an­other oc­tave range, we can make the ex­act same chords travel in a new di­rec­tion

Get­ting things to gel to­gether in the mix is now just that much eas­ier, since we brought things into line with the­ory

Down­load this is­sue’s Tu­to­rial Videos to hear our com­pleted track in all its glory – changes ’n’ all!

Drum fills at the ends of sec­tions are a tried and tested way to keep things mov­ing as you tran­si­tion

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