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…
01 GETTING RISERS AND FX IN KEY
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.
02 THE FIFTH OF FOURTH
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.
03 MORE LITTLE EMBELLISHMENTS
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.
04 INVERTING FOR NEW DIRECTIONS
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.
05 PLAYING CHORDS WITH OUR PAD
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.
06 REWORKING THE BASS PART
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.
07 FILLING IN THE GAPS
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.
08 MIXING MUSICALLY
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.
09 WATCH THE FINISHED TRACK PLAY OUT
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