Syn­th­wave the­ory

Computer Music - - Make Music Now -

There are no con­crete rules for how a syn­th­wave track should be ar­ranged, or what chord pat­terns you should use. Some artists fol­low the clas­sic pop song struc­ture, while oth­ers have a less tra­di­tional ar­range­ment style. That said, there are a few pat­terns that ap­pear through­out syn­th­wave time and time again. They do so be­cause, when com­bined with neo-80s sound de­sign, they’ll set you off on the right path. These pat­terns were com­mon in 80s pop mu­sic, mak­ing them ideal for a syn­th­wave ar­range­ment.

Chord up in the 80s

A very typ­i­cal chord pat­tern can be heard in Col­lege & Electric Youth’s A Real Hero ( bit.ly/CEYre­al­hero). The re­peat­ing pat­tern through­out the track is known as a I-vi-IV-V (or a 1-6-4-5), which are the chord numbers of the key you’re us­ing (check out 234 for a more in-depth look at chords, scales and keys). In the key of C ma­jor, the chord pat­tern would be C-AmF-G ma­jor. It’s a clas­sic pat­tern that in­stantly de­liv­ers a bit of dreamy pop. Also, try swap­ping the last two chords around to make the pat­tern C-Am-G-F (mak­ing it a I-vi-V-IV) for a slightly dif­fer­ent feel.

An­other typ­i­cal pat­tern uses a mi­nor key and moves be­tween the I-VI-VII chords, as heard in FM-84’s At­las ( bit.ly/FM84tears). In the key of A mi­nor, this would make our chords A mi­nor, G ma­jor and F ma­jor. If you’re look­ing for a trick that’ll get you a song struc­ture laid out very quickly, these chords come in handy. You’ll of­ten hear artists struc­tur­ing their mu­sic in two main sec­tions, al­most like a verse and cho­rus. If we stick with the key of A mi­nor, try us­ing only the A mi­nor chord for the verse. When you in­tro­duce the cho­rus, use F ma­jor as the first chord, then move to the G ma­jor, be­fore fi­nally com­ing back to the A mi­nor.

Pedal to the metal

Arpeg­giated pat­terns are sta­ples of syn­th­wave. If you want to kick­start a track, load in an arpeg­gia­tor with a suit­able patch for an arpeg­gio (check out the Diva tu­to­rial on the pre­vi­ous page) and play a chord pat­tern. As sim­ple as this may sound, it’s a foun­da­tion of the genre, serv­ing as both a rhyth­mic and melodic fea­ture.

A pop­u­lar tech­nique is to use what’s known as a ‘pedal tone’ – put sim­ply, a note which is held while the mu­sic changes around it. Try play­ing a note in the higher reg­is­ters, then change the chords and bass be­neath it. The trick is to find a note that sounds good across all your chords. You can also try the same thing with your bass – keep the same bass note, but change the chords over the top of it. The tonal­ity of the pedal tone ap­pears to al­ter as the mu­sic changes around it, giv­ing a pow­er­ful and dis­tinctly 80s feel.

For the dreamier side of syn­th­wave, artists of­ten em­ploy sus­pended chords. These take the mid­dle note of a ma­jor chord (called the third) and move it up or down one note of the ma­jor scale. So, in­stead of us­ing the notes C-E-G in C ma­jor, try us­ing C-F-G in­stead. This cre­ates a sus­pended fourth – a chord that can be heard all over tracks like Time­cop1983’s Far­away ( bit.ly/ TC83­far­away). Com­bine these chords with a higher pedal tone, use a pop­u­lar 80s pat­tern for your bass (like the pre­vi­ously men­tion I-vi-V-IV) and you’ll get a track started in no time!

“These pat­terns were com­mon in 80s pop mu­sic”

Try sus­pended fourths, pedal tones and a few magic pro­gres­sions to get a typ­i­cal syn­th­wave

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