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Music Computer Tutorial

:: Creating A Music Theme

For our melody, I will use a widely recognized tune. To this end I have selected Frere Jacques. Lame perhaps, but it has a nice feeling... ha ha ha. The melody is written in the key of "C major", so there will be no black keys on the melody.

In the menu bar (upper left) do click on CHANNELS, then click on [Add one] and finally from the drop-down choose some instrument; I selected SimSynth. Supposing that you would want to delete those default tracks (or rather, step sequences) named Kick, Clap, HiHat and Snare, do right click in the lights right of the name boxes; you will see that every light you click gets on. Then you can delete the selected tracks by doing click in CHANNELS --> [Delete selected...]

SimSynth Let us rename our new track; right click on its name box, then click on [Rename] and give it some interesting name... such as "Melody"... Now, if you do not see the SimSynth window, do left click on the name box to make it appear, together with the Channel Settings window. Since this is a melody track, we should use a lead type sound; the one selected as per default sounds fine for me for this example; you can right click on the small arrows located in the upper right corner of the SymSynth window to see available presets and select any.

Now that we have set the track properties, we are ready to start entering the notes into the track. This is done by using the Piano Roll window. Do right click on the track's name box and then click on [Piano Roll]; the Piano Roll window opens and enlightens us with its magic...

Now you would have to carefully enter the notes by clicking on the grid until the melody is complete. If you feel lazy to do so, you can do click on that very small button that has a horizontal keyboard on it, located in the left upper corner of the Piano Roll, which opens the Piano Roll options. Select [File] --> [Import MIDI file...] and load the corresponding midi file that contains the notes of the melody. Below you can see the link for download the midi file and an image showing the complete composition for the melody track, that you would have after loading the midi file. I have also exported the track in a MP3 file and included it here, so you can quickly hear the result and be a bit happier today...

Melody track fj_lead.mid ~ fj_lead.mp3

The procedure for the remaining tracks is similar; you just have to add new tracks and open their corresponding piano rolls to enter the notes. I will just explain the musical peculiarities of each track and how it fits into the whole composition.

We will add now the chords, which are used to help keep rhythm, sometimes counter the melody, and many times set a mood. Since chords are several harmonious notes being played at the same time, they also help to fill out the sound. This song has only one "C major" chord, which is made of these three notes: C, E, G. If you are unfamiliar with music theory, you can read the Music Theory section, found in further chapters.

Now we have to choose an instrument that will play the chords. In the real world, not all single instruments are capable of playing chords. Some instruments are monophonic, which means that they can only play one note at a time. For example, since horns are monophonic, you would need two or more of them to play a chord. On the other hand, stringed instruments and keyboards are polyphonic and can play chords. I am going to use SimSynth again, but I will use the preset named Guitar. Try to visualize how a guitar might sound strumming along with this song. The thumb hitting the low strings, while fingers strumming the high strings. Thumb and fingers, thumb and fingers, etc... How would this look on our Piano Roll grid? See the image below...

Since this song only has one chord, we could copy and paste the chords structure used in the first measures for all the eight measures, but it is better to add some variety. Measures 5 & 6 seem to have a choppier feel so we could alter the rhythm of the chord strum to match this, as seen on the image below. In measures 7 & 8 we use the same structure used in the first measures, but the last notes are sustained, so the track does not end abruptly.

Chords track fj_chords.mid ~ fj_chords.mp3

Bass occupies a position somewhere between drums and lead/chords. Bass helps keep the beat, but also fills out the low end of the sound with notes that can enhance the melody. Bass can be covered by a variety of instruments: piano, tuba, cello, bass guitar, etc... Of course, through the magic of midi, we could assign low notes to any instrument, but let us stick to what would be possible in the real world, so I am going to use SimSynth again, with the preset named BassGuitar. Using 1/4 notes you can enter the basic pattern shown in the image below, and paste it in all eight measures. For a little variety, we will make a variation in measures 5 & 6.

Bass track fj_bass.mid ~ fj_bass.mp3

Let us add some basic drums to our song, just a bass drum and a snare drum, which will give us a basic rhythm to work with. Later we can come back and add some accents with cymbals and toms. Since this is a drums track, I will use now a different instrument: the DrumSynth Live. If you load the midi file into the Piano Roll, you will see the repeating pattern as seen on the image below. As you can see, the keyboard has been replaced by a range of percussive instruments; this is done by clicking on the small button [Abc] located in the upper left corner of the Piano Roll.

DrumSynth Live As I said before, I have chosen to use a bass drum and a snare drum for this track, but since instruments are assigned to keyboard by DrumSynth Live in a different layout than the one used by standard MIDI, we should have to change the instruments assigned in the keyboard of the DrumSynth Live to the notes that this track use (B2 and D3). In the window of this instrument, you will see a small keyboard which has only two octaves visible; we have to use the small arrows located above the keyboard to move along the remaining octaves. The fact is that we should change the instruments assigned to the keys B2 and D3, by doing right click on these keys and selecting in the drop-down menu a Kick drum for B2 and a Snare drum for D3.

Drum track fj_drums.mid ~ fj_drums.mp3

We have just assembled a very basic drums track that marks the beat of the song. We could consider the song as finished, but it would be quite convenient to enhance the drum track. At a minimum, it should also signal the end of the song with the bass and chords. It might also be nice to add a few different rhythmic highlights during the song. In the image below, which shows the enhanced drum track, it can be seen how in measures 1 & 2 the hi-hat tappes double time to the bass drum, and in measures 3 & 4 a low-mid tom has been added for rhymthic variation, while the crash cymbal accents the start of each measure and performs a final hit. I used again DrumSynth Live as the instrument for this track, and assigned the corresponding sound patches for each key as follows: B2 --> Kick, D3 --> Snare, F3# --> Hat C, B3 --> Tom L, C4# --> Crash.

Drum track fj_drums_2.mid ~ fj_drums_2.mp3

So that is about it. Hopefully by now you have learned how to make use of a music sequencer, and more important yet, picked up a little understanding on how a song is assembled. In the next chapter, we will look at some variations to this masterpiece called Frere Jacques, and ideas about how to apply what we have learned to other compositions.

Step Sequencer
fj_all.mid ~ fj_all.mp3

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