Do you have your music making software and gear all set, but wonder where to start the actual song making process? Where to get those ideas for good melodies? How to make all the different melodies work together? In this tutorial I show you one method you can try to get started on song making. I’m personally using this technique (alongside with many others) when I’m out of musical ideas. And it works.
I have included a video tutorial as well. Music making software I’m using is FL Studio and musical style here is something like downtempo with soundtrack kind of elements.
So Where Do I Start When I Wan’t To Make A Song With This Technique?
I start with the chords. At this point I have to say that I don’t have a lot of music theory knowledge (seriously, I can’t even read the notes), but I do have a bit of musical ear so I can pretty much tell what chords, chord combinations and melodies work together. So if you don’t have music theory knowledge, don’t worry, you can still make music and your ears will get trained as you keep doing it.
Allright. Basically, the step by step guide for this method goes like this:
1. I choose the right instrument. Usually it’s a string sound. Miroslav Philharmonik has some nice sounding strings and strings are good for experimenting with different kind of chords. But you can use your favourite VSTi of course.
2. I start to build my first chord. I go to the Piano Roll view in FL Studio and choose a root note and I layer one ore two more notes on top of it and experiment till I find a note combination that sounds good. And my first chord (triad) is now created.
3. I copy and paste the first chord and try different notes in it to find a combination that plays well with the first chord. The chords must fit together when played one after another. The chord pattern should progress logically.
4. I keep doing this until I have a 8 bars long chord pattern.
Here’s pictures showing how I do it in FL Studio’s Piano Roll. This is the very first chord which is the beginning of the whole musical idea:
Here I have added another chord and the chord pattern is slowly starting to form:
And here’s the whole chord pattern ready:
Now, the strings chord pattern I have just created is very very basic, but it’ll give me a guideline what melodies I should add next. There’s a tons of possibilities and different kind of combinations and it may take a while before I come up something catchy. So, next task is to load up another instrument and start to design a melody that works together with the strings chord pattern.
I usually choose oboe instrument with the strings. They work great together. Again, using Miroslav Philharmonik here.
So here’s the next steps:
5. I load an instrument which I’m going to use to play a melody that works with the strings chord pattern.
6. I’ll keep adding and testing different notes until I find a melody that plays along nicely with the strings chord pattern. Usually I use my MIDI keyboard to play and record different kind of melodies live. That’s a lot more fun and faster then point-and-click the notes one by one by mouse, though in this tutorial I’m using just the mouse.
This is how the melody pattern looks and sounds like:
Okay, now that the song has some basic melodics I’ll add an bassline. I go and load a bass instrument. Very often I use ReFX Vanguard for basslines and thats what I do now as well. Bassline can be created from scratch, but in this example I use the root notes of the strings chord pattern and build the bassline based on those root notes. That way, the bassline will most likely fit in melodically.
So the next task I’m going to do is:
7. I load up an bass instrument.
8. I copy the root notes of strings chord pattern and build a bassline according to those root notes.
I simply just copy the root notes of the strings chord pattern and paste them to the bass instrument track. Then I transpose the whole thing one octave higher and edit the notes to create a “rhythmic” bassline.
Now we have melodies and bassline ready and at this point I usually add in the drums. I choose a kickdrum, snare and hihat and create a basic drum pattern that fits to the style of bassline and melodies. I usually start with something very basic and blend in more percussion elements (or loops) as I move on.
So the next step would be:
9. I load a kickdrum, snare and hihats to FL Studio’s Sampler channels and create a drum pattern via Step Sequencer that plays along nicely with the bassline and melodies.
This is how the drum pattern looks and sounds like:
And here’s how they all sound together:
So basically what I just created here is the chorus for my song (or the “hook” as it’s often called). What I usually do next is I push the whole composition away (in FL Studio’s Playlist view) to make some room for the intro and verse:
That’s it. That’s the idea of this technique.
But this is just a beginning. This was just the melody of the chorus. Next step is to test / choose the right sounds. I usually use the basic strings and oboe sounds just for designing the melodies and after I come up with something decent, I start to test how the melodies work with different kind of instruments and sounds. So everything usually changes and the finished song will sound much more different than this.
In electronic music, the sounds and effects make a huge difference. You can have a very simple – even boring – melody, but if you find a cool instrument or sound and/or effect which you use to play it, it may become super interesting. So I really recommend to put time and effort to the sounds. Test the presets your VSTi has and if you don’t find anything you’re happy with, start tweaking the presets. Don’t be afraid to go wild with the knobs and sliders.
Also, next in the to-do list is to start creating the intro, verse and other parts.
Why I like this method? Because now that I have the chorus in place – and that’s usually the backbone of a song – I have a clue what kind of melodics the intro and verses should have. Song must be coherent as in whole so the chorus works like a guideline giving me directions on what kind of melodies the verses should have as they must be in a style of chorus. They need to support the chorus melodically.
Couple of more tips:
ALWAYS listen the song as in WHOLE
When I’m making a song, I need to listen it as in whole, over and over and over again, countless of times, just to get a hang of the feel and to hear the bigger picture. To see (or hear) it as its wholeness. This way I’m able to decide what sounds or melodies REALLY needs to be tweaked, taken out or added so that there arent any inconsistencies.
Word About Verses
If I make a song using the common structure – intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro, I usually try to create the verses in a way that they make the chorus stand out. I try to keep the verse simple (simpler melodies) and go with less sounds (fewer drums sounds for example) than the chorus so that chorus really makes an impact to the listener. So in verse I just try to build the tension towards the chorus.
Intro is good for letting the listeners know what’s ahead. I usually use a “mini-chorus” here which could be something simple like an instrument playing the chorus melody.
All In All
This is just one of the methods I use to start making a song. Another one I use a lot is that I create a drum groove, start to play bassline on top of it with my MIDI keyboard, compose the melodies and then maybe chords. OR one method is that I just start building a song from the intro, without a clue what the chorus is going to be and keep adding elements as I move on and usually I come up with some nice ideas for the chorus at some point.
Finally, here’s the video for this tutorial: