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 and how to make all those different melodies work together?
In this tutorial, I show you one method you can try to get started when making a song.
I’m personally using this technique (alongside many others) when I find myself out of musical ideas.
And it works!
The software I’m using is FL Studio, and the musical style here is something like downtempo with soundtrack type of elements.
For the visual learners out there, I have included a video tutorial as well – at the end.
So Where Do I Start When I Want 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 a 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 the more you do it.
Alright, the step-by-step guide for this method goes like this:
1. Choose the right instrument
Usually, it’s a string sound.Miroslav Philharmonik has some beautiful sounding strings, which are good for experimenting with chord combinations. But you can use your favorite VSTi of course.
2. Start to build the first chord
I go to the Piano Roll view in FL Studio and choose a root note, then layer one or two more notes on top of it, and experiment until I find a note combination that sounds good. And my first chord (triad) is now created.
3. 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. Keep doing this until the chord pattern is 8 bars long.
Here are 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 string chord pattern I have just created is very basic, but it’ll give me a guideline for adding the melody.
There’s a ton of possibilities and combinations, and it may take a while before I come up something catchy. So, the next task is to load up another instrument and start to design a melody that works well together with the chord pattern
I usually choose oboe instrument with the strings. They work great together. Again, using Miroslav Philharmonik here.
So here are the next steps:
5. Load an instrument
which I’m going to use to play a melody that works with the strings chord pattern.
6. Keep adding and testing different notes
I’ll do this until I find a melody that plays along nicely with the chord pattern.
Usually, I use my MIDI keyboard to play and record different kind of melodies live.
It’s a lot more fun, and it’s faster than adding the melody by point-and-click via the mouse, though in this tutorial I’m using just the mouse. By keep things basic, I’m able to show you that you CAN do this with literally just a laptop and some headphones.
This is how the melody pattern looks and sounds like:
Okay, now that the song has some basic melodics let’s add a bass line.
Very often I use ReFX Vanguard as my go-to instrument for bass lines, and that’s what I’m doing in this example as well.
A bassline can be created from scratch (sort of like the melody in previous steps), but for this example, I simply use the root notes of the string chord pattern to build the bassline.
That way, the bass line will most likely fit in melodically.
So the next task I’m going to do is:
7. Load up a bass instrument.
8. 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 the melody and bassline is ready, and at this point, I’ll usually add in the drums. I’ll scroll through a few drum sample libraries and settle on the ones that I feel fit best with the style of production I’m working on. Once I have a library open, I’ll add a kick drum, snare, and hi-hat and create a basic drum pattern that fits the style of the bass line and melody.
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. Load a kick drum, snare, and hi-hats Into FL Studio’s Sampler channels
I’ll create a drum pattern via Step Sequencer that plays along nicely with the bassline and melody.
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 the beginning…
That was just the melody of the chorus. Next step is to test and choose the right sounds.
I usually use the basic strings and oboe sounds just for designing the melody, and after I come up with something decent, I start to test how the melody works with different kinds of instruments and sounds.
So everything usually changes, and the finished song will sound much different than what you heard in the examples above.
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, sound or effect to play that melody, it may sound interesting all of a sudden.
So I recommend putting time and effort when choosing the sounds. Test the presets your VSTi has and if you don’t find anything you’re happy with, start tweaking!
Don’t be afraid to go wild with the knobs and sliders!
Also, next on the to-do list is to start creating the intro, verse and other parts.
Why do 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 as to what kind of melodics the intro and verses should have.
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 that supports the chorus melodically.
A Couple More Tips
1. ALWAYS listen to the song as in WHOLE
When making a song in FL Studio, I listen to it as a whole, over and over again, countless of times, just to get a feel and to hear the bigger picture.
This way I’m able to decide what sounds or melodies REALLY need to be tweaked, taken out or added so that there aren’t any inconsistencies.
2. Word About Verses
If I make a song using a typical 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 (melodically) and go with fewer sounds (less drums sounds for example) than the chorus so that chorus makes an impact on the listener. Mainly, I’m trying to build tension towards the chorus.
3. About Intro
The 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 you can use to start making a song inside your favorite DAW.
Another one I use a lot is that I create a drum groove, start to play the bassline on top of it with my MIDI keyboard, compose the melodies and then add in the chords.
OR another method (last one I promise) is I’ll start building a song from the intro, without a clue of what the chorus is going to be and keep adding elements as I move on. Usually, I come up with some nice ideas for the chorus as the song starts to develop.
What kind of ideas do you have? Let me know in the comments below.