I had an e-mail from boyinaband.com reader “Eclectic Electric”…
I need your advice/help, I hope you don’t mind emailing you directly…
First off your clear, concise, intelligently worded and often amusing tutorials are awesome! I’ve learnt a lot in the past week that I’ve been watching some of your videos, keep up the excellent work!
Now for the part where I need help! I’m a programmer from South Africa, who used to dj and mess around with production back in high school. I was all set to go to sound engineering college, but my parents wouldn’t pay for it and said it wasn’t a worth while career. So I decided to pursue my first love – programming, I love what I do, but it did result in me spending less and less time on music, until I eventually stopped completely.
A few weeks ago, I met up with a mate who is still dj’ing and trying to make it big, and hear the new Paul Van Dyk album and was blown away, I realised that I’d been missing something that I really love! A few days later while catching up on what I’d been missing, I came across the new deadmau5 album, which is more along the lines of my old dj style and decided to get back into production! At least part time…
Previously I used to create samples in fruity loops, export as wave and arrange in acid music, but this time around I wanted to do things properly, my ultimate goal is to make professional sounding tracks! I don’t care about making buckets of money, I’m in this because I love it, but I am very self critical and want to make tracks on par with the pro’s…eventually!
So after finding your videos (FTW!) I’ve quickly got to find my way around reason, and feel that I’m going in the right direction. My problem, and the reason for this email, is that I’ve always felt like I’m just messing around and don’t really know what I’m doing. I still have a lot of my own samples, and kicks and so on that I have from my dj’ing days, and I manage to get kicks, basslines and effects going ok, but once that’s down I feel lost. When it comes to making a riff or synth or melody, I’m lost. At best I’ll mess around in a synthesizer till I get a sound I like, but when I get to the note editor I really am lost. I have no idea where to put notes, how long they should be or anything! I’ve managed to sometimes get by with random placement, but it just feels wrong and is never what I was after obviously, because it’s all random!
I followed a trance lead tutorial you did, but when it came to the notes I was lost again. I have no idea how to get the lead going as you did! This is part of the problem, but also how one comes up with original leads/riffs. It blows my mind a little how one would come up with an original arrangement of notes, surely it can’t all be random placement until it sounds good?
This all being said, I’m getting frustrated because I don’t know how to change the situation. Other than my dj’ing, I don’t have any musical background, so I’m starting piano lessons since I think it will help the situation, and I’ve always wanted to play an instrument.
I know that it’s going to take time and effort to get where I want to be, and that there’s no shortcuts, but I also feel like I’m missing some fundamentals and don’t know where to start! Can you point me in the right direction?
Thanks for taking the time to read all of this, I hope it makes sense and my questions aren’t too open ended!
Something any self respecting beginner producer will ask – how do I make my riffs sound better? How do I go about learning to make good melodies?
Here’s my answer…
Thanks for the kind words, it is awesome to hear that my tutorials have been of use!
It’s also awesome to hear that you intend to chase the dream
Regarding coming up with notes – Let me tell you a Short Story.
I remember when I first played on Dance eJay as a kid I used to use premade loops, then when I found the note editor I was completely at a loss. I specifically remember thinking that I’ll never be able to come up with anything that sounds good and being quite disheartened.
About 7 years after that, I got back into music production and started simple – I made some pretty crap songs, but from doing that, I learned which parts of those songs stuck in my head. I tried to emulate songs I liked, writing similar riffs and progressions. Eventually, I accidentally found I’d taught myself what the key of C minor was, since that was my favourite selection of notes to write riffs with.
I started getting frustrated eventually because most of what I wrote sounded very similar. I tried my hand at writing different genres of music and found that I had to use a whole load of different techniques. Hip hop is one of the best genres to try for a beginner since it’s so varied, but you can still keep things simple and have them sound awesome!
Later, my band You and What Army got two new members, both of whom had done music at university, so they knew a load of stuff about music theory. I learned some of the basics from writing with them – and it didn’t at all feel like it was hard going – it was fun, since we were actually making music rather than just using the theory.
And that brings me to now – I’ve written more songs than I can remember and that has taught me so much. The above story can be summed up in a few concise pieces of advice:
- Don’t get disheartened – Everyone starts from scratch
- Try to write as many songs as possible – you’ll naturally learn what sounds good.
- Emulate your favourite artists to begin with – your own style will occur naturally as you begin to understand which parts of their music you like best!
- Make friends who are also musicians – you can teach each other things (I’ve taught my friends in the band loads about computer music – they even watch my tutorials sometimes!)
You mentioned Piano lessons – I only took those for a while as a 5 year old kid so I haven’t got that much experience with them (except that, as I remember it, you get free dinosaur stickers after every lesson), but I’m sure they’ll help considerably so long as you have a good teacher!
It is definitely not random placement, there is a huge amount of theory behind note selection, but if you keep working at it; following tutorials, researching the theory and just making music, you will learn what works and what doesn’t
And then chances are a year after you feel satisfied with your skills, you’ll feel like you didn’t know anything a year ago. You never stop learning
Any answer to an open question is going to be subjective, but I hope that helps you or at least encourages you somewhat!
I’ll try to make a blog post on top 10 tips for writing riffs or something as well at some point when I get a moment which might have a few useful starting points for you!
It’s quite a difficult question to answer since so many people learn in so many different ways, so I can only respond with what worked for me – years of arduous self-loathing. I mean writing music. It is not easy at all, but it’s so worth it.
So that’s my story – how about you? If you have some tips on how to go about learning what notes work together then leave them in a comment below!