Prog House Tutorial Day 6: Arrangement & Choosing the Notes [7 Day Song]

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Hi, I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to day 6 of the 7 day song on Progressive House, sponsored by filtuh.com – the tag-based events search website.

Yesterday in day 5, we took a look at those vital FX that really fill out the track, a sweet filter sweep technique and vocals. Today in day 6, we’ll analyse the structure of a Prog House song, then look at some of the thinking behind the notes I’ve used and delve into a bit of music theory.

Okay! Let’s begin.

Prog House is a quite predictable genre, much like most sub-genres of House. It consists of build-ups, breakouts and drops.

So the basic structure of this song is:

Breakout: 16 bars
Build: 8 bars
Drop: 16 bars
Chorus: 16 bars
Stripped back drop: 16 bars
Breakout: 16 bars
Build: 8 bars:
Drop to Chorus: 16 bars
Outro: 16 bars

So let’s go into specifics – I’ve begun here on a breakout for a bit of variety, since a lot of house tends to start with the beat. This builds up, introducing the arps, then the pads, just building it up steadily – a kind of staple of the prog house sound is to progressively add things as the track builds, rather than throwing in the kitchen sink all at once.

Even the drops are quite minimalistic when you think about it – mainly just bass and beat. But yeah, before we come to the drop I’ve added a bit more tension by holding the song on this one chord for a while, with the arp, lead and bass all following it – then building the tension with the release and reverbs expanding the sounds so everything starts to feel bigger and messier, like something is about to happen.

Combine this with the fact I added the kick, sidechained to pretty much everything, which starts the track’s driving feel and begins the build-up, and you get a really strong lead into the drop. Remember I’ve also cut the low end out of the kick so the drop hits harder. I’ve also brought in the Square Pad blips with a bit of extra delay to make them feel airier, but this subtly adds another element and is simultaneously subconsciously getting the listener used to this rhythm – introducing elements like this is a great way of tying the song together.
Then – the drop. Beat, Bass and Sub. I kept it really simple, using just the clap initially, then slowly building by introducing the hats from the loop and the vocals at this point. There’s also those blippy pads again, without the delay to keep this drop nice and tight, a nice contrast to the airy, reverberated feel of the breakouts.

Then the chorus hits, I introduce the lead synth and strip out the vocals again – this continues the idea that prog house is a very steady genre, usually introducing one element at a time until the track feels really built up.

A few quick things to mention, I played with the sidechaining to try and get a nice balance between the bass riff, which I really like, and the pumping feel which I also really like. I think it kinda gives a slightly different, offbeat riff which is also cool.

Then we strip back into the really simple beat again, bringing the verse vocals again to make it nice and catchy, but there’s really not much going on – the snare isn’t even here at this point just to make it feel really stripped back. This is when having good synth sounds is really important or your track will sound painfully thin and weedy.

There’s a variation on the bass riff here to keep things interesting, playing with the higher octave, the snare helps to build it a bit then half way through things switch up slightly to a polyrhythmic 8 bar section that plays off the chorus vocals and the bass riff. I figured anything with the word “Progressive” in it deserves a polyrhythm in there. I’ll discuss this more in part 2, but this just gives it a nice rolling feel into the second breakout.

Similar to trance music, it’s good to try and make the breakouts progressively more epic as the song goes on. I’ve got the lead pad filtering in so it feels bigger when it kicks in, same with the arp, then a load more FX filling things out, but if you look at the structure itself it’s exactly the same as the first one – this just goes to show the power of FX and reverb when making things epic – there’s more reverb on the pad when it hits in which just makes it bigger.

This time I drop straight in to the main chorus with the lead bass for a bit of a switch-up. Might be unconventional, but I like it – don’t feel you have to stick exactly to a genre’s guidelines! We’ve got the filter sweep beat repeat here and the vocals come in half way through.

Then for the outro it’s just stripping away the elements – first the lead, then the sub and pad, the hats and finally the last crash and kick that will lead the hypothetical DJ that’s spinning this song into the next track. I wonder if there is a “DJ Hypothetical” out there. Probably pretty difficult for him to get shows, since all the promoters just think he’s a placeholder.

And that’s the structure sorted! One thing that’s really important to say – Progressive House tends to be a lot longer than this. It’ll often be more than 7 minutes long, with elements subtly being added or changed as the song builds to those drops.

However, since this is a 7 day song and not a 7 month song, I’ve stripped it back just to give the idea of what a Progressive House song comprises. It’s up to you to go out and listen to some Progressive House, maybe take some notes on the structure and see how the tracks build.

It really does help to actually write down some notes from the songs you like when you’re starting out, just to get an idea of how to lay out your song. As you learn more as a producer, you’ll naturally start to get a feel for laying out your songs, but don’t be afraid to start out by copying the structure of other tracks, just so long as you experiment with your own ideas as well.

Alrighty, let’s move on to the all important discussion of the notes I’ve used in the track in part 2.

Bass riffs (and sub)

f# minor – playing with the tense 2nd and 3rd in the key.
later on, hits octave notes for variety and gives a funky feel since they’re on the offbeat.
Polyrhythm – a riff that’s 11/16 over a 4/4 beat, with a little fill at the end in order to make it roll round.

Bass-lead chord

Essentially a chord progression of major third chords – the chord progression uses the minor key riff from the bass to discern which keys to play, giving a weird feel to this section.

Since the bass is so far in the frequency spectrum from the lead, it allows the bass to sound minor and the lead to sound major without the two sounding horribly dissonant, since they aren’t very close to each other. Instead, it just results in this upbeat, happy overall feel, yet cool and dark undertone.

Lead Pad

f# Major, g# major, Bb minor – chord progression. The switch from major to minor gives a uplifting and yet tense, emotive feel.

A Pad (Square pad)

Minor third or major third – used to assist in defining whether the section has a minor feel or a major feel to it and emphasize the switches.

Arp

Major third f# (root note), to a major third (explain why – it’s in the key of f# major, therefore it’s part of the triad.) Hits the note C that isn’t in the key of F# major, adding tension, since it wants to go to the C#. This is alternating between the keys of F# major and Bb minor.

Hits the major 7th in the key along with the third. Both of these are emotional sounding chords, so together they feel like the want to resolve – again causing that beautiful tension.

Big Ol’ Bass Pad
playing off an inverted version of the chord progression, starting on the Bb, working down to G# then instead of F# goes to F for added tension, this is a “leading note” since it feels like it wants to lead into the F#. Then I’m considerate and let it do so, then it follows back up the progression to resolve as you’d expect.

Drums

Basically 4 on the floor throughout barring a few fills, with the only really interesting fills being the snares used to accent the polyrhythm change in the verse.

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Hi! I'm Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to the site!

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