How can I use apps and software to get over my lack of theory knowledge

x-dfo

Active Member
Preface: do not respond with learn theory - I am in the process of doing so, I just find it so dry that I forget what I learn very quickly - I am definitely open to interactive courses for theory learning, if you'd like to suggest that instead.

Basically, I'm having a lot of fun getting to grips with orchestration and composition - I have about 7 years of formal violin training when I was quite young, about 7 years of playing guitar and 5 piano by ear so I can hear music and musical ideas very well. I know what sounds right and all that.

Now currently, I can bang out some progressions and it's all neat and fun but sometimes I can hear that I need to like change key or mode but right now the only way I can do this is by really painful 'note by note' testing and replaying over and over - which just drains my creative juices.

I guess I'm looking for some kind of software that I can feed my current progression into, and get some ideas as to where to go.

Or maybe my workflow for someone with my level of knowledge is wrong and some of you in my situation know of a better way to compose!

All help is appreciated!
 

cornelisjordaan

Cornelis Jordaan
I think it is a useful practice to separate your "craft practice" from composition. What you're doing by "really painful note by note testing" is actually a very good thing - just try to move it to a different time of day when you're not busy composing :) . Compose using the harmonic tools you are familiar while practising the more complex things as little exercises, completely apart from your full compositions.

Learn from other composers - try and figure out what they did that you like, try to recreate their "cool" moments by yourself... again, not when you're composing a piece but when you're specifically taking the time to practice your craft.

I like comparing it a bit to language acquisition - you speak simply at first, then you learn grammar, but you cannot think in terms of complex grammar and speak at the same time when you are first starting out (and for a while thereafter), because you'll end up getting stuck and frustrated more easily.

I know you mentioned that you're looking for an app or some such to give you ideas based on what you feed it - but in my humble opinion this teaches very little... it teaches you how to follow advice and curate the good bits, but it doesn't teach you about the "how" of why certain things work and others don't. Don't be too hasty to make "cool" things... embrace the suck for a while :P
 

wst3

my office these days
Moderator
Mr. Jordaan provided excellent advice!

I don't believe there are any shortcuts to finding your voice - theory is a tool, and like any tool you can use it, or not, and one approach may work better than the other... for you.

I think the general category you are looking for is called algorithmic composition, a popular research topic way back when, and it seems to be making a comeback these days. Note that algorithmic composition runs the gamut from playing back permutations of a pattern you enter to full-on arrangements based on different rule sets.

The only algorithmic composition tool I've ever enjoyed using was "M" from Cycling74 - available only on the Mac these days (believe it or not I used it on the Amiga!) There are some fairly impressive algorithmic composition tools in Max, C-Sound (possible an extension, been a while), PureData (pd), and many others. Max if a commercial product, pd is open source, as is C-Sound, but again I don't remember if algorithmic composition was an extension, the language itself is intended to creating sounds (which is a ton of fun too!)

I have a background in music theory, so I"m not the best yardstick, but I found M to be a fantastic "teaching" tool. And I have a difficult time imagining working without theory. And yet sometimes just plinking out ideas on the piano or guitar is the best approach, even for me... go figure!

I really like the idea of separating composition from theory presented previously. I bet that can work for some, maybe you?
 
OP
X

x-dfo

Active Member
I think it is a useful practice to separate your "craft practice" from composition. What you're doing by "really painful note by note testing" is actually a very good thing - just try to move it to a different time of day when you're not busy composing :) . Compose using the harmonic tools you are familiar while practising the more complex things as little exercises, completely apart from your full compositions.

Learn from other composers - try and figure out what they did that you like, try to recreate their "cool" moments by yourself... again, not when you're composing a piece but when you're specifically taking the time to practice your craft.

I like comparing it a bit to language acquisition - you speak simply at first, then you learn grammar, but you cannot think in terms of complex grammar and speak at the same time when you are first starting out (and for a while thereafter), because you'll end up getting stuck and frustrated more easily.

I know you mentioned that you're looking for an app or some such to give you ideas based on what you feed it - but in my humble opinion this teaches very little... it teaches you how to follow advice and curate the good bits, but it doesn't teach you about the "how" of why certain things work and others don't. Don't be too hasty to make "cool" things... embrace the suck for a while :P
Mr. Jordaan provided excellent advice!

I don't believe there are any shortcuts to finding your voice - theory is a tool, and like any tool you can use it, or not, and one approach may work better than the other... for you.

I think the general category you are looking for is called algorithmic composition, a popular research topic way back when, and it seems to be making a comeback these days. Note that algorithmic composition runs the gamut from playing back permutations of a pattern you enter to full-on arrangements based on different rule sets.

The only algorithmic composition tool I've ever enjoyed using was "M" from Cycling74 - available only on the Mac these days (believe it or not I used it on the Amiga!) There are some fairly impressive algorithmic composition tools in Max, C-Sound (possible an extension, been a while), PureData (pd), and many others. Max if a commercial product, pd is open source, as is C-Sound, but again I don't remember if algorithmic composition was an extension, the language itself is intended to creating sounds (which is a ton of fun too!)

I have a background in music theory, so I"m not the best yardstick, but I found M to be a fantastic "teaching" tool. And I have a difficult time imagining working without theory. And yet sometimes just plinking out ideas on the piano or guitar is the best approach, even for me... go figure!

I really like the idea of separating composition from theory presented previously. I bet that can work for some, maybe you?
Thank you both, very good points raised!
 

ManicMiner

in the Skylab landing bay
Captain Chords and Scaler plugins might be helpful.
I have both. At the moment my favourite is Capt. Chords, but Scaler 2 is coming out in a few weeks. You can feed Midi into that and it will tell you the key and other chords you can use in that scale. I think both these plugins might help with transposing etc or suggesting more complicated chords and directions for your progressions.
Capt. Chords is more aimed towards the EDM market.

(you may or may not have access to this Scaler 2 Beta group)
 

Tim_Wells

Tim Wells
In addition to ManicMiner's suggestions, you might have a look at https://venomode.com/phrasebox
It's simpler than a lot other midi plugins, but users claim they get very useful results. Guess it all depends on what you want to do.

Analyzing other compositions, in addition to understanding some basic theory may be all you need.
 

Dave Connor

Senior Member
The first theory I learned (as a keyboard player) was from a jazz guitarist. It was engrossing and threw open the world of music to me. You might want to consider looking into that approach as far as moving along in your understanding of chord progression. I’ve studied traditional composition but I am always relying on the simplicity and richness of what I learned from Jazz harmony.
 

SamC

Sam
Great advice here.

I am extremely similar to you and the only way “around” this is to really take the time to digest music - train your ears.

Above all, keep writing and practicing.
 

NekujaK

Searching for the Lost Chord
If you're simply looking for an effective way to spice up your chord progressions, watch this short video on modal interchange. Similar to Dave Connor above, the majority of my music theory knowledge came by taking lessons from a jazz guitarist, but he never taught me about modal interchange. I literally learned it from this video, and it's opened up a world of new possibilities (or at least a reliable technique for creating harmonic interest and variation).

That said, you already possess the most valuable compositional tool ever... your musical ear. Some of the greatest writers in the history of music had no knowledge of theory - they just followed their creative instincts.

 
OP
X

x-dfo

Active Member
Great advice here.

I am extremely similar to you and the only way “around” this is to really take the time to digest music - train your ears.

Above all, keep writing and practicing.
If you're simply looking for an effective way to spice up your chord progressions, watch this short video on modal interchange. Similar to Dave Connor above, the majority of my music theory knowledge came by taking lessons from a jazz guitarist, but he never taught me about modal interchange. I literally learned it from this video, and it's opened up a world of new possibilities (or at least a reliable technique for creating harmonic interest and variation).

That said, you already possess the most valuable compositional tool ever... your musical ear. Some of the greatest writers in the history of music had no knowledge of theory - they just followed their creative instincts.

Thanks, good advice and yeah I was reading about using modes to change things up - excited to watch this.
 
OP
X

x-dfo

Active Member
Great advice here.

I am extremely similar to you and the only way “around” this is to really take the time to digest music - train your ears.

Above all, keep writing and practicing.
A more specific q: did you find it better to do it by ear or to find the score to practice with? Or maybe just getting the key/progression? Cheers!
 

JohnG

Senior Member
If you have the sounds in your ear -- as you do -- from all those years of practice, you are well on the way.

A fair amount of "theory" is pretty simple; if you know what I IV V IV ii V I means, you're in business! Then I guess for most composers who hate studying ("could we have a show of hands?....) is to zero in on a few key spots to grab ideas others came up with and then you can incorporate them.

Tedious and (Probably) Not Useful

Unless you aim to capture the 'sounds of yesteryear,' I would not, for instance, bother with learning how to write two-part inventions or fugues, or even memorise how Mozart changed keys during modulation passages. Fun though that stuff is, it doesn't sound current. Many people feel they learn a lot by doing those exercises -- I did -- but it's a lot of work and not very likely to apply directly to what one does as a media composer.

So if you're lazy, or just impatient with limited time, focus on the composers and specific tracks you think are the coolest and try to dissect how they did it.

Actually Useful

The one 'stuffy/old' thing that I would try to learn a bit about is voice-leading. Essentially, if you can sing each part, it will (mostly) sound more musical than if it has jumps and skips that a vocalist can't manage. And that's really the main thing of voice-leading right there!

I learn on the fly. If I need to figure something out, I try to remember who does 'that thing' and work it out, slap my take on it into the cue, and keep moving.
 
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OP
X

x-dfo

Active Member
If you have the sounds in your ear -- as you do -- from all those years of practice, you are well on the way.

A fair amount of "theory" is pretty simple; if you know what I IV V IV ii V I means, you're in business! Then I guess for most composers who hate studying ("could we have a show of hands?....) is to zero in on a few key spots to grab ideas others came up with and then you can incorporate them.

Tedious and (Probably) Not Useful

Unless you aim to capture the 'sounds of yesteryear,' I would not, for instance, bother with learning how to write two-part inventions or fugues, or even memorise how Mozart changed keys during modulation passages. Fun though that stuff is, it doesn't sound current. Many people feel they learn a lot by doing those exercises -- I did -- but it's a lot of work and not very likely to apply directly to what one does as a media composer.

So if you're lazy, or just impatient with limited time, focus on the composers and specific tracks you think are the coolest and try to dissect how they did it.

The one 'stuffy/old' thing that I would try to learn a bit about is voice-leading. Essentially, if you can sing each part, it will (mostly) sound more musical than if it has jumps and skips that a vocalist can't manage. And that's really the main thing of voice-leading right there!

I learn on the fly. If I need to figure something out, I try to remember who does 'that thing' and work it out, slap my take on it into the cue, and keep moving.
This is useful! Especially the singing bit.
 

MartinH.

Senior Member
I just find it so dry that I forget what I learn very quickly - I am definitely open to interactive courses for theory learning, if you'd like to suggest that instead.
Have you checked out this youtube channel yet?

For me those are among the least boring theory videos.


I guess I'm looking for some kind of software that I can feed my current progression into, and get some ideas as to where to go.
I believe that's kind of what "orb composer" promises:

But I basically only know the name of the tool and when a guy "blind tested" a track on a couple of us that he made with help from that tool, the majority thought it wasn't that great. So please don't take this as an endorsement or recommendation. I just thought if this turns out to be what you're looking for, I'll gladly make you aware that it exists. I do think though that transcribing or learning theory are likely better approaches.
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
you should try scoreclub.net, or mike verta's classes.

Theory is about understanding, and then being more conscious/aware of your intent. I can almost guarantee you that if you're interested in making better music, then its NOT the content that you have a problem with, but the delivery. I dont advise you use tools to generate ideas for you... even if you make a passable result with them, you'll absolutely lose you own voice in the process - and be stuck at the mercy of dice
 

SamC

Sam
A more specific q: did you find it better to do it by ear or to find the score to practice with? Or maybe just getting the key/progression? Cheers!
Personally, I never got into the minutiae of how something was specifically written or arranged. I always approached it from mood and feeling. My theory to this day is absolutely shocking but I find the more I delve into the “how and why,” I lose something intuitive.

There are certain technical jobs where I’m asked to write something in say “1950’s kitsch strings” style where then I actually need to study harmony and maybe look through Nelson Riddles arranging book for some wisdom.

But other than that, my greatest stuff is done when I’m inspired by a mood or a feeling or a certain sound I can’t quite put my finger on but chase what’s in my head. Some people say “don’t listen to scores” which I couldn’t disagree with more. It’s like going to art school and never looking at Impressionism.

The only way this hurts me now is that when I have to record with live orchestras I feel very overwhelmed and inadequate. But even then, you’d be surprised how very little work has to be done on my midi arrangements. All the orchestrators and producers I work with think I’m classically trained when I would be eaten alive in those rooms!

It’s all come from years of listening, mucking around and letting the brief or picture dictate what should be done.
 

Thundercat

Active Member
The one 'stuffy/old' thing that I would try to learn a bit about is voice-leading. Essentially, if you can sing each part, it will (mostly) sound more musical than if it has jumps and skips that a vocalist can't manage. And that's really the main thing of voice-leading right there!
+10 on this!
If you can sing it easily, it’s musical! And try for stepwise progression as much as you can, mixing it up with the occasional leap.

you can make some haunting bass lines using step wise progression, so learn your chords and inversions!!
 
OP
X

x-dfo

Active Member
Personally, I never got into the minutiae of how something was specifically written or arranged. I always approached it from mood and feeling. My theory to this day is absolutely shocking but I find the more I delve into the “how and why,” I lose something intuitive.

There are certain technical jobs where I’m asked to write something in say “1950’s kitsch strings” style where then I actually need to study harmony and maybe look through Nelson Riddles arranging book for some wisdom.

But other than that, my greatest stuff is done when I’m inspired by a mood or a feeling or a certain sound I can’t quite put my finger on but chase what’s in my head. Some people say “don’t listen to scores” which I couldn’t disagree with more. It’s like going to art school and never looking at Impressionism.

The only way this hurts me now is that when I have to record with live orchestras I feel very overwhelmed and inadequate. But even then, you’d be surprised how very little work has to be done on my midi arrangements. All the orchestrators and producers I work with think I’m classically trained when I would be eaten alive in those rooms!

It’s all come from years of listening, mucking around and letting the brief or picture dictate what should be done.
Very cool insights - and encouraging!
 

chimuelo

Star Of Stage & Screen
A guy from the Scope DSP Platform has some interesting stuff.