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FL Studio Tutorial - Scales, modes, chord progressions and lead melodies – part I

Blckbxxx | 6:26 AM | 9 kommentarer

FL Studio tutorial on aspects of music theory.

For quite some time, I’ve been composing (e.g. chord progressions and playing lead melodies over them) by ear without having any grasp of music theory. There is nothing wrong with that as I see it. Composing that way is great fun and a technique that is accessible for everyone and to all ages. It simply is a fun – yet challenging – way to create music. Also, I know someone who creates amazing songs without a ‘music theory background’. He cannot read notes yet I have tears in my eyes when I listen to his music. What I am trying to say is that knowledge of music theory is not a must in order to learn how to compose (great) music.

Having said that, I am beginning to appreciate the fact that some knowledge of music theory is a great tool when composing. I’ve begun to understand what ‘works’ and what doesn’t and for what reason. Also, I’ve started to see what combination of notes can invoke what kind of emotions in listeners.

In this series of tutorials/articles I will attempt to sum up some of the things I have come across. I will keep it simple and spice it up with various examples – as I would like to show you the practical applications of the theoretical understanding. I do risk that some people who really have an in-depth understanding of music theory find flaws in what I will explain. In that case, I invite them to drop comments so I (and we) can learn and make the necessary corrections.

Let’s start our engines.

I’d like to suggest you read the tutorial on composing chord progressions and lead synths (if you haven’t already done that): Making chord progressions and lead synths. What I am undertaking now partly overlaps what I already explained in that tutorial (as far as the theory is concerned), but with this new series of tutorials I will take it a few steps further.

What is music theory?

Music theory defines the set of conventions (e.g. notations) and rules (mathematical) that are used to describe how music works, e.g. related to rythm, melody, harmony, etc.

Notes and scales

The western music scale consists of 12 notes (the so called chromatic scale). These notes are named after the first seven letters of the alphabet, being A, B, C, D, E, F and G (referred to as the naturals). Between those notes, except for B-C and E-F, there are sharp/flat notes, which are designated by the symbols # (sharp) or b (flat). Let’s write them all down, starting with C:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, which corresponds to C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, B. See also the piano keyboard below:

image

Why start with C, you might ask. It is a good question, but music theory really starts with the key of C – so I’ll often take that as a starting point.

As you can see, the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G correspond to the white keys on the keyboard. The sharps (#) and flats (b) correspond to the black keys. Also, C# is the equivalent of Db. Likewise, D# is the equivalent of Eb. This double naming of one and the same note is referred to as enharmonics.

Note also that the scale (with the 12 notes) is repeated, where each group is called an octave. That’s interesting. Why does everything start with C again after one has walked through all the 12 notes in a scale? Well, one thing to realize is that each note has a so-called pitch which is determined by the fundamental frequency of the sound. Now, in terms of pitch an octave is the interval between one pitch and another with half or double its frequency. I know it is a bit technical and not really something you have to remember, but C in a particular octave has double the frequency of the C-note in the octave before that, but only half the frequency of the C-note in the next octave. To our ears, they all sound like the note C though. Above all, this is a natural phenomenon.

Back to earth. In the Piano Role view FL Studio you can easily switch between the piano keyboard view and the note names using the keyboard view buttons. See below:

 

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So, each note is designated by a letter, either with or without a sharp/flat symbol.

Another important concept is that of whole-steps (tones) and half-steps (semitones). A half-step is the distance of any two notes in the scale. So, play a note – let’s say E – and then play either F or D#. Both these notes are a half-step away from E. It follows that the distance between E and – let’s say F# – is a whole-step. Check the screenshots shown above.

More on scales

Ok, let’s think for a moment. We now know that we have a total of 12 notes and that they are half-steps and whole-steps apart. I know another thing and that is that playing all 12 notes at the same time sounds horrible. Picking some notes randomly and playing them at the same time sounds horrible too - usually. But not always. This is where the term scales comes in again.

While a loose definition of scale would be any combination of notes, a more strict definition is that a scale defines a well-sounding combination of notes (what notes are allowed). Ok, let’s think again. What sounds good and what doesn’t is quite a personal or cultural thing isn’t it? Well, that’s true. That’s why there are hundreds of them. But some scales are more popular than others, depending on culture and music style.

Major scale

The mother of all scales is the Major scale. As I explained, music theory starts with the key of C (instead of A) so this is the note we will start with.

If you start on C (root note) and only play the naturals (the white keys) until reaching the next octave, you will arrive at the notes that make up the C major scale. So this would be:

C major = C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

And on the piano keyboard:

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The major scale is a very popular scale. Compositions based on this scale induce a positive and happy feeling in the listener. Why? Well, that has something to do with the relative positions of the notes in the scale (and of course the way our ear/brain perceives them).

Instead of naming the notes that are in the major scale there is a more generic way to describe major scales. See below:

(W)hole W(hole) H(alf) W(hole) W(hole) W(hole) H(alf) = W W H W W W H

Here the major scale has been described in terms of the whole-steps and half-steps between the notes. And you know what? With W W H W W W H in your head you can construct any major scale for any root note (rather than remembering exactly what notes are in what major scale). Let’s give it a try and construct G major. Following the W W H W W W H formula, I get:

G major = G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G

Let’s try one more. D major this time:

D major = D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D

Knowing the W W H W W W H formula makes it really easy to construct your major scales.

You may have noticed that C major has only naturals, G major has one sharp (#) and D major has two sharps. What you may not have noticed though is that I picked the 5th note from the C major scale (G) to construct my next major scale. Likewise I picked the 5th note of the G major scale (D) to create the next.

This is also a very interesting phenomenon. If you pick the 5th note from any major scale and construct a new major scale based on that, you will have one more sharp than in the previous major scale (#). The number of sharps/flats in a scale is something that is referred to as the key signature of the scale. The method of taking the 5th note of one major scale to construct the next major scale is a handy tool to travel from one key signature to another.

Actually, this method is called the circle of 5th’s. I guess you understand the ‘5th’ in the circle of 5th’s. It is called a circle because if you continue taking the 5th note of a major scale to produce the next, you will eventually arrive at where you started (for example C major if that is where you started).

Ok, cool down period. Where and how would you use this when composing? Well, this with the circle of 5th’s is not something I use on a daily basis, but one thing you should be aware of is that when you compose a song it is important you choose your scale (for example C major, C minor, etc.). Whatever you do next (chord progression, melody), you stick to the notes in this scale. However, it is also possible to change the scale in the middle of your composition (not sure how common this is though).  The smoothest transitions – when you change scale in your composition – happen between scales that differ only one sharp (#) or flat (b). This is where our circle comes in handy. I am not at all convinced you will use this often, but at least you cannot claim anymore you have never heard of it ;)

Minor scale

Another important and popular scale is the minor scale. Compositions based on this scale are said to be more solemn, sad and mysterious than compositions based on the major scale. The reason is that the notes have a different relationship to eachother than in the major scale.

Now, if I tell you that the formula for minor scales is W H W W H W W, then you should be able to construct all minor scales. Let’s take A minor for example:

A minor = A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

I will not go through more examples here as I think you get the point, but I’d like to make you aware of one other thing. If you take the 6th note of a major scale and take that as the root note of your minor scale, then this minor scales uses the exact same notes as the major scale. This is what we call the relative minor of the major scale. In the example above A minor is the relative minor of C major (and C major is the relative major of A minor).

In the following screenshots you can see some scales (across two octaves) in the Piano Roll view in FL Studio.

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C major

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G major

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A minor

You can also download a series of major and minor scales (as .fsc files) by following this link: Major and minor scales for making chord progressions

What’s next

In part II, I will go over intervals, modes, as well the fundamentals of chords and chord progressions. So, make sure to come back soon!

I realize this tutorial/article may be somewhat heavy to digest, but nothing prohibits you from reading through it a couple of times. Do not forget to compose though! Hope to see you back soon!

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FL Studio Tutorials - All fl studio tutorials are written by Marc Demar

9 kommentarer

  1. Good article. I would have split this one into two sections for easier reading for music beginners, but still, very well written and easy to follow. Kudos!

  2. Anonymous says:

    yeah this is the kind of tutorials that are needed, thanks so much !

  3. Anonymous says:

    thanks a lot man, keep it up!

  4. Anonymous says:

    sweet

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is ultra well-written and easy to understand, thanks a lot!

  6. Blckbxxx says:

    Glad you guys like it! :)

  7. Unknown says:

    Not helpful bitch wtf u talkin bout

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.