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Your thoughts on chord progession generators?


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So recently, as I've been delving more into the depths of music theory, I've been trying to study chord progressions and how chords relate to each other. However, even with the theory behind me, I've still been having trouble making the progressions themselves, so I've been using the progression generator here: http://www.guitarknowledgenet.com/progression_builder.php

I know that a lot of people frown on using generators like this, but I'd still like to hear your thoughts on whether or not people should use them, and if they should, then how far does that go? Past the amateur level? Is it okay to use them professionally? Thanks.

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Very against it. Harmony is about 1/3rd of music to me, and if you don't actually write it, you're leaving 1/3rd of your music generic and up to machines to write. Not to mention, different chords have different sounds and they suit different things. For instance, you might think that C-5 root motion sounds folky and you would know how to use them, then. If you know how chromatic mediants sound, you'll know if you want that effect. Not to mention these progression generators leave no room for modulation.

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I'd advice against it too, but not until you've learned to work with chords. If you've got a real instrument, use that. Learn these chords, then start using other chords and learn which ones work, and in what context they work. Been doing that teaching myself piano the past few months, I've learned a lot about modulating that way. If you don't play for real, just use random notes in your sequencer, see which ones sound good together.

Study the suggestions you get from the generator, but learn to work independent of it.

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As someone who's still really learning, these could be a great learning tool. I recently collaborated with someone who does have a great deal of knowledge of chord progressions and music theory. She gave me a chord progression, I produced the song and came up with something that actually sounded really good.

I think that there's three benefits here.

First, if you don't have any theory knowledge, you can sit down and read some things based on what you've been given. I keyed in something and got:

The progression currently shown is a ( I - IV - ii Add 9th - V - vii half dim 7th ) progression in the key of C Major.

If you don't know theory, you'll have a lot to look at based on that phrase alone. What are the Roman numerals? What's a 9th chord? What's a half-diminished 7th chord?

Second, it allows you to learn what "certain chords" sound like. I personally have a terrible ear and can't detect chord tones easily from listening to songs. But, if you give me a progression and then give me a "sounds like?" question, I'll probably be able to figure it out. So you can get a sense if the song is uplifting, or dramatic, or meandering, or whatever.

Finally, if you like music but don't really want to work on the composition side of things (!!!), a chord progression generator allows you to focus on production without you getting tripped up on bad notes or whatever.

But, I remember one question long ago on these boards that went along the lines of "Should I compose first with harmony, or melody?" Overwhelmingly, the answer was that you should avoid learning to compose harmony first, because then your melodies will end up sounding generic and boring, which is a problem.

Another issue with that generator is that it only appears to give you 2-6 chords at a time, so if you want to make a song with more than 4 chords (you do, right?) you'll either have to end up plugging stuff into the generator multiple times (leading to a lack of unity in your song) or you'll have to actually learn how to fill in the rest of the song.

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From my perspective, it's unnecessary.

If you can't write music without using it, then you can't write music.

To me, it's a basic foundational skill.

Something to think about here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIZGvp0fMJY

Cheers,

yeah, this is kind of a moot question. if you can't take the time to learn what a chord progression is and how to use it, you can't make music. simple as that.

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bullshit. you can make music on a frying pan.

music just boils down to organised noise; whatever system or approach you use or don't use to organise it is up to you.

as long as the sound is controlled by atleast some decisions, conscious or not, it's music to me.

really man, this site is about taking a theme by someone else as foundation and taking it somewhere. there's a fair amount of remixers who don't really make their own tunes, either because they think they can't or because they're not interested. they decide to not deal with what you could arguably call the gist of composing music: finding a central theme to build onto.

are they not making music?

i constantly try to take as much control over my music as i can handle because i think it's worth it, but who the fuck am i to tell others that they either have to do the same or refrain from calling their stuff music?

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bullshit. you can make music on a frying pan.

music just boils down to organised noise;

Easy there John Cage.

really man, this site is about taking a theme by someone else as foundation and taking it somewhere. there's a fair amount of remixers who don't really make their own tunes, either because they think they can't or because they're not interested. they decide to not deal with what you could arguably call the gist of composing music: finding a central theme to build onto.

are they not making music?

Producer/Arranger not Composer.

Riding a Segway makes you go, but don't confuse it with Running or Exercise.

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Easy there John Cage.

Producer/Arranger not Composer.

Riding a Segway makes you go, but don't confuse it with Running or Exercise.

ha, you do like your analogies.

guess i was feeling like ranting today.

i just don't like the notion of music being this deep science you have to devote a huge part of your life to if you wanna reap any benefits.

some people just want to throw some loops together, that's cool. you still need your ears for that. it's still a musical process. they do compose music. extremely forgettable music probably, yeah. but 'composing' really just means putting something together.

i dunno, i guess i just don't see the point in telling someone on the net i don't know to, like, take it do the next level or stop tryin.

pretty much everyone fools around with music soft at some point in his life these days. most people are gonna drop it again sooner or later.

just let em be as involved as they choose to be says i. don't tell em 'you're out of the club if you don't xyz' imo.

ok, speaking for myself, i too think the OP is missing out on a lot because getting down a good chord progression is AWZOMM. but if you keep on making music, those generators will become boring at some point and you'll probably have developed some harmony skills by then.

i just don't see any problem.

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i just don't like the notion of music being this deep science you have to devote a huge part of your life to if you wanna reap any benefits.

There's a big difference between "any benefits" and "all benefits".

Full control of your instrument is a wonderful thing. It's great when you do not have to think about where your fingers have to go. Since we can't upload skills like in the Matrix yet, regular exercise is necessary. It takes your mind away from the "how" and lets you go to the "what" and "where".

The study means you learn the common language which makes it easier to communicate with other musicians, which is even better - since there are few things better than playing in synergy with folks who know what you want to do and can add their own flavor to it.

I can't imagine spending time without an instrument for longer than say, 2 weeks - longer than that and I get cranky. I need to play on something. I need to express myself. This means that I spend a good deal of time with something I can make music with. It is simply a huge part of my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

On the other hand, there are only so many chords, so many notes, so many progressions, and only so many ranges instruments are restricted to. If you play C2 F#6 F#6 D3 for half an hour, you have an unique melody nobody else ever played, and if you have any musical ear, you find out why, too. You learn from the best; to not use that research done in centuries before would be a waste, since it's part of the common vocabulary and idiom.

The difference between study and a chord generator is that the former internalizes the knowledge. Instead of stumbling on something neat (only to find out that people've used it before, and in better ways) and not knowing how to get there again if you lose it, study allows you to embellish and substitute chords without stupid, frustrating blind guessing.

If you keep using them, you keep yourself uninformed and in the dark, depending on someone else's condensed version of the vocabulary - and worst of all - someone who genericized it thusly that you can only relate partially. That's the waste.

But of course, do what you want - do what you want with who and what you want to do it with. Music is a vastly superior hobby compared to having your brain drained by the TV. Have fun. Think out of the box. Express yourself.

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good post.

let me backpedal somewhat:

if you want to understand harmony, just relying on a chord generator is a bad idea. i still think it can be helpful if you make the effort to abstract from it. but yeah, if you just keep on doing what the generator tells you it will hinder your progress. for now, you really have to see for yourself if it makes you lazy or inspires you to try new things.

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good post.

let me backpedal somewhat:

if you want to understand harmony, just relying on a chord generator is a bad idea. i still think it can be helpful if you make the effort to abstract from it. but yeah, if you just keep on doing what the generator tells you it will hinder your progress. for now, you really have to see for yourself if it makes you lazy or inspires you to try new things.

Hm, for once I agree with Yoozer.

I guess, what I don't understand, is the mystery behind harmony.

It sounds good or it don't. It does what you want it to or it doesn't. If you try something out and it sounds like poop, change it.

Take your melody, as an exercise, add a note to accompany your melody, just one note, is there a point where it feels like you should change the note? Change it. Play around.

You are your own chord generator--there's nothing to figure out. Just do it.

When you start out, you're probably going to be a bit boring, there will be harmonies that you're more comfortable with, when you feel adventurous, you'll branch out--that's life.

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I guess, what I don't understand, is the mystery behind harmony.

Physics, mostly. Consonance is created by simple pitch ratios, and dissonance is more complicated pitch ratios. For instance, an octave's frequency is a 2:1 ratio. A perfect fifth is a 3:2 ratio. These are very consonant intervals. All consonant progressions are very boring progressions, and all dissonance just sounds unpleasant. Functional harmony is a tension and release between dissonance and consonance.

It's also the overtone series, which again, is physics. When you pluck a string, it doesn't just oscillate the whole length of the string. It also oscillates in partials along the length of the string, at increasingly smaller intervals and less volume (as shown here). This is the difference between a string sound and a sine wave. A sine wave has no partials, a string has a different timbre because the different volume levels of the different partials. When a string is cut in 1/3rds, you get a fifth. So if you pluck an open E string, you hear that fundmental pitch, and at less volume, its octave, and at less volume, its fifth. That means that the strongest note in an E string, aside from E, is B. For this reason, the fifth has a very strong relation to the fundamental - because you're already hearing such a strong B within that E string.

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Physics, mostly. Consonance is created by simple pitch ratios, and dissonance is more complicated pitch ratios. For instance, an octave's frequency is a 2:1 ratio. A perfect fifth is a 3:2 ratio. These are very consonant intervals. All consonant progressions are very boring progressions, and all dissonance just sounds unpleasant. Functional harmony is a tension and release between dissonance and consonance.

It's also the overtone series, which again, is physics. When you pluck a string, it doesn't just oscillate the whole length of the string. It also oscillates in partials along the length of the string, at increasingly smaller intervals and less volume (as shown here). This is the difference between a string sound and a sine wave. A sine wave has no partials, a string has a different timbre because the different volume levels of the different partials. When a string is cut in 1/3rds, you get a fifth. So if you pluck an open E string, you hear that fundmental pitch, and at less volume, its octave, and at less volume, its fifth. That means that the strongest note in an E string, aside from E, is B. For this reason, the fifth has a very strong relation to the fundamental - because you're already hearing such a strong B within that E string.

There is no need to overcomplicate Harmony, that's exactly my frustration with why a beginner is afraid to create it.

Your brain is the generator, your ear is the quality assurance.

Just flippin' write the music.

Physics does not enter the arena when I write. Period. There's no need to bring it up.

If it sounds good, it's good, if it doesn't, it's not.

It's people like you, IBBIAZ, who not only misunderstand the quote their commenting on, but make harmony seem like it's something more than extra notes that make the composition sound better.

I can describe semiology and the origin of letters, but it's not going to make you a better writer.

Just write. For god's sake just freaking write.

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agreed. the pythagorean stuff and all is fascinating for sure, but it shouldn't be more than an interesting side note when you're learning to compose.

just focus on your own perception and find out what you like. theory can be helpful in providing you with tried and true options, and the terminology makes it easier to memorise things. just don't take composition for a hard science.

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ok, speaking for myself, i too think the OP is missing out on a lot because getting down a good chord progression is AWZOMM. but if you keep on making music, those generators will become boring at some point and you'll probably have developed some harmony skills by then.

i just don't see any problem.

First, thanks to everyone for all their feedback. You all make legitimate points.

I don't want to give people the impression that I plan on using generators for my whole life - or even for a large part of it. I'm still spending a lot of time researching chord progressions and harmony. Generators are just, for the moment, a way to let me make some music on the fly without spending too long on the progressions (for me, composing a melody is far more fun).

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There is no need to overcomplicate Harmony, that's exactly my frustration with why a beginner is afraid to create it.

Your brain is the generator, your ear is the quality assurance.

Just flippin' write the music.

Physics does not enter the arena when I write. Period. There's no need to bring it up.

If it sounds good, it's good, if it doesn't, it's not.

It's people like you, IBBIAZ, who not only misunderstand the quote their commenting on, but make harmony seem like it's something more than extra notes that make the composition sound better.

I can describe semiology and the origin of letters, but it's not going to make you a better writer.

Just write. For god's sake just freaking write.

What, you think that I only think of the overtone series and fractions when I write? I thought you were serious when you said that you didn't understand why harmony worked, so I explained it - nothing more. Don't be an ass for me answering a question.

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hahaha, we're all really just a bunch of nerds trying to distinguish ourselves with our opinions and knowledge. no hard feelings from me towards anyone. this is just what you get with heated debate, a whole lot of tangential stuff and misunderstandings.

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hahaha, we're all really just a bunch of nerds trying to distinguish ourselves with our opinions and knowledge. no hard feelings from me towards anyone. this is just what you get with heated debate, a whole lot of tangential stuff and misunderstandings.

What I don't understand is why it is considered a mystery.

Here's an exercise:

Write a melody, then take the whole melody, and find the note that is used the most.

Add that note on the bottom, as a bass note during the entire melody, when does it sound nice? bad? sad? happy? etc...

The harmony is INSIDE the melody. It's there, it's just waiting for you to bring it out, emphasize it, move it around, etc.

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I'm sure I'm just being argumentative here, but I think a better way to think of it is that the melody is in the chords. The melody and chords have symbiotic relationship. It's always thought of how the melody relates to the harmony, and if you change either one, the other changes as well. Or just don't think about either at all. I come up with either first in a more basic form, then go back and forth, changing things in both melody and harmony until I have something that I'm happy with.

If a melody revolves around a fifth in the key, and you throw that in the bass, you'll get a different function than if you put the tonic of the key under the melody. Any number of harmonies can surround and embody the melodies, each changing how the melody feels.

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Mmm... music theory. Strange thing about the overtone series is that the only thing that generates it is the vibrations from a straight line (like a string). Most other objects make unique harmonics and overtones (a triangle, for example, divides into tritones, for it's series). So in reality one can't really rely on the overtone series as the real 'reason' harmonies sound 'good'.

It actually boils down to what people are used to hearing. Familiarity creates networks in the brain that simulate pleasure, so people enjoy what they are used to (namely, tonality and the overtone series). The only reason that we are so familiar with the harmonic series is because the church emphasized it's importance and perfection and developed a polyphonic system around it that the western world was forced to use (thanks, Charlemagne). Thus, we've been forced to listen to contrapuntal tonality for millenia. Listen to something enough and you'll enjoy it, strangely enough. Really, there's only a relationship between harmony and melody because people have done it for so many years (and continue to emphasize tonal music through any person's life) that you just develop a taste for it.Study a little ethnomusicology and realize that most other cultures don't use harmony at all (the western world, in fact, is quite unique in our polyphonic music).

There, that's overcomplicating the issue.

As for the chord generator, I see no reason not to use it. Sure, it creates them using simple patterns and syntax, but in the end the person is choosing to stick with the harmonies or to regenerate them so it's still 'composition', in the end. It just takes out the actual generation of the harmonies, is all.

Not really impressed with it, though - give me a generator that create Neo-reimannian networks and I'll show you some real impressive music coming from the generators :P. It's probably be easier to get a computer to generate than tonal patterns, anyway.

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