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What to do or read to get better at music.


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To Yoozer: Thanks for your information.

You're welcome, even though on re-reading it sounds like some 3rd rate mystic.

To find out where you have to start, it helps if you break the problem down in areas. There's theory, arrangement/orchestration, synthesis, effects usage, mixing, (don't bother reading about mastering if you haven't learned to mix yet).

Then you pick the areas where you think you could use improvement in. The simplest way is to post a song in the WIP forum; a good critique will touch on the problem areas, so in that case you know what to improve upon.

Whatever software you use does not matter - in that sense that the above is not depending on a specific workflow.

For instance, one thing I hear from someone who just got say, FL Studio is that they're clearly in the process of learning the application. This expresses itself in the sense that people don't realize that the sounds can be modified (so you hear lots of the default preset sounds), there's no clear choice on what kind of sounds are used (so you get say, 3 tracks with very similar synth leads that on their own sound neat), and it's awfully dry and mono (panning and reverb/effects in general seem to miss).

But hey - a song, made by that person themselves, which is awesome because it wasn't so much rocket science to do that. And then a (seemingly) devastating critique because it's not acceptable material for an OCRemix - devastating because it pulls the entire song apart, making it look like it has no merits whatsoever.

That's enough to discourage some people; but that's not what you should do, unless you refuse to learn anything (in which case the critique is not devastating because it won't even budge the cognitive dissonance) but I digress.

It's important to know what level you're on - as said there's lots of information that is DAW-specific and you need to connect the dots between someone saying "this needs more reverb" and "how do I add reverb to a sound without messing everything up" (there are several routing possibilities). If you'd say you play electric guitar, it's easier to explain effects; stompboxes are so-called insert effects, and the concept of send effects would not be completely alien because you already know insert effects and the usage thereof.

The most important part - when you read any one-liner saying "do X, not Y" is to find out the 3 pages of text that come after it and describe the situation that the conclusion is based on, otherwise you're just doing cargo cult composition and mixing - wave the magic wand but have no idea why something works or doesn't.

Zircon's write-up on tips is good - but it's also abstract (I realize it's a part of a series but can't be arsed to look up the other parts right now, so if this is duplicate, whatever)

An example. If you have a regular band, you have a room that band is playing in. The fact that they're in an enclosed box already means that you get reverberating signals - so a bass guitar through an amplifier beaming the sound into the room gives you a different flavor than a DI bass guitar (Direct Injection - in other words, plugged directly into the mixer). There's this imaginary microphone somewhere in the room (hooked up to anything that records, or even just a listener to a concert) and you have to deal with this microphone.

The concept of a band in a room is obvious to a recording engineer; less so to the band themselves, since they're not looking from that point of view but that's why the engineer has to worry about this - and even less to someone who has no experience making music, only DAW software and an urge to express themselves. Headphones don't help with this since instruments in a room reverberate in a different way while headphones have much more separation between left and right; a signal coming in via the right ear is not heard at all in the left ear.

Even with electronic music you have to deal with such a band in a hypothetical sense - each instrument has its time, place, and space.

So, let's look at the room again. All people are playing at the same time. So, basically, each instrument should get a room reverb, right? Wrong - by smacking a reverb on every track you basically put every instrument into its own room all by itself, with its own reverb. Of course, there's a way to do it differently, and that's by using a send effect; this requires only one reverb and it sounds better that way.

Depending on the realism of the instruments you're using you have to conform to the reality of the situation; want to make epic orchestral tracks? Simply treat your samplers as musicians in a room, positioned like a real orchestra. A microphone records the orchestra - the violin players are closer so you'll hear more violin and less room, while the timpani players are in the back - you'll hear more reverberation and each hit is "smeared" out because of that.

Those are just some things you have to deal with during orchestration - by no means a complete list, but hopefully a helpful pointer to start with. Post a few fragments of what you have made (or better, the links to the threads in the WIP forum). Don't be afraid for that devastating critique, because it'll point out exactly where you want help - meaning that your next questions can be more on target and thus easier to look up/answer.

If I had just asked a very specific question, I would have got a specific answer, but not have got the discussion I got from the way I asked the question.

True, but this time it took half a page to get to the point where we can start having a fruitful discussion. Rather specify too much information about what you have, know and use than too little; curbing your enthusiasm is easier for the responding party than trying to pry it out of you.

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A microphone records the orchestra - the violin players are closer so you'll hear more violin and less room, while the timpani players are in the back - you'll hear more reverberation and each hit is "smeared" out because of that.

I am an idiot. :tomatoface: I do this distance thing all the time, without even thinking about it as a room. And I never do it with orchestral music. No wonder I don't like my orchestral music.

Thanks, Y. :D

Also, welcome to having contributed to my remixing guide. This picture is so going in there. :P

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Anyone who thinks you can truly compose good music without any knowledge of theory, even on the most basic level, is sorely mistaken. Anyone who is to ignorant to attempt learning theory should not complain that their music keeps getting a "NO". Hows that for stirring the pot?

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Anyone who thinks you can truly compose good music without any knowledge of theory, even on the most basic level, is sorely mistaken. Anyone who is to ignorant to attempt learning theory should not complain that their music keeps getting a "NO". Hows that for stirring the pot?

True, but I think it's already been said......kinda.

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Anyone who thinks you can truly compose good music without any knowledge of theory, even on the most basic level, is sorely mistaken. Anyone who is to ignorant to attempt learning theory should not complain that their music keeps getting a "NO". Hows that for stirring the pot?

Lemme add to this that most of what sounds good does so because of music theory, whether you've formally learned it or not. You don't have to spend years in a conservatory to be able to use chords.

I've learned the most from doing something that was new to me, and later reading about it. time sigs, musical modes, syncopation, chords that aren't minor and major triads, etc.. At that point I know how it sounds, I know I like it, and reading about it is a lot easier when I already have an understanding of it. The dark room metaphor works well here.

So you're using music theory pretty much no matter what. Of course, the more you can use, the better your music can be.

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For me, the most important thing to do is decide what kind of music you want to start making, then saturate yourself in that style by listening to people who already make music similar to that. Don't just listen to the melodies, but the supporting instruments as well, listen to the little extra things thrown in there, get a real feel of everything that makes the song complete. Then you'll know what kind of things you'll need to start learning how to understand and creating.

Music theory is important but it's not the save-all of music, it just makes it easier to understand and takes out a lot of the guess work when figuring out what will fit and what won't. I know several people who know Music Theory inside and out but can't write music to save their life. I also know musicians who know no Music Theory who also can't write music to save their life. The point I'm trying to make is that it's incredibly helpful, but not a staple quality in every good music writer.

When you're sitting around and no music is playing, do you hear music in your head? What kind of music is it? What catches your attention when you're listening to music? I'd start there and start learning a couple of songs in that genre to get an idea of how each part works together to make the whole composition. Then I'd start using some of those ideas to make your own creation and do that over and over until you have your own style crafted from it.

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You can not apply theory if you don't know it.

Things don't sound good BECAUSE of music theory. Rather it's the other way around. Music theory studies what sounds good and finds the patterns to explain why.

Codified or not, they're using music theory, to whatever extent they know it. If they're using chords, they're using music theory.

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