Music tips

3D Touch For Contextual Menu

The Music app UI is very clean and simple. A lot of options are hidden away in menus or behind swipes. A simple way to reveal contextual options for a song or an album, or basically any list item is to 3D Touch on it. When you 3D Touch on a song, you’ll see options to add it to the queue, view the lyrics, download it and a lot more.

Find Fresh Music

More often than not, Spotify Playlists are curated by the employees of the app and also individual users. And chances are that you’ll end up discovering fresh new artist and songs, thanks to Spotify’s unique algorithm of discovering new talents. So make sure that you tune into the weekly playlist. Did you know that millions of Spotify tracks haven’t been listened to yet? This website helps you discover them.

Collaborate on a Playlist

Well, we all have a friend who has a slightly different musical taste. And when you plan a long road trip with them, you end up imagining the onslaught of the ‘unique songs’. But you can’t rule them out totally. How about a common ground, where you create a playlist for the both of you. Thankfully, Spotify has this option where two or more users can collaborate on a playlist. After creating a playlist, right-click on it and select Collaborative Playlists. Once done, send the link over to your friends and enjoy a blissful road trip.

Triplets, Triplets, Triplets

A triplet is when beat is split into three notes, instead of the typical two or four, as shown here:

Don't Overuse Quantization

  • Keep the kick, snare, and hi hats strictly quantized and on the grid at all times.
  • To humanize you can play around with the velocity of the hi hats and repeated kicks. For example, if you have two kicks close to each other, the first one can be a little softer than the second one.
  • If you have any percussion or foley elements, you can try to move them around slightly off the grid to create a swing. By not being in the front of the mix like the kick, snare, and hats, the listener won’t be caught off guard if these are not strictly quantized.
  • Play your melodies/chords on your MIDI controller for a more realistic feel, or manually adjust the velocity of each note after you draw them into your DAW.

Hi-hats Are Key

In modern hip hop, it’s commonplace to find a 16th note pattern for the hi hats, while the open hats are placed in the offbeat. The groove is achieved by the switch-ups from the basic pattern to 32nd or 8th note sections. Triplets are also very effective in hip hop, but we will cover this separately in another section.

Kick & Bass

  • Apply your stock compressor to the bass track (make sure that whatever compressor you apply has a sidechain feature)
  • Select the kick track as your sidechain input. This means that whenever the kick hits, it will trigger the compressor to duck the volume of the bass track, leaving room for the kick to come through.
  • Make sure you have a very fast attack setting, adjust the release to taste depending on the length of your kick, a 2-4 ratio, and adjust the threshold until you hear the kick blending in nicely with the bass. We recommend picking a short kick if you have a strong sub bass. If you have a long kick with lots of low frequencies, it will interfere with the ones of your bass track, as well as making it very hard so sidechain.

Try Something New Every Now and Then

In time and with practice, you will notice that you have some strengths and you have some weaknesses. Let’s say if you play the flute, then you’ll probably write for it and other wind instruments better than you would writing for strings. Or for example, if your music software has a really nice trumpet sound, you might be tempted to use it often and so develop a knack for injecting its sound. Whatever strengths we develop over time, it’s really tempting to stick only to them. It’s much more fun and rewarding than plugging away at something we’re not that good at. The problem of course is that this will slow down our development as composers. As the 16th century Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi,  is quoted:

Never have a favourite weapon.”Miyamoto Musashi

A favourite weapon makes you predictable and in combat that can get you killed. In the arts, it will make you boring. So remember to mix and match in your music and try something new every now and then:

  • Compose short pieces as well as longer ones,
  • Compose for solo instruments but also for ensembles and orchestras,
  • Compose instrumental music and also for voices or choir,
  • Compose in a different style than you normally do. Another popular saying is to get out of your comfort zone, implying that progress comes with some level of discomfort. Whichever quote resonates with you better, the bottom line is to challenge yourself to write something new, something different than you normally would. This will force you to think in new ways and come up with new ideas. In other words, you grow! So we’ve discussed how to learn (and get better at) music composition in quite some depth. I want to finish today’s article with 5 tips for what not to do in music composition. These are 5 very common mistakes that beginner composers make to the detriment of their progress.

Get a Composition Teacher

One way of handling the previous tip is getting a good composition teacher. (Hint: Not all great composers make great teachers). A good teacher is an invaluable resource – look for someone who will guide you through every step, provide the right materials including exercises, feedback on those exercises and above all, someone you get along with. You can get a live one-to-one teacher, join a class (usually the cheapest option) or go online like we do here at the School of Composition. If you can’t afford private tuition you can at least find a course with some feedback mechanism. That means a course where the teacher is hands-on and is ready to answer questions, give you some advice and critique your work in some depth.

Organize Your Learning

I see this issue with self-teaching students that come to me for feedback. They are aware of a lot of little things about many topics but they just can’t connect the dots. It happens especially when they are learning from a wide variety of sources: YouTube channels, Facebook groups, courses, blogs such as this one and books. While these are great resources, make sure you’re not jumping around from topic to topic too quickly. Build a strong foundation first (with musical notation and basic music theory) and then proceed to learning harmony, counterpoint, form and orchestration. Don’t start too many books and courses at the same time. Pick a method and stick to it to the end. If you find that you don’t like it, choose something else and stick to that. Just don’t move from one topic to the another without reason.