Music Theory Simplified (and cheated)

This article is really a holder for a series of videos on simplified musical theory as I compose a piece of music. What I set out to do in this series is to compose a piece of music whilst taking time to explain what I am doing and why.

This won’t be a set of 5 minute Tuts simply because there are enough of those useless things on the net already. This is a b-i-i-i-i-g subject that I am only 30 years into so attempting to distill it into ridiculously short bites, because audiences don’t have the attention span, is defeating the purpose. If you don’t have the desire to commit time to improve your art then feel free to bail.

If you stay you get a very in-depth view of a composer making a piece.

UPDATE: the piece is called “Swords for the North” available on Unmade Movies

Episode #1

Basic Theory & How to Cheat a bit

  • Intro 00:00
  • My New Headphones 00:33
  • Why we need some core Theory 03:02
  • Composing vs Mixing & Mastering 05:15
  • The note Palette 07:27
  • The Scale 09:56
  • Cheating at different Key Scales 11:40
  • Tone Color 15:30
  • Note Hierarchy 18:35
  • Chord Progressions – Starting the piece 26:35
  • Basic Variation 31:55
  • Melody & Story 32:55
  • Chord Progression & Expanding the Rhythm 35:15
  • Conclusion & When to choose Notes by Hierarchy 40:20

Here is the infographic from the first video showing how you should be balancing your time when making music. There are a few places that talk about this but it is so easily forgotten in the stream of advertorials that tell you that all your musical woes will cease when you do some mix or master related tasks using some overblown piece of gear.

Music is made with Notes not Mixing.

Focus on your piece or song and then mixing and mastering will come far easier.

Session Time Graphic
The Music Making Hierarchy

Cold yeast

Almost every element of good bread happens long before it goes into the oven.

Too often, we spend our time and effort on the exciting last step. And too often, we forget to spend our time and attention on the preparation that’s a lot less urgent or glamorous, but far more important.

Poor preparation is a lousy excuse for a last-minute selfish frenzy. That frenzy distracts us from doing it right the next time.

If you want to understand where mastery and success come from, take a look at the inputs and the journey, not simply the outputs.

Seth Godin (who I seem to quote a lot but he has a habit of sending thing exactly as I write them)

Episode #2

Developing Variations and Melody – the Core Piece

Episode #2.5

You may not want to watch this video as it is a micro look into what I did when expanding the core chord progression into those melodies, countermelodies and supporting parts. If you did find yourself at all confused in how I turned the first four notes into melody then grab a coffee and join me…

In 1 hour you watch everything I do (including distractions & rants LOL) to turn 4 notes into the core of a very useable piece, including string orchestration (pads).

  • Intro 00:00
  • Quick Recap of Scale 01:15
  • Getting Ready 02:45
  • Building Chords 07:16
  • Building a Melody with Chord Notes 10:00
  • Bridging a Gap 12:25
  • Working on Flow 14:55
  • Failing by not starting 15:18
  • Back to creating Flow 17:10
  • It’s NOT cheesy to please-y 19:20
  • Creating Variation & Cadence 25:05
  • Another Melody 31:15
  • Swapping the instrument 38:15
  • Orchestrating with String Pads Pt I 40:12
  • Orchestrating with String Pads Pt II 46:25
  • Conclusion 52:00

Episode #3

Second Part, Arrangement & Finishing the Piece

In the final part, we go through adding a second part (using the same techniques as the first part) then work on the Arrangement to turn our parts into a polished & finished piece.

  • Intro + Rant against taking the easy route 00:00
  • Importance of being Soulful 11:22
  • Recap of where we were at 12:04
  • Starting the Second Part 15:08
  • Hans Zimmer and Dunkirk – The Dance 17:44
  • New sounds yet keeping familiarity 20:55
  • The apex and how we got there (backwards) 23:00
  • The really different part 24:45
  • Resolving and the Playoff 27:45
  • Echoing 30:25
  • Ending 31:40
  • Arrangement Overview 32:30
  • Drums 35:10
  • Drums as a guide (and a solution) 39:00
  • Getting Perspective 41:45
  • Interesting Basslines 43:15
  • Creating space with no drums! 44:10
  • Arpeggio as Bass 46:15
  • Conclusion Drums & Memory 49:45
  • Role of Sound Effects 51:25
  • Conclusion 56:05
  • Quick note on Mix & Master 56:30
  • Wrap-up 58:27

Thanks for taking this journey with me. It is a big thing so please don’t hesitate to come back to either watch again or to focus on particular points as per the Index for each video.

This is all free material so I would love for you to pay it forward by sharing this page on Facebook or wherever else you chat with other musicians who may be interested or able to learn from this.

Or perhaps you would like to buy a copy of the album as a form of donation


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