Aug 29

Get ready for songs. Your sneak peak.

by in Melodics, Music, Product Updates & Releases

Popular songs are almost here. There’s no chance of pre-gig nerves, as the community response has been huge!

Here’s your sneak peek of what’s coming to Melodics 5th September 2022. Check out the buzz from the community, check out and decide which songs are yours to tackle first from launch.

 

Don’t take it from us — people are reacting to Melodics’ songs

 

The Songs Playlist

Learn the songs you love in Melodics

You know them, you’ve heard them on Spotify, and now you can learn to play them! From launch day, you can test your talents on any song in this playlist.

Each song is lovingly deconstructed into numerous lessons, across a variety of difficulties and skill sets, for MIDI keys, pads and drums. With the full force of Melodics backing it, you can get inside the music you love so you can learn every trick of the artists you admire.

 


 

Songs -- the request line is open!

This isn’t just a “one and done”. More songs will continue to be added to our catalog regularly. 

If you want to learn to play your favourite song by your favourite artist or band, then contribute your flavour to the full alphabet of musical soup  — from Arctic Monkeys to Warren Zevon (and many more), the request line is open and awaiting your call.


Don’t forget! For current subscribers and those who subscribe before Melodics September launch – you’ll get access to songs first with a free upgrade to your plan. There’s no time like the present to knuckle down and get your skills polished off!

Otherwise, songs will also be available to new subscribers to Melodics from September as a part of a new premium subscription package.

 

Jun 23

Your key to unlocking music

by in Fundamentals, Music

Do I need to read music?

Music theory is a way of describing the things in music that different people, in different cultural contexts have found to sound good to them. We believe that music doesn’t flow from theory – theory flows from music.

From traditional and folk styles of music right up to the contemporary — none have ever required theory. Notation does not necessitate beautiful music creation (and nor does it prevent you from learning to play the popular music you love) — but it can still facilitate it in certain circumstances if needed.


wrecking crew

So why was sheet music a thing?

Before recorded music or digital technologies, sheet music was a standardised way to precisely describe, and communicate complex musical ideas from a composer’s mind, to the musicians who would be able to play it exactly as it was imagined. Without notation, the world’s most acclaimed classical composers — Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and everyone else — would have had no voice, and their music would have died with them.

Notation in a way, was the precursor to recorded music as we know it. Common use of sheet notation in the music industry progressed into 20th century pop with famous session bands like the Wrecking Crew smash out hit-after-Motown-hit; being able to rapidly learn several new songs every session and execute a top of the pops hit on the spot with minimal practice. This made fluency in site-reading notation a real skill to have.


When isn’t sheet music really needed in contemporary times?

For every Wrecking Crew session muso in 1960s , there are thousands more musicians around the world making music without ever needing to read the stave. Elton John himself learned by ear first, long before he ever went on to study theory. Legends like Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Prince and even Dave Brubeck never learned how to read music at all. From Vanessa Carlton’s “Thousand Miles”, Outkast’s “Roses”, Alicia Keys “Fallin’” to Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” — it would be unreal to think they were composed and learned with sheet notation.

You can learn all the music from artists like these you admire with Melodics’ song-based learning approach. All without sheet notation, and play it any time, anywhere, with anyone you like.


When might you still need notation?

You might need to read music if you ever think you’ll be doing a “reading gig” — that is if you need to play music exactly as it has been composed, where it is too complex or lengthy to memorise. This is of course ever-present in Classical, and also in some Jazz, Musical Theatre and Cinema settings.

Although understanding the background principles of how to read music is fairly straightforward — It’s a lot of work to be able to read music fluently and at a professional level. For many, the hard slog to get the degree of fluency required for this might put you off, but many musicians are instead adept at being able to figure out, and play by ear, and confident enough to add impromptu creative flair when playing and recording.


Summary:

your key to unlocking music

Do you need to read music? No. But you might wish to really be fluent site reading in some particular instances. It depends what your musical goals are, but it’s important to remember that one of the reasons most people don’t succeed with an instrument is because they don’t practice – not their grasp of theory!

You can absolutely learn theory by playing – and it will make so much more sense when you learn it from a real-life playing context, rather than it being a key that unlocks certain music for you. When an audience is listening, they can’t tell your site-reading ability, but they can hear your skill and confidence – so get out there, have fun and play!

 

May 11

7 things to do in Melodics on your lunchbreak

by in Melodics, Music

What’s our most precious resource and something you can only spend once?

If you didn’t guess already, the answer is time. It’s rather ironic, that given its fleeting nature, we still tend to spend our time quite casually…

lack-of-time, however, is the #1 reason people give for abandoning their dreams of learning or mastering an instrument. And yet time is the one thing guaranteed it will take to get there!

In reality though, life is filled with plenty of high-priority things — so in our quest for finding that perfect balance, we say that even 5 minutes of music every now and again is better than never at all.

So in the spirit of prime numbers, here’s 7 things the time impaired can do in Melodics that’ll fit in and around just about any other life commitments, ready any time you find yourself with a spare moment or three.

 


 

1. Do a quick session with one of our Daily Warmups or workout exercises.

 

“Melodics

The point of these isn’t about learning anything specific, or playing the notes right as you’re not playing a whole lesson or course. The main thing here is that you’re using your brain differently than you do at other points of your daily life.

You’re limbering up, building your muscle memory and dexterity. You’re just passively getting used to being confident on your instrument, and importantly: you can stop doing a warmup just as easily as it is to start one: whenever you feel like it.
 
Sure, I’ll do something light.
 


 

2. Sneak through a lesson you find difficult!

 

“Playing

It sounds counter-intuitive, but playing a lesson a few grades too hard for you means that your expectations really aren’t going to have you beating yourself up about the inevitable score! Even for seemingly impossibly fast songs, you can slow the track down using Practice Mode to a point where it’s playable.

So what’s the point of this then?

It’s amazing how much simply getting the lay of the land helps set a benchmark for future attempts and how you improve with time. You don’t even have to complete a lesson to benefit from this.

Use the filter settings to search by lesson grade, and pick something a couple of grades higher than where you’d comfortably sit. Give it a quick crack!
 
Umm give me the tough stuff.
 


 

3. Jam over a track on a lesson you’ve nearly or recently completed.

 

Finding Melodics Playground Mode

Look for the unlocked Playground Mode icon on any lesson’s completion screen.

Heaps of musicians record themselves jamming, or free-playing over their compositions to get creative, listen back and evaluate their playing, or to find some sweet-sounding gems they might save for a rainy day.

So mix it up! Don’t feel that using Melodics is all about practise, learning or getting feedback on your ability. It’s really important to just be playing music for the sheer joy of it — and prove to yourself and no-one else that you’ve got a couple of tricks in the bag.

Playground Mode is the perfect way to remove all script, structure and rules and just play whatever you feel like. And the cool thing is you can record and listen back to your last attempt.

You unlock this mode on any lesson you’ve already passed (i.e. getting 1-star or more on it),  so check it out!

 
Jam my last sessions butter.
 


 

4. Shooting 3’s.

 

“Revisit

It’s easy to get caught up in doing something new — but what about those lessons you probably did ages ago and passed? We’re not A+ passed — we mean the stuff you might’ve just scraped by on… But we bet you’d totally smash them out of the park if you tried them again now.

Go on, let’s put a bow on some of those 1- or 2-star lessons with a 3-star performance (or… more?), and show us all that progress you’ve made!

Use the search filter to browse by 1- or 2- stars to find a good lesson.

 
Shooting 3’s.
 


 

5. Make a mix tape.

 

“Make

Remember when you’d spend hours agonising over creating that perfect compilation? Choosing songs to fit on 23-minutes a side, whilst perfectly capturing every nuance of your personality, every agonizing detail of your teenage complexity?

Yeah, na, me neither. These days it’s done in a heartbeat on Spotify anyway. And you can do this in Melodics too: just think of the favourites button as a hot-key for your personal Top 25 (PRO TIP: it doesn’t have to be at your normal workstation, you could even download the Melodics iPad app and make a playlist from anywhere you feel like!)

So one of the best ways you can make your practices faster and more productive is removing the obstacles and being prepared!

Do yourself a favour, and pick some favourites now for practising another time!

 
Create the ultimate session playlist
 


 

6. Baby steps, not marathons.

 

“Just

Lessons and courses are all divided up into component steps.

Not only is it not required for you to complete the lot in one sitting, rather, it’s often better to just stop after the first step, and come back to continue or redo the rest at a later date. Think of it less like a marathon, and more of an enjoyable hike — you’ll still end up going the same distance either way. And hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day…

That’s right, we’re telling you not to finish a lesson — just do the first step.

Spreading lessons out over time helps build habits better — it reinforces repeated behaviour with multi-session structure, rather than 1-offs, doesn’t overload your brain or drain you of energy, and above all bite-sized pieces makes the prospect of success easier to achieve and less labourious.

 
One… small… step for man…
 


 

7. Unplug the friction!

Hands up if when you think about practising, you tend to focus on the effort of setting up instead: clearing off your desk, opening up the app, plugging your instrument in and turning it on, thinking about what genre you want to play, scrolling through and previewing endless lessons? It’s a motivation killer! Remember what we said about 5 minutes every now and then is better than never at all? Let’s make sure then that it’s time well spent: fun, simple and effective.

So here’s something different: you can still play in Melodics without even plugging an instrument in! Regardless of whether you play keys, pads or drums, or what your favourite genre is: rhythm, timing, and dexterity are universal traits foundational to musical confidence (so it’s not just ‘ok’ to try play a different instrument or genre when you’re practising — it’s great for you!)

1) Open up the Melodics app;

2) Choose any simple and easy lesson (tip: browse by low grade), and;

3) Use your laptop’s keyboard or the onscreen UI if you’re on iPad.

 

Here’s some handpicked lessons you can do on a computer keyboard or iPad UI:

 

 

Nov 17

What is a Sample Flip

by in Fundamentals, Music, Pro Tips

What is a sample flip?

A sample flip is a production technique beatmakers use to create an instrumental or a backing track for a vocalist. Whether you’re working on a hip-hop, house, techno or RnB track, there are various approaches to flipping a sample. Some of them are universal, and some of them are genre-specific. We are going to focus on a traditional hip-hop sample flipping technique, which you can apply to any composition style you want.

 

This technique is sample chopping, or ‘chop the sample’. First, we have to find a sample. For this example, we are going to use one sample source, a stereo audio file. The sample we have chosen is from ‘Reflections’ by Albert Jones. We used Tracklib to source the sample: an online record store where anyone can clear samples affordably and fast. Released in 1973, ‘Reflections’ is a soul/RnB track. It has big drum fills, gritty organ, amazing backing vocals and some beautiful melodic information that I want to showcase in the beat.

You can access it for free using this link or if you are already a Tracklib user, head directly here.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 1.15.31 PM

There are many ways you can chop or cut a sample. You can chop random events from the song, cut bigger chunks like a 2 bar loop, or layer events from other parts of the song over the 2 bar loop. The limit here is your imagination. We are going to chop the sample by even 1/4 notes. To find the 1/4 notes, count along to the song, the 1/4 notes are the 1,2,3,4 count of each bar. The snare drum lands on the 2nd and 4th beat of each bar. 

Bigger chops, like a 2 bar loop, keep the feel of the song intact in the sample. When you chop the sample shorter, 1/8th or 1/16th notes, the feel becomes more muted. However, you can use those shorter chops to push and pull against the rhythm of the sampled song, and create your own feel.

Begin by giving the song you’re sampling from a close listen. Keeping your eyes closed may be helpful, as you’re trying to get as deep inside the track as possible to find out which parts stand out. Look for a section that speaks to you, and reminds you of the goosebumps feeling that always draws you back to music. 

During the early years of hip-hop, DJs focused on playing breakbeats from records for the dancefloor. The breakbeats in songs were what excited the crowd and made them get down to the music. Correctly looping and chopping beats is the foundation of sample chopping. It is your duty as a beatmaker to convey the excitement, emotion and feeling you hear to the listener. Sometimes the goosebump moment comes from something unexpected in the music. It could be a crack in an emotional vocal, an out of tune bass note, atmospheric reverb, an overly keen saxophone phrase, or a breath.

The first thing which stands out as chop-worthy on ‘Reflections’ is it’s very emotive intro-section. A quick online search reveals that the sample has already been used by Mary J. Blige (through Tracklib). However, you can quickly turn the disappointment of a previously used sample into a competitive drive. The challenge becomes flipping the sample in a new direction. Let’s take the intro and chop it into 1/4 notes.

 I’ve used Ableton Live’s sampler instrument to chop the sample manually, in real-time. That way, as I play the pads sequentially on my computer, every hit of a pad will create a new slice. As I am chopping, I am also listening out of any pads that grab my attention. In Live, if you hear something you are vibing, you can start looping it in then and there.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 10.52.38 AM

 

 

 

 


Now it’s time to look beyond the intro.

The first verse has some great vocal moments. The bass is hot and a little bit out of tune, the guitar is similar but sonically perfect (gritty, dry, beautiful mid-range), and the drums have great mid-range in the kick, a nice dry snare, and 16th note hi-hats. All of these elements will work in the beat, so let’s chop the first verse into 1/4 notes.

The first note of the chorus is magical. Something is calling out in it. Is it the bass performance, the background vocals, or the air in the beat? Perhaps it’s the vibraphone reminding me of a Dilla beat? It’s still a mystery as to whether we’ll use it in the final beat, but let’s try to remember that feeling when we make decisions about what to chop. We’ll cut the chorus into 1/4 notes. 

 

 Once you’ve chopped your sample, it pays to zoom in on each chop. You do this to make sure they’re cut as close to 1/4 notes as they can be. If you want, you can leave the chops loose with time before or after the cut, but the tighter you chop to the original 1/4 note tempo, the more control you’ll have when you play them back. You can adjust the start and endpoints of the chops by your ears or eye. Trimming by ear is closer to the experience you’d have using classic machines such as the SP1200, ASR 10 or MPC3000 sampler, as none of them had a waveform display. When you trim by ear, there is more chance of a happy accident, and the chop might “feel” nicer in the beat. Trimming by eye will give you a tighter, more quantized chop.

Screen Shot 2020-11-13 at 10.52.48 AM

 

Laying the groundwork, introducing the beat. 

 

On our 8×8 Push controller, we now have 64 chops to use for our beat. A simple approach would be to play back a row of pads, 4 or 8 pads sequentially. The intro to the original song is perfect for this. This progression is a |I / / / |ii / / / |iii / / / |ii / / / | progression, a fairly common progression in soul/R’n’B. The ii and the iii chords are minor chords, so they build tension and suspense really well. Let’s loop up one bar, the iii chord. This is going to be our intro.

This loop feels so good it could be our main loop for the song. Still, we want to go deeper, not just do the obvious, and showcase some chopping skills. This section is our intro setup, where we play the loop out so the listener can catch the vibe of the original song. The chop here 1/4 notes makes for this sequence | hit | hi-hat | piano | hi-hat |. Chopping the iii chord section is good because the vocal sounds like it is circling back on itself, which creates the illusion of an infinite loop. Speeding up the chop also makes the flow/rhythm of the sample change subtly, adding a nice swing.

 

 

Rearranging the puzzle pieces, finding the main loop.

If you play across all the pads, you’ll be surprised by what jumps out as potentially usable for the main loop. Start by playing the pads as ¼ notes, and letting the sample play out between hits. After that, try different combos of pads.

When a beat is chopped up evenly, you can find some really cool patterns. Try 4 pads sequentially [1,2,3,4], 4 pads reversed [4,3,2,1], 4 pads flipped [1,4,3,2], and 4 pads diagonally [A1,B2,C3,D4]. Then, try 8th notes. In this instance, this doesn’t work so well with 1/4 note chops, but it works really well with the intro chops.

This part of the process can feel like musical Tetris. A random order of pads leads me to this pattern.

The minor chords create suspense, and the chops of the vocals and organ generate tension. I took notes on where the drum fills were on the pads, so I am going to use them to expand the loop from 1 bar to 2 or 4 bars with fills. As luck would have it, we already have some good drum fills within our existing chops.

 

Bring in the drums

 

Now we have our main loop ready; we can dig for some one-shot drum samples to overlay on top of it. I selected my drum samples from STLNDRMS – All Of The Drums. The kick I’ve chosen has a good mid-range punch and a sub-note on it. The snare is crunchy, with aggressive mid-range distortion, and the hi-hats are very clean. I also selected a handclap to layer on the snare for extra snap.

I want my drums to have a little swing/rub. To give them this, I push and pull on every second hi-hat. It’s subtle, but it creates a cool feeling.

 

Bring In The Bass

 

I have chosen an 808 drum machine kick for my bass and mapped across the Push in the standard chromatic layout. I added saturation to it to bring out the upper harmonics in the sample. This helps us hear the pitch of the note. It also makes it audible on smaller speakers. The bassline outlines the harmonic chord progression and works alongside the kick drum pattern. 

 

Bring in the piano 

 

I wanted to add one more live element to the beat, so I decided on piano. This gives the sample a strong chordal structure, and it’s good to have one consistent chordal instrument happening in the song that will mesh all the sample chops together. The chord is a Dmin7 then up a tone to Emin7. I used the Arturia Piano V and went for a dry, studio sounding piano. I tracked the left and right-hand parts separately as I can’t fit a 3-octave range on the Push at the same time. 

 

Final Arrangement

 

As I track the intro, verse buildup and verse, I have to automate the tempo so that the slower intro samples fit nicely. The increase in tempo gives the beat some organic movement, which an instrumental locked to one speed wouldn’t achieve. I also filtered the sample in the verses to give the drums and bass some breathing space, just in case this beat ends up being sent to a vocalist. 

 

 Create A Live Performance Layout

 

To create a live performance layout, I have bounced out the original sample layered with the bass and the piano. It was going to be physically impossible to play all the parts simultaneously. This lets me play the sample chops with my left hand and the drums with my right hand. After workshopping different options and layouts, I have come up with a strong layout, and colour coded it so I can remember where the sections and samples are. 

I have kept the sample chops to the same length as in my original beat because I like the way it feels when I manually play them. It also means I can get a bit of that rub feel happening, by stretching the time between the samples and the drums. 

I bounced all the samples out of my original session and re-organised them in a new drum rack. Bouncing them out of the original session with all the track EQ and master buss plugins on them means that my live performance layout will sound mixed and consistent over any PA speakers.

 

Get even more:

Access the sample for free from Tracklib – click here
Try out the Melodics lessons that feature this content – click here

Dec 18

Drum N Bass Quads with Spinscott

by in Fundamentals, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

Hi there!  I’m Spinscott, and I am a lifelong drummer, DJ, and music fanatic that has been obsessed with Jungle & Drum n Bass (DnB) music for over 20 years.  During this time, I’ve always thought of DnB as a “Producers Genre”. What I mean by this phrase is that while every style of music involves levels of creativity and updates/changes to the sound, DnB just seems to evolve and push limits at an accelerated rate.  In my opinion, it would be challenging to identify another genre of music that has more sub-genres, sub-sub-genres, spinoffs, clones, and variations to its sound while simultaneously retaining a listener base for just about all of its prior forms. Even with the common appearance of elements such as classic breaks like Amens (nod to my favorite genre, JUNGLE!), Think, Apache, bass (808, Reese, reverse, etc), and wonderfully recycled pads & vocal clips…, there is always an inherent drive to push limits and experiment with new applications of rhythm and sound.  

In addition to the music itself, many forms of DnB are about creating and manipulating energy for the listeners and people’s moves on the dance floor. Relying on much more than just a “drop”, many producers strive to maintain a flow of energy and impact at the track level, and throughout an entire set or performance.  Certainly these elements exist in other DJ related music genres, but they are quite prominent in DnB. As a “producer’s genre”, there is often a competitive and perfectionist nature that comes with making the music, with intense focus on not just the finished product, but on precision of rhythms, varying dominance in the mix, high sound quality and fidelity (sometimes lo-fi is preferred of course!), and endless new ways of using samples and new or classic effects. 

While there are countless rhythms utilized in the production of DnB , with new ones evolving and emerging constantly, there are certain primary rhythms that lay a foundation for the genre as a whole.  To be clear, I’m speaking of the rhythms themselves, not the sounds, because in production there is an unlimited array of drum sounds that can be substituted or layered into the same rhythms. Bringing things back to a fundamental level, I’ve broken down three essential rhythm variations into steps that will enable people to play them live as real-time performances, while learning how to differentiate between the beats. The nature of these beats originates from the methodology of splitting up a break phrase and using various start points, as has traditionally been done using sequences or partial sequences. As a drummer, I’ve always programmed the sampler using single notes, or “one shots”, and play them like one would play bongos or other hand drums. This enables real-time variations and freestyling that breaks the boundaries of using pre-defined sequences of notes.    

The DnB Quads course that I have created with Melodics, focuses on three rhythms (or beats) containing Kick+Snare+Hat+Bass sounds.  These beats likely have a variety of names in the industry, but I have always referred to them as “The Forward“, “The Step Back“, and “The Stomper“, so those are the names I’ve chosen to accompany the DnB Quads lessons.

Utilizing 16 pads on the standard sampler/drum machine layout split into four quadrants,  the beats are played sequentially through each quadrant, with bar one in Quad 1, bar two in Quad 2, and so forth, repeating the cycle.  One of the reasons I constructed the lessons in this manner is so that the player can concentrate on the rhythm, while the base notes change during each run.  

 

Dec 18

“Lean On Me” The legendary drummer behind your favourite records

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

Unless you’re the type of crate digger that actually reads the back of records, or like me had a subscription to Modern Drummer magazine during your teens, you might not know the name James Gadson. But you will definitely know his music.

That’s because Gadson has been making people move since the ‘60s as a drummer on upwards of 300 gold records. He’s played for everyone from Bill Withers to Paul McCartney to Herbie Hancock to Roy Ayers to freakin’ Jimmy Barnes (!). He also played on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and on a rare Pharoah Sanders album where every song is surprisingly less than ten minutes long. The number, variety and importance of the releases Gadson has been involved in is just staggering

Gadson’s path to becoming one of the most vital session drummers in the history of pop music is a serendipitous one rather than a master plan. Born and raised in Kansas City, despite his musician father’s hopes that he wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, Gadson’s first involvement in music was forming doo wop band The Carpets with his brother. As lead singer and songwriter, Gadson’s first focus in music was on songcraft holistically, an ethos which would go on to influence his drumming in later years. 

After releasing a few songs and auditioning for some key RnB labels, The Carpets’ success was ultimately stifled by their location (not LA), so Gadson up and left for a stint in the Air Force. When he returned to Kansas, he started playing the drums purely out of necessity, joining his brother’s jazz band as the drummer simply because it was the only position available. 

Despite never before playing behind a kit, and playing left handed on a right handed setup, it all came pretty naturally. “I didn’t have any knowledge of left handed guys moving stuff over,” he tells Melodics. “So I’d just sit down and play it the way it was and learn.” 

Gadson saw himself merely as “a jazz guy” when he eventually made the move to LA in 1966, but his thirst to play would land him drumming behind RnB guitarist Charles Wright. It was somewhat of a challenge considering he didn’t even know how to play RnB, or how to stay locked in a groove rhythmically and, at first, it didn’t go well. “He fired me 5 times!” Gadson remembers. His response was to simply keep at it. “You got to practice basics, 1 2 3 4, timing, so you can be in control of it.” 

Mastering timing with intent on playing around with it, rather than just presenting it like a metronome, would define his playing style and not coincidentally a lot of pop music from then on. 

Wright Sounds became the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band and one of the most in demand funk/soul bands in LA during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many years later, the band would be sampled by artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Mos Def, N.W.A. and Madlib. From here Gadson became Bill Withers’ drummer during his most commercially successful period and performed the title track on Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You, my favourite Marvin track and low-key a proto-house track when you look at it from a certain point of view.

The ‘70s and ‘80s were a lock for Gadson, when any genre with the dancefloor or groove in mind found him. There was disco with Diana Ross, boogie with Cheryl Lynn and slow jams with Patrice Rushen. He’s stayed busy in these genres while never being restricted to them. He played on a bunch of Beck albums (even the sad one), a Jaime Liddell album and also produced a UB40 album, which is pretty buzzy. 

In the 21st century he has been tapped for albums by shiny pop stars like Justin Timberlake (FutureLoveSexSounds) and Lana Del Rey (Paradise / Born To Die), while collaborating with more classic RnB leaning artists like D’Angelo. 

The story of Gadson’s involvement in D’Angelo’s Sugah Daddy is a kind of metaphor for his career and playing style. Unaware he was being recorded, Gadson was drumming and clapping with his hands on his knees – a habit that many drummers have without realising. D’Angelo immediately asked to use the recording of these clapping sounds and they became the basis for a highlight on an album we’d been waiting 15 years for from soul and RnB’s most important figure since Marvin Gaye himself. “I just started playing something… whatever I did, I don’t know what I did… (D’Angelo asked) ‘Mr Gadson, can I use that?’”

James Gadson is not bothered with what he plays, how he plays it or the level of recognition he gets for it. His discography is proof that all he really wants is to make people move and have fun.

Dec 16

Ben Barter on Hybrid Drumming

by in Drums, Interviews, Music, Pro Tips

“Hybrid Drumming is basically using half an acoustic drum kit and half electronic drums at the same time.” explains drummer Ben Barter. A Los Angeles-based New Zealander, Barter is the tour drummer for Lorde and has performed with acts such as Broods, Jarryd James, Passion Pit, and Katelyn Tarver. He’s also worked as a session drummer, most notably with producers Tommy English and Joel Little (a Grammy Award winner), playing on songs by artists including K.flay and Kacey Musgraves in the process. Recently, Barter created a set of virtual lessons for Melodics based around the “Hybrid Drumming” concept, an approach which is fast becoming the norm.

“You can put triggers onto your acoustic drums so that when you hit them, they trigger an electronic sample,” Barter continues. “The idea is to make the live drums stay true to the original production of the record, especially if it’s a more programmed song with sample elements and drum machine parts. Then the acoustic drums add the excitement and punch under the electronic elements.” Given how common a heavily produced recording sound has become within contemporary pop, R&B, dance, and rap, and the ravenous audience demand for live performances by artists from within these genres, Barter’s approach makes a lot of sense. However, it’s not without its rigours. 

“Some of the challenges are playing parts that aren’t written for a traditional drummer to play,” he explains. It can be a bit of a mind-bender working then out. The other big one is the technical side to having a bunch of electronic pads that are triggered by vibrations. They can often misfire, causing all sorts of chaos. I have to make lots of little adjustments to the settings to stop that from happening.” 

The virtual drums course Barter created for Melodics is divided into six lessons. On a collective level, they are designed to teach you how samples can be incorporated into a Hybrid Drumming setup, before continuing to develop your hand independence as a drummer, and teaching you how to find creative solutions to shifting samples from their traditional positions. Helpfully, Barter has provided a few notes for us each of the lessons. 

Drumline: I was looking at locking in with a complex backing track, so playing a simple beat with a few off notes over the top of a drumline style beat on the track. Getting your stuff locked in with everything else going on is vital to making the whole show sound tight and punchy. It’s easy to be in your own world during a show thinking you sound great, but when there is other percussion on backing tracks, you’ll sometimes need to adjust your feel to match what else is going on.

Rollers: This one is about helping your kick foot really lock in with your hi-hat rhythm. It’s about playing quicker straight 16ths on the hi-hat, with a slightly complex locked pattern underneath. We also practice switching back and forth with a slower section to help you make those transitions smoothly. Practising the switch between fast to slow parts is important as it’s easy to get carried away in the energy of a big part, but you need to be able to control that quickly so that energy doesn’t run over into a quieter chill part if need be.

Discuss: I was looking at playing a faster 16th note hi-hat in a disco type rhythm, then a section with an open/closed hi-hat pattern. I find that when I play live, it can be handy in bringing extra energy to a chorus, etc. Playing hh patterns which open and close in electronic music can have a human touch which is nice but sometimes you need them to be really tight and consistent. So working out how much to open the hats is vital, you often don’t need to open them a lot for a tight, controlled hi-hat pattern.

Left Over: Here, we’re playing extra rhythm parts with your left hand. I always have a bunch of samples to my left, which I’ll play as I’m holding down the main pattern with my right hand and the kick drum. This is basically just independence; being able to separate your limbs to do different parts is a key to hybrid drumming. Being able to cover more parts and take elements of the tracks will make you a valuable asset for artists.

Diving Bells: This is a slow, simple beat. You really have to listen to the rest of the track to properly sit back and get it feeling nice. There are also some basic offbeat elements, which need to fit in smoothly with the slower tempo. Everyone has got a different feel, it’s really the beauty of summers, but often you need to be able to match what’s on the record. Playing along to different genres of music helps this a lot. And really listening to where top drummers place their notes has helped me a lot, being able to play the simplest beat and make it feel really good to me is one of the most important but underrated attributes a drummer can have.

Poppin’: Poppin’ is a kick pattern I find myself using on about 30% of the songs I play. It can be tricky to get it sounding smooth. It can often sound quite robotic, so it needs a very slight swing. In the lesson, you learn to play it over two different hi-hat patterns, which will help you with independence and tightness. Try experimenting placing the off note beat before the snare just slightly before and after the beat. You can get a feel of what suits the song and can get a little bounce going which people will respond to. I think one of my main roles as a drummer is to get the crowd moving; it’s amazing how easy a well-executed simple beat can do this.

 

Alongside developing our Hybrid Drumming course, Barter has been working with Germany electronic drum company Gewa to develop a new drum kit and module called the G9. He’s also been recording an EP of kooky disco songs inspired by ORM and Patrick Cowley under the alias BB Normal.

 

Aug 19

Patterns of Rhythm: Trapetón (Latin Trap)

by in Music

If you’ve ever bobbed your head or wiggled your hips to the remix of Post Malone’s “Rockstar featuring Ozuna or Farruko’s “Krippy Krush (Remix)” featuring Nicki Minaj, 21 Savage and Travis Scott, then you, my dear friend, have been hit by Trapeton (aka Latin Trap aka Trap en Español) fever. This latest international pop music craze—blending elements of Reggaeton, hip-hop and even its kissing cousin, Afrobeat—is blowing up all over streaming, especially YouTube and Spotify.

At its core, Latin Trap, as it’s most widely known in English-speaking countries, is what happens when you fuse Reggaetón with Trap music. On one side of the equation you have Reggaetón, a blend of Caribbean dancehall, Latin rhythms and hip-hop, while on the other end you have Trap music, a form of hip-hop that originated in the American Southern states  as a sound that combines brass, triangle, loud kicks, snappy snares, low-end 808 bass samples, and most notably—aggressive triplet hi-hats. With the two genres combined and paired with a bravado-fueled artist singing and/or rapping in Spanish over the sparse beat, you have an infectious melody.

The artist most closely linked with Latin Trap’s blazing success is Puerto-Rican born Bad Bunny, who has a rhythmic cadence and low, slow slurring vocals that put him in a class with the Migos and Future from Atlanta. Hailed as the King of Latin Trap, he’s steadily been one of Youtube’s Top 10 Most Viewed artists and has done major collabs with chart-topping pop acts like Cardi B, Drake, Will Smith, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. His artistry has a dual nature, where he’s boasting on one track and then goes all emo on the next, he’s also as comfortable flowing over a trap beat as he is traditional Reggaeton. Considering Latin Trap has its roots in Reggaeton, his ability to ride both rhythms makes perfect sense.

What is Reggaetón?

Latin Trap is often viewed as the resurgence of Reggaetón, though the two styles are somewhat distinct. Today’s Reggaeton sounds like DJ Snake’s banger “Taki Taki” featuring Cardi B, Ozuna and Selena Gomez, as well as Justin Bieber on “Despacito” with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, or J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente,” featuring Beyonce—a little bit pop and a little bit Moombahton, a mix of house music and reggaeton, and a little bit dembow. Dembow is a riddim built from dancehall artist Shabba Rank’s 1990 hit song, “Dem Bow,” produced by reggae and dancehall producer, Bobby Digital, who earned his name for being one of the first in his genre to experiment with digital rhythms. A riddim is Jamaican for the rhythm that accompanies a track and is stripped of its original vocals so that it can be used by other artists.

The dembow riddim, with its pulsating drum machine sounds, became the backbone of the Reggaeton sound. Reggaeton is said to have formulated in the early 90s in San Juan, Puerto Rico when DJ Playero put out mixtapes featuring Spanish freestyle raps over hip-hop and reggae fusions. At the time, Reggaeton was mainly underground because its themes were too aggressive or vulgar for radio play. There was also the musical collective, The Noise, consisting of a band of rappers, DJs and producers, including DJ Nelson, DJ Negro and Ivy Queen who were doing their part to bring Reggaeton out of the streets of San Juan and onto the mainstage.

But the most widely known Reggaeton artist, who is also known as the King of Reggaeton today is Daddy Yankee, who got his start on one of DJ Playero’s mixtapes that were recorded in a small studio back in 1991. Daddy Yankee would later go on to craft an explosive international Reggaeton hit in 2004 called “Gasolina,” featuring a catchy chorus and the dembow banging beat, that was said to definitively put the genre on the international music map.

In the 90s, there was another branch of Reggaeton emerging from Panama, led by El General, whose 1988 release of “Estas Buena,” a Spanish-language cover of Shabba Rank’s “Dem Bow,” sounded just like it came out of the Jamaican dancehall. El General found success with another track, “Tu Pun Pun,” that received American airplay, riding on the wave of the dancehall popularity of the time. He also experienced some cross-over love when he was featured on a pop music hit with C&C Music Factory. Some music critics call El General the father of Reggaeton, but others argue that his music was more Reggae en Español, because it was just Spanish-language Reggae, while Reggaetón has more of a kinship with hip-hop. This is one of the main reasons that Latin Trap is said to have its roots in Reggaetón music, especially since many Latin Trap artists ride the fence of both genres—hip-hop and reggae.

The early-to-mid aughts also gave birth to a Reggaeton movement within New York City, with rapper Noreaga’s release of “Oye Mi Canto,” in 2004 featuring reggaeton artists Gem Star, Daddy Yankee and Big Mato, as well as New-York based sister-twin duo Nina Sky. Nore and Nina Sky, with their Puerto Rican roots, fused the music of their native land with the hip-hop they grew up within NYC.

What is Trap?

Trap music originated in Atlanta in the early aughts. With this musical style, it’s like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Some wonder whether the genre rose from its lyrical content or from its musical style—rapid-fire hi-hats and pared-down drum patterns programmed on the Roland 808, with pitchy resampled funk or hip-hop samples. Rapper T.I. claims to have coined the term when he released his seminal hip-hop album Trap Muzik, with trap being a reference for a place where drugs are sold and the content of the album centering around that lifestyle.

Other music critics suggest that trap music is really all about the sound, which can be credited to producer Lex Luger, who started out making beats on Fruity Loops featuring hard-hitting 808 kicks, spooky synthesizers and crisp snare drums creating a boombastic orchestral blast. His sound cemented its place in hip-hop with Atlanta-based rapper Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in da Paint,” single off the album of the same name released in 2010. Around the same time, producer Shawty Redd was also in Atlanta creating dope-boy music with Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, also signaling the birth of trap, as these productions featured a multilayered, drum-laden style while the rappers’ lyrical content focused on life in the drug game.

Today’s Trap music has elevated itself to pop music status, with artists like Migos, Future and 2 Chainz crossing over into the mainstream, yet continuing the tradition of trap music from both a content and musical perspective.

What is Latin Trap (Trapeton)?

The worlds in which Latin Trap and American Trap converge is most notably when artists collab, but it’s also in the way the Roland 808 drum patterns sound, along with how the vocals flow in triplets, where you have three notes—either in a word or phrase—cascading over one beat. The triplet flow is also known as the Migos flow, the Versace flow, and the infamous mumble rap. But where mumble rappers and Trapeton artists diverge is where songs are sung either in all Spanish or bilingual style and the rhythm contains Latin flavor and elements of the dembow riddim most closely tied back to Reggaeton.

Latin Trap came about as the convergence of Spanish-language remixes of trap club bangers and Reggaeton artists gravitating toward a more hip-hop influenced sound. Besides Bad Bunny,  artists like Ozuna, Farruko, Messiah and De La Ghetto are leading Latin Trap’s assault on the mainstream.

In this track “La Ocasión,” featuring Latin Trap and Reggaeton all-stars De La Ghetto, Arcangel, Ozuna, Anuel Aa, Dj Luian, Mambo Kingz, you can hear the influence of Trap—the staccato triplet rhyme flow, the punchy vocal ad-libs, the lo-fi bass, the crazy skittering hihats and the snappy snares—in an ominous orchestration.

Usually, a wave of music lasts about a good decade. Latin Trap is now just a little bit over 10, but hip-hop has lived long past 30. If the current focus on Latin-inspired music on the global stage is any indication of the genre’s long-lasting success, then Latin Trap just may go on to live as long as its hip-hop brother.

Aug 07

The Breakdown: DJ Scratch’s 20 Best Samples and Beats

by in Music

To celebrate DJ Scratch’s 30-plus years in the rap game, Melodics Magazine culled through his massive discography and picked out 20 of his best samples and beats.

Throughout the 1990s, hip-hop developed a plethora of pioneering DJs who eventually stepped behind the turntables and became legendary producers. DJs like Pete Rock, Premier, Marley Marl, Jazzy Jeff, Kid Capri and the late Jam Master Jay are just some of the distinguished names who went from world-class DJs to influential producers without sacrificing one art form for another. In fact, both art forms are closely connected. In many creative situations, elements of DJing can be used for music production, too.

Nobody personifies this better than DJ Scratch, born George Spivey, a legendary DJ and a whiz kid on the turntables. The three-time Grammy nominees acrobatic skills on the 1’s and 2’s led him to win several DJ championship titles. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is the 2010 Master of the Mix winner and was a three-time “Turntablist of the Year” honoree at the Global Spin Awards. And he’s a New Music Seminar Battle for World Supremacy DJ champion.

Scratch, who was a protege of the late Jam Master Jay, would eventually lend his turntable skills to EPMD and become their official DJ. After his stint with the iconic rap duo, Scratch would become one of the central figures of the 1990s East Coast hip-hop production era. He crafted stellar beats for Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, PMD, Das Efx, among many others.

Scratch is a master at sampling and taking unconventional sounds or vocals from rare vinyl LPs and turning them into musical gold.

“I always approach producing like how I approached DJing. I didn’t want to do what was popular…I always wanted to create something [different on the turntables],” he said in 2017. “If you really take a look at my discography, I didn’t sample stuff that everybody was sampling. In the ’80s, early ’90s, everybody sampled James Brown — everybody. And I was like, ‘we need to do something different.'”

Check out DJ Scratch’s 20 Best Samples and Beats below.

20. PMD – “I Saw It Cummin’

Original Sample: Ohio Players – “Funky Worm
Using one of West Coast hip-hop’s foundational samples, “Funky Worm” by the Ohio Players, DJ Scratch adds the twinkling Moog synthesizer to the slow-pounding beat. Along with the vocal samples from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice” and Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline,” the song has a G-Funk feel but is still dripping with East Coast flavor.

19. DMX – “The Rain” (2003)
Original Sample: Greg Perry – “Will She Meet The Train In The Rain

Scratch went into his collection of 45s and pulled out this 1975 gem from soul singer Greg Perry. He used the entire song to craft DMX’s solemn song from his 2003 album, Grand Champ. From the flute and piano riffs to Perry’s monologue, to the funky bop, Scratch flipped something old to new again with his unique sampling skills.

18. Wu-Tang Clan – “Watch Yo Mouth
Original Sample: Lalo Schifrin – “More Plot” (1967)

Scratch grabbed the crackling snare from Iron Butterfly’s 1968 song “Get Out of My Life, Woman” but the haunting violin groove on the song is from Lalo Schifrin’s 1967 Mission Impossible score, which brilliantly sets the mood for Wu-Tang Clan’s menacing rhymes.

17. Das Efx – “Bad News” Featuring PMD
Original Sample: Power of Zeus – “The Sorcerer of Isis (The Ritual of the Mole)

Scratch used the monstrous drum and snare pattern featured at the beginning of Power of Zeus’ 1970 song “The Sorcerer of Isis (The Ritual of the Mole).” It’s a classic breakbeat that’s been used by many legendary DJs, including Pete Rock.

16. Busta Rhymes – “We Could Take It Outside
Original Sample: Henry Mancini – “The Windmills of Your Mind
DJ Scratch and Busta Rhymes have created a plethora of classic bangers together. This is one of many featured on this list. In addition to cutting up Run-DMC’s vocals from “Beats to the Rhymes,” Scratch looped Mancini’s tranquil piano to set the mood.

15. Beanie Sigel – “Purple Rain” (Feat. Bun B)

Original Sample: The Dramatics – “In the Rain
The piano riff and guitar lick from the Dramatics classic soul ballad are placed perfectly on Beanie Sigel’s solemn ode about lean addiction.

14. Talib Kweli – “Shock Body
Original Sample: Gaspare “Gap” Mangione – “Boys With Toys

DJ Scratch is very precise when it comes to sampling. In this instance, he sampled the dramatic horns from “Boys With Toys,” which effectively gives the song a sense of urgency for the listener to pay attention to Kweli’s impactful lyrics.

13. Will Smith – “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” (DJ Scratch Remix)
Original Sample: Stephanie Mills – “Put Your Body in It
While Scratch is mostly known as a producer, he’s also a great remixer as well. Will Smith’s 1997 song was already a club hit, but Scratch flipped it and turned it into an ‘80s skating rink jam. By slowing down the funky instrumental on Mills’ 1979 song, he turned Will’s track into an ‘80s version of “Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll.”

12. Q-Tip – “N.T.” (Featuring Busta Rhymes)
Original Sample: Brethren – “Outside Love by Brethren

Once again, Scratch used a familiar breakbeat and flipped it on its ear. There’s also a piano sample on here that we cannot place, but it fits perfectly on this head-nodding track.

11. Flipmode Squad – “Everybody on the Line Outside
Original Sample: Tangerine Dream – “Impressions of the Sorcerer

When it comes to sampling, Scratch is not afraid to use music from rare recordings. For this Flipmode banger, he used the synths stabs from Tangerine Dream’s 1977 song. It’s a small sample but effective.

10. 50 Cent – “I’m a Hustler
Original Sample: Barry White – “Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)
Once again, when Scratch uses a sample it’s for a purpose. Much like the title of Barry White’s song, the orchestral sample sets the mood for Fif’s urgent lyrics of getting rich or die trying.

9. LL Cool J – “Ill Bomb”
Original Sample: David Porter – “I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over
David Porter’s tickling piano groove was most famously sampled on The Notorious B.I.G.’s classic 1994 song “Who Shot Ya.” But Scratch went a different route with Porter’s soulful tune. The ingenious producer took a snippet of the horn riff (heard midway in the song) and Porter’s vocals to create a definitive East Coast banger for Uncle L.

8. Busta Rhymes – “Do the Bus a Bus
Original Sample: Jimmy Spicer – “The Bubble Bunch

Scratch sampled some classic ‘80s songs for Busta Rhymes’ head-nodding track. He took the computer blips and funky groove from Spicer’s 1982 jam to lay the foundation. And if you listen closely, there are interpolations of Malcolm McLaren’s 1982 songs “Buffalo Gals” and “Zulu’s on a Time Bomb” in there as well. This is a complete ‘80s to ‘90s party jam.

7. Pharoahe Monch – “Intro
Original Sample: Oliver Nelson – “Blues and the Abstract Truth

Scratch flipped Oliver Nelson’s jazzy trumpet blasts for Monch’s fiery manifesto on “Intro” from his 1999 album, Internal Affairs.

6. EPMD – “Funky Piano
Original Sample: Albert King – “I’ll Play the Blues for You

During his stint with EPMD, DJ Scratch produced some great songs for the iconic rap duo. This is one of them. There are a plethora of samples on here. He sampled King’s guitar riffs, James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and Chuck D vocals from “Timebomb,” among others. Scratch also cut up Trouble Funk’s “Pump Me Up” as well.

5. Sadat X – “Maybe It’s Me” (Featuring Dres)
Original Sample: Unknown

There’s no sample on here, but the beat is fantastic. Scratch most likely used an AKAI MPC2000XL to sequence a piano groove that sounds as if he sampled an old piano riff from a vintage jazz album. It’s quite impressive.

4. Swizz Beatz – “Echo” (Featuring Nas)
Original Sample: The New Birth – “Echoes on My Mind

Scratch sampled the tranquil guitars and soulful hahs and woos from the New Birth song, while Swizzy and Nas Escobar deliver their introspective New York street stories.

3. Busta Rhymes – “Gimme Me Some More”
Original Sample: Bernard Herrmann – “Psycho Theme”

Here’s another classic from Scratch and Bussa-Buss. The creative producer looped a snippet of Herrmann’s orchestral violins, which pierces through the chaotic production. And like the title of Herrmann’s song, Busta goes lyrically psycho on the track.

 

2. EPMD – “I’m Mad” (DJ Scratch Jazz Remix)
Original Sample: Soho – “Hot Music (Jazz Mix)

This is, arguably, one of DJ Scratch’s greatest beats in his discography. The catchy piano riff heard throughout is from Soho’s classic b-boy jam “Hot Music (Jazz Mix),” which is a sample from Wynton Marsalis’ 1986 song “Skain’s Domain.”

1. Busta Rhymes – “New York Shit”
Original Sample: The S.S.O. Orchestra – “Faded Lady

S.S.O. Orchestra’s 1976 soul tune “Faded Lady” has been sampled multiple times in hip-hop – most notably by Diamond D on his 1992 song “I Went for Mine – and Scratch looped the breakbeat brilliantly for Bussa-Buss’ New York anthem “New York Shit.”

Oct 05

What is Minimal Music?

by in Fundamentals, Music

by Benjamin Keith

Throughout the past century of music, there has been a huge amount of change. Movements have come and gone, while technology has given people access to the immense diversity of music. When you step back and look at some of the biggest changes, minimalism stands out as one of the most impactful. Minimalism in western music, which sprouted in the mid-20th century, can be found today everywhere from electronic dance music to the orchestra.

Within Melodics, you might have come across the term ‘minimal’ or ‘minimalism’. Maybe you’ve heard these terms used when describing a dance track or a piece of art. Maybe this is totally new to you. Either way, it can be tricky pinpointing what people actually mean by this. Does a piece of music need to include minimal content, structure, or have a short duration, in order to be considered minimalist? Does minimalism make the music simple?

Let’s first acknowledge that minimalist music can have many different definitions. Among them is that minimalist music uses limited musical materials. I once had an acclaimed professor of music history at my college describe minimalism as music where ‘all the voices are immediately apparent.’  While most definitions like these aren’t necessarily wrong, they don’t get the full picture either. Music from oft labeled ‘minimalist’ composers, like John Adams or Steve Reich, is richly orchestrated, deep, and full of motion and change. On the other hand, when you’re spinning tracks by Plastikman you’ll hear just a synth and kick repeat the same couple notes for several minutes at a time. So if minimalism can range from the club to the orchestra, and from 50 instrumentalists to 2 – 3 synths, what else can we use to describe minimalism other than ‘limited musical material’?

One of the most important elements frequently left out when talking about minimalist music is the concept of process. Often times, it doesn’t matter how many voices are active. What’s more interesting is how they’re changing. In minimalism the excitement comes from the discovery of process. One voice can split into two or three. A synth’s tone can slowly evolve over the course of 10 minutes to a steady beat. Minimalism is best enjoyed when you discover the pattern, or the ‘rule’ behind how changes in the music are made.

Still feeling a little fuzzy on minimalism? Dive into our keys course on Minimal MusicYou’ll have the opportunity to experience some of these ideas first hand.

For your listening pleasure, here’s some amazing examples of minimalist ideas in music:

Piano Phase – Steve Reich

In this piece two pianos play the exact same melody, but one is played slightly faster than the other resulting in some really interesting patterns.

In C – Terry Riley

Another staple of early minimalism, a group of pianists play to a pulse, each repeating a set of predetermined patterns, but moving through them at different times. Want more?

Laurie Spiegel – Drums

Using pulses from a synthesizer, a series of rhythms fade in and out producing new grooves and syncopated patterns all while maintaining the same tempo.

Take a look at our new course focusing on Minimal Music!