A sample pack is a collection of sounds that are designed to use as pre-made building blocks for producers to create music with.
These sounds usually consist of loops (a musical phrase that can repeat such as a guitar riff) and one-shots (a single sound such as a kick drum).
You can use them within any DAW (digital audio workstation) such as Ableton Live, Garageband, Logic or FL Studio. Many of these have a free version for you to use if you are just starting out.
Producers typically use sample packs as an initial starting point when creating a new song, or even as inspiration to explore into new styles of music.
Melodics’ sample packs contain a combination of loops and sounds found in our many lessons, covering a huge range of musical styles. If you complete your practice with Melodics you might be lucky enough to receive a free sample pack as a reward for all your good work. We give them away on a regular basis!
To use a sample pack simply:
Download the sample pack from the link provided
Open your DAW (e.g Garageband)
Upload to your DAW of choice.
(As an example, if you have a Mac, open Garageband, create a new ‘audio track’ and drag one of the sounds direct from your finder into that audio track.)
You can now use your new sample packs as a starting point when producing music or even as inspiration to explore new ideas.
Give it a go, you could be on your way to creating the next big hit!!
Growing up amongst the futuristic skyscrapers, rammed subways, serene temples, palaces and bustling street markets of Seoul, South Korean beatmaker, finger-drummer and DJ Lionclad always felt out of place. Things slid into place for her when she discovered trip-hop, abstract hip-hop, experimental music, and the worlds that surround them. With headphones wrapped around her ears, the psychedelic, late-night sounds of Björk, Portishead, Massive Attack, Cypress Hill, Morcheeba and Zero 7 let her reimagine life as a black and white film noir. Everyone else in the metropolis was at hyperspeed, but Lionclad was moving in slow motion. “The music told me it was okay to explore the emotions inside me deeply, and made me realise that if I wanted to, I could focus on myself rather than everyone around me,” she explains.
“Growing up in an Asian country, you are always forced to be part of the community. That always made me feel more isolated from everyone around me, and the music gave me comfort and helped me realise my feelings were valid.”
These qualities come through in her moody beat production work and dexterous live finger-drumming performances, many of which you can watch or listen to through youtube and Instagram. They’ve won her a cult reputation around South Korea and set her up to take things further. Lionclad was also equally fascinated by media art as a teenager and considered working in video before music. She loved vintage horror movies (“Creature from The Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Blob, etc.”), anime, and quirky cartoons; genres often associated with music by way of sampling or direct references. In that era, the downbeat sounds of the UK and the bass of blunted west coast rap came packaged with fittingly trippy music videos, and it only took a few steps sideways for her to come across 90s IDM artists such as Amon Tobin, and South Korean trip-hop group Mot. Music made sense. Making and playing it would be her thing. With some childhood experience playing keyboard and trumpet behind her, early cassette tape recordings led to beat making and production. Initially, Lionclad’s tools of choice were the Roland SP-404 sampling workstation, the Akai MPC2500 Music Production Center, FL Studio, and Cubase.
“I began arranging tracks in FL Studio and Cubase first, then I started taking samples from vinyl records with my MPC and creating loops,” she says. “From there, I started using the MPC as a performance tool to share my music. DJing came, later on, followed by Ableton Live.”
Looking for vinyl records to sample from took her to music stores around Seoul’s Myong Dong, Hong Dae, Itaewon and Gangnam districts, where she connected with, and learned from, DJ Son and DJ Soulscape, two pioneering local DJs with open-ears and similar musical interests to hers. They’d invite her to their studios for jams and listening sessions, and when they saw her fast-developing finger drumming skill level, helped her get gigs around the same districts. “Community was crucial for me,” she says. “I’d meet people, and they’d introduce me to other people I could play with. It’s also fun because you get to learn their stories in music and how they did what they did. It gives me a lot of inspiration around what I do now.” Outside of the DJ scene, Lionclad also cites experimental artists like Kim Oki, Akimbo, 4kapas and Cifika as part of her community, and a reminder of what she prizes the most, the power of live performance and the moment. “The DJs and musicians gave me a lot of influence, but I wanted to give people inspiration by showing them how music can be made live, and how the beat is felt by tapping it with the fingers,” she reflects. “There are very few MPC players in Seoul, but I think it’s good because people think it’s a very special kind of thing that they can’t see easily.” In 2016, Lionclad released her self-titled debut album. Since then, her work has been celebrated by GQ Korea and Playboy, and she’s found herself collaborating with an array of rising K-pop and K-rap vocalists including Muddychild, Danny Roots, Taedo, SSamdark, Yumdda, Jvcki Wai, Justhis, Sogumm, Kimximya and more, bringing her moody production sound into those melodramatic realms. She also took part in the Red Bull Bass Camp Seoul in 2017, began creating lessons for us at Melodics in 2018 (see her lessons here), and is working towards a second album. Although trip-hop, beats, and abstract hip-hop still don’t have a large audience in South Korea, more recently, Lionclad has been sensing a cultural sea change, one she’s very excited about, and hopes will take her overseas sooner rather than later. “These genres are still not that common here,” she admits. “But it looks like people these days are finally ready to accept uncommon things.”
Fabian Mazur first became an emergent figure within the Danish club music scene in 2010. Since then, the Copenhagen-based music producer and DJ’s buoyant tracks have caught the ears of international EDM frontrunners like Martin Garrix, Tiesto, and Afrojack, in the process helping him build a growing profile. Ostensibly hybrid trap EDM with glossy synth-overtones, his music ripples with touches drawn from traditional east coast hip-hop and R&B, and when he hypes it up on the microphone over the top, lifts the whole club up. In 2013, Fabian received a platinum-certification for his remix of ‘Chuck Norris’ by Kongsted, and in 2014 he began touring around the world. When he isn’t programming his own music, producing for other artists, or DJing, Fabian creates producer sample kits for Splice. It’s one of the ways he likes to give back and help the next generation of producers. This week, in partnership with Splice, we present Fabian’s first Melodics lesson for the track ‘Settle’. Read our interview with him below and try his lesson here.
Could you tell us a bit about how you got your start as a musician?
Growing up, my mum and dad were both jazz musicians. I used to tour with them a lot as a kid. I’d see them perform, play, and rehearse, so I was always rooted in jazz and world music. Even though I didn’t really like the music myself, it provided me with a lot of knowledge about rhythm and melody. My mother is from New York. She was born and raised there, but she came to Europe as a teenager. We stayed connected with her family there. I think this influenced me a little bit. Back in the day, I used to listen to a lot of east coast hip-hop, DJ Premier, Nas, Jay-Z, so when I started making music as a teenager, I was into 90s hip-hop and R&B. After a few years, I had a friend who got me into DJing and got me into EDM acts like Swedish House Mafia.
How did you take these influences and shape them into the sound you’re now known for? It definitely took me a lot of years. I guess I think it took almost ten years to get to the sound I wanted. I took some courses, and I studied a little bit. I did all types of stuff, but the main thing that got me there was putting in a lot of work, and making a lot of terrible music before I made good music.
The terrible music clears the way for the good music, right? Exactly. After a few years of making pretty terrible music, I figured out I was actually getting pretty good. My music wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but it was almost there. I feel like people talk about the whole 10,000 hours of putting work into a specific task. I think that is true with playing, writing, and producing music. When I was coming up, I didn’t have Splice or all the features of the modern DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). I feel like I put in way more than 10,000 hours to get good at music production. As a creative and a music artist, it actually took me a really long time to find a genre or soundscape that I liked for my own music, and wanted to be affiliated with. I spent years making tons of different music, hip-hop beats, R&B beats, deep house, EDM, dubstep, whatever, and that experimenting really got me to where I am today.
Would you tell young producers to listen to and make a range of music until they find out what they really click with? Or in the case of Melodics users, try out a range of lessons from different genres? Yes. That is one of the main pieces of advice I give people when they ask me how I got to where I am. I tell them to listen to a lot of different music and try to create a lot of different music. Don’t try to keep your eye on a specific genre or sound at first. A lot of people make that mistake at the start; they decide they want to be a dubstep producer only and only produce dubstep from the get-go. I think that is a very big mistake to make when you’re starting out.
You can hear the influence of listening to, and producing different types of music in your work.
It’s kinda natural. Genres have always had the tendency to merge at some point. Maybe it’s all just a natural part of the process, especially with the digital age of music production we’re in right now. With things like Melodics and Splice, it’s never been easier for people to merge genres the way they want to.
2018 is coming to a close, and it’s very much been a rollercoaster of a year. But before we can get off the ride, we’ve got to get through Christmas first. If you’re stuck for a bit of last minute gift shopping and are struggling to think of what to buy for that electronic music playing or producing obsessed person (or people!) in your life, we’ve got you well and truly covered. Check below for a few quick and easy gift suggestions. Whether they’re just starting out and want to give this thing a crack, have been playing around for a bit, or are well in truly deep inside this thing we call music, we’ve got ideas for you of things they’ll love.
One of the best things about Melodics is combining the sound of electronic music with the tactile qualities of played live music. How better to really sink into this intersection than with the right controller? Music technology company ROLI has really come to the party in this regard with their ROLI Beatmaker Kit. Comprised of two compact physical controller units, the light pad block and the loop block, the kit gives the user access to hundreds of expressive sounds to play around with on the controllers, a copy of Ableton Live Lite to make basic recordings in, and a six-month Melodics subscription to help them hone those finger drumming chops. Once they tether it to their laptop, they’re away.
If you’re looking for a robust controller, perhaps one that evokes the feeling of tapping out ten hit combos on arcade and video games during your childhood (or maybe you’re an adult that still does), DJ Tech Tools’ Midi Fighter 3D controller is the present they’re going to love. Built like a tank, with 16 high-performance Japanese buttons, the controller is fully colour configurable and has total motion on all three axes. It’s a grunty Melodics compatible workhorse and comes with a promo code for 30 free finger drumming lessons. The Midi Fighter 3D is on discount for the rest of the year, order one before this Wednesday to guarantee Christmas delivery. Ableton, Serato and Traktor users will love it as well.
If the producer in your life is a Native Instruments user (Battery, Maschine, Massive, Monark, Reaktor Prism), they might appreciate a fresh set of loops, drum samples, and synths. Native Instruments recently dropped an expansion pack called Midnight Sunset, which explores the drum machine funk that was crucial to 80s boogie, p-funk, synth-pop, and 90s West Coast rap. We’re talking about a sonic palette that connects Shalamar, Prince, Rick James, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre, and that’s before even getting into the contemporary boogie revival. Gift them some iconic sounds to get playing with. They’ll be getting more bounce to the ounce.
Do you know what else the producer (or producers!) in your life needs? Even more royalty-free samples to use when they’re making beats. Splice is a cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform that integrates with most digital audio workstations and offers you automated online backup and a bunch of other bells and whistles. Splice has a subscription service called Splice Sounds, which gives users access to over two million samples, loops, FX, and presets, as well as exclusive artist packs. Slip a note with the promo code 2FREE18 in with their presents, and if they’re signing up as a new user, they’ll score two months of free access.
Whether you’ve got someone in your life who is interested in dipping their toes into electronic music playing, and production, or a special someone, family member, or friend who is all in, but would like to be able to practice more, Melodics™ Gift card is the perfect Christmas present. Ranging through 3, 6, 9, and 12-month subscription options, the card provides to the recipient with access to over 400 lessons across genres, and if they don’t have a MIDI keyboard, controller, or electronic drum kit, they can still use their computer keyboard. Learning has never been this fun. Whether you’re looking to learn how to play calypso, trap, juke, future RnB, hip-hop, house, or disco, there are lessons for you.
Gretchen King has been singing and writing songs since she was a child. Along her musical journey, she’s spent time in church choirs and musical theatre groups, sang with Jerome Dillon (of Nine Inch Nails) as Nearly, and fronted Ohio rock band Phantods. These days, she divides her music time between several projects: writing electropop songs with her close collaborator Chris as Kabiria, jingles and voiceover work, and writing, recording, producing and mixing her debut solo album.
Gretchen keeps herself match fit by practicing with Melodics, and recently achieved a landmark 300-day streak. She was introduced to our software by Chris, who suggested it might help her sharpen her skills. Once she started using it daily, Gretchen realised she’d found an easy and enjoyable way to practice and improve her skills. As she puts it, “Five minutes a day is completely manageable.” Below, Gretchen discusses the journey to hitting the 300-day mark and going beyond.
Congratulations on your 300-day streak! Tell us about it?
Thanks! I was able to lock into a daily routine right away because Chris was using Melodics as well [and] we had a slight competitive edge going. We would remind each other… and check in to see how our progress was going. Initially, I had a great streak going. One night at midnight, I realised that I had forgotten to practice that day. I was so bummed that I didn’t practice for a month! Then I realized that while a streak is amazing, it’s more about putting in the work and enjoying the process. I quickly got back on track again.
Do you have any advice for users looking to lock in like this?
My advice to someone looking to practice regularly is to set reminders in your phone and try to practice at a time that can be consistent. If the hour you get home in the evenings always varies, then practice first thing in the morning. Record your practices and take some notes on how you feel about it. Ask yourself questions about the process of learning and mastering the lessons. There is always a pattern there. Recognizing your learning style and the patterns with it helps to relieve the pressure that comes with learning something new. Occasionally revisit those videos and even go back to try previous lessons. You’ll find that the lessons you struggled with early on will eventually be a piece of cake.
At what point did you realize that this streak was going to keep going for a while, and how did you feel?
By the time I reached 100, I had started cheering myself on every couple of days… It became a habit, like brushing your teeth. It’s something I do in my daily routine. Since it’s only five minutes a day, there really is no excuse. I’ve done Melodics in hotels, airports, even recently while riding in a moving truck! To be on a streak that is nearing an entire year feels really good. I’ve prioritized something that is important to me: improving my music skills so that I can express myself better creatively.
Once you were in a daily pattern, what sort of benefits did you start seeing?
The biggest benefit I’ve seen is the realization that small steps taken every day will get you to where you want to go. I’ve never actually seen something like this in a way that I was able to recognize it as it’s happening. I used to try to take giant leaps, and I’d get frustrated and worn out, eventually giving up. Recognizing that there is a different approach to learning that is actually easier and more enjoyable has changed my overall mood. I feel more relaxed and put less pressure on myself while feeling more certain that I will reach my end goal.
How has your use of Melodics changed over the course of this run?
Melodics has really helped me understand the process of learning. Now I have a clearer understanding of how I learn. It’s always the same no matter what level I am on. When I start to get it, I will do great, and then after a few minutes, it’s like my hands don’t remember how to work! It’s as though I’ve fatigued myself. That’s when I know to move on to another lesson or call it quits for the day. I used to get frustrated, but then I’d notice that the very next day it was as though something happened overnight. The next day, I understood the lesson and could do it with ease. You’ve got to get past those moments of frustration to move into the moments where it clicks.
I always go a little over the 5 min mark. When I’m really enjoying myself, I allow myself to keep going for as long as I want. On days I’m not into it, I get only the daily goal completed, and I don’t beat myself up over how badly the practice went. I know I will feel different again soon enough. There’s no need to build any sort of negative association with it.
Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Stefanie’s musical practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Find out more about Stefanie’s live performance and finger drumming here, this time we talked to her about her background in turntablism, songwriting and production, and the power of practice. How were you introduced to turntablism, and how did you develop your skills there? My introduction to turntablism came in 1995. A friend came over to my house, and he had a copy of the DMC World Finals on VHS tape! That was the year that Roc Raida was representing the USA in the battle. My mind was totally blown by scratching and beat juggling. I thought to myself, “One day I’m going to learn how to do that.” Flash forward to 2004. I moved to LA, and my roommate was a DJ. He had a setup in the house, and he knew that I’d been a dancer all my life—tap, jazz, break dancing, etc. He was like, “You have good rhythm, I bet you’d pick up DJing really quickly.” He taught me the basics, and I was hooked. Scratching was my favorite element of DJing. I bought Q-Bert’s DIY Skratching Vol. 1 DVD, and I spent countless hours learning how to cut. I think what I loved about scratching is that it’s so percussive. As a dancer, my favorite style was tap. And obviously, tap is also very percussive. You create intricate rhythms with the taps on your shoes. Basically, it’s foot drumming. So that’s one reason I was really drawn to scratching. I really enjoyed tapping out percussive rhythms with my right hand on the crossfader and using my left hand to manipulate the record. After honing your craft as a turntablist, you developed your skills as a songwriter and a producer, which led you to finger drumming. Could you talk about this journey? I’m a nerd at heart, and I love learning. When I get interested in something, I naturally gravitate toward classes. So when I decided to learn music production, I started taking private lessons with a producer in San Francisco. But I also wanted to improve my songwriting skills, so I worked with a piano teacher for a little while to learn music theory. As a bass player, I never had to play chords, so harmony was new to me. I also took a few music production courses online. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for experimentation. It’s an important part of any creative endeavor, but I also think the right teacher or the right course can really accelerate the learning process. In our last interview, we talked about your new performance video for Ableton. How much practice do you put into your live performance routines? It’s a pretty ridiculous amount of practice. After I come up with a routine, I have to memorize all the parts and get them up to tempo. If the drum pattern is fast or complicated, it could take a few days before I’m finger drumming at the target BPM. After I’ve got the whole thing memorized, I have to practice it over and over until I can perform the routine without making any mistakes. Obviously, the more complicated the performance, the longer the process takes. With the “Keep It Real” routine for Ableton, it took three weeks of practice – maybe a couple of hours a day – to get to the point where I could execute it perfectly every time. But that was on top of the hours it took to create the song, figure out how to adapt it to a live context and memorize the parts. All in all, I probably worked on that routine for five weeks. And it was only a 2-minute performance! Do you have any advice for people who’d like to create their own performance routines? For people who are looking to explore hybrid performances of any kind, I guess my advice would be to start small. My first routine was “Cutthroat,” where I used Push to finger drum a beat on-the-fly, and then I scratched vocals on top of the beat. The Ableton project only had two tracks: a MIDI track for the drum rack and an audio track for the scratching. That was the first phase of my exploration, and gradually I learned how to incorporate other elements. My Ableton project for the “Keep It Real” routine has eight tracks, and I use all of them in 2 minutes. I also added a MIDI foot controller for that performance, so it was way more complicated than “Cutthroat.” But starting with a simple setup helped me wrap my head around all the possibilities offered by a hybrid performance.
“That song sounds so familiar, I’m trying to think what it reminds me of….”
Chances are it’s another song with the same chord progression. There are certain progressions that have been used over and over again in popular music. In this post, we will look at a few examples of the most common chord progressions and the corresponding lessons from the Common Chord Progressions course in Melodics for Keys.
What is a chord progression?
A chord progression is the sequence that chords are played in. Sometimes pop songs will use only one chord progression that repeats for the entire song. This can be as simple as three or four chords. The chords to many of the most popular songs of all time are no more complex than the examples in the Common Chord Progressions course.
Throughout the history of Pop music, a number of especially popular and common chord progressions have appeared, and even if you might not have realised it yet, you probably know dozens of songs that use the same sequence of chords.
Each of these progressions has a name written in Roman numerals. A brief explanation about what these mean is provided at the bottom of this post. This is not essential knowledge but rather included for those who are interested in reading further.
Listen to the preview from the Melodics lesson Celebration Time. Sound familiar? This chord progression has strong associations with positive, high energy music.
There are endless examples of this chord progression stretching right back into classical music, but its usage in Pop music is heavily rooted in Blues and Rock & Roll. Listen to this classic example: Wild Thing by The Troggs.
In the lesson Celebration Time, this progression is in the key of C, so the chords are:
Another immensely popular chord progression, but this time in a minor key. This automatically brings about associations with heavier or deeper themes. On that note, listen to Rolling in the Deep by Adele and compare it with the lesson Reflections.
The lesson Reflections is in the key of A minor, therefore the chords are:
A MinorG MajorF MajorG Major
Here are a few examples of the same chord progression in other eras and styles:
Perhaps the quintessential Pop music chord progression, this chord progression belongs to so many different sentiments, but at its core lies the same four chords. This famous video from comedy group Axis of Awesome addresses how broadly this progression is used:
In the lesson Always & Forever, we return to the key of C Major, meaning that the chords are:
C MajorG MajorA MinorF Major
By now you are probably noticing that the same chords are recurring in slightly different orders for each chord progression. If you try playing one chord over and over, you’ll notice that it doesn’t seem to express much. Yet the motion created when we arrange a few chords creates a whole range of possibilities.
It could be said that this progression has strong associations with sentimentality, and here are a few examples that reflect that. See if you can think of others.
When dealing with themes that are more intense, melancholic or brooding, a classic technique is to use a chord progression that ‘rises’ into a minor chord. This gives a feeling of resolution, but the resolution is serious and intense.
The lesson here is riffing on a classic example of this progression, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.
In the lesson, we are in the key of A Minor again. The chords are:
F MajorG MajorA Minor(A Minor)
There are numerous other examples of this chord progression, sometimes with the last chord substituted for another VI or VII chord. Here are some other examples:
This chord progression is essentially the mirror of chord progression 2 (Reflections), with the crucial difference being that it is in a minor key. This means that although it has a ‘happy’ moment when it reaches the third chord, it continues to resolve back to a more melancholic home chord.
A classic example of this chord progression is the song Zombie by the Cranberries, in which the chord progression repeats without variation underneath the whole song.
In the lesson Familiar Faces, we are in the key of A Minor, so the chords are:
A MinorF MajorC MajorG Major
Another classic example of this chord progression can be found in the chorus of the song Hello by Adele.
The final chord progression in this course is a little different to the others. It is not often used as a chord progression to underpin an entire song, but rather as a short section to end or resolve others.
This chord progression and its many variants are a significant feature in Jazz and are heavily utilised in the music of the Beatles. Listen to the first four chords of the song Into the Great Wide Open by Tom Petty and compare it to the lesson.
You might have noticed that the name of the chord progression is much more confusing than the others too. Worry not! Further information on this can be found at the end of this post.
In Treading on Heels, we are in the key of C Minor and use these chords.
C MinorC Minor/BC Minor/BbC Minor/A
Notice that every chord is actually a variant of C Minor, only the note written after the ‘/’ is changing.
Here are a few more examples, some using slightly different variations, and usually only in certain sections of the song. Challenge your ears and see if you can figure out where this progression appears in each song.
Loss Ageless – St Vincent
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
I See Monsters – Ryan Adams
Further information regarding the use of Roman numerals
The numerals correspond to the root note of the chord in relation to the key. For example, in the key of C, we would have:
If the numeral is upper case (I) it is a major chord, if it’s lower case (i) then it is minor. So the chords for C Major are:
C MajorD MinorE MinorF MajorG MajorA MinorB Mino
Applying this system to the key of A Minor, we have:
A MinorB MinorC MajorD MinorE MinorF MajorG Majo
Notice that the chords are identical in C Major and A Minor but appear in a different order and have different numerals. This is because these two keys use the exact same notes but have a different home chord. They are known as relative keys.
The reason we name the progressions as with roman numerals is because even if a song was in G Major, it could be using the exact same chord progression as a key in C Major. Here is an example:
In C:C MajorF MajorG MajorF Major
In G:G MajorC MajorD MajorC Major
This means that if we know the numeral names, we could play the same chord progression in any key, and you’ll find that many of the songs in this post aren’t just in C Major or A Minor, yet the sound of the progression is the same.
In regard to the last lesson, we have some chords that use a ‘/’. In theory, this is simple; if a chord has a ‘/’ in it, the numeral on the left is the chord played and the numeral on the right is the root note played underneath it. We call these slash chords or compound chords. When the notes played underneath do not come from the key of the song, we can alter the numeral with a sharp (#) or flat (b) symbol.
So if we have:
A MinorA Minor/GA Minor/F
Then adding an extra passing note before the G would give us:
A MinorA Minor/G#A Minor/GA Minor/F
ii/#VIIi/VIIi/VI If you are interested in learning more about music theory, a good place to start is the Melodics Music Theory course, and you can also read on here: link
In an interview with Dean Brown, he broke down his fundamentals of musicianship to three key points.
While these aspects overlap by nature and are blurry by definition, let’s look at some basic exercises and ideas to help build each of these cornerstones.
For clarity’s sake, we’ll say ears refers to both being able to learn music increasingly quickly and accurately by ear, and maybe even more importantly, the ability to listen and respond to others while playing.
Lexicon refers to your vocabularies, plural. Rhythmic vocabulary, melodic vocabulary, harmonic vocabulary, and maybe most importantly song vocabulary. For a working musician, especially playing jazz or doing covers, this might mean knowing how to play a lot of songs. I am more generally referring to familiarity with songs though. Being familiar with a lot of songs means that you have listened to a lot of music. This is obviously pretty crucial if you want to be a good musician. These days, personally, having familiarity with tunes is what makes them hard or easy to learn and to remember. There are tunes I’ve played before, maybe more than once which I would struggle to tell you any changes to. Because I never really got familiar with the song, I just read the chords or the part. It’s also what make strange parts or structures in songs no longer strange. It’s also easy to see how the osmosis of a lot of music will inform what you play.
Technique is the most self-explanatory. Technical proficiency. Can you play this fast passage? Can you play these complicated chord changes in time? Can you play in time Full stop? If we get a bit deeper, can you match the tone of this song (ears figures in here too, and perhaps also lexicon in recognising different effects or eq settings)? Can you match the FEEL of a groove? Can you perform under pressure or on big stages? While I do not believe there is any particular hierarchy with these 3 fundamental elements, technique is probably the easiest and fastest to recognise in a player.
Here are 3 additional musical fundamentals to consider. Two of these were drilled into me when I was learning guitar, but they translate 100% to every instrument including the voice. Time and Tone. The further you look into it, the more symbiotic these concepts become. Your tone influences your time, your time makes your tone work. Any great player will have abundant levels of both. You could call your time feel technique, you could call your tonetechnique and ears. The Third one is Taste. This is the subjective part of music no-one can really decide for you but yourself. However, your lexicon is probably the most influential outside informer of this.
Obviously this is a simplified view. Music is bottomless and so are the concepts and approaches within it. It is important to remember that it’s the fundamentals which will make you a good player. You can play the most complicated stuff in the world, and without them, it’ll never sound right. With them, you can play the simplest nursery rhyme and it will be good music.
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 Music. You’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:
Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Since 2016, she’s run the Sequence One music production school with her business partner Lenny Kiser. As a music maker and performer, Stefanie’s personal practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Below, Stefanie talks about putting together the routine, and how Melodics helped her developed her finger drumming skills. She also explains her thoughts on turntables in the digital production era.
Let’s talk about your new performance video. In it, you combine Ableton Push and a turntable to create a blend of real-time sampling, beat-making, finger drumming, and scratching. What was it like putting them together?
It was a learning experience. Everyone’s workflow is different, but for me, the song idea comes first. Then I figure out how I’ll adapt it for a live performance. Which parts will I play on the controller? Which parts will I play on the turntable? How will I transition between them? You’re going to run into limitations in terms of what’s possible to play live, so the original song idea inevitably evolves as it gets adapted for the stage. It’s a fun problem-solving exercise. I always learn new tricks in Ableton every time I work on a routine.
Your video included some excellent finger drumming. How did you develop your skill set from DJing to include beat production and live electronic music performance?
For me, production and finger drumming evolved simultaneously. As soon as I started making beats, I ran across YouTube videos from artists like Jeremy Ellis and AraabMusik. I knew that I wanted to learn finger drumming right away. It reminded me of turntablism: it’s tactile, fun, rhythmic, and it requires skill and technical mastery. At that time, though, there really weren’t any good resources for learning finger drumming. I found a couple of YouTube tutorials and learned how to play very rudimentary hip-hop beats, but it was hard to progress any further. Then in late 2015, the Ableton newsletter landed in my inbox, and it had an announcement about Melodics. I signed up immediately!
How did using Melodics change things for you? Melodics was a game changer for me. After a couple of weeks of daily practice, I was able to play the ‘Amen Brother’ breakbeat. I was so excited. As a crate digger who loves all the classic breaks, it was satisfying and motivating to learn that drum pattern. I just kept going from there, unlocking as many levels as I could. Last year, I made it to Level 18, but I’m stuck there because I’ve been working on other things. I wouldn’t have advanced to my current skill level without Melodics, so it’s still so crazy to me that my ‘Keep It Real’ lessons are available in the Melodics app. I also think that finger drumming made me a better producer, which is why I said the skills evolved simultaneously. With practice, my drum vocabulary expanded, and eventually, my patterns became more complex and interesting.
Before this interview, you told me that you view the turntable as a controller and as a tool in your production arsenal. Could you expand on your thinking here? The traditional view of a turntable is that it’s a record player. You don’t create anything with it; you use it to play someone else’s music. But for the turntablist, the turntable has always been an instrument. Here’s what I mean: With scratching, essentially you’re isolating and manipulating certain sounds. Most people associate scratching with vocals, but turntablists can scratch any musical material – drums, horns, strings, pads, chords, you name it. You can even use the turntable’s pitch control to transpose a sound while you’re scratching it. What other piece of hardware lets you isolate, manipulate, and transpose audio content? A sampler. That’s why I think of the turntable as a controller or instrument. It’s just another way to work with audio in a music production environment. For me, the real benefit of using a turntable is that it adds a unique element to my live performances, and it lets me combine my love of beat-making with my love of scratching.
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