Composition and Arrangement Tutorials for producers
Welcome to our music theory section, designed to help DAW-based music producers learn composition and arrangement techniques.
This page covers essential music theory concepts with tutorials from functional harmony to bass patterns, and advanced rhythmic concepts like dotted bass lines, syncopation, and polyrhythms. Master arrangement techniques like Turnarounds and Automation. Everything music theory for a DAW.
Our guides will give you both Audio and Visual examples to walk you through each production step of music creation. Giving you new ideas and techniques to test and try.
I have included help from respected producers and my favorite YouTube educators to demonstrate the ideas. You will find Drum and Bass tutorials from Stranjah and Techno Concepts from Oscar from Underdog Music School. Regardless of your musical preference, our tutorials provide versatile insights across multiple genres. From getting to grips with the basics to more advanced concepts, we're here to help with your DAW-based compositions.
Composition and Arrangement Tutorials
Music theory is the study of the elements of music and how they relate to each other. It includes topics such as scales, keys, intervals, chords, rhythm, melody, and harmony. Music theory is the foundation of musical composition.
This page is an overview of music production techniques, while we will touch upon the techniques and explain the terminology, please see the individual tutorials for more detailed information, examples, and exercises.
Please see our individual featured tutorials for more composition and arrangement details and examples
|Music Theory||Beginner||This music theory tutorial covers intervals, chords, scales, keys, modes, chord progressions, and more.|
|Turnarounds & Cadences||Intermediate||This tutorial explains turnarounds and cadences, demonstrating how they are used in songs to transition between sections.|
|Functional-Harmony||Beginner||Learn how chord progressions work, looking at common chord progressions, intervals, and tension and release.|
|Dotted Basslines||Intermediate||A tutorial on creating dotted basslines, an essential technique for funk, disco, and other groove-based genres.|
|Syncopated Drums||Intermediate||This tutorial looks at syncopated drum patterns, teaching how to program drums that are offset from the main beat.|
|Polyrhythms||Advanced||Learn how polyrhythms work, with examples of how to program and perform polyrhythms.|
Is Music Theory Important?
Music theory is crucial for musicians and producers, it provides communication of composition, improvisation, and performance. It offers rules and direction for creating harmonious and well-structured music. While some excel without knowing music theory, not knowing it will be their biggest obstacle to efficient progression.
Basics of Music Theory
This Music theory page will cover the following topics:
- Scales and keys
Scales and keys
A scale is a set of notes arranged in ascending or descending order with a specific pattern of intervals between them. The key of a piece of music is the scale that it is based on. This means that the majority of the notes in the piece will come from that scale. There are many different scales, but some of the most common are the major scale and the minor scale. The major scale is a bright and happy-sounding scale, while the minor scale is darker and more melancholic.
To understand how scales work, it is important to understand the concept of intervals;
What is an interval?
An interval is the distance between two notes. Intervals are measured in semitones, which are the smallest unit of musical pitch on traditional Western instruments. They are used to create melodies, harmonies, and chords.
The major scale is made up of seven notes, with a pattern of whole steps and half steps between them. A whole step is equal to two semitones, and a half step is equal to one semitone.
The pattern of whole steps and half steps in the major scale is as follows: Whole step - Whole step - Half step - Whole step - Whole step - Whole step - Half step
The minor scale is also made up of seven notes, but there are two different types of minor scales: the natural minor scale and the harmonic minor scale. The natural minor scale has a darker sound than the major scale, but it can also sound a bit unfinished. The harmonic minor scale is brighter than the natural minor scale, and it has a more resolved sound.
The pattern of whole steps and half steps in the natural minor scale is as follows Whole step - Half step - Whole step - Whole step - Half step - Whole step + half step
The pattern of intervals in the harmonic minor scale is as follows:
Whole step - Half step - Augmented second (three semitones) - Whole step - Half step - Whole step + half step
Tonic Chords and Root Notes
The tonic chord and root notes play crucial roles in defining the tonal structure of a piece. The tonic chord, derived from the first note of the scale (the root note), establishes the key of the composition, while the root notes provide the foundation for chord construction.
To identify the key of a piece of music, you can look at the chords that are used. If the majority of the chords in the song come from a particular scale, then that is the key of the piece. You can also look at the melody. The melody will often start and end on the root note.
The Root note in the key of C major would be C. The tonic chord will be the C major chord.
The Root note in the key of C minor would be C, The tonic Chord will be the C minor Chord.
The Root note in the key of G minor would be G, The tonic Chord will be the G minor Chord.
The melody is the lead part that catches our ear, often played by vocals, keyboards, or guitars. Melodies bring memorable hooks and musicality to a track. They are created by playing single notes in rhythmic succession, forming musical phrases and motifs.
Intervals determine whether the melody feels uplifting, melancholic, or somewhere in between. A well-crafted melody leverages a variety of intervals to create tension, release, and a sense of musical journey. Whether it's the leap of an octave for emphasis or the stepwise motion for fluidity, the thoughtful use of intervals is paramount in crafting melodies that resonate with listeners and convey a range of emotions.
What are Roman numerals in music theory?
Roman numerals in music theory provide a symbolic representation of chords within a particular key. They are a shorthand way of denoting the relationship between chords and the tonic (or root) of a musical piece.
This table illustrates the relationship between Roman numerals, their functional roles, and chord examples in three different major keys: C, D, and E.
As you can see,
The Roman numerals increase in ascending order, in line with an ascending note pattern (scale) starting on the letter of the chosen key.
in the key of C, C will is the tonic chord - I
in the key of E, then E will be the tonic chord - I
|Roman Numeral||Function||Key C||Key D||Key E|
|vii°||Leading tone (diminished)||Bdim||C#dim||D#dim|
Chord Progression Tips
A chord progression is a sequence of chords played in succession. Chord progressions provide a harmonic framework and can carry an emotional impact on music.
Here are some tips for writing solid chord progressions:
- Start with a simple chord progression. Loop two chords together and then expand the phrase as desired.
- Outline the key of your composition. Chords are derived from the scale of the key, so it is important to choose chords that are within the key.
More Advanced Chord Tips
- Experiment with chord substitutions. Chord substitutions are chords that have a similar function in a chord progression. For example, you can substitute a dominant chord for a subdominant chord, or vice versa.
- Arrange your chord voicings carefully. Chord voicings are the way that the notes of a chord are arranged. You can spread out the notes of a chord to create an open sound, or you can invert the chord to create a different journey.
- Expand your chord vocabulary. In addition to basic triads, you can also use seventh chords, ninth chords, and suspended chords to add color and complexity to your music.
- Voice lead smoothly. Voice leading is the process of connecting the notes of one chord to the notes of the next chord. By avoiding large leaps and awkward voice crossings, you can create smooth and flowing chord progressions. Planning your chord progressions and voicings carefully can give your music greater depth and complexity.
Common Chord Progressions
Some common chord progressions include:
- I - IV - V (major key)
- I - vi - IV - V (minor key)
- ii - V - I (jazz chord progression)
|Progression||Chords in C Major||Style|
|I - IV - V||C - F - G||Pop, Rock|
|I - vi - IV - V||C - Am - F - G||Pop, Folk|
|ii - V - I||Dm - G - C||Jazz, Blues|
|I - V - vi - IV||C - G - Am - F||Pop, Rock|
|vi - IV - I - V||Am - F - C - G||Pop, Ballad|
|I - iii - IV - V||C - Em - F - G||Pop, Rock|
|vi - ii - V - I||Am - Dm - G - C||Jazz|
|IV - V - vi - iii||F - G - Am - Em||Pop, Folk|
We have multiple tutorials to help you get started in music theory and composition. This includes how to construct chord progressions, how to write basslines, and how to keep the progression and melodies in key.
Foundations of Music Theory Tutorials
To learn more about the basics of music theory, constructing chord progression, using inversions, and working with Keys and scales, our Music theory for music production tutorial covers the foundations of Music Theory.
Music Theory for Ableton Live
Advanced musical theory concepts
What is Functional Harmony?
What is Negative Harmony?
Rhythm Theory for music production
What is syncopation?
- A dotted quarter note is equal to a quarter note plus an eighth note.
- A dotted eighth note is equal to an eighth note plus a sixteenth note.
- A dotted half note is equal to a half note plus a quarter note.
- A dotted whole note is equal to a whole note plus a half note.
Dotted Bassline Tutorial
What to expect
"Dotted Basslines" introduces the concept of using dotted notes to create groovy and funky rhythmical basslines in electronic dance music. A dotted note sustains half the time longer than its original length and is denoted by a dot in standard music notation. The tutorial explains examples of dotted notes, such as a Dotted Bar extending a whole note to 6 beats.
Oscar from Underdog demonstrates the application of dotted notes in creating rhythmic basslines, specifically in Ableton. The tutorial emphasizes that this knowledge can be transferred to any DAW utilizing a standard MIDI grid. While the focus is on basslines, the rhythmic technique can be applied to drums, percussion, and trance sequences.
The tutorial references Stranjah's use of dotted rhythms in drum and bass fundamental bassline patterns, showcasing the versatility of this technique across different genres. The overall aim is to add funk and fun to music by incorporating dotted notes in basslines and other rhythmic elements.
what is a polyrhythm?
A polyrhythm is a musical technique where multiple rhythms or time signatures coexist, creating intricate patterns and depth in the groove. To qualify as a polyrhythm, the rhythms must operate on different quantization grids where the sizes don't evenly divide into each other. For example, Triplet is commonly used as a 3;2 polyrhythm when played against a standard backbeat.
Polyrhythms can be challenging to master, but they are a powerful tool that can be used to create unique and interesting music. If you are new to polyrhythms, start by experimenting with simple rhythms. Once you have mastered the basics, you can start to experiment with more complex rhythms.
What to expect
"Polyrhythms - What? Why? When? How?" explores the concept of polyrhythms in music production. The author shares their personal experience with polyrhythms and mentions influential artists who incorporate them, such as Radiohead, Mars Volta, Aphex Twin, and Tool.
The tutorial clarifies the confusion around the terminology of polyrhythms and polymeters in electronic music production.
Polyrhythms: Multiple Rhythms in Harmony
Polyrhythms are the result of playing multiple rhythms simultaneously, creating a dynamic interplay of beats. This is particularly evident when combining odd and even numbers of beats. Common examples include 3:4, 5:4, and 7:4 polyrhythms.
Time Signatures: Polymeters
Time signatures dictate the number of beats in a bar, with familiar examples like 4/4 and 3/4. Polymeters, on the other hand, involve playing multiple time signatures together, creating a layered rhythmic structure. The tutorial emphasizes the use of standard quantization grids in polymeters and provides an arrangement example contrasting 4/4 and 5/4 patterns.
Euclidean patterns are rhythmic patterns evenly spaced within a bar or phrase. Their symmetry makes them particularly compatible with polymeters. A video tutorial is recommended for further exploration.
The tutorial encourages experimentation with polyrhythms and polymeters in music production, emphasizing their ability to add a unique and groovy element to compositions. A polyrhythm MIDI pack is also recommended for interested producers.
Polyrhythms and polymeters offer a rich tapestry of rhythmic possibilities in music production. By understanding their concepts and exploring their applications, producers can add depth and complexity to their creations.
I hope you enjoy learning about music theory for a DAW, as well as our selection of arrangement and composition tutorials. For other music production tutorials for information on mixing, mastering, Equipment, and Sound design.