GCSE A-Level Key Stage 3 Composition

Composing at Home 7

Composing at Home is fun, possible and highly worthwhile. In this series we have looked at various topics and I would encourage you to read the other blogs in this series. Starting with planning might be a good way for you or you might like to get tour instrument out and start creating.

In this Composing at Home blog we are going to be using the online Sound Studio Soundtrap. This “software” is all online and cloud based and it is great for collaborating. Music Educators can get an Education account and manage classes and groups. It is very similar to a number of other DAWs that you may have used, but it is all online. This makes it perfect for students who want to compose at home. It is even possible to create music on a phone – although not as easy obviously.

There are lots of things you can do in Soundtrap and I encourage all new users to explore the studio. Not only can you make great music, but you can also pull together a Podcast. Soundtrap includes a number of onboard loops and you can also input your own music. This can be done using instruments or MIDI, and you can even use your QWERTY keyboard to input notes.

Piano Roll Basics

I want us to focus on the Piano Roll. In Composing at Home 6 I looked at the idea of creating beats in Bandlab. This is possible in Soundtrap, but I thought I would start with something a little different. The Piano Roll looks like this:

Soundtrap Piano Roll Window
Soundtrap window with Piano Roll open

Here you can see that I have added a Grand Piano to my new track and then I have clicked on the Piano Roll tab. This can be located in the middle of the image above and it is purple.

A Piano Roll allows us to input notes using our mouse. As you can hopefully work out in the image above, I have inputted a C Major Scale. Start with something small like this to get used to the Piano Roll. You can make notes longer or shorter, and drag out or shorten notes. The Piano Roll is clearly broken down into bars and beats and there is a piano on the left to help you.

Once you have inputted something it will be added to your track and you can then press play and see what you have made. You can then try playing around with your scale, changing the notes values and even the rhythm. Have a look at what I have down with my descending C Major Scale:

Composing at Home - Soundtrap showing a descending C Major Scale
Descending C Major Scale now has shorter detached notes, 4 per bar rather than 1.

Playing around, if you can call it that, is a great way of learning the platform. But it is also a great way of discovering ideas along the way. You can also add chords to the piano roll or another line underneath or above your existing scale – why not explore texture:

Composing at Home - Exploring Texture in Soundtrap
Exploring Texture by adding layers in Soundtrap

Piano Roll Blues

Now that we have discovered how to input ideas into the Piano Roll lets start to create a structure that we can work with. I hate to dive straight into the 12 Bar Blues without any further explanation, but I am sure you can do some research. Why not have a listen to have Blues to get you in the mood before we start:

The aim for this 12 Bar Blues Project is to get to know Soundtrap and start to create something that we can then build upon in a number of ways.

Hopefully you have worked out that you can chords on the Piano Roll. We will work in C Major to keep things easy, but do explore other keys. We will therefore need the following chord structure:

Composing at Home - Basic 12 Bar Blues Structure
Basic 12 Bar Blues Structure

This Blues pattern is fairly standard and straight forward – please feel free to adapt & extend it.

I don’t want to give too much away as part of the process is discovering how to use Soundtrap and create this chord pattern. At this stage we are merely recreating a standard progression. The composition starts when we start to make our own musical decisions about the music and compose our own melodies.

Piano Roll Improvising

Once you have your 12 Bar Blues Chord progression you can then start to add some other layers. Adding a Bass-line would be a great place to start and then you can add some drums. Your Bass-Line might follow a walking bass structure or you could come up with your own ideas. For the Drum layer you might like to try record something in or you could use a pre-recorded loop. Improvising ideas around this chord progression is a great way to not only compose, but also discover the Blues in a practical way.

You might like to then use the Blues Scale to play in some melodies. You can use the QWERTY keyboard to play in ideas or if you do have a MIDI keyboard feel free to use that. The blues scale in C is as follows:

Composing at Home - C Blues Scale in Soundtrap
Can you work out the notes used to make this C Blues Scale?

Real Life Improvisation

The Beauty of creating this Chord Progression in Soundtrap is that you can then grab your instrument and improvise in “Real Life”. This will be great to get you playing and it will also help you to come up with brilliant ideas. Soudntrap is great because you can use the iOS/Android App to record in audio and then match this up with your computer generated backing. Bringing together Audio and Midi in this way will be really fun and exciting.

You can also collaborate with friends and share a track you have made with them for them to then record something over. Music making of this nature is exciting and rewarding.

More ideas for Soundtrap

I guess there is no end to what you can do in Soundtrap. It is a tool that you can use to create music in any style or genre. You can collaborate with friends online and you can combine audio that you play or sing in, with music created online.

Here are some more projects that you could try:

  • 4 Chord Song using I, V, vi, IV.
  • Ternary Form composition using Classical period instruments only.
  • Electronic Dance music that uses 3 chords only.
  • A pop song that only uses 2 chords – think Eleanor Rigby.
  • A Backing Track for a friend to write lyrics and melody over.

Plan some ideas and then see what you can do in Soundtrap. It is a great tool for Composing at Home and I hope that you find it useful. I have obviously not gone into details of the full functionality of the software, but there are videos, tutorials and lesson plans online. If you do have any questions or ideas then please do get in touch! I would be more than happy to help! Composing at Home really is more possible & exciting than ever!

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