Remixing Chords

Recently my students have been remixing chords in Soundtrap. In this Sound Advice for Soundtrap blog I want to share with you some simple tips to get your students creating their own track. Like all good projects, it is always good to start with something physical like keyboards or guitars. Then use listening to build understanding, before moving to technology to build on this. Chords can be approach with singing, and progressions can be discovered through listening. The inter-related dimensions of music are all in action in this project.

Start with Midi

Last term we were learning all about chords and progressions. We started on guitars and then looked at what chords look like when notated. We considered how chord progressions haven’t changed much over the years and looked at some common progressions. We looked at four chord progressions, 12 bar blues and then more advanced progressions. This led us to the progression used by Pachelbel in his famous “Canon in D”.

Pachelbel Canon in D – a visual representation of a piano performance of Canon in D Major.

I really like this video as it is visual and engaging for students. You can also point out the different melodic and harmonic patterns. There are so many opportunities for listening and it is important that students hear chords in different settings.

Once we had listened to this we then put the chords into some notation software. This allowed students to see how the chord progression worked. I always want my student to understand the music, and sometimes creating will help them. This is in essence composition, but just a short 8 bar composition that involves a chord progression.

We then exported the chords as MIDI ready to work in Soundtrap. You may be using Noteflight or Flat.io, if so, both will export MIDI directly to Soundtrap. I have provided the MIDI file below in case it is useful to open up directly.

Chord Progression in Soundtrap

When you launch Soundtrap you are able to import a MIDI file quickly and easily by clicking “Import File”.

Click on Import File and then navigate to the download MIDI file

It really is as simple as that, and you can see below my studio open with a piano track that has the 8 bar progression from Pachelbel Canon in D Major. We can now start to remix these chords and create our own arrangement. Remixing chords is all about choosing instruments, extracting the bass-line and adding a drum track.

This shows the 8 bars of Pachelbel Chords in Soundtrap. This is a MIDI file and can be easily edited and manipulated.

Students may want to swap the piano for a synth or maybe even an electric guitar. Because we are working with MIDI, they can change to any instrument they wish.

Sharing the Bass

The chords that were created using notation software used both the treble and bass clef. This created a fairly standard piano accompaniment. But we want to remix these chords and learn more about manipulating music. The first thing we can do is share the bass line with a bass instrument. There are several, well in-fact dozens, of different bass instruments within Soundtrap. Students can listen to each bass and decide which one they want to use. Make sure they don’t spent too long auditioning sounds as they can always change it later.

Once a bass has been added, we need to edit the piano to extract the bass line and add it to the bass instrument. This is quick and easy to do in Soundtrap, and students will learn a little about the process of editing MIDI within a DAW. Double clicking on the chords will open the piano roll in the bottom half of the screen.

Double clicking on a region will open the Piano Roll. Here we can edit the MIDI.

We can now highlight the bass line and cut it from the piano. We now move to the bass and create a new region that is 8 bars long. Paste the bassline to the bass and it will automatically appear. This will leave the piano with the treble clef chords and the bass with a bassline.

The bass line has been selected and is ready to be cut from the piano and pasted onto the bass

Once the bass-line is pasted onto the bass track, you can edit it, changing note lengths and even adding passing notes.

Chords on Piano and bass-line on bass synth

Piano Roll Editing

Editing notes on the piano roll is easy within Soundtrap and it will give students a chance to rework the chord pattern and bass-line rhythm. The chords in the MIDI file above are such that there are four in each bar. It might be that students want the chords to be on minims to create a different groove. Double clicking on the piano will open the Piano Roll and the chords can then be edited. Make sure that when you are selecting notes or chords in the piano roll that you use the arrow and not the pencil. With the pencil selected you will end up adding notes. Of course you may like to add notes to the chords, or change the inversions. This can all be done in the Piano Roll.

Remixing chords using the Piano Roll

The bass-line rhythm can also be changed and this will start to give the chords a different feel. This project is all about remixing the chords. Changing the rhythms, inversions and bass-line will all be part of the remixing process.

Adding a Beat

Adding a beat to these chords couldn’t be easier. I have previously blogged on how to create a beat in Soundtrap, so please do refer to that blog. Students will now see their project taking shape and soon they will be ready for melody. In my next blog I will look at how students can create a melody to go with the chords.

Structure and Progressions

Pachelbel of course repeated these chords over and over and gradually layered melodies on top. This might be an option for students, or they might like to create their own chord progression. This is easy to do, but firstly they will need to chop the 8 bar region into individual segments. This will allow them to then copy and paste individual chords and make a new progression.

Chopping up the 8 bar region is quick and easy to do in Soundtrap. Firstly, move the purple play line to the end of bar one. With the piano and bass selected, right click and select “Split Region”. There is of course a shortcut for this and you will gradually learn these.

It is quick and easy to chop up regions to create one bar regions. These can then be used to form new progressions

This will chop the first bar from the other seven, and this process can then be repeated until you have 8 individual chord regions. In the image below you can also see that I have added a simple rhythm to help bring the chords to life.

8 individual chord regions that can then be copied and pasted to create a new chord progression

As an extension task, students could create a Ternary Form structure. This would mean creating a different progression for the b-Section using the chords from the a-section. Here is an example of this and you can see the Ternary structure instantly.

Ternary Form structure in Soundtrap – remixing chords to create new progressions

Remixing Chords

This process has given students an insight into how to create and remix a common chord progression. They started with notation, and then moved to MIDI. This MIDI has been manipulated in Soundtrap and a bass-line and drum part have been added. From here, students can take the chords and create a new progression. By splitting the 8 bar chord progression into one bar regions, students have the chords ready to copy and paste.

In my next blog I will look at how students can start to add melody, starting with improvising ideas on screen in Soundtrap. And if you have students who are struggling, then don’t forget you can share files with them in Soundtrap. Sometimes we need to scaffold the work to allow students to access the project. You can also share the MIDI file with your students if you want to cut out the notation software section.

Join me in the next blog where I will be looking at adding Melody in Soundtrap.

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