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Trapper Zoid

Review my first pieces of music (now also in MP3!)

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At long last, I've decided to post up a couple of my first pieces of music for review. I'd been meaning to post something up a while ago, but I must have forgot. I'd be happy for any advice on how to improve either on these pieces in particular, or my music writing in general. Here's two of the tracks that I'm reasonably happy with. Note that these aren't for a particular game, just general "gamey" music that I've been working on to learn how to write music. For these pieces I'm pretending I'm writing them for a console-styled RPG. Both of these are in Ogg Vorbis format. The originals are in S3M format created with ModPlug Tracker, but I thought Ogg might be more accessable to everyone. I reduced the quality to 22KHz as the file sizes are fairly large otherwise. I've also had to zip them, as native Ogg files are not allowed in my webspace here. My Beloved Peasant Village (5:27, 3.9Mb) The Crystal Caverns (2:39, 1.7Mb) Now also available as MP3s! My Beloved Peasant Village (MP3) (5:27, 4.99Mb) The Crystal Caverns (MP3) (2:39, 2.43Mb) (Copyright 2005 by David Shaw, a.k.a. "Trapper Zoid") Note if you are viewing this ages after I first posted this; due to the large size of these music pieces and the limited amount of web space, it is possible I may have taken these tracks down in order to free some space.
My Beloved Peasant Village is my first finished piece of music, which I finished a few weeks ago but had nowhere to post it then. I might have got a bit carried away by making it so long. As you might guess from the title, this is intended for an RPG village. My main concern with this piece is that I've been told that the melody (particuarly the bit in the middle) is extremely like the tune from a 60s or 70s ballad, but no-one can give me the title, so it's really starting to bug me. I'm hoping it's just a passing similarity, since I was going for a bit of a "ballad" style anyway. The Crystal Caverns is another game themed piece, which (as you might guess) is for caves. I guess I just wanted to do a piece with lots of xylophones. This one is still a bit unfinished, but it's not too bad as it is at the moment. This one is meant to loop in S3M format after the intro. So tell me what you think, and feel free to offer me any tips on how to become a better composer! [Edited by - Trapper Zoid on October 10, 2005 6:16:59 PM]

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In order to get MP3s and OGGs on your gamdev webspace, open up with a FTP client members.gamdev.net with your username and password; from there you can load anyfile you wish onto your account.

Village:I like the music. And I wouldn't worry about having the melody sound similar to some ballad somewhere. The only thing that I didn't like was the sleigh bell(?) in the background… but thats just me. I really like the harmony. It did sound pretty similar all the way through, which might be something that your looking for, but I found almost annoying by the end of it. I also didn't like at the very end when it had that last low note. It sounded too low for me.

Caves: The beginning really reminds me of dropping water in a cave, and when the xylophones come in with the actual melody it was really nice. Overall a very nice piece.

I like your style a lot. Really does have that great video game music feel to it. One thing you might want to look into is better samples. I'm not sure how the ModPlug Tracker works, but some better synths would put this over the top.

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Quote:
Original post by H_o_p_sI like your style a lot. Really does have that great video game music feel to it. One thing you might want to look into is better samples. I'm not sure how the ModPlug Tracker works, but some better synths would put this over the top.


Thanks! I'm not sure about the best way of getting better samples. At the moment I'm just using wave files that I've sampled from my electronic keyboard, since that's all I've got. Since I'll probably end up building my own MOD player to get some interactivity in my game music I thought I should stick to a simple file format and sampling system for now. It also doesn't help that I've got a crappy motherboard based sound card at the moment, and my headphones are now both cheap and busted (they vibrate on heavy bass, very irritating). I'll need some better equipment, I think.

I'll listen to the percussion (and those sleigh bells) again; it might just be the downgrade to 22KHz killed that effect; I thought it sounded okay in high-quality. Thanks again!

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I liked your music in general, and also felt it had a nice 'game' feel to it. It seemed to provide nice backing, and didn't have any 'crazy' sections that killed the immersion, a common mistake for beginners. I think for a first attempt, your tunes are excellent.

There's certainly room to improve on the samples you're using, but I've heard a lot worse. The main criticism I have is that your tunes sound a little bit too 'samey', partly because of sample choice. I really liked the repeated backing line in Crystal Caverns (that plays right at the beginning of the song), but felt that the sample you used for the tune sounded a bit too similar (both being xylophones or whatever), and it starts to grate after listening to it a couple of time. I'd stick with the xylophone for the backing, but migrate the tune to maybe a flute/woodwind effect to give the sound a little more variety.

The peasent village track was much better in this respect, but some of the samples let it down a little, particularly the backing drums/bells, which totally lacked bass/resolution, and sounded a bit like a Soundblaster 16 trying to play Midi :) I felt there was possibly room for a little more interaction between the various melody parts, a few baroque type runs or interleavings wouldn't go amiss, or some different harmonies, it seemed to concentrate on 5ths a bit too heavily.

All in all though, great job. I think you have a good compositional talent, and with a little tweaking/practice will produce some top class game music.

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Hrm, firstly, same comments as the others on the samples; they could be a bit better, but they aren't overly bad.

The Crystal Caverns:
I like how you've established a basic structure at the start and kept it going throughout the piece, it seems to set the feel nicely. It seems to be a very happy little piece, so I hope you weren't aiming for gloomy caves or anything. [wink] I also think it could benefit from a broader range of instrumentation; some kind of woodwind, or perhaps strings or harp could potentially go nicely with this piece and give it a bit of variation. Towards the end it was starting to get a bit grating and repetative, which might annoy players of a potential game if you didn't provide some variance, especially since you mentioned the piece was designed to loop.

My Beloved Peasant Village:
Very good for a first complete composition, it's got some variance to it, a good range of instrumentation that works well together, and seems to carry a nice theme throughout. Again, I think it could be really helped by some higher quality samples, but you've done a good job with what you've got. The piece does seem like it would fit nicely as village music in an oldschool RPG, so well done capturing that feel. As for it sounding like a 60s-70s ballad, I'd say rather than it sounding like a specific one it's just that the style is very ballady, which is probably why noone can name a specific tune.

Neither piece really went over the top at any point, which is generally a good thing in games, although the village piece did get pretty busy at about 3:30, and the instrument that took over the lead (is that supposed to be a saxaphone?) seemed like it might be a little harsh. Once again, this is something that higher quality samples would probably help, you've done well with what you've got.

Things to try:
- Experiment with greater use of dynamics (volume).
Try out the effects you can get by using greater ranges of volume throughout a piece. Loud and soft sections can be used to set different moods, and you can also use things such as swells, crescendos (increases in volume) and decrescendos (decreases in volume; fades) to give a piece more feeling. Abruptly changing volume can also have a striking effect when used correctly.

- Key changes.
For longer pieces and/or pieces which need to capture more than one mood, you may like to experiment a bit with changing the key of the piece. This isn't something you need to worry about a lot, but it can be a very useful way to vary a piece and possibly introduce a different mood. You could also try having a small 'bridge' section in a song, different from the rest, but still fitting in.

- Tempo (speed) changes.
Again, not something you really need to worry about, but something that can have very dramatic (or calming) effects if used correctly, sometimes it can be good to vary the tempo of a piece. This could be through the use of sections of the simply being at different tempos, or from dynamically changing it - such as having an accelerando, where a section of the piece steadily increases speed. Also keep in mind that instrumental solos will often be played somewhat freely, and may include some unusual timing. Be careful with this one though, you can easily wreck a good piece by messing with the tempo.

Umm, yeah, so that's my feedback, hope it's of some help to you. Very good for a beginner and with limited equipment, keep up the great work. [smile]

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lol

The peasant village theme just made me smile. :) I am impressed that you know nothing about music and yet you can crank this darn good piece out, which obviously follows many rules of harmony. Did you write this by ear or by notation?

It does sound good, but there IS something familiar about it. It follows a very tried and true set of chord changes...It can be labeled "Ballad-y" hehe, and there's nothing wrong with that, but just make sure that you are not directly stealing from any pre-existing piece of music. Anyways, your piece is good musically. Keep going.

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Thanks for all the feedback so far!

Quote:
Original post by Psychor
There's certainly room to improve on the samples you're using, but I've heard a lot worse. The main criticism I have is that your tunes sound a little bit too 'samey', partly because of sample choice. I really liked the repeated backing line in Crystal Caverns (that plays right at the beginning of the song), but felt that the sample you used for the tune sounded a bit too similar (both being xylophones or whatever), and it starts to grate after listening to it a couple of time. I'd stick with the xylophone for the backing, but migrate the tune to maybe a flute/woodwind effect to give the sound a little more variety.


Yes, I thought there was something "missing" from the Crystal Caverns piece. Maybe I'll try switching one of the tunes to a flute and see how it sounds. There's about three or four different xylophone samples in there, but they do tend to sound the same.

Quote:
The peasent village track was much better in this respect, but some of the samples let it down a little, particularly the backing drums/bells, which totally lacked bass/resolution, and sounded a bit like a Soundblaster 16 trying to play Midi :) I felt there was possibly room for a little more interaction between the various melody parts, a few baroque type runs or interleavings wouldn't go amiss, or some different harmonies, it seemed to concentrate on 5ths a bit too heavily.


Unfortunately, my drum sample selection is pretty weak; as you've said, they sound a lot like a MIDI drum track, possibly because they come from my electric keyboard. I still haven't got the hang of percussion yet, which is a problem in the next couple of pieces that I'm working on (an RPG fight tune and a "hero theme", both need drums).

By focusing on fifths, do you mean power chords, or jumping fifth intervals (i.e. do-so-do-so etc.)? I'm still a little bit hazy on some of the music terminology.

Quote:
Original quote from Kazgoroth
Neither piece really went over the top at any point, which is generally a good thing in games, although the village piece did get pretty busy at about 3:30, and the instrument that took over the lead (is that supposed to be a saxaphone?) seemed like it might be a little harsh. Once again, this is something that higher quality samples would probably help, you've done well with what you've got.

Yes, that's a saxophone, and I do think that that part would be a bit over the top for a game. The bit just before that (with the flute, and without quite as much percussion) was the original 48 bars in the piece, but I got a bit carried away [smile]. If this was for an RPG village in a game, I'd probably leave the saxophone part for special occasions, such as festivals or the like.

By the way, how do I get my hands on some better samples? That's a common suggestion, but I'm not sure on the best place to look.

Quote:
Original post by Kazgoroth
Things to try:
- Experiment with greater use of dynamics (volume).

Yes, I'm working on this one in the "battle theme". The original "My Beloved Peasant Village" doesn't really have any dynamic changes (as this was the first piece), and the "Crystal Caverns" is really just about simulating echo effects (since S3M doesn't allow the use of SFX patches). The battle theme (that I'm having a lot of trouble finishing) needs to use a lot of dynamics though, so I'll use that as a chance to play around with crescendos and the like.

Quote:
- Key changes.

How well do key changes work with loops? Surely you'd need a really long piece? However, I like to experiment so I'll see what this does.

A bridge is just a rare additional segment of music that's significantly different from the other parts, right? At the moment, my pieces are all based on repeating blocks of 16 bars (i.e., My Beloved Peasant Village is "A A B A A B" etc.).

Quote:
- Tempo (speed) changes.

I'm not sure how well tempo changes go with looping and games, though. I'm probably going to try and tie the music into the gameplay (by using interactivity somehow), and tempo changes might make this really tricky. But it's something to think about. Thanks!

Quote:
Original quote by Rain 7
The peasant village theme just made me smile. :) I am impressed that you know nothing about music and yet you can crank this darn good piece out, which obviously follows many rules of harmony. Did you write this by ear or by notation?

It does sound good, but there IS something familiar about it. It follows a very tried and true set of chord changes...It can be labeled "Ballad-y" hehe, and there's nothing wrong with that, but just make sure that you are not directly stealing from any pre-existing piece of music. Anyways, your piece is good musically. Keep going.


To be fair, while I know only a little about music composition, I did play trombone in the school orchestra and a jazz band for a few years, so I do know a bit about music.

The way I've found it best to compose (for me), is to quickly iterate between trying to come up with an appropriate melody (by humming the tune or playing around on a keyboard or both) and deriving appropriate chords. I think with "My Beloved Peasant Village" I just took a really standard chord set (I think it's entirely based on I, IV, V and vi chords, except for the saxophone at the end which mutates those into sevenths and ninths). This might be why it sounds so "ballady"; the basic chord set is exactly the same as a simple ballad (I think I took the chords from "The Complete Idiots Guide to Music Theory"). The tune isn't directly taken from anything, but since each individual instrument's tune is so simple I'm afraid I subconsciously took it from something. Since I'm not really planning on using any of these in a real game it's not a problem for this particular pieces, but it's something I need to look out for in the future.

As for when I'm going to put the music into ModPlug Tracker, I guess it's both by ear and notation. I write the lead melody down on paper when playing around on the keyboard, and crunch that into the software. Then for the countermelody and backing, I just think "there needs to be something that goes like this", tap out a rhythm on the desk, get a general feel of the notes required from the chord structure, and type them in. Seems to work okay for now.

Quote:
Original quote by ArgleBargle
You need to offer those as mp3s!

There's nothing that plays OGGs on this computer.


I'll see what I can find. Since a hard drive crash a month ago wiped my extensive collection of little utilties, the tools I've got at the moment can only convert to Ogg (as there's no patent problems, I guess). I'll see if I can find an MP3 converter that doesn't screw up the music.

Thanks for all the tips! I'm trying to do too much at once learning art, music, design and revising my programming all at the same time, but sometime soonish I'll post a couple more RPG themed pieces up for further comments. This is really helpful.

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@H_o_p_s

Audacity requires the Lame encoder to export to MP3s and furthermore I know from other threads that he's already using Audacity.

@Trapper Zoid

The Peasant Village sounds like a rock music rhythm. Maybe it should cut out some of the downbeats and percussion and just ride with the winds.

BTW: Open ModPlug Tracker can natively export to MP3 also. But I don't know if it requires the Lame encoder to do it like Audacity does.

@ArgleBargle

WinAmp plays .ogg files just fine.

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Quote:
Original post by samuraicrowAudacity requires the Lame encoder to export to MP3s and furthermore I know from other threads that he's already using Audacity.


Wow, that's a pretty good memory for details! I'm actually using Audacity to make the Oggs, but I didn't have the Lame encoder. I thought Ogg was reasonably well accepted these days, so it was a suitable replacement, but I think Windows Media Player might have a problem with them (although I could be wrong; I'm using Linux at the moment so it's a bit too difficult to check right now).

I think my version of ModPlug Tracker can also export to MP3, but they sound horrible.

Quote:
The Peasant Village sounds like a rock music rhythm. Maybe it should cut out some of the downbeats and percussion and just ride with the winds.


Does it? I kind of like the downbeats myself. The percussion does need work, however.

Thanks for all the tips, everyone. I might try and clean these up a bit, but since I'm probably not going to be using them in my games (at least not yet [smile]), and I'm pressed for development time as it is, I might just take notes on these for the future and try working on some slightly different pieces. I need to start thinking of some arcadey space shooter themes for my present project.

However, judging from your responses, I need to work on my percussion, and I need some good samples. Where is the best place to look for good samples, or can anyone offer me some tips on how I can make my own samples better?

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For those of you who had trouble reading Ogg Vorbis, I've put some MP3 versions up too. Sorry for the delay; it took me a while to find a suitable converter (finally found out that the Lame library used in Winamp also works in Audacity, so I had the right tools all along!)

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Not bad for a first attempt. Not bad at all!

I was expecting something a little darker and more atmospheric with a title like "Crystal Caverns", but the happy vibe was kind of cute. I think you carried out the ideas for too long without any kind of substantial change... you basically rehash the same riff throughout the whole piece. Maybe you could add some a middle section that has nothing to do with the rest of the piece... maybe some kind of atmospheric deal to add contrast. Then after you resume the main part of the piece, you could change the key or something.

"My Beloved Peasant Village" has sort of a pastoral feel, pretty cool. But the I have to agree with whoever said it before me... the rhythms feel a bit too "rock-oriented." Programming drums and percussion can be challeging... try to listen to stuff you're trying to imitate and analyze it carefully.

Sounds aren't great, but they don't sound GM quality either, so... ;)

Keep it up, and you'll get better with each new piece of music you write!

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Thanks Arglebargle. I'll try some of those ideas out in some new pieces. I've always found it difficult to think of good ways to pace out the main tune, and to combine different sections together, so I'll try some atmospheric bits or key changes, or maybe mixing the intensity of the arrangements from section to section.

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Don't worry man, the more you write, the better sense of pace and flow you develop. What seems natural to me now wouldn't have occured to me a year or two ago. It's all about developing your composition vocabulary.

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