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Plethora

Can I make my own music?

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To be more precise, can I make worthwhile game music considering I have never played an instrument in my life, haven't the slightest idea how to read music, etc, etc.? Originally I wouldn't have even considered it, but lately the idea has popped into my head based on the fact that I am no artist, but with significant time and effort I've created original artwork (in the form of sprites) for my first full game and am rather pleased with the results (many of the sprites are of a non-trivial size as well, just for the record). But I've done some googling and searching here, and it seems that there is not nearly the support in the form of tutorials and what not for novice music makers than I was able to find when I was starting out with my artwork. So is the music end of things that much harder? Should I really not even try and just try to find stuff on the web?

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You could check out ModPlug which is what's known as a tracker. Basically you give it a bunch of samples and you can tell it to play those samples and various pitches and various times, thus creating music :). I didn't find it too hard to work out, but then I can play an instrument and was familiar with various other music programs before I used it. Google for 'ModPlug tutorial' or something and see what you can find (you could try 'tracker tutorial' as well, no reason you must use ModPlug).

Fruity Loops is another option, it's definetely something a non-musical person could get into and make half decent sounding stuff quickly.

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Coming from someone who has been studying music for a long time:

Can you make music with a bit of training? Yes. There are a lot of programs out there, trackers, loopers, etc. that will allow you to make music. But you will ultimately be using a lot of other people's work, and you will lose most of your options and creative choices. This isn't at all a bad thing, not everyone can learn to make excellent music (most of us can't even make half-decent stuff), but I would recommend learning the basics first.
Sheet music can be intimidating, but it really isn't very hard to understand. But the real stuff that you need to get into if you want to create your own, really good music, is the theory. Learn your scales, learn how to construct chords, learn the modes of the scales, and best of all, learn an instrument when you do it. I recommend guitar, since it's easy to buy a cheap one, it's easy to find tutorials on how to play, and you will get a lot of exposure to blending chords with melody. There are about a zillion forums teaching you all the theory that you could ever hope to know relating to guitar, and it will give you a good foundation on which to develop some musical skills.
Plus, as my roommate says, "The chicks dig it."

Good luck and have fun in the world of music.
Hope that helps
Brian

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I agree with much of what shou4577 said. I've also studied music for a while, though I've never gotten to a high enough skill level to call myself a Musician. Anyone can download some music software and play around with it long enough to make something. But as he said, most of us can't make decent stuff. It gets a lot better once you start to understand the theory (or systems) of music.

So it really depends on what you want. Just some background music to fill the void? Download one of the above-mentioned programs and get cracking! Or do you want to learn to actually create quality music? If so, you need to get access to an instrument and start studying. If you can get to a piano easily I would suggest you start there. It's a really good instrument for learning basic theory.

I've been playing piano (poorly) for many years now. I've learned some things about scales, chords, major and minor keys, etc. Now I'm starting to get into guitar and learning about chord progressions and harmonics. So if you want to take the time to learn music, that's a good way to do it. Start with either piano or guitar, depending on your interests and what's available.

As a side note, even though I suck at playing, music has been an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding hobby. I recommend it to anyone.

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I would say if you're not interested in really getting into music making as its own activity, you can actually really just learn a bare minimum of things and get cozy with one particular program (I would suggest getting one with VST support, which includes 90% of the sequencers out there, including Fruity Loops). This is someone who has also never learned an instrument, never really found enjoyable music until he was 17, never took a music class (Well, okay, an art/music history class, but that doesn't count), and is probably partially tone deaf.

The most critical thing for me was learning scales, or at the very least, the intervals between notes in major and minor keys. Scales are a set of notes in each octave which, when you only play those notes in a piece of music, will make everything sound harmonious and 'right' (Musicians can give you a much more technical reason here... I remember seeing a class presentation where a guy compared waveforms of various chords, tonal and atonal, to figure out if there's a scientific reason why they are harmonious or not). C major is a key that is already laid out for you on a keyboard: it's all the white keys. I learned a minor key (I actually don't even know the root!) and just use that if I want the song in minor key. If I think a tune doesn't sound cool enough, I select all the notes and move them uniformly up or down a few notes. This will keep the major/minor intervals between notes, so everything will be in key, but it will sound different. I know you can switch keys in a song and still sound good, but I don't know the real rules for that and it's best to just stick to one key for an entire song for now. The critical part here, especially if you're like me and can't easily figure it out by just listening, is that everything sounds harmonious. Knowing scales is how you can do this without resorting to trial-and-error.

Also, learn the sorts of instruments you'd want to use. I like techno and make techno (and some pseudo-classical for fantasy games) so I stick to common 'instruments' in techo: drums, bassline, pads, lead. It would also be worthwhile to learn what some common effects do: reverb, compressor, chorus/flanger, EQ (if you consider it an effect). I make a rule of putting an EQ on every instrument, so I can enhance the particular part of that instrument which I think sounds cool, and which will fit into the frequency 'spectrum' of the song where no other insturments, or only one other (complimentary) instrument overlaps. Instruments might sound weak or washed-out if they aren't given their own frequency space.

Probably because I know hardly anything about music, I spend a humongous amount of time tweaking synths/samplers and stacking effects on them, but to make decent music (and decent video game music, at that) doesn't necessarily require that. If you are fine making retro-sounding music that sounds like it comes from a Nintendo or C64, you can just grab some samples or grab a free synth / VST which emulates this sort of sound (I'm sorry, but I forget the exact names of the free VSTs which emulate these particular game systems).

You can also skip this process entirely if all you want is decent-sounding music and you don't care about how much control you have over it. A loop-oriented program like ACID, along with a library of loops, will let you create a song in the space of several minutes. It's really a cop-out, but if you don't care about how much you can express then it's a good solution.

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