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Hi, I'm trying to get my first midi track finished by the end of this year and was hoping to get some help here.
I'm pretty decent at coming up with a random short melody loop, but suck at writing progressions and giving a piece direction.
I have never managed to finish any piece I've started, but can come up with cute little melodies relatively easily.
My method of composing is just trial and error until I find something that works by accident, I get a sudden idea/inspiration or till I get too annoyed and decide to continue working on it some other time.

So here's the most advanced piece I've managed to come up with yet:
http://www.sendspace.com/file/bude19
It's written in Dmajor (I hope?) and so far there are no additional flats or sharps in the melody, that I normally love to put in, but here I'm afraid they might ruin the mood.
I'm very happy with the intro 0:00 - 0:10.
Then, there's the part A melody 0:10-0:26, which sounds very much like a cheerfulish busy town to me, but it gets annoying pretty quickly (maybe the harmonies aren't quite right?).
I try to lead out of it with the next part B 0:27-0:35. I think I got it to work quite OKish.
Then, there's a transitional part C that I still have to write. What's in now is just a placeholder. I'm having a very hard time finding something that fits in so far.
Then there's part D from 0:43-0:57 which has a more conscientious mood (is this in Bminor?). I thought the piece would become too monotoneous if I didn't have something like this in it. One thing I'm having lots of trouble with is the arpeggio at 0:52. I feel like something similar to this just belongs there, but it never ends up sounding quite right.
Next thing is part E 1:00-1:15 trying to relax the slight tension build up in D. It's relatively simple, but I think it's fine.
I need another sort of transition or another part here to lead into a variant of part A now. Had aboslutely no ideas yet.
Variant of part A from 1:18-1:33. I think it's ok.
From 1:33-1:49 there's an a bit whacky sounding trumpet part, but I think it goes well with the bass, so I kind of want to leave it in. Sounds a bit like becoming seasick on a boat, lol.

That's how far I've gotten, the rest is just trash/parts that I might or might not put in, among them part E with an added flute. It sounds nice to me, but I'm afraid it might be too many instruments playing at once, so it would maybe sound like crap if you listened to it for the first time. That's generally a thing I'm very afraid of. I have listened to this easily for a hundred times, but to a first time listener it might sound totally incoherent and random. On the other hand, I'm just not able to write anything at all wihtout listening to it a hundred times in the progress. Then again, I'm not managing to finish a piece this way either, so yea...

In any case, I'd be happy for any tips/links/critique at all. ^^
So far I've gotten some pretty harsh critique on this, but I want to finish it anyway.

Edit: Thanks for your advice, Nate. I can open the file with just three clicks from this thread, so I thought it wouldn't be too bad, but I guess you're right.

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Hey,

I would imagine you'll get far more listens if you link an audio capture of the MIDI file being played - preferably in MP3 format - instead of just supplying the raw MIDI file. It would also allow you to simply upload it to a site (perhaps your own FTP if you have one) and avoid forcing any potential listeners to go to a website where they're spammed about signing up and such. Good luck!

Edit: Hmmm, the website worked much better on the PC than it did my Mac. I agree with what Kryzon stated below. Pacing can be improved and aside from that using better samples instead of just raw MIDI patches will give your music more realism. I also felt the breaks or gaps really hurt the overall presentation of this piece but filling them in with connecting material to further enhance and support your melodies can really help strengthen the piece. Kryzon is also right - listen, listen, listen! Try listening to a piece that matches the basic goal you're going for in this piece and, on first listen just follow the overall sound of the song. Then on repeated listens hone in on certain parts, like for example just the low brass, for the entire listening session. Then listen to another section. If possible get a score of the piece you're studying. Doing this will really help give you more references of how other's have created good song structure. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks,

Nate

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Hi,
there are some things I liked in your track, namely the rich amount of detail, the way you introduce the bass and the modulation that occurs at 00:43.

However I do think this track needs a stronger presence of cadence. You should play more with the concept of periods (a collection of phrases that work to prepare a musical tension and release\resolve\conclude it).

A couple of things to do when out of ideas:
  • Research on reference material. What other songs fit the style you're trying to write? analyze their melodies, arrangements and chord progressions so that you can naturally use these elements when composing.
  • Take all the musical material you have written so far and structure it as best as you can, to find missing sections and what else needs to be written in order to have a complete piece.
    Good luck!

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Do you have any particular advice on what I should listen to in this case?
I can't think of any track that'd sound like the thing I'm trying to aim for with this.
Should I, f.e. to improve my part A and immediately following, be listening to pieces using quick pedal tones and see how they transition out of it? Like this one, even though it's a completely different mood?
I actually can't think of anything else I would listen to for inspiration at all now. Any pointers? Are there any classical pieces I could be listening to?
I have a library of video game music in impulse tracker format and scores from my favourite bands at my disposal, but I still can't think of anything that'd help me with this.
I am totally new to the concept of cadence, so thanks for that. I'll definitely read a bit into that now. ^^

Edit: So the problem with part A is that I always return to the tonal too quickly and don't build up enough tension? I could see that. Or is it that the tonal isn't present enough and that it should keep ringing through a whole bar? So does cadence just mean returning to the tonal or anything that relieves a build up tension? And another problem is that I reuse the same short progression too much in rapid succession?

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You can listen to anything you like, any kind of music that catches your attention, and search for the tabs\chords to try and play it yourself so you can assimilate it, and build kind of a "library of musical tools" that you can use whenever you find yourself lacking spice in a piece.
What I refer to cadence is really the concept of having the "motion" of your song (carried by both the chords and the melody) establish a tension, and then 'interestingly' resolve it.

You can hear it very clearly in this song (ignore the lyrics, focus on the chords and underlying melody):

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=kL1Jq6K4L7s

In this song, listen to...

Tension [00:25 ~ 00:41] -> Release [00:43]

Tension [01:08 ~ 01:27] -> Release [01:28] (Especially interesting bit since it uses a Modal Borrow at [01:17], which is a "major chord with seventh" instead of a minor for this 3rd degree. This gives it this 'up-lifting' feeling.)

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I already have lots of musical material at my disposal. I have bought scores to my favourite bands, looked at my favourite video game tracks, but I don't think it helped too much. Sure there were lots of "ohs" and "ahs" and I understand the music I like better now, but still, when attempting to write something, there are some parts that come perfectly natural and effortless, but then I'll quickly arrive at a dead end and have no clue how to continue. My main problem is structuring a piece. I have analyzed chord progressions and I can do some boring chorus into general verse transitions and back, but everything that'd be remotely interesting just takes lots of effort for me. Lots of trying and failing without ever getting anything done, so I'm slowly becoming kind of frustrated with it. Is it just lack of talent?

I understand the basics of building up tension and then releasing it in theory (I jjust didn't know it was called cadence before). I just seem to have trouble with how to apply it. I realize something isn't quite right with my piece, but I don't know what exactly or how exactly to fix it. You said it needs more cadence, but I can only guess what that means for my piece, even though I know what it means in general. I really want to avoid starting a new one now because that way I'll never get anything done.

Mostly I only briefly analyse the parts that catch my special interest in a song, out of curiousity. Maybe that's the wrong approach. Here is a song I used to like a few months ago of which I tried to analyse its chord progressions more deeply following a book I bought. Should I be doing more of those diagrams instead? I really hated drawing it, so that's the only whole song I've done one of these for so far. I think it has helped me to improve a bit, but it took me over a day to do it and I doubt anybody else has ever seriously done something like this for every song they like. Am I wrong? Should I be doing them until I can automatically hear and identify everything I'd otherwise only find out while drawing them?

Ah, I guess I just need to keep on trying and stop bothering you guys. ^^
Thanks

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My main problem is structuring a piece.


From listening to your music I felt the need for a more simplistic approach. If you listen to a wide range of music used in video games - much of it is pretty simplistic at it's core. Only the mood changes. Sure you can have epic, bombastic music but even that has a solid structure and core that allows for enough space when the dialog and sound design is added in. Many film scores take a similar approach. When I listened to your music yesterday it felt very busy... which may or may not work in some games. Also if you practice creating a solid, effective piece of music with just a few layers and get really comfortable with that - then you can start to add in more layers and still keep the structure sound.

Take for example my cue "Right Before Battle" http://soundcloud.co...t-before-battle - A few percussive elements, taikos, a few ethnic instruments that make shorter nuance-ish sounds, a drone and a wind instrument that provides some fragment of a melody. Plenty of space. I give one core idea and let it linger, building a mood.

Another cue is a bit more busy - http://soundcloud.co...me-theme-sample - this has a bit more instruments but everything has a purpose and the core idea takes it's time building up into the melody (after the climatic swell).

I'm far from perfect and am still working and learning this craft daily. I'm not trying to toot my own horn by sharing some of my examples with you. Your song starts off great - cute melody but then as the track goes on... to be honest you start to lose my attention. One thing I've learned from doing this is that we, as composers, tend to get bored with our own ideas too quickly. I think this is because we're in that room working hard at the song and hearing small chunks of it over and over and over. So the ideas quickly get stale and old to us - but the listener is hearing it for the first time! So don't be afraid to repeat the melody after the first statement and then build upon it.

My advice would be to take the intro section of this piece and see what you can accomplish with the least amount of layers. And consider adding in some light percussion which can help give the listener more anchors while listening. Aside from this, I'd highly recommend working with the production of your piece quite a bit more. Play with the tempo settings, velocities of various lines, experiment with automation and consider getting better samples instead of relying purely on MIDI sounds.


Ah, I guess I just need to keep on trying and stop bothering you guys. ^^


You're never a bother! This is what this forum is for!! :)

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[...] when attempting to write something, there are some parts that come perfectly natural and effortless, but then I'll quickly arrive at a dead end and have no clue how to continue. My main problem is structuring a piece. 

Perhaps you are overestimating this process: get all the sections you've written and arrange them in the order that you like more - it's your call on this one, and be proud that it is because it's your song after all, so give it your best.
- What sounds more like a chorus? this part you've written? then place it there. Work with what you have.
- What sounds more like an introduction? none of the sections you have? then you need to write an introduction. Handle it as a "to-do" list.

[...] Lots of trying and failing without ever getting anything done, so I'm slowly becoming kind of frustrated with it. Is it just lack of talent?
[/quote]
I don't think it's a matter of talent, just repertoire. 
You know what you should do? get yourself an Arranger Keyboard. This kind of equipment comes armed with lots of accompaniment styles so that you can simply form a chord (or inversion) with your left hand and it handles the accompaniment automatically; that is, it plays the bass, drum and other complementary voices. 
This way it'll be much easier for you to play a certain cheerful style like the one you're trying to achieve without actually spending time learning it beforehand. When you do find a style you like, study how the keyboard arranges it so you can reproduce it in a sequencer or studio. This way you have much more time to work on building more powerful melodies.

Should I be doing more of those diagrams instead? I really hated drawing it, so that's the only whole song I've done one of these for so far. I think it has helped me to improve a bit, but it took me over a day to do it and I doubt anybody else has ever seriously done something like this for every song they like.[/quote]
That's way more than I do! I wish I had the strength of will to go through every chord and write the spaghetti. I usually just look at the chords surrounding the special parts I like and then try to play them on different styles to see how they react - that's where an arranger keyboard also comes in handy.

I second NSMadsen's advice of simplism, especially if its overwhelming you to the point of not being able to make progress with your work. Can you imagine the NES had only 4 channels for music? that's just 4 different voices for any track, and yet artists still made sure to come up with classics

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Thanks guys.
I have started several other tracks that are less busy, but overall I do want to go more into the busy direction.
It's true that with this particular track, there isn't any space left for sound effects though. A bit over the top I guess. I hadn't even noticed that. ^^
Though on the other hand, I guess there won't be too many sound effects playing in a retro-game town anyway.
Since I'm aiming somewhat for a retro style (SNES/W95-area-ish), I figured I'd either go with xm/FT2 format or midi and decided midi would fit the general theme better.
Here's my best go at converting my demo to FT2 format, using the best software I could find.
Of course it sounds way worse now, so I think I should definitely finish this track in midi still, but I'll think about starting my next one in FT2 format.

I'm not too concerned with a track not sounding good on the first listen. In a game, the player is forced to listen to it for several times anyway, so it's not too much of a problem if it takes some getting used to. What must not happen under any circumstances is that it gets annoying when listening to it too often, and I guess that's something that's happening with the track at hand.

I don't even own a normal keyboard yet, lol. ^^
I've only ever learned to play the guitar/bass, and I'm self-taught at that too.
The way I'm composing tracks is by figuring out a general theme on the guitar (using a GR-20 guitar synthesizer if I feel like it), then do the whole rest on the computer.
I am currently saving money to buy a microKORG XL though.

Sometimes there are some good parts, where I just can't think of something to put before or after them and the really hard part is coming up with something anyway. I guess that only goes away with practice? But practice means starting a new piece again and I'm afraid, I'll never get anything done that way. Guess I just need some time. Hopefully it won't be too long.

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