A listing of random software, tips, tweaks, hacks, and tutorials I made for Ubuntu

Creating an orchestral track under Ubuntu – Part 4: Designing the track

Part 5: Upcoming

This is by far the hardest/most time consuming part of creating, well, any kind of track (okay, almost any kind…). So without further ado, let’s dive into it! Oh yeah, quick note, I have next to no knowledge whatsoever in music theory, so if I use the wrong terms and such, please forgive me! The advice I’m giving here is mostly from my own observation of “epic” orchestral/soundtracky tracks I’ve listened to, so, well, don’t expect a perfect guide here :P

The first part you should always start with is to figure out the big picture of the track… or, if you want, the “outline”. The most common outlines (that I observed) would be:

  1. ABA – Two sections, A, and B. You should be able to tell where you run the sections from the name XD . This is the one I used in Muffin Factory (though the last A section was very short).
  2. Theme, slowly “crescendoing” to the climax? – Not sure how to call this, but AFAIK, this technique is probably the most used by Clint Mansell (the musician who made the Requiem for a Dream theme). Or rather, Mansell uses it in nearly all of his soundtracks lol. This technique, as you can probably tell, is very powerful when used well (and when you have the appropriate breaks, because if it simply crecendoes without any kind of break, it becomes extremely boring).
  3. AB – Two sections, A being the intro, and B being the actual track itself. This is probably the most standard one used

Okay, let’s assume we have an outline now. So now we have to get a musical seed/theme (though for some, it may be better to do this before figuring out the outline). Since this tutorial is for creating “epic” orchestral tracks (i.e. more like battle scene-type stuff than emotional or classical stuff), I will only focus on a couple. I know that my suggestions are not too helpful, but this is because seeds are the most subjective parts of creating a track. It’s very hard to create guidelines for seeds.

  1. Battle theme. The musical seed should be short, suspenseful, and should NOT be in major. This will repeat a lot, with variations, so make sure that it’s not ultra complex either (in “epic” orchestral music, simplicity is key). Remember that what makes a battle theme “epic” is almost always the percussion element, so the seed is less important than the percussion itself.
  2. Victory battle theme. This is NOT a victory theme, this is a victory battle theme. The difference, put in movie terms, is that a victory theme is AFTER the battle, and a victory battle theme is IN the battle, but the good guys are obviously going  to win (Listen to “I am the Doctor” to see what I mean). Okay, enough talk. Basically, this is usually in the major key (but can be in the minor key if you know what you’re doing), and short (but it doesn’t have to be as short as a pure battle theme). It doesn’t have to be too suspenseful either (for rather obvious reasons). Also, though percussion is still very important here, it’s much less of a key element than in a battle theme, so do spend more time making sure the theme is good.
  3. Theme song. This is my favourite, as you’re really not limited to anything! This can be almost literally whatever you want (FINE, I take that back, you’re NOT allowed to use a happy hardcore melody … geesh). So no guidelines here, just what you think is best for the theme you’re trying to make (e.g. don’t use a major key on a dark theme XD). Actually, I’ll take that back too… there is still one guideline: Don’t make it complex. Adding complexity to it will really degrade the quality of the theme itself, and will stop you from being able to further develop it throughout the track.

Bingo, we now have our musical seed! Or at least, we should have a seed. Now time to figure out the accompaniment! These are the basically the elements you may want to have for the accompaniment:

  • Driver. No idea what’s the correct term for this, but I like to call it a driver, because it drives the track forwards (and, of course, lets you plug in your graphics card as well!). This is usually done in percussion:But it can also be done harmonically (sorry, the sound isn’t too good on this one):
    When done in either (percussive or melodic), it can’t be too interesting or complex, but at the same time, it can’t be too repetitive or boring. Remember, the point is to drive the track forward, and not to direct attention to it (if it’s too interesting/complex, or repetitive/boring, it’ll drive attention to it, and away from the track itself)
  • Basslines. Seriously, this is not only for rock tracks! Use cellos, violas, and basses for this (octaves are very useful when you need to make it “bigger” too).
  • Counter melody. I haven’t really experimented myself in this section, but from what I noticed, it’s very useful for transitions or fillers. I generally shy away from it, due to it sometimes making the melodic part of the track more complicated than necessary (and trust me, you don’t want that in “epic” tracks, it pretty much removes everything that’s “epic” about the track), but it can be useful when used well.
  • Choir. You won’t always want to have this, but if you use it well, it can add a lot to the track. If you don’t use it well (like I did :( ), it’ll make the track sound cheesy. The creation of the choir part is similar to basslines, except that you specify it in chords, not in octaves or single notes (usually).
  • Percussion. Yes, I did talk about this under “Driver”, and it should usually stay there, but sometimes the need for percussion is elevated (e.g. a battle theme), and then percussion becomes as much (if not more) of a key element than the melodic seed itself. So then, it has to try to attract attention to it (as compared to it being a driver, where it tries to attract attention away).

Great! Now that we have all of that sorted out, it’s time to work on the track itself :D

Notice that I didn’t go into any kind of detailed explanation about how you must develop it. That’s for later, for now we just have to “design” the track, not implement it. Put in programming terms, what we’re doing is this: “I’ll make a calculator written in C++, using Qt, and will use standard menubars, and standard buttons for each of the mathematical operators”, NOT this: “I’ll have a file menu, with Save and Quit, an Edit menu containing Cut, Copy, Paste, and Preferences, (insert more talk about menus here), the buttons will be arranged in a grid layout (more talk about layouts), (etc…)”.

P.S. Sorry for posting this so late, I’ve had personal issues lately that kind of made it harder for me to write this.

Part 5: Upcoming

8 responses to “Creating an orchestral track under Ubuntu – Part 4: Designing the track

  1. Pingback: Creating an orchestral track under Ubuntu – Part 3: Setting up your orchestra | lkubuntu

  2. J.C. January 8, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I’m waiting part number five so bad… Would you finish this tutorial soon? I mean, maybe you got bored of it…
    See ya! And thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Anonymous Meerkat January 8, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Ohh, I’m sorry, I didn’t finish it because I thought nobody wanted it XD

      Ok, I’ll get to work on it ASAP =)

  3. J.C. January 8, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Oh… great! Actually, I translated it to spanish and I was planning to use LMMS in some class I teach about fundaments of composition… quite alternative, and I liked your tutorial.

    • Anonymous Meerkat January 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Oh I see, that’s awesome!!

      I’m actually going to make a redux of it instead of making the 5th part, as since I’ve improved a lot, I realized that most of what I had written is actually not true (or, at least, very incomplete). I’ll really try to finish the redux though =)

    • Anonymous Meerkat January 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

      done! ^^

  4. J.C. January 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Do you know if is there any way to listen the fonts without having to test all of them one after the other one with LMMS? Actually, I’m stuck with percussion, with are the most difficult ones for me. It’s kinda difficult to get used to the thing of “one rolling (dunno if this is the correct word) timpani is not the same that a normal timpano” :P

    • Anonymous Meerkat January 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Umm, no, not that I’m aware of … though you could try to create a midi loop, and change the soundfont each time it plays…

      Oh do you mean like a drum roll on a timpani?

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