Just for fun: chords in scales are numbered from bottom to top in Roman numerals. I feels like home base, V feels like wanting to go home. If you want to create the feeling of going home but then not really go there you can go from V to VI instead of I. 'Sad but I have closure'-type ending? Major IV - Minor IV - I. Bluesy feeling? Add a minor seventh to your I, IV and V chords. Dreamy? Major seventh instead there, except on the V.
It's even entirely possible to learn to recognize all of these types of chord progressions and sounds instantly. I'm working on and off on an ear training app that randomly generates them that musicians can use to train their musical ear.
Sounds interesting. Please do a "Show HN" post when your app is ready for it.
I'm also wondering if these chord progressions work the same way for all scales, or if, for example, the 'sad but I have closure'-type ending only sounds that way in major scales? From experimenting I think it only works for major scales, but I'm not sure :)
There are also desktop apps and DAWs that have chord intelligence built in (e.g. Cubase and Reason do).
Some people have a great ear for music and can write solid songs without formal training in music. Other folks come at music from the more theoretical side, although usually with a lot of implicit knowledge of and experience with music as well.
For most people who are not formally trained in music, their songs can be improved upon on a technical level by someone who has deeper theoretical knowledge (learned either explicitly or implicitly).
For a good discussion of this, check out Tim Ferris' podcast interview with Derek Sivers. Derek talked about how he had learned a lot about music implicitly. In one summer, a teacher of his formalized that knowledge so efficiently that he was able to test out of lot of classes (1.5 years worth?) once he went to Berklee School of Music.
Composers classically trained this way tend (!) to have an easier time writing melodies, harmonies, and progressions in a consistent manner, ie not having to wait for "inspiration to strike". The composer, of course, still needs to develop an emotional connection in the music, but the point is that it can, and routinely is, taught.
The most successful tunes I made were more or less "discovered" from incrementally experimenting in the DAW, and not from any kind of original plan or idea. Maybe I'm just not a musician! (I'm an indie game dev who started making my own tunes for my games)
Writers keep pens and notebooks by their bed so if they wake up in the middle of the night they can start writing right now. Or they have tape recorders. Anything works as long as it's immediately available. The iPhone has a "Music Memos" app, I'm sure there's something similar for Android. That's what I use.
Learning music theory and how to write music properly can come later. As long as you can sing, whistle, or hum a tune, you can record it.
From a remembering the tune perspective, I have the same issues, but I think it's more related to not applying musical lexicon and hearing skills the same way: you remember poetry or a paragraph of text because you remember the ideas and how to go from one to the other, if you are a musician and have something in your head and start thinking along the lines of "this is using a lydian mode, the progression is ii IV V I then it modulates to the relative minor and switches to dorian, also the theme is going down in thirds for two bars, then it will stay on the chord root for one and move to the dominant 7th" you are going to remember it a lot more easily than just by remembering the melody itself
It would be like comparing how easily you can remember poetry in English vs poetry in, say, Russian, where you only have the "sounds of the words" in your head to remember, but you don't have the syntax or the meanings to help you as well.
The first approach has a sense of creative wonder to it, where your being guided by an outsider. As much fun as that is, it is very limiting and I suspect most people abandon that approach as their skill improves.
Switching from a DAW to a mostly-hardware setup helped with this, as it's easier to "play" with knobs/sliders/keys/pads than virtual objects accessed via mouse/keyboard. Once you get things wired up, it's pretty straightforward: play around, find something you like, track it in, build more stuff over it.
Ever since making this switch, I found the parts that I used to practice/enjoy (like slicing and manipulating samples, for instance) feel much more tedious.
Another benefit is that it's easier to make mistakes, which often have more interesting results than the thing you originally intended. My guess is because this violates your internal "patterns" and forces you to think outside of your normal "music creation" schema, resulting in a more creative/unique outcome.
I've also tried to switch to "totally live" recording (i.e. minimal sequencing beyond loops and patterns, all automation and non-repeating parts done on the fly), and that's a bit more challenging, because you have to redo everything if you, say, screw up a little solo bit.
You can understand a musical idea as a kind of memory impression, an echo that you can play back in your head, and also as a pattern of pitches and rhythmic structures . Having two reference points , sensory and abstract mathematical is very useful.
That's where music theory pays off. Learning to name chords, scales and arpeggios gives your brain a framework to reason about and remember musical ideas. It allows you to break the music into a more concise abstract representation, rather than holding it in your head as sound. If you understand the structure of music, it's far easier to make connections between different pieces of music.
Do you have much formal knowledge of music theory? If not, that might help.
When you "get a tune in your head", if you can describe it to yourself in abstraction, it will probably be easier to remember (or even just write down).
Check on this page on 12 bar blues for some examples of easy music notations. Similar types of notations and/or terms exist for different parts of a song.
I'm starting to hit its limits for my workflow though. One of the really nice things about how easy it's getting to write software these days is that I can now fire up, say, a Swift playground, and after getting the fiddly basics of "how to record and loop audio buffers" with AudioKit, there are very few limits on what kind of idiosyncratic workflow tool I can design for myself. The UI looks and acts how I want it to, and since over the years I've trained myself to act like a human synthesizer, I can compose a whole song without even worrying about having an instrument nearby.
Loopy - Multitrack audio looping with very simple and expressive control https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/loopy/id300257824?mt=8
The "can" is theoretical. This is my next big hobby project, and I'm still in the fiddly phase.
If I have the beginnings of a song in my head, or I have been humming to myself, sometimes I just record the parts I have as vocals - humming or full-on beatboxing the bass/strings/lead/beats separately and as close as I can make them to my head-song (including filters with my mouth)- and then replace as I go, figuring out how to achieve the sounds that were in my head.
She hates music theory and trying to use her left brain for art. I'll say oh that is in F and she gets mad so, easier to just let her record it than try to notate it down.
I believe the same is true with song writing, in a sense. You're still applying some parts of music theory, but most by-ear learners like ourselves simply grasp the concepts and have internalized them naturally, without needing to be taught. Music is little more than patterns at the end of the day, and our brains are very good at recognizing patterns. What you and I know intuitively, others can learn through training and repetition. Both approaches are valid, and yield interesting (and often different) observations.
I went going through Music Theory classes during my brief adventure with Liberal Arts Majors in college. I felt like I already "knew" the material in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on. It was like I was finally understanding what my brain had been doing all these years. I recommend it if you haven't yet had the experience.
People have studied music and composition since at least ancient Babylon, so, well, yes?
>I always thought it was just some natural ability that people have.
With natural ability you can sing some melodies. For learning to play an instrument, adding chords to the melody, you need studying, even if you learn by yourself and by ear (as many folk musicians did). Song melody, one can have a natural feel for creating, but nobody just starts writing songs in full form "from natural ability".
>For as long I can remember if somebody told me to write a song I would just spit it out after a while.
What would that mean? You'd write a song on the guitar for example? If so, then you already know the chords. And not all of the theory, so how complex is your song? Just barebones songwriting (country/folk style)? Can you take it further? Can you write the parts for musicians to play on your song? Can you write different genres on spec?
There are more things in making music/songs than "spitting out" some melody.
That doesn't mean that those subjects aren't covered in detail in textbooks and university courses, or that people cannot learn how to do it.
There are other people who can't make heads or tails out of a keyboard, compose a tune in their head, or understand chordal progressions, but nevertheless compose music in layers and still do extraordinary work. They find what they like by playing with notes on the screen. Joel Zimmerman, a.k.a. Deadmau5, is an example of this.
I am an example of the former, with natural ability, bolstered by training in music theory. But I still use a layered approach when I am composing, generally starting with a beat or bassline, playing with melodic progressions in snippets, and eventually moving into a traditional composition process when I have something started that I like. Ableton makes this process extremely easy and productive.
But I think melodically and tend to do a lot of counterpoint. Getting the chords out of my head and onto the screen is often the last thing I do. I don't know how well his approach would work with counterpoint, since counterpoint often creates and resolves dissonance using passing tones in double time.