Inventing a part of your own piece using sequencer software
In this exercise, students are invited to invent a part of an original piece while learning the basics of working with sequencer software. This assignment is suitable for use in all courses on structural awareness of music.
Goal and output
Learning to understand how chord harmonies connect with melody notes and bass notes.
Inventing part of an original piece using sequencer software.
STAGE 1: Inventing chords/harmonies
• Have the students invent a chord loop with 3 to 8 chords while sitting at the keyboard with headphones on. The only requirement is that the student must like it. When the chord loop is done, have the students write down the chords in musical notation and chord symbols.
• When the chord loop is finished and written down, enter it in the sequencer software using MIDI. Fill each measure with one chord in repeated quarter notes. The MIDI keyboard must be connected to the computer.
• Select a piano or other harmony instrument among the instruments in the sequencer software.
STAGE 2: Building the bass line
• Have the students invent a bass line to go with the chord progression they have invented.
• Students can have the sequencer software play back the chord loop repeatedly while finding a suitable bass line by ear.
• You can also have the students build the bass line by simply following the root or fifth of each chord. The third can also be used. Passing notes and other figures may be added. The goal is to create a bass line that the student thinks sounds nice.
• Select a bass sound among the instruments in the sequencer software.
STAGE 3: Selecting a drum loop
• Many sequencer programs contain numerous ready-made drum loops. Have the students listen to drum loops and select what they feel fits with the chord loop and bass line that they have created.
STAGE 4: Creating a melody
• Have the students create a melody to go over the chord loop, bass line and drum loop previously created. Have the students play back what they have created so far while figuring out what the melody should sound like.
• Tips for melodic invention: Begin the melody on one of the notes of the first chord. After that, or towards the end of the measure (before the next chord), let the melody 'wander' – improvise and figure out how to take the melody forward, using the keyboard. When the chord changes, start that measure on one of the notes of the new chord.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
MIDI keyboard, computer or tablet, headphones.
The excellent thing about this assignment is that it brings together music theory skills, composition and music technology in a single package.
New things learned about the sequencer software (GarageBand):
• creating new tracks
• Rec, Play and Stop buttons (+ keyboard shortcuts)
• adjusting tempo
• turning the metronome on/off
• turning the count-in on/off
• selecting/changing the instrument or sound source
• entering and adjusting notes in piano roll view
• adjusting notes in score view
• quantisation of notes or regions
• loading drum loops from the loop library
The desktop version of GarageBand has a score view window, but the tablet version does not.
This assignment may also be performed using notation software. In this case, the students must also invent the percussion track and enter it into the program.
It may be helpful for melodic invention to think of a dog leash:
When a new chord begins, start on a note of the chord (short leash). Then allow the melody to roam more freely (giving the dog a longer leash) until the chord changes again, at which point start on a note of the new chord (short leash again).
Assignment suitable for further study