Monday, January 30, 2012


Tunestorm deadline is approaching

Tunestorm is a kind of online experiment (an uncompetition as they call it) where you are given an assignment and you are expected to carry it out in your own style, using your own ideas, instruments, background,... How cool is that?

More info? I'm not affiliated with the organization in any way, but I'm ridiculously enthusiastic about contributing something to it.

Next deadline is 29th of february 2012. Don't wait, get started today :) I don't want to end up being the sole contributor :D

Current assignment

Current assignment for the seventh edition is: "Write any song of your choosing WITH lyrics in the form of a haiku, i.e. lyrics with 5-7-5 syllables" You are expected to keep your work a secret until the big revelation day to avoid influencing other uncontenstants.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Yay! My first Lmms project...

I discovered the free and open source tool LMMS a few days ago via some post in the forum. The software seemed so easy to use and so inviting to experiment with that I just had to try it out.

Love it or hate it... here's my first lmms project:

In case you'd want to reuse the choral parts I wrote for this piece (one never knows :) ) you can download the entire .mmpz file here: (creative commons attribution share-alike v3.0 license)

The music was completely made with lmms in debian linux. It probably sounds best with decent headphones or a decent speaker set with subwoofer.
The video was made with kdenlive on debian linux.
Have fun!
(Oh and did I mention already that comments and constructive criticisms are welcome? :D )

Monday, January 2, 2012


Using modes in composition

I have some fascination with composing based on modes. It can make music sound so refreshing. For the longest time i've been very confused about modes. Here's an attempt at clarifying some aspects related to modes. The explanation assumes you are already familiar with key signatures in major and minor scales (i.e. number of sharps and flats required to make a key like D major sound like D major).

A typical explanation about modes is something as follows. First you start with a C major scale

c d e f g a b c
Now you play the same notes, but you start on the note "d"
d e f g a b c d
and you have created a dorian mode. Similarly, starting on the note "e": "e f g a b c d e" results in a phrygian mode, starting on "f": "f g a b c d e f" results in a lydian mode, starting on "g": "g a b c d e f g" results in a mixolydian mode, starting on "a": "a b c d e f g a" results in a aeolian mode, and starting on the "b": "b c d e f g a b" creates a locrian mode.

If you're like me, immediately a few questions arise (which are never answered by most basic tutorials)

  1. Is "d e f g a b c d" is a dorian mode of the C major scale? or of the D major scale?
  2. Do different modes have a specific sound to them? some mood or character?
  3. How do you quickly construct a dorian mode (or any other mode) of - say - the E major scale without memorizing the notes for each possible combination of (scale, mode)?
  4. What difference does it make if you play "c d e f g a b c" or "d e f g a b c d", it's all the same notes anyway?

Is "d e f g a b c d" a dorian mode of the c major or of d major ?

The rule is simple: if it starts on a "d" it's derived from a d-scale

What different modes exist? Do they have a specific sound to them? some mood or character?

Some modes lend themselves more naturally to achieving specific moods in your music, but you can by no means generalize. Some very sad and melancholic music has been written in major keys (I'm thinking e.g. of Scriabin's prelude op 17, no 6, or the Plainte by Caix d'Hervelois) Despite all those over-generalizations, the following list seems to work well (these are all modes derived from a major scale; you could derive even more modes by starting from other scales, say a harmonic or melodic minor scale, too):
  • c ionian "c d e f g a b c": happy music. This is also called the c major key.
  • c dorian "c d es f g a bes c": irish folk-like
  • c phrygian "c des es f g aes bes c": spanish sounding
  • c lydian "c d e fis g a b c": happy, playful, somewhat comical effect, attention raising (think: the simpsons theme)
  • c mixolydian "c d e f g a bes c": uniting pleasure and sadness; creating a effect of yearning for something or someone
  • c aeolian "c d es f g aes bes c": sad music. This is also called the c natural minor key.
  • c locrian "c des es f ges aes bes c": (this is not often used as it sounds weird to most western ears)
Some nice effects can be achieved e.g. if a melody is written in one mode, and later on is echoed in a different mode.

How do you quickly construct the dorian mode of - say - the E major scale ?

This may not work for you, but it works for me. It requires that you don't have to think about key signatures for major keys (i.e. you do know those by heart), and you also don't have to think twice about the names of the simplest modes built on the major keys (i.e. ionian "c d e f g a b c", dorian "d e f g a b c d", phrygian "e f g a b c d e", lydian "f g a b c d e f", mixolydian "g a b c d e f g", aeolian "a b c d e f g a", locrian "b c d e f g a b")
  • First I remember that the simplest dorian mode is "d e f g a b c d"
  • Then I remember that D major really needs two sharps (fis and cis) to sound like D major.
  • From those two memories I can quickly construct the following rule: "the dorian mode is like the major scale, but with two less sharps (or two extra flats, or one less sharp and one extra flat)." This rule can be applied to any scale.
  • Example: E major requires four sharps. If I want to have the dorian mode I just need to drop two of those sharps, so I end up with "e fis g a b cis d e". Second example: now I want the E lydian mode. Simplest lydian mode is "f g a b c d e f". Compared to F major, this has one less flat (bes became b), or equivalently: one extra sharp. E lydian therefore requires 5 sharps instead of 4, i.e. fis, cis, gis, dis, ais.

What difference does it make if you play c ionian "c d e f g a b c" or d dorian "d e f g a b c d", it's all the same notes anyway?

  • One difference is in which notes you emphasize on the strong beats (typically first, third, fifth notes of the mode) also the notes you chose to return to at the end of a musical fragment (often something like the first note of the mode).
  • If you're writing a melody in a mode, you will want to use the notes that make it sound different from a major scale more prominently to emphasize that you're not working in a major/minor scale. So a melody in G mixolydian should feature the natural f, and a melody in d dorian should feature the natural f and the natural c. It's exactly those altered notes (compared to the major scale) that lend your melody its extra qualities/mood.


Yet another blog?

Yes. I have found that maintaining a blog is a good way to force myself to document some of my musical experiments. It has happened multiple times already that I've created some music and the little evidence that existed of it got lost in computer crashes, or in unreadable binary proprietary file formats of defunct tools. Some of my scores (of which I had only one copy of course :) ) I lended to others but never got back.

What's the purpose of this blog?

I want a place to ponder about music, to brainstorm about music, to discuss some music related tools, perhaps post the occasional tutorial. I also want a place to occasionally link to a musical score or youtube recording I've created.

Musical instruments I frequently use

I own a Yamaha GT2 digital grand piano, which I use because it is easy to record. If I ever win the lottery, I would like to check out the Yamaha Avant N3 which promises a "real piano experience" (whatever that may mean :) )
I use someone else's (ahem!) Roland RA30 for an occasional synth sound.
I've also used software synthesizers like SynAddSubFx or CSound. I have a fazer acoustic piano but I tend not to use it that often since most of my musical activities are concentrated in the very late (or very early - as you please) hours of the day. Fazer is/was a Finnish brand of piano with a very decent quality for a relatively low price. The factory no longer exists. It was bought by Warner music corporation around 1990 who then miss-managed it until it didn't mean anything anymore.
I record most of my audio on a simple but adequate Roland BOSS BR-600 multitrack recorder.

Software tools I frequently use

I have high demands for the tools I use: they must be free ("free" as in "free speech") and open source software, and if possibly also free ("free" as in "free beer") of cost. Luckily there are many high-quality free and open source music tools. I happen to use the linux operating system that has everything (and much more!) a musician could dream about.
  • Typesetting of scores: using the brilliant lilypond program.
  • Postprocessing of audio: using audicity.

Musical styles and influences

I mainly dabble with classical (in a very broad sense) music and I'm not afraid of film, jazz and folk influences. Don't bother talking to me about rock, techno, dance or other similar styles, as I know next to nothing about them and I feel very little motivation to learn more about them. It's not my thing.