There’s something about synthesizers that attracts non-musicians. At least it is so in my case. Musically, I am quite inept. But for two-and-a-half years or so, I’ve been playing with synthesizers. I’ve used a couple semi-modular synths, as well as a small Eurorack system of my own (poor) design. In this time, I’ve made some really cool little tunes of which I am reasonably proud. But most of the time, I’ve just made unpalatable noise. Cacophonous at best, incoherent gibberish at worst. Even when I’ve made something, in which I have a little pride, my lovely wife often says, “I guess it’s ok…” No accounting for taste, eh?
Today for the first time, I sat down, made a sequence, in one, single, intentional pass… and came up with something not only usable, but my wife liked it as well. I planned and recorded that sequence in about ten-seconds. Compared to the minutes and hours sitting around making sounds that rate a solid “meh” from the missus.
So what’s changed? I actually spent a handful of minutes trying to understand music theory. I’m not talking about hours. I’m not even talking about one hour. Five minutes researching “arpeggios”. Another ten finding and printing out a keyboard cheat-sheet, with the notes on it, and a cheat-sheet of keyboard chords. After maybe ten minutes playing arpeggios from some of the major chords, I started a sequence. It was three repetitions of an F chord followed by three repetitions of a G chord… that’s all. A couple minutes setting up a very basic patch, and I had a pretty nice sound.
No, you don’t have to be a well trained pianist to make a cool sound, or even a nice sequence. But some time learning the basics of chords and apreggiation and keeping a cheat-sheet handy can go a long way to a more musical sound.
What I learned on today’s little journey:
- An arpeggio is not just some random keys you hold down, being played in sequence.
- An arpeggio is a chord which is played one note at a time.
- Arpeggios are great for modular synthesis, since most systems are essentially monophonic.
- It’s really easy to start learning arpeggios and start making musical sounds with them. (Or just using the ol’ cheat-sheet.)
- I really do love the ease of creating arpeggios or arpeggiated sequences on the Arturia Keystep. It’s a great interface for Eurorack and Semi-Modular.
- Piano Keyboard Layout: Nope, I didn’t even know which key was “C” before I started the day. Sad but true… at least it was true.
Learn your Keyboard layout here: http://www.piano-keyboard-guide.com/piano-keyboard-diagram.html
- Piano Chords: You’ll use these to make your arpeggios: