A lot of beginning music producers who have no formal training are intimidated by music theory. However, a lot of this trepedation is unfounded. Yes, music theory can get super complicated, but you don’t have to go to the Berkley School of Music and study Jazz theory for 4 years is what you want to do is make sick beats and slick tracks.
In fact, from psytrance to hip hop to drum & bass to dubstep to IDM and all across the spectrum of electronic music, it’s usually the case that even the most successful and popular DJs and Producers can’t read music and have no formal education. But they do know the basics. Which isn’t to say that they know the basics when it comes to chords and scales, and by extension chord progressions and melodies.
There’s no reason why you or anyone else can’t get a handle on fundamental musical concepts either. It’s all just simpole math, and a little bit of musical intuition.
For instance:harmony and melody. Everybody’s familiar with these terms -even if they’re not a musician nor interested in being one- but what do these terms actually mean? Well, melody is horizontal and harmony is vertical. In other words, melody is one note played after another. Harmony, in contrast, are 2, 3 or more notes stacked on top of each other, played at the same time. There’s another word for harmonies too: a harmonay is also a chord.
Look at your synth, piano, MIDI controller, or whatever other keyboard you’re using to produce music. There are black keys and white keys of course. You’ll also notice that there isn’t a black key between every pair of consecutive white keys, and also that the black keys are clustered together in groups of 2 and 3 as you go all the way up and all the way down the keyboard. If you go to a white key that’s to the left of a grouping of 2 black keys, that note is C.
C Major Scale
Now, if you start from this key, play it and the next 6 keys you will notice that you’ve played the DO-RE-MI melody that we’re all familiar with. Go one further key up, and you’re back beside the pair of black keys—you’re back at C. What have yu just done? You’ve just played the C Major Scale.
Check out the diagram of the keyboard and C Major scale in the link. You’ve just seen that if you play the 8 notes in secuence, that it’s a major scale. By jumping around from note to note, you can invent your own bass lines and lead melodies. Now, try playing the keys numbered 1, 3, and 5 simultaneously.
Does this harmony sound familiar? It should. This is a C Major chord. If you drop one semitone and play the black key between 2 and 3 for the second note of the chord, it’s now a sad sounding C minor chord.
From Chords to Chord Progressions
A chord progression -where you play a sequence of (usually) 3 or 4 chords- brings together the concepts of harmony and melody. The same chord progressions appear all the time, and you’d be surprised at how many songs are based on the same four chords
You make your compositions your own by taking familiar chord progressions, and then experimenting with them. One of the best ways to do this is by starting with ready made midi files, and then playing around with the notes and the midi chords in your editing software.