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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 1:20 pm 
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I think that the most frustrating part of trying to do a game by yourself (if you're a programmer like me) is to do art and music. Art is somewhat alleviated by choosing easy art styles and/or being in a limited system like the NES, but the music... oh boy.

I feel like there are systematic ways to write music, kinda like what this article delineates: http://www.timusic.net/debreved/jazzpart1/ , and other stuff I've seen online, however I don't know most of the terms used in articles like those and composing as a whole feel like an infinite puzzle with many missing pieces.

How do I learn how to write music? Does anyone have a basic roadmap to follow?

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:09 pm 
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Make stuff up in famitracker and see what sounds good? Start with covers to learn how to use the program.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:10 pm 
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Do you have much experience with music as a whole? (playing an instrument, studying musical theory, etc?) It's hard to recommend where to "start" without knowing where you're starting from.

(although I'm not sure why I'm chiming in, I'm a terrible songwriter)

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:11 pm 
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I'm kind of in the same boat. I think I'm a good coder (albeit slow) and a decent artist (far from the best, but well beyond basic), but music is completely foreign to me.

I see people who are not good artists making art for games all the time, and while the results are hardly groundbreaking, they're usually passable, enough for people not to constantly point out how the graphics are bad. However, I have a hard time imagining the same concept being applied to music. Even though I'm a person with zero musical training, I can still hum interesting melodies, so I imagine I could run those through note recognition software and input them in a music engine using instruments created with some basic envelopes. Would that be the music equivalent of a mediocre pixel artist making their own sprites, or would this just end in absolute disaster?

I'm OK with having basic music in my games, just like other programmers are OK with having basic art in theirs. While I do love good melodies, I don't care much about the technical aspects of music... I can hardly notice when expansion chips and the like are being used, because I really don't care about how faithful the instruments are or anything like that, I only care about the feelings evoked by the melodies. For example, I don't care how "advanced" the instrumentation is in Scrap Brain Zone from Sonic 1 16-bit because there's hardly any emotion there... But the 8-bit version of Scrap Brain Zone on the Master System? That sounds cool as hell and makes me want to kick some real Badnik ass! I don't give a shit if it's technically inferior.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:26 pm 
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Punch wrote:
How do I learn how to write music? Does anyone have a basic roadmap to follow?

Transcription is the most effective activity you can do to learn this.

Study music that you like. Learn to write it down in some form, tracker or written music, whatever you're comfortable with. Learn to duplicate it. Don't just look at other peoples' already made transcriptions, do that work yourself. Make yourself type in every single note, and you will absorb a lot more from the piece.

So, step 1 is to learn how to hear a sound and be able to recreate it. This will help you for a later step, where you imagine a new sound and can create it.

In between, once you have covers/transcriptions that you can work with and edit, play around with them. Replace the melody with a new one, see what works, see what doesn't. Move the sections around. Replace the bassline. Change the percussion instruments. Changing one thing at a time will help you understand what each part contributes to the whole. All of this will help you get a sense of how to write music, eventually.

In fact, that's a good "hack" for writing music too. ;) Cover something, then change enough elements until it's no longer recognizable as the original.


I constantly draw on other music for ideas when composing music. If I'm stuck on what to do next, I listen to other music and think about how they may have solved the problem I'm dealing with. The more stuff (and wider variety of stuff) you have studied that you can draw on, the more tools you will have to use. Don't limit yourself to study of just one genre, or one instrument, or chiptune.

There's a lot of specific technical stuff you can talk about if you're well versed in that language (e.g. NES audio registers, or music theory of chord functions) and that stuff is quite useful to know about, but these things to me are not at the core of how to write, so I wouldn't even bother telling you to seek them out first. Pick that up as much and as often as your are interested in it. Learning music theory will give you names and terms for things that will help you organize your thought, but knowing a chord's name is not a substitute for the intuitive feeling you get about that chord from studying and hearing and knowing its place in actual pieces of music (...though it might help you remember which one it was). Transcribe! Cover! Copy!


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 2:43 pm 
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It's hard to describe. I'm maybe 20% courses, 80% autodidact. Singing in choirs and playing in bands helped. Anyway, i'll note some things that came to mind.

Having an instrument and learning to play it helps, but takes time. I began with a recorder, and hated it. Now i think recorders are kind of cool, but that's beside the point.

An instrument is an accelerated interface to learning. You get to experiment doodling simple melodies and try out what works much more efficiently than if just singing, humming. Even famitracker could be considered an instrument, but a physical one will train you in real-time.

After melodies, get a feel for simple duad harmonies. How do they make you feel? Train playing two notes at the same time and see how that colours emotions.

One key expression to google for: Circle of fifths. You'll hear it over and over when people discuss song writing. You don't need to get it all right now. Eventually, parts of it will start to click with your song making.

taking a course or taking lessons should help.

There's thousands of song writing tutorials on youtube. Sifting through them for the good bits can be time consuming.. but isn't all learning process?

Most importantly. try and try and try.

Maybe focus on realistic goals. For your first game soundtrack, maybe have all songs be relatively short loops. focus on getting each of them sound good on their own. Maybe 30-60 seconds is enough for a song, for now. Try to make them pleasant, not continously grating.

Stringing together loops into programmatic multi-minute pieces, like pop songs is the next level.


A usual trap when composing is the urge to go in new directions constantly. Try to restrain this urge if you can. Supplant it with with alternate iterations of the same motif? What happens if you move the same melody to the bass channel for the next part? And so on.

Another is to compensate interesting movement with lots of action. Again, try to restrain yourself from hitting all instruments all the time. I privately call this boss music syndrome.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 25, 2018 9:35 pm 
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tokumaru wrote:
But the 8-bit version of Scrap Brain Zone on the Master System? That sounds cool as hell and makes me want to kick some real Badnik ass! I don't give a shit if it's technically inferior.

Yeah, Yuzo Koshiro is an amazing composer! What good is the superior hardware, if nobody's using it? Most of the talent were either starting with, or still composing for hentai games, at the time! :P

Speaking of inferior hardware, check out his music from "The Scheme" on the PC-88, this stuff is simply amazing!
(He also composed Legacy of the Wizard's soundtrack, and the intro of Romancia.)

I'll Save You All My Justice:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvqLnwRqo6g

Challenging Tomorrow:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T66Dc3Z5wU

As for learning to compose? I was a demoscene guy for a few years, so most of my music composition involved figuring out what sounded good, and rolling with it, mixing the same melody into a track, in a variety of different ways.

You'd be surprised how many unique ways you can find, to mix a single melody, into an entire soundtrack!
Super Mario World, and Treasure of the Rudras are my favorite examples of this technique.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:39 am 
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Oh, I didn't know about "The Scheme", first time I hear this game soundtrack and it's great! Thanks for sharing, now I want to know more about it.

As for composing, I'm not much of an artist myself but I had days when suddenly, out of nowhere, an idea for a song comes by and since I have no music theory at all, the only way was to try to hum it in my head until I can transcribe it somehow. Sometime I couldn't and lost many idea this way. Now these days I can just hum it in my phone and try to remember it later but I didn't write for years so when I try to write it and it doesn't comes out the way I imagined it or cannot transcribe it properly it can be depressing a little bit. I guess it comes with experience, which I do not have much. Hopefully someday.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:57 am 
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This question, to me, is an analog for me asking "How do I go about learning how to program?" From scratch? Well, that's not a simple answer. Most people that write / compose music started learning music at a young age.

In order to be able to write music, the first thing you have to do is learn how to read music. For that, I'm sure there's plenty of stuff on YouTube.

Music theory can get very... intense. But really, it's just math (beats per measure, whole note, quarter note, eighth note, and so on) and you only need to know the basics. A lot of the terms used have a very logical meaning. Well, at least those in English. There are a lot of terms and phrases used that are Latin, Italian or French. They might be kind of annoying to learn all at once.

You can go about writing music in a very systematic way, but that takes the soul out of it if you ask me. There's an almost infinite amount of ways to go about writing music. It's a very trail and error thing. It's trial and error to find out how you write music best. Even when you find your way to write music, the process is still trial and error. It's incredible open ended.

Get a nice midi composer. Midi is very adaptable, so it's worth having some way to create midi files. But also, you can use it to learn to read and write. There's a shit ton of midi songs that you can download from the internet. You can load them into a midi composer and use it as a tool to learn how to read. Then, once you got the swing of things, you can use the midi composer to start writing your own songs. To keep the programming analogy, this would be the equivalent to viewing someone's finished code and breaking it down to learn how it's done. Then, you can try the whole "Hello World" thing. Try and write something simple, like Hot Cross Buns.

I'm sure there's a million and one midi composers out there, and I'm sure there's gotta be some good ones that are free, but I've always used Noteworthy Composer. I'm sure there's better ones, but I gravitated toward this one because the interface is very easy to use (I hate having to learn how to use software).


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 7:31 pm 
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rainwarrior wrote:
In between, once you have covers/transcriptions that you can work with and edit, play around with them. Replace the melody with a new one, see what works, see what doesn't. Move the sections around. Replace the bassline. Change the percussion instruments. Changing one thing at a time will help you understand what each part contributes to the whole. All of this will help you get a sense of how to write music, eventually.In fact, that's a good "hack" for writing music too. Cover something, then change enough elements until it's no longer recognizable as the original.

Basically how all of Doom's music was made:

AC/DC Big Gun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a82cNcjw3iw
Cover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sTMR3BrZ1o#t=32m06s
I Sawed The Demons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5wZmjZ0yG0

Some never made it to the third stage... :lol:

Alice in Chains Them Bones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFgAE5SgFnw
Cover Bye Bye American Pie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICUuLrH4z0c

(Something I've always wondered but never asked, why do the electric guitar instruments of the Roland SC55 sound so bizarre? All the other instruments sound much closer to the real things, imo.)

And lastly, something else I wondered, couldn't you just do a straight cover of other video game music and use that if you wanted? I think some of Doom's music (like the last song) was pretty gray area legally because the original music was copyrighted, but it shouldn't be if it originated from a videogame?


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:17 pm 
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Frankly, with that chord progression, "I Sawed the Demons" sounds like someone had the job of reworking "Big Gun" for a James Bond game. I'd like to hear how it'd sound with the GoldenEye 007 sound bank.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:37 pm 
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Electric guitars are hard to do as a GM patch. In the first place, there are a huge variety of sounds you can get out of an electric guitar, partly because there are so many ways to manipulate the instrument itself, and partly because there is no standard signal chain for producing the final sound.

In the second place, you can do a lot of stuff upstream of the main distortion that causes special effects to happen with the distortion. Techniques that take advantage of harmonic interaction, like powerchords and unison bends, can't be duplicated just by playing multiple pre-distorted single note samples, and pedal effects like wah can't always be duplicated easily by post effects because they work by altering the signal going into the amp, not coming out.

There's also the fact that those old synths had fairly stringent memory limitations. The SC-55 seems to have had 3 MB of sample ROM, with 1 MB of that used for MT-32 emulation. An instrument like the electric guitar suffers badly from machine gun effect and loop freeze. Contrast with something like a trumpet, which can sound decently realistic even with a single-cycle loop and no modulation.

I think you'll find that violins sound awful on old GM synths too...


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 9:04 pm 
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Which makes me wonder why samplers don't have an overdrive primitive that takes a set of "clean electric guitar" voices (be they sampled, subtractive, or a Linear Arithmetic blend of both) playing on one MIDI channel, sums them, and looks up their sum in a saturation table. As for wah, that's the same sort of subtractive synthesis that Roland's TB-303 is known for.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 9:20 pm 
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tepples wrote:
Which makes me wonder why samplers don't have an overdrive primitive that takes a set of "clean electric guitar" voices (be they sampled, subtractive, or a Linear Arithmetic blend of both) playing on one MIDI channel, sums them, and looks up their sum in a saturation table. As for wah, that's the same sort of subtractive synthesis that Roland's TB-303 is known for.

Some devices do have a distortion/overdrive effect. I used to have a (relatively inexpensive ROMpler keyboard) Yamaha PSR-225 that had that, and the amount could be controlled by a MIDI controller signal. I don't think there was ever a standard MIDI controller designation for such an effect, but devices could implement their own. In the more software-oriented era, there are plenty of VSTs that would do much the same.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 27, 2018 2:33 am 
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I have nothing to contribute to the topic - what little composition I have done is entirely instinctive or 'by ear' - but I'd like to direct anyone interested in hearing more of Yuzo Koshiro's work to VGMRips and Project 2612. If you're interested in FM you can even crack open the VGMs and see how it was done.

...actually, on second thoughts, I do have some advice: learn an instrument, if you haven't already. Goofing around playing random notes and melodies can be inspiring, assuming you can write them down.


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