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Work example about composition of computer/digital music: Frère Jacques in minor key.

Composition number 1 (FL Studio 5)

I have to admit that while creating the Computer Music Tutorial my interest toward this humble melody called Frère Jacques grew; this was determinant to my desire of exploring the potential that this melody actually has and, as a side consequence, to achieve a tutorial whose quality went far beyond to what I had initially expected. I have no doubt that while writing these lines I have learned new things and improved my skills as a designer, a writer - in a language of which I am not native - and a hobbyist music producer. In the composition that I present here I wanted to apply the new knowledge acquired about music production software, as well as giving testimony of my interest for minor keys and the gloomy feel that they may convey.

For arranging this composition I have used three patterns that are pretty much the same with slight variations: fj_minor_key, which is the original variation presented in the tutorial; fj_minor_key_v, which is the original version with vocals added; and fj_minor_key_s, which is the original version with a different instrument in the leading melody (string ensemble instead of electric organ). Besides, I have added a fourth pattern (fj_minor_key_b) which uses tubular bells to play the four last measures of the leading melody and works like an ornament for the whole composition. From now on, I will refer to these four patterns as A, B, C and D, respectively.

The A pattern comprises Lead 1, Chords, Bass and Drums; the B pattern comprises Lead 1, Vocals, Chords, Bass and Drums; the C pattern comprises Lead 2, Chords, Bass and Drums; and the D pattern comprises Ornaments. The leading instruments are: electric organ in the A pattern, electric organ and vocals in the B pattern, string ensemble in the C pattern and tubular bells in the D pattern. Chords, Bass and Drums use the same instrumentation in every pattern. The instrumentation comprises: FL Keys [Roto Organ] as Lead 1, Fruity Soundfont Player [String ensemble] as Lead 2, Sampler [Vocaloid Miriam vocals] as Vocals, MIDI Out [Tubular Bells] as Ornaments, FL Keys [Roto Organ] as Chords, BooBass [] as Bass and MIDI Out [Channel 10] as Drums. I have added Fruity LSD to the mixing console to get around the problem of MIDI Out not emitting sound, as I explained in the tutorial.

After deciding that A-B-C would be the definitive arrangement, I trimmed the last measure of the A and B patterns to remove unwanted space between patterns and then I set SNAP to Bar to ensure a perfect connection between patterns. Finally, I placed the D pattern at regular intervals throughout the composition. In this pattern, which comprises four measures, I have raised one octave the notes of the first two measures; these notes are the shortest and highest of the melody and therefore they can be considered to be its accent; and by raising one octave the ornamental notes I tried to enhance this effect. To give protagonism to vocals I used an automation clip to reduce the volume of the leading melody during the playback of the B pattern.

FL Studio 5 (frere jacques minor key final arrangement)
fj_minor_key_vocals.mp3 ~ fj_minor_key_final_arrangement.mp3

Composition number 2 (FL Studio 5 with external plugins)

In this subsequent variation I added and removed complexity at the same time, for the composition features less instruments but includes some more patterns, effects and automation controllers. I have replaced the electric organ provided by FL Keys by an electric piano provided by a third-party and free VST instrument called Rhody MK I, which is rather simple but provides an interesting vibrato effect. I have reprocessed the vocals to raise the pitch a bit. The sound of the piano is routed through a delay effect provided by a third-party DX plugin collection called Anwida Soft Modulation Pack, whereas vocals are routed through a flanger effect provided by Fruity Flanger.

The composition includes only a leading melody with accompanying vocals and drums; I have not included chords or bass because the delay effect effectively covers the sonic space and I was not interested in creating a cloud of sounds that would feel like a mess. I strived to create a mysterious athmosphere and, in my case, this musical idea was powered by a figurative idea. First of all, I like the visual appearance of Rhody MK I and the vintage feeling that it conveys; I imagined some sort of greyish environment, a moorland where a lonely castle or mansion is the home of a silver and black electric piano which is waiting for specters to play it.

I was interested in using both vibrato and non-vibrato notes in a same melodic phrase, but since I was using an old version of FL Studio I could not control the vibrato switch of this third-party plugin through automation; as a workaround, I created patterns containing partial melodies only, which would interleave along time and sound differently as one pattern uses vibrato and the complementary does not. There are four patterns in this composition which feature partial melodies (fj_minor_key_3 and fj_minor_key_4 as the first group, and fj_minor_key_5 and fj_minor_key_6 as the second group); the only difference between these two dual groups is the order in which the vibrato effect is applied (either NVNV or VNVN).

The complete patterns fj_minor_key_1 and fj_minor_key_2 are in turn complementary of the partial patterns, being the vibrato effect applied to the latter of them only. Therefore, all the patterns can be assembled together while matching their neighbor like in the domino game. Regarding the vibrato effect, the pattern for the whole composition is NNNN-NNNN-NVNV-VVVV-VNVN, in which each letter is equivalent to two measures and hyphens divide patterns/musical phrases. The patterns are organized as follows:

fj_minor_key_1: measures 1 to 8 played with electric piano; measures 1 to 8 played with acoustic bass drum and vibraslap. Delay effect through FX1 provided by Anwida Soft DX C-Delay [Stereo Delay].

fj_minor_key_2: measures 1 to 8 played with electric piano with vibrato on; measures 1 to 8 played with acoustic bass drum, crash cymbal and vibraslap.

fj_minor_key_3: measures 1, 2, 5 and 6 played with electric piano; measures 1 to 8 played with acoustic bass drum, crash cymbal and vibraslap.

fj_minor_key_4: measures 3, 4, 7 and 8 played with electric piano with vibrato on.

fj_minor_key_5: measures 1, 2, 5 and 6 played with electric piano with vibrato on; measures 1 to 8 played with acoustic bass drum, crash cymbal and vibraslap.

fj_minor_key_6: measures 3, 4, 7 and 8 played with electric piano.

fj_minor_key_v: measures 1 to 8 played with vocals made with Vocaloid Miriam.

fj_minor_key_o: measures 5 and 6 played with tubular bells.

The instrumentation comprises: Rhody MK I [Rhodes Full Dynamik] with processing through FX1 provided by Anwida Soft DX C-Delay [Stereo Delay], preprocessed Vocaloid Miriam vocals with processing through FX2 provided by Fruity Flanger [Default], MIDI Out [Tubular Bells] and MIDI Out [Channel 10] as Drums. As in the previous example, vocals are played through the native FL Sampler and the sound of tubular bells is used as an ornament only once throughout the composition.

Four automation clips were added to shape the sound as convenient. At the beginning Lead and Drums effectuate a soft opening thanks to the rising envelope assigned to their volume controllers; then Vocals has a softened attack and release assigned to its volume controller and an associated flanger effect whose amount of mix grows along time as the rising envelope dictates, to give the impression that something begins to afflict the singers as their voices go on with the chant. Yes, this concept of music can be really weird and the vibrato effect used in the leading melody contributes to it.

FL Studio 5 (frere jacques minor key final arrangement 02)

Experiments with effects and envelopes

In a subsequent variation I used a long rising envelope to create the effect of slowly coming voices that eventually take the control of the leading melody. Then another idea arose: do these singers have feet? Because if they had, the sound of their footsteps could form an interesting rhythmic pattern to accompany the drums, as long as the footsteps were matched with the beats of each measure. Knowing that the composition runs at 80 beats per minute it was easy to create the correct pattern in Cool Edit Pro 2, the audio editing software of my choice. Finally, I added a generous chorus effect to the footsteps within FL Studio. To avoid an abrupt end in the composition, I attached a final section where only vanishing footsteps can be heard. If at any moment I want the singers to not have feet I just have to mute the Footsteps channel.

Cool Edit Pro 2 (frere jacques minor key footstep effect)

FL Studio 5 playlist (frere jacques minor key final arrangement 03)


In this last variation I have removed the Drums channel, so the footsteps can have the protagonism of the rhythmic base, and also the four channels that I used for playing partial melodies. The ornamental notes are played now by a glockenspiel instead of the tubular bells of previous examples. I used waveforms for vocals and footsteps which are clean of effects, so I can freely choose the desired effect within FL Studio; in this case, a wide chorus effect provided by Anwida Soft DX Chorus. The purpose of this composition is to get the most out of volume envelopes to recreate a sense of figurative scene. The singer and her foootsteps come and leave gradually, and also the musical instruments have their own volume envelopes, so sudden changes in sound occur only during the release of Lead 1 and the attack of Lead 2, besides the playback of ornamental notes. The sound is less cluttered than in previous examples and the different volume levels have been balanced so no one stands out excessively.

FL Studio 5 playlist (frere jacques minor key final arrangement 04)


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