Resources for music composition & theory

Thanks all for your very rich answers. It is beyond what I expected, and it’s going to take me some time to digest it it all, and go through the many resources posted. I am very happy that this thread has turned into a deep conversation around composition and music theory :slight_smile:


this might sound quite mundane (may also have been mentioned) but practicing scales with a metronome just to get some structure in there with anything else you are doing will certainly help some aspect of musicality. any instrument. i think you can’t separate all the musical concepts when it comes to an end piece or performance. it all informs the music brain.


about learning an instrument / practicing scales, i would argue that the usefulness of that depends if you are aiming to compose tonal music or lean towards musique concrète, sonic art, noise, or something that doesn’t abide the traditional ways of music (after all it’s been more than half a century that those pathes are being traced).


+1 for this. I found it a very useful resource.

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Here’s a short video about Eliane Radigue. Her comments about process and approaching the creation of sound make sense to me, and her instruments are non-traditional but the process seems very much the same. Make things that interest you, and if you don’t like “cliché” sounds, avoid them until you land on something interesting. Lots of other gems about creative intent, etc.


Learning scales is all about muscle memory, and discipline, and developing a sense of discernment. The more naturally you can instantly connect a musical thought into physical action, bypassing your thinking brain, the more capable you come, and the more natural your music becomes.

So I play scales. A lot of scales.


Great tools! I would like some help if possible…
How can someone use the aqwertyon app as a midi controller?

On Mac, it’s very easy. The aQWERTYon sends MIDI via the IAC bus. If you have it open in a browser tab, any app that listens for the IAC bus will receive MIDI from it immediately. Sometimes you will need to set the IAC bus as a MIDI input in your DAW, and occasionally you will need to open Audio/MIDI Setup to activate it.

On Windows, there is an extra step - you will need to use a program like MIDI Yoke to route MIDI from the web browser to your DAW.

Here is a tutorial video on using the aQWERTYon with Noteflight - the same setup will work with any DAW.

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Thanks, I will try (Reaper on a Mac)!

OK!! Thanks, it did not work with Firefox (probably something to do with WebMIDI…). However it works with Chrome (and in the process I managed to link IanniX to Reaper, something that I could not do for some time. Thanks again for your help…

Sorry, yes, I should have specified that it only works in Chrome and Safari.

Digging this up to ask a basic theory question rather than start a new thread:

Can someone please explain drum “swing” to me in dum-dum terms (or point me to one)? I’ve seen the attackmag article, but that didn’t do it for me. My searches are failing me, so I’d appreciate clear explanation.

I get that that it delays or accelerates the time of steps for parts of a pattern, but I am unclear on which steps/parts would be swung and why. Thanks in advance!

if you divide each bar into 8 steps (1-indexed because I’m a human), typically the even-numbered steps will be delayed.

As for the why, subjectively I think of it kinda loosening up the feeling of the music; adding a subtle amount of it will approximate more human imperfect playing. In jazz it almost became a hallmark of the genre.


If you happen to know: In “most uses” is it aplied to all parts of a pattern or more selectively? I imagine old drum machines with a “swing” knob are probably all parts, but I’m not sure outside of that scope.

I’m not sure! I think it kinda depends on the context but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a more “global” parameter, since otherwise you end up getting little “flams” from the onsets of your notes not lining up. For example on the Beatstep Pro, if I remember correctly, it was global by default unless you specified to apply it only to a specific sequencer.

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Maschine is what I use, and it has some strange options for different cycle times, reverse swing, etc. The default is a 8th note cycle time though, which is pretty normal with the amount set to about 30-50%. You can set it on the master, or on individual groups or sounds.

On Maschine it’s not just “make every other (cycle time) note early” but it speeds and slows the clock in waves. If you set the cycle time to a whole bar, it gives the feeling of accelerating toward the end of the bar and then slowing back down until the middle of the next bar. Or if you leave it on 8th notes, but shift note events slightly late off the grid, they’ll still be affected by swing.

I suspect on most drum machines (which don’t have “off the grid” notes anyway, or different selectable swing cycle times) the swing applies to the overall clock, not to individual parts.


It’s a difference in feel caused by how the notes in a pattern are played back relative to the grid they’re laid out on.

Compare to

The kick and snare are doing (almost) the same thing, but where the hi-hats fall makes all the difference (although strictly speaking there’s more than just just swing going on here! :slight_smile: ).

On most drum machines the default swing value is 50%, meaning that all of the 16th notes in your pattern fall exactly halfway between the 16th notes on either side of them. Changing the swing value will change the position of some notes relative to the notes on either side of them - they’ll slide in time to a little after the grid lines.

In a 16 step pattern where each step represents a 16th note, then the affected steps will be - as @alanza says - the even numbered steps.

In “most uses” yes, it’s a global parameter insofar as it’s applied to all of your parts, but seeing as the dominant voices (i.e. kick & snare) in a pattern are generally falling on quarter notes (i.e. steps 1, 5, 9, 13 - i.e NOT the even numbered steps) then they’re not affected.

If you lay out this pattern:

x—x---x—x--- - kick
—x-------x---- - snare
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx - hats

and then change the swing for that pattern, I guarantee that by time you hit 57%, you’ll be swaying in a far looser manner, despite the playback of the kick and snare being unchanged, and still falling exactly on the grid.


@Starthief, yeah, I think that’s where I start to get thrown. The drum machine one that shifts notes on the 8 or 16 notes alternating makes sense enough, but the variable clock time seems to throw me for a loop. I “understand” what is happening, but it’s hard for my brain to grok.

Thanks, @scrag!

Here’s a scale played on a piano. The first time has no swing. The second time has swing. Both scales begin and end at the same place but sound significantly different.

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