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Electronic Music Composition #5: Advanced Chords

In the fifth of our Electronic Music Composition hangouts as part of the Academy of Electronic Music, course tutor and musical magician Ski Oakenfull explains 7th, 9th and more complex chords using Armin van Buuren’s Waiting for the Night and Maya Jane Coles’ Little One as examples. We then went on to preview some of the finalists’ work who applied some of Ski’s expert advice to their tracks.

It was another unmissable tutorial for anyone new to music-making or anyone looking to brush up on their skills. You can watch the whole thing below and as usual, we’re back tomorrow at 3pm for another live broadcast featuring DJ and producer Ian Pooley. Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel so you never miss a beat.

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Video Transcription:

Luke:               Hi everyone. I’m Luke Hopper broadcasting live from Point Blank Music School in East London. Welcome along to this EMC session in the Academy of Electronic Music brought to you by Google, Armada Music, DJ Mag, and Point Blank. We are now in week two of this exclusive hangout series and hope you are enjoying this event as much as we are. This week we are looking at bass lines, chords, and melodies. So here’s your tutor, Ski Oakenfull.


Ski:                  Hi. Thanks Luke. I’m course developer and tutor at Point Blank. And I’m putting the seven winners and you through your paces on the electronic music composition course via this series of exclusive hangouts. Remember, if you want to try this course for free, head on over to and click free course samples.


Luke:               Thanks Ski. And let’s get into it.


Ski:                  Okay. So today we’re going to be, well, there’s quite a few things I want to cover. But we’re going to be looking at extending our chords. If you remember we just looked at triads. We’ve looked at inversions. Now we’re going to look at adding some extra notes to our chords like sevenths and ninths and some sus2’s and some sus4’s. All kind of sounds a bit technical, but can really make a difference in to the sound and the emotion of the chords.


I had a request last week. It’s from [Adrian] and [Vlad]. It’s to do a deconstruction of the Armin van Buuren track “Waiting For the Night”. And so I’m going to be looking at that. And going to be having a listen to the last task of Simon [that I said]. Which was for everyone to come up with some bass lines. I think I’ve had like five bass line ideas through which are all sounding fantastic. So, yeah. That’s what we’re going to be doing today.


Luke:               Cool. Sounds good.


Ski:                  So just say hi to the guys. How are you doing, guys?


Guys:               Hey. Hi.


Ski:                  You had a good hangout session yesterday with Reuben?


Guys:               Yeah. It was cool. Really.


Ski:                  Fantastic. Cool. I want us to get into, I’m just going to share the screen [inaudible 02:08]. So let’s just get the desktop up here. There we go. And just going to get my virtual keyboard up. There we go. I’ve had a few people asking, actually, what this is. It’s a free virtual keyboard. If you type in VMPK into Google, it will come up. It works on all platforms.


Luke:               Just great. I use it at home. Actually it’s wicked.


Ski:                  Yeah. You can set it up so you can actually kind of click on it on the screen and it can input Midi as well. So it’s very handy. Okay. So. Let’s just talk a little bit about chords. Let’s just go back to the basics. Let’s play a triad. It’s a C Major triad there. And we can refer to that as a stack of thirds because if we play the C Major scale, play the first note here, root note and the fifth, and this a triad.


And you remember we can kind of go and play inversions. This is our root position, first inversion, second inversion. Okay. So we got that down. But following on from this stack of thirds, if we play these three notes here and then went up another three to play this, to play our B natural, we’d have a seventh. And this is a major seventh because we’re in a major key.


Here’s a C Major. This is called a major seventh. If we were in a minor key, say for example C Minor, we did the same thing. We played our triad here. C Minor triad. And went up and played the third note above the G here. We have another seventh. And this is a C Minor seventh. So we’ve got C Minor seventh. C Major Seventh. See, it’s got quite a sort of melancholy sound?


Luke:               Yeah. It’s cool.


Ski:                  Same thing. We could, if we stick in C Minor, we’ve got our seventh and then go up another three, another third, to play this D. We have a C Minor ninth. Again, really nice. And then we can go up again and add another third up. This F. We have an eleventh. It’s really got a nice sound. And we can kind of play inversions of those as well. So if we stick to keeping this root note here, but then we can kind of move around.


And these are, I’m playing minor ninths. And you can kind of keep that position as well. So we could move up and we could play an F minor ninth. And what I’m doing here is something that I call, in the EMC course, I call it the human chord device. Because we looked a few hangouts ago at the chord device in Ableton and in Logic and how you can basically pull down one note and you can set which notes it plays.


So you can program it to play a C Minor chord and you just have to play one note. So it’s really good practice to try and do that for yourself and imagine that you are the human chord device. So, as an example let’s take the C Minor triad here. And we could just go up chromatically. Chromatically is when we’re just going up one step at a time. That’s called a chromatic scale. And just, it’s really good practice to try doing this.


Because it means that if someone just shouted out, F Minor triad, you just know where to go straight away. D Minor, G Minor, B flat Minor. It’s just really good practice. So we have our, define these major sevenths. This is a major eleventh. And a minor eleventh. We also have chords called sus chords. And we have a sus2 and a sus4. And basically this is where, just go back to our triad again, instead of playing the third, we play the fourth degree of the scale here.


So this is called a sus4. That’s C sus4. And likewise we have a sus2 where instead of playing the third we have the second in it as well. So. So we can kind of get some inversions of those as well. So if we sort of did that, if we played a C sus4. This is our root position. This is a C sus4 first inversion. So I’m just skip, just hopping over this C to play up here. And then we can take this F as well and play it up here, and we get this. This is C. Still a C sus4 but we have this really nice and open sound here.


And again, you can get quite jazzy by kind of going. So that’s the sound of sus2’s and sus4’s. Those are the chords. So I’m going to now get into this Armin van Buuren track. And there’s an example of, I think it’s a sus4 actually or sus2. I’ll kind of have to check it out in a minute. But it’s got really kind of interesting sound. And it was little bit like that, the Dead Mau5 track as well, where it’s kind of, the chords aren’t quite defined. They’re kind of built up from single notes all put together.


So let’s just have a listen. I’m just going to pretty much roughly sketch this out. There’s three sections I want to look at. This is the first one here. And I’ll tell you what. Just to give you an idea of what their cover looks like, there we go. There’s the track. So you can all check that out in your spare time. There we go. So I’ll just close that. Cool. So let’s just have a listen to the first section. This is the second section. And the third section. This chord here that I’m interested in.


Okay. So let’s just go for the first section first. I’m just going to get out this pad sound here. Now it’s very simple, the first section. It’s first of all, we’re in B flat Minor. So. So we’ve got four flats here. This one, this one. This one and this one. Well actually five flats because we’re starting on the B flat. And first three chords are B flat Minor, A flat Major, G flat Major. So let’s just put those in.


Tell you what. Let’s start again. So now we’re just going to simply underpin those chords. And we talked about that in the last hangout. So put it in. Cool. And then finally, to fill this section we’ve got this arpeggio type sound. So that’s the first section. Pretty kind of simple. But let’s have a listen to the second section now. Go back to the bass sound. Okay.


So you can see now that it’s kind of stepping down. It’s still following that descending path to those chords. But it’s adding these extra notes here. And they’re kind of changing the feel of the chord. So I’m going to put in this arpeggio now. Let’s try playing along to start off with. Let’s just try that again. Here we go. Using the delete function. Let’s go to the next section now. Now I’m going to put the bass in and we’ll get some, you’ll hear some really nice interaction between the bass and those chords. Especially there. And the arpeggio changes a little bit here as well. So there are our three main sections.


Let’s go back to this one now. Cool. So let’s bring up the chords and just see what we’re doing. Because we’re going to try to simplify that on the piano. So let’s just have a look here. Here we go. Here are the chords. And let’s just go on the piano sound here. So looking at this third section, the first chord is a B flat Minor and it’s the second inversion. This is a, reposition here, this is our second inversion.


Now the second chord is, there’s two ways of looking at this. We could call this an E flat first inversion. Or we could actually call it a G flat sixth. So this is another chord to add. We looked at our sevenths and our ninths and sus2’s and sus4’s. This is also a sixth chord. Just to kind of look simply at that, if we had a C Major and instead of playing the fifth we played the sixth note, this is called a C six.


So this is the chord we have here. And you can see this is why I’ve put in brackets underneath that it could be the four chord. I’m defining it as a G flat six. And also, because you remember the bass note went down to G flat. So we have that chord there. Then a flat which is the seven chord. And then we have this chord here which I’ve called a D flat first inversion.


And then we have this chord here where I was playing these two notes with the bass notes is this. Which is G flat. And this is where we have our sus2. And I’m going to make this a G flat sus2. And that really gives it that distinctive sound. I’m just going to play that to you now. So it’s just coming up here. Cool. So that’s that track. I’m just going to quickly shoot back to Adrian and Vlad and just see if you’re still there. See if you’re paying attention?


Guys:               We’re here. Yes.


Ski:                  Is that a big tune for you guys then?


Guys:               Sorry?


Ski:                  Is that an influential track for you? The [inaudible 15:06] Van Buren track?


Guys:               Well, I like this track very much.


Ski:                  Yeah.


Guys:               And maybe for this sus2 chord. I like it. I like it.


Ski:                  Say that again? Sorry, I couldn’t hear that.


Guys:               I like the chord. The sus2 chord. They’re amazing. So . . .


Ski:                  Yeah.


Guys:               . . . but the song also is amazing. And I like the voice and the production.


Ski:                  Yeah. Yeah. It’s . . .


Guys:               That’s why I wanted you to deconstruct it.


Ski:                  Yeah. Well, unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of the acapella for that one. But maybe one of you guys could provide that, you know? But I want to have another quick look at another track now. And this is, let me just save this. This is a Mary Jane Coles Tune. I’m just going to bring this up. And I just want to demonstrate major sevenths and using them in context. So we’re using them with a chord device. So I’m just going to mock this up. And I don’t know if you recognize this track. Let me just bring up a nice picture of her. There we go. This is very nice.


So let’s just play this tune now. So that’s the section. I’m just going to go back to the beat here. And I’ve actually got a chord device. But I’m going to play. I’m going to take that off. And bring up my virtual keyboard which is here. There we go. Now the chords are all major sevenths. So the first chord is an E Major seven. The second chord is an A Major seven. The third chord is an E Major seven. And then go back to G Major. G Major seventh. So it’s got a really distinctive sound.


And this is what I was talking earlier about the human chord device. We could actually just play that in. Just play it. But it’s a bit tricky to play. So this is where the Ableton chord device can really help us out. And you can see I’ve got that set up here. And I’ve got, there are three notes, extra notes that I’ve set up on the dials here. The first one is going up four semitones. So one, two, three, four. Then seven semitones. Five, six, seven. And the next one is eleven semitones. Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.


So we get our major seven. So I’m just going to play that again and just quickly talk about the basses. Because it’s very interesting bass. Rather than playing the root notes of those chords, she’s actually chosen some different notes. The first chord is a G Major and she’s actually chosen the second degree up, which is the B. So we’ve got a B. And then we have this note here which is F sharp. And then the G sharp. So I’m just going to record that in and you can hear what it sounds like.


So it’s got a really nice sound. So there you can see an example of using major sevenths and it’s got really kind of nice kind of emotional sound to them. So.


Luke:               Yeah.


Ski:                  So I’m just going to shoot back to you guys and I think it’d be great to have a listen to your assignments. You came through with some great, great ideas. How was it? Did you have fun with the assignment?


Guys:               Yeah.


Ski:                  Cool.


Guys:               It was great learning about the Dorian modes and [inaudible 19:13] and actual use really.


Ski:                  Yeah, yeah. Totally. Well let’s just bring that project up. Because I’ve put them all into a project. Here we go. Okay. Just loading up here. Okay. Cool. Well, I think I’ve put them in the order that I actually received them from everyone. So let’s just have a listen. This is Ryan’s first. Just going to give this a play. Here we go. So just to remind everyone at home, the task was to, you know we talked about bass lines in the last hangout.


The task was to just come up, really focus on the bass line. Not try to think about the bigger picture. Just kind of experiment. And just also try to incorporate some of the scales that we were looking at as well. So here’s Ryan’s. And you put this down as you were using the Dorian mode. It’s really nice.


Ryan:               Yeah.


Ski:                  What did you use to create the bass sound?


Ryan:               What VST? Silent.


Ski:                  Okay. It sounds to me like it’s made up of a fifth. So there’s not just, it’s kind of like two notes. Is it like using two oscillators or something?


Ryan:               Yeah. I think. I think there was a sub bass and there was another preset over the top of it so it’s like two different ones combined to make the bass.


Ski:                  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let’s just play another quick play. Sounds to me like it’s in B Minor. And if it’s the Dorian, if it’s B Minor Dorian. Great sound. I think it really sounds like you could develop that track.


Luke:               Yeah. It’s cool.


Ski:                  Really nice.


Ryan:               Thank you.


Ski:                  So let’s have a listen to Karolis’ track. Love that. That’s going to, really reminds me of like Kraftwerk. It’s really got a really cool sound. Like a really interesting scale in there. I mean, I kind of, I had it down as being in G Minor. But it’s something about the interaction between bass notes and the kind of high melody that you’ve got. It’s great. And can you tell me, what was that high lead sound that you used on that? Because it’s got a great sound to it.


Karolis:            The high lead. I used one of the presets from Zebra 2.


Ski:                  Okay.


Karolis:            Yeah.


Ski:                  Have you got that one Luke?


Luke:               No. I don’t know.


Ski:                  Have to check it out. Great work. Anyway. Okay. Let’s have a listen to the Adoriany now. You actually came up with three ideas here.


Adoriany:        Yeah.


Ski:                  So let’s go for it and have a listen. Cool. Is this the last one? Great. Really nice work. They sort of, especially the first two. They sound, got quite an uplifting vibe to it. Do you feel like you could develop those into a new track?


Adoriany:        I think so. Yes. It could be.


Ski:                  This third one is my personal favorite. But yeah. Very nice.


Adoriany:        I actually. Yeah. Thank you.


Ski:                  Cool. Okay. Let’s have a listen to Aaron’s one now. Cool. You know what? I’m sure we were having a conversation about that slap bass, weren’t we?


Luke:               Yeah. Yes we were, actually. It’s really cool.


Ski:                  It’s really cool. I really like that. I can kind of . . .


Luke:               Broken beat kind of thing. Really cool.


Ski:                  Yeah. Is that sort of style, like, something you kind of, you haven’t been working on before? Is that kind of new? Was that an experiment for you?


Luke:               I think his mike is mute.


Ski:                  Can you un-mute your mike? We can’t hear you.


Aaron:             Yeah. Can you hear me now?


Luke:               Yeah.


Ski:                  Yeah. Yeah. All good.


Aaron:             No. It’s just, I played a bass guitar so I just had an idea and the very same day you gave the task. So I just wanted to come up with a funky bass line, you know?


Ski:                  It’s really funky. So that’s actually on a keyboard sound, though, or a synth sound?


Aaron:             Yeah. Yeah. There are two here. Or three VST.


Luke:               Okay. Yeah. Yeah.


Ski:                  Okay. Because I want to hear that on a live bass.


Luke:               Yeah. Yeah. Definitely.


Aaron:             I could do that. Yes. For sure.


Ski:                  Send that over and I’ll play some [Fender Rhodes] on it or something.


Aaron:             That would be cool.


Luke:               Yes. Do it. Definitely.


Ski:                  Yeah, yeah.


Aaron:             Awesome.


Ski:                  Actually, yeah. There’s, I’m thinking about doing a deconstruction next week. A [inaudible 26:25] track.


Luke:               Yeah.


Ski:                  Yeah. And it’s got some really nice Rhodes in it. So I might kind of think of that as a reference point.


Luke:               Wicked.


Ski:                  So yeah. Really, really cool.


Aaron:             Awesome.


Luke:               Well done, Aaron. That’s great.


Ski:                  And the last one is from Jonathan. Okay [inaudible 26:41]. And this is interesting. I just put in the description about the task, it would be really good to try it, I mean, as an example, an acid house. And he’s come through with an acid house.


Luke:               Aye. Wicked. A man after my own heart.


Ski:                  So I’ll play it from some a little bit into the buildup. I really like that kind of syncopated rhythm. You know, the snare kind of going along with that bass. That’s really cool. Nice one, Jonathan.


Jonathan:         Huh?


Ski:                  That sounds really cool.


Jonathan:         Thanks.


Ski:                  Is that, again, is that not like a style that you normally work in? Acid house?


Jonathan:         Yeah. Was my first attempt at acid house.


Ski:                  Great work everyone. Well thanks a lot. And I’ve got a new task for you. And we’re going to, I want to send you another acapella. This is actually so kindly sent over by Armada. They sent over a few acapellas. So it’s an Armada release. So I’m just going to bring it up now. Just to give you an idea. And with this, I didn’t want to tell you what the tempo was or the key signature. That’s sort of part of their task is to figure out for yourself. And really try and focus on getting it in time. You know, getting the vocal in time. Trying something out. So let me just bring that up.


Guys:               This is going to be really challenging. But that’s cool. That’s fine. I really like that.


Luke:               Good.


Ski:                  It’s Faruk Sabanci featuring Josie. And the track’s called “Wake Up”. So I’ll just play you a little bit of the original and then you can kind of listen to the acapella as well. So I’m going to hide that because you can probably see where the [inaudible 29:46]. But anyway that’s your task.


Luke:               Someone screenshot that straight away.


Ski:                  Yeah. Yeah. Giving it away. Anyway guys. I’ll send that over to you while we transfer and just after this session. But I think that’s just about everything today.


Luke:               Yeah. That’s cool. I mean, another really, really good session. You know, out toward the guys as well. Coming through with your assignments again.


Ski:                  Yeah. Great work.


Luke:               Really looking forward to hearing the next one. So yeah. That’s it for us. Thanks again Ski. That was wicked. So today we have an exclusive offer from our friends at [We Transfer] who have been kind enough to offer the seven academy winners a free plus account. I can announce that we have a bonus for the viewers too. We’ll leave you a special discount link in the video description for this video on YouTube which entitles you to a whopping 50% discount on a We Transfer plus page. That’s a savings of 60 euros a year.


We’re going to show you some examples of We Transfer plus pages branded by the Academy of Electronic Music. So make sure you jump on this offer and happy file transferring. Also, tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. we have an exclusive artist hangout with [Ian Pauly] from [Innovation’s Over] Recordings and Left Room Records.


Berlin resident Ian Pauly’s music career spans over three decades with over 400 singles and remixes and seven albums. His sound is dark and hypnotic. Influenced by time spent in Berlin, Chicago, Detroit and Rio with a signature infectious groove. Ian will be live with us answering your questions tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. so don’t miss it. And that’s a wrap for today. I hope you guys [inaudible 31:30]. Okay. Cool. Yeah. We’re just going to check out some of the We Transfer pages from the Academy branded stuff as well.


Ski:                  Yeah. This is the Academy of Electronic Music one here. And some of the guys have sent their one up as well. So we’ve got [Picarlo’s] very nice background. Here’s [Ramone’s]. Very cool. And Adrian and Vlad’s. Very nice. So. Cool.


Luke:               Cool.


Ski:                  Grab it while you can.


Luke:               Yeah. Grab it while you can and make sure you make use of that discount that we’re offering. So that’s it. Another EMC session wrapped up. And the next one is Friday at 3:00 p.m. UK time. In the meantime, if you’re watching at home and you want to get your hands on our latest free music production classes, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel or the That’s it from us. And we’ll see you soon. Bye, bye.

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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂

For more information head over to the Point Blank Music School website to learn the very latest about our school.

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