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Electronic Music Composition Hangout #3: Chord Progressions

In the third of our live EMC hangouts as part of the Academy of Electronic Music, course tutor Ski Oakenfull takes a look at chord progressions, using Calvin Harris’s remix of Florence and the Machine’s Spectrum to explain how they work. We also take a look at Logic’s Chord Device and have a listen to the finalists’ take on the Deadmau5’s The Veldt acapella. As usual, it’s full of music-making tips and tricks – watch the whole thing below and we’re back today at 3pm for another live stream, this time talkin’ basslines. If you subscribe to our YouTube channel before Monday 4th November you’ll be in with a chance of winning a pro producer bundle! Click here to subscribe.

Video Transcription:

Luke:         Hi everyone, I’m Luke Hopper broadcasting live from Pointblank Music School here in East London. Welcome along, it’s the third EMC session in the Academy of Electronic Music. Brought to you by Google, Armada Music, DJ Mack, and Pointblank. So, the Academy has brought us all together in a search for the world’s best undiscovered producers. Seven winners were found and now they are taking part in Pointblank’s electronic music composition course to improve their skills even further.

You at home can follow along with their progress and join in with the assignments at the end of each session. And now, here’s your tutor Ski Oakenfull.

Ski:  All right, 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:         So, Ski what have you got in store for us today?


Ski:            Okay, so following on from the last hangout where we looked at chords, we defined cords, we’re going to concentrate a bit more on chord progressions now and as an example I’m going to use the Florence and the Machine track Spectrum, the Calvin Harris remix to just kind of demonstrate the two chord sequences of that track. Within that we’re going to look at, or introduce, chord inversions. Different ways of playing triads. And also slash chords as well. Which is actually something that comes in EMC2 but I thought I’d kind of integrate it in today’s lesson. And also if we’ve got time I’m going to look at chord devices. Something that has just been introduced in Logic 10 which is fantastic.


Luke:         Yeah.


Ski:            It’s been in Ableton for ages and available on some other plugins and devices. And then at the end we’re going to have a listen to the student submissions from the last task which was basically to rework the a cappella of The Veldt by DeadMau5 and they’ve really done some fantastic work.


Luke:         Yeah, some amazing results.


Ski:            Yeah, brilliant. So, yeah, hopefully we’re going to cram it all in. I just want to say hi to the guys, how you doing guys?


Student:    Hey what’s up?


Student:    How are you doing?


Student:    Hey.


Ski:            Nice to see you. Thank you again. It’s nice because you had an extra day in between the last Hangout to sort of do some work so it really shows, you’ve done some great work on it so we’re going to check out those later. So, cool. Let’s crack on. So for this, I was looking for the a cappella of this because it’s you know, I often do a bit of searching on the internet, and someone has actually redone the a cappella. They’ve rerecorded it and they put it on SoundCloud. So I’m just going to show that to you now. Just going to share the screen. Okay, there we go. So anyone out there wants to have a look it’s here. It’s this guy called Aviciist/Florence and the Machine. Check out his or her SoundCloud page and you can find this a cappella.


This is the one I’ve used and I’m just going to go back and share Logic now. And just get it like that, there we go. Cool. So I’ve got a Logic project. I’ve got the a cappella in here and just a beat at the moment. So this top track here is the cappella. You can see that I’ve split it up into the verse, bridge, chorus, and the verse. So let’s have a look at the, well the key signatures start off with, I’m just going to bring up my virtual keyboard. Here we go. So the key signature of this track is B minor. I’m just going to play it to you now. Can anyone tell me how many sharps are in B minor?




Student:    [inaudible 4:00]


Luke:         We’ve got a six there.


Ski:            Six?


Student:    No. Three, three right?


Ski:            You’re all wrong, it’s two.


Student:    Oh.


Ski:            Okay we’ve got C sharp and F sharp. And if you remember in the last lesson we were talking about relative minor and relative major. B minor’s the relative minor of D major. So the first, or the verse chord sequence is all made up of triads and we were taking about this in the last Hangout. I’m not sure if I actually defined triad but I just sort of said a chord. A triad is basically, as is implied in the name, it’s three notes. So this is a triad. And this is called just the root position. We’re going to talk about inversions in a minute but this is the root position because the bottom note of this triad is this one note here, it’s the first note. So this chord sequence, the verse goes D minor, D major, G major. So this is the one chord, the three chord, and the six chord. And then it goes to the six chord again, the G major. To the A major. F sharp minor. And to the G major. In fact, I’m just going to bring up the chords here. I’ve just got them written out there. Here we go. So that’s the verse and then we have the bridge and the chorus and these ones go to the E minor. You notice I’m playing this slightly differently. If we had our reposition triad of E minor it would be this. But we’re playing second inversion and what happens when you play an inversion…this is our root position. If you take this bottom note here, the E, and you play it an octave up. So this is called a first inversion. So it’s still the notes of E minor in E minor chord but we’ve actually got a different bottom note which is this G. And then if we do the same thing, we kind of leap frog over, take this G and play it up here so we got B as our bottom note, this is called our second inversion. So we’ve got root position, first inversion, second inversion, and then if we did the same we just end up again with our root position.


So, going back to this bridge and chorus chord sequence we’ve got an E minor second inversion, F sharp minor second inversion, and then the G second inversion. And then it goes back from there up to the root position one chord to the B minor and then A major. So I’m going to play those in and sort of like I did in the last Hangout, just kind of start adding the parts in. So let’s just check this is on. Okay, just check it, got my click on. There we go. So I’m going to do the verse part first, so here we go.


So as you can hear it’s a really nice part and I actually went back to the original verse and version, the Florence and the Machine version and it’s kind of, those chords are implied but what Calvin has done is just really kind of reinforced those chords and just made them kind of much straighter for that bit. And I think Calvin’s great at that, taking something, simplifying it, but really kind of making it strong. It’s a really good strong idea [sounds like 7:47]. So I’ve got…just going to just open that up. There we go. Just going to stick a bit of quantize on. There we go.




Now we’re going to go to the bridge section, which as I mentioned before is the bridge and the chorus. This is great because it’s a kind of rhythm, it’s quite a syncopated rhythm that’s going across the beat so I’m just going to play that in now and you should be able to hear it. There we go and if we copy that over to the chorus we can then start adding some bass and just trying to sort of reinforce it. There we go. Just going to copy it over, just try that again. And again, just copy it over. So you can see this great build up here because there’s nothing. It’s basically just the chords and then everything really kicks in for the chorus.


So, it’s sounds okay. Just the beat and the piano but now it’s time to bring in the bass so let’s just go back to these chords and just get back to the piano a second, there we go. Now, I don’t know if you could see but when I was playing in those chords, in my left hand I was playing the root note which is this E so even though this was second inversion I was playing this and I’m just going to do the same thing in the same rhythm but on a bass sound. So let’s put that in now.


In fact, I’m going to do that an octave down. There we go. Okay, I messed up the second half of that so I’m just going to copy the first half, there we go. I’ve also got this sound here. It would be nice to kind of copy that or just to double that part with that sound as well, quite good technique just to kind of really boost it up.


So it’s really quite simple. They’re all chords within the scale, or the key of B minor and so quite effective but I thought it would be quite nice just to work on maybe a little bit of a remix and as another task what I want you guys to do is maybe try something out yourselves with this a cappella, a bit like the last one. But what I really liked about your last task is that you used that a cappella from The Veldt but it kind of made you come up with some really kind of great backing tracks and in a way you could get rid of that a cappella and that could be the seed or the start of a new track. So, I sort of want to apply that technique to this as well, maybe sort of try something out and develop it. So, I’m just going to have a go myself so let’s go to the verse now.


So, I’ve sort of had a little play around and I quite like this vibe here, I’m just going to play it to you now.


So I’m just going to put that in and just sort of explain to you what those chords are. So, let’s just put that in, here we go. So let’s try a bass maybe. Here we go.


Okay, so it actually kind of probably sounds quite nice coming out of this section as well, let’s just check it out. Let’s copy over those parts that we had before, just listen to that.


Okay, so I’m just going to quickly talk about those chords that I was playing. Now, this first chord is an F sharp minor. Which is the five chord. But in the bass I’m playing a B, which is the one of B minor. And we can call this a slash chord and this is basically when you’ve got one chord that’s a different chord over a different root note. So, we’ve got F sharp minor over B. But then it goes to the G, now this is a second inversion in my right hand. It’s kind of a really nice sound and you can get quite kind of jazzy with this as well. This is where the chord device comes in, which I’m going to have a look at in a minute. But this is something that I highly recommend getting into there. It’s a bit ambiguous really when we talk about slash chords because even though, and maybe this is a little bit technical, a little bit advanced, but even though we’re playing an F sharp minor over B if we play D here then we’d have a B minor nine. But the point is, were not playing this B and it gives it a sound in itself, it does distinguish from the sound.


So, what I’m going to do now is try the same thing but I’m going to set up the chord device which is something that’s new for Logic 10. As an Ableton user, we’ve been privileged enough to have it for ages in Abelton as a device but finally they’ve got it in Logic 10 and it’s brilliant and they’ve got an arpeggiator in there as well now, it’s just so useful.


So, let’s just bring it up now. I’m just going to…I’ve got this sound here. I’m just going to bring up the midi effects which are here and just scroll down to the second one, this chord trigger. Here we go. And I’m just going to hit clear because we don’t want anything for the moment. And I’m going to play a chord in. I have to hit learn, I’m going to play, let’s just bring up my keyboard again. I’m going to play my favorite chord. I’ve got a favorite chord.




Luke:         Of course Ski has got a favorite chord.


Ski:            But it’s a chord that you all kind of hear loads, especially in Deep House. I love Deep House and it’s a really common one. It’s basically a minor nine but it’s an inversion. So, this is a C minor nine here. So, again this is stuff we get into in EMC2. So, what I’m going to do is click on learn. Just play that chord. There we go. There we go. So, what we’ve got now is, if we just play one note it’s playing that C minor nine, it’s just kind of a great sound. So, let’s just play that now. I’m just going to get rid of the bass as well.


Just try putting something in, just for laughs. So, started improvising there. There might have been a bar in that that was good but you can see the power of the chord device and you can even set up another one as well. There’s loads of fun that you can have with that. I’m just going to shoot back to you guys now and just see, check you’re still there.


Students:   Hello.


Ski:            Hi guys. I know that a lot of you use FL Studio. Is there a similar chord device, because I don’t use it myself. Is there something similar to that with FL Studio?


Student:    I don’t think….


Student:    No.


Ski:            Oh, really? That’s interesting. Because I know that you can create that effect with plugins. It’s something…often…I don’t know, like probably Silence has got it, or Predator. You can actually set up the chords within that. Is that something that you guys do?


Student:    Well, it’s something new for me but it’s very useful, thank you.


Ski:            Yeah, okay.


[cross talk 18:38]


Student:    Ableton has the chord device so any chance you can give us a quick, show us how that works, really?


Ski:            Of course, of course. If you just bear with me. I’ll just quit Logic and bring up Ableton. So yeah, just to say again guys, thank you so much for your submissions, they were really cool.


Student:    No problem.


Ski:            Okay, here we go. Let’s bring up Live. Hopefully it won’t take too long to load up. Okay cool. So, let’s just quickly get a sound here. Let’s try a…maybe not that. We want something that’s reasonably nice. There you are, a piano. You can’t go wrong with a piano can you?


Student:    No.


Ski:            Okay, so we got the piano here. So basically if you just want to go down to the midi effects here on the left hand side. You can see that. And we’re just going to click on our chord device here. Double click on that. Let’s just get some of this keyboard up here. And you can see it goes at the start of the chain. And basically we’ve got six, dials I suppose you’d call them here…and each one represents, well it’s a kind of dial represents a semi tone, sort of up or down. So, let’s do something really simple. Say we just wanted to programme in a minor triad. C, a E flat, and a G. So we don’t need to worry about the root note which is the C, but the first one is going to be this E flat. So what we do is we just work out the semi tone steps basically. So, we go up here. This is our C. D flat. D. E flat. That’s one, two, three. So we can just go here, click on the first dial, just type in three. And then we’re going to go to the next one. So this is three semi tones, four, five, six, seven. This is seven. Hope you can follow that. There we go, very easy. And then we just got…and you can get quite elaborate, you can get some really nice jazzy chords. I haven’t got a project prepared but maybe in the next Hangout I’ll get something so that I can demonstrate it in Ableton. So, yeah, I hope that answered your question.


Student:    Yeah wicked, thanks for that.


Ski:            Fantastic. Okay, well I can see that we’re kind of running out of time so I really want to play your tracks so I’m just going to load them up now. Because you really did a fantastic job, so let’s just load it up here, there we go. So, did everyone stick in the same tempo? Did anyone speed it up, slow it down? Well I doubt you would’ve slowed it down.




Student:    I did it in the same tempo.


Student:    Yeah, I actually changed to 128.



Diaz:          128



Levato:      Yeah I stick to 128.



Vincent:    132.


Ski:            It’s like, I feel like I’ve got lots of questions now about FL Studio. Maybe I should kind of get to know it. But how about time stretching, is that quite easy to do in FL Studio? Or do you think it’s easier in Logic or Pro Tools or whatever?



Milea:        It’s okay in Pro Tools.


Gabriël:     Me, personally, I think it’s easier to do in Logic than to do in FL Studio but I love FL Studio.


Ski:            Yeah. But it has got that capability right? In FL Studio?


Ramon:      Yeah.


Ski:            Okay. All right. I feel like I need to buy a PC.




Ski:            I’ve been Mac all my life just so I can get…although there is a beta version I think, for Mac. Yeah, yeah. But okay, so, let’s go. I’ve got the tracks here. I’m going to start off with Aaron’s. I’m not going to play the full length of everything, I haven’t got as much time but let’s just go for this one. This is the first one that I got.


And that’s kind of as far as you got. This is the first one. This came in like the next morning or something, so you worked on this really quickly. What I love about this is the way the arpeggio works over the original chords because you’ve kept the original chords and I think there’s an amazing syncopation going on between those chords and that arpeggio. It feels to me, obviously you haven’t taken it to the point where the beat comes in, it’d be really nice when that vocal came in if you really filtered down that arpeggio and built up a bit more. It’s feels like it’s slightly getting in the way of the vocal. Maybe it’s a level thing, but I really, really like that, it’s great.


Aaron:       Thanks.


Ski:            So, this one is Adoriany and I don’t know, was it with…did you work on this one together guys?


Adrian:      Yes, yes we did it together.


Ski:            And how does that work for you when you’re working together? Does one of you start something and then you send each other the session?


Adoriani:   Yes, yes, yes. I mainly do the drums, the bass, and my brother deals with the melody.


Ski:            Cool.


Adoriani:   And after we have done it we are doing the mixing and the matching.


Ski:            Fantastic. Okay


Adoriani:   We’re working together.


Ski:            Let’s take a listen to this because I really love this.


Cool, so this is great. Looks like you’ve kind of limited this quite heavily. There’s a lot of mastering going on. Did you master that? It looks like it.


Adoriani:   Yes, yes.


Ski:            It’s coming out very loud. JC’s freaking out on the decks.




Ski:            But, well firstly, it’s great that you’ve used some different chords, you’ve sort of re-harmonised the vocal. And you’ve also lead right up to a melody section as well which is really cool so I think this is a great example of where you could strip back this a cappella and this could be a brand new track, maybe you could try some new vocals. So, fantastic work on that.


Adoriani:   Thank you.


Ski:            Going to have a listen to the Piccalo [sounds like 26:20] track now, Karolis. Let’s go from here.


Quite moody, this one. That’s really nice. Great work. It’s definitely kind of moody, got a moody vibe to it going on there. It’s really a bit dark which is great. Very nice.


Karolis:      Thank you.


Ski:            Okay. Ramon. Is Ramon there?


Ramon:      Yeah, I’m here.


Ski:            Okay, yeah this is, I don’t know, maybe a contender for my personal favorite, I’m not sure. I don’t want to exclude anyone else but this is really nice, let’s check this one out.


I’m quite a big fan of ambient music and there’s a real ambient vibe in your production, which I love.


Ramon:      Okay.


Ski:            I love what you’ve done with the vocal there.


Ramon:      Yeah.


Ski:            Going to have to push on because we’re running out of time…


Ramon:      Okay.


Ski:            …but this is lovely. Really, really lovely. I’m just going to, got to find you there. There we go. Yeah, I just think that…the vocal sounds a little bit muffled to me, I think maybe…


Ramon:      Yeah the problem was you can hear the claps and hiyas [sounds like 29:28] in the background from the vocal and I tried to make the claps and vocals a little bit lower…


Ski:            Yeah.


Ramon:      Because of this the vocals are a little bit muffled.


Ski:            Yeah, but I love the fact that you’ve got this amazing build up to the beat and when it does come in, it’s quite restrained which is quite nice. It just feels like it needs to go, progress, on and on after that but really, really nice.


Ramon:      Okay, thank you.


Ski:            Okay, we’ve got two more to go. Here’s Ryan’s.


Ryan, this is really nice. Again, you’ve gone on a different thing. This is sort of a bit more melodic, this one. Let’s just get you up on here. And I just think that it’s, in a way, the melody night be fighting the vocal a little bit.



Signett:      Okay.


Ski:            Because there’s like two melodies that are going on at the same time and this might be another contender for sort of taking away the vocal now and actually just developing this as a track in its right. But it’s great, I love the fact that everyone’s gone down different paths with this which is cool. So, very good work. And, let’s just go for the last one now. It’s the Yuri and Raphael one. So this is great, it’s got more of an uplifting majory feel to it. Which is cool. And it sounds very crisp and full on so great. I can see you called it your bootleg, which is cool.


Raphaël:    Yes, we’re going to make a bootleg out of it and post it on Sound Cloud as a free download.


Ski:            Okay, well we have to be really careful with copyright because what I was going to suggest to you all is, it’d be really good to maybe just run off an instrumental of what you’ve done, just to give your followers a chance to listen to it in the full length version and maybe if you did want to extend it out or whatever it’d just be really good. And it’d be a great way for you to interact with your followers on Google plus. So, you could maybe still put it up to Sound Cloud but then post it and get people involved and make it so they have to follow you to actually listen to it. So I think that’d be a really cool thing to do. And, Ryan, you suggested actually putting your project file up as well.


Ryan:         Yeah, I think about obviously stripping off the a cappella itself and just giving the backing track away, for people to actually get inside the track and maybe develop themself. But they’d have to subscribe to my YouTube channel to obviously see the clip of it and also go back to my Google plus and that’s where I’ll be putting the link up later on today so, if you’re interested in that, then yeah, get on it guys.


Ski:            Yeah, that’s brilliant. I think that’s a really good idea. Anyone else that want to do that as well, then that would be really cool. I just want to remind everyone…I’m just going to share the screen, and just show you the pointblank free stuff page just to show you where I’m putting the downloads because I’ve put the midi files for the Florence and the Machine remix up. There we go. It’s the web address that I read out earlier. it’s there. And if you just click on the top link there it should come up. There we go. And you can see master class three, the files from today. There’s also the soundation project as well. SO get involved there. It’s a chance you can just load up the midi files and, yeah, I think that’s pretty much us for time, isn’t it?


Luke:         Yeah, think so. Another wicked session Ski. Thank you to you and to all of you guys, the seven winners. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.


Student:    Thank you.


Student:    Thanks.


Student:    Thank you.


Luke:         Cool. Okay so that brings you to the end of another EMC session. We’ll be back again for the next one on Monday at 3 p.m. UK time. In the meantime, good luck with the assignment all of the seven winners and to all of you guys watching at home. If you are watching at home and you want to get a taste of the full course for free then just head over to and click on free course samples.


Yeah, and lastly I have to announce that we’ve just uploaded a brand new competition to the Point Blank plus site. If you subscribe to our YouTube channel between now and Monday you’ll be in with the chance of winning a huge pro producer prize worth over £1,000 and that’s in association with Novation, Ableton, and III Headphones. Head over to and find out more about that one. And we’ll see you very soon, thanks for watching. Bye bye.

. . .

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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