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    How To Write Music For Video Games

    Posted by (twitter: @RobProductions)
    February 2nd, 2012 3:10 pm

    So one of the most important parts of game development is getting the music to fit the game. In this post, I’m going to show you how to write your own music from scratch while still giving some tips for advanced composers.

    This tutorial focuses mainly on Garageband users, so forgive me if some of the terms are incorrect for different programs.

    Software

    • You don’t need costly software to write music, some of the most default programs can do the job.
    • Garageband is recommended for Mac users.
    • A good alternative is Noteflight.com, which can write music the… professional… way. You can save it to a wav. file.

     

    WARNING TO GARAGEBAND USERS – DO NOT USE MUSICAL TYPING FOR RECORDING, use the SCORE EDITOR
    A – Region Name field: Type a new name for the selected region in the field.

    B – Region Pitch slider and field: Drag the slider to transpose the selected Software Instrument region up or down by up to 36 semitones.
    You can also type the number of semitones in the field.

    C – Velocity slider and field: Drag the slider to change the velocity of selected notes.
    You can also type the velocity value in the field.
    A note’s velocity reflects how hard the key is pressed when you play the note.

    D – Zoom slider: Drag to zoom in for a closer view or to zoom out to see more of the track.

    E – Graphic/Notation View buttons: Click to change the editor to graphic view or notation view.

    F – Note Value button: Click to choose the note value for notes you add.

    G – Fix Timing button: Click to fix the timing of notes in the selected region, or notes selected in the editor, so that notes move to the nearest grid position.

    H – Beat ruler: Shows beats and measures for the area visible in the editor.

    I – Playhead: Shows the point in the project currently playing.

    J – Notation display: Shows the musical events of Software Instrument regions in standard music notation.
    You can move notes to adjust their pitch and where they start playing, and change how long they play.

    K – Scroll bar: Drag the scroller to move to a different part of a track.

    Chord Progression

    • To start off writing your piece, you need a good chord progression.
    • Pick a tune you think can be repeated for the entire song.
    • If stuck, choose four whole notes that descend or ascend.
    • Place the rest of notes in the chord.
    • Try placing a note that’s two steps away to complete the chord.

    Adding Other Instruments

    • If you want your song to slowly gain instruments over time:
    1. pick a short tune that can be played to the measures of your chosen chord progression.
    2. One by one, add the instruments with their short tunes until the climax of the song.
    3. This is where the lead comes in.
    • If not, add all the instruments at once at the beginning of the song.
    • There should be only one or two instruments playing the lead in a simple song.

    Writing The Lead

    • The lead should have its own instrument(s).
    • Pick a tune that fits the chord.
    • The lead will not have a repeatable tune.

    Increasing your song’s intensity with EQ

    • In Garageband, you can edit the instrument’s EQ levels under “Edit Instrument”.
    • EQ levels are the different frequencies of normal sound.
    • Each instrument should have a different EQ frequency.
    • Bass instruments should have a higher base and lower treble.
    • Lead instruments should have a higher treble and lower bass.
    • Feel free to mix these last two up for variation.
    • An example of the lead instrument’s EQ
    • Notice how the lead instrument’s EQ is not that extreme. For background instruments, extreme EQ can be a good thing.

    Variations

    • Note that all songs don’t follow the same pattern, this is just one way of writing a song.
    • To make your song sound different or catchy, think of it like making a movie, or a level.
    • Introduce the background instruments first, then show the listener your lead instrument.
    • During a change from loud to soft in music, have a common tune play before the change.
    • If it happens several times, the audience knows that whenever you play that tune, the sound level will drop.
    • Let the audience expect what is going to happen next, so that it becomes catchy.

    Obviously I didn’t go into the more advanced note placement tips, or note timing instructions, but this is just a general tutorial.

    Good luck writing music in the future, and hope to see more music in Ludum Dare games! :)

    If you want to see an example of a Garageband project, see my Isolated Assault Piece (from Ludum Dare 22).

    And if you crack open the Isolated Assault Source Files, you can see the same song under Assets/Sound/LD22Track.mp3

    One final note: You learn best from experience, so out there and make a song!

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    5 Responses to “How To Write Music For Video Games”

    1. callidus says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write this @RobProductions :-)

    2. No problem. I actually could’ve taken more, but I was in a hurry, and I already had written a similar post on Noteflight.com (After it was accidentally deleted because of “Character Limit” :( ) I was worried all my writing would be dumped in the trash again, but I guess not! :) Thanks Ludum Dare system!

    3. bschmidt1962 says:

      Nice tutorial, and Thanks for bring up EQ!
      One thing I might add is that depending on the style of game, you probably want to leave “space” in your music for the sound effects. You can do that either musically (eg. be careful not to have the melody be so busy as to distract from the sound effects) or even with EQ and orchestration (eg EQ out to create EQ holes that the SFX can fit nicely into).
      Always glad to see people caring about game Audio!
      Brian
      http://www.GameSoundCon.Com
      GameSoundCon 2012, Oct 24/25 San Francisco A

    4. Cisco Systems

      How To Write Music For Video Games | Ludum Dare

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      How To Write Music For Video Games | Ludum Dare

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