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Music Theory & Composition 101: Making Music or Noise?

Why is music so important? Music is a way for someone to express themselves creatively. It is also a way to communicate how we feel through sound. Music can make us happy or sad, relaxed or focused, or even romantic. Music can start a revolution or put a baby to sleep. Music is all around us, in everything we do.

Ready to learn more about music engineering and production? As you navigate your way through music theory and composition, there are a few basics you will need to know to build a strong musical foundation. Understanding these basics will allow you to understand whether you are making music or noise. To give you a strong musical foundation we discuss sound waves, music theory 101 and music composition 101.

Am I Making Music or Noise?

Both music and noise are made up of sound waves. Sound waves have a frequency, wavelength, amplitude, speed and direction. Sound waves can also be reflected, diffraction, refracted or attenuate.

Reflected Sound – the striking of sound on another surface and the bouncing back of that sound in a different direction. Also known as an echo or reverberation.

Diffraction of Sound – a change in direction of sound waves as they pass through an opening or around a barrier in their path.

Refracted Sound – a change in the direction of sound waves as they pass from one medium to another. The bending of the path of the sound wave which also changes the speed and wavelength.

Attenuate Sound – the loss of energy in a sound wave after it travels through a medium. The sound waves intensity diminishes with distance. Attenuation is the scattering and absorption of the sound wave as it passes through the medium. Scattering involves a reflection of the sound in a different direction than its original path. Absorption involves the conversion of sound energy into other forms of energy.

Anyone can make noise but making noise enjoyable and creating a mixture of ordered sound makes music. Even if the sounds are ordered they might not be pleasant. There are also emotional feelings that are associated with noise and music called consonance and dissonance.

Consonance – pleasing to the ear with a stable and consistent tone.

Dissonance – the disruption of harmonic sound or rhythm which can be unpleasant to the ear.

Based on the previous definitions, music and noise are defined as:

Music – regular, ordered, and patterned sound waves. Music is a way of putting sounds and tones together in an order, combining them to create organized sound using patterned sound waves.

Noise – sound waves are chaotic, jumbled and confused. Many times, noise is disruptive and annoying to hear. Noise perception is subjective and is judged by the magnitude, characteristics, duration and time of occurrence.

Music Theory 101

Music Theory tries to explain what the ear is hearing through rhythm, harmony and melody.

Rhythm — when and for how long musical events happen. Rhythm is a repeated pattern of movement in sound through time. Rhythm can be fast or slow and is arranged in unites of sound or beats.

Harmony — how notes are combined (keys, chords and chord progressions) to compliment the melody. Harmony can be composed of chords, which are groups of three or more notes played at the same time. Chords can be either major, minor, diminished or augmented.

Melody — groups of notes played one after another that form the tune. Melody is made up of rhythm and pitch.

Music Composition 101

Whether you are creating music with live instruments or on a computer, all music is composed of unique parameters. The major parameters of musical tone include pitch, intensity and tone quality.

Pitch (Frequency) – frequency is the speed of the vibration of the sound waves and determines the pitch of the sound with the classification of a sound as high or low. Pitch is determined by the frequency of sound wave vibration. Frequency is quantified by a unit of measurement called hertz. The fluctuation of the sound waves can be measured by the number of wave cycles per second, or the sound waves oscillation. For a sound to have a perceived frequency, it must repeat in time.

Intensity (Amplitude) – the size of the vibration whether high or low. Larger vibrations make a louder sound.

Tone Quality (Waveform) – the characteristics of sound that allow the ear to distinguish sounds having the same pitch and loudness. The primary contributors to timbre of a musical instrument include harmonic content, attack and decay and vibrato. The harmonic content is the number and relative intensity of the upper harmonics present in the sound. Attack and decay consists of the sounds ability to reach its steady-state intensity and then it decays or fades into silence. Vibrato is made up of the amount of pitch variation and the speed with which the pitch is varied. There are four basic synthetic waveforms that include sine, square, triangle and sawtooth.

Sine Waveform – one harmonic, one frequency. So perfect it is virtually impossible to create both acoustically or electronically.
Square Waveform – contains odd harmonics or odd whole number multiples of the fundamental.
Triangle Waveform – similar to a square waveform however the harmonic content is lower in amplitude than in a square wave. The harmonics has less influence on the overall shape of the wave.
Sawtooth Waveform – contains all harmonics and the most complex of the four basic synthetic waveforms.

Ready to learn more about the basic fundamentals of music theory 101 and music composition 101? The audio production and engineering program is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Students learn the fundamentals: acoustics, audio signal flow, recording, music theory, digital audio workstations, MIDI sequencing, and music and entertainment business essentials. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production and engineering program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.