Tags: posts polarity-music Bitwig Grid Chords Harmony-Theory Melodies Tutorial

The Power of Intervals: Understanding Melodies, Chords, and Scale Highlighting Features

Tutorial | Aug 07, 2023

In today's video, I want to discuss melodies, chords, and scale highlighting features. Somebody commented on my previous video about using a note grid that emits random melodies and modifying it with a key filter to accommodate those who are less familiar with music theory. However, I believe this approach is not feasible because the scale highlighting feature in Ableton Live, for example, can be misleading. When you select the scale feature in Ableton Live, it highlights certain notes in green. For C major, all the white keys are highlighted. However, it also selects other scales and modes such as D Dorian, E Phrygian, and so on.

The key or scale you play in depends on the notes you use from the highlighted keys and their placement in your melody. Simply selecting the C major scale and playing notes in the highlighted keys does not guarantee a C major sound. A similar tool in Bitwig Studio, called the diatonic transposer or key filter, can also be misleading in the same way. It may indicate the selected scale, but the tonal center is determined by the notes used and their placement. In my opinion, it is important to understand intervals and their relationships to establish a tonal center and create melodies and chord progressions. Utilizing the piano roll and remembering intervals such as the root note, the fifth, and the major or minor third can help you navigate through different scales and modes. It's not necessary to rely solely on scale highlighting features or pre-selected scales.

To demonstrate this, I provided practical examples in the video. You can easily create a diatonic scale using the white keys on the piano roll and then establish a key center by emphasizing the root note or using the dominant or the minor or major third. By utilizing these intervals, you can write music in various keys and modes, even without extensive knowledge of music theory. Overall, while scale highlighting features can be helpful for playing on the keyboard without making mistakes, understanding intervals and utilizing the piano roll effectively is more important for creating melodies and chord progressions.

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Questions & Answers

Maybe you dont watch the video, here are some important takeaways:

Can a note grid be set up to emit random melodies and then modified by a key filter?

Yes, it is possible to set up a note grid to emit random melodies of all notes and then modify them using a key filter. This can be a useful feature for individuals who have limited knowledge of music theory and may not be familiar with the specific notes in a scale. By using a key filter, the random melodies can be confined to a particular key or scale, making it easier for individuals to create melodies and chords without worrying about selecting the correct notes manually.

How does the scale highlighting feature in Ableton Live work?

The scale highlighting feature in Ableton Live allows users to select a specific scale, such as C major, and then highlights all the notes within that scale on the piano roll or keyboard interface. This feature is designed to make it easier for users to stay within a specific key or scale when creating melodies and chords. In the case of C major, all the white keys on the keyboard are highlighted in green, indicating that they are part of the C major scale.

Does the scale highlighting feature in Ableton Live accurately represent the selected scale?

No, the scale highlighting feature in Ableton Live does not accurately represent the selected scale. While it highlights all the notes within the C major scale, it also highlights notes that belong to other scales and modes, such as D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A minor, and B Locrian. The scale highlighting feature only shows the keys needed for the C major scale, but it does not take into account how the specific notes are used within a melody or chord progression. The tonal center and the scale or mode being used is determined by the specific notes and their arrangement within a composition.

How can the piano roll be used effectively without relying solely on scale highlighting features?

The piano roll can be used effectively by understanding and utilizing intervals, which are the distances between different notes. By understanding the intervals, such as the root note, the fifth, the major or minor third, and other important intervals, creators can establish a tonal center and create melodies or chord progressions without solely relying on scale highlighting features. By familiarizing themselves with these intervals and their relationships, individuals can confidently select and arrange notes on the piano roll to achieve the desired musical effect, irrespective of the selected scale or mode.


This is what im talking about in this video. The text is transcribed by AI, so it might not be perfect. If you find any mistakes, please let me know.
You can also click on the timestamps to jump to the right part of the video, which should be helpful.

[00:00:00] So in today's video I want to talk about melodies and chords and scale
[00:00:05] highlighting features and I want to talk about this because someone wrote under
[00:00:10] my last video something like this here. Maybe you know of some downside to this
[00:00:14] approach but a note grid could be set up to emit just random melodies of all
[00:00:19] notes and then that could be modified by a key filter. This is useful for people
[00:00:25] like me who know so little about music theory that I'm not sure how many
[00:00:29] semitones A is away from C. And I answer to this that it's not actually
[00:00:35] possible and you have to know this and this brought me to the scale highlighting
[00:00:40] feature of Ableton Live because a lot of people actually want to have this in
[00:00:44] Bitwig Studio also and most of the times it's people who don't know that much
[00:00:50] about harmony theory and so on. I want to explain why these kind of tools kind of
[00:00:56] lie to you in a way and also here the diatronic transposer of Bitwig Studio
[00:01:02] which is called now a key filter is also kind of lying to you in a way. I want to
[00:01:08] explain this here on this example of Ableton Live. So in Ableton Live you can
[00:01:12] select the scale feature so you switch this on and then you have your certain
[00:01:16] notes highlighted in green and then you select your C major and then of course
[00:01:22] all notes of C major are highlighted in green which in fact are all the white
[00:01:28] notes or all the white keys on the keyboard. So now a beginner probably
[00:01:34] thinks "nice I can paint on all these green things and play a melody in chords
[00:01:42] in C major" right? Wrong. It's actually not how it works. You're not only
[00:01:53] selected here the scale of C major you also selected the scale of D Dorian to
[00:01:58] select also E Phrygian you selected F Lydian you selected G Mixolodian you
[00:02:03] also selected A minor and you also selected B Locrian and in what kind of
[00:02:09] key or scale you are play your melody or your chords is decided by what kind of
[00:02:15] notes you use out of these green highlighted things and how often do you
[00:02:21] play these notes and where these notes are in your melody. I hope this makes
[00:02:26] sense because this defines tonal center and this one in the scale highlighting
[00:02:32] feature only shows you the keys that are needed for the C major scale. But
[00:02:38] like I said you selected also a bunch of other scales and modes and
[00:02:44] I want to show you this in an example in Bitwig Studio and you can also do this
[00:02:48] in your own DOR you don't need to have Bitwig Studio of course but for me there
[00:02:53] is no other DOR I don't know any other DORs I only know Bitwig Studio so
[00:02:58] whatever. Okay so we select here C major which are all the... actually go back to
[00:03:05] this. We select all white notes and I don't want to be racist it's just it
[00:03:11] just happens to be the case that C major is all the white keys. So we select this here
[00:03:21] pretty easy actually and you can see we select all the white keys so the piano
[00:03:28] role in itself is a scale highlighter for the frequencies so when you want a
[00:03:33] scale highlighting feature for the piano role what you actually want is a ruler
[00:03:37] for the ruler for the ruler if this makes sense so it's like how many levels
[00:03:43] you want to go deep right it's ruler septu basically or scale septu. Okay so we
[00:03:51] select here C major so now we can use the key filter here and select C major
[00:04:01] same melody now we select D Dorian same melody you select A minor same melody so
[00:04:13] what's the problem here we selected the different scale why does this sound the
[00:04:18] same like I said all these modes all these scales share the same keys so it
[00:04:25] depends basically on you where you put these notes on these white keys to
[00:04:30] establish for the brain or for the ear the tonal center to establish the tonal
[00:04:36] center you have for instance for C major you have to use maybe it's one trick
[00:04:43] use C a lot in your melody like this right so the brain knows oh okay we
[00:04:52] play in the key of C and of course we have all the other notes here it looks
[00:04:57] like it's C major okay so this is how the brain works and you can also establish
[00:05:06] the key center by let's say start on C and use maybe the dominant of C which is
[00:05:13] always in all keys in all modes seven semitones above the root one two three
[00:05:20] four five six seven so the dominant of C is G the dominant is also of course the
[00:05:28] fifth note this is the fourth the fifth and it's also called perfect because it's
[00:05:35] always the same in all keys in all modes it's always perfect it's the perfect
[00:05:41] interval the next perfect interval is unison this fourth perfect I don't think
[00:05:46] so I'm not sure right but this is basically unison so this C to C right
[00:05:52] it's perfect unison that's how it's called and it's actually behind the
[00:05:59] scenes it's the frequency doubled so if you have a frequency here this is double
[00:06:05] double the frequency two times the frequency of this always this C is
[00:06:11] double the frequency of this frequency okay so this is how it works perfect
[00:06:15] unison so yeah we have the dominant the fifth and you can use this in our melody
[00:06:22] so now the brain knows okay there's a C in here there's a domino C in here and
[00:06:30] the rest of the nodes give a hint at the scale of C major right so this kind of
[00:06:36] works for the brain and you can still switch to a minor and still sounds like
[00:06:45] a C major melody because we established the key center on C and we use a
[00:06:50] dominant of C and we maybe also ended up on C with our melody right so it doesn't
[00:06:56] matter what you what you change here it's
[00:07:00] always sounds like C major even though you selected a minor or the Dorian to
[00:07:09] actually make it sound like the Dorian you have to use the special notes or the
[00:07:14] special intervals of the Dorian to actually make it sound like a Dorian
[00:07:21] sound or they have a Dorian sound I have a C major sound and so on right this is
[00:07:26] very important and for C major it's also the major major third so major third is
[00:07:35] always one two three four always four semitones above the root this one so now
[00:07:46] it's pretty clear for the ear
[00:07:54] that we have a happy C major melody we have to root in there we have the major
[00:08:00] third in there we have to dominant in there and we have a bit of other nodes
[00:08:05] here in between that gives the in there to see major scale away okay this is
[00:08:12] also something that you have to remember that's also useful in my opinion is to
[00:08:18] remember these intervals root note the fifth always seven semitones above one
[00:08:26] two three four five six seven the minor third one two three it's always three
[00:08:34] semitones it's also minor chord every minor scale starts with the miners minor
[00:08:41] chord major chord which is a minor third one two three four so remember these
[00:08:49] intervals and you never get lost actually in making melodies or making
[00:08:55] chord progressions it's it's more than you need down more tricks to that but
[00:08:58] it's all you need then we have of course the fourth is always interesting and the
[00:09:06] fourth is also one two three four five always seven semitones above the root or
[00:09:12] below the root but I want to go into that now I just want to stick to the
[00:09:17] scales so let's go back here to the melody too much too too much to pack
[00:09:25] actually into this video so we have now a Z major melody so now we want to
[00:09:32] convert this to an a minor melody so what but do we have to do actually to make
[00:09:37] this an a minor melody so we have of course to use all the white keys because
[00:09:45] a minor and C major use the same keys but we have to establish the key center
[00:09:50] on a so we have to probably pull this down three semitones to be on a also we
[00:09:57] want to have the dominant of a in there one two three which is now seven
[00:10:06] semitones above a right one two three four five six seven it's e and I think
[00:10:13] we have also here the minor third in there instead of the the major third so
[00:10:19] we have one two three semitones above the root
[00:10:26] so now it sounds like a minor melody
[00:10:31] and you can see it sounds like a minor melody but we use only the white keys so
[00:10:46] it's technically C major and we are still the key feet give key filter on C
[00:10:52] major here because it doesn't matter but we established the key center or the
[00:10:57] tonal center on a with the root note with the fifth here with the minor third
[00:11:05] and so on so this is more important than actually having the right keys here
[00:11:11] selected and because you need to know this you need to know about the root
[00:11:18] note you need to know about the minor third or the major third you need to know
[00:11:21] about the fifth and and so on right you need to know about this so if you know
[00:11:27] already about this this becomes completely obsolete because this gives
[00:11:33] you any hint at all because it doesn't matter because it can play in all kinds
[00:11:38] of different modes and scales anyway even though you select your C major so
[00:11:44] this is more like an helpful tool for playing on the keyboard right and not
[00:11:52] having a mistake while playing it and accidentally playing maybe here a sharp
[00:11:57] or something like this right so this is in my opinion why the piano roll is
[00:12:03] still powerful how it is and you need to learn certain intervals the distances
[00:12:10] between these notes and remember these and then utilize them in melodies and
[00:12:16] chord progressions okay so at the end of this video I want to give some practical
[00:12:21] examples how you can actually utilize them the piano roll for that so first up
[00:12:29] people always tend to use a weird scale to actually make a scale highlighting
[00:12:38] feature interesting so let's say I want to write a song in B mixolodeon flat six
[00:12:49] or something like this right a weird scale but it never happened actually for
[00:12:54] me or for anyone I know that produces music that you start up with a scale in
[00:13:01] mind and you define a scale first and then you write in that scale in my
[00:13:10] opinion music or harmony theory is is made for describing what happened before
[00:13:17] and what happened before is basically some accidents or something that you
[00:13:22] feel is right and then you describe it also when you watch for instance death
[00:13:27] mouse making chord progressions or if you watch on similar doing music they all
[00:13:33] tend to stick to simple rules of how to utilize intervals and then utilize this
[00:13:41] and then end up in weird scales in weird situations in weird melodies and so on
[00:13:48] and I don't want to say scales are completely irrelevant and you don't
[00:13:53] need scales at all or something like this it's just you know it's not that you
[00:13:59] need to be focused so much on this it's actually not that super important
[00:14:04] because and created the diatonic scale on the keyboard pretty easily like I said
[00:14:11] just select all the white keys and then you start on a and you're on a minor and
[00:14:17] you start on C and you're in C major so you can build C major major scale and you
[00:14:21] can build a minor scale and then you can probably make 99% of all Western pop
[00:14:28] music in an instant without having any idea about music theory at all so for
[00:14:33] instance a minor right we select all the white keys right and then we stick to to
[00:14:41] a and we probably have some kind of pedal tone or some pad sound in the
[00:14:46] background that plays on a maybe it also plays the the fifth additionally and
[00:14:52] then you establish the key center and then you use all the rest of the white
[00:14:57] keys here to play some kind of melody around this pad and then you are in a
[00:15:02] minor if you don't like a minor you just switch everything all notes around to
[00:15:07] maybe C sharp here and guess what you know in C sharp minor C minor D minor E
[00:15:15] minor F minor G minor okay if you don't like this you stay on a an A minor
[00:15:23] instead of an key filter you use transpose that just transposes around
[00:15:28] and you say well I go to upright two semitones up which is basically just
[00:15:35] this so we end up on B instead of a so now everything that comes out of here is
[00:15:40] B minor okay we write an A minor on the piano roll because it's easy to remember
[00:15:45] all the white keys we transpose everything up two semitones so we end
[00:15:51] up with B minor so this is an easy easy trick you can do if you want to write in
[00:15:58] a not familiar scale or you can say five upright so one two three four five it's
[00:16:05] D then so we are on D minor now I hope this is clear you can also select all
[00:16:13] the all the white keys on C here use everything of C so we play C major
[00:16:22] we've shift here five semitones up which is one two one two three four five
[00:16:28] which is F so we are writing in F major now can also lead this E this is this is
[00:16:38] E Phrygian so now playing here everything in E Phrygian you don't want
[00:16:43] to use E as a root node so we can say I want to play in C Phrygian which is one
[00:16:50] two three four semitones down so now we are writing here in E Phrygian which is
[00:16:57] easy because it's all the white keys but the transpose it transposes everything
[00:17:02] down four semitones we are end up on C Phrygian okay can also write the melody
[00:17:10] here in E Phrygian and then transpose it down to C and then you end up here with
[00:17:14] some weird sharp keys in between but you still are on C Phrygian okay so you can
[00:17:20] utilize the piano roll for that pretty easily what you also can do is for
[00:17:26] instance you can say I want to write a major chord so this is a major chord
[00:17:32] this is a minor chord always three semitones above the root the fifth
[00:17:38] stays in place it's always seven semitones like I said for all chords the
[00:17:43] fifth is always in the same thing basically the middle note decides what
[00:17:47] kind of chord you're playing so this is minor this is sas 2 minor major sas 4
[00:17:56] is it sas 4 I don't know major right so you can play this and then go from there
[00:18:07] and switch around in different intervals maybe the same so you can use minor
[00:18:15] third one two three minor thirds let me see how this sounds minor thoughts
[00:18:28] I'll switch around in major thoughts
[00:18:33] or in even in fifths which is basically the circle of fifths so we can switch
[00:18:42] around or go around the circle of fifth clockwise right so if like like this
[00:18:51] which sounds a bit weird because these notes are too far apart so he switches
[00:18:55] down one octave we pull this up because now the A is on A it sounds like this
[00:19:00] you duplicate this you switch up to three four five six seven it's not seven
[00:19:07] one two three four five six seven right so you have like this chord progression
[00:19:15] shorter so we don't need to play this that long one two three four five six
[00:19:24] seven down that's better
[00:19:33] so it's a chord progression that kind of works it's probably the best chord
[00:19:37] progression but you just circle around the circle of fifth but it shows you the
[00:19:41] the workflow of using just intervals to switch these chords around and then play
[00:19:49] just with that and you end up in some weird scale so we can see here we
[00:19:53] started on C major which is all the white keys but we ended up here on a
[00:19:58] chord that has a D sharp and a G sharp in there but the chord progression still
[00:20:03] works even though it's not in C major and we probably here we have some kind of
[00:20:08] chordal modal chord progression right so just this as an example so you don't
[00:20:15] need the scale actually to write chord progressions to have nice melodies or
[00:20:19] yeah to get along with with melodies you just can use intervals and the best
[00:20:25] intervals are always minor thirds major thirds and fifths and fourths also
[00:20:36] interesting part is if you have you have seven semitones here and you switch this
[00:20:40] one octave lower this fifth here so this is seven semitones if you switch this
[00:20:48] down this is now four semit five semitones one two three four five so
[00:20:52] this is fourth this fifth also the other way around if you have here a fourth one
[00:20:59] two three four five semitones here switch this down you have one two three
[00:21:05] four five six seven here
[00:21:09] yeah again basically play with this a lot I want to go too too much into this
[00:21:17] but there's always this nice feature of bitwig where you can use the pitch class
[00:21:22] with the colors here which is interesting so when you select your all
[00:21:28] the keys of the keyboard so basically chromatic chromatic scale you can use
[00:21:35] the colors for that so if you see here and you see you select everything that's
[00:21:39] reddish you get the interesting intervals so this one which is the minor
[00:21:44] major second this is here the fourth and this is the fifth so this is seven
[00:21:51] semitones this is five semitones this is two semitones and if you want to have a
[00:21:57] minor chord you use this which is you can see it's not yet brings in the spice
[00:22:03] basically to the chord progression and there's a major chord here so you get
[00:22:09] the idea so you select here one note and then you look for the same color and
[00:22:15] then you get interesting intervals for that same here for C which is green so
[00:22:23] you can go up one two three four one two three four five it's also green six seven
[00:22:35] it's also greenish right the same same ish greenish color so you get the idea
[00:22:42] you get then the important intervals anyway from just from these colors alone
[00:22:48] so that's that so the scale highlighting feature in my opinion is yeah it's it's
[00:22:56] cool to have but it's not really super important actually you still need to
[00:23:01] know what the tonal center is to make use of that to make melodies in a
[00:23:06] specific scale and if you know this then you probably don't need this anyway so
[00:23:13] it's not really useful at all and yeah that's why the diatonic transpose it
[00:23:22] doesn't work here after I selected all the notes you still have to transpose
[00:23:27] the tonal center to the new key so the melody makes sense or actually plays in
[00:23:32] this new scale right oh I hope this makes sense for you if you have questions if I
[00:23:40] made some mistakes please let me know thanks for watching leave a like up like
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