103 - Chord Building in A minor
In this lesson, we are going to pick apart the system you can use to quickly write and analyze chord progressions. We will be using the piano roll in FL Studio. The piano roll is similar to the channel rack in the sense that you input your notes (MIDI) here, but you’ll notice that while we still have a similar grid time-wise horizontally, we also have pitch on the piano vertically.
Within FL Studio, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with all the different plugins (VSTs) we have available. There are too many to cover here, but it’s important to experiment with them and find the ones you like that work for your music.
Adding a synthesizer
You can add a plugin by clicking the ‘+’ at the very bottom of the Channel Rack. You can also use the ‘Add’ dropdown menu at the very top of FL Studio. In this lesson, I would recommend using FL Keys, which is their piano synthesizer. Piano will make it easy to hear the chord progression that you are creating for educational purposes, but it may be important to go back and replace the piano later with something that more fits your style/genre.
First, open up the FL Keys plugin through the methods we just talked about. Once it’s in your Channel Rack, right click the ‘FL Keys’ plugin in the Channel Rack and click ‘Piano Roll’. Now we will begin creating our chord progression!
Establishing a key
The first step is establishing a key for us to use in this example.
Let's start with an easy key - A Minor.
While looking at a piano, A Minor is easy because it uses all white keys. No sharps or flats are used in this scale, so you can play the white keys in order from A up to G, and there is your minor scale.
A - B - C - D - E - F - G
Establishing the scale is important, because simple chord building revolves around combining notes from this particular scale.
A chord is a group of notes being played at the same time. The simplest form of a chord is a triad, which is exactly three notes being played together.
Especially when writing modern music, many pop songs can be fairly accurately represented using basic triads. Every note in the scale can have a triad built from it by taking the note, (which we can call 1 or the root) and stacking the 3 and the 5 (relative to the root) on top of it. For example, if we are using A as our root, the triad would be A - C - E. If we were to use F as our root, the triad would be F - A - C. Notice that 1 - 3 - 5 formula; to craft a fundamental triad from any note, you find the root, skip a note, add the next, skip another, add the next (remember to only count the notes in your scale).
If I draw out the whole minor scale in triad form in the piano roll below, it would look like this:
Now, you are probably wondering what the roman numerals under each triad are. Every minor key has a structure of chords that will never change. Whether it's A minor, G# minor, F minor - they will always have those same roman numeral chords. And THAT is how to simplify your analysis and creation of chord progressions - by using this roman numeral system. This way, no matter what key you are in, you have a way to communicate chord progressions to others (or your future self).
Because of this relative, universal system, doesn't it sound (and look) much easier to portray a progression to you in model A format than model B?