From Jamming to Composing

Hi All,

After doing the latest OT challenge on the Sandbox forum, I realized I need to get better at moving from jamming to actually putting a piece together. Generally I don’t do everything in the OT, but I’d like to be able to in the future.

I’ve read the Merlin document, which was great for understanding parts, which I now LOVE, but he doesn’t have a lot on compositional process.

With that in mind, how do you go about building up patterns, parts and scenes from samples in a rational way? In other words, if I’m starting out and I don’t know if what I’m playing is part “A” or “B” how can I know what pattern or part to assign it to, or where the scene goes? It gets messy quick.

I’d love to hear practical solutions from people.



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When I make tracks on the OT, I start by making a pattern until I get something I like. Then I copy and paste it, continue to develop, and repeat until I have some variations on the pattern. If I get bored during this process, I start a fresh pattern and repeat this general process. In this way, sections of the song start to emerge.

I generally don’t switch parts unless a new pattern really demands a different sound in a way I can’t just achieve with p-locks. More often, I’ll realize fairly far into the process that I want a particular section (group of patterns) to have a different sound. I hat case, I copy and paste to a new part and make parameter changes after I’ve already “written” the section.

After I do enough of this, I’ll take a step back and delete unnecessary patterns, shift the order around, maybe add intros/outros, etc. I’ve used the arranger in the past, but generally now I prefer to play through a track live with some crossfader action. That’s my general process.

On a side note: I’ve really been wishing the OT had a digital out so I could record all the tracks separately and process after. As it is, it’s usually to annoying to me to have to track everything individually so I just record the full mix. Even having a third fx slot or hat dedicated EQ per track would make getting a good mix on just OT easier.

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I’m following this topic with great interest as the first thing I planned to do when I got into the office today was to ask this very question. (more or less) The way the OT saves patterns as you leave them dictates that you keep a gold copy somewhere. Otherwise, as you fiddle and improvise, you’re messing up your starting point. So I imagine you have to put your starting point somewhere around pattern 8, copy that to 7, jam, copy that to 6, etc. Then go back and paste and copy until you have an intro and an outro.

Given this approach, the times you would add ‘parts’ would be when you want to change effect chains or root samples or MIDI configs.

Then I suppose you have to decide is the scene slider for adding zazz (effects packages) or literally for transitioning from one scene to the next in an orderly fashion. Seems like (for me at least) the patterns and scenes overlap a bit in the latter scenario.

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I think moving from patterns to full songs is quite challenging. You can jam for a bit on a pattern, then take out loops you like, then chop and resample those loops to create greater variations. You can then individually record parts of the pattern and play with variations on that part in your DAW (repitch, reverse, effects, chopping). This part can then be layered on top of, or used to develop, other recorded parts/loops. We are very used to hearing units of 4 in Western music’s structure, so you can try to sequence your song so that it develops in multiples of 4 (ie, first section is 64 bars long, and comprised of two 32 bar sections, which are each driven by a 4 bar chord harmonic progression); or you can purposefully forgo that structure to create something which feels/sounds a bit different. you can also look at these if you get stuck:

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Thanks for all the replies. Please keep them coming!

Sabo’s post suggests that if people have songwriting tips in general for electronic music, we might as well add those to the thread as well to make it useful for more people.


As you’re looking for ideas specific to the OT, this may not be quite what you’re looking for. But imho the deeper issue here is not just process on a given piece of gear, but the idea of structure.

And because there are so many kinds of music and so many ways to develop a musical idea, it’s hard to answer generally. I’m a house & techno guy myself, but – would the sort of thing I like to do in a track be useful in, say, the context of a dark ambient piece, or even something beat-driven but very glitchy? Sometimes, but …you can probably guess where I’m going. :slight_smile:

Anyway this might sound like too cerebral or abstract an answer, but maybe some thought experiments now could help you decide how to focus your learning and intentions so you end up with tools you can use, regardless of what kind of music you want to make. What do you consider the elements of a good track? Does it have dramatic transitions between sections, or does it evolve slowly and subtly? Is it a type of music that tends to have a recognizable structure (sonata, dixieland jazz, house track, etc.) or is more free form? All these things can be done on the OT, but some would lend themselves better to LFO effects or Xfader slides, while others might demand a whole new part or pattern.

I’ll nod to a former member who tried to quantify these ideas in this document. Maybe check it out – not to learn how to make the particular kind of music he’s talking about, but to ask yourself, “How can I apply these ideas to a given genre, figure out a few specific things I want to be able to do, and then focus my attention on acquiring the skills I need to pull them off on the gear I’ve chosen?”

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Dubathonic, This is probably the perfect place for a cerebral esoteric conversation. What path did you choose?

There was a similar thread going a few days ago in the A4 forum. I think a lot of people struggle with bridging the gap from jamming to creating an actual track. I know I do!

A big part of getting a track together seems to be being able to isolate the process of sound design from the song writing, so you aren’t constantly recreating your sound palette as you go. Endless tweaking doesn’t help finish tracks!

I like to copy/paste patterns a lot, so I don’t lose moments of sweetness, and so I always have a backup, just in case. Once I get a good ‘master’ pattern or loop of patterns going, I’ll copy it to new locations right away and start removing or changing elements ( first using MUTE to find what combo of sounds go well together and create a distinctly different feel to the other parts of the the track). I make lots of different patterns and just start playing with which patterns sound good as transitions to each other. I usually have to delete and move patterns around a lot so they make chronological sense.

I’ve had the makings of a nice little track going for a while, and rather than trying to force it into a structure right away, like I always do but fail at, I’ve been just jamming with it for a while. Trying different things and getting really familiar with the different elements of the jam. I think this is good because I see what parts are interesting enough for repeated listening, and what parts don’t hold up. Letting it simmer, so to speak!

I’m also trying an experiment where I pick a track (by a pro artist) and use it as a template for my track’s structure. I think this will really give me a lesson in how to make transitions, progression, breakdowns, etc. Forcing me to do the process with my own set up and sounds.

It’s important to for me to break out of the dumb-dumb cycle of just chaining loops and “jamming” with mutes, which ends up sounding cheap and super boring. When I listen to music now I try to pick out how many patterns variations and how often new changes happen. There are a lot, for a good track! The good news is that a track really only needs to be a few minutes long, so once you get some great sounds, a solid groove, and few changes, you basically have the skeleton of a song. You just need to figure out how it all goes together!

As a professional graphic designer, I know that things always look different, and issues become crystal clear after I’ve stopped working on a project and stepped away from it for a while (days or weeks). Then when I come back I feel refreshed and ready to take things to the next level.


Import a song you like into Ableton Live. Make beat-markings, or whatever they are called, at places in the track where changes occur. Try to mimic the arrangement /structure with your own track. You can learn a lot from this, I believe. I read about this on Tom Cosm’s website, check that out;

I’ve been wanting to try that out for a long time myself, but I’m horrible at moving from jam to composition, and have barely gotten started on trying to do this thing. It’s where the fun usually becomes too much work for me, and as much as I want to overcome my (heavy case of) loopingities, I often give up at this stage.

I’m working on a project now where I’m experimenting with using the Octatrack as the arranger of everything. While I think it’s great for creating subtle or big variations to a track, I find it harder to make the transitions on it. I think I need to incorporate scenes and the crossfader more to achieve this.

Liking this thread though, and would love to hear more opinions. Arranging is one of the things I really want to get better at this year.

This may seem over-simplified but years ago this really helped me get over the hump the OP is talking about.

First of all, stop talking or thinking about Parts. You are only multiplying the complexity of what you’re trying to learn here. Plenty of time to learn that later.

Get your jam on and create a cool pattern with 80% of the sounds and feel you’re after. Copy that pattern to Pattern 8. Now copy it to patterns 7, 6, and 5.

In pattern 7, remove a sound. In pattern 6, remove two sounds and parameter lock a little weirdness. Make pattern 5 really minimal with maybe only one sound.

Now go back to pattern 8 and copy it to 9. Since you’ve already heard the beat taken apart, this might be when inspiration hits for a new sound. Go with that!

Fire up the arranger and load it with 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 in numerical order. hit play.

If it all goes well you’ll suddenly begin realizing what sections need work, tweaking, or re-arranging. Look, you’re really doing it! :+1:


this is great.

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Such a good thread - good points, Allerian and others. I certainly identify loopingitis as something i have :slight_smile:

Random thoughts:

I think the reason i shy away from building tracks is that it’s just a bit more work. Make it easy and fun. For instance, I find that setting one shots and crossfader action makes building variations less like a chore.

A lot of electronic music is just builds - gradually layering sounds on top of each other. The more clever arrangements, however, sometimes abandon most of the previous elements in a track to move to a whole new part of the song. Something i often try, but it’s definitely not easy. In any case, don’t just listen to electro for inspiration when thinking of arrangements.

Hah, just made a track in 30 minutes thanks to this! So simple, yet very powerful to just get something of an idea of constraints to work within. Love it. Occam’s Razor applied to the Octatrack - Octa’s Razor. Thanks a lot, man. :slight_smile:

Glad to hear bro!

Once you have your basic track structure together, its time to create scenes (admittedly, my favorite part). Often I discover that I’ll want to go back to the arranger and loop parts longer so I have more scene-tweakin’ time in the track. :+1:

I do about 80% of my composing on the OT nowadays. By coincidence I tend to follow the spirit of what Allerian is doing although not the exact process. I will have an initial pattern and then a few related patterns. Then I will leave a blank pattern as kind of a “spacer” and then start something different with some of the elements.

A lot of times this will go over into another bank. It turns out that if I can fill up a bank or go over to the second banks, I usually have plenty of material to make a track out of in the arranger. If I am only halfway through a bank it usually isn’t quite ready yet (for me but YMMV).

Here’s where Parts come in. There is typically only one lead or focal point per pattern so when I want to change that, I will almost always use a new Part. The Part naming is great for this so you can either name the Part after your lead sound or the mood or something like that.

I don’t use scenes as much but if I want to do something like slow manual filter tweaks I will put that in a scene.

I had more of a looping-itis problem earlier in my use of the MD. Fortunately the +Drive came out and eventually I migrated more to the structure that I mentioned above.

Thanks for the tips! I’m moving more into the composing territory right now and am having trouble figure out where to start. I can jam out for hours but in the end I feel like I’ve not really done anything (aside from having a good time.)

I wanna get into changing patterns on the OT and having it change the MD and A4 but that seems like a mess!!. . . . but I don’t have enough hands to do it on my own!

Have you used the arranger yet? I only started dabbling last week and think its great. Get the basic structure down in that (even if its just putting the main loop in and copying that 10 times with various track mutes, loops, scenes). Then you can have more fun with real time filtering/whatever over the top.

Octacalm - I’ve played with the arranger a bit but not with an A4 & MD and various other toys connected.
Sitting down with that today.