Help! Advice on arrangements/compositions

Hey all,

I’d like to post about something I’ve been struggling with since going out of the box and ditching ableton.

I find I’m really stumped on turning multiple patterns/jams into full blown songs. I get caught just looping a 4 bar pattern over and over or chaining a few patterns together and just jamming out and tweaking the sounds etc.

The problem is I have so many of these jams/ideas (literally like 30-40 good sounding mini jams) and very few completed pieces of work to show for it.

My workflow ITB using ableton was to take a few clips/patterns/jams and string them together in structure that had flow and made some sense (intro verse chorus verse chorus break etc etc). After I had a basic structure I would tweak, add automation, effects, layer up sounds bleh bleh. Typical ableton live stuff. Stuff sounded clean and polished, but lacked heart (like my old band days playing with buddies in my basement/garage)

Obviously I have WAY more fun jamming with physical synths/drum machines, but I wonder how do most elektron users work their jams into songs ?


I don’t know what machines you are using, but if they have plus drives and pattern storage limits aren’t a problem you could try copying and pasting lots of versions of the same pattern with minor tweaks. I do this with the dark trinity where the A4 and AR follow the pattern of the OT, but I’ll make changes to the beat or melodies or bass lines on the remote machines still following the fundamental pattern on the octatrack. It seems wasteful, but with all of the patterns you can write in parameter locks or slides, or just distinct parts that only appear on a certain pattern. I like to use the scenes to demo ideas with the cross fader, but ultimately write those ideas into the sequencer where I want them to go. Then link them all up with the arranger and play them back in the order you want. The arranger will also let you change scenes automatically at certain steps, so if there’s a nice filter sweep or something in one pattern and then a scene with a delay wash or something, the arranger will set it up for you so all you have to do is move the fader.

Another way I’ve enjoyed using the octatrack more completely is setting up a very long recorder trigger capturing the master out (you can change the buffer size in preferences for recordings around 5 minutes at 24 bit) and capturing my complete performance as a wav within the machine itself.

Thanks for the suggestions Lymtronics.

I’ve been thinking about it all morning (since I typed this post) jotting down some ideas onto paper how I can sort of “focus” my efforts.

I think you’re right; the key might be taking my few pattern jams and just copying them out and improvise within each in ways that creates transitions and flow from pattern to pattern.

I’m working mainly with the AR, A4 and OP-1 as a sampler/mini keyboard/recorder etc. I unfortunately don’t have the Octatrack yet. I have plans to get this in the future, but I feel I need to self-justify my purchases with some completed work!

Perhaps another way is to just spend sessions dedicated to live-recording tracks in single take rather than repeating over and over trying to make perfection.

I had a bit of an “aha” moment last night on this subject.

I compose in Ableton similar to the OP. Except I jam out a sketch arrangement with an APC and then go in an refine. It’s fun and maintains some type of spontaneity.

Realizing Elektrons don’t work this way, I’m coming around to just jamming on the machines and mixing together different jam sessions on different machines - like DJing.

I got this idea from here, so this is not my original idea but it takes a lot of the pressure off of expecting my Elektrons to produce solid full arrangements. And because I DJ, it makes sense!

I thought for a long time I could make full tracks on the Elektrons and would get frustrated. But now I’m like, I’m going to write a jam on one machine and another on a separate machine and mix the two together using the OT. In that process I’ve actually come up with some interesting song ideas and it’s hella fun!

I’ll leave the task of formal arranging to Ableton and my APC and jam sessions to the Elektrons!

What type of music are you making?

I could speak about my arrangement process, but it applies mostly to dance floor style underground techno, with lots of live improvisation which may not apply to what you’re doing.

I’d be interested in this. I linked your music thread above.

I’d be interested in this. I linked your music thread above. [/quote]
after spending so much time writing and arranging on piano roll, im having a bit of trouble with adjusting to using a step sequencer for composition.

Don’t mind a bit of techno & whatnot, but im at loss of how to work with loops/repetition and still keep it interesting

This is the exact problem I’m having as well. Since getting an A4 and Octatrack, all my jam sessions result in a nice sounding 16-step pattern and that’s it. Sometimes I use a 64-step pattern with some chord variation, but still it’s just one pattern repeating itself.

Compared to DAW, where you can see the song as a timeline on the screen, maybe that’s the problem - not having a visual cue how the song progresses. I’ll have to try the pattern-copying advice given above, so that the sequencer buttons become like a timeline of pattern progression. Maybe that will help.

Very interesting thread - this is :+1:

Got the same problem too. If I work in the box, I use push and ableton. After collecting some basic ideas as clips, I refine the ideas, jam with the clips, create scenes out of it and than switch to the arrangement view to do the rest.

I would like to migrate this workflow somehow to my elektron machines.

Up to now my idea was, to sketch a layout of the song on paper (like a map), length of intro in bars, position and length of build-ups/breakdowns, length of the major movements and variations. Then I try to use the sketch to arrange my ideas in single or chained patterns and use the banks as containers for the song structure. It’s not well tested yet and it misses the arrangement overview of a DAW, but it was better, than jamming only … :wink:

Would be great to learn more and better approaches here.

Musical ideas blossom when you are fast in nurturing them. So if your push workflow works - I think you’ll be better off sticking with it, at least for the moment. Then you can translate your core ideas in the arrangement to elektron machines and see what happens when you do that. And in the process you’ll eventually get to grips with the elektron arranging workflow

Absolutely :smiley:

I’d be very interested in your process, and that of anyone else here for that matter :joy:

Regardless of the music genre I find it very interesting to see all the different ways people use their Elektrons. It always gives me ideas to try out.

I haven’t touched song mode yet as I’m still a newbie with these boxes. But I think with song mode you can so a lot of trickery like starting patterns on bar 2 or other offsets to make interesting structures.

At the moment I do make a lot of patterns with variations. Then play them back. With a +Drive you can create a snapshot for just one song/project and use all the patterns slots if you wish.

Let me tell you guys what I did yesterday on my brand new Rytm and don’t really recommend as workflow. :wink:

I have this vocal track from a synthpop song that is currently in the mixing stage. I cut it up into 16 pieces, transfered those to the Rytm via C6 and reconstructed the verse/bridge/chorus structure they came from…

I primed a 64 step pattern with a straight kick drum as click track, assigned the first vocal snippet to the HT slot, nudged it around in the sequencer until it was in time and basically repeated that for ten consecutive patterns (E1-E10) while always having to find the right spot to put the vocal triggers in and using p-locks to cycle through the vocal snippets in the HT track.

In the end I had practised using micro-timing, copy/pasting of trigs, patterns, track pages, song mode editing (still don’t know what that friggin scratchpad is for, though), live triggering, chromatically bending and quantizing additional drums, and p-locking fx-sends - all across 10 patterns cycling along in song mode,

I got there… but… Don’t do this at home, kids. :zonked:

So, for compositions and arrangements, it really doesn’t matter if you’re using one Elektron instrument or three. If you’re using multiple, just set up program change so that they all follow pattern switching and behave as a single, connected instrument.

Now, the way I compose hasn’t really changed at all in the last 16 years. I’ve kept with this method all the while, when composing entirely on an MPC2000XL, or TR-909 + SQ-80, or entirely Ableton Live (session view), or a single Elektron instrument.
I’ve always recorded my arrangements live, in the moment, and have never used a song sequencer for arrangements.

It is more a method than a formula, as the realtime arrangement gives you the most freedom and allows you to react to what you’re hearing rather than what you’re seeing.

The concept is to compose for the peak of the song. If you can write a pattern that will eventually be the peak apex of the song, then the intro and outro is made from the addition and subtraction of those elements, respectively.

Here’s an example of the last couple compositions I’ve done for reference…

In this example the instrument was Analog Four.

So, on an Elektron I will generally have all my rhythm elements, bass line, a hook, and some FX or FX type sounds. Once I’ve composed what the peak measures of the song will sound like, I go in and make all of the Performance and/or Scene assignments possible (really, fill them all up!), and then a few variations on the main pattern. One pattern for intro purposes (but still with all sounds active, I’ll just mute the ones I don’t want in the intro, more on that later), and a couple interesting variations on the main pattern.

For the arrangement, I hit record on my recording device. I start with my intro pattern and have usually just a few sounds going, the rest are muted. I like to keep the intro interesting so I may tease in the hook a little bit with mutes, or filters. Many times the hook won’t be muted in the beginning, I’ll just have the level turned down so I can bring it in gradually. A few FX tweaks here and there to keep the pattern evolving as well. This is where all those performance assignments come in to play.

Then I’ll begin to bring in, unmute, and tweak the other elements of the track, building up to that peak. Before everything is in, I’ll switch to the main pattern. This pattern switch should energize the composition. Perhaps the hats have now gone double-time to their intro timing, or the clap has turned into a heavier clap/snare layer. The track is getting more dense.

Once the hook and fx are working in it’s important to do something, anything to let the track exhale for a moment. Maybe bring in a refrain by switching back to the less dense intro pattern (but this time with everything unmated) for a few bars, or have a performance assignment for just this purpose that shortens some sounds, and pulls things back for a moment.
Or take out most of the percussion so you’ve just got low end and your hook.
Build some tension.

We can now make our final push to the top. Keep it interesting, always be working. Build things up again. Release the decay on the hats a bit, send more of that synth to the chorus. Open the reverb time. Don’t just let a pattern play.

Now that you’ve reached the peak, and you’ve built up to this moment, playing that peak pattern the way you composed it, now it is time to take it all apart.
Filter things out gradually, switch between your patterns for variation, while you deconstruct it. Reduce the more busy patterns to less busy ones. Remove trigs if you have to.

Most importantly, make those pattern changes, those performance tweaks, and those mutes happen when you feel they are right. Not when some arbitrary # says so. Do it in the moment. Don’t look at the clock, just listen.
Now, if you’re multi-track recording, or using Ableton live’s session view, recording it all into arrange, then great. You’ll be able to go back and make some adjustments, if need be. But I’m a big proponent of getting the bulk of the arrangement recorded in realtime. If you want to convey the human condition through your music and have it resonate with others, do it in realtime. We experience music in realtime, arranging it that way can do great things if you want a “natural progression” or “organic flow”.

Here are older tunes, written with different tools, but using the same realtime constructive arrangement method:

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I just turn open the tap and lt it flow :joy:
Maybe you should’t think to much how but just try…
I never had a fixed working-sytem. Not in daws not in hardware.
Songs just write themselves in a way.
I left the daws totally behind - because I noticed lost myself to much in the visual aspect - instead of using my belley and ears.
anyhow - the process with these boxes is more or less thesame as when I’m painthing. I just don’t know what’s gonna happen. But i’m slow >>> this means I have no pressure to finish a song fast. i work on different projects and whenever 1 becomes boring I switch to another. There’s no goal in the future as the song tells me when it’s ready and where it’s taking me .This freedom results in an allmost everflowing creative energy.
I noticed tho that I like making many variations on patterns and chain them together into a song - muting and unmuting - tracks TURNIG THE BUTTONS . What I do alot is to change 1 track’s sound with a new Kit and a new melody or rittem < so 3 tracks keep running while 1 changes. I don’t think in terms of " chorus " etc… what doesn’t mean I never end up with structures that are recognisable as classical. I did several academys for painting and as I became older I got problems with my teachers because I had no predictable way of working - and they just didn’t ubnderstand my way of working - So I said the GOODBEYE. If you don’t expect a defined result there’s no problem …
What I love is that even when it’s " ready " I can still jam and fuck-around with the chains and patterns - so it never sounds thesame !!.
I’m a control-freak but there’s no contradiction in this, as it learns me to loose control.
1 TIP : Don’t be afraid of loosing stuff - this can sometimes be a great problem for me - whenever I found a satisfying result I tend to klinging on it to much.
2 TIP : Don’t think about the result but fool and play around and save alot - sometimes it dousn’t sound good today - but it might sound graet tomorrow.
3 TIP Record your stuff while you are jamming - and listen to it tomorrow - when freewheeling the greatest things happen - things you would never think off.
4 TIP Be yourself - You are the best at it and the most original.
5 TIP Put your music away and don’t listen to it for at least 3 weeks

the most important … the second word is the most important in music > TO PLAY MUSIC Ha;;ha;; :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
One of tthe best quotes on this I’ve read around here is " Play like a child - Edit like an engeneer "

Don’t forget to take the time to know your instruments - witch happens by trying and falling - look at children - they don’t mind falling - it makes them laugh !!! and they try again … :slight_smile:
So whenever you get stuck >>> let it go >>> pick it up when it feels good >>> maybe let it go again etc…

Look at yourself deeply whithout changing a thing - the music is allready there - transform it and play it - but it might not be what you expect haha… :astonished:

this is just my opinion - if you don’t agree - well it’s your opinion that counts :wink:

Great tip from Adam Jay

Most importantly, make those pattern changes, those performance tweaks, and those mutes happen when you feel they are right. Not when some arbitrary # says so. Do it in the moment. Don’t look at the clock, just listen.

@ Adam Jay

thank’s for this extraordinary description and insight of your workflow. I have rarly seen such a complete, compact, and well comprehensible tutorial. Highly appreciated :smiley:

That is confirming something that I have felt inside myself for long time. Good advice!

[quote]Look at yourself deeply whithout changing a thing - the music is allready there - transform it and play it - but it might not be what you expect haha… :astonished:

This is exactly my problem … the first part works too well, but then I tend to “play” around on one or two idias and motives for up to 20 minutes, playing the mood or athmosphere in various ways. Often I lose my feeling for time. I have the experience that audience has some expectations. If you fulfill it, they are happy and stay listening, if you don’t they go away.

… so for some time I am searching “my way” between “sufficiant structure” (order) and “ample creativity” ( chaos) … :wink:

And don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings”.

If you begin composition of a tune with a certain hook or element that ends up not working well in the tune once you get ready to arrange, let it go.

Most elements that make it to the final product didn’t exist in the beginning, so why should everything from the beginning make it to the end?

Discard the unnecessary, no matter what.

Thanks for the info guys! When you put it that way, it looks like the only real issue i have is related to a change in the way an arrangement is conceptualised.

But change is scary…