Triads

In this and the following episodes we are going to learn how to combine triads to powerful and emotional soundtracks. To this day only experienced musicians and composers can do that. But with the help of these blog posts you will learn understand these things without having note and instrumental skills.

What are triads?

Triads are combinations of three tones. They convey cheerful or sad emotions and can be full of tension and relaxation. There are natural sounding triads as well as highly strange sounding ones. Musicians who know how triads work possess a powerful compositional tool.

Music theory uses the term triad when the three tones of a chord are stacked in thirds. I.e. the first and and the second tone of the triad are a third and the second and the third tone too. There are different types of triads. But not only the triad itself influences the musical character of a piece. Furthermore it is the arrangement of triads which makes a composition special.

The good new is, that there is a clear system behind triads. In my opinion the best way to understand these system is SoundPrism together with the key related circle of thirds. While SoundPrism allows you to play triads – even if you are not able to play guitar or piano – the key related circle of thirds will help you to understand triads.

Triads at the piano

To play triads on the piano one needs to practice. The piano is optimised to play melodies. Therefore triads look complicated on it:

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Triads in SoundPrism

Opposite to the piano in SoundPrism triads are quite simple. You simply need to activate the one tone mode and play tones in three neighbouring rows.

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To ease the play of triads further, three tone mode can be activated:

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Now you only need to touch the lowest of the three rows to play a triad. The other two tones are played automatically:

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No matter which row you touch in SoundPrism, now you will always play a triad.

Triads in the key related circle of thirds

As in SoundPrism, tones of triads are neighbours in the key related circle of thirds:

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The figure above shows three tones currently playing. Every tone is represented by two concentric circles. The inner circle simply tells you, that the tone is currently playing. The outer circle also tells you that you need to touch the corresponding row in SoundPrism.

If you are in three tone mode you only need touch the lowest row in SoundPrism. The other two tones are played automatically. This is shown in the next figure. The tones that are played automatically now have an outline around them.

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Next episode

In the next episode we are going to talk about the two most important triads, i.e. the major triad and the minor triad.

Summary

  • Triads consist of two stacked thirds. Therefore triads are neighbors in the key related circle of thirds.
  • SoundPrism and the key related circle of thirds are relatives. Therefore the tones of triads are neighbors.
  • Tones that are played automatically in SoundPrism’s three tone mode are visualized without outer circle in the key related circle of thirds.’

Composing with iPads in the Classroom

In this episode we are going to show an example of how the composing and music-making with iPads may look like in the classroom. The iPad offers excellent opportunities to inspire young people for music composition.

A student iPad composition

The following video is the result of a one week project, which was carried out by students at the State Vocational School of Weimar.

Compositional structure

The harmonic base of the whole composition consists of only four chords. From the point of the tone material all four chords are major and minor triads. But the two inner chords are constructed so, that it become tension chords. This makes the composition more emotional.

The musical composition shall show, that already a minimal harmonic base is sufficient, to compose well sounding music. Thus the piece starts with a classical string ensemble, followed by a rock guitar riff and then ends back in classical style.

Both parts are roofed by melodic motifs, one time in the form of a melodic soprano voice and another time in the form of a electric guitar sole. The latter consists of two parts again, namely a melodic phrase and a tapping part.

Software

Due to its purely melodic structure the soprano was recorded using the melody app ThumbJam. Principally this would also be possible for the guitar solo. But the contained chordal tapping part can be played particularly well with SoundPrism. Here you can see that different composition tasks require different music apps.

Its rhythmic character receives the piece through the animated string sound and the rock guitar riff. Both first was created using the animator of Native Instruments Session Strings. The arpeggio of the guitar riff was programmed using Spectrasonics Omnisphere. The drum track of the piece was created using Spectrasonics Stylus RMX.

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Work with students

For creating the composition and practicing the live performance showed in the video above we had only four days. Particularly as musician one easily underestimates the hurdles people without musical experience have to overcome. In our experience non-musicians often shy away from playing around and trying out. The fear of doing something wrong is often there. Therefore we decided  to reduce the musical piece only to the four chords mentioned above. This gave the students more time to for practicing and become familiar with the chords.

Furthermore we recommend to teach musical novices a simple but well sounding musical motif first. This creates an experience of success, self-confidence and encourages the student to leave predefined paths and to develop own musical ideas. Despite of this much encouragement is needed.

Another great help were large print-outs of app screenshots. The students could use these screenshots to mark and remember the playing points. This made it easier for them to play the same phrase again and again. Additionally we recorded the phrase and played it back as a loop. Thus the students could check if they were playing the phrase right.

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Technical hurdles

The created composition lives of rhythmic sounds. Present it is quite hard to synchronize different music apps, iPads or VST-Plugins without having deeper technical knowledge. For example we had difficulties to synchronize the Omnisphere guitar riff with the Session Strings ensemble. We are going to solve this by a future AudioBus extension.

Another difficult thing is the connection of multiple iPads with the sound Laptop via MIDI WIFI. At first glance, this looks very tempting because it saves a lot of cabling. But in practice we lost the WIFI connection very often. A part of the used iPads worked quite well, while other iPads were very bad. This difference is hard to understand. We recommend to connect the iPads not over WIFY but via hardware like the  iConnectMIDI4plus.

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Summary

  • There are many many apps for iPad, which can be used to solve specific compositorial tasks. Skillful use of musical knowledge helps to create well sounding compositions by utilizing simple means.
  • Musical unexperienced people often shy away from playing straight on. This difficulties can be reduced by giving them simple motives that can be easily replayed. After that students should be encouraged to create something own.
  • Technically iOS has not yet matured enough to connect and synchronize multiple iPads easily. Thus many teachers will have difficulties to run a setup like the one used in the composition presented here.
  • To open up the iPad for a broad application in classroom music composition several technical obstacles have to be reduced. We are going to work on this.

Tension and Relaxation

In the last Episode we showed that musical harmony is about relationships between notes. This relationships doesn’t always need to be relaxed and harmonious. Like good movies owe their existence to a permanent change of tension, conflict, dispute and their resolution, in the same way also a musical composition requires a steady alternation of tension and relaxation.

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Tension and relaxation is one of the basic principles behind western music. There are composition techniques to create and resolute musical tension. In the following video David explains this by comparing musical tension and relaxation to interpersonal relationships. At the end he shows how tension and relaxation sounds using SoundPrism Pro.