Book review: Composition for Computer Musicians

My biggest hobby remains music. As a former trumpet player, current drummer and bass player, I spent a lot of time studying solfege, and a little bit of composition. Besides this, I’ve mixed an album for one of my former bands, mastered some tracks for others (and my current one), so I’m also a computer musician. This is why this book from Michael Hewitt was of high interest to me.

Content and opinions

With 19 chapters, the book starts to be as progressive as possible. The first chapter describes the different kinds of software that can be used , while the second helps you select the kind of music you’d like to write. Let’s face it, the book tends towards dance music, but advice in computer audio is kind of universal. What is great is the warnings to know enough the kind of music you want to write, which means knowing everything of it (the kind of drum patterns, the kind of drum sounds, the kind of bass, …).

With this in mind, the book focuses on the next step, which is rhythm and drums. Not all kind of composition has drums as a first step. Sometimes you can write the lyrics and the lead voice. Not here, but it’s not an issue. As I’ve said, the book says to know everything, and this means knowing how a drum works as well, or more exactly how a drummer plays. Each piece of advice is correct in that matter (says a drummer). Additional percussions are set in the following chapter, as well as the specifics of dance music (you don’t have to hear a real drummer). The different types of drums are well explained and you can understand what they mean while reading the different chapters.

A next part focusses on the harmony inside a song. After a chapter on general stuff, the second most important piece has a dedicated chapter. When you start with writting drums, the second step must be bass. Then, the lead part has the next chapter. A further chapter merges everything together. This is where it’s interesting, as I’ve seen many songs being written or arranged without thinking about the global harmony between bass and lead. This is where you have to know a little bit of music theory, because harmony is the core of it (IMHO).

After a chapter on the use of FX (perhaps too small for a computer musician book but the book is too small to explain all audio effects and their impact on sound and mixing), several chapters are dedicated to strings, pads and other acoustic instruments as well as arpeggiation. Once more for acoustic instruments, the main tip is to know how it is played in real life.

The final chapters are every step needed to put everything together on a computer. First sampling (because there are legal tips to know, and because sampling is used a lot in different kind of music), then the song structure, next are layering and sequecing or what I call edition (creation of the different tracks), and finally mixing and mastering.

When possible, the companion CD offers valuable tracks to understand what the author really meant. This is also where you can hear that the author likes making dance music.

Conclusion

Although I knew a lot and although some bits are highly logical, the content of this book has a clear value. It puts all an autodidact learnt into shape, and for a newcomer, it’s all she needs to start composing. Of course, it’s an introduction to many subjects (instrumentation, arrangement, mixing, …), but it’s a solid basis you can refer to at each step.

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