Making a MIDI by Petteri

Hello. Music is one of the most difficult things in adventuregame developering. Well, it’s not if you can compose, but I bet it’s easier to learn making art than learn making music. Or something. Anyway, I’ve been making music over three or four years now. My first track was of course horrible and it was made in Anvil Studio. I tried several trackers but they were too hard for me (at those times). Then one day my friend said he got a copy of FruityLoops 3. We started learning it and it was pretty cool, and all simple tunes we made sounded good. Much later, after I joined AGS forums and was inspired by m0ds’ music, I wanted to make midis again. I had the newest version of Anvil Studio, but it was annoying to use. I knew, that it was possible to open midis in FL Studio 4 (updated version of FruityLoops 3), but I couldn’t hear any sound. Until one day, when I found out the secret…

Note: This tutorial tells you how I make midis in FruityLoops/FL Studio. There are some basic things about making music, so if you have some other program you may find this tutorial helpful. Remember, I have never played any instrument and don’t know any music theory, I’ve just learned these programs by my own. I’m not professional, but I know that my music sounds like… music. Also, FL helped me to learn other programs, like trackers as well.

Setting up the program:
Okay, so you may have encountered the same problem as me with FruityLoops/FL Studio. In the program, select Options, and make sure you have Enable MIDI Output selected. Then, select Options again and click MIDI Settings. In the Output port mapping, you should see all the possible devices you can use. As my soundcard is SoundBlaster 128 PCI, I have MIDI Mapper, SB AudioPCI 128 MIDI Synth and SB AudioPCI 128 MIDI Out. I haven’t found out what’s the difference between these devices though, they all sounds the same. Anyway, select the device you want to use and set the port number to 0. Some people may have encountered a problem that the selected device is already in use (or something like that), so if you get an error message, close the program, then open it again and try to set the port again. Now you should have all set up for composing midis.

Starting the composing:

Interface in FruityLoops/FL Studio is very simple. Under the menu in the upper left corner there’s a box. If you move mouse cursor over a button, this box shows what happens when you press the button. Next to the menu there’s song controls. At the left side of the play-button there’s two smaller buttons: PAT & SONG. When I make midis, I use only one pattern and compose all the stuff to it. (And this tutorial also shows how to compose using only one pattern) Okay, so let’s start. First select Channels-menu —> Add one —> MIDI Out. New window, Channel settings – MIDI Out, pops on the screen. Now you should have two (or possibly more) channel buttons on the screen, like this:

While composing midi, you need only those MIDI Out channels, so you can delete all the “non-MIDI Outs” by right clicking them and selecting Delete Channel. Okay, but now, back to MIDI Out channel settings window.

Select the instrument by clicking the black button which reads (none). I’ll select Electric Piano 1. Now, right click MIDI Out channel button and select Piano roll. Piano roll window should pop on the screen. Now you can start the actual composing. Select Draw tool from the upper left corner of the Piano roll window and put a chord (or note, or whatever they’re called) on the grid. You can make the chord longer or shorter by moving the cursor on the right side of the chord so that the cursor changes to an arrow. While holding the left mouse button down and moving the mouse to the left or right you can now make the chord longer or shorter. Right click on the chord will delete it. You can also move the chord: hold the left mouse button down when cursor is over the chord, and just move it. Now add couple more chords and you can listen the tune you just made! (Notice: Composing melody is something you have to learn by yourself. As I will say later, good way to practise is trying to start with some simple and known melody. This will give you some pointers how to move on and create your own melodies.)

My melody 🙂

But you may think that it sounds pretty boring if you loop that short melody all the time. So, let’s make another melody. But first, you may want to repeat this melody couple of times. Select the Select tool and select the melody you just made. Now copy it by pressing Ctrl+C and scroll the piano roll window so that it looks like this:

Duh! Too hard to explain!

I don’t know how to explain this, but I’ll try: As in the picture, your melody ends there and then comes the empty space where you’re about to paste the copied melody. If you now press Ctrl+V you can paste the copied melody to the empty space. Did you understand? If not, then you just have to practice it by your own, because I can’t explain it better 😛

Now, make another melody so that your tune doesn’t sound so boring. This was hard for me for a long time. Almost every tune I made sounded boring, because there was only one melody. So, I’ll say that this takes much practising. And it’s not enough that you put up a new melody, it has to sound good when it comes after the first melody! Then again, if you haven’t made much music earlier, it may be good to start with simpler melody, so if you can’t come up with good sounding new melody, forget it for now and move forward.

Tip: Good thing for practising is trying to compose some known melody. First it can be something very simple, then you can alternate it a bit and so on. Okay, but let’s move forward. Let’s make a new MIDI Channel.

I’ll select Fretless Bass. When placing basses, I use lower chords, somewhere around C3. Now you should come up with a new melody (again!). You can try alternating the original melody, but remember: whole new melody sounds better. I’ve also noticed that making bassline using shorter chords makes tune sound faster. You may want also to lower bass’ volume so that it doesn’t take over the main melody. You can change channel’s volume with those small knobs at the left side of the channel buttons.

Let’s add drums. Make a new MIDI channel, but don’t select any instrument. In the MIDI Out window, change the channel number to 10. Channel 10 is drums-channel. In FL-Studio 4, when you close the piano roll and open drums-channel’s piano roll, you should see every drum’s name at the left side of the piano roll. If you have FruityLoops, Acoustic Bass Drum is B2 and other drums are higher than that. Anyway, find Bass drum and add a chord. Piano roll’s grid is very helpful for placing the drums. Pretty basic drum line goes like this:

Bass, hihat, snare, hihat, bass, hihat…

You can also add some Crash cymbals and toms, but don’t add them too much. Also, some congas and bongos may work well with basic drums.

So, this is how my midi looks at the moment:

1. Electric Piano 1, 2. Fretless Bass, 3. Drums

But it still needs something… Okay, let’s add more instruments. How about… String ensembles? Sounds good, I’ll add String Ensemble 2. Of course, you can add whatever you want, like flutes or violins… but I’ll add this. If made right, strings may affect tunes atmosphere very much. I still have some troubles with them, because FL Studio 4 lacks placing multiple notes, so I can’t tell much more about them. Other thing is that I don’t know how multiple notes should be placed in order to get them sound good with my tunes, so it’s almost trial and error for me when placing multiple notes. String Ensembles are a good example how multiple notes can affect to the sound. If you want to try FL Studio’s multiple note system, try this:
Right click piano roll’s draw-tool. You get a menu showing lots of numbers and letters (:P). Mostly used are from Major to augsus4. After selecting your chords, just put them in piano roll as you have made earlier. When you want to add only one chord at time again, select (none) from the multiple chords-menu.

Then I’ll add some clarinet sounds. Clarinet can give your tune a nice cartoony feel. There’s one thing I’m going to teach now. Place a chord where do you want it to be. Then, press Alt-button and keep it down while left click the chord with mouse. You should get a Note properties window:

In this window, you can change note’s start time more accurately as well as note’s duration. I can’t really tell much more about this, but practising and studying other tunes should make this easier. Although I can give you some pointers in a form of a picture:

Now I’ll keep some break from composing this tune, because it’s easier to spot the mistakes after having some break.

*On the next morning*

After listening this tune, it still sounds a bit boring, so I’m gonna add more instruments. I’m also going to try to do some panning. Panning gives you kind of stereo effect, but I’m still practising it. If you want to try it though, you can set channel’s pan with the knob next to the channel volume knob.

So, now I’ve added more instruments (xylophone, brass section and acoustic guitar). I guess this is finished now, you can listen it here: (included in Ezine archive)
This is how it looks in FL Studio:

Not bad I think. Although it could have been better, I kinda rushed it in the start. But I guess it will do as a tutorial tune, it doesn’t need to be so brilliant. I feel I’m getting better all the time. Also, this tune would be better as a main theme, ’cause I actually composed it to sound like that. Now, here’s some tips which may be helpful:
– Study other people’s works. I’m doing this all the time. I like Trapezoid’s and m0ds’ works, so my music may sound a bit similar to their’s.
– Listen how instruments sounds. It’s recommended that you try how it sounds when it’s higher or lower note. Learn when you should and shouldn’t use some instrument. For example, trombones, trumpets, horns etc. may give you cartoony feel, but also add dramatic effect. Strings gives atmosphere. Drums can be used for making tune sound faster, or slower.
– Study different styles. Listen music in Sam ‘n’ Max, King’s Quest, DOTT, Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight… they all have their own style.
– When making a cutscene for example, timing may be the key. So, if you haven’t scripted your cutscene yet, don’t rush to make music for it. You can try to compose the melody, but finish your tune after you’ve finished the cutscene so you know when the melody should change etc.
– Try making remixes of other peoples work. It’s a good way to learn to compose. However, when making remix, don’t just copy the chords, add them one by one.
– Try different effects and background sounds. Listen to that tutorial tune for example. Without clarinets and brass sections it would be pretty boring. I also added acoustic guitar and xylophone to make main melody to sound a bit different.
– Select your tunes so that they fit in to the scene. You don’t want to use a fast and rocking tune on a calm lake, but a gentle tune with flutes for example may be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
– Practise.
– Practise some more.
– And still practise!

That’s it! I hope it was helpful. Now go do something productive… like your own music!


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