MUSIC THEORY FOR MUSIC PRODUCTION: Learn theory in 30 minutes or less | Kia Orion | Skillshare

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MUSIC THEORY FOR MUSIC PRODUCTION: Learn theory in 30 minutes or less

teacher avatar Kia Orion, Artist & Music Producer

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (35m)
    • 1. Course Intro

    • 2. Introduction To Tempo

    • 3. Theory Overview

    • 4. What Are Notes? (Why they matter)

    • 5. Scales

    • 6. Chords

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About This Class

Music theory can be incredibly daunting.

If you're new to music production it's even harder. 

You have to learn how to use your DAW and music theory at the same time?

That's why most people give up.

Music theory is a complex concept that can take years to learn...

That’s the bad news.

The good news is: you don’t need to know all of it. 

In this course we’ll cover the very basics of music theory to get you up and running as fast as possible.


-How to understand beats, bars, and measures

-The difference between major and minor scales (and why that matters)

-The importance of notes and how they work together

-How to easily pitch instruments in your sampler to the right key

-How to measure frequencies and what they mean when it comes to your beats

-The significance of chords and the difference between major and minor

-A process to easily create any major or minor chord


My goal is simple:

I am here to teach you a simple process to understand and implement music theory quickly into your beats.

My courses are effective, impactful, and include extra resources to help you level up.

That being said, your progress is completely up to you. I can’t do the work for you. 

But I CAN lessen the learning curve, provide an easy to follow blueprint, and shave years off your path to mastery.

I hope to empower you with the knowledge, practice, and resources you need to realize that this isn’t rocket science. 

You can do this.

If you are willing to invest in yourself and commit to learning a few hours a week, I have no doubt you’ll be able to achieve your goals with music.

You ready to rock?

Set aside a few hours for dedicated learning, and let’s do this.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Kia Orion

Artist & Music Producer


Ay! I'm Kia. 

I'm an artist and educator who believes life wouldn't be the same without music.

Or tacos.

I realized that I was equally as passionate about teaching music as I was making it.

In 2016 I founded Beat School, an online platform and series of educational programs to help aspiring artists and producers learn how to make beats, accelerate their growth, and stay inspired. 

I'm originally from New York but these days you'll find me traveling around the world writing songs or playing beats on a rooftop somewhere.

I appreciate you stopping by, and if you'd like to get in touch you can DM me or shoot me an email at [email protected] 

Life is too short not to do what you lov... See full profile

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1. Course Intro: What is good? All it is your boy Keogh Ryan coming back to you with another course. I'm the man who is obsessed with making dope music and teaching you how to make your own. Today's class is one that has been highly requested, and this is basic concepts around music theory for music production. Now, before jumping into this, I want to make it clear I am not an expert at music theory. Most of music theory that I learned, um, was from growing up playing lto saxophone in playing some keys. But then, as soon as I got into music production, uh, later on in life in my early twenties, I found out how little of it of my traditional knowledge actually translated into using a digital audio workstation. So what I did in this course was breakdown. I tried to boil down all of the concepts that are more complicated into some very basic rudimentary things to kind of jump start your progress and knowledge when it comes to music production. Merisi producer. I'm also a singer songwriter, and I've been making music for over 10 plus years, and these are the key concepts that I think that can help you level up your music just to give you a basic understanding and a couple of tips, tricks and gems when it comes to music production things. So again, this isn't gonna be totally comprehensive. This is very much for beginners. Something if you have no music theory knowledge, Really? This is to kind of get you from 0 to 10 0 to 20. So at least you have something moving forward to help you with your beats. Whether you're making trap, um, kind of more boom bap, hip hop, any sort of things where you might have a sample that's a certain key or you might want to play in notes. This talks to you about cords, chord progressions, scales, pitches, tempos, all that sort of stuff. So this is geared for hip hop music producers who don't have much knowledge of music production. Excuse me, music theory and helping them level it up. I hope that that sounds fun. If you want any of the goodies in this course, did you see me using my able to in template my drum kit sample packs Any of that good stuff you confined at the producer Volt dot com. That is where I give all of my best tools and tactics away for free. Hopefully, that helps dive in, enjoy and please rate review this Let me know what you want to learn next. Decide to keep making these courses for you guys. Thanks so much doing in hope you learn a thing or two checking on the other side Peace. 2. Introduction To Tempo: a a What is going on? So for this first part of the music theory course I want to talk to you about tempo. Eso have my notes right here. I'm gonna check a couple things again. This is a very rudimentary version of music theory. I don't know a ton about music theory, but I know enough to that has helped me with my music and I think could really help you guys level up if you want just a basic knowledge that will help you make your beats better . So the first thing I want to talk about in this part of the courses temple and so tempo is going to be how fast a song goes. So if if I bring apps place and have my samples though all come in a different temples. I'm waiting for that. The load enabled in this Israel See your temple over here and pretty much Ah, be so these air pretty much like it has says tap right here. If you think about tempo as a song plays and like you're tapping a foot along to the song, that's like gonna be like probably that's ah good way. Think about beats to a song. And so obviously if you have tap over here unable to what you can do is you can tap So I'm like, OK, I got this song in my head and it goes like, it's like this fast A as you click this tab, but and it will kind of bring your tempo around to whatever you were tapping And for these beats, obviously, the faster the higher you go like this the fast your song is going to go compared to the slower you bring it down Uh, this lower your song is gonna go a So, like, a lot of R and B songs will be probably in here like hip hop. Modern army will be like 75. Um, and then maybe something some more like trap stuff might be close to, like maybe 1 80 somewhere in there. But here's the thing when it comes to your tempo. So this is called your beats do which I'm not tapping along. This is your beats per minute or BPM. So if you wanted to maybe find a Capellas for your vocals, I mean, a cappella sphere beats you would search like Dr Grace still Dre a cappella ki n BBM. We're getting a key a little bit later. But I might say that that that a capella is an 85 BPM. So if you go if you know what your 85 bpm, then that will be the same tempo is Dr Dre, whatever it is. So on Spice say I have this, Um, I have this drum loop that I bring in Looks, This drum loop, Let's put it here. Uh, it says 105 Since it's able to automatically warp to be 85 I was able to his dope like that , but right here says 105 So the tempo that it's supposed to be played and supposed to use loosely it was because it doesn't say it's not supposed to be anything but the tempo that it was it was created at was on a five, which is more like this. So that's where you can have a lot of fun if you bring in Ah, Capellas. Like if you make low fi music or you bring in our Capellas and then you like, pitch them down, transposed them down, um, or make them a little bit slower, a little bit faster. Uh, that's where you can have a lot of fun but will jump into the transposing here in a hot second. But when it comes to tempo, um, what I want to talk about is, uh, one last thing when it comes to tempo is I make a lot of beats in the like, probably a lot of like public 1 60 to 1 80 range. And it's because when you have something coming in, so right now we're at 44 which means for four for every for every bar. Right here. We got four beats. One slow down. 123422343234 So when you thinking about, um, rapper talking about wrapping for 16 bars, that's what they're talking about. This would be a 16 bar loop right here, 16 bars normally, um, song structure that you might have for typical rap song, maybe 16 bars for reverse, maybe a four bar hook, another 16 bars, four bar bridge and then another, um, hook before the song finishes. But you can have fun kind of getting creative with how many bars or things your songs are. We'll talk about another time, but that's a way to think about it is for each one of these bars what this is telling you. Appear as it says down your time signature numerator time singer Denominator. Their time signatures almost divvied up by a fraction is gonna be how maney beats air in your bars. So if we made this 34 2322332 Great! So that's fun. Almost give you, like, more of a gallop when it comes to music production. Another thing that you could do is say you have something like 68 2345622345632345623456 So something to think about Honestly, I wouldn't get too caught up in this Almost everything. You're gonna make it 44 just keep it simple. Makes it easy to lay out, especially making beats. Rappers keep it simple for four but the last someone to talk to you a tempo is a 90 BPM track isn't the same as a 1 80 bpm track. So a lot of songs that I make Let's say we do him at 1 60 So 80 become in here, right? Looking out fast, the scroll goes on to 34 So see how fast that's kind of going Moving through your song. It is the same at 1 60 I'm gonna actually make this four to just because it makes the counting a little bit different. One, it's actually gonna make the counting the same. But when you're at a 1 60 bpm track because it's a 1 60 you can get some really interesting high. Have variations, Um, and having you can create more fun kind of high hat stutters patterns by doubling the BPM. So when I'm making trap tracks, almost say it's a 85 or 90. Almost always double those pretty much 80 82 like 98 somewhere in there, like it was the kind your typical hip hop track. And if I'm going to make a hip hop kind of trap beat almost always double those just so that I can I would just like working in these kind of faster be PM's, because I find that it makes, um, it gives me more of a license to do fun things with my high patterns. So it's kind of a crash course. This is obviously a metre gnome that's gonna go along to your beats. Um, and that is kind of your basic overview of your tempo. Nothing super crazy again. You can tap it out here. You said it here hires faster. Uh, lower. Smaller Excuse me. Lowers slower. I recommend keeping it for four. But if you if you want to double this up and help us Maya patterns under the next one. 3. Theory Overview: I want to want to want to The next thing we're gonna talk about our frequencies. So anything about frequencies one way. Then when I demonstrate this is with the NATO Wait, um, and because I was talking to a student of mine earlier today to help him realize how how frequencies work with eight awaits. So what I want to do is, um, let me bring in this eight await for you, and we can kind of demonstrate this together. So here's eight await, Right? It says it said to F now frequencies are pretty much the, um hurts that we assign to a note. One way that you can figure out what these are a little bit easier is in your spectrum, um, on a bilton or if you can just go to simply que that also kind of has this but most of your EQ use on your programmes fl Studio logic, whatever we'll tell you. So one k 10-K 100 thes air all hurts, right? So that's why it says HC As I move this up 90 hurts. So bring this down. 20 hertz, 40 hertz. Um, that's what kind of measure these frequencies Now I'm gonna draw this in at sea middle C and just put it down a little bit more of that ate away vibe in there. So when we look at our spectrum, you'll be able to see that these hurts. I was about to point to the computer, but you can't see that when we see these hurts. It shows us what that note is. So a typical a is going to be 440 hertz. Not sure if I can get it. Super exact, but ah, 440. Where you at? All right, So for on 440 hertz is your A. Each note has a corresponding frequency or amount of hurts that it is. So these frequencies when I swim, people might say like, Oh, e que really comes down to frequencies. So this means certain notes. So I'll play this for you. This 80 wait, is taking up these frequencies. So let's bring into our que a little bit easier to see. So over here on our spectrum, what will notice is there are a bunch of frequencies that is taking up because and this is like a true like if you think about like those tuning forks, if you ever have seen those in bands or and like whenever you were when you were in chorus and middle school or whatever it was there like you sang in your church, they would normally have, like a tuning note, like they have a nuclear note that you sing before you actually start singing or in band. They usually play a note so everyone can kind of tuned that note. If you think about playing your guitar, it's the same reason you tune to a certain notes so that you make sure that your notes when you when you play your strings, your frequencies are lining their the correct frequency that they're supposed to be playing at. So with an eight await the way that this comes into our music. Production is not. Everything is as clean as a tuning fork or like a sine wave that will come in directly at that frequency. So this, you know, most of our instruments are gonna have multiple frequencies. However, something like this, like an eight away. It might have all these frequencies, but the strongest frequencies are going to be what's called the route? No. So, as we can see here with strongest frequencies are going to be an F physicists. Right here. Let's see what these are, see a little bit of d sharp, but our main this is where most of our action is happening, right? Is right here. So the cell you can kind of tone see where your eight awaits Our But fortunately, since I got this off, Spice is already telling us that our root note it's already telling us that this is tuned to enough so we don't really need to come over here. But in case you have a base Noora NATO, Wait, That's not labeled our sample. Some like that. You can see in your spectrum what the strongest frequency is then, to be able to tell what that notice as a quick aside when it comes to your e que. This is where ah lot of the magic happens and mixing. Is he queuing because you'll be able to see the frequencies and kind of decide what highs and lows you want, which is a whole. Another thing. We can talk about another time, but it's important to be able to tell what frequencies are being played in your song. Is that what you can carve out places for them? Which is why so often people have a difficult time between a kick and innate await because they take up so many of the similar frequencies. So if you want to know how to mix those, take my mixing classes like this and my other courses on mixing. But that's just kind of an overall idea of frequencies. Every sound is gonna have a couple different frequencies that it's made up of, and carving a place in your track for those circum frequencies can be really helpful. So something to think about when it comes, came to this 80 wait, we use this is another example down the line when we talk about notes and scales. 4. What Are Notes? (Why they matter): So when it comes to our notes section, this is where I want to use this. Ate away is an example. So as we're saying right, our frequencies it was playing around somewhere in the 40 40 40 42 43 hurt somewhere in there, which aligns to be about our note, which is an F. And when it comes to notes in music production, we often use this thing called the piano roll, which is here, which is what it pretty much resembles. A piano go figure. So these are all of our notes and we could play as you play these. This is the way the ate away in different notes. But, um, your notes often are going to start at Ah, see, I believe see fours middle C, I think. See, forces they honestly I couldn't tell you, but everything about the middle of your piano that see this in the middle is gonna be was called middle C. And so that's often, um, where you want to start thinking about, you know? So when it comes notes there are, it's gonna be see de e f g A b. And then it restarts from their C. D Bubba, Bubba, Bubba, and those are just the white notes. But these black notes And if you go up or down half of a step. So an easy way to visualize these notes is this is up, So CEO says C sharp right here. So this is this. No, halfway up its c sharp, it's not quite a D. It's in between seeing a d now or D, but if it's a sharp, that means it's moving up half of a step. But if it's flat, that's often. Now we characterize the half steps, sharps and flats. If it's a flat, that means it is going to be down half a step. And this summer it's confusing because it's the same note. So this c sharp. This black note right here is also typically a dif land. So this is a C sharp entity flat. This is both a d sharp and a I guess it e flat. So that's a way to think about these black notices that they're there semi tones, Um, and when the way that this helps us with our music production that I wanted to show you is let me see if I have a want to show you this with a vocal. Okay, so I want to say this is with a vote because a little bit easier to understand the vocals the way that you can pitch things up and down for the notes. So if you have this So this is Ah, this is a pop vocal that's on warp It, um if you think about over here and enable tune if you move this transpose, you're going to see that the audio form the audio waveform changes because as we're pitching this up, this is this stands for semi tone. This is technically making it faster, right? If we move this down, it's technically making it slower. But if we were pit enabled in that means that we can transpose it without it changing this moving faster or slower will get the same effect, but keep it the same tempo. And so when it comes to the semi tones away, to think about it is if you think about going up 12. So when we look at our piano roll, right, I'm like, how did we break this down? The easiest way. If you go up 12 semi tones it counts is inactive. So from C from C three to see for this is 12 semi tones. That's a way to think about it. So when we have our vocal and we come in here and you want to transpose it, an easy way to transpose and keep it in the same key which we'll talk about soon is to transpose it 12 semi tones. Let's work this complex presence of easier Thistle's kind of like the Kanye the con. A vibe right is he goes like when it goes 12. When you pitch it up, inactive your vocals, you almost get the kind of breast effect when you pitch it down. Inactive. This is when you make the ace up. Rocky effect eso Rocky. It is a lot of cool stuff, pitching his vocals up and down, but transposing and easy way to think about it is you pitch it up 12. That's an octave. You picture down 12 that there's a normally it's safe. If the vocal fits in your track, as is, if you pitch it up 12 semi tones or down two of semi tones. It will also work also if you pitch it down 24 semi tones, or 24 or up 24 semi tones. It will also work because all you're doing is changing the active, but it's keeping the same key. That sounds confusing. Don't worry about it. We'll talk about keys here in a second. The last thing I want to talk to you about, um, when it comes to these notes, is when it comes to something like R eight await. Before that was here, it's tuned to an F. And so if I go to my piano roll and say that this is at even though I'm telling this to play a see if we look at our spectrum, it'll actually be playing an F because this is tuned to an F, which is what it told us. So if you have an eight await or anything in your sampler and a built in, you want your route, you want to set your route to whatever this is, or even if it doesn't have it. If we figured out it wasn't f, you want to turn your route to an F and it will tell Able to in Ha ha! The root note is actually F so Now, when we play it as a C, it will actually be true to self shut a person. Taylor, you know, actually playing meta Si. So that's something to think about is make sure that whatever it is that you're tuned, you're eight await or whatever instrument it is that you have in your sampler. Um, like this if it's tuned to the wrong note, even if your route if your route is C um, it won't be true. It won't be a true see because your note is tuned to the wrong thing. So make sure that you have your root note corresponding with whatever the actual, the actual key of whatever this instrument is. If that sounds confusing, nowhere about it. We'll talk about it. One of these next videos for this course. 5. Scales : All right, So we get in there, we get in there. Yes, I now have a hat on. What is up? Um, we're gonna talk about scales now. So when you think about scales, a simple way to think about this is a group of notes that work well together. So an analogy I like to make is if you think about, um before when we had this bass note is coming in to see, depending on the scale of your song. So say it's a C major scale or whatever, it ISS Um, so this might say this is on displace. We have things also labeled out. So this is a vocal that's in the key of D minor RG major a minor. That's what these mean. And what these mean is that there's a certain scale or a certain group of notes that will fit well with those notes. So normally you'll have a song or a sample. Whatever it is that won't be in a certain scale. What that means is that there will be so say we have this eight await that there will be certain notes that we can play along. We can add this ate away to that will sound good with that scale. It doesn't. It doesn't have to all be the same note. If it's in a minor scale, that means that there are certain knows. It doesn't just have to be a minor that we're playing for those that would sound good. But that sample so one, um, element that I use for this is this. It's this free software called Key Finder. You can pretty much take any audio. Let's take this D minor French vocal. Drop it in here you say Run bash analysis And hopefully it'll tell us. This one says D minor. This one says a minor. I would trust the spice folks. This is But this will kind of get to at least a loose idea of what you're close to. Um, when it comes to what t urine That being said, you can Google what notes fit in a minor or what notes fit in d minor. Another element that you can do though when it comes to these scales, is so I have this load up. This is keys is there's a MIDI effect called scale. What you can do is you can set this to say I wanted to play along with these vocals. I would set this scale to be to be and then you can set it to be, you know, be minor or whatever it is. But then, as you play along to whatever that is, as you can tell, it has these other notes. You can use this scale feature toe really kind of help you if you don't have a great idea of what scale is. But instead of simply relying on this, what I would do is I'd recommend going to Google. And let's see if you go to a new window you and telling you how to get rid of bug bites. And I have a, um, this cords cheat sheet, which I'll tell you about soon, we told my chords, but normally in a scale, what it means is you can play these other notes along with it, and they'll sound good. So if that sounds complicated, don't worry about it too much. Um, but, uh, the way that I think about it is when you think about jazz as they moved through the song and the cords changed of these different scales, though that's make adjustments in so good is that they can. They'll shift the kind of what notes they'll be playing, like the different notes that are allowed or not allowed. That's about everything about it. But what knows you're allowed to play. That's a way to think about it. So when it comes to scale, you can think about things in either two options there, either major, which you're happy or minor, which are often sad. So we're going to jump into cords next. But before we do, I want to just hit this humor this home with a simple see e G. This is a simple see major triad, and this would be a major to be, uh, see Major. However, she take this middle note and you bring it down one. Now, if this is just that simple change is gonna make it sound sad. So let's see Major on C minor. So this is a simple kind of way to think about it, and we're gonna talk about the soon with cords, but you're when you think of what notes you're allowed to play or going on when you, especially when it comes to hip hop and eight awaits. This is a good way. If you were are I recommend learning how to use your ear, but also thinking about if you pull up a Cici like I did on Google or you have some idea what notes sound good with whatever scale it's in. For the most part, your kick she's been your eight awaits or other melodies that you play will fit into that piece of that sample because it's in the same scale. So that's the way to think. All things considered. Think about scale as a group of notes you're allowed to play. That will sound good. Now let's jump into the course last part. 6. Chords: all right. The last part, which we talked about a little bit before, is chords. So cord is pretty much these air notes that are gonna be played at the same time. Um, and these are really when you start to have fun with the track because cords can make your tracks on super full, because I've sees multiple notes being played at the same time. And this is when things can get a little bit tricky with music theory, cause then you have you have cords that this is called a triad, meaning it's three notes, but then you can get a little bit more fancy, That's what the seventh chord. So this is pretty much means a way to tell a little Cici achy code, if you will. To create any major chord is you start with your root note and then up four semi tones. So 1234 there's gonna be a middle note, and then three more after that 123 So seven in between total. But for a major chord, you go up four and then up another three. Right, So this would work for any of these. You're gonna have a major, right? There's also unhappy for your minor chords if you want. If you want drinky sad stuff uneasily to do it is the reverse. You're going to go up three and then after that note up for eso those that sounds like something from Star Wars. Like when you have the, um I don't know when you have the whatever that not death eaters. That's Harry Potter. But you know, what I'm saying is the Star Wars theme music. Um, when you come into the bad guys, it sounds like they definitely playing some minor chords. But, um, when it comes to court like this, I wanted to tell you that when you have when you have these white notes, right, I say his major again and you bring this white note up again, that's 1/7. And so you can get really creative with this. You can do ninth chords, all types of stuff. But the's seventh chords are really fun and super, um, the super influence in jazzy songs. Having that extra note can really make things sound. Uh, just it gives it a totally different vibe to the track. A couple other takeaways that one talked about cords are, um, not a cheat code per se, but say you have a court up here and you want to make it sound fuller. Another thing that you can do is you can add notes in this chord in other octaves. Meaning So now let's try, uh, so this isn't super apparent right now at this piano, But if you have like a synthesizer and you play these other nuns out, man, you can get some really cool features. That's honestly how I play and I get a lot of my really big sounds with Since is by having the same keys are the same notes in the cord, but just layered in different octaves. So when you think about cords, um, think about all of the different combinations that you can have. When it's just white notes and white notes on DWhite notes, it can get weird. But one thing that I also will recommend is this thing of this cord pack makes it super easy is called Unison Midi Court back. If you don't know much about music theory, it's gonna really help, and it's all of the different chords just already made for you. So that way, you have to worry about it. So those air triads, those air cool I like try that they can get a little bit boring. I really like the extended chords. Things like See majors busy. So this is B C minor C Major night. Excuse me. See, that's jazzy E. I love that you just get cords. Cords are beautiful thing. If you really want entered out on court doing at a music theory, that could be a game changer. But if you're like me, you don't know a ton about it. Thes can really help a lot, so that's kind of a basic intro to your music theory. Thinking about scales, cords, tempo, frequencies, how it all kind of ties together. I you don't have to know a ton about the stuff to make good music, but I would recommend getting to know it a little bit, Um, because it can really help you move things along quicker when it comes to, you know, finding a sample like this and then wanting to play along to it. At the end of the day, you can nerd out as much as you want on frequencies on scales, but you gotta learn how to trust your ear. As someone who doesn't know, know, music theory. I could make some pretty dope tracks simply from playing along trust in my ear and deciding that sounds good or not, that will always be the take away is you can come in here and look at your frequencies. Underrate awaits. And you know, nerd, I was much human over egg you, But it really is going to come down to what do you hear? What sounds good? What sounds right. Hope that was helpful. Yes. Thank you so much for tuning in. As always. If you want this able to in template if you want my drum kits you want my sample packs any of that stuff? I have all of that for free at the producer volt dot com. That's th e producer volt dot com or key o Ryan dot com. My personal website. Appreciate you guys tuning in, as always. Means a lot. Company 11 a. Right. Next time Peace