HighC Hints (non musicians)

These notes should help you produce "correct sounding" HighC pieces even if you have never practised a music instrument nor read music. They certainly won't pretend to turn you into an instant musical genius, but chances are that if you read this through, listen to the examples carefully and apply the guidelines provided here, you will be able to create rapidly some nice short pieces that appeal to you or to others. To read this page with profit, you should have practised the HighC tutorial, or feel confident enough about how to create and edit sounds in a short piece.

Consonance and dissonance

You should have already figured out that the higher you draw a sound on the score page, the higher its sounds. Hence, you can combine low and high sounds together by drawing them on top of each other. Yet, the representation of sounds on this score does not reveal a fundamental property of pairs of sounds: are they dissonant or consonant ? Handling dissonance and consonance properly is the fundamental preoccupation of harmony. While the following hints don't pretend to initiate you to 25 centuries of theoretical studies, listening to a few examples will give you some ideas.

First open the intervals sample. Select View > Show Tags if the comments don't show up. This piece shows a few very simple sounds: two parallel lines, one a constant note, A, and the other a second note at varying heights. Select the first 4 sounds, labeled "Octave" and "almost Octave", and hit the play button. You will notice that while the first 2 sounds appear to be almost like one single sound, the second pair of sounds lets you hear a kind of pulsation. The Octave interval sounds as a single sound because the higher sound is almost, but not quite, the double of the frequency of the lower sound: they oscillate synchronously. In the "almostOctave" case, the slight shift in frequency creates an aliasing effect that is somewhat disturbing.

Depending on the vertical distance between 2 sounds, you will hear that two notes can be somewhat "consonant" or "dissonant" with one another. Consonants sounds are heard as quite similar, and leave an impression of rest, while dissonant sounds somewhat tickle the hear. While you may (and should) sometimes use dissonances, to create some kind of expectations or feelings of unrest in your piece, if you don't try to create some restful places in your piece, it will most likely feel like a cacophony, and you'll want to avoid that.

Now select the whole piece and play all the sounds in succession. Note, as they pass by, how each interval sounds: Typically, the octave and the 5th sound quite "restful", and are consonnant. Other intervals, like the 6th and the 4th are quite OK, even though you can hear two distinct sounds. Adding more and more sounds in parallel with those intervals will introduce more dissonance, while sticking to octaves and 5th is almost guaranteed to leave the resulting piece in a quite "restful" state.

You should respect the octave and 5th intervals as much as possible for a start. Note that transposing (moving higher or lower) a sound by exactly one octave almost does not change the perception of consonance. This means that you can play very deep bass sounds and very high notes together, and the interval is an integral number of octaves, they will be consonnant.

The octave intervals are quite conveniently marked with thicker horizontal lines, to guide you when you draw sounds. When creating your first pieces, you should perhaps leave the "intervals" piece open, and select appropriate intervals to listen to them before making decision about where to put your next sound. This will help you understand if the combinations of sounds you're putting together will produce a notion of "rest" (consonnance), or "unrest" (dissonance).

Play in tune

To help you using consonant intervals, turn the "snap to pitch" () button on all the time. This will insure all the intervals you use follow those in use in most traditional western music (classical as well as popular), which will help you create sound patterns that you and you're audience are most likely accustomed to.

Prefer horizontal patterns

Open the andantino sample and listen to it. You'll have recognized a typical classical tune. Now, note that its graphical representation looks pretty much like a mechanical organ tape. While HighC encourages you not to stick to this type of compositions, you will find more than once that creating repeated patterns of short, horizontal sounds feels more like the type of music you're used to.

Keep the bass (LOW) portion of the score clear

On an empty score, perform the following experiment: place many long dissonant notes close to one another in the bottom (bass) portion of the score. Listen to them. Next, move all those notes higher up and listen. You will most likely have noticed that the same piece sounds much more confuse and dissonant when played in the bass than in the high range of the scale. This is because lower frequencies (bass notes) contain many harmonics ("sub notes" of higher frequencies) that interfere with one another, while the harmonics of the higher notes are simply not heard by our ears.

This means that while you can use many parallel lines in the higher range of the scale, you should most of the time keep the lower portion of the score (bass) part quite clear, filled with only a few consonant notes.

A sense of time

Try using short sequences of notes rather than long glissandi and clusters, at least at first. Focus on creating a melody consist of a few notes, and, when you're satisfied with it, repeat it with slight variations.

Repeat patterns to create a rythm and use repeated notes of the same height as a bass line.

While your piece will perhaps lack harmonic richness, this will make it easier to create short pieces that match the sort of sounds our culture has accustomed us to. Only when you have obtained a nice conventional pattern should you try introducing some "wilder" elements like glissandi or clusters.

Playing with expectation

Repeat a pattern to create some habituation, then "break" it once in a while. Once again, this is to follow the classical structures of western music. You role as a composer is to guide the mood and feelings of your audience. To this effect, you should start by establishing a certain situation (the theme, or melody of a piece), if necessary repeat it, to have the listener sort of "integrate" it in one's head, then play it again with some variations, either predictible or surprising. Very schematically speaking, this is the essence of traditional compositions forms, such as the sonata, the symphony, or even pretty much all of rock and roll songs (verse, chorus, solo...).

Keep it small for a start

The longer the piece, the more difficult it is to capture the attention of a listener. For a start, you should perhaps focus on creating small loops and patterns rather than immediately attempt to create several minutes of music.

Rich envelopes

Using a variety of envelopes over very simple harmonic patterns (octave and 5ths) is a way to ensure you create interesting variations in your piece while keeping it consonant for the most part.

While there is a variety of predefined envelopes, creating more envelopes is easy and will help you exploring various ways to express yourself.

Understanding Waveforms

Waveforms are perhaps the aspects of sound that is the most difficult to characterize and master. Roughly speaking, the Sine waveform is a "pure" sound that is close to a flute. Triangle and Sawtooth contain a bit more harmonics and are therefore richer. pulseSquare and Square contain even more harmonics. They remind the Oboe and can create many more dissonances when they are used profusely.

The other waveforms, "noise" and "crazy" are in fact compound waveforms. You may want to play with waveforms to create further variations on a theme. However, don't expect to master at first all the subtleties of waveform generation. It is one of the area where HighC needs a bit of improvement.