What you can do now
If you have made it this far, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You can now create basic cover music! There are no vocals (lyrics) yet, but using only these skills it is possible to create many enjoyable instrumental pieces.
Create a cover of any song
With the skills you have learnt so far, you can create a cover without lyrics of any song out there that is specially tailored for your hearing.
Here are the steps:
- Select the song.
- Google an easy piano score for the melody of the song.
- Look up the chords for the song if they are not written on the score (just check that the score and chords are in the same key as each other).
- Write the chords onto the score for your reference, and add bar numbers as well if they are not already there.
- Enter the melody into GarageBand and adjust individual notes if need.
- Create a bass line to go with the song using the chords.
- Create a harmony to go with the song using the chords.
- Transpose all tracks to a key and octave that suits your hearing range.
- Add a percussion track and adjust individual notes if you cannot hear them.
- Set the volume for each track that best suits your hearing range.
- Save the GarageBand file and export the song.
The above list is in the Process Reference – so refer to that to remind yourself what to do when creating songs.
Even if you never learn any more music than this, you are all set to develop a library of tailored music to listen to and enjoy.
Choosing songs to make covers of
If, like me, you struggle to select a song because you cannot hear existing songs well enough to know if you will like them or not, you could try asking for friends for recommendations, then Google ‘Easy piano score [song name]’. You might not like everything that is recommended but you may begin to see what your taste is. If there is something you like, ask that friend for similar recommendations. Find out the genre and look up the history of the song. Maybe other songs by the same artist or from the same time and place will also appeal to you. Write down what you learn, because this will help you work out your taste and you can use that to help you find songs you like. It is a lot of work to enter a song into GarageBand only to find you don’t like it, but take heart – every time you enter a song from a score you will become faster and more proficient at the process, and you will move one step closer to learning what your tastes are. The effort will not be wasted!
For now, I suggest you practise what you have learnt so far by making covers for a few more songs. Pick something with a simple melody – nursery rhymes are often good. I have included a few scores below which you might like to create covers for.
The First Noel
This is a Christmas carol, typically sung around Christmas time.
- Melody: acoustic guitar, Steinway grand piano, Grand organ, harp, woodwind (flute, clarinet, oboe), brass (trumpet, French horn)
- Harmonies: acoustic guitar, Grand organ, harp, woodwind (flute, clarinet, oboe), brass instruments (trumpet, French horn, trombone)
- Bass line: upright studio bass, tuba, bassoon
- Drums: SoCal
Blowin’ in the Wind
This is a folk song originally written by Bob Dylan in 1962, though many artists have made covers of this song. It is considered to be a protest song, posing questions about war, peace and freedom.
- Melody: acoustic guitar, harmonica
- Harmonies: acoustic guitar, violin
- Bass line: upright studio bass
- Drums: SoCal
You can see from the score that the song has three verses. Once you have created the first verse, drag them to repeat another two times.
I Walk the Line
This is a country song written by Johnny Cash in 1956, which became a popular ‘hit.’
- Melody: harmonica, acoustic guitar, steel string acoustic
- Harmonies: acoustic guitar, steel string acoustic
- Bass line: upright studio bass, or try out some of the other bass guitar sounds available in GarageBand
- Drums: SoCal
When you download the file, you will see the lyrics for all five verses. Repeat the above five times.
Sweet Child o’ Mine
Sweet Child o’ Mine is a rock song released by Guns N’ Roses in 1987, on their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. It is one of the most popular rock songs of all time and has a very distinctive sweet introduction. My brother used to play it at full volume when I was a teenager and I really loved that introduction. Unfortunately it quickly devolved into white noise and I could not really hear the rest of the song, until I used this score created by Gemma Horbury to make my own cover of the song. I really love it and I hope you will too.
- Melody: Hard Rock Guitar
- Guitar instrumental: Hard Rock Guitar
- Bass line: Fingerstyle Bass
- Drums: SoCal – use the electronic kick drum (C1), electric snare (E1), and closed hi-hat (F#1).
There are two versions of this score. The first is a simple version which just contains the melody and chords, and it’s marked up to show you which sections you can copy and paste when entering it into GarageBand. You write your own backing, as shown in previous lessons. The advanced version of the score is the same but includes additional tracks for bass line, electric guitar and drums. One of my aims in giving you this more complicated score is to show you how you can use the skills you have learnt in Level One of this course to create surprisingly sophisticated pieces of music.
The previous songs we’ve covered consist only of verses and choruses, but rock songs often have a more complicated structure and Sweet Child O’ Mine is no exception. This song has an introduction and instrumentals as well as an outro.
If you want to simplify things, just enter verse one and the first chorus and repeat them. Then add the other sections if you feel like taking the song further.
It may look like a lot to enter but there is much copying and pasting that can be done which speeds it up! You will see that the score is marked up to show you where you can copy and paste:
If a bar or phrase is used more than once, it has a label in a box above it. In the above example you can see the label, ‘Guitar riff.’ If the label starts with an ‘*’, that tells you that you can go to a previous example and copy it. There may be more instructions, such as telling you which bar to copy from, or as in the above example where you are instructed to change the first note to an E. Make use of these labels to help you quickly copy and paste sections of the song. The labels are also useful as a learning tool. For example, I have heard the word ‘guitar riff’ used in reference to music but didn’t know what it was. This shows me an example of a guitar riff.
New Symbols on the Score
There are some symbols on the above score we have not yet covered in this course. The first is one commonly used on sheet music, to describe repeats:
The double bars with two dots beside it tell you to repeat that section once before moving on. In GarageBand, the above example means you copy bars 65-72, and paste them into bars 73-80.
This is another kind of ‘repeat’ symbol. It means that you copy exactly the contents of the previous bar. If the repeat symbol has a number above it and multiple slashes, that tells you how many bars to copy:
If you see the above symbol, you would select the previous four bars of notes and copy them into the current four bars.
A simplified drum rhythm
For the simple version, I suggest the following drum rhythm, which could start at bar 5 and then play to the end:
As you can see, it has a closed hi-hat on every eighth note, a snare on beats 2 and 4, and a kick on beats 1, 2-and, 3, 4-and.
How to enter triplets into GarageBand
In this song, Bar 104 is a bit tricky:
It uses triplets, where three notes are played in the time of two. To enter this bar into GarageBand, first enter the notes as quavers, leaving a quaver rest after each group of three:
Select the quavers, then click on the down arrow next to ‘Quantize’:
In the dropdown box, click ‘1/4 Triplet (1/6). The selected notes will be moved to start at the correct position for triplets. They should now look like this:
Drag the duration of the notes so that they fill the bar:
Voila! You have now entered triplets.
The second version of the score for Sweet Child O’ Mine has additional tracks. It includes the bass line and also an instrumental guitar and drum track so you can enter these as they were played by Guns N’ Roses. I liked working with this version as it gave me an insight into how composers vary bass line rhythms and drum rhythms throughout a song. After you create the simple version, you might like to go on and add these other tracks. The process of entering them yourself is very valuable – make use of this to observe how the composer has applied the chords and drum rhythms so that you can do something similar in the future with the backings you write.
When you look at this score you might flinch in horror as there appears to be so much to enter. But really, it’s no different to entering the melody.
The above example shows just four bars of music, bars 85-88. On the left hand side is a list of the tracks. At the top is the voice melody, which you should already have entered. You will need to enter separate tracks for each of the electric guitar and the bass. The bottom three groups of staves, joined by a single heavy vertical bar on the left, represent the percussion track. This means you can make a single track for percussion and include all five instruments on the one track. If you prefer, you can place each percussion instrument on its own track – up to you. For convenience, on the first page of the score is a reference that tells you which midi note to enter for each instrument.
Since this may seem rather overwhelming, start by adding in the bass line, the same way you entered the melody. You will see that many bars can be copied and pasted.
Then add in a separate track for the electric guitar. You will see it only appears in a few places during the song, so there is not a lot to enter.
Once the bass line and guitar are done, work on the percussion, using a single track of SoCal drums.
Blue Monday is a dance song that was created by rock band New Order in 1983. The genre is described as ‘synth-pop’ as it was made using electronic synthesised instruments. Pop songs are usually around 3 or 4 minutes long but Blue Monday is unusually long at 7.5 minutes. It’s also unusual because it has a very long introduction, then the verses are placed together, followed by a long outro. Despite this (or because of it?) the song became immensely popular.
Like Sweet Child o’ Mine, the score for Blue Monday has lots of tracks and may seem overwhelming. However, there is much that can be copied and pasted, and the score is marked up with labels to help you do this. There is one new symbol that hasn’t already been covered previously:
It looks like a slanted ‘=’ sign and it shows you that you are now working with a new set of bars. You can see in the above example that bars 12-15 have electric guitar, bass guitar and drums, and that this sequence plays twice in a row. Following the slanted ‘=’ sign is a new sequence, rather than more instruments that are part of the previous sequence. Technically you can tell if a set of staves is a new sequence or a new track on an existing sequence, by looking at the bar numbers and also because multiple tracks are joined together with vertical lines, but when it goes onto a new page this can be a little confusing, so the ‘=’ makes it nice and clear.
Since there is so much to enter, it is best to tackle one thing at a time. It’s easiest if you print the entire score, and tick off sections as you have entered them, but if not, do one instrument at a time and use the list of instruments on the cover page to tick off as you go. The drums play right through, so I suggest first entering the kick drum from start to finish. This creates a structure for the song which makes it easier to add in other instruments by checking the bar numbers. Next put in the snare and hi-hats. You should now have a nice rhythm to listen to. Make it more interesting by adding in the toms.
Next put in the melody, then the bass and guitars. You now have a basic track that should be enjoyable to listen to. Work from there, filling in the other instruments – cymbals, choir etc.
As with Sweet Child o’ Mine, there is an opportunity to learn from the labelling with Blue Monday. I discovered what a break down is, another example of a guitar riff, and learnt more about how instruments are combined and varied throughout a song. It is well worth the effort of entering the song yourself just to learn about how songs are put together. It is knowledge you will use in the future as you create backing tracks for yourself and write original songs.
When I created my own version of Blue Monday, I didn’t like it at first. I discovered I don’t really like the sound of synth instruments. However, when I changed the melody to a piano and the guitars and bass to acoustic guitars, I really liked it! I also found that it had too many tracks and this became white noise for me. I suspect it’s a consequence of wearing hearing aids, so if you wear hearing aids perhaps this will be an issue for you, too. If that’s the case, try playing only the drums and melody, and then adding in the bass. If that sounds ok, experiment with adding in other tracks. I ended up deleting the synth, choir, strings and brass, as they were too much for me. Although it may seem like a lot of work to enter a track and then not use it, it’s an excellent way of learning what you like and what suits your hearing. If you don’t like a track, try changing it to an instrument you know you like. If you like a track, such as the choir, but it’s too much with the other instruments, you could delete the other instruments just while the choir is playing. One way to appreciate all the instruments if listening to them at once is too much is to repeat sections of the track, using some instruments in the first section and then different instruments in the repeated section. As you go, don’t forget to keep notes about what works for you in your preferences chart.
Optional: ask a professional musician to create tailored music for you
If you have filled in the audiogram page and made detailed notes in your preferences chart, a professional musician could use these to create cover songs for you, that are tailored to your specific range of hearing. If you have an NDIS plan, it may be that you can use funds to hire a musician to use this information to make covers for you, claiming it as ‘accessible music.’ Check with your LAC. If they are uncertain, you could argue that this is similar to hiring an interpreter, who provides access to speech, as the musician would be providing access to music.
Tip for listening to music in bed
Once I started making music, I made myself some gentle, peaceful pieces to listen to in bed when I was feeling stressed. But I had a problem: my hearing aids were not comfortable in bed. If I lie on my back, after a while the pillow presses into the back of my hearing aids, pushing them up against my ear. If I lie on my side, my ear is squashed against the hard plastic of my hearing aids. Either way I start to feel a little bruised after a while. Eventually I discovered a great solution! I bought a travel cushion:
By lying on my side and using a travel cushion for a pillow, I can position my head so that my ear is placed in the hole of the cushion. My face is beautifully and softly supported with no pressure at all on my ear. It’s lovely! This may be helpful for people with cochlear implants too – I’m not sure.