Let’s just put it this way – KSHMR is a brilliant producer.
If you haven’t heard the name, he was broke onto the music scene as part of the group The Cataracs, the production force behind hits like Like a G6 and Bass Down Low. Now, he produces for some of the biggest names in the industry, and has racked up 100 million+ plays on his personal Spotify account in the process.
KSHMR recently teamed up with Splice (one of the best Ableton collab tools out there) to create a series of tutorials on everything from writing melodies, to making powerful drops, to creative pitch correction.
However – if you were confused while watching his videos, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
KSHMR produces with such speed that he skips over a lot of important concepts in his tutorials.
That’s why we created this guide to understanding key concepts from his melody writing tutorial. Look for these key takeaways while you watch the video. It helps to know what to look for.
1. Use a template project file with pre-loaded effect chains & synths to enhance focus
When you use templates and defaults, you remove distractions from your production session.
Cool new sounds, instruments, effects, presets, samples, and more are a dangerous distraction that can derail a melody-writing session.
KSHMR opens the video with an important lesson: to only focus on writing music when you sit down to write a melody – not on other elements of the track.
It may be difficult, but stick through it. Cut out these distractions by using templates and default synths / effect chains.
KSHMR uses this technique subtly since he jumps straight into actually writing his music. Yet, this may be the most important part of his tutorial.
There is a time and place for sound design, effects, samples, etc.
When you sit down to write music at a keyboard or in the piano roll, you want to be sure to focus on the most important part of your music writing session– the music.
2. Copy great work
All great works of music drew inspiration from great songs that came before them.
KSHMR is no exception.
In the tutorial, he mentions off-hand that his melody sounds similar to the song Bad by Showtek.
He also notes that this similarity to a Showtek track is not a bad thing.
Contrary to what we were taught in school, copying other people’s work is a great creative technique that you can and should use.
To get the creative juices flowing, look to great melodies for inspiration.
Think about why these melodies work so well.
Is it the rhythm?
The way they fit over chords?
There are many ways to create a good melody. It helps to learn from great melody writers who came before you to influence how you approach your writing.
You don’t want to copy a melody note-for-note in most cases.
To be clear, we are not advocating for ripping off a melody for your own track.
What you should do is write in a way inspired by other melodies.
Take what someone else has created and put your own unique spin to it.
Learn from other artists. Let their work make yours better.
Pro Tip: Copying exact melodies is a good technique for learning to write better music. Recreating a melody puts you in the mind of the artist and can unlock deeper understanding into what makes good melodies so good. Just don’t confuse this learning technique with original work.
3. Choose a scale, then a progression, then write the melody
A lot of producers do this instinctively when they sit down to write music.
- Choose a scale. For example, C Major
- Choose a chord progression we know works well
- Play or click it into the piano roll
It’s a great technique because it makes it easier to get a chord progression down, and provides a framework for writing a melody over that progression.
KSHMR breezes through this section since he’s well-versed in music theory, but a lot of producers struggle with this step because they don’t understand how to make chord progressions sound good.
And the truth is, you need a good chord progression before you write your melody, and this is a way to make sure you write good progressions.
That is to say, it’s the reason why you hear the 1-4-5 progression in a lot of pop music. Common chord progressions sound good to us because we’ve trained our ears to appreciate them.
Pro Tip: If you don’t have a good grasp on music theory, write your progressions in C major (only the white keys) and use MIDI effects to transpose your track into different keys. Not everyone has expert music theory knowledge like KSHMR, and in fact, many famous artists (like The Glitch Mob) use this method.
4. Keep chords simple
Notice how as soon as he writes a bassline, KSHMR spends almost no time on his chords.
He knows his synth sounds great with the bass and melody.
He knows that simple triads work.
He knows his chord progression.
And so when it comes to the chords, he lays them down quickly and jumps straight into the melody-writing process.
Pro Tip: This level of focus on the melody instead of the other elements in the track is what allows KSHMR to write a good melody. Jumping between elements in a track prevents you from really understanding how to make each element sound great by itself. You can apply this same process to writing good chord progressions or basslines.
5. Listen critically while writing
While you’re watching the tutorial, note that KSHMR constantly adjusts notes and progressions as part of his writing process.
You’ll notice him saying things like, “I feel like this should move down” or “this sounds too happy. Let me move this ending riff around to make it a little sadder”.
Wait a minute.
That’s not technical music theory.
What happened to KSHMR the musical genius?
The truth is, KSHMR does explain what he does using music theory (i.e. I chose the 7th of the root instead of the 5th) but his creative flow originates from instinct.
This is, perhaps, the most powerful takeaway from this tutorial:
Understanding music theory is not required to write good music.
It helps. But the most important thing is to listen critically to your melody and revise, revise, revise to fit your taste.
All producers have an inner ear for what they think sounds best. It’s why we got into producing in the first place – we love music!
Don’t discount your personal musical aesthetic when writing. It’s often what makes your music unique.
Pro Tip: Instinctive music theory like this takes time. Don’t expect to know that you need a G# instead of an E on the last note in the melody above your 7th chord as it flows back into the first chord in your series. In the mean time, if you find yourself moving a note around in your melody because it sounds “off”, try to figure out why it sounds off. And when you hit that perfect melody that sounds “just right”, try to figure out why that’s the case. Over time you’ll develop a much deeper understanding of how to write good music.