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Ambient Chords and Scales.

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  • Ambient Chords and Scales.

    When I'm looping drones I find it hard to play cadences, so I try and stack chords that are related diatonically, and I've found that you can get some pretty out there sounds stacking diatonic chords in some interesting tonal center (as in this tune, which I made in the altered or super locrian scale:, in which I'm basically playing an augmented E chord plus it's minor seventh (E7+5 I believe it's called) and arpeggiating inversions of the E augmented chord, I'm also playing the Ab7#11 and the Bb7, which are chords from the scale that fit in nicely (or rather eerily I should say) with the E7+5.

    Are there any scales or chord stacking combinations that you really like to use in your music? Would any one like a little intro to upper and lower chord structures (stacking chords)? Share your music theory knowledge (or music theory questions) below!

  • #2
    I don't have much to add, sorry, but it's a great question and something I think about often. I'd like to hear what others think. When I'm creating drones, I don't usually stack multiple chords, instead picking just one. But I like to loop in some notes in a higher frequency in a key that has that chord, give it a lot of reverb and smooth out the transients. Pretty basic, but it gives my drone some movement.

    I'm also always thinking about good ambient chord progressions. My challenge is finding progressions that sound melancholy and bittersweet, but also not super minor-key-sounding. I'm not that knowledgeable about music theory so it's a lot of trial and error.
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    • #3
      JFichtl I found myself incorporating whole tone scale starting on E on your SC track. You can stack some cool guitar chords in that scale which are extremely easy to move around since it's whole tone. It's also a way way off adding even more tension and release because some of the notes would be outside of the scale you are using already.



      • #4
        With my Ambient stuff I really don't think in that way, because I want to feel more what is fitting and not all of the stuff is based on harmonies anyway. But I like dissonances and odd-sounding tones/chords if it should be a bit darker, so playing around with diminished chords can be fun. But an inspiring question! Maybe I'll cme back to you if I keep thinking about this issue and trying some stuff out! Ambient jazz... hmmm


        • #5
          in my mind, drones and cadences are antithetical, as drones want to go on, and cadences want to resolve and end. also, in my own music i don't normally think in terms of harmony and chords. i approach it more in a medieval / middle-eastern / indian way: improvising over a drone in a certain scale, often with repeating motifs. (but then again, i also do a lot of generative modular stuff...)

          see for example the first ten minutes of

          that said, i am interested in experimenting with more harmonic stuff, and have been watching some rick beato videos (more aimed at film scoring, but interesting nonetheless).
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          • #6
            rick beato is just so great. learned a lot from his.
            i just had the discussion an hour ago with a friend who tried to put a beat under one of my tracks... which is hard when you have a piece of music that has neither a stable rhythm, nor harmonies or melodies in it. Which makes Ambient such a lovely genre because you indeed can go into classical harmonic stuff, but everything else can be incorporated (think of field recordings - melodies of birds sounds ... which closes the cycle)


            • #7
              micheronfire I don't have a lot of experience using non traditional sounds for making music, but I'm getting a lot of ideas from your SC tracks, especially My Breath Is The Wind, it's wonderful with stereo and whatnot. Makes me think that I should pick up a handpan to get those pretty ethereal steel drum sounds. Also liking the manouche stuff, I'm a huge fan myself, I've been trying to get those Django Reinhardt licks into my playing for years!


              • #8
                Oh, nice to hear that you get inspired! :-) I had a guitar teacher when I was younger who was really into all that Gypsy jazz thing, so I got hugely influenced by him. That's also where I learned basic harmony, but only when I switched to piano I understood things better. BtĂșt I'm still always learning new things E.g. the whole tone scale is something that really interests me, and what is super locrian, some augmented mode? You're a guitar player as well, then?
                For the sound collage stuff, I just record continuous sounds which I thing sound good as a backing track (recently I used a singing bowl and timestretched it, but also water sounds or wind) and then start adding stuff. You can also try glasses, wood, basically everything which makes a sound. And, because there is no structure in rhythm, harmony or melody, everything fits somehow, but I think of course about tension in the piece, like build ups, release, and also some melodical chops. In My Breath is The Wind I recorded some wind chimes which of course have a certain melody but there is that element of coincidence which I like That's how I started to leave the typical song structure thinking. But if you're into Ambient, then you already should have a feeling for that, anyway


                • #9
                  What I enjoy the most in musical harmony, is the openness of what started out during impressionism by Debussy. The harmonies that don't correlate in any generally accepted emotion, nor have any functions like traditional tonal music. One way to go there is to avoid the thirds because usually that is the interval that puts an average listener on a map. But when using thirds (minor or major), it is much more interesting to add more unconventional upper structures, like augmented or diminished 5th. Whole tone scale is useful and also the more uncommon scales like overtone scale. Those are also useful, because when built up as chords, they don't dissonate. The only trouble is, though, that when used often, the impact gets dull...

                  Here's a track that is built around Bb overtone scale:

                  The thing is that it is possible to loop any tones of the scale without being dissonate. The overall mood of the scale is also ominious, what suited the best for what I was after...