SongBlocks is a software plugin designed to help musicians generate musical ideas more quickly and easily. The plugin can be used within a music program (DAW) to create smaller chord and melody arrangements that can be used to create an entire song.

the challenge

As part of our bachelor's thesis, we asked ourselves how we could improve, simplify and speed up the digital music composition process.

As two enthusiastic amateur musicians, it was one of the most exciting projects we have ever pursued. The exploration of the issues, and the deep exploration of microinteractions were two aspects that made this Bachelor project special for us.

Layout

The plugin is divided into several sections: In the center of the plugin is the note editor. Here notes & chords can be added, changed and deleted. Notes are displayed as rectangles within the editor: Melody notes orange, Chord notes blue.

features

drag in chord

If you drag a chord into the editor, you can set the height of the chord by dragging vertically. At the same time, the chord can be moved along the timeline. By releasing the mouse, the chord is dropped and selected at the same time. In the selected state possible chord extensions are displayed that can be added to the chord. Chords can be lengthened/shortened by dragging the right side of the chord.

replace chord

Chords can be replaced by other chords by dragging the new chord over an already stored chord. Dragging in works as usual, the length of the chord automatically adapts to that of the old chord.

variations

On the right side of the plugin is the Variation Area. By pressing the + a new variation can be created, which can be edited independently from the old one. The current state is copied. This way, many different versions of the composition can be created quickly. Users can switch between the variations by clicking on the variation fields.

key changes and transposing

In the upper tool bar you can change the key of the whole variation. The root and the key signature are selected separately. When changing the key, the whole system adapts to the new key: Not only the variation changes, but also the selectable chords and the background pattern. The advantage of this mode of operation is that you can transpose your composition to other keys very quickly, and in the course of this you immediately have the matching chords and the matching scale for this key at your disposal.

melody mode

By default, the system is in melody drawing mode. This means: If no chords are selected, all drawn notes are automatically melody notes. These can be drawn in and deleted again by double-clicking. In pen mode, notes can be drawn in with a single click and extended by holding down the mouse. At the front end of the melody notes, the interval of the respective note to the root of the underlying chord is displayed as a number.

find fitting chords

When selecting one or more melody notes, matching chords are automatically highlighted in the Chord Area. These can then be dragged into the selected melody area of the editor. The system only highlights chords that do not create dissonant intervals with the selected melody notes.

export into DAW

Once you are satisfied with the composition, you can import it into the music app by dragging the respective variation into it. The notes of the composition are imported into the music program as a MIDI clip.

workflow

When developing the PlugIn we had two approches in mind:

  • Usecase #01: Start with a chord-progression and find the fitting melody notes
  • Usecase #02: Start with a melody and find the fitting chords

Usecase 01

Usecase 02

Facts

Bachelorthesis in Interaction design with Paul Schänzlin
at HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd supervised by Prof. Jens Döring and Prof. Hartmut Bohnacker.