The Importance of Ambience and Layering in Making Music

Think about any song you like. What is it about it that moves you? How does it make you feel? Think about that emotion for a little while, and try to understand how that song grabs you.

Any song or piece of music is meant to evoke a certain emotional response from the listener, and it takes more than just a basic melody being played over a chord progression to do it. Making music is more than just writing the song. It’s about creating a layer of instrumentation that enhances the listening experience, and there is a lot more going on in the background than you may think.

The truth is that there may be many different instruments working the background, and they are an important part of making music work for the listener. You may not be able to hear them, but you may be aware of them on a subconscious level.

Making music is all about creating an emotion, and layering different instruments in the right way can help you to fulfill that purpose. It serves as the basis for all orchestral music, but you don’t have to be Mozart’s contemporary to use this technique. It can be applied to any genre of music – whether it’s jazz, rock, or even Top 40. You may be surprised how this strategy will enhance your productions, but there are no rules on how this can be applied.

Laying the Foundation

Making music is a lot like building a house. You add different instrumental layers to your piece to enhance its emotional effect. But like building a home, you need to have a solid foundation to make it work. Otherwise, your arrangement will fall apart.

What is considered your foundation will depend on the type of music you’re writing, but in all cases it will make up of the following:

  • Drum line
  • Bass line
  • Chord progression

Of course, you will need the melody, which is the more visible part of your piece. You do, however, have to be mindful of your musical style, and you should lay your foundation accordingly. Your style will also determine if you can add electronic instruments (such as electric guitars and synthesizers), and to what degree.

Layering Music

If you listen to any orchestral piece, you will see this kind of layering going on. It may not be that obvious, but you can often perceive it on a subconscious level. Sometimes two different instruments will play the same melody in unison. A flute may play over a trumpet, or a clarinet may play over a French horn. I have composed some classical pieces, and I have used both of these combinations. There are, of course, other ways to use this technique, and it will depend on the music you’re writing.

As you might have guessed, this technique doesn’t apply to just classical music. It can be used in more contemporary genres as well. In fact, it can be done with electronic sounds and synthesizers as well. This can include, but may not be limited to:

  • Pads
  • Leads
  • Sequenced patterns
  • Electronic pianos (or EP’s)

There are no rules on how these instruments can be used, so be sure to experiment to see what works for you.

Arpeggios vs. Chords

Chords serve as the foundation for all musical harmony, and they can be used in a number of different ways. Every chord will consist of at least three notes (called a triad), and it will be one of the following:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Augmented
  • Diminished

Triads serve as the building blocks of chords, which is what gives the chord a certain harmonic flavor. I won’t go into detail about every single chord, as it would take more time than I have for this post. But be sure to do your research to find out more information about chords and the purpose it serves in the process of making music.

Chords also serve as the basis for all arpeggios – when the individual notes in a chord are played in a specific pattern. These can vary, and it will depend on the style of music you’re writing. Arpeggios are usually played in eighth note or sixteenth note patterns, but that may not always be the case.

Arpeggios are useful in adding more movement to your music. A guitar may play a certain pattern of individual notes instead of strumming a chord, but a piano (or any other instrument) can do the same thing. Be sure to experiment to see what works best for the type of music you’re writing. You should also consider using an “auto-pan” technique to enhance the effect.

Final Thoughts on Layering Music

Making music is all about evoking certain emotions, and there are different techniques that you can use to help your listeners get an emotional response. There are no strict rules, but there are some guidelines to help you build a solid arrangement. You can layer different instruments, which can serve as the foundation on which your entire song is built. Your listener may not be aware of them, but they can add to your music in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

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