When creative block hits, it can be super frustrating – especially with deadlines and collabs looming. We’ve rounded up five tools that will help you get out of the creative rut, enhance your chord progressions and even teach you music theory. Keep these in your back pocket.
Calling itself ‘The Creative Chord Composer’, Scaler is Loopmasters’ solution for anyone who isn’t musically trained or is stuck in a creative rut. By analysing your music, it suggests chord progressions and musical ideas based on your track’s key – with over 2,000 scales and modes to choose from it’s designed to help users who might not be confident on the keys.
Even if you did make it all the way to Grade 8, Scaler is designed to keep you inspired after a long day in the studio, and may even suggest some ideas you didn’t consider. Artists like Carl Cox, MJ Cole, The Temper Trap, CeCe Rogers and Mike Huckaby have all contributed, so there are plenty of different genre styles. A handy toolkit and costs only £39.
Mixed in Key made their name by creating a key-mixing solution for DJs, designing a coloured wheel to help DJs keep their mixes from clashing. Since then, they’ve expanded their software offering into Captain Chords, a plugin designed to assist you with jazzing up your chords and avoiding clichéd progressions. Write your MIDI clip, drop it into Captain Chords and after tweaking a few settings, you’ll have a much more interesting and complex mix, if that’s what your after. 7ths, 9ths, suspended and inversions are all offered, as well as extra notes suggested.
Some may think it’s cheating, but when used creatively, it can turn a good idea into a great one.
Xfer Records first found its fame with LFO Tool, a plugin created by Deadmau5 collaborator Steve Duda. Since, Duda has released a whole bunch of cheap and cheerful electronic music-making solutions. Cthulhu is designed to create chord progressions automatically by pressing a single key. There’s up to 128 chords per preset, including ‘chorales’ from Bach himself.
MIDI can be routed into any instrument you like and once it’s rolling, there are tons of ways to edit and tweak to create a never-repeating looping MIDI riff. Again, it’s cheap at $39 – definitely more suited to EDM and progressive house ideas but worth trying the demo no matter what type of music you make.
While most producers and artists use Melodyne for high-quality vocal tweaking, the powerful plugin from Celemony can actually be used for creating new ideas too. Once you’ve got your vocal idea sounding perfect, try copying one of the notes and creating a harmony using Alt+drag – just like you would with a MIDI note. Melodyne is one of the best plugins out there for polyphonic pitch shifting and you can quickly try otherworldly ideas or experiment with harmonies that might be out of your vocal range.
It’s not just for vocals though – if you work a lot with samples, try loading in any type of instrument loop and playing around with its notes. Melodyne can even edit individual notes in a chord. Magic.
If you’re on a budget, Hookpad isn’t a world away from the other tools we’ve discussed here but it’s free! With that, the interface isn’t quite as snazzy and there’s less features, but it will churn out plenty of chord ideas and progressions. Definitely aimed at more beginner songwriters, but not only will it help you get your track finished, it actually teaches you music theory in the process. Not bad for a free plugin.
While you might have more than enough when it comes to mixing and instrument plugins, there’s a whole world of composition tools out there that can make the most basic on chords sound exciting, help you break through creative block or even trigger a brand-new idea. Don’t be afraid to try some unorthodox techniques – after all, happy accidents are a vital part of creativity.