Designing Music NOW

Dedicated to the Craft of Creating Music for Video Games and Interactive Media

Modulation Tips for Composers Part 2 of 3: 2nd Degree of Kinship

Modulation Tips for Composers Part 2 of 3: 2nd Degree of Kinship


In the first article of this 3 part series “Modulation Tips for Composers”, we discussed modulating to closely related keys (keys derived from the initial key’s set of diatonic triads). This key relationship is referred to as being on the “first degree of kinship”.

In part 2 we will discuss modulating to keys that are not derived from diatonic triads of the initial key, but are still within 5 “signs of difference”:

“Signs of Difference”

“Signs of difference” means the number of changing accidentals between two key signatures. For example, the keys of C major (no accidentals) and D major (2 sharps) would be said to have 2 signs of difference. The keys of Gb major (6 flats) and A major (3 sharps) would be considered to have 9 signs of difference and would not be a 2nd degree key relationship.

Throughout this article, I will use the abbreviation S.O.D. to refer to “signs of difference”. Let’s further break down what constitutes a 2nd degree key relationship:

Second Degree of Kinship

Any given key has exactly 12 keys that are said the be in second-degree relation. The process of finding these 12 keys is dependent on whether you are modulating from a major key or minor key.

Major Key Modulations

Each major key has 8 major keys plus 4 minor keys in second-degree relation. The major keys can be found following this rule: 4 keys are situated above the given major ascending by half steps in the range of a major 3rd, and 4 more major keys below the given major, descending by half-step in the range of a major 3rd.

ORCHESTRAL REVIEW SERIES – Solid State Symphony by Indiginus

ORCHESTRAL REVIEW SERIES – Solid State Symphony by Indiginus

Introduction For the price of a video game, you can now have a full orchestra in the palm of your hand.  Well, at least on your laptop.  This Kontakt instrument is mind blowing, and not only for the great sound and amazing features, but also for the impossibly low...

Modulation Techniques for Composers Part 1 of 3: The First Degree of Kinship

Modulation Techniques for Composers Part 1 of 3: The First Degree of Kinship

Most popular classical harmony books that I’ve read barely scratch the surface when discussing modulation, which can make it seem like a “dark art” even to experienced composers. This 3-part series will attempt to demystify the subject by breaking down a dogmatic method of modulation developed many years ago at the Moscow Conservatory.

Let’s jump right in to it!

(I’ll assume that you have at least an intermediate understanding of classical harmony for the entirety of the series)

All key centers in Western tonal music can be said to relate to one another in one of three ways, which are referred to as “degree’s of kinship” (1st degree of kinship, 2nd degree of kinship, and 3rd degree of kinship). This post will discuss what constitutes a key relationship as on the “1st degree of kinship”, and it’s corresponding modulation procedure.

Let’s define what constitutes a “first degree” key relationship:

Keys that relate on the first degree of kinship are all diatonically related keys. “Diatonic keys” are derived from the diatonic triads of any given key (omitting diminished triads due to the unstable 5th). Keys derived from diatonic triads will share many common tones with the “home key” (key we are modulating from), which will make our modulation sound smooth and convincing. More common tones between two keys means the listener will be less likely to notice an abrupt change in the music.

In addition to diatonically related keys, the keys derived from iv minor* (in any given major key) and V major** (in any given minor key) are also said to be in first degree relation to their respective “home keys”. These two keys are included as non-diatonic exceptions due to their extremely common use; even though they technically contain non-diatonic notes, they don’t sound too foreign to “western ears”.


Keys that are in First Degree of Kinship to C major:

D minor (ii), E minor (iii), F major (IV) and F minor (iv minor)*, G major (V), and A minor (vi)

(diminished chords omitted due to unstable 5th)

Modulating from C major to D minor, E minor, F major, F minor, G major, or A minor would be considered a first degree modulation.

Interview with Beep Movie Composer Leonard J. Paul

Interview with Beep Movie Composer Leonard J. Paul

Introduction Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound, a celebration of video game music, SFX and VO from a historical perspective, is worth the price of admission just to experience the score.  Now, a digital version of the OST from Beep by Leonard J. Paul has just...

NEWS: ELIAS 2 Adaptive Music Engine Launches and Interview with ELIAS Founders

NEWS: ELIAS 2 Adaptive Music Engine Launches and Interview with ELIAS Founders

Stockholm, Sweden – September 13th, 2016 – Elias Software, the Sweden-based company bringing adaptive music to the forefront of gaming has today announced the release of the much anticipated ELIAS Music Engine and ELIAS Studio version 2.0.
”ELIAS 1 was essentially my vision of how to make adaptive game music. With ELIAS 2 we actually complete that vision but not only that. Co-Founder Philip’s ideas have been given a lot more space and most important of all – Your ideas have come to life. Since we strive to be a company that listens and claims to be for composers by composers, this is our top priority. Finally, with the release of ELIAS 2, the journey to the perfect platform for music in games can continue…” – Kristofer Eng, CEO

The first improvements will be immediately visible upon first starting ELIAS Studio 2 – the entire GUI has had an overhaul. With a context sensitive Inspector and customizable layout of windows, users will have everything at their fingertips, especially with the ELIAS Player now always accessible, allowing for a more effective and controlled workflow.

There is now a Stinger level slider which enables a more fine-tuned approach to creating dynamic adaptive music. ”Multi-Themes” make it possible to transition musically between several Themes while level variations offer a new way to follow in game events and narratives with deeper customization thanks to the new segment tool.

Users will be happy to know that ELIAS Studio 2 includes a mixer, giving them the option to create their final mix within the program, plus the ability to modulate and sweep in real-time together with Action Presets. This updated version of the Composer’s Studio also comes complete with a basic reverb tool.

And the enhancements certainly don’t stop there. Within the ELIAS Music Engine, performance has seen a boost. Reading from disk is now much more efficient, meaning that mobile developers can more easily implement adaptive music into their next project.

”ELIAS 2.0 is a complete rewrite of the engine, and is far more modular and extendable than version 1 as we intend to support this version for a long time. We’ve also put a lot of effort into optimizing everything to run well in environments where performance requirements are especially tight.” – Philip Bennefall, Lead Developer

This update promises to be the biggest yet, with an arsenal of new features such as ”Transition Presets” and the inclusion of a mixer; improvements on older tools like the renovated track view and under the hood, the ELIAS Music Engine promises to deliver the same versatile results to the world of mobile gaming thanks to streamlining without sacrificing power.

NEWS: Chanel Summers Contributes Audio Chapter to Upcoming Book on Level Design

NEWS: Chanel Summers Contributes Audio Chapter to Upcoming Book on Level Design

Game Audio Level Design

We are very proud to announce that Designing Music NOW Managing Editor, Chanel Summers, has contributed a chapter to an upcoming book. The book, primarily about level design in games, is called “Level Design: Processes and Experiences” and is being published by CRC Press and edited by Christopher W. Totten.

Chanel, a pioneer in game audio as Microsoft’s first Audio Technical Evangelist for Microsoft and a member of the original Xbox team, is co-founder of audio design group Syndicate 17 and a leader in audio for VR and mixed reality projects. She is also a world-traveling speaker and long-time game audio educator, as well as a lecturer and director of the Experimental Audio Design Lab in USC’s Interactive Media & Games Division.

Book Summary

In this book, veteran game developers, academics, journalists, and others provide their processes and experiences with level design. Each provides a unique perspective representing multiple steps of the process for interacting with and creating game levels – experiencing levels, designing levels, constructing levels, and testing levels. These diverse perspectives offer readers a window into the thought processes that result in memorable open game worlds, chilling horror environments, computer-generated levels, evocative soundscapes, and many other types of gamespaces. This collection invites readers into the minds of professional designers as they work and provides evergreen topics on level design and game criticism to inspire both new and veteran designers.

Creating Seamless Loops

Creating Seamless Loops

Creating Seamless Loops

Loops are the basic building blocks used to create many video game soundtracks. They are a critical part of interactive music because they allow scores to adapt to any length of play time. The average person may take three minutes to complete a specific game level but the score still needs to sound flawless for the player who spends eight extra minutes exploring. Loops allow a short amount of music to last as long as necessary. This makes writing seamless loops a mandatory part of any game composer/sound designer’s toolbox.

Creating the perfect loop is simple once you know how to do it. The first concept to understand is that a loop is just a circle. To create a seamless loop, the end of the segment needs to perfectly match up with the beginning of the segment. If the waveforms don’t join there is an audible ‘pop’ or ‘click’.

SOLO STRINGS REVIEW SERIES – Review Friedlander Violin by Embertone

SOLO STRINGS REVIEW SERIES – Review Friedlander Violin by Embertone

Virtuoso Violin Sampling

Great sample libraries are tricksters. They fool the ears of highly trained musicians and listeners into believing that a live performer is playing. Embertone takes this concept to the utmost and achieves a kind of realism only dreamed of in years past. The Friedlander Violin surpasses other solo string instruments in its sheer realism and wide range of customizable articulations.

From its brilliant legato implementation to is impressive real-time vibrato controls – this library does not disappoint in any way. True legato gives you both bow change and slurred legato, but you can also turn that off to get maximum performance. Portamentos are speed controlled. Though it is a solo instrument, there is a unique ensemble feature as well that creates a virtual ensemble, complete with humanization controls which allow you to randomize the timing and pitch of the ensemble. The name of the library comes from Dovid Friedlander, Associate Concertmaster at the North Carolina Symphony, a virtuoso violinist who was recorded with a close mike in a dry environment. All of these features are available at an incredible price: $125!

PERCUSSION REVIEW SERIES: Noah Bells and Alto Glockenspiel by Soundiron

PERCUSSION REVIEW SERIES: Noah Bells and Alto Glockenspiel by Soundiron


In this review, we check out two new tonal percussion libraries libraries by Soundiron: Noah Bells and Alto Glockenspiel. Previously, we reviewed the incredible Soundiron Symphony Series Brass and Symphony Series Woodwinds. As with most Soundiron libraries, these were recorded in the same large cathedral so that they all sit beautifully together in the mix. Noah Bells and Alto Glockenspiel are small libraries that can be bought very inexpensively. They are not limited, however, as you can extend them with tons of sound design capabilities that Soundiron packs into most of their instruments. They are MUCH more than their name implies, thanks to the extensive tweaking and exotic patches included in these libraries.

We have included video reviews, a custom demo piece using only these two libraries, and lots of tech and articulation info for both of these libraries in this article. We also conducted a video interview with Soundiorn Co-Founder Mike Peaslee, which you can check out here.

Demo Piece by Lawson Madlener

This piece only uses the Alto Glockenspiel and Noah Bells. I used the different mallet types for each instrument as it’s own part, so I was able to get more depth out of two instruments than one would expect. Orchestration-wise, I basically wrote for them like three marimbas. The exception is the light rhythmic percussion which is pitch-shifted swipes in the Noah Bells, creating some counter rhythms in the background. I used both close and far mics on the glock, and just the close mics on the bells. There is no external processing at all.