May 172011
 

This Contribution is one I’m thrilled to showcase here on my blog. 3rdFloorSound’s The Theory is a terrific set of Music Theory learning tools in a huge refill. So this is not a refill with sound patches or samples. Rather, this is a refill which gives you a whole music theory master class in a download, and then some. Here, I’ll pick it apart and show you what you can do with the files, how to use them, and sing nothing but praises for it, because like many people who use Reason, I can definitely use all the help I can get when it comes to music theory.

The idea behind the Refill is simple: provide those without a lot of music theory knowledge under their belts a chance to take a look at all the possible scales and chords that are available. The Scales and Chords are available in several “Chord” and “Scale” .rns files located in the Refill. So you will need to go to File > Open, as opposed to trying to open the refill files from any sound device. As previously stated, there are no device patches in here. Simply song (.rns) files. This makes life a lot easier, because you can open the files directly from your “Explore” or browser window, if you wish.

The refill costs $34.95 and for what you get, it’s a bargain. Though this refill is targeted for those without a music theory background, I think even seasoned professional musicians may find some new scales and chords in this refill to inspire them. At the very least, it’s a great hands-on musical index. You can download the example files here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordbooker/

Here’s a few short videos put together by 3rdFloorSound to showcase the refill:

And here is what 3rdFloorSound has to say about the refill:

  • The Theory is not your average instrument refill. It’s an idea refill, a scale and chord resource, a midi score checker, and a teaching tool for Reason 5 and Record 1.5
  • 3 scale files that include every possible 5, 6, and 7 note scale organized by structure, mode, and transposed in modes. 1 file containing 30 full scale maps transposed for each key.
  • 152 Reason and Record song files, 76 for each program.
  • 1 Music Theory overview – a song file that works as a course covering everything from sight reading to time signatures, the circle of fifths, chord construction and more.
  • 17 Chord files containing 82 chords, each in individual clips organized four different ways: by quality, type, interval structure, and type versus structure.
  • 12 Scale files containing 223 scales in individual clips, and 30 full scale maps that contain the scales plotted across the entire keyboard.
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  • 12 “chords on scales” files that contain all the chords transposed and plotted across 30 scales they fit into.
  • 30 more Chords On Scales files, one for each scale, that has the scales and chords transposed for each key.
  • 2 pdf files: a companion to the music theory overview, and a chord & scale index listing the spelling for every chord and a cross reference of every scale.

The Basics of Music Theory

To get things started, there’s 2 PDF files that ship with the Refill: one PDF file provides a color-coordinated chord and scale index, outlining all the possible chord and scale names. The chords and scales are also listed by section and measure, so you can quickly go to the proper measure within the .rns document and locate chords and scales with ease. If you’re looking for a chord or scale by name (Phrygian, for example) or category (Harmonic Major, for example), this list works well to provide bread crumbs in your journey.

An excerpt from the scale index PDF.

An excerpt from the scale index PDF.

The second PDF file is a nice 28-page introduction to Chords, Scales, and Notation. It’s not going to turn you into a grand wizard of musical theory, but it will point out the basics about how tempos and time signatures work, the circle of fifths for Chord progressions, and how to notate your musical ideas. It’s very basic and simple terms, which is really nice for the absolute beginner to get their feet wet.

the Table of Contents for the Music Theory primer PDF

the Table of Contents for the Music Theory primer PDF

What’s even nicer is the fact that this PDF corresponds with a special .rns file in the root folder of the Refill: “Music Theory.rns” Let me just say that I think 3rdFloorSound is even crazier than I am when it comes to creating humungous project files. This one single .rns file is a complete recap of the Music Theory PDF file, and uses a very intricate and detailed system of blocks, clips, note lanes, and actual notes to create diagrams. Just check out his explanation of the circle of fifths or how the clefs relate to the keyboard. It’s brilliant just for the sheer amount of work that went into it. It will have your jaw dropping on the floor, I promise.

I will provide a slight bit of guidance however, and that is you may need to expand or contract the main sequencer view area to make the diagrams and explanations show up clearly. Since notes are used to create the diagrams, they can get squished if the view area is too small, or expand too much if the area is too big. But this is a minor issue, and one that does little to detract from the usefulness of the information. Personally, I prefer reading the information directly in the PDF. But I would recommend that everyone just open up this file and take a quick look to see a marvelous and ingenious use of the Main Sequencer as a learning tool. One of the most creative uses of the Main Sequencer I’ve ever seen. And that’s saying a lot!

And Now for the Really Good Stuff

Chords and Scales. That’s it folks. That’s all you’re going to find here. But wait. This is really all you ever need in music correct? I mean sure there’s progressions, timings, composition, and all the rest. However, when it comes to the building blocks of your songs, it all comes down to Chords and Scales. And all of them are here. I mean ALL OF THEM! Every Scale you never thought existed, and every chord in every one of those scales you never thought existed. I lost track after the 10th page of listings in the PDF Chord & Scale list. I thought 3rdFloor was going to run out of colours to connect the dots between the list and the .rns files to be honest. But just for the heck of it, I counted exactly how many scales were listed: 364 in total. And that’s not even getting into the chords.

A screenshot showing all the 7-note scales by "Interval," "In Modes," and "In Modes - Transposed"

A screenshot showing all the 7-note scales by "Interval," "In Modes," and "In Modes - Transposed"

And of course you are given all possible Chords for each of those scales. So coming up with your own chord progressions is as easy as copy, paste, tweak, done! The beauty of all of the chords captured in a Reason format is that you can solo the chords and listen to them to instantly find new and interesting progressions. For those inept at theory, such as myself, this is a great hands-on feature.

A screenshot capturing a mere fragment of what is available for chords.

A screenshot capturing a mere fragment of what is available for chords.

Then there are the Scale Maps. These maps can be used to overlay on top of your note lanes so you can immediately see any notes that don’t fit the scale in which you are working. The idea is simple. Copy the scale map clip from the .rns file into your own .rns or .record document and place it in advance (to the left) of your own note clip on the same note lane. Then go into the scale map clip by double clicking it, and select the entire set of notes in the clip (Ctrl+A). Finally, extend the notes, by dragging them over your own clip. This creates an overlay of the scale on top of your notes. You can then go into your note clip and delete any notes that are outside the scale map. If you’ve ever worked in Photoshop before, this is the same concept as creating an overlay or “image mask” on top of your layer. Simply delete everything that falls outside this masked area, or move the notes that are outside the mask to a note within the scale, and you’re halfway to correcting your song.

Of course, you’ll still have to ensure the composition sounds the way you want, and there’s still the human element of ensuring the notes make sense when played together. But this process goes a long way to helping your melody fit together coherently.

Here’s a short video I put together to showcase the refill:

To Summarize

This refill is massive in Theory, providing all the scales and chords you could ever want, and goes above and beyond to try to make things easy to find, and easy to use with scale maps, great color-coding, and nicely laid out files. It’s clear a lot of tender loving care went into this refill, and it’s well worth the bargain of a price. On the flip side, if you already have your theory well under your belt, or already own some chord and scale charts that work well for you, you may want to invest your money elsewhere. But even then, I think you’d be missing out on some great functionality. There’s no denying that having everything inside Reason files makes working with chords and scales a lot easier.

In the future, I’m looking forward to seeing more from 3rdFloorSound. Two great ideas that popped to mind as I was using this refill were: 1. Chord Progressions, and 2. Song Structure Templates. I think adding in groupings of common or even uncommon chord progressions could really enhance the refill, and adding some song structure templates, complete with lanes (or blocks) for bass, drums, guitar, pads, pianos, etc. would be a nice addition as well. Or both concepts could become their own new refill. And if anyone has the ability and determination to do it right, I think 3rdFloorSound is the one for the job.

I usually can’t find too many places to put my money, but this Theory refill is one that will reward you richly for such a small investment. I’d be crazy not to recommend it to every musical-minded person I know. Great job 3rdFloor!


3rdFloorSound is an upstate New York musician who uses Reason and Record extensively. You can reach him at www.3rdfloorsound.com or occasionally on twitter: @3rdfloorsound. To purchase The Theory refill direct, go to http://www.3rdfloorsound.com/theory.html

  10 Responses to “The Theory Refill”

  1. Hey Rob!

    Was checking this out only this week, and thinking what a great tool this would be. And guess what? You have done a tutorial on it. Bye the way its a brilliant.

    I still have to say that you guys are barking, you have to be of your trolley!! I’m just blown away by the anal-ness. Absolutely amazing!

    Anyway, music theory is and area I’ve been working on over the last year, especially chord progression. This is going to help out a great deal.

    Now as any GOOD woman would do, I’m off shopping!!!

    Shout out to your buddy @3rd floor………… anal or what?

  2. @everythingbutthegirl/woman,
    Thanks for checking out the article. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to promote this refill. If you’ve checked out my site, you’ll see there are very few endorsements and zero ads. So when I post a promo like this, it means something. I honestly think everyone can benefit from this refill. So I’m glad you checked it out.

    3rdFloor is just nuts. Period. No other way to describe it. He’s most definitely off his Trolley, not only because the images in the main sequencer are just BONKERS!, but also because he’s selling this for next to nothing, considering what you get.

    Thanks for the comment, and let us know what you think of the refill and how you find working with it. Chord progressions… now that’s a whole other refill for another time. hehe.

    Rob

  3. I’m reviewing your article again to get some inspiration. Yap! both yourself & 3rd floor are just CRAZY! He for producing something like that for a whack price and you for reviewing it. Totally BARKING! Seriously……… I just love it! The best thing I’ve purchased for music production this year. I’m learning not to buy everything I see and think might help in my work.

    I’m going to send the day playing around with this and see what happens……

    Great review the way!

  4. @everythingbutthegirl,
    Thanks for the comment. 3rdFloor has a really great refill here. I seldom buy new refills and prefer to come up with my own sounds from scratch. But this is a totally different kind of refill that helps those who are deficient in Theory. And also is a great resource no matter what level you are at. Rumor has it that he is gearing up to provide another theory-based refill that extends this one to provide even more. Looking forward to that as well.

  5. WOW!! thanks for reviewing this otherwise i would never have found out about it! i feel like i have stumbled upon the holy grail!!!! this is toooo cool! thanks and thanks to 3rdfloor you guys are awesome!

  6. @Sasha,
    3rdFloor has a really great refill / tool here. I’m glad he made it available. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. ;-)

  7. This is just what i need! I was making a track earlier today and i couldn’t find the chord i was looking for. i had 3 of the 4 chords in my progression. I could hear it in my head but i could find the keys to make that sound in my head! lol I gave up on it and came to this site just to do some reading and BAM! This refill falls from the heavens! Im ordering today! I’ll do a follow up after i get the refill.

  8. Yeah, that refill is bad-ass!

  9. I’ve been waiting for this for SO long!

    Thanks!

    -W

  10. FYI – The link to the example files in this article, is bad. It goes to a WordPress plugin information page.

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