Making Music in Soundtrack: The Basics

It’s easy to make your own music with Garageband or Soundtrack Pro. If you don’t have the budget to buy music, it’s essential to make your own to avoid copyright problems — and often quicker than searching through a library of “almost-right” music anyway.

The basic structure of Western music revolves around a rhythm, typically provided by drums and bass. Most songs work in rhythms that are a multiple of two, usually as groups of two or four loops, often changing on a multiple of four.

  • First, make sure Snapping is turned on (View > Snap should be checked).

The easiest way to get started with an original song is to audition a few drumbeats — to play them. There are many available to choose from, in many different musical styles.

  • Add a drum loop (we’ll call it “Drum 1”, and extend it across the entire timeline by clicking on the lower right-hand edge and dragging to the right. (Suggestion: “80s Pop Beat 10”.)
  • While Drum 1 plays in the timeline, audition several bass loops to complement the drums. (Suggestion: “80s Dance Bass Synth 02”.)
  • Drag the next loop (we’ll call it “Bass 1”) into track 2.
  • Extend Bass 1 across the entire timeline.
  • Reduce the volume of both tracks to approximately -9dB. This will give us room to add additional instruments without peaking (going higher than 0dB).

Now we’ll add a solo instrument to the mix. This is where much of the interest in a song comes from, and where most of the variation could be. This instrument might be a guitar, a synthesiser, or something else, but we’ll refer to “Solo 1” in these notes.

  • Play your composition so far.
  • Audition a few instruments and choose one that has several variations on a theme. (Suggestion: “Funky Electric Guitar Riff 1-49”.)
  • Add one of these solo instrument loops (referred to here as “Solo 1”) in track 3.
  • Position it at the start of the fifth measure, 5.1 on the measure ruler.
  • If it’s not already long enough, extend Solo 1 for four measures, to 9.1 on the measure ruler.
  • Pick a similar solo loop, the same length as or shorter than Solo 1. (We’ll refer to this loop as “Solo 2”.)
  • Add this loop to track 4 at 9.1 measures, and extend it for two measures only, to 11.1.
  • Duplicate Solo 1 (within track 3) by option-dragging it to 13.1 on the measure ruler. This should be immediately after Solo 2 finishes in track 4 — as if the musician is now playing different notes.
  • Reduce Solo 1 to half its original length.
  • Duplicate Solo 2 (within track 4) by option-dragging it. Position it immediately after the second instance of Solo 1 in track 3.
  • Select the second instance of Solo 2 and choose Clip > Transpose > +3. Transposing can add variation in a limited selection of suitable loops.

This structure now includes a pause at the beginning, a solo instrument, a variation in that solo instrument, a return to the original solo, then a variation on the second solo.

Your composition will probably need some work before being good enough to be given attention, though it could be OK as a backing track you hear now and again. For variety, we’ll now duplicate this structure and change it.

  • Select everything by choosing Edit > Select All (command-A).
  • Copy the entire structure.
  • Click at the end of the composition so far, in the first track, then choose Edit > Paste.
  • Creative rearrangement. Change the arrangement of the solo instruments — add a new pattern in the first four measures, transpose one or more loops, introduce new loops from the same family.
  • Split at least one track by selecting a loop at the end of a measure and pressing S. Letting a track rest now and again makes it sound fresher when it returns.

This basic structure can be varied and reused in many compositions. A little more info:

  • Western pop songs usually have an introduction (8 or 16 measures) followed by chorus and verse (each 16 or 32 measures).
  • A repeated chorus at the end is called a coda.
  • Within each chorus and verse, the harmony might change every one, two or four measures.
  • The end of a pattern is often different, to signify a change. This is called a fill.

Listen to as much music as you can, studying the structures used. Not every piece of music is a song; not every piece of music has or needs a rigid structure. However, knowing the basics will help you plan your music more easily — start working with the conventions and stretch them as appropriate.

Feedback is welcome. This tutorial was written some time ago for Soundtrack and has been heavily revised for Soundtrack Pro 3. The basic principles will also work for Garageband.

Obligatory plug: visit for all your Motion Template needs!