Remember Syntorial? That popular video game-like training software that teaches you how to program synth patches by ear? I used to wish for a platform with the same playful approach – to learn how to create drum patterns, chord progressions, and basslines. Well, it turns out my wish came true.
Audible Genius, the creators of Syntorial, have launched Building Blocks, a training course for music composition and beat-making that uses the same award-winning ear-training approach as its successful predecessor.
Designed to feel like MIDI notation in a familiar DAW environment (yep, the familiar grid/piano roll), the new course allows both new and existing producers to improve their ability to recreate drum patterns, chords and basslines they hear in their head. All this right in the browser, so no need to install extra software (which is a plus!). According to the company, Chrome and Opera are currently supported on Mac and PC. More devices and browsers coming soon.
The first volume of Building Blocks contains 94 interactive lessons that explain the most important concepts in music composition, after which producers can sharpen their skills in interactive challenges. They use their hearing to recreate drum patterns, chord progressions and basslines, which leads to an improved ability to turn musical ideas into reality. At the end of the course, users are able to reproduce a wide variety of musical elements by ear.
My Building Blocks Review
I spent a few weeks checking out what Building Blocks has to offer. The platform is super intuitive and the first lessons are perfect for beginners. There’s a helpful introductory video (hosted on Vimeo) for each step, and then you are presented with a challenge, an exercise, or a creative session (that later on in the course doubles with another session called experiment).
Once you’re on the Building Blocks 1 website, you can dive in right away, for free. After a few steps, to continue you’ll have to go through a (smooth) registration process.
After some more steps (see image below), I encountered the typical paywall. Currently, to gain full access to Building Blocks 1, you subscribe for $14.99 / month, which I find very reasonable considering the number of lessons and their quality.
If you feel it’s too pricey, ask your local music teachers – in most cases $15 doesn’t even get you a 1-hour lesson!
Going back to my experience, the first sections of Building Blocks 1 are clearly aimed at beginners, but even more experienced users can benefit from the method implemented by Audible Genius.
You start from the building blocks (hence the name of the course) of any song, bass and drums patterns, learning to recognize the core concepts and (as you progress) the subtleties of beat-making. Then you enter the wonderful world of pitch and harmony. You learn the basic notions behind chords, training your ears to recognize the differences between major, minor, suspended chords, etc. Then you train your ears to recognize finer pitch movements. All this through exercises that allow you to recreate patterns/melody sequences, in a sort of ‘piano roll game’ that gradually gets more and more challenging.
This is an exercise. Here I’m hearing what I have to recreate.
And this is my attempt at recreating what I heard.
While using Building Blocks, I enjoyed the fact that I could study at my own pace. There were days where I went through several sections at once, and others where I just wanted to use Building Blocks for a short break from other activities. The system keeps track of the user’s progress, and it’s also possible to skip sections you might feel already confident with.
Overall, I found the game-like interface and the ear-training method very effective. Recreating patterns and learning to recognize differences in duration, velocity, pitch, etc. at various levels of complexity proved fun and helpful. I could almost feel my ‘musical I.Q.’ increase as I went on with the course!
What’s Next For Building Blocks
The company is releasing Building Blocks 2, the second course in the series. Access to this course will be included in the $14.99 subscription. It will continue on where BB1 left off, covering: – Melody – Chord progressions and inversions – Additional drum types (Open Hi-Hat, Toms, etc) – Additional feels like half-time and 16th shuffle – Full octave pitch range – And more
When BB2 comes out, the company will be adding a second payment option: Lifetime access to each course with a one-time fee. The price-per-course for lifetime access has not been set yet. The subscription option will still be available for those who prefer to pay a month-to-month fee for access to all courses.
I think Building Bloks is a fantastic resource for all those musicians and producers who want to either learn from scratch or feel more confident with the underlying structures of electronic music. Like it or not, the grid and piano roll are here to stay, so the more you master them, the better your composition skills will be.
I recommend giving it a try, even if you’re skeptical about this kind of stuff. Personally, I’m excited to finish my Building Blocks 1 lessons and see what’s coming next.