How to compose with Studio One

Aside from its flexibility as a production suite, Studio One also proves itself to be an amiable companion when it comes to composition and spurring initial creativity.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

One of the numerous things that has really impressed us about Studio One as it has grown is how PreSonus has been careful to really listen to its end users and add functions that are important to that growing base. Since Studio One is so good at recording, mixing and mastering, it made sense to ensure it was just as good at songwriting and production, too. This ensures that users will be more inclined to start and stay in the same DAW.

So then, let’s take a look at some of the excellent tools on offer for composing in Studio One 4.

Fleshing it out

Once you have an idea down in Studio One – whether it’s a MIDI loop or an audio loop – it’s very quick and easy to build an arrangement. Highlight your initial parts and then use [D] to copy and paste events. This can be a single event or multiple events. And this function is smart, too. If you’ve copied a four-bar loop, it will paste it to the next logical space on the timeline.

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For instrument parts, using Duplicate Shared makes copies of a part that are linked to the original part. When changes are made to the original, the same changes are applied to the copies.

Arranger track

Open the Arranger track and enable the Paint tool. Now draw a region over the length of the song part you want to define. This new section can be renamed (Verse 1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Solo, etc) by right-clicking the section and double-clicking the title in the pop-up menu. You can also change the colour of a section by selecting the coloured square from the same pop-up menu and choosing a new colour.

Arranger Track advantage: use the Arrow Tool and select a section of your song. You can move this entire section – including the parts for every track that are within the section area. This makes it very easy to duplicate choruses or verses to other sections of the song. You can also move the section marker itself without moving the actual contents of the section. As you can see, this allows you to quickly create a full arrangement in no time.

Tempo track

Use the Tempo Track to insert tempo changes in a composition. Time-stretched audio events are stretched dynamically to reflect those tempo changes. Although there may be artefacts, this is a great way to test part changes with guide audio. You can set a tempo range by double-clicking in the max and min fields and inserting a value for each. Changes like this are saved with the current song.

Time signature

Time signatures can also be set/changed in an arrangement by double-clicking or right-clicking the time signature at the far left of the timeline. Right-clicking in the timeline, you can select Insert Time Signature and a new value will be placed right where you want it. This can be done multiple times within an arrangement.

Chord track

The Chord Track is similar to the Arranger Track. With it, you can make grand changes to instrument or audio tracks. This gives us the flexibility to make radical changes to a chord progression even after audio has been recorded. Let’s start by setting the key. This can be set either by clicking on the Key Signature in the transport bar and choosing the key from the pop-up or by determining it from an instrument part. To do this, select the instrument part on the track and right-click on the event. From the menu, choose Instrument Parts/Detect Key Signature.

With that done, we can manually enter chords in the Chord Track or, again, from an instrument or audio part that may already exist. This is fast and flexible; and you can get the entire chord progression in place very quickly.

To do this from audio, right-click an audio event and choose Audio/Detect Chords in the pop-up menu. Once complete, select the part again, [right]-click and choose Audio/Extract to Chord Track.

Scratch Pad

A Scratch Pad allows you to quickly test musical ideas without changing your current arrangement. Open a Scratch Pad and drag in events, parts or arranger section from the main timeline. Once you click in the timeline of the Scratch Pad, the focus of the transport changes to the Scratch Pad.

Now, loop your section and experiment by making changes in the Scratch Pad. These changes do not change in the Arrangement. You can have multiple Scratch Pads within a song (although you can only see one at a time). This makes it very easy to try several different ideas within the context of your song. When you have one you like, click and drag it into the main timeline. Voila!

There are more tools available that make composing in Studio One 4 much easier like the drum editor, Melodyne and more. We’ll continue exploring these in future tutorials…

Composing in Studio One: step-by-step

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

1. Create a new loop with a single track or multiple tracks. Highlight them and press D to duplicate as needed to the timeline.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

2. Select the parts in the loop, right-click and select Duplicate Shared to make copies that will change as changes are made to the original loop.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

3. Click the Arranger icon to open the Arranger Track. Paint song sections into this track to define song sections. [Alt]-drag to duplicate these sections to other parts of the song.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

4. Right-click a Song Section in the Arranger Track and select ‘Create Markers from Arranger Sections’. Markers can also be made by hitting [Y] while listening to song playback.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

5. With Song Sections in place, it’s easy to click-and-drag sections to create your entire arrangement.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

6. To modify the tempo of a song, click the icon for Tempo Track. Set a tempo range. Now, select points on the Tempo Track to speed up or slow down the song as needed for choruses and such.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

7. Set the Time Signature by double-clicking the time signature in the timeline. Input the new time signature as required. Time-signature changes can be made throughout the track by right-clicking in the timeline.


CHORD SELECTOR The Chord Selector – double-click on a chord in the Chord Track or select it from the View Menu. The Chord Selector helps you figure out the chord progression if you’re starting from scratch. Click on the key you want the song in and then select the type of chord and any intervals. It will then show you the shape of the chord on the piano keyboard. This is a quick way to work out what you want your progression to sound like… even if you’re not an advanced player.


Composing in Studio One Tutorial

8. We can find the chord progression of the song by right-clicking on an audio track and selecting Audio > Detect Chords.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

9. Now right-click on the same audio track and select Audio > Extract to Chord Track.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

10. We now have a Chord Track (shown by clicking the Chord Track icon). We can adjust the chords here if needed. Now we can make key changes to the whole song.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

11. We can accomplish the same thing with Instrument Parts. Select an Instrument Part, right-click and choose Instrument Parts > Detect Key Signature and places the Key Signature in the Transport Bar.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

12. Once we have the Key Signature, right-click and choose Instruments Parts > Extract to Chord Track.


PASS THE AUDITION The Chord Inspector – Click ‘I’ over the timeline to open it. There’s lots of useful features including an output to assign a virtual instrument for auditioning chords, a Play Track feature for listening and making sure your chord progression fits with audio in the song, octave and velocity functions for tweaking chords and how they sound, the key signature and a list of all the chords in the progression.


Composing in Studio One Tutorial

13. The chord progression can now be seen in the Chord Track. This makes it much easier to develop parts that work with the progression. It also makes it easier to make grand changes to the song key.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

14. To experiment with other arrangements, select a Section from the Arranger Track, right-click and choose either Copy or Move to New Scratch Pad. Making changes is now non-destructive.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

15. Now that our Scratch Pad is populated, let’s make some major changes to the part. We can have more than one Scratch Pad, so experiment with more than one arrangement.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

16. As you can see, making changes to a Scratch Pad does not destroy the original part, so you always go back to the original idea if things don’t work out.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

17. With our section changes made, let’s drag the part into the last chorus before the solo. This is as simple as dragging the Arrangement header for the chorus section over into the original arrangement.

Composing in Studio One Tutorial

18. Scratch Pads can be added, deleted, renamed or even duplicated for more experimentation. Just click the drop-down next to the Scratch Pad icon.

For more PreSonus Studio One tutorials and workshops, check here.

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