Music Class Cheat Sheet

Ah, school. A joyous place where you get thrown into new classes you have no background in and have zero fun studying. A place where you experience the all-too-familiar fear of getting an F when finals week closes in. 

Except, of course, if that class is music and you’re using Soundation. 

Homework and fun are two words no one expects to see in the same sentence, but if you know what the teachers are looking for, completing your assignment and actually enjoying the work can go hand-in-hand. Here’s a checklist of things music teachers look for in a song and tips from us on how you can achieve them.

What Teacher Are Looking For #1: That you have a clear vision.
Unless you’re Billie Eilish, it’s not always a great idea to switch from pop to trap in less than a second. Sure, it’s cool to show your diverse tastes, but having a clear stylistic big picture is what matters most. 

To get a song out that says “Trust me, I know what I’m doing”, make sure you settle on: 

  • Style
    Let’s base your project around your favorite song. Which artist do you want to make your song sound like? Listen to your favorite track and then decide on your vibe.
  • Tempo and Key
    BPM (beats per minute) dictates how fast or slow a song is. Key tells us the song’s mood and tone from a scale of notes a song is based on. For example, major keys typically sound happy while minor keys usually convey sadness. For help with this, use Tunebat to find out the tempo and key of your favorite song. Once you decide on the tempo, set your project’s BPM here
  • Length
    Whether you’re going for a three-minute pop song or an eight-minute club track, the style you pick in the beginning will almost always determine the song’s length.

Based on your scope from this first checklist, go ahead and filter audio samples in our Sound Library with style, tempo, and key to get the sound you’re after. Getting your song’s foundation in place helps frame the scope of your project and makes the rest of the process much easier!

What Teacher Are Looking For #2: That you cover the basics.
Make sure to include these three basic ingredients so your music sounds complete and fully-formed: 

Tip: Type each of these key elements as a search keyword on top of the Sound Libray’s custom filter and take a listen to the samples. You’ll get why your song needs these three elements!

What Teacher Are Looking For #3: That you personalize.
Don’t stop at just mixing and matching our loops in the Sound Library, as it’s likely that the elements you have in your project have also been used by fifty other people in your class! Plus, listening to the same beats over and over isn’t fun for a teacher (or for anyone). Here are a few things you can do to stand out:

A personal touch is like a breath of fresh air, and will make your track unique and memorable. Give your loops the attention they deserve, and your song will get more attention in return. 

What Teacher Are Looking For #4: That you create something new.
A teacher we talked to says it’s obvious when students go out of their way to explore creative ideas and make something original. Coming up with your own melodies and chords on top of personalized loops, for example, is a flourish that will make your song one to remember. 

The secret is, there’s a shortcut to everything. Websites like Chordify lets you see the chords behind many popular songs, and Autochords will randomize chords for you. Online melody generators like Random Music Generator and Melody Generator will create melodies you can add to your project in a second. 

Tip: Remember your song’s key in the first checklist? Base your melodies and chords on this key to make sure they all go well together.

What Teacher Are Looking For #5: That you actually finish a song.
Just like a movie, a book or an essay, music tells a story. And just like any piece of writing, the key to a successful, complete storyline is structure. 

In music, a song’s structure is primarily composed of three building blocks: a verse, a chorus and a bridge. Simply put, it’s the musical equivalent of an intro, climax and outro in a movie. Despite what the name may suggest, you don’t always need lyrics to take listeners on a journey. It’s the arrangement of these three building blocks that keep them on their toes (or on the dancefloor!) and make a song sound complete. 

There are countless breakdowns of popular songs arrangements out there that you can take inspiration from. Or, you can copy this tried-and-true arrangement of electronic music and use it as your song’s layout:

Intro → Verse → Chorus → Verse → Chorus → Bridge → Chorus → Chorus → Outro

Take a listen to any of the top songs on the chart and you’ll be surprised by how most follow this exact structure!

What Teacher Are Looking For #6: That you make sure your song is nice to the ears.
There’s a joke that if drums are louder than the vocals at a live concert, you can bet that the drummer is the leader of the band. [Insert laugh tracks here] That’s what a song with an unbalanced mix sounds like — strange and disorganized. Before you call it a day, spend a few minutes cleaning up your song with these two tools:

Equalization lets you adjust all elements in your song to make sure that they sit well together and that nothing is too piercing, harsh, twangy or muddy to the ears. This might sound slightly advanced at first, but once you get to know the basics of equalization, you’ll be able to use our parametric EQ in no time.

Of course, school isn’t fun without a little bit of rule-breaking. This cheat sheet is just to give you an idea of the fundamentals of making a song from scratch. For your next assignment, try to get everything in this sheet covered, while also putting your own spin on it and having fun. Class dismissed!