As with all Captain Plugins, Captain Chords is an AU/VST/AAX* instrument plugin and as such should be opened in your DAW using the same method as any other 3rd party instrument plugin.
We created tutorial videos to give a deeper understanding of integrating Captain Plugins with Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Studio One Four and Pro Tools. You can access the videos from the below playlist.
* AAX is available on Mac only.
When Captain Chords’ user interface opens you will be presented with options for setting the song ‘KEY’ and “SCALE’. If you already know what key & scale you will be composing in, then adjust the fields to your choice and select ‘GO’.lightbulb_outline Tip: A major scale will sound bright and happy, whereas a minor scale will sound more somber or melancholic. Most electronic based records are composed in a minor scale; Pop music on the other hand, tends to lean more toward the use of major scales. This is only a rule-of-thumb and as such there will be examples which do not follow this rule. Try experimenting, and also note which scales are used in other records within your chosen genre.
Best Practice: If you are unsure of which key and scale to use then it would be wise practice to consider whether you are composing chords to match a vocal you intend to use, or any other pitched elements you may already have in your project. This is because most elements within a musical recording will be comprised of various pitches or notes which fall within a set key & scale, by ensuring the song’s key & scale match these pitches, you can ensure all elements in the song will be harmonically compatible.lightbulb_outline Tip: If you are unsure of the key & scale of your existing vocals or backing track, then drop them into Mixed In Key or Mixed In Key Studio Edition, which will provide you with the key & scale results, e.g 2A. This result can then be converted to traditional musical terms by using the Camelot Wheel included in the Harmonic Mixing guide.
Adding chords to create a chord progression can be done in a number of ways:
To aid creativity, Captain Chords includes numerous chord progressions, these can be accessed from the ‘Progression’ tab, underneath Key/Scale.
Once selected, you can edit the progression in the same ways as with a bespoke progression.lightbulb_outline Tip: When using the ‘Progression’ browser, click on each preset to hear a preview of how the progression sounds.
In Captain Plugins 5, the voicings and inversions available in Captain Chords have changed. Previously, each key and scale had a set list of alternate voicings. Some of these are still present for all chords, such as First and Second Inversions.
However, we have refined the list of available voicings to reflect a more musical palette for each key and scale. Rather than the exact same voicings in each key and scale, you can now choose from an intelligently curated range of chords that sound particularly good together. For example, in the key of A Minor, the root chord has both Sus2 and Sus4 chord options, while scale degree iv, D Minor, offers only Sus4, but an additional Dm Aug chord.
All chords, regardless of key and scale, have a 7th chord and the relative Minor/Major within its chord palette.
Whatever your level of music theory understanding, these ‘smart voicings’ will help you write chord progressions that flow together more beautifully, conveying a wider range of emotions.lightbulb_outline Tip: You can execute additional chord voicings by pressing ‘Shift’ and using the computer keyboard. Shift + 1 – 7, Shift + Q – U and Shift + Z – N call up different chord voicings – great for fast experimentation!.
An ‘inversion’ is a chord with the same notes as the default triad, with the order re-arranged the order within each chord. First Inversin takes the root note and raises it an octave. 2nd Inversion takes the root note and the 3rd, and raises both an octave. By changing the inversion you will give the chord a different “feel”, so it’s advisable to experiment until you find the setting to suit your taste. (Default Triad) is the standard 3 note chord.
If you know the name of a chord, and don’t see it in the chord palette of your chosen key and scale, you can input it usng the Custom button. E.g Adding a B Flat Minor to a chord sequence in A Minor is achieved by pressing Custom, then entering Bbm.
Captain Chords now supports MIDI editing. You can ‘grab’ any note in your chord sequence, and pull it up or down the scale within the selected chord boundary. Moving a note creates a new chord, whose name replaces the old chord name. So, dragging the ‘E’ in A Minor’s ‘A-C-E’ triad up to ‘F’ creates F Major First Inversion (A-C-F).
Grabbing a note is as simple as clicking, holding, and dragging the desired note. You can undo any time.
To the right of the plugin window are two rotor knobs; Complexity and Octave.
Moving chords up or down octaves is controlled by turning the knob up or down from 1-8 available octaves. The behaviour of other chords in the sequence depends on each chords’ Inversion setting.
For example, if Default Triad is selected for all 4 chords in a 4-chord progression, changing the octave of an individual chord will affect only the selected chord. The other chords will stay in their current octave. However, if a chord has Minimise Leap selected, changing the octave of the preceding chord also affect the Minimise Leap-enabled chord. This is because Minimise Leap changes the way chords follow each other to simulate how a real pianist would play it. A pianist would likely use different inversions of a selection of chords to reduce the overall span of notes in the progression.lightbulb_outline Tip: You can ‘break’ Minimise Leap by forcing the chord up or down the octave range, thus making minimise leap redundant. Default Triad will become the new chord type, in its new octave. lightbulb_outline Tip: First or Second Inversions are not compatible with Minimise Leap. However, the nature of Minimise Leap means a First or Second Inversion could be triggered in order to execute a minimised leap.
‘Complexity’ refers to the number of chord tones in each chord. A complexity of 1 is a single tone – the elected chord’s root note. Meanwhile, a complexity of 7 is a chord of 6 notes – 2 identical triads, one an octave down from the other.lightbulb_outline Tip: Adding complexity is great for giving chords weight and gravitas. Generally, it’s less effective with fast chord changes.
When inputting chords manually, it is possible to edit the length, split the chords, delete, change and also place a rest or gap between chords. In doing so, this offers the option of creating your own chord rhythms and progressions.
The info box looks like this:
The Timing tab, underneath the Progression menu, is where you can auto-configure the timing of your chords. In practice, that means changing the strike-point of each chord in your progression, based on a preset timing structure.
Timing structures are categorised in ‘segments’; 1 segment = no change, 2 segments = two moments where the preset timing affects the chord progression, 3 = three moments three moments and so on.
Each Timing option has three types – Fast, Normal or Slow. These affect the speed of the timing changes.lightbulb_outline Tip: Depending on the number of chords vs the number of segments, this may cause your progression to extend or retract a bar or two in length. This can cause some pleasing ‘happy accidents’.
To enable easier chord editing, the piano-roll interface can be zoomed in or out, changed to different view defaults and simplified by removing grid lines and labels.
You can add all kinds of rhythms to your chord progression – great for givng spice your patterns. There are two main methods; the Rhythm menu, or Rhythm Recording.
As with Progression and Timing, the menu contains a number of preset option. These make excellent launch points for your own ideas. Use the bottom scroll bar within the rhythm browser to move between several categories such as: Basic, Simple, Complex and more.
Press the to switch to the Rhthm Record screen. You can now see a blank screen with your chords displayed as ‘ghsot notes’ behind, with some simple controls in the piano-roll, and some additional controls above.
Space is all about creating different amounts of space between your notes. Many producers know this as ‘Note Length’, but we’ve taken this idea further and created 8 different settings that affect the amount of space between notes in different ways. You can increase or decrease the amount and hear your chord progression come alive!
We created a short video to give you a brief overview of the 8 different settings. Check it out here:
Strum emulates the performance action of a guitarist or pianist, by adding subtle variations to the strike-points of each note in each chord instance. This has a similar effect to apianist whose fingers land on the keys at slightly different times, or a guitarist who strums up and down the strings on their guitar.
There are 3 options: All Up, All Down, Alt.
You can set the total amount of each strum style using the rotary knob.
The Swing function emulates classic swing/groove rhythms that have become synonymous with all kinds of modern music.
There are 2 Swing divisions: 1/8 notes, or 1/16 notes. Swing itself is a term that defines a slight shift ‘off the beat’. In practice, that means that every chord strike on a 1/8th or 1/16th beat will be subtly shifted in time, a little behind the metronome. This adds humanisation to the performance. The exact amount of ‘off-the-beat’ is dependent on the amount you set the dial.
You can set the total amount of the swing per beat using the rotary knob.lightbulb_outline Tip: If your chords are playing back from an undesirable point in the DAW project, try clicking Sync. This will re-allign Captain Plugins and the DAW’s timeline and tell Captain Chords to play from the newly identified lauch point.
Captain Plugins 5 includes a large selection of sound presets, suitable for many genres. You won’t have to look far to find the right the right timbre for your song, with the presets organised in categories including plucks, bass, keys, leads, pads, strings, voices and guitars.
In Captain Plugins 5, you can use your own VST Plugin Instruments to directly route your chords through your choice of soft-synths.
You will now see your VST Plugin Instrument’s window, not Captain Chords. Press ‘Play’ and hear yur chords play back, while you search for your perfect sound!
To add extra depth & character to the sound you can apply ‘REVERB’, ‘DELAY’ and ‘FILTER’.
Both ‘REVERB’ and ‘DELAY’ effects have several time and space settings to fine tune the effect to your taste.
One of the most impressive and fun features of Captain Chords is the ability to ‘jam’ live with the various chords within the chosen key & scale. The feature is called Captain Play and is activated by selecting the ‘Play’ tab (next to MIDI IN). This feature allows the use of your computer’s keyboard buttons or MIDI keyboard to trigger the various chords within the key & scale and audition them in real-time.
You can also use Strum while in the Captain Play window.
Tutorial video about the Captain Play tabs:
When you select MIDI Keyboard from the Play window, 3 ‘chord boxes’ open up. These assign themselves to octaves on your MIDI keyboard – C1, C2 and C3. Depending on the number of octaves on your MIDI keyboard, you add more boxes with different chord types.
Once you have perfected your chords, it’s time to think about how they will be arranged in the full song. You may want to use different tabs in Captain Chords to host more chord progressions, such as Chorus, Pre-Chorus or Drop. This can be achieved by simply switching to a new arrangement tab along the top of the plugin.
To aid the arrangement of your song Captain Chords features grouping tabs located at the top of the UI. These tabs allow you to compose separate chord progressions for each section of your song: verse, pre chorus, chorus and drop. In doing so, you will only need to open a single instance of Captain Chords in order to compose all the parts.
When adding either Captain Deep or Captain Melody at a later stage, the tabs within Captain Chords will communicate with the partner tabs within the other Captain plugins. This means Captain Deep and Captain Melody will use the relevant chord progression from Captain Chords in order to write the bassline and melody.lightbulb_outline Tip: You can copy and paste from one tab to another by clicking on the three dots within the selected tab. Additionally, you can choose to save your chord progression as an industry stand .mid (MIDI) file to your computer. lightbulb_outline Tip: If one of your progressions is playing unexpectedly, while you have Captain Chords closed, check that you have ‘Keep Playing Audio When Close’ disabled – if you’re using a 3rd party plugin, you’ll need to return to the Audio window, disable the button, and gp back to your 3rd party plugin tab.
When selected, the ‘MIDI IN’ tab allows the MIDI from the DAW’s sequencer to trigger the sound within Captain Chords, as opposed to Captain Chords playing the MIDI from within its own piano-roll/sequencer. This is useful if you want to use Captain Chords as a soft-synth to generate sound only.
If you don’t want to use Captain Chords’ native VST Plugin hosting, it’s possible to route other sound sources, such as a 3rd party soft-synth or an outboard hardware synth connected to your DAW via MIDI, to generate the sound from your chord progression.
Your channel strip should look like this:
You can route Captain to your hardware synths inside your DAW. Check out this handy guide explaining how to set it up.
If you have created a custom rhythm arrangement or chord progression and want to recall it in another project, you can simply save it as a preset within Captain Chords.
‘Keep playing MIDI notes when the plugin window is closed’
This option allows Captain Chords to continue to play the notes within its own sequencer when the user interface is closed.