INTRO Sundog Scale Studio by FeelYourSound is a fantastic song composition tool that helps song writers of all levels quickly and easily build chord progressions, harmonies, and melodies. It's a stand-alone application that transmits MIDI note data to digital audio workstations. According to the developer,"The main focus of Sundog lies on writing harmonic songs from scratch without having to worry too much about music theory."
FIRST IMPRESSIONS The purchase, download, install, and activation process is simple. Upon launching, users will notice a flat, modern, neatly designed GUI. The color scheme is an eye-pleasing mix of creamy grays, white, yellow, and red. The interface is not intimidating; it is well thought out and inviting. It can be resized to accommodate various screens, workspaces, and needs. There is also a reset UI to default command. The top red bar houses the following selectors: tempo (30-299), swing (%), chords (viewed as text or on a KB), bar length (1-16), basenote (root note), and scale. The yellow Pattern Trigger box is for playing individual notes and chords. The light gray Pattern box at the bottom is for creating rhythms over sixteen steps. Users can even use up to 64 steps by setting the Length to anything from 1 to 64 steps. The arrow in the pattern box is used to go from one 16-step-page to the next. There are Instrument blocks in the middle of the screen that transmit MIDI to different channels. Users can create a limitless number of song parts. Each song part consists of 15 instrument boxes, and each instrument has an own pattern trigger area and a pattern box. Users can create parts (1-16 bars) that can be linked together to create an entire song. The free-standing area on the right includes: solo, mute, source (scale notes, chord notes, etc.), octave (0-9), channel (1-16), instrument (general MIDI assignments), fixed note (general MIDI note assignments for drums), velocity (0-127), and a pattern area with many pattern presets. The transport bar is on the top and features MIDI, a timeline, play and record.
SETTING UP The setup process can be a little challenging for those less experienced with configuring Audio/MIDI connections on their computer. It requires that a virtual MIDI cable be connected to a DAW. A quick-start video tutorial illustrates how to achieve this in each of popular workstations:
In some cases, users will need to access the Audio/MIDI Setup found in Applications/Utilities. There are step-by-step instructions:
There is also a clear and concise user manual:
Once setup is completed, the fun will begin! Note: The entire setup process took me 11 minutes, so it's either easier than it sounds, or I've been doing this stuff for a long time — probably both are true.
WHY DO I NEED/USE THIS SOFTWARE? I'm lucky, or perhaps blessed. .. or maybe cursed — I always have melodies bouncing around my brain, but converting what's in my head into a song is another story. After several college theory classes and lots of ear training, I still can't get it right. Even if by some miracle I accurately work out the correct notes, it's nearly impossible for me to choose the appropriate key and create a chord progression. My songs usually sound nothing like my original inspiration. Sometimes they are better, but most of the time my translations are a flop! Sundog is one of the rare pieces of software that can help get struggling composers like me from point A to B to C. For the more fortunate and gifted, Sundog will increase workflow, thereby speeding up the creative process. The Scale Finder feature is one of my favorites. It identifies possible scales for notes entered.
The main Sundog interface is the key element to allowing users to freely work within a scale without fear of going off-key and dissonant. It somehow keeps all notes within the chosen chords and/or the scale. This feature reminds me of bowling with bumpers along the side rails that prevent the ball from going in the gutter. When it comes to creating music, I'd like to hit the right notes as much as possible. Note: Advanced users may over-ride in-key protection to add odd, off-key chords:
For times when the creative juices are dry, Sundog helps provide instant inspiration through experimentation with new harmonies and melodies. Users may also choose from over 300 scale presets that include everything from major and minor to suspended pentatonic and all in between. Most modern Western music is in major and minor; yet, experimenting with non-traditional progressions could lead to something new and exciting. Swapping chords in an existing chord progression is a great way to generate more interesting, original songs. An added bonus — Sundog is also a very educational software — subtly teaching composition and theory along the way.
WORKFLOW The basic way Sundog works for creating new compositions from scratch:
1. Launch Sundog 2. Launch DAW and assign appropriate instrument to track (s) 3. Choose a scale and a base-note. All notes can easily be auditioned along the way 4. Users may also choose from an extensive collection of scale presets 5. Preview possible chords, all of which will automatically fit chosen key 6. Create a chord progression, which serves as the "harmonic base of the song" 7. Parts may be combined to create a "song" 8. Melodies can then be created. Note: If you go back to the chords view and change some chords all your melodies will simultaneously update to suit the new chords 9. Once you have some ear-pleasing chord progressions and melodies, simply hit the record button on your DAW or export a song part or the entire song to MIDI and then Drag and drop into the DAW 10. Arrange, edit, mix, master, and become famous.
FAVORITE FEATURES • Neat, clean, modern GUI • Easy to navigate interface • Intuitive workflow • Excellent online video tutorials • Over 300 scales presets • Scale finder • Fantastic for generating unique arps with the Pattern box • Standard MIDI export for drag and drop into DAW • Small footprint (45MB) • CPU friendly • Great price and never have to pay again — "Buy once, get updates forever" • Enthusiastic, responsive developer.
FEATURE REQUESTS • GUI has different scaling levels available with a reset to default, but scaleable would be even sweeter • Helpful hints that pop-up when hovering the cursor over a feature • Be truly standalone — include a built-in piano for times when I'm too lazy to launch my DAW. In the meantime, I setup GarageBand with a simple piano track. Others might not mind launching their big DAW • Additional swing percentage options • MIDI Import via drag and drop. This would make the DAW integration more symbiotic and fruitful. Unfortunately, this is probably a very difficult feature to incorporate.
SUMMARY Sundog Scale Studio is designed assist in the process of generating compelling chord progressions, marvelous melodies, brilliant bass lines, and sizzling sequences. It's simply a indispensable, must-have tool for songwriters. It's fun, fast, and furious. It turns an often labor intensive chore into creative bliss. For some it will be an amazing sketchpad; for others it will open up new harmonic and melodic possibilities. It's extremely useful for anyone creating music on a computer, regardless of theory level. There are more complex options available for harmony assistance, but for the price range, Sundog is hard to beat. If concerned about compatibility, suitability, or workflow, I suggest trying before you buy. There's a fully functional demo available on the FeelYourSound website. I highly recommend this software to any electronic composer, working in any genre. I give Sundog Scale Studio a big thumbs up. Great stuff.
NOTE: The following user review is based on the Mac version 2.4.0.
A decently-written review. One of the features I am still hoping to see in a future release is a more sophisticated pattern browser that organizes the step patterns into more discrete groupings; tagging would be nice, too. Another nice feature to see in a future release would be a facility to convert back and forth between step patterns and pattern-trigger patterns (why? because only step patterns allow customizable velocities).
Thanks, Bro (or Sis), I demoed this for a few weeks and worked hard on providing some useful comments. I see your points and suggest you submit these requests to the developer. He's been very responsive when I contacted him with my feature requests. Mostly, I would like to have a simple on-board piano sound (or a selection of instruments) to make opening and syncing to a DAW optional. This would make it faster and easier to get an idea down.
I previously communicated my feature requests to Hauke, so he is aware of them. If other folks were to express interest in the same features I have requested, he might be more apt to look into developing them. Regarding having on-board instrument sounds, Windows users have the option of using the CoolSoft Virtual MIDI Synth with Sundog. I am not sure if there is something analogous out there for Mac users.