How to Write Lush Strings – Music Theory from deadmau5 “Drama Free” feat. Lights (mau5ville level 2)

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Add a string section to any song in any genre, and it’ll sound amazing! So learn how to write a four-part chord progression for strings, by using this hack (as heard in deadmau5 “mau5ville level 2”).
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In deadmau5’s new track “Drama Free” (feat. Lights) that just dropped yesterday, the party pumps for just over a minute, before you’re suddenly whisked away to a beautiful land of strings. This lush detour lasts about 40 seconds, then you’re safely returned to the beat, perfectly highlighting how strings are totally at home in any genre. So, to create lush strings like deadmau5, you need to write a minor key chord progression (which includes the relative major key’s root chord), then add extensions for depth, anticipations for tension, and motifs for memorability. We’ll show you how, next.

Step 1 – Chords
Set up eight bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/4 notes, and your tempo set to 92 BPM. “Drama Free” is in the key of C♯ minor, so we’ll use it too. Right, first things first, you need a chord progression. So, choose a few chords from C♯ minor that you like the sound of, and play each chord for one bar. And if you wanna repeat chords, or play one chord over two bars, that’s all good, just be sure to play the root chord (C♯m) in your first bar, and the relative major key’s root chord (Emaj) in your fifth bar. Now, once you’ve chosen your chords, draw in their root notes at the bottom. This will form the bass melody for your string section. And while we’re on this topic, lush strings tend to be written in four parts, which create four melodic layers. So, as you’re writing your string section, pay attention to what each layer sounds like as a melody on its own. For example, this layer is the cello part, and you wanna make sure your cellists have a beautiful melody to play, so they’re just as happy as your violinists are up top!

Step 2 – Extensions
While you’re building up the remaining three parts on top of your bass melody, be sure to extend your chords beyond triads, like here, where we added a 2 to the Bmaj triad, creating the extended chord: Bmaj(add9).

Step 3 – Anticipations
An anticipation is when you anticipate a note from the next chord, by playing that note before the chord actually comes in. We’ve used a bunch of anticipations in this string section. For example, here we anticipate F♯ from the upcoming Bmaj(add9) chord. Anticipations are so easy yet so effective in creating a brief and beautiful tension, which resolves as soon as the chord changes. Speaking of tension. deadmau5 switches from natural minor to harmonic minor to create even more tension. So, if you wanna do the same, use B♯ somewhere (like we did here). And yes, it’s B♯ not C. If you wanna know why sometimes we use a different name for the same note, then read Hack 7 in our free book, which you can download at – it only takes about 30 minutes to read, and you’ll gain a super solid foundation in scales, triads, relative keys, and much more!

Step 4 – Motifs
A motif is a short musical idea, which you can reuse to give your music structure and make it more memorable. And by now, your string section will already have a few motifs, you just need to go hunting for ‘em! We found a good few motifs. For example, this descending line with anticipations (which we reused here), and this kinda quick semitone movement (which we reused right afterwards).

Hack Music Theory is the pioneering notation-free method for making great music that stands out, so you can get discovered! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé (and wife) Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series “Hack Music Theory”, and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who’s been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the “Hack Music Theory” YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).


(c) 2018 Revolution Harmony
All music in video by Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony

Photo of deadmau5 courtesy of


Hack Music Theory says:

Hello revolutionary music makers! We’ll be hanging out today (17 Nov) from 12pm to 1pm PST, drinking tea and chatting with you in the comments, so come say hello 🙂

Matt Delahunt says:

could you a video on dupstep Skrillex hack please.

Pedro Macedo says:

Thanx guys again. These ones were very good for me. I like strings a lot and I'm trying to learn how to compose with them properly. Strings are so dense, dramatic and solemn that the use of minor scales should be an obligation!!

Dr. Manhattan says:

Great video!!

shitmandood says:

Amazing as always! I've been wondering about how strings can be added to a song. Does it only work with certain EDM or soundtrack scores or could it be used with rock music such as what you would hear with Alice In Chains? I've always wondered, but I never hear it. Sort of like you don't hear guitar instrumentalists adding EDM to their tunes (though Satriani did it once (Engines of Creation) and Jeff Beck started with Who Else?, You Had It Coming, Jeff, and perhaps touched on it with every album since).


Thanks, brilliant as always!

nandakoryaaa says:

Great strings track by the way! Which VST are you using?

nandakoryaaa says:

Finally! Rushing for some tea!

ShadowViper001 says:

I absolutely love this hack. I was always a fan of strings sections in music, no matter the genre. It always provides a wonderful atmosphere, or depending on what the overall context of the music is, a very intense one. So thank you for making this helpful hack!

And, i do have one question, for the four pieces of the strings: one is cello, one is violin… What are the other parts?

TheOrangepeak says:

that's my favourite part of writing music ! pads in minor key !! <3<3<3

Conner Kubitz says:

Your guys' channel is really informative. Even for someone who already has a formal theory education, things slip or get forgotten and I watch your videos as a way to keep up. Not to mention the easily laid out info for people new to all of it. You guys are doing amazing work! If anyone I know ever wants to learn more theory I ALWAYS recommend your channel and ebooks, thanks for all you do!

oli lange says:

12pm, i guess i´m little late^^ nice hack 🙂

Muhammadreza Haghiri says:

Hello! That's a nice idea. I do the same thing with a guitar and lots of FX (normally Reverb and Delay) and If I don't want to play guitar, I use the strings. It makes a very nice cinematic movement in my taste.

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