For those of you not already familiar, Captain Plugins are MIDI AU/VST plugins from the team at Mixed In Key. Their flagship Mixed In Key software is used by the world's top DJs and producers to help their mixes sound perfect. Captain Plugins 3.0 is a separate VST plugin suite from the team designed to help you write your own chord progressions, hooks, melodies and basslines, then export them to your DAW.
Since the software will essentially generate chord progressions for you, the plugins are a particularly useful tool when you want to diversify your tracks and step out of your comfort zone Pretty cool, huh?
Before we get carried away, I think It’s important to provide a little context here. As a guitar player navigating through my musical journey, I frequently find that I have a good handful of, let’s call them, “music theory blindspots”. I think this is pretty common among native guitar players—we just wanna jam, man. Then as time goes on, you grow tired of just playing the same chord progressions and pentatonic scales that are in the comfort zone (not to knock down the pentatonic, it's popular for a reason and I use it all the time), so what do you do? You fill in some of those blind spots, and you bet, Captain Plugins can help (or just do it for you).
Quick theory lesson, most pop music hangs out in one key center or scale. Let’s say that scale/key is C Ionian/major. The key of C major consists of the notes: C,D,E,F,G,A,B and its respective chords (major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished). Captain chords will generate all of those diatonic (or in key) chords for you and quickly allow you to audition different arrangements thus unlocking combinations you may or may not have ever considered.
That’s obviously very useful, but let’s turn up the heat. Say, I’m scoring a movie and want to use the notes and chords from a scale like lydian or Hungarian minor, Captain Plugins is there to the rescue. They also have an expansive variety of rhythms to play with and plenty of other useful MIDI tricks like strum and swing.
When you purchase the Captain Plugins bundle (currently around $80) you’ll receive 4 separate plugins, each geared to help you with a specific facet of the songwriting process. They include Captain Chords, Captain Play, Captain Melody, and Captain Deep.
Captain Chords: Write your own chord progressions in any Key and Scale—it's great for building melodies and discovering the sound of different chords by adding complexities you might not have come up with on your own.
Captain Play: Don't have all of your MIDI gear with you? No problem, use your computer keyboard. You can map your laptop keyboard to be 100% in Key and Scale in your DAW and press just one key to play complex chords. I was particularly curious about this offering, so I'll dive in to making a track this way in the demo below.
Captain Melody: The name says it all—this plugin helps you write melodies that suit your chord progression and you can create, edit and re-shape your own melodies. Some of the top producers and DJs use this tool to write their hooks, including the likes of David Guetta! The Mixed In Key team shared that the melody and chords of this track was made using Captain Chords and Captain Melody.
Captain Deep: Write those heavy bass lines that will groove along with your chords and apply different rhythms. The bass lines are curated based on today's top hits from Spotify and Beatport, and they do not disappoint!
Now that you have a baseline (pun kind of intended) of the various offerings, let's dive in to show you a demo. For today’s purposes, we’re going to focus on creating a new song using Captain Play.
After selecting your desired key or scale, Captain Play will assign each of the diatonic chords to individual keys on your laptop keyboard. This allows you to quickly string chords together by simply pressing one key followed by another. In addition to laying out the diatonic triads, it also gives options for 7 chords (maj7, min7, diminished, augmented), suspended chords, and other useful non diatonic chords (minor 4 chord in a major key, etc). It really couldn’t make it any easier.
Peep the video below to see a quick demonstration of the Captain Play workflow In Logic and jamming over the progression with the Jamstik and check out the how-to guide from Mixed In Key to dive a bit deeper.
If you’re a novice producer / guitar player looking to up your chord game and jam, the Captain plugins will do all that for you and teach you some new things along the way. If you’re an experienced composer/producer it will save you loads of time in your workflow and lend a hand when you can’t recall the Bhairav or Minor gypsy scale from memory (like most of us).
Have any other VST Plugins you want us to check out? Let us know in the comments!
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