Music theory in osu!

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Topic Starter
ziin
Introduction

Osu! is primarily a music game, and beatmaps are usually created with the idea that they fit the music, rather than fitting a certain BPM. In this short essay I will be discussing music theory as it applies to an osu! beatmap, as well as explaining why certain things sound bad (at least to me). In no way can the matters discussed even be considered “guidelines”. Instead, think of it as theory. Most of the time they will apply to some parts of songs, but there are many exceptions. Everything I say here is personal opinion based upon 12+ years of concert band experience or taken directly from Wikipedia. It can’t be applied to all forms of music, especially avant garde stuff and most Touhou music (so, half of osu?)

Part 1: Breakdown of common time and techniques

  1. Downbeat, onbeat

    Wikipedia wrote:

    The downbeat is the impulse that occurs at the beginning of a bar in measured music. Its name is derived from the downward stroke of the director or conductor's baton on the first beat of each measure. It frequently carries the strongest accent of the rhythmic cycle.
  2. Backbeat, upbeat, sometimes called offbeat

    Wikipedia wrote:

    A back beat, or backbeat, is a syncopated accentuation on the "off" beat. In a simple 4/4 rhythm these are beats 2 and 4… In today's popular music the snare drum is typically used to play the backbeat pattern
    This is why putting claps on beats 2 and 4 sounds good. Most contemporary music uses a snare backbeat. Some songs will add a kick to the backbeat by moving the second beat up by half a beat (so beats 2 and 3.5)

  3. Dropping the beat
    This is where the downbeat (usually) is omitted, or dropped. By dropping the beat in a faster song, tension is usually created. Often times only one particular instrument will drop the beat, when others play as normal. Dropping the beat can be an interesting way to make up a rhythm, but should not be overused. Another way to simulate this is by using upbeat or offbeat sliders.

Part 2: Sliders
  1. Onbeat sliders

    These are the most common sliders you will find. They play well, are easy to predict, and occasionally bland. Note how the slider starts on beats 1 and 3, which are the downbeats.

  2. Upbeat sliders

    This is what I like to call them. Sliders which start on beat 4 have a serious problem associated with them: if it’s a 1/1 slider, it will end on the downbeat. That leaves the downbeat unstressed, and can be awkward to play, especially when repeated.

  3. Offbeat sliders

    I call sliders which start on red ticks offbeat. These are especially dangerous because they usually leave you without a steady beat. Try to avoid repeating them, as they also suffer from the same complications as upbeat sliders.

  4. 2x+ Repeating sliders

    Repeating sliders can be very interesting, but often times people will add multiple repeats on them. I consider repeating sliders which have more than 1 repeat to be confusing, because often times the 4th repeat does not show itself until you have already hit the slider itself. Short sliders and long sliders do not have this problem because short sliders can usually be predicted easily, and long sliders give you enough time to react. There are very few instances where a 2x repeating slider works better than 2x regular sliders or 4x circles.

    One obvious exception is in long streams where a repeating slider is used to replace 4 circles. This is probably better than using 1x repeating sliders.

  5. Slider patterns

    Alternating circle, slider, circle, slider is a neat way to map dotted half note rhythms (ie, 1 and 1/2 rhythms) because it puts the stress on the slider, which is usually the stressed note. I personally love these rhythms, and prefer them over 1x repeating sliders. You can also do circle circle slider circle slider slider, etc… It’s as simple as mixing up a straight 1/1 or 1/2 rhythm by stressing certain notes using sliders in different places.

  6. Short Sliders vs Long sliders


    Sliders in osu! most closely resemble a held note in music since spinners are rarely used and circles have no length. In this example you can see how the short sliders put the note that the player has to hit on a 1/4th note. Not only is this unintuitive since there is nothing to hit on the beat, but if you use long sliders instead, it will sound the same, hit on the beat, and will probably follow the music better. In general, short sliders are a bad idea. The reverse is true of very long sliders, but usually only because they end up passing over important parts of the song or are just boring. There are many exceptions, especially if the rhythm repeats and some variation is needed in the beatmap.

  7. The most important thing to remember

    Most music works in groups of 2 or 4. 4 beats to a measure, 4 measures to a phrase, etc… So long as you place a slider beginning or a circle on the downbeat (long white tick) and sometimes the middle of the phrase, you can put in any number of upbeat or offbeat sliders with crazy slider patterns, stupid short sliders and silly streams in the map, even if it doesn’t fit the song. I’m serious. It’s obviously not entirely recommended, since then you can take any song with the same BPM and song structure, copy/paste it, and have the same low quality map. It’s also important to map to the music, but most music just repeats itself over and over again, so it’s good to throw in something different from time to time.

    It’s common knowledge that when playing the bass line with any instrument, you can make up almost any rhythm and play any note so long as you play the downbeat in every measure in key. That’s how important the downbeat is. Obviously it’s not always perfect, but it’s at least acceptable.

    Songs which only use onbeat sliders are destined to be boring, so make sure you improvise your rhythms.

Part 3: Overmapping

  • My definition of overmapping is placing a note or slider end where no note exists in the background. There are a few reasons to overmap:
  1. The rhythm is too difficult for normal/fun play.
    This often happens with songs which use triplets in 1/6 snap, and the mapper simplifies it to 1/4th.
  2. The background music is rushing or slowing down and differs from where it obviously should be.
    This doesn’t usually happen, and usually you shouldn’t map parts that are not snapped correctly
  3. The song is in a swing time signature, but the mapper hates 1/6.
    I don’t consider this a valid excuse and will vote 1 automatically.
  4. The song is boring and needs some made up rhythms to keep in interesting.
    Chances are you’re mapping it wrong then.

If you really want to overmap something due to difficulty/fun reasons (the most common excuse) then make sure that there is not some other way to map the notes correctly (like using a repeating slider). Mapping a 1/6 snap roll with a 1/4 or 1/8 repeating slider is just plain wrong. They all play identically, and the only difference is how it sounds and the impact on the score.

pictures to come, I'm lazy.
Shiirn
i fucking love you have my babies
Faust
b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡ b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡ b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡ b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡ b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡ b͞͞͏é́͟h͘͡i͞n҉͠d̴̛͠͡ ͏̡͟͠t̶̴̕h͜͏̵e҉̶̧ ̴̨͡w͏a̷̢̡͜l͠͝l͠͡

Subscribing.
mekadon
I like you.
Zerostarry
every mapper must read this

A+
Sakura
I always thought this would come naturally to mappers, but after remembering some of the maps i've seen lately, i think most mappers def. should read this.
NatsumeRin
the description of upbeat sliders exactly expressed my feeling about it.

But i can't agree "downbeat sliders are especially dangerous" because we have many places to use it such as:
1. For a rhythm change, to make a variety feeling for players.
2. Using "every hit is on vocal" (circles and slider-starts) technique to map.
3. Because of placements or some other reasons.

Anyway just say it's dangerous is... strange.

Edit: "Short slider is a bad idea." NO.
Topic Starter
ziin

NatsumeRin wrote:

the description of upbeat sliders exactly expressed my feeling about it.

But i can't agree "downbeat sliders are especially dangerous" because we have many places to use it such as:
1. For a rhythm change, to make a variety feeling for players.
2. Using "every hit is on vocal" (circles and slider-starts) technique to map.
3. Because of placements or some other reasons.

Anyway just say it's dangerous is... strange.

Edit: "Short slider is a bad idea." NO.
I will elaborate on those in a little while when I get pictures up. You are correct. Offbeat/upbeat sliders can be used and used well. They are dangerous because if you accidentally put the slider end off of a key note, such as the downbeat, it causes the entire rhythm to mess up.

Short sliders have their place and time, but most of the time if you have a short slider circle rhythm, it would be better to be a circle long slider.
Equivalent
xD, it quite easy to browse if you are willing to get your time researching on wikipedia, in fact the time signature that I ask earlier was from wikipedia. The only problem is how to relate them with Osu as I don't have an overnight just to study the theory alone. Well, since you on this ziin, maybe you can consider on this matter too, especially bar:

Syncopation,Rhythm,Bar(Music),Time signature
mm201
More important than associating musical concepts to hit objects is associating hit objects to musical concepts. As circular as this may sound, the distinction I'm trying to make is that hit objects follow from the music, and not the other way around. The spots where your trends are broken are exactly the places where the music breaks them. Songs can place emphasis on beat 4, in which case beginning a slider there is perfectly acceptable, and can help the map to benefit from the complex rhythmic landscape the music establishes.

I would associate hit objects to musical concepts as follows:
Hit circles are single discrete items, like hitting a drum.
Sliders have a held, but dynamic nature. They associate to legato and glissando. Also, importantly, the slider beginning has more rhythmic importance than its end. (This is why Etnas usually work best beginning on white ticks, and offbeat Etnas need to be used cautiously. See above.) Likewise, ending a slider on beat 4 often works well.
Spinners are a climactic moment, like a sforzendo. They have the opposite rhythmic emphasis compared to sliders: their ends are strong but their beginnings carry almost no rhythmic weight of any kind. Beginning sliders on red ticks or beat 2 is fine, especially if another pattern finishes on beat 1, leading into the spinner.

This concept extends to higher level concepts in music like themes, repetition, retrograde, ..., any of which can be carried through to the mapping, enhancing both.
Jarby

ziin wrote:

It’s common knowledge that when playing the bass line with any instrument, you can make up almost any rhythm and play any note so long as you play the downbeat in every measure in key.
rust45
I have to say, this is really nice. And I hope every mapper reads this as it seems we get more and more mappers who don't have any sort of knowledge regarding music theory.
lolcubes

Sakura Hana wrote:

I always thought this would come naturally to mappers, but after remembering some of the maps i've seen lately, i think most mappers def. should read this.
^This.

Also why didn't I see this sooner?
UnderminE

lolcubes wrote:

why didn't I see this sooner?
akrolsmir
There needs to be something like an EULA that forces you to read threads like this one, and then doesn't let you upload beatmaps until you've passed a test verifying that you understand the stuff.
Derekku

akrolsmir wrote:

There needs to be something like an EULA that forces you to read threads like this one, and then doesn't let you upload beatmaps until you've passed a test verifying that you understand the stuff.
First we need a way to force users to read the EULA. ;)
Sakura
I'd start by forcing them to read the official rules rather than this tbh XD not all are mappers.
Ekaru

akrolsmir wrote:

There needs to be something like an EULA that forces you to read threads like this one, and then doesn't let you upload beatmaps until you've passed a test verifying that you understand the stuff.
Hey now, I've gotten 30 maps ranked without understanding any of this!

...Much to everybody's annoyance. <3

Though, why don't we have a thread full of links to the threads new mappers/modders should read at least? There are like a dozen+ now, and you could put it in Pending as an Announcement thread. You could call it a "mapper's/modder's resource".
Topic Starter
ziin
This is very hard to understand for most people and even harder for those who do not speak english.

While I agree there is good information in here, most of it is common sense to people with musical talent, and those people are the only ones who can really understand it.

It also helps a lot to be over the age of 20, which the majority of osu is not.

And finally, there are so many exceptions that this isn't really all that useful in the long run. I just wrote it as a spur of the moment thing to detail how I like to map/play osu. If it strays from these criteria too far, I'm not going to like the map, but that doesn't mean everyone else won't (just take a look at guruppo; I can't play this map with the audio because it's overmapped so badly, but it's got a fairly high rating and 10 more favorites than hates).

Ekaru wrote:

Hey now, I've gotten 30 maps ranked without understanding any of this!

...Much to everybody's annoyance. <3

Though, why don't we have a thread full of links to the threads new mappers/modders should read at least? There are like a dozen+ now, and you could put it in Pending as an Announcement thread. You could call it a "mapper's/modder's resource".
FYI your maps aren't perfect to me, but they're not unbearable, which is a good thing. You also like mapping lyrics which is really hard, so I don't complain much (you'll just probably never get a 9 or 10 rating from me, and I've probably only given out like 20-30).

Pretty much all of my guides are good resources, you can find the links in my user page (which is in my signature). But alas, I can only speak english and half assed spanish, so I can't do much for the large amount of east asian mappers/players.

Also, I second the idea of a "how to" thread. I spent a while trying to find the "how to make a taiko" thread and couldn't find it because we have 4 different forums where "guides" can go.
Equivalent


There is a time where some upbeat is louder than downbeat. Where the pattern will goes like 11010. Note that first bold 1 is the downbeat which mean there is Syncopation there. "1' is loud beat, "0" is have lower beat/sound

Quoted from Wikipedia
In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats in a meter (pulse). These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be stressed. "If a part of the measure that is usually unstressed is accented, the rhythm is considered to be syncopated."
Upbeat sliders

This is what I like to call them. Sliders which start on beat 4 have a serious problem associated with them: if it’s a 1/1 slider, it will end on the downbeat. That leaves the downbeat unstressed, and can be awkward to play, especially when repeated.

If using upbeat slider in this situation, I think it sound perfectly fine. The opposite, Downbeat slider will be sound akward.
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