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The Composition Thread

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  • The Composition Thread

    Roll up!! Roll up!!

    Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right this way - Tonight I present to all our loyal readers - The Composition Thread! This will be a forum for the old and wise to share their knowledge and advice, and an opportunity for the young and green to learn something new!!

    A few words about what this thread is not:


      Forever,




      Kim.
    <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
    <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

  • #2
    Ok, to kick this off I'll try to post something here every day. I'll start by talking a bit about elementary structure.

    Structure is the technical term for how we put ideas together in time. You're probably familiar with the typical pop song structure: something like verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus goodbye.

    These types of structures are common because they use repitition to reinforce the chorus. By repeating the same material several times, it stays in our mind more strongly, and (if it's a good chorus) we walk away humming the main hook.

    This is an easy structure to work with - especially for beginners. A good approach could be to work on the chorus first, come up with something really cool and catchy. Develop it a bit, then work on the verses. If anyone wants a more detailed description of how to write a pop song, just ask and I'll do one.


    The typical pop song structure is not the only way to do things though. Generally, structures are based on a series of sections. The sections can be all the same size, or variable size. Some sections can be the same as others (literal repitition), slightly different (variation), or completely different (contrast).

    For basics, start a new piece. Quickly create three sections (one main cool one, one slightly different, and one completely different). For simplicity, make them all fairly short (maybe eight bars), and all the same length. If you're using a sequencer of some sort, you can then experiment with different orderings of the sections.

    In classical terms, we might have section A (the main one), section A' (variation on A), section B (something contrasting), and maybe section B' (variation of B). You can then use this to come up with some structures, perhaps something like this:

    A A B A A' B A' B B' B' B A' A

    I'm sure you can come up with many more. The great thing about modern sequencers is that it takes very little effort to move sections around to see how different orderings can affect the direction or flow of the piece.

    Forever,




    Kim.
    <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
    <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

    Comment


    • #3
      If you want to expend yourself a little, try making each section a different length. Also - try irregular lengths. Most section lengths in popular music are even multiples of four (4, 8, 16 bars, etc). Try strange numbers like five, or thirteen. This practice can add excitement or unpredictability, as well as making the overall flow and direction of the piece more organic or fluid.

      Another alternative approach is rather than treating each section as a particular (overall) sound... treat each section as a transition between two sounds. I composed a simple piece where I set out a list of bars and intensity levels (0-5), such that I had a structure that looked something like:

      Bar 0, intensity level 0
      Bar 5, intensity level 3
      Bar 6, intensity level 5
      Bar 15, intensity level 2

      and so on and so on....

      When I filled in all the notes, the resulting piece had a very different feel to all my other previous work - it felt more [ii]animated - more in motion. It never felt stagnant or repetitive, because the texture was always changing, going somewhere new. It never stood still.

      In my particular piece, I just used one variable - "Intensity" meant volume, density, thickness - all at once. It would be interesting to take this a step further and use multiple variables! Does anyone want to try this?

      Forever,




      Kim.
      <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
      <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by DodgingRain
        How about we talk about how synth features(non-traditional) act as compositional elements. For example there is no such thing as filter/res sweeps in classical(or many other music forms).

        I think that is an area of music that needs some serious exploration and is more interesting to a lot of forumites.


        I see these features (such as filter sweeps, PWM, step-sequencers) and merely features of our chosen intrument. If it were violins we could be talking about gissando or pizzicato, or if it were pianos we could be talking about pedal or finger technique.

        My point is that these are specific technical issues to do with specific instruments.

        The purpose of this thread is to discuss music composition in general terms - so that it will be useful for everyone - even if your synth doesn't have filters, or PWM, or a step-sequencer.

        That having been said - this forum is called "Keys, Synths, and Samplers", and most of the people here are using electronic instruments to create electronnic music.

        So, of course it would be useful to discuss composition techniques that are specific to electronic music (such as midi sequencers, automation, etc).

        BUT I'd like this thread to be about composition - not sound design. Please see that there is a difference. Please understand that this thread is primarily focussed on composition because we hardly ever discuss it on this forum. Sound design techniques, however, are discussed much more frequently.

        Forever,




        Kim.
        <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
        <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

        Comment


        • #5
          Good stuff!!

          Here are a couple beginner level ideas I have been toying with:

          1. Make a list of things that "work" like the verse-chorus-verse structure, or "proven" chord progressions. Turn this into a "don't" list.

          2. Try overlapping parts with different time signatures.

          As a NuB I can say my success rate is inversely proportional to the complexity of my efforts.

          Biting off more than one can chew does not encourage or inspire...it frustrates.

          You do not need 40 simultaneous sounds to make a complex, engaging song. You do need a bit of common sense though.

          Back to the experts.
          <div class="signaturecontainer">A technology distinguishable from magic is not sufficiently advanced.</div>

          Comment


          • #6
            I'll chime in with my basic song writing structure since it fits the thread.....


            I generally work from a melody and then write the chord progressions next. I sort of write some basic elements so to speak and figure out the details as I'm working it into a song. I know a lot of people write from the bassline, but I find that messes everything up in the end. I think this is a trap that a lot of people fall into. Writing from the bassline is very restrictive, and a lot of really good tunes have simple 8th root note basslines.

            ...on basslines: There are a lot of good bass guitar websites that are a great read for all of us. I forget which ones were really good, but I beleive there is a list on the H.C. Bass subsite. You can get a good foundation of how bass and drums work together to form a great rythme if you take the time to read them. I found that my rather poor drum scores seemed to jump alive once I started composing the bass and drums at the same time. They need to feed off of one another, and "give and take" from each other.

            It has a lot to do with dynamics. Think of every drum of bass note as ether strong or weak. If both the kick drum and bass hit loud notes on the first beat of the measure you've got a very "strong" beginning for example. While a soft ride and a soft bass note will create a very "weak" point in the music. If you've got a strong drum note with a weak bass note(or vice versa), you have an "even" point. The interplay of weak, strong, and even points will create a great groove that simple "BOOM BOOM BOOM" rythme sections will lack. I'm not describing it as well as the basss players do. So, be sure to hit those websites.

            Well, it's not really structure, but it has to do with the basics of writing a rythm section.

            Comment


            • #7
              I usually write everything part-by-part. It helps me to focus on these parts individually. However, this list is not carved in stone. This is a part list for my most basic contemporary jazz/funk tune. For example:

              1. Intro
              2. chorus x 2
              3. chorus with melody line x2(depends on the direction of the song. It might get left out this area of the song)
              4. verse x2(main theme)
              5. verse with chord change
              6. verse II
              7. chorus with melody line
              8. verse x2(main theme)
              ...and so on

              Song flow is what I mainly listen for. I would add some vamps here and there to better the flow. The bass line is usually done last, since it is the most crucial. I would experiment with different lines and turnarounds. Each chorus or verse would have some different nuances added to them to keep them fresh. Every part is inputted into my software sequencer since I don't write or read music very well.
              <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=73567" target="_blank">http://www.soundclick.com/bands/page...m?bandID=73567</a><br />
              <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Soul-On-Tap-Band/163935200329034?ref=ts" target="_blank">Soul On Tap</a><br />
              <a href="http://www.coupedevilles.com/" target="_blank">The Coupe De Villes</a><br />
              <a href="http://chrisbeard1.com/drupal/" target="_blank">Chris Beard Band</a><br />
              <br />
              <b>current gear list</b>:<br />
              Yamaha MOX8, Korg Triton, Korg CX3, Korg X2, QSC K12, Rhodes Stage '73(needs new tines), Ventilator, Reason 3<br />
              <br />
              &quot;Leave the ego, play the music, love the people..&quot; - Luther Allison</div>

              Comment


              • #8
                http://www.zappa-analysis.com

                Comment


                • #9
                  Great thread, but here's a request. When you post your insite into the creative process please post the genre of music you compose. ALthough the creative process is similar in all genres, there are intricacies in the composition process for each genre that apply specifically to that genre. Say for instance dance music typically has a 32 bar basic intro for the DJ to mix in and a similar outro to mix out. There are plenty of other examples and I'll go into trance and house later tonight when I'm not at work but I just thought I'd add that for now.
                  <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://www.room21records.com" target="_blank">www.room21records.com</a><br />
                  For Sale: barely used Yamaha PLG150-AN $200 shipped<br />
                  </div>

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Anyone interested in alternative compositional structures would do well to check out the approaches John Cage and his contemporary composition experimentalists used. They made a point of moving as far away from traditional sheet music as possible. Some of the creative results are quite interesting.
                    <div class="signaturecontainer"><div align="right"><font face="Garamond"><font size="2">When next the GAS strikes, ask yourself, <b>WWDLPD?</b></font></font></div></div>

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by rockafeller
                      Great thread, but here's a request. When you post your insite into the creative process please post the genre of music you compose. ALthough the creative process is similar in all genres, there are intricacies in the composition process for each genre that apply specifically to that genre. Say for instance dance music typically has a 32 bar basic intro for the DJ to mix in and a similar outro to mix out. There are plenty of other examples and I'll go into trance and house later tonight when I'm not at work but I just thought I'd add that for now.


                      Good composition should transend genres. Using your dance music example, one should take good general compositional approches and understand the limitations of the genre. It's like doing a 15 second tune for a TV ad. You work around what's expected and work within the parameters of the project.

                      A good idea of general music thoery and composition can be reworked into any type of music.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by DodgingRain

                        Hey Afro... do you have a link to anything on the 'net? Sounds like there may be some interesting ideas there.


                        www.google.com



                        I read Cage's "Silence" a while ago. Some interesting ideas there. Also read a book about experimental electronic music in the 20th century, but the name of the book and the author escape me, and I'm afraid I have to go do some work now . . .
                        <div class="signaturecontainer"><div align="right"><font face="Garamond"><font size="2">When next the GAS strikes, ask yourself, <b>WWDLPD?</b></font></font></div></div>

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by hypnotic


                          Good composition should transend genres. Using your dance music example, one should take good general compositional approches and understand the limitations of the genre. It's like doing a 15 second tune for a TV ad. You work around what's expected and work within the parameters of the project.

                          A good idea of general music thoery and composition can be reworked into any type of music.



                          Yes, the original inspiration and good general compositional approach does transcend genres, but if thats all you are concerned with you wont make much more that 15 second comercial tunes. Understanding the compositional structure specific to your genre is completely necessary. General music theory will only get you so far. I can write a thrash metal riff on my guitar because I have general music theory and understanding of chord progressions, but that wont be enough for me to write a complete "good" song.

                          I'll go back to dance music. You can take a chord progression or program an arpeggio because you have an understanding of general music theory and apply a slightly tweaked preset and say I have a trance song, but you really don't. You have piece of the whole. If you don't understand how the arpeggio must enter and exit the song morph from a percussive element into a lead element (compositional theory specific to the trance genre) you will never write a good trance song. I can write a thousand 4/4 beats that would fit into any dance song because I understand general music theory. I can write a thousand synth lead parts and a thousand pad parts for those beats, but if I don't know howo to arrange and sequence within the paramerters of that genre then I'll never write a good song.

                          Basic music theory can be taught out of a text book. Applying that theory to a specific genre with specific compositional standards and understanding how to manipulate those standards well is much much harder.

                          Someone on this site once responded to the question of what's the difference between all of us bedroom studio producers and professional artists. Their response was that we all write good stuff, but the pros just have a talent for putting it together. And putting it together is essentially arrangement which is specific to each genre.
                          <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://www.room21records.com" target="_blank">www.room21records.com</a><br />
                          For Sale: barely used Yamaha PLG150-AN $200 shipped<br />
                          </div>

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by DodgingRain

                            I suppose if you would like to limit yourself thats ok. But you could decide to think outside the box and throw away time signitures


                            Yes, I've done work like that too... and hopefully some of the advice I'll be giving in the near future will be useful for those working in this field.

                            Originally posted by DodgingRain
                            (throw away)... macro structures and let the sounds and ideas themselves dictate structure.


                            I think what you're actually talking about here is creating a structure by "feel". Anyone can do this (metric or non-metric time) and many people don't know of any better way.

                            The purpose of this thread to to provoke people to think conscienciously about their composition process, because doing so is the best way of moving forward and growing as a composer.

                            If you want to ignore theory and just work solelye from feeling and emotion - that's up to you, don't let me stop you. But that's not what this thread is about.


                            Now (everyone) please don't misunderstand me. I believe that feeling and emotion are very important ingredients. But they are personal and cannot be taught. Composition theory can be taught, and seeing as this thread is about sharing knowledge, I think it would make sense to focus on composition theory - not on feeling and emotion.


                            It is up to each individual composer to solve the problem of how to marry theory with emotion.


                            Forever,




                            Kim.
                            <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
                            <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              With regards to theory for specific genres:

                              This can be useful to discuss - from the point of view of mixing elements from different genres, or even just inspiring composers to try out something different.

                              However, I'd prefer if we didn't talk about set-in-stone steps of "how to compose the perfect trance song", or "how to compose the perfect pop song". That kind of approach can come across as restrictive. It is also something that individuals can teach themselves simply by listening to examples of a particular genre.

                              I'm not saying that approach is bad. In fact, I encourage composers to listen mindfully to music and try to figure out what gives the music its character, what makes it work.

                              However, I'd like this thread to be about possibilities, alternatives, options. We're not trying to write the perfect pop song. We're trying to branch out, open our minds, try something different.

                              It is this way that we become better composers.

                              If you really are trying to compose the perfect genre song, just listen to tons of music of that genre. Just understand that the mere existence of a genre implies that it's already been done.

                              Forever,




                              Kim.
                              <div class="signaturecontainer"><a href="http://acapella.harmony-central.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&amp;threadid=361618&amp;perpage= 20&amp;pagenumber=1" target="_blank">The Composition Thread</a> is sticky!<br />
                              <font size="1"> There is no heavier burden than a great potential.<i>- Unknown source</i></font></div>

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