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Old 08-26-2005, 12:02 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How pros compose

I once read that Sting sometimes sets the sentences in his morning newspaper to music. This has the added benefit of suggesting possible lyrics once an adequate melody has materialized.

One article was saying that people who have composing careers tend to start with the big picture and work down toward the details. Amateurs do the opposite. Pros are able to conceive of and write several parts simultaneously taking into account how they interrelate.
Amateurs write one bar at a time.

Another point about complexity is instrumentation. Perhaps the reason pop music has only 5 or 6 parts is due to the "not enough instruments=boring, too many instruments=chaos" dichotomy. Pop music has the happy medium.

I was reading a scholarly article about complexity that basically said successfully creative people have personalities that love complexity, so they're able to crank out all this different stuff. However, complexity is not the same as popularity. The Beatles, it mentioned, got less and less popular, the more complex they're music became. The most popular music, they said, tends to have a moderate amount of complexity, not more or less. I read a related article on music perception/psychology which mentioned that well formed rhythms (what people expect to hear) have 2-6 events per 5 seconds (that must be the parameters for a moderate amount of complexity in that musical dimension). The tempo 100 beats per minute is in the center of the perceptual field (moderate complexity?). Scales also have well-formedness. They usually have 5 or 7 notes, not 4 or 6. 5 is a bit simple, the chromatic is a bit complex so, we mostly like 7 even if some of the notes are microtonal but most people are having none of this 31 divisions of the octave stuff etc... that computer music programmers are spewing out.


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In Berklees book on melody writing it says the Chorus often starts on a "consonant" sounding place e.g. the downbeat. And ends in a position that feels final. Thats different for a 2 measure phrase than it is for a 4 measure phrase.

In a 2 measure phrase, (if I remember correctly) thats the third beat of the second measure.

In a 4 measure phrase thats the first beat of the 4th measure. I'll check my the book later to be certain.

Of course there are different places where you can end or start a chorus for sure and they all have different feelings of how much rhythmic "consonance" or finality there is.

The second most restful place for a 2 measure phrase to end is the first beat of the second measure etc..

Another point they brought up is that its often important to contrast starting and ending points between the sections. If the chorus starts on the downbeat then the verse shouldn't unless you have a reason for starting on the downbeat again such as its dance music or groove music or your mitigating that with a change of instrumentation or whatever.

You can also contrast melodic rhythms between sections or phrases. Long held notes on the chorus and shorter note values for the verse.

Or contrast phrase lengths within or between sections.

4bar phrase in the chorus 2 bar phrase in the verse or two 2bar phrases followed by a 4 bar phrase in the verse.

These are NOT the only possibilities.

Further, the consequent phrase within a section often reaches a greater height, has a wider leap, gives a greater dynamic or, or, or, etc...

Of course I'm sure you're aware of contrasting melodic outline between sections as well.

If you've got an upward curve in the verse then perhaps the chorus is a flatline or a descending line.

Varying your starting note is another tool. Does the chorus star on 1? Then the verse might start on a less stable note such as 2, 4, 6, 7, b2, #4, b6, b7. This is also affected by what chord is playing in the chorus.

These hints have helped me make better melodies.

In fact another one of my article reads said that pro musicians had a rhythmic concept behind their melody writing and amateurs didn't and only thought about a string of notes. ****, most music just walks up and down the scale by neighbor notes. That aspect is hardly important most of the time for pop and rock music.

Another observation about classical music which surely applies to pop as well; An article on computer based music composition said that, after analyzing 1000s of classical compositions, the nostrum about hitting the climax only once was an old wives tale. That rule was broken so often that it could hardly be called a rule. The other old wives tale was reversing direction after a leap. Once I tried to follow that rule on everything I wrote and it was all crap. Lesson; don't believe everything your told.

Last thing; one technique is that the climax is approached by walking up the scale by step, the climax is a held or a repeated note and then leaps down or visa versa e.g. it leaps up then walks down. an example of the second is the foreign language part of "All Night Long" by Lionel Richie;

Jumbolitae Setemoya. Yeah Jambo Jambo. Way to Party Oh we goin, Oh Jambola. Jambolitae Setemoya (leap up)Yeah Jambo Jambo (Held) Yeah TEXT. All Night Long etc...
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Old 01-14-2012, 07:11 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Gongchime View Post
One article was saying that people who have composing careers tend to start with the big picture and work down toward the details. Amateurs do the opposite. Pros are able to conceive of and write several parts simultaneously taking into account how they interrelate.
Amateurs write one bar at a time.

I was reading a scholarly article about complexity that basically said successfully creative people have personalities that love complexity, so they're able to crank out all this different stuff. However, complexity is not the same as popularity. The Beatles, it mentioned, got less and less popular, the more complex they're music became. [...]

Another point they brought up is that its often important to contrast starting and ending points between the sections. ...

You can also contrast melodic rhythms between sections or phrases. Long held notes on the chorus and shorter note values for the verse.

Or contrast phrase lengths within or between sections.

[...] In fact another one of my article reads said that pro musicians had a rhythmic concept behind their melody writing and amateurs didn't and only thought about a string of notes. ****, most music just walks up and down the scale by neighbor notes. That aspect is hardly important most of the time for pop and rock music.

... The other old wives tale was reversing direction after a leap. Once I tried to follow that rule on everything I wrote and it was all crap. Lesson; don't believe everything your told.
Gongchime, your interest in the complexities of music and music analysis is one I share, and I wish you'd stop by MusicBanter more than once every...six years! I'll look for you again in 2017.

I've been slowly reading Daniel J. Levitin's book, "This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession," which was recommended to me by our member LuciferSam. This book and your post make me realize I want to spend even more time learning about music theory. I want to know more about musical composition conventions, "rules," and techniques so that I can use or break them at will and be more aware of musical options I may not have thought about before.

Reading your post makes me consider the range of issues I think about while composing and how I can expand that. I still remember how excited I was when I first learned what "counterpoint" meant; afterwards, I enjoyed using it myself. Creating music is the best and most satisfying game I've ever played, around a million times better than Solitaire. Even from a distance in time and space, it's nice to read the words of someone else who appreciates the game.
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Last edited by VEGANGELICA; 01-14-2012 at 07:18 AM.
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