This is the first installment of a new series here on my blog. I will post a new short musical idea each day as part of my own practicing routine. It will be orchestral but in different styles and genres depending on what I’m into that day.
Why eight bars?
Eight bars is long enough to at least form some sort of coherent musical idea and short enough to not require too much time from my other writing activities. As the blog title says, it’s more or less eight bars. The length depends on the tempo and the musical idea, since I neither want to shorten or lengthen an idea just to fit some pre-conceived number of bars. The musical idea is what matters, not the number of bars.
Depending on how much time I have on any given day, the example will be accompanied by some sort of analysis to explain how I view it. There’s so many ways to analyze music and I learn new things all the time, so the format of my explanations will most likely evolve as we go along. Feel free to contact me through the comment section or the contact page if you have any questions.
Many of these short examples will be based on something cool I’ve heard from some of my favourite composers. Hopefully it won’t sound like a complete rip-off though, since the aim is to really internalize it and make it my own. The practice of doing these short musical ideas has been around since the days of Bach and probably long before that as well. It’s also a common practice in other arts like writing and painting.
Leon Willett first suggested that I’d start doing this a few years ago when I was studying with him. I can honestly say that it’s probably the best advice I’ve ever been given and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to become a better composer. For some great handwritten and fully mocked-up examples by Leon you can check out his blog.
When it comes to the actual audio-file, it’s not mocked-up like I usually do in Logic with all my samples, since that would double the time I’d have to invest in this. I designed this exercise to be something that I could do even when I’m not in my studio. The only thing required to get it done is my laptop and an internet connection. Luckily for me and everyone else that uses Sibelius, there's the awesome plug-in NotePerformer from Wallander Instruments.
All audio will be generated through NotePerformer straight from Sibelius. While it might not be the same result as when fully producing it in a DAW with all the best samples available, it’s more than good enough for the task at hand.
So with all that out of the way, let’s get started!
TD8 #1: Dark Fairytale
I've been listening to Danny Elfman a lot lately so this is what I came up with today.
It starts out with the melody in the french horns accompanied by the strings in triplets to give that forward motion. Woodwinds and celeste helps thicken the texture with sustained and rhythmic pads. Once the horns come to rest on the C the violins take over with an ascending A-minor arpeggio (joined in at various points by woods/brass) that leads into the high F, where the melody is stated again before the celeste and harp takes us out with descending inversions.
I realize that this might sound overly technical, I didn't think about this at all while actually composing though. I try to transcribe what I hear internally and then adjust the things that didn't work as well as I thought once notated. My philosophy is to learn as much as possible and then "just" write whatever you hear. The value of theory in my opinion is that you can look at something you've written and find out why something isn't working. I've tried thinking about that while composing before and ended up frustrated and not enjoying the process at all. In the end it's all about trusting your ears, who cares if you break some arbitrary rule if it sounds good?
The zip-file contains two pdf's and the mp3 embedded above. One of the pdf's is the regular score and the other one is color coded.
The idea behind elements is to be able to identify and categorize each piece of an arrangement so that you can understand and subsequently use what you’ve learnt in your own music. There are many ways to do this and also different levels of detail you can get into. The system I currently use and have had the most success with, is one that I came across in Dick Grove’s teaching. He mainly focused on writing for the Big Band but the concepts are applicable to all music. Another composer that I greatly admire who also learnt this from Dick Grove is Bill Ross, he talks about this in his ASMAC masterclass extensively. I can’t give a better example of the power of this concept than that, since Bill is a true master of the orchestra and has incredibly clear arrangements. I approach this slightly differently than Dick Grove but I highly encourage anyone interested in this to check out the material over at www.dickgrove.com.
There are 3 types of elements:
1. Main Melody
a) Unison (including counterpoint)
2. Secondary Melodies
e) Background Lines
3. Accompaniment Elements
a) Pads (sustained, rhythmic, melodic)
I'll write a separate post about each element later on, but just by looking at my color coded scores of each device you will probably figure out how they work eventually. It's not very complicated but it's an incredible tool when it comes to arranging and composing.
Whoah, that was a lot of text, I promise to not be this loooongwinded in the regular TD8 posts.