TD8 #13: Fairytale-esque

Download the pdf's and mp3 here!

When I'm done with my orchestration and look over the final score, I'm sometimes surprised how complex the final product looks since every step on the way is fairly simple. It serves as a great reminder of why sketching is such an important part of my process, Having that basic framework of my piece already done in sketch form serves as a safety net, enabling me to freely experiment with the orchestration/arrangement without worrying about getting lost.

I've mentioned this before but if you're having trouble with your orchestrations, go back and make sure that your piece works on the basic level of just melody/harmony/rhythm. 

Here's my sketch:

As you can see it's very basic, and that's sort of the point. It's also much easier getting started writing when you know that you're not really going for a huge finished product yet. You're just trying some things out, no big deal, and before you know it you'll have something to build on. Getting that momentum going is a big part of composing for me. As a recovering perfectionist, it's a recipe for disaster to go for the details from square one. 

Here's what one of my favorite composers, Alan Silvestri, had to say about it:

If you’re a painter and you make a choice as to the medium you’re going to work in, after you’ve decided the subject, that wipes out tremendous numbers of possibilities. Same thing in music. The moment you begin, every time you make a choice, you cancel a tremendous number of other possibilities. So then, the creative process as I experience it becomes this kind of following along and I think when people get bogged down in trying to do too much too quickly and I’ve actually tried to short-circuit my process, what’s come to be my process.

When I see a scene and I’m actually going to begin to write, I work on incredibly sketchy pass. The mission, the goal, the aim of that particular stage of the process is to get a very, very overall view of the music. I find that if I try intentionally to be more specific than this threshold that I’ve come to discover for myself, it cuts the energy off and I’m stopped and then I have nothing, because then I’m not doing the task at hand. The task at hand is to develop the overall view. Once that’s there, then a tremendous number of possibilities have just been removed, a tremendous number of sandtraps have just been removed from the course. They’re not there anymore, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Now I have this here and now within that what I’ve experienced is that it’s almost as thought a different part of my brain is called upon to do these different aspects of this.

It’s more difficult for me, always, to derive that first very vague version of the music. The first thing I work on is a four-line sketch. Sometimes I may only write one line, it’s just very vague. But that’s always the most taxing. That’s what I feel is the essential creative part of my job. Once that’s done, I feel that I can unplug that part of my brain and then I plug in another part that starts to elaborate and chisel and highlight and bring this into some kind of relief and make it happen. It is far less painful, for lack of a better word, than this original. And it stands to reason, in a sense that, the first process is something coming from nothing. There’s blank paper — there’s nothing there. I have to come forth. Once you come forth with something, it is no longer something from nothing. There is something there.

The very fact that it’s there now has all of its own life. It’s got things that it can do, it has things it can’t do. I mean if I’ve established key relationships, those are there, they will be adhered to. I don’t have to worry about all the other keys now — they’re gone. It’s just from here to here to here — whatever it is, harmonies, a melody — that becomes the law and it’s not every other melody that could be written I have to be taxing my brain with. That choice has been made. It’s done. Not that you won’t refine it and do things, but something exists now, so it’s a whole different energy to work on something that exists, I guess is what I’m saying, as it is to work on something that doesn’t exist.

(You can check out the rest of this great interview here)

The Daily Eight (more or less...)

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

Download pdf's and mp3 here!

 

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. 

 

Elements?

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)

b) Harmonized

2. Secondary Melodies

a) Fills

b) Countermelodies

c) Riffs

d) Bridges

e) Background Lines

3. Accompaniment Elements

a) Pads (sustained, rhythmic, melodic)

b) Ostinatos

c) Pedals

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.