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Topic: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

  1. #1

    "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    I would intersted in getting people's feedback in terms of how one theme or idea get's fleshed out into a longer peice that eventually builds to its climax. As a young composer I have a tendancy to put too many ideas into one song and while there is some instant gratification to that it doens't "say" anything as a whole. How do you build on one idea and make it varied and interesting to the listener? How do you take 30 second idea and say something interesting with it over 4 or 5 minutes. This would be for orchestral music.

    I have some ideas on this but maybe some fresh perspective would help.


  2. #2

    Re: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    Think structure and form
    Think development

    What kind of form will the piece have? You will generally need:

    (Introduction)... Like Beethoven's Seventh... mostly non-thematic material, establishing the harmonic foundation... preparing for the

    Exposition - you expose your principle thematic material... whether it's a melodic idea, a tone color, etc. In Beethoven's Fifth, his primary thematic material is simple, and he immediately begins thematic fragmentation/development with it while still in the opening of the exposition... he wastes no time, and this simple theme grows into a monster with great melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic complexity.

    Perhaps you might want to introduce another one of your musical ideas at some point... this might be a secondary thematic idea... this can be in a different key, color, etc. depending on your style of composition. Look at a score of an opening mvt. of a Mozart concerto for obvious examples of this.

    Development - the trick here is to realize that no matter how long a work is- 1 minute or 2 1/2 hours- development is a major key to success. You take your primary and/or secondary themes... they have already been introduced, so now you simply squeeze every last drop from them... Perhaps you will develop the interval of the first two notes of theme I while adding to it the articulation of the first two notes of theme II... the possibilities are endless.
    Check out Mahler's Third Symphony... the theme is such a simple one, introduced by the horns... The first movement lasts longer than most complete symphonies due to Mahler's ability to fully develop the themes found in the exposition... and due to this precise and sensible development and attention to form, this movement is perhaps as refined as a piece that is very short in duration.

    Recapitulation - now bring your theme back in all its glory... if your wanting a great climax, a well defined development section will utterly beg for the theme to come back... its up to you how to bring it back... but since the whole work has been organically built around it, its arrival shouldn't sound foreign or too surprising... it should just make sense now.
    The recapitulation of your original thematic ideas can now be more mature, perhaps highlighting many of the new traits pulled from them during the development... so this is not a simple repeat of the opening... instead it is the end of a thematic journey where your thematic idea has finally come home with alot more strength and wisdom than it had in the exposition.

    The form above is commonly used in orchestral works... but there are many others, and perhaps you will choose one of your creation. But to answer your question, I believe learning to develop a musical idea is the key... there are many wonderful books on this subject as well as countless university professors (depending on your location) that can help you on your quest.

    Good luck.
    Jason DeWater aka Lickety-Split
    Very busy, yet always unproductive.
    Some of my music is here:

  3. #3

    Re: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    Hey Jason - thanks for the detailed reply! What you say makes sense indeed. Does this approach also work when applied to film music on a certain level? I know when listening to some movie scores you will hear a theme which then it seems to grow - teases you... then you get the grand finale but I know they are locked into the visuals, character arcs, etc. Is the fundamental process the same?

    What books would you recommend on the subject that aren't too dry - lol?


  4. #4

    Re: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    I believe that there are some "resident experts" in the field of cinematic music scoring around here... I'm sure that soon some of them will add to this thread.

    There are certainly inherent differences involved in writing an abstract work for the stage and a work for the screen... be it for film, sitcom, commercial spot, video game, etc.

    Development or "spinning" exists in these different genres but it sometimes works in different ways. The form, and thus the developmental style of a Mozart Symphony is quite unlike what you may find in different parts of a Mozart opera... for all sorts of practical and obvious reasons.

    A good cinematic score may be filled with development, though often the compositional devices are very subtle... the thematic development can involve so many different aspects of what has already come before, it can range from a recurring melody or variation, a common instrumental color, a familiar tempo or meter... thats one of the beautiful things of being a composer- the ability to take the smallest of subtleties found in your music and "spinning" it into literally something completely new... the difference between a baby and a man in his prime of life.

    I too will look forward to reading what some of the experts in cinematic composition will post regarding your questions here.

    May I ask how old (generally... 20s, teens, near the century-mark) you are?
    More importantly, have you began your studies in music theory, counterpoint, and orchestration? These answers will help in pointing you to a good book(s) to read.
    Jason DeWater aka Lickety-Split
    Very busy, yet always unproductive.
    Some of my music is here:

  5. #5

    Re: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    Hi Jason,

    I am in my mid-thirties and took 2 years of piano lessons within the last 2 years and up until now have been a self-taught guitarist (read - lots of bad habits inlcuding tablature - eeeww).

    What I lack in training I make up up for in pure zeal! I think I have a good ear for music but lack the understanding to change something when it deals with how that affects the structure as a whole since the theory comes into play. Maybe I should start a new thread on thematic development?

  6. #6

    Re: "Spinning out" thematic ideas

    Development is the big thing, for sure. Sometimes it can start with something as simple as changing bass notes. Everything else can be the same but when you change bass notes the chords become brand new. And rhythmic variation can do a lot. Same melody but new timings and phrasing. Here's a cool trick: take two themes and play melody one to the rythym of melody 2 and vice versa. It trips people out when they catch it. These are basic ideas but they might start you in a cool direction.

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