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Topic: Pulling a listener into your music...

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  1. #1

    Pulling a listener into your music...

    Hello. My name is Christopher Reeves and I was just going through the forums, looking at all of my fellow musicians and composers posting -- I feel now like I'm in heaven...because I just now realized how cool it is to be in a community like this. Anyway, I just want to share a little bit of my knowledge about composition, and the approach I take in writing music.

    In my music, I like to express my individual style through harmony. I believe that intersting harmonies can be effective because they "pull listeners in".
    I've seen and heard many people who argue which is more important, melody, or harmony. I believe that one cannot survive without the other -- yes, melody is very important, but the secret to creating a melody that triggers that gut level attraction, is a strong harmonic progression. If you ever get the chance to listen to Miles Davis, do so. As you can hear in his music, his melodies are EXTREAMLY simple, but why was he known as one of the greates jazz composers of our time? His harmonic progressions would amplify his melodies so beautifully. Miles Davis is one of my idols, so I use him a lot for examples.

    So how does one come up with interesting harmonies? Well, the best way I can tell you is to listen to music that has some interesting harmonies, and examine what makes them intersting. I can tell you a couple of theories as to why some are interesting. It's a principle I like to call Tension then Release. If we go back to basic theory, what makes the V seventh chord want to go to the I chord? What makes the vii diminished seventh want to go to V or I? It's because in the V seventh chord, the seventh, wants to go down a half step, and the leading tone, wants to move up to the tonic.

    Another tip I have in making interestin harmonies is to try to get out of using tersian chords so much. If you're going to use tersian chords, at least make them extended tersian, like 9th's 11th's and 13th's. Also, avoid using the chord progressions found in common practice period, such as I, V, IV, I.

    I know this kind of all thrown at you, but this is just a little bit of what I think. Later
    -Christopher Reeves
    Pianist, Composer, Arranger

  2. #2

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    He's the smart one out of us.

  3. #3

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Keep it coming Chris! This is the place for it...it's been kinda quiet in here of late and I'm happy to read a new post.

    Do you have any examples of how to use "non-traditional" tertian progressions other than vi-IV-V-I?

    ;-)

    Jim Jarnagin - no not THAT Jim Jarnagin, the other one.

  4. #4

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Christopher,

    Welcome to heaven. It's great to be able to get here while still alive.

    I absolutely agree with your observations on harmony. I just scored a 10 minute short this (intense) weekend, and the moments of which I was most proud were when I found the right harmonic transitions.

    I think dynamics and expression are the other key important elements for pulling in the listener. The harmony gives the tension, and the dynamics/expression make it personal. (Another Miles Davis strength.)

    In onw scene of the short (an action spoof) a the bad guy gradually turns a test subject into a monkey (in behavior - not with special effects) and the scene ends with maniacal laughter. I did a bit of a Bolero with instruments progressively added and the intensity growing to a climax. If you listen to the final bars alone, they don't sound nearly as intense as they do after the build. This scene was based more on rhythm than harmony, and I think it had a strong "drawing in" quality.

    I used leitmotifs, and found that these depend on melody and orchestration. But I could bend the theme with harmony, dynamics and alternate orchestration to show the different moods or situations of the characters.

    Anyway, I think melody and rhytm set the image and association and add coherences. They are the language that makes the music comprehensible. Orchestration sets the flavor and tone. Dynamics speak to emotional intensity. And harmonic progressions make the work compelling and sets it in motion. A dud chord can kill a piece, while a great chord can ask or answer a question, or render a punch line. A chord progression can change an angel into a devil or a devil into an angel.

    Which takes us back to the heaven theme. I hear that in the real heaven, composers always find the right chords and voicings.

    Great topic!

    -JF

  5. #5

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Christopher

    To me one element that draws a listenner in and keeps their attention is constant surprise. To me Mozart excells at this. Just when I expect one thing he gives the music a little (or not so little) twist. And he just keeps doing it. I find the result endlessly fascinating.

    Regards

    Chet

  6. #6
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
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    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    An interesting view Chris. Forgive me for sounding ignorant here yet, when you write you write harmonies first? How do you develop the harmony based on just chordal structures and or movement? Does a melody develop as a result of the upper most notes by itself? If so, when something doesn't jive in the melody how does that influence the harmony of the progression as a whole or in part? Sorry, I always learned you need a melody and a bass line (not necessarily together) then harmonize from there.
    I've heard your remarkable work and I am completely attracted to hear more of your method and ideas.
    Styxx

  7. #7

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    I try to write the harmony and melody simultaneously. I think this results in the best writing. I also like to here the harmonies that result from writing contrapunally. I sometimes use most of the 17th century rules of counterpoint applied to modern chromatic melodies. Some of the results are truly astounding.

    I agree whole-heartedly with "Tension and Release". Everyone should be familiar with the Golden Proportion when composing. If done properly it works everytime. The audience doesn't know why they respond, but they almost always do. Tension and release can be achieved, I believe with more than just good harmonic progressions, but also with dissonance and consonance, rhythm, dynamics, and tempo. The best results from combining one or more of the elements. Achieving a good climax at the right place in the piece is very important. Too late and the piece leaves the audience expecting more, too early and the piece seems to be too long. I also like to make my musical statement over several movements. It is like writing a short opera for instrumentalists.

    Good topic, Mr. Reeves (and if you would post some mp3s every once in a while for us Mac users out there, we would appreciate it!)
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  8. #8

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Some observations on this very interesting discussion topic:

    There's no getting away from 'chords' - single lines suggest them, more or less explicitly, and with counterpoint they are generated in the vertical coincidence (or near coincidence) of the horizontal parts.

    There is a beauty in the math (I would say 'maths' in Australia, but I think there are a lot of Americans out there too) of how the harmonic series 'makes available' these notes of relationship, some distant, some less so.

    As far as 'tersion chords' - I would call them 'triads' - they are extremelty useful too. Every combination has, in context, an emotional 'code' that will release a certain response in the listener, of course aided by the orchestration, dynamic flow, etc. I would hate to imagine a world without D major chords, or E minor chords etc.

    It is also good to get back to even less 'developed' harmonies, eg. 5ths. They too are useful in their ambiguity, and have a definate emotional connotation (perhaps that is a function of one's background too).

    It is good to experiment with the effect of added notes on these more basic harmonic building blocks. It is also nice to come home and kick off your shoes with a well-chosen, traditional cadence (if the music suits it).

    Cheers and good chord-hunting!!

  9. #9

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Christopher,

    if you think this forum is great (and it is indeed great), then maybe, just maybe, Compose Music Forum would be your cup of tea/coffee/cocoa/whatever.

  10. #10

    Re: Pulling a listener into your music...

    Quote Originally Posted by Christopher_Reeves
    Hello. My name is Christopher Reeves and I was just going through the forums, looking at all of my fellow musicians and composers posting -- I feel now like I'm in heaven...because I just now realized how cool it is to be in a community like this. Anyway, I just want to share a little bit of my knowledge about composition, and the approach I take in writing music.

    In my music, I like to express my individual style through harmony. I believe that intersting harmonies can be effective because they "pull listeners in".
    I've seen and heard many people who argue which is more important, melody, or harmony. I believe that one cannot survive without the other -- yes, melody is very important, but the secret to creating a melody that triggers that gut level attraction, is a strong harmonic progression. If you ever get the chance to listen to Miles Davis, do so. As you can hear in his music, his melodies are EXTREAMLY simple, but why was he known as one of the greates jazz composers of our time? His harmonic progressions would amplify his melodies so beautifully. Miles Davis is one of my idols, so I use him a lot for examples.

    So how does one come up with interesting harmonies? Well, the best way I can tell you is to listen to music that has some interesting harmonies, and examine what makes them intersting. I can tell you a couple of theories as to why some are interesting. It's a principle I like to call Tension then Release. If we go back to basic theory, what makes the V seventh chord want to go to the I chord? What makes the vii diminished seventh want to go to V or I? It's because in the V seventh chord, the seventh, wants to go down a half step, and the leading tone, wants to move up to the tonic.

    Another tip I have in making interestin harmonies is to try to get out of using tersian chords so much. If you're going to use tersian chords, at least make them extended tersian, like 9th's 11th's and 13th's. Also, avoid using the chord progressions found in common practice period, such as I, V, IV, I.

    I know this kind of all thrown at you, but this is just a little bit of what I think. Later
    hey!! i once heard a piece of a piano concerto you did. great stuff.
    which chord is the one you call tersian??? can somebody explain please??

    edit:some of the mp3's on your page don't seem to work. i get the following message:

    The requested URL /AllegroI.mp3 was not found on this server.

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