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Topic: How to approach complex compositions?

  1. #1

    How to approach complex compositions?

    Thought this might be a bit better on another thread. I just got done listening to Ken P\'s compo, which is very nice, BTW, and this is the type of composition I wish to do. Complex, evolving, parts moving from one part of the orchestra to the other. But my question to you all that have much more experience than I do at this is, how do you approach such a piece? Do you flesh out main melodies first? Build each 8 measures first? I\'d just like an idea on which way to take this? It\'s obviously a LOT of time and work involved to make such pieces. Any suggestions are GREATLY appreciated. BTW - I do everything real time, not writing out sheet music for my pieces, and working that way would be very difficult and foreign to me.


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 1999
    Winsted, CT

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Ahhhh... You’re joking, right?

  3. #3

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Well, I\'m not looking at a college course of information in a single thread, but a few basic tips would be nice. Got to start somewhere.


  4. #4

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Hi DevonB,

    This is tough question because it depends on the person what workflow is good for that person.
    So I\'ll share how I do it, keep in mind that it can also depend on the piece so this isn\'t something written in stone.

    So here\'s the process in very general terms:
    </font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">1. Figure out what you want to achieve - Do want to be sad sounding, happy sounding etc.</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">2. Figure out what form/structure (Sonata, fugue etc.) could accomplish that most effectively.</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">3. If you are going to do, for example, a sonata then write several themes and pick a pair of contrasting themes.</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">3a. If you have hard time to write down the theme, then you could lay out the harmony progression first and then construct the theme on that progression. Often the theme ends on dominant (V) or on tonic (I).</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">3b. The pair of themes is often one major theme and one minor theme.</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">4. Then you could lay out the overall harmony and scale progression of the piece. You could write down the scales you would want the piece to go in and/or establish. For example in our sonata we could say that it starts in C-major (theme in major) then we would work our way to the 2nd theme of the pair that could be in a-minor and near the end we need to go C-major again.
    So the basic structure is C-major; a-minor; C-major.</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"></font><ul type=\"square\">[*]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">5. Then you write the piece and orchestrate it. And remember what you wanted to achieve when you orchestrate it. For example, if you want sad sound, you don\'t use brass (of course there are exceptions!).</font>[/list]<font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\"> One thing to remember - Most pieces are just (in general) two, three or four-part harmony. So don\'t feel that to get a complex piece you must write independent voice for every instrument.

    Hope this helps. If you have further questions then just feel free to ask.

  5. #5

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Hello Devon!
    I\'d say: Never start with the beginning. When you are writing (or playing) the first note, you have to know what you will do. I think it\'s good to start with a general idea of a \"macro-form\". This can be a vague idea how the music will sound, when what will happen, etc. No details yet, details are the last thing to do.
    It is good as well to imagine you have \"material\" : for exemple a theme, chord progressions, a serie, a timbre, whatever that is \"out of time\". Then you use it in time and space.

    Sorry that\'s not very concret, but maybe it helps

  6. #6

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    No one can teach you the music that you will bring to the world but yourself! Composition and orchestration are like any other crafts: it takes determination, persistence and dedication to get it going. I know this might not be the answer you asked for, but music is something that surges on from the inside of us, regardless of any intellectual concept or technique about it. My advice: if you want to learn how to expand your musical ideas through an orchestral context, don\'t look right nor left, set to work and learn while doing it!

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    New York City

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    OK DevonB, a huge subject, but here are a couple of practical suggestions to get you started:

    Compose a melody
    Choose a bass note for each measure
    Compose a counter melody
    Embellish the bass part
    TADDA -- 3-part harmony
    Now orchestrate (color) to taste
    Also consider doubling parts up/down octave(s) and harmonize lines in 3rds, 6ths, and/or 4ths

    Choose a chord progression (root movement of 4th, 5th or step is common).
    Assign a melody note (1 per chord change)that gives you the tension/release effect you are after at the points of chord change.
    Embellish the melody notes and then the bass notes
    Continue as above with the counterline(s), etc.

    Hope this helps. Good luck.

  8. #8

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    I do things all based on form. I come up with the form of the piece, lay down a structure and then fill in the music.

    Most of my composition is intuitive, although I do have a strong theory background I can use when needed.

    I also tend to make at least one element of my composition simple. If everything is too complex, things get a little too busy for me. If I have a complex form, maybe the harmonic content or orchestration will be simple.

    In my opinion, less is more.


  9. #9

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Hi Devon,

    Your question is a big one. I would start with this, it helps to be familiar with theory, this will give you background and training to avoid the common mistakes. Don\'t ask me what they are, if you aren\'t intimately familiar with theory and want to compose complex compositions then you need a healthy dose of theory, including 20th century techniques.

    So assuming you have a solid theoretical background, what else? A number of posters have offered suggestions that work for them. I think Devin\'s idea that simplicity helps is a good one. If you take a complex melody and treat it with more complexity you\'ll end up with a piece that few will be able to comprehend.

    However, I don\'t like the idea of determining the details of the form and filling in the blanks. That just doesn\'t work for me, when I try it I end up changing too much. So I get an overall idea of what I want to accomplish, determine my beginning and then start answering the question, what comes next?

    Eliam\'s response basically says, \"practice makes perfect.\" Assuming you play an instrument you know the truth in that statement.

    I like Markus\'s idea of figuring out the macro form. As i said above this is what I do. I understand what he means when he says never start at the beginning. You really need a number of ideas that are compatible, but contrast well before composing an introduction.

    One bit of wisdom from my music school days, never repeat yourself. Always change something. That means vary the harmony, rhythm, or something else so you don\'t repeat music verbatim.

    So here\'s a thought that will put you in great company, write a theme and variations. Brahms and Beethoven wrote awesome themes and variations so you\'re in good company. The exercise will teach you the flexibility, creativity necessary to write larger scale works.

    Finally, as the folks at Nike say, \"Just do it.\" But don\'t be afraid to erase. I\'ve erased pages and pages of stuff that just wasn\'t working. Sometimes you just have to start over.

    Good luck.

    Steve Chandler

  10. #10
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
    Dallas, Texas

    Re: How to approach complex compositions?

    Hi Devon,

    You have gotten some good advice.

    I\'ll add my favorite: The Three Tricks Theory

    This is a branching technique. No matter what form, genre, style, or instrumentation, every piece of music has a beginning, middle and end.

    Those are the first three tricks.

    Next, decide what three tricks you\'ll use to make each of those. Now decide which three tricks you\'ll use to make those. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

    Soon, you will find that you have an extremely complex and cohesive plan, but one which can always be simplified backwards to the three main tricks.

    This is a great technique to use in planning, but is also a great way to get \"unstuck.\"

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