Music Technology - Creativity in Composing

Composing can refer to the process of creating an original/new piece of music. People who practise composition are called composers. There is no right and wrong when composing and no one can say that you must compose following a specific method. Composing is a purely creative process of structuring the musical elements to create a successful piece of music. There are numerous composition techniques and elements to consider when composing. The following sections will explore these areas in more detail.

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· Timbre

· Decide what instrument / voices you should use

· It is not always essential for you to decide on the exact combination of instrument /voices when you start, as it is very simple using software packages to change the timbre as you progress. Here are some points to consider before you start:

· What is the genre/style?

· Are you familiar with the range of the instruments that you have chosen?

· Are you composing an instrumental piece or for voices, or maybe both?

· Which instruments are playing/singing the melody / accompanying?

· Determine which specific combination of instruments/voices you should have

· You may find that certain combinations of instruments / voices work well together, i.e. string quartet, rock band instruments. But if you are composing more than one piece, using the same combination will result in less variety in the timbre. Always consider the overall effect of what you are composing rather than using a restricted combination of instruments.

· Include sound effects in your composition

· If you are composing a piece of film music or music to accompany a series of scenes in a play, you may find it useful to include recorded sound effects in your composition. The main thing to remember is not to go over the top and try to use sounds that are as realistic as possible.

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· Pitch

· Decide in which key you should compose your piece

· Before you start, decide on the key of your piece. If you are composing a piece in a modern style, you may decide to write an atonal piece.

· Consider how to compose an interesting melody

· Include a variety of step and leap movements and also some repeating notes.

· Decide how to structure your melody

· As you progress to write an extended melody, always consider the structure of the melody. You may repeat the first four bars to have an A A structure, followed by a new melody B, before returning again to the first melody A, giving you an AABA structure to your melody.

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· Harmony

· Consider which chords to use

· Make sure that you vary your chords when composing. Using the primary chords I, IV and V is a good starting point but introducing the secondary minor chords II and VI will also add variety.

· Decide where you should include a cadence

· At the end of each phrase always consider the cadence point. At the end of a phrase in the middle of a section, an imperfect cadence will be used (chord - V). While at the end of a section the Perfect (V - I) or Plagal (IV - I ) Cadence will be used.

· Consider whether to transpose to a new key

· You may decide to transpose during your composition to a new key to add more interest or to move the music to a different direction. Prepare your transposition by introducing the fifth chord (V) in the new key followed by the first (I) chord.

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· Rhythm

· Try and vary the rhythm

· It may sound very simple, but try and vary the use of long and short notes in your pieces. Melodies need time to breathe with a long note at the end of a phrase and also need a variety of shorter and dotted notes as they develop.

· Include rhythmic devices

· Try to include some syncopation (off-beat patterns) in your melodic pattern to add variety. An ostinato pattern with the notes moving up or down in a sequence is always pleasant on the ears.

· Develop your rhythmic ideas

· When repeating a phrase or a section, you may find it much more interesting to develop the rhythm further by adding more complex rhythmic patterns or varying a straight rhythm with dotted or swing rhythms.

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· Tempo and meter

· Decide on the time signature

· It is essential to decide on the meter of your piece before you start as this will be the grounding for your rhythmic patterns.

· Include tempo markings

· After deciding on the meter, you should consider the starting tempo for your composition. If using a software package, you may find it useful to play your opening bars or a metronome beat at more than one pace before deciding. Always consider the tempo in line with the genre you are composing, e.g. if composing a song, will it be possible to sing long phrases if the pace is too slow?

· Change the tempo or the meter during your piece

· You will find it necessary to change the meter / tempo during your piece. Always consider how the transition from one meter change to another will work. Do you need to change the pace at all? Will you need to add specific tempo markings to your piece?

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· Musical devices

· Include a musical device

· Musical devices should be included as a natural progression in your composition. Don't go out of your way to include a sequence or an imitation every other bar. You may find yourself including a sequence without planning beforehand. Always follow the notes of the chord as a starting point.

· Consider whether you need more than one instrument/voice to include an imitation

· Some composers include an imitation by one instrument / voice of another one. This is not always essential as one instrument / voice could imitate the previous phrase by playing the phrase an octave lower or higher.

· Decide whether to include a canon

· The easiest way to include a canon is to write a 4-bar chord sequence and introduce a part every time the chord sequence is played. This way you will be guaranteed that your melodies fit with the given chord structure.

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· Texture

· Determine whether the texture of the music will be thick or thin texture

· The texture depends on the mood and atmosphere you are trying to create in your piece. You may find the beginning of a piece works well with a thin texture, and as more instruments join in, the texture will gradually become thicker towards the end.

· Decide whether the voices should sing in unison or harmony

· Voices singing in unison can create a feeling of unity in a piece, but harmony singing gives a lot more of musical interest. If you are composing harmony parts for voices, use your chords on the main beats of the bar as a starting point.

· Consider contrapuntal writing

· Writing contrapuntal parts for a group of voices or instruments is a challenging task. Always start and consider the chord structure of each section.

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· Structure

· Start with a simple structure for your piece

· The simplest way is to start by composing two contrasting sections of music as this would be piece in a binary form. You may decide to repeat the first section with some development of your initial ideas and this would be a piece in ternary form.

· Consider what the structure will be when composing a song

· Most songs follow a verse and chorus structure, with an introduction before the first verse, a bridge section towards the middle with a coda towards the end.

· Decide whether you want a structure for your piece at all

· You may find yourself when composing for a series of scenes in a play that the structure is not relevant as they are all very short sections of music. But always consider having a motif (short melodic phrase) linking your sections together.

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· Dynamics

· Decide whether to include dynamic markings

· Dynamic markings contribute to the overall effect and mood created in your piece. It is one thing to include them on a score, but performers need to be reminded of any specific markings on the copy if performing live or recording to give the full impact of your piece.

· Consider whether to change the dynamics frequently

· You will find it necessary to change the dynamics during your piece. How often is entirely up to you and the overall effect you are trying to create. Always consider how the transition from one dynamic marking to the other will work. Do you need to change the pace at all to have a better effect?

· Consider using silence

· Sometimes the most dramatic effect in any piece is to include an unexpected silent bar or that the dynamics fade out to complete silence.

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· Developing Ideas

· Consider how to develop your melodic ideas

· There are endless ways of developing your melodic ideas. Consider some of the following ideas:

  • Extend your melody to a wider pitch range.
  • Include more complex rhythmic patterns in your melodies.
  • Move your melody an interval higher or lower (an octave).

· Develop your ideas within a specific structure

· When repeating a chorus or a specific section in your piece, you may introduce a subtle development of ideas. You may include a few different chords, transposition, a melody played by a different instrument or include different dynamic and tempo markings.

· Be inventive in developing your musical ideas

· There is no right and wrong way when developing your musical ideas. You should always enhance your composition by being inventive, e.g. you may decide to repeat an eight-bar chord sequence in retrograde (backwards) or invert (mirror image) the melody. The possibilities are endless!