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Trapper Zoid

Steps to composing music

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I'm a beginner at composing music (as some of you might have guessed from all my posts here [smile]), and I was wondering what kind of process you more experienced composers go through in order to create your music. Could you share with me a rough outline of the steps you go through in order to create a piece of music from conception through to the finished product? For the example's sake, lets say we need to write a powerful piece of music for the climactic final fight scene in a traditional CRPG between the protagonist and the antagonist at the end of the game. How would you go about it? Thanks!

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It's a creative process, and therefore is a bit different for everyone, but I'm sure you know that already. [wink] The process I follow is something along the lines of the following:
1) Establish the intended style and feel of the piece, through verbal descriptions/examining the scene it must match/examples of similar pieces/whatever. In the case of your example, that verbal description is probably fine as an example.

2) Look through my collection of CDs, movies and games for anywhere I can find similar style/themed pieces. Listen to them for a while to "get into the feel". If I'm creating the music for a game I'll normally read up on the game a bit more while doing this, or playing around with any demo version available, etc.

3) Get a rough idea of what I want to do. I can't really explain this one, but I'll presume it happens for pretty much everyone to at least some degree; an idea of what you want to do will just be present in your mind.

4) Find appropriate samples/synths for my idea. This may involve getting some new samples if I don't have anything appropriate. Rough out the idea - get down a basic chord progression and/or melody.

5) Work on the piece until something technically complete is done. Get feedback on this.

6) Take at least a day off. "Fresh ears" help with polishing up the piece.

7) Make any small changes, add ornamentation, and generally polish up the piece with things such as small swells in the dynamics, etc. Mastering is included in this step.

Anyways, that's roughly the process I follow, with variances depending on what I'm doing, hopefully that helps you out a bit. Good luck with it. [smile]

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Heh, that's exactly the process that I was following for my first piece, although I'm a bit stuck on 5. (Well, the basic melody is there, but since I'm adapting another piece it was there to begin with [smile]). I guess I just need more practice in making samples and adding ornamentation, as well as picking suitable backing instruments. Plus my percussion truly sucks [grin].

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I guess it's probably mostly down to practice then. [wink] Percussion is often tricky, I still have a lot of trouble with it at times. You might be interested to read this on the topic. It uses FL Studio examples, but the techniques discussed will apply to any sequencer.

I'm surprised there aren't at least a few more replies to this.

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My process is pretty similar to Kazgoroth's;

1.) Research--this includes listening to any film scores or game scores I have that are similar to the scenario, and studying them: what articulations are they using? What kind of rhythms? What kind of harmonic motion?

2.) Building my sound palette--Basically I figure out what articulations I want to use and build my orchestra.

3.) Playing around with ideas--usually I do this at the piano, but sometimes I'll use the computer and play there.

4.) Inspiration--this usually happens in the shower. After hours of playing I'm usually frustrated, so the next day in the shower is usually where the good idea comes. No kidding. Hum in the shower--it helps.

5.) Frantically trying to notate what I came up with in the shower--exactly what it sounds like.

6.) Fleshing out the ideas I came up with in the shower

7.) Mastering, polishing, balancing the sounds, etc.

8.) Cheez-Its.

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Just a helpful tidbit for you...You never know when a good idea can occur so its a good idea to plan ahead. I hear a lot of good musical ideas in my dreams, therefore I keep a notepad handy so I can write the idea down before it evaporates back into the mists of the subconscious. Always keep a notepad ready in the case that a good idea hits without warning.


MMMMM....Cheezits.

[Edited by - Rain 7 on September 10, 2005 3:32:37 PM]

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1. Discuss the song with the client to try to figure out the kind of style and vibe they are going for, as well as working out things like loop length and etc... If they have reference pieces of a similar style to what they are looking for, I usually check them out.

2. Brainstorm. Depending on the song, I will do this in different places. Sometimes I'll grab my guitar and see if I can come up with a a few riffs. Sometimes I'll just kinda work out the melody w/the aid of good ol' humming. Sometimes I'll sit at the computer and work on it in the sequencer. It really depends.

3. Write+record. Yes, I do these two simultaneously. Sometimes I'll just write a song riff by riff recording. Nice thing about it is that if I've got a keyboard part or something taht I really like, but cant figure out a guitar part, I can lay down the keyboard part and just loop it and experiment with diff things on the guitar over it. Anyway, sometimes the recording and writing happens all inside of an hour, and sometimes I'll work on a song straight for like five hours. It changes with how inspired I get with a particular assignment, and how much I can "get into it". I also end up doing a lot of the preliminary EQ as I go.

4. Just like the first guy said, I usually come back to a piece the next day, or even a couple hours later. It really does help to be away from the particular song you are working on for a while. You end up hearing things you never would have before, whether they are possibillities or mistakes.

5. Review+Polish. Once I've got a tentative final on a song, I'll probably listen to it through a few times and really pay attention to what I've written. Its a good way to find rough spots (whether in the actual composition or just in the playing). Then I fix them. I also rework a lot of the EQ and effects here too.

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Trapper Zoid, I'm guessing that you want more help with the actual composition aspect? Here's where music theory is indispensable, really. If you have a melody you can pick a chord sequence to go under it, or on other occasions you can pick a chord sequence and write an accompanying melody. You get to learning which chord sequences will give you a certain feel, and the same applies to tempos and instruments. Try to get a good range of instruments that cover bass, middle, treble, and maybe percussion too. Personally speaking, I think a final battle piece would probably be quite up-tempo, with a lot of staccato strings. I might avoid chord changes for a lot of the song, instead holding the tonic note with the bass instruments, adding something like an English or French horn creating tense harmonies over the top.

But really... the only way in which you can get to learn how to write a piece is to listen to other music that achieves what you want to achieve, make a mental note of what it is doing to achieve that, and then reproduce that in your own way. Research is the key.

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Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Trapper Zoid, I'm guessing that you want more help with the actual composition aspect? Here's where music theory is indispensable, really. If you have a melody you can pick a chord sequence to go under it, or on other occasions you can pick a chord sequence and write an accompanying melody.


Actually, I'm not too bad at matching chords to melodies; for simple pop and rock pieces some combo of the I, IV and V chords usually works. I just have trouble getting things right. It's like I intuitively know what I want, but everytime I try to write the score for an instrument, it ends up wrong, and warps the song in my head.

I think I need to start a bit simpler anyway; I was only picking a climactic piece to begin with because I like to jump in at the deep end. I think I need to work on my listening skills, and develop the ability to transcribe the songs that I hear or hum into notation.

Although for the final battle scene, I was going to go with a mix of pipe organ and brass, but that's only because I always like to include brass (used to play trombone when I was at school).

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