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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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This might be interesting to you...
http://www.tweakheadz.com/recipes.html

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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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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
(used to play trombone when I was at school).


Trombone all the way! It's also one of the instruments I play*, great instrument - do you still play? Brass is very get for that type of music though, so I'd say it would be a good choice.

If you actually play one or more instruments that'll definately be an advantage to you, and it's definately a good idea to practice transcribing things; it'll make it easier for you to turn that idea in your head into notes.

*A selection of the ones I own:
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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
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.


Hmm, you're not going to be able to build much tension around I, IV, and V, because they're fairly neutral and predictable. As an exercise you might look into putting some other chords in there, or at least some suspended chords when in transition from one to the next.

Quote:
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.


Yeah. I was just saying in another thread that I can hear a tune in my head and know how to play it on the guitar without having a guitar nearby, and that is an extension of listening skill, developing an appreciation for different harmonic and melodic intervals generally.

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Quote:
Original post by Kazgoroth
Trombone all the way! It's also one of the instruments I play*, great instrument - do you still play?


Not anymore; my sister wanted to learn as well just after I left school, so I gave my trombone to her. I think she's given up though, so I might claim it back some day. But the trombone isn't really a friendly instrument to practice in high density accomondation [smile]. I'll stick to my electronic keyboard which works with headphones.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Hmm, you're not going to be able to build much tension around I, IV, and V, because they're fairly neutral and predictable. As an exercise you might look into putting some other chords in there, or at least some suspended chords when in transition from one to the next.


That's true, but I'm only beginning at the moment, and I haven't figured out a good way to string together more complex chord progression yet. Using simple chords such as I, IV, V and vi (and sometimes ii) as a starting point usually helps me get something down that sounds okay, and lets me build a simple melody. Then I can throw in a few more complex chord variants that are mutations of those chords. That process probably limits me to a certain subset of songs, but I've got to start somewhere. I'm still not good at building chord progressions that are based on a minor key, however.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
sit down at a piano and play chord progressions. play a
i III IV
progression.

buy a chord wheel, and play the prgressions and the modulations. if you don't know what it sounds like, you can't get an idea of how you want to use it.

Play the chord progressions.

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Original post by Couchfiend
That guitar is so tiny.


Do you mean the shoddier of the 2 classical guitars, or are you talking about the one that's actually an unusually shaped mandolin (in the centre). [wink]

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Original post by Kazgoroth
Do you mean the shoddier of the 2 classical guitars, or are you talking about the one that's actually an unusually shaped mandolin (in the centre). [wink]


Is that an electric mandolin, or is it just shaped like one?

By the way, that's a nice bass trombone. Is it copper coloured, or is that a trick of the light? I only had a tenor trombone (and it was pretty beat up when I got my hands on it).

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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
Quote:
Original post by Kazgoroth
Do you mean the shoddier of the 2 classical guitars, or are you talking about the one that's actually an unusually shaped mandolin (in the centre). [wink]


Is that an electric mandolin, or is it just shaped like one?


It's semi-acoustic, and draws a lot of attention due to the unusual shape. That shiny thing just past the end of the fretboard and before the bridge is the pickup, and the f-holes allow for a reasonably good acoustic sound.

Quote:

By the way, that's a nice bass trombone. Is it copper coloured, or is that a trick of the light? I only had a tenor trombone (and it was pretty beat up when I got my hands on it).


It is indeed more copper coloured than most I've seen, and I've kept it in very good condition. It's actually a Bb/F tenor though, not a bass; most people tend to think that, I think because trigger-tenors are somewhat rarer than basses.

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