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Kryzon

How to: Compose music progressively?

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First of all, hello everybody :) I wanted to ask you all Composers and Virtual Instrument users, how do you compose music (whatever style it is) that should last for more than 30 seconds, for use in games? I mean, what is the sequence of actions you take to make full melodies, then incorporate harmony and complementary instruments to them, etc? I wanted to ask you this because, for every music composition book i've read, not even one had a broken-down, systematic description of the approach to music composition, like, telling a sequence of steps: create a melody, apply harmony to it with complementary instruments, etc. When I try to do it, I feel like i'm missing something, my compositions always sound like lots of repetitive patterns, and a lot of simple and kind of "boring" phrases. I hear all those game soundtracks, from the simplest (like Rare Software stuff, for Banjo-Kazooie) to the most complex (orchestral stuff, for like, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War), and I wonder what steps do the composers use to get the material to write down (and put in a software, in case of the Virtual instrument users) that lasts more than 30 seconds of music, that sounds seamless, flowing through the different melodies. If anybody could enlight me in this matter, that'd be really helpful.

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1: choose a pace, if the scene is action filled its going to have a fast pace, if it is calm it should have a slow pace.

2: start with a drum beat. Drums, since its invention was used to maintain the pace and the rythm of a musical piece.

3:create a loop that is not acoustically detailed, but has relevance through out the music.

4: then get into details, add some climax where the music is at its highest intensity (or lowest in calm music.)

remember music is an art too. like drawing, you start with the outlines and end with details. good luck.

edit: you could also add ambience thats related to your scene, in an action packed jungle scen, you might add snake hissing blended in your music to give a live feel for the environment.

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This is a really difficult question to answer becasue the methods of developing an extended piece of music are typically highly personal and subjective.

For me personally, my approach to a piece of music is completely dependent on the medium for which I am writing. If I'm writing music for something linear, a film for example, where the music is synced to something on screen, once I figure out (or the director tells me) the way a scene has to be structured in terms of in/out points, pacing, size, etc., then I'll usually devise a simple sort of road map for the scene making notes about where and how I want the music to develop. From there, its just a matter of filling in the gaps and connecting everything in a logical and musical matter, most of the form is predetermined.

For something like a video game or a DVD menu where the music is meant to loop and not "fixed" to anything on screen, Once I get all of the relevant information from the director/producer (length, orchestration ideas, reference music, visual assets, etc.) and I have a basic idea of what I want for the music, then I usually go through a few different steps:

1. Whether its with a piano or a pencil and paper, I'll get the basic structural ideas for the piece started. Sometimes it may be a full melody or some motivic idea, it may just be a simple rhythmic idea or harmonic progression, or sometimes its more textural. If I have the time, I generally try to do this away from my DAW so I won't be tempted to start orchestrating or programming before I have the structure finished.

2. Once I have the basic material together, I'll start piecing things together so they seem to make musical sense. I also try to do this away from DAW to avoid the temptation to just copy and paste sections together, for me atleast, that almost always leads to really predictable or abrupt transitions.

3. After I have a sketch put together in my head or on paper, I'll start writing secondary material like background phrases and try to get most of the harmonic elements in place, alot of this overlaps with the next step.

4. Once I have a sort of road map complete, I'll begin to orchestrate in my DAW using basic samples because I don't have the horsepower in my studio to load most of what I need at once. Whatever libraries or VIs you use, it is very important that you take the time to learn all of there strengths and limitations. Every product excels at different performance elements and there are alot of things that real performers can do that sample libraries can't and vice versa.

Within these steps there's alot of overlap, usually when I begin writing, orchestration ideas will pop in my head and I'll make a note of that and come back to it once I'm ready to orchestrate. I'll also find myself changing the melody and harmony slightly once I begin orchestrating, or sometimes even adding whole new sections.

My advice is don't feel like you have to train yourself to work a certain way, like I said before this is all very subjective. After you do this a while, you'll find out what workflow makes the most sense and is the most efficient for you, I know mine is changing all the time. Listen to the music that you like and make notes of the form and the way all of the ideas are organized and developed and then try incorporating that into your music.

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Quote:
Original post by John Rodriguez
This is a really difficult question to answer becasue the methods of developing an extended piece of music are typically highly personal and subjective.

Even so, I want so badly these steps because I feel like i'm kind of "blind folded" regarding this subject, you know?


I want to thank both posters so far, and for all those who think they might help me too: please go ahead :)

Best of all,
Kryzon.

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Music is like any complex structure: usually built up of several other structures, each slightly less complex than the last, until you reach the base elements. You have to decide how to combine the blocks, and you can do it in any number of ways. Often it's best to study a few existing pieces, see how they are built up, and try to emulate them. Also look for the differences between them. It's hard to reason about things that you can't describe.

Nobody can give you a step-by-step method to composition (which is why most of the classically trained musicians back in my music class hated it). You could start with a melody, or a rhythm, or a harmony, and choose to embellish it, or create variations on it. You might start with a mood, and pick instruments and melodies to fit that mood. You might be given a video and expected to time certain motifs to match what you see in the video. Perhaps you have an existing piece and want to present it in a different way. Maybe you have a vague idea for a structure, such as starting and ending on a similar theme with a quiet bit in the middle, and need to come up with stuff to fit it. There are no rules to follow, only a large palette of patterns you can choose from. Pick some, arbitrarily if you like, to get you used to working towards a goal.

My personal philosophy is that all music is an exercise in building tension and releasing it, in setting up patterns and occasionally deviating from them for interest. If your music is repetitive, stop repeating it - change an aspect. Don't always change the same aspect; it could be rhythm, tempo, harmony, melody, timbre, dynamics, key, instrumentation, whatever. But maintain coherence across the piece, again by preserving some of those aspects.

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Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Nobody can give you a step-by-step method to composition (which is why most of the classically trained musicians back in my music class hated it).

Quote:

You have to decide how to combine the blocks, and you can do it in any number of ways
Music is like any complex structure: usually built up of several other structures, each slightly less complex than the last, until you reach the base elements.

You could start with a melody, or a rhythm, or a harmony, and choose to embellish it, or create variations on it. You might start with a mood, and pick instruments and melodies to fit that mood.

You see, though you tought of not having a way to describe me a sequence of steps, you still gave me one :)
I believe what you were saying is that, there isn't a universal sequence of steps known, just what every composer has developed as their own personal method.
But still, I wanna hear that own, personal method people use; for not having one, I'm all ears to whatever methods there is. I believe I can develop my own, after having some reference and from practice, of course.

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Hi there. I am not a highly regarded video game composer like some of the other contributers here. Indeed I have approximately 0 scorers and 0 offers right now. However i am a classically trained musician and composer. And I have made a name for myself in that manner. What I am going to offer is the stodgy, ho-hum, boring music theory professor in a twill jacket explanation. It is no fun but I think it will help most people a lot.

I assume that since we are all composers that we have a strong understanding of music theory. These steps are more or less in order, though you may want to play around with them for your own use.



1. Identify the genre and create a tonal framework. Is your piece a standard western classic, then the Ionic mode is your best bet. Aeolian is also good if you want to go minor (be sure to observe harmonic and melodic forms if need be). Blues? Hexitonic. Celtic/Asian? Pentatonic. Arabian/African? Hemitonic-Pentatonic.

If you want to get really fancy try even temperaments. Or use astral ratios as ancient astronomers/astrologist did. you could use modes referenced by ancient natural philosophers (see Plato and Aristotle). Do something atonal.

Every genre has it's one structure that must be applied to properly evoke music. These are the rules and constraints, of course rules are made to be broken, but do it tastefully.


2. Address meter and tempo. Again this is genre specific. Know what time signature you are looking for. A march is simple, a waltz is compound. Don't be afraid of complex meter such as 5/8, 7/8 etc...

Next understand your genre's tempo. Lets use our previous examples. A Waltz is Largheto - Adagio and a march is Moderato - Allegro.

3. Now that you have both a tonal and temperal framework you are ready to start being creative. Now it is time to start writing music!

I suggest working from bass voices up to the soprano voices. Remember to get a traditional balance of sound a higher voice should not usually be heard unless the lower has already made a statement.

And for heavens sake please don't be afraid to use your alto voices like viola. They are supper versatile and can support both the lower tones, and higher melodic movement.

Make sure you respect the relationship of every pitch with relation to the framework. As a general rule use dissonance only to build suspense and always resolved it.

Step 3 is the hardest. With out a clear understanding of tonal theory it is easy to go horribly wrong. Make sure every note fits within the framework of the others, and performs some function in the pieces overall development.


I hope this helps. Feel free to PM me with any questions.

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