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Having had an attack of ''musician''s block'' earlier, I thought I''d ask the people here how you go about writing music, especially in those times when you don''t have so much ''inspiration'' but still need to produce something? Does anyone research given time periods to find out what authentic instruments/scales/time signatures are? Are there any ''preferred'' key changes, harmonies, or chord sequences that you find yourself using? And, on the other hand, sometimes do you force yourself to look at something different? Given 1 great but short piece of music, how do you extrapolate and build upon and around it to make a long enough track of maybe 3 to 10 minutes? And are there any good resources on these issues outside GameDev.net?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Given 1 great but short piece of music, how do you extrapolate and build upon and around it to make a long enough track of maybe 3 to 10 minutes?




I always run into this problem when composing. Usually, I''ll just take the cheap route and go verse/chorus/verse, maybe change some instruments around- a non-musician usually won''t notice the difference between this, and an expertly crafted, evolving piece.

Sometimes I search in my ''old stuff'' folder, where I keep all my old ideas, and there''ll be a short piece/riff/idea I can work into my current piece.

If I''m really stuck, and I don''t want to repeat anything, I make the piece more ''atmospheric'' (i.e. cool sounding, uninspired crap), or just add some cliched progressions that the non-musician probably won''t recognize.

Of course ideally I like to keep working on a piece until I''m genuinely satisfied with it, but I rarely have that sort of time.

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When I get "musician's block", I usually sit down and practice a technique I'm not good at yet, or that I do not know at all. I'm a guitarist, as well as a singer, and usually my songs start on the guitar. What I do is, I practice the technique for a bit, and start fiddling with it, applying the ideas to chord progressions I usually use, or mixing it with styles that I usually apply.
Most of the time, something interesting will come out of it, and then when I work on it, inspiration will start flowing again.

What ALSO works, is driving around in your car, with the radio off, and starting to hum to yourself. You'd be amazed at the original stuff you can come up with that way. The hard part is remembering it until you get home to record it


People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Mad Keith the V.
Check out my band 22 Strings to Break here.

Edited by - MadKeithV on August 13, 2001 6:07:01 AM

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MadKeithV, how come I can find you in the Music forum but not the Design forum?

I used to carry a dictaphone around with me, in case I ever got some inspiration. I never did So that idea doesn''t really work for me. I''m not really an ''artistic'' musician, more of a ''scientific'' one. I don''t get flashes of inspiration: I make conscious decisions to start in E phrygian and modulate to A natural minor or whatever. The amount of material I''ve produced by hearing a tune in my head or something is probably no more than 10 to 25% of everything I''ve ever written.

I just figure that, for those people who compose game or soundtrack music for a living, there must be some techniques, tricks, clichés even, that they use to ensure that they can produce X pieces of music in Y months for a project, regardless of having to wait on inspiration or whatever. Right now, I''m lacking these mental tools and it''s holding me back...

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quote:
Original post by Kylotan
MadKeithV, how come I can find you in the Music forum but not the Design forum?



Hehe, because I''m quite busy at the moment promoting two bands, getting together a PhD thesis topic, and just READING the Game Design forum....
I don''t have much time to get involved in discussions over there anymore .





People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Mad Keith the V.
Check out my band, 22 Strings to Break here.

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My music doesn''t come from inspiration... other than the titles... i guess its not very musician-like to some people, but i come up with my music using my brain and thinking.... "god... that sounds good... maybe if I...." and it all works itself out... you guys dont have to make it so complicated.... check it out at www.mp3.com/malygris/ and tell me what you think

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The point is, if you just randomly experiment with things to see what sounds good, you waste a lot of time compared to if you know what sounds good in the first place.

For example, I know that E minor goes well with A minor, B minor, and C major, among others. But say I have a piece in Bb major. Would you know instantly what goes well with it? Would you know what notes to use if you wanted something to sound Egyptian? I would, and that''s the benefit of knowing the ''complicated'' stuff.

Besides, with no offense intended, the music of yours I hear is pretty simple in terms of harmony and stuff. It''s quite easy to write stuff when you''re using loop-based tools and you tend to stay in one key all the way through the song. Orchestral style stuff is a lot more demanding.

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Ahh, you've reached the delicate point of "modulation" I think...
The art of figuring out what kinds of harmonic changes work, and what kinds don't! Either that, or you're looking for new scales:

Say you want something that sounds "Egyptian" - the first thing you have to do is figure out what makes something sound eastern. In this case, it's usually a scale with slight differences to the normal "modal" scales (variations on the major scale, simply starting on a different root note of the scale).

A minor "egyptian" scale could be something like this:
root, minor 2nd, major 3rd, 4th, 5th, minor 6th, major 7th.
I assume that transposing it to major would mean starting on the 5th or 6th instead.



People might not remember what you said, or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Mad Keith the V.
Check out my band, 22 Strings to Break here.

Edited by - MadKeithV on August 22, 2001 9:21:26 AM

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quote:
Original post by MadKeithV
A minor "egyptian" scale could be something like this:
root, minor 2nd, major 3rd, 4th, 5th, minor 6th, major 7th.

AKA the Byzantine scale, or Double Harmonic Minor And was exactly the one I had in mind.

New scales are all well and good for certain occasions, but I still find myself wondering how to build up a big piece of orchestral music or something. I mean, J.S. Bach, as with many composers at the time, only tended to use the major and harmonic minor scales, and yet still got a very rich and varied sound. I guess that is something I am still missing.

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Well, I''m studying the same thing at the moment, because I feel I''ve done all I can in E Minor and B Minor (on a 7-string )...

So I try some things like starting a line over a minor chord in the normal minor scale, but switching to an eastern or harmonic scale halfway through.

Sometimes it works, and you do develop an ear for where you could try these things, but it''s a lot of trial and error.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Would you guys mind telling me what music software you use to write music? I''ve been playing piano for 12 years and guitar for 3, and I''m new to music software, I would like to write music for a game I am programming obviously I would love to find software that would allow me to input a song as if I was writing sheet music. I have these really good rifsf going which I have all these grand ideas for but I tend to forget what I composed if enough time has passed Can your music software do for example have a piano riff in accompanyment with a cello riff etc? Do you your programs allow different instrumental sounds? How do you input music? Is it directly through a MIDI instrument or can you set it up like the sheet music way? Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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I "write" my stuff on guitar mostly. I've got a Boss BR-8 that I use to record ideas when I get them, and if they are good enough, I'll usually mix them into an .mp3 via my PC's zip drive, for later storage.

There is software to allow you to input notes as if writing sheet music, but the stuff I know about is not cheap - Cubase VST with Score goes for a little under $1000 I believe. There may be some free or cheap software that does something similar though.

I'm not much into MIDI, I prefer a real instrument

Ps, Kylotan, here's an excellent resource on modulation that I'm about to print out for reference:

Tonal Centre, on Modulation.

Edited by - MadKeithV on August 23, 2001 4:42:49 AM

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The Shareware Music Machine at www.hitsquad.com/smm has a lot of freeware programs; I''m fairly sure that they''ll have a sequencer. Sheet music really isn''t too useful when sequencing complex music because it can be ambiguous. Computer sequencing allows you to explicitly control every single parameter of a performance.

Yup, as you imagined you can sequence a piano and cello piece or whatever. However, it is important is distinguish between sequencing the data ( ie Midi Input or sheet notation ) and the actual playing of this data. The playback is performed via an external sound module - most soundcards have these built in although the quality of game-oriented cards is questionable. Your best option is probably to use Microsofts DLS system to combine both notation and samples for playback into a single source, or to get a good sound source and .mp3 it.

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quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
Would you guys mind telling me what music software you use to write music?

Cakewalk, ModPlug Tracker, and Fruity Loops. I use ModPlug for writing songs and sequencing the parts, then I silence the guitars, export it all as a wave file to Cakewalk, and then record proper guitar parts in Cakewalk. ModPlug Tracker is a lovely piece of software but tracker programs are a bit obscure and take quite some getting used to. If you just want to play around with ''real'' instruments, then Cakewalk or any other MIDI program will be fine, providing you have a decent enough sound card.

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Sometimes people forget music is an art... yeah, it helps to know as much theory as you can, but very few people will be impressed by a piece made from cutting and pasting cliched progressions.

Someone who puts emotion and creativity into their music will always sound better than someone who uses theory and other people''s work as a crutch.

Traditional folk is a perfect example. In most cases, you''re restricted to one scale, but look at the huge range of emotions and tonal qualities (another important part of music, that relies on very little theory) that come from music of any one culture- being restricted forced people overcome whatever restrictions there were with embellishments/graces, creativity, and pure emotion.

Most modded/sampled music is rather dry, only because the people behind it don''t have an understanding of one insturment, and they want to use all of them.

I haven''t heard anyone''s music, and music (like any art) is entirely in the eye (ear) of the beholder-- (and granted, if music is your occupation, it''s nice to churn out garbage for side projects and whatnot), but some people''s views are rather disturbing.



On a completely unrelated sidenote, I think it''d be neat if people posted their music here more often... this is a music forum, after all; I see more interest in technicalities than the actualy music.

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quote:
Original post by PoppinFresh
Sometimes people forget music is an art... yeah, it helps to know as much theory as you can, but very few people will be impressed by a piece made from cutting and pasting cliched progressions.

I started this thread because I wanted to be able to break free from the clichés. The idea was to look for inspiration from outside.

quote:
Someone who puts emotion and creativity into their music will always sound better than someone who uses theory and other people''s work as a crutch.

Sure, but how do you quantify ''emotion'' and ''creativity''?
If I have a certain note at a certain time, then I have a variety of other notes to choose from, typically any of the surrounding 22 semitones (since going any further makes little difference). You have to pick one. How does emotion come into that?

If you''re saying "just pick what sounds good", then you''re just gonna be stuck with your own preconceptions. Studying chords and scales is one way to look at other people''s work and broaden your horizons, while speeding up the rate at which you find note combinations and progressions that ''work''.

quote:
being restricted forced people overcome whatever restrictions there were with embellishments/graces, creativity, and pure emotion.

I don''t think you can just say to a musician "put more creativity and emotion into it". How is that supposed to translate into the compositional or performing process? It can''t, it''s a vague and abstract notion.

Music is, essentially, a mathematical endeavour. Emotions attached to music are just correlations that the human mind has ascribed to it over time.

quote:
Most modded/sampled music is rather dry, only because the people behind it don''t have an understanding of one insturment, and they want to use all of them.

How are they supposed to understand that instrument better? Creativity and emotion don''t help much there. It''s gonna take a degree of study, whether formal or not.

quote:
I haven''t heard anyone''s music, and music (like any art) is entirely in the eye (ear) of the beholder-- (and granted, if music is your occupation, it''s nice to churn out garbage for side projects and whatnot), but some people''s views are rather disturbing.

In the real world, you can''t sit around for 5 years until you get "hit by inspiration". I personally have written quite a few songs that other people have gone "wow" to when they heard them. But that wasn''t down to my inspiration or my emotion: it was a cold, calculating choice of the notes to use for a given effect. It all sounds the same to the end listener. Maybe that disgusts someone who likes to think of it as "art", but I don''t care - my aim is not to preserve some purist''s opinion of what music should be, but to write music that entertains enough people that I can live off it.

quote:
On a completely unrelated sidenote, I think it''d be neat if people posted their music here more often... this is a music forum, after all; I see more interest in technicalities than the actualy music.

Well, it''s a music and sound forum. Most of my current works are unfinished, but maybe I''ll post something when I''m done. Then you can criticize its sampled nature

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I guess people will always disagree on what we don''t understand. We could argue all day... so I will .

quote:
Sure, but how do you quantify ''emotion'' and ''creativity''?



You''re looking at this in entirely the wrong way. You can''t quantify emotion or creativity, the same way you can''t ''quantify'' music.

Sure we could put it on staff paper, even capture it on tape- but we still can''t begin to understand it. No one understands how music, or any art form, provokes emotion (and I, being ''some purist'', like to think it will stay this way forever-- how much closer have we come to understanding music in the past 200 years?).

quote:
How are they supposed to understand that instrument better? Creativity and emotion don''t help much there. It''s gonna take a degree of study, whether formal or not.


I agree, you misread me. Generally you find great music on a simpler level- a guitarist, flute player, whatever. It takes someone who''s got talent and experience to write something great for an orchestra (which is what too many people attempt- and usually content themselves with entirely unoriginal results.)

quote:
In the real world, you can''t sit around for 5 years until you get "hit by inspiration".


Obviously not.

quote:
But that wasn''t down to my inspiration or my emotion: it was a cold, calculating choice of the notes to use for a given effect.


You''re trying to drag music out of art and into science. Music is an art, you know, I hope we can agree on at least that.

Anyone can apply what they''ve learned. Not just anyone can write great music- and all great music goes beyond math, science and theory. Great music can be simple- someone with no knowledge of music can make great music, if they can feel it.

quote:
If you''re saying "just pick what sounds good", then you''re just gonna be stuck with your own preconceptions.


Again, I believe your thinking about it the wrong way. If you can really play an instrument, you don''t ''choose'' the notes, you ''feel'' them. It''s hard to explain, because there is no mathematical or scientific explanation.

A computer can''t be used to compose real music.. if you''ve got a keyboard hooked up to it you''re getting there, but you really need something analogue to write from your heart, and you need to ''feel'' to write from your heart. This is why "cold, calculating" machines, cannot write music.


Just about everyone likes money more than music though, and I acknowledge the fact that ripping other people''s stuff, and writing ''done-it-before'' compositions based on accepted progressions, can be very helpful. Just like pushing papers, selling cars, it''s a living. It''s just not right to generalize great music with this ''forced'' music.

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Let''s just say I pretty much disagree with everything in your post I know the certain sounds in music that I like, and I can name them. They''re very quantifiable: it just takes knowledge of the systems involved. And we can appreciate how music affects emotion largely through psychology, although many people don''t like to think about that. I don''t think music is ''art'' and not ''science'': everything that exists is ''science'', and ''art'' is a state of perception. Yes, someone with no musical knowledge can make good music if they feel it: but they''re not going to have some innate ability to know where to put their fingers on the keyboard or fretboard or whatever. Their lack of musical knowledge is going to frustrate their ability to translate what''s in their head to what the instrument plays.

Leading on from that, people get to see how their ''feelings'' translate to tangible concepts such as key changes, cadences, progressions and so on. To deny that is like trying to claim something is a ''black art'' when clearly it is not. Look at J.S. Bach''s "The Well-Tempered Clavier Book I"... 24 "Preludes and Fugues", 2 for each semitone, 1 in a major key, 1 in a minor key. Very calculated, very deliberate. Yet he is considered one of the all-time greats. He was well aware of how music moves in predictable patterns, and used them to his advantage. He didn''t do everything based on emotion, he wrote what he knew would sound good given his musical knowledge.

As a last point... if you always stick with playing whatever feels like the natural next note/chord/cadence, then you''re going to be forever stuck in a predictable rut, with much of your music sounding the same. Exploring other avenues, no matter how dry or calculated it might seem when you quantify them, can open your eyes (ears?) to some new ways of approaching the ''problem''.

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This reminds me so much of the pro- and anti-shredding posts in almost all guitar forums I've ever visited. Usually, the anti-shredders will argue that you don't need to shred to play a good, emotional song (which is true), and that shred is something people hide behind when they cannot compose emotional music (which is BS).

No amount of technique or knowledge will automatically make you a good composer, but not having the technique or knowledge robs you of the tools available to compose good music.
If you don't know what a cadence is, you won't use it. If you've never heard about modes, you won't know where to apply them, or what they sound like. You need theory to find out what you don't know about music yet.

Bach is one of the prime examples of a "mathematician composer", and yet to me it is some of the most emotional music I've heard.



Edited by - MadKeithV on August 27, 2001 3:51:04 AM

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Saying that Back didn't pour himself into his music is just wrong. It's not the Backstreet Boys we're talking about. Sure, he could be structured, but what he wrote was revolutionary (not evolutionary of other stuff) at the time.

Alright, I can see no one's changing anyone else's mind here... there's no room for romantics like myself in a computer music forum... lol.

Hey, I'm a guitarist... I won't even get into the whole shredder thing. I don't have time to argue and all:
Hendrix/ Neil Young..is to..Yngwie Mee whatever his name is.
Is there any comparison?
Doh.

Edited by - PoppinFresh on August 27, 2001 10:54:04 AM

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quote:
Original post by MadKeithV
Usually, the anti-shredders will argue that you don''t need to shred to play a good, emotional song (which is true), and that shred is something people hide behind when they cannot compose emotional music (which is BS).

No amount of technique or knowledge will automatically make you a good composer, but not having the technique or knowledge robs you of the tools available to compose good music.

Very much agreed.

quote:
You need theory to find out what you don''t know about music yet.

Bach is one of the prime examples of a "mathematician composer", and yet to me it is some of the most emotional music I''ve heard.

Yes, yes... this is exactly where I am coming from.

I don''t want to just pick out a new scale and use it as an excuse to ''do something technical'', I want to explore new scales as they are a precise way of quantifying different feelings and even emotions that I can put into music.

I was listening to the Final Fantasy music the other day and I heard a bit that I really liked, so I downloaded the midi file to see what it was... it was just a simple Gm - Dsus4 - D progression. But since I usually use G natural minor rather than G harmonic minor, I wouldn''t normally come across that progression (due to not having the F# in G natural minor). This is an example of where study, involving knowledge of theory, helped show me how to get a different feel... a different emotion, if you will.

quote:
Original post by PoppinFresh
Saying that Back didn''t pour himself into his music is just wrong. It''s not the Backstreet Boys we''re talking about. Sure, he could be structured, but what he wrote was revolutionary (not evolutionary of other stuff) at the time.

I''m not saying it was all technical or all emotional... it was more an example of how much of the best work is done from a technical basis rather than done purely on ''feel''.

Beethoven composed some of his greatest works when he was almost totally deaf. Now again, I''m not saying his compositions were emotionless mathematical works, but you can bet that he had a good appreciation of theory and ''what works'' rather than going on how it made him feel.

In fact, I think it''s the same principle, just the other way around: some people play around until they find the note or whatever that "feels right". I work the other way around: I know how I want it to feel, and need to know the musical theory to get me that feeling. The more different examples of progressions and scales that I learn about, the wider the vocabulary I have available to be able to express my feelings.

An analogy could be that of trying to write a love story in another language. Until you are really familiar with the grammar and vocabulary of that language, your story, no matter how great and deep and moving, is not going to be very easy to write, and won''t work as well for the reader as it would if you''d had more and better words at your disposal.

I hope this points out that we''re not totally opposite in how we view music, just taking a different angle on the same thing.

quote:
Hey, I''m a guitarist... I won''t even get into the whole shredder thing. I don''t have time to argue and all:
Hendrix/ Neil Young..is to..Yngwie Mee whatever his name is.
Is there any comparison?
Doh.


Yngwie Malmsteen

To be honest: I don''t like Yngwie or Hendrix. I prefer something in between There''s a balance to be struck. Too technical, and you''re just doing it for your own benefit, because it''s soulless and largely pointless. Not technical enough, and you''ve limited your ability to express yourself, meaning you are less able to communicate the emotions in the music. Just my opinion

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I think the reality of music composition "truths" can be found somewhere in between the two opposing arguments here, but I wanted to jump in and debate one particular point. I''ve been playing and writing for going on 20 years now. I''ve taken some theory classes and studied the scientific side of music for a while but discovered that it''s just not the way music works in my mind so I stopped pursuing it in that manner. Everything I write is by accident or inspiration - sometimes a whole song forms in my head and I translate it to instruments, sometimes a guitar riff just flows out of me from nowhere or I''m noodling and I accidentally find a progression that evokes a cool feeling so I write some more around it. If I sat down and analyzed what I''ve written I could recognize the theory behind it, but the theory is just not something I pay any attention to, ever.

That little personal background is my basis for this statement: you don''t *have* to know or utilize the scientific/mathematical side of music to write "good" music (whatever that is); and it''s not necessarily true that if you write your music using a more natural, artistic method that you''re automatically boxing yourself into a rut. I look at the scientific or mathematical side of music as a tool that can be used if it works for you, and certainly learning to utilize any new tool is going to add to your "bag of tricks" from which you pull your ideas. But whether you''re using that particular tool or not, if you continue to practice your own particular method of writing you can progress and create new and interesting music without having any knowledge of the technical side of things.

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Also, music theory is not the only way to learn new things about music. This isn''t black magic (as pointed out earlier), all the notes are available to anyone who plays an instrument. Through experimentation you can always teach yourself new ways to create a certain sound or feeling. If you have a good ear you can learn new chords and progressions by listening to music and figuring out what they''re playing. I don''t think there is such a thing as being too technical or not technical enough. Some people will appreciate either extreme, it''s all very subjective. Everybody has their own reasons and methods for creating music, and to me the end justifies the means. This is artistic creation whether you''re doing it with numbers, translating feelings from your mind or accidentally discovering chords on an instrument.

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Yeah... this was never supposed to be another ''art vs. science'' thread I prefer to use theory rather than experimentation: theory is quicker and more precise. That is just my personal choice.

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The moral of the story is: everyone's got their own opinion on everything, and though it's fun to argue on message boards for a short period, it gets pointless and boring after awhile .

quote:
Too technical, and you're just doing it for your own benefit, because it's soulless and largely pointless.


Ah, from your first posts I couldn't tell that you recognized this. It's a misunderstanding on my part, but if I knew this earlier I wouldn't have been so compelled to rant. We're still on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I don't think of you as an inhuman drone now .

Edited by - PoppinFresh on August 31, 2001 9:41:26 PM

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