thoughts on music, design and literature

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Open Forum: Becoming A Composer Pt. 3

Here's the follow up to Danny K's follow question:

I forgot to ask about good harmonies/counterpoint though, so it'd be great if you could talk about that as well in the next post! Listening to Baba Yetu...

As for the harmony question, again, I think you really just have to listen to what you think is good music, and take note of what chord progressions that they use. My own music tends to keep it very simple (although I can get rather complex at times if necessary, like the instrumental buildup section in Baba Yetu when I start on a C-major and end on a C#-minor). The bulk of popular music uses just a handful of chords: I, V, IV, ii, vi, bVI, bVII, etc. (if you don't know what these letters mean, don't worry... unless you're planning on becoming a composer. In which case, if you don't know what these mean, you'd better do your homework.)

I would say, though, that for many composers, harmonic progression is not dictated separately from melody. The way I think is that I come up with melodies AND the harmonies behind them simultaneously. It's not like I say 'Here's a chord progression that I want to write a melody around.' I think it almost HAS to be done simultaneously because most of the time when you choose to write a certain note in a melody, it comes with a contextual harmonic implication as well--that is, it's a high note that wants to resolve, or wants to be stable, etc. After all, a note is given the bulk of its meaning based on the harmonic context it sits in.

I will say one thing, though; you can't write a melody that stays too comfortably within the principal notes of a chord (the one, three and five) without sounding banal and forgettable. I often move to suspended 4ths, 7ths, and 9ths, and then resolve back. Since you're a fan of Baba Yetu, give the main melody a listen and you'll see what I mean. Pay attention to when I land on notes that are part of the chord, and when I don't, both in terms of which bars they're in, and which beats on the bars. And then pay attention to the way I resolve them.

As for counterpoint, if you have any specific questions, please do ask!

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3 Comments:

Blogger Tom Quinn said...

Great stuff, Christopher. Nice to see you posting on your blog again! I listened to Calling All Dawns on the Lakehouse website, and it sounds fantastic. Can't wait to hear more as it comes!

April 30, 2009 at 5:41 PM

 
Blogger Lencias said...

Thanks, Chris!
Yep, I do know what those roman numerals mean - chord degrees!

Woohoo, AP Music Theory!

So not looking forward to the AP on the 11th though...

April 30, 2009 at 7:53 PM

 
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