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Heather Smith

Advice: Composing Harmony

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Mostly I do transposing of anime/video game/etc. music, generally with melody on flute and then harmony on piano. I generally have no trouble coming up with harmony that sounds good but I've realized recently that it's all too active- my harmony doesn't complement the melody, it distracts from it. I try just doing block chords or a running bass line but then it sounds too boring and cliche. Any advice for making a harmony that isn't boring, but not to the point where it distracts from the melody? (If you can't tell, I've never received formal instruction and am pretty much a novice)

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I like non-functional harmony. Treating chords as entities rather than progression is much more interesting to me. My way of composing usually remains on chords of "weak progression", then I have one or two that call the attention from the melody. Do you know Ravel's music? Check some of his piano works and try to analyse his harmony.For me, it's the most perfect way of using it.

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I've realized recently that it's all too active- my harmony doesn't complement the melody, it distracts from it

 

Could you be more specific about the harmonies you use, maybe provide a small example? It could be as simple as using more homophonic textures or removing "bloat" from voices. 

Edited by JFTFT

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A piece is worth a thousand words. Post an entire piece and let us hear it. And don't post just anything, post your best work. 

Edited by Ken320

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Yes, hearing something would be very helpful.  

 

I'd also add that sometimes it may be a question of the timbre of the instruments you are working with at a particular range.  If you usually have the melody in the flute and the harmony in the piano and find that sometimes the harmony is swamping the melody, try to swap, giving the melody to the piano, and giving the flute one of your piano harmony lines for the problem spot.  There's no rule that says the piano can't have the melody for a while.  Part of what you're hearing may be an orchestration problem (on a small scale) rather than a problem with your harmony writing.  How do you write something musically complex, with lots of things going on, that still lets you hear the melody and each bit of harmony distinctly?  Sometimes it's a question of what octaves things are played in, or what instrument is currently taking the lead and how its particular tone cuts across the rest of the sound that's going on at the moment.

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Thanks for all the responses, everyone :) I attached the piece I'm working on right now- it's the best that I've done so far that also has the problems I'm talking about. As such the second half is unfinished (so, quit listening around 3:30, I couldn't cut out what I haven't worked on). I really like a lot of the things I've done with the first half but it also showcases some of the problems I've been having. It's also got a serious atmosphere issue. It's supposed to be a tragic love song. It starts somewhere around there, but by the middle that feeling is completely gone, and I don't know how to get it back. (It's Sib 7 audio file, not me playing at this point). 

Kikyo's Theme_2_52.mp3

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Heather, thanks for posting your music. I understand where you're coming from with regard to harmonies, etc. In a nutshell, it has a rudimentary feel to it because you're not sure what to do between the basic chord changes. I don't hear thirds very much which would make it more interesting and would help you give it more direction. And a sense of movement is required in order to evoke any sort of emotion. But it is lacking here, it is rather static. But obviously you are smart enough to know this and that's why you posted it here. 

 

You want to know how to proceed. I suggest that you find a piano teacher because they will teach you more in an hour than you will ever learn here. That's what I tell everyone,  because it's absolutely totally true and it applies to everyone. If you're serious about music, that is the best advice I can give you. Best of luck to you!

Edited by Ken320

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in general we (just like other animals) pay attention to change. if i wave my hand at my cat, she'll pay attention. but if i do this 2more times it will disregard it because she can anticipate it. it doesn't matter how complicated my movement is, if it repeats exactly the same, its predictable. so you can use quarter notes or eights or sixteenths it doesn't matter, it's the difference between a musical sentence and the next that counts, there're times when the rhythm of the piano is more structured than the flute. a sentence is in eights and it's companion is in sixteenths, < that's a good contrast (it grabs attention, as long as it's not continuously repeating). but the flute is too busy getting to some tones, that it disregards this contrast at times. if it gets "free" and doesn't follow any noticeable pattern, you may think its "out of the rhythmic game" but nothing is. if after a few phrases you don't change the rhythm in a contrasting way, it gets boring, no matter how free you think you are. the change effect gets amplified if you're backing it  with contrasting harmonic change.

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