Jump to content

Planning a Development Section?


Noah Brode
 Share

Recommended Posts

What specifically do you do to plan out a development section in sonata form? Should the modulations and the order of the themes/fragments follow any sort of predesigned logic (other than 'mix them up')? 

The keys that should be used are mainly what's bothering me, mostly because my modulations tend to sound forced to me, especially in the development section. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In early music (baroque, especially) it's customary to end on a half cadence, then start the development in the dominant, then simply resolve the dominant to the tonic for the recapitulation. It's not standard, but I've always found using a secondary dominant to do this is easiest, if you're having trouble making it sound smooth.
Contemporary music fudges the rules a lot, and basically just calls more motivic embellishment.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's what I like to do. I wouldn't call it "planning" necessarily, but more "sketching". I take a piece of my main themes that I particularly enjoy or think are rich with possibilities, and I just start coming up with variations on them. This is sketching. I am not trying to construct a finished piece at this stage, but simply generating ideas, the way a comic book artist might draw different versions of a character in his sketchbook.

IMPORTANT: Do not try to create a masterpiece at this stage. You are just generating content, not creating a final draft. Don't over think it. If you have an idea you like, follow it to it's logical conclusion. Go where ever you like with the music. Development is free composing, so let your stream of consciousness take over. Try it in minor, try it in 6/8, try taking the main motif and inverting it, try the melody in the bass, try putting theme 1 in treble and theme 2 in the bass and fix up the harmony until it sounds musical and not just gimmicky. If you start an idea and run out of juice, set it aside and try another idea. Do not under any circumstances delete anything. No critics allowed at this stage. Just generate content and set it aside.

Do this multiple times until you have more ideas than you can possibly use. Then take a break. Later, once you've forgotten what all the stuff you wrote sounds like, go back and listen to it all or play it through. You may hear some ideas that jump out at you, that excite you. Find an idea you created that you like, and picture where in the grand scheme you might like to see it appear. Does it feel like a climax or a lull? Is it a good ending, a good beginning, wacky all-over-the-place material that just sounds cool, transitional material, a sequence? Consider your best ideas to be like puzzle pieces and imagine how they might fit together.

Then begin to craft them into actual art. Connect the ideas, develop the ideas so they aren't just vignettes but instead well-crafted parts of the larger story. Write spin-offs from the spin-offs. Try different ideas with different accompaniment. Try Alberti bass, then block chords, then sparse texture, then whatever you want to try. If you have created two ideas you wish to connect but they are in distant keys, transpose them (there is no shame in that). Take an idea you like and do one version in major and one in minor, or make the powerful final chord of that idea a 7th chord so that it wants to lead to a key change. Like creating a samurai sword, you must fold the steel over and over until it is just right. Don't worry about rules. You can begin and end in any key you wish. Even Beethoven wrote developments that ended up in different keys than he "should" have been in. He ended his developments when they sounded done, not when the key signature told him he was done. (see mvmnt. 1 of his sonata Op. 10 No. 2. The main theme is in the key of F, but when the development is over, he plays the main theme in the key of D. Why? Cuz he felt like it).

I am a big fan of this sketching process, but it takes patience. If you sit down and try to plan your piece from beginning to end from scratch, you may feel overwhelmed by the task. But sketching will give you more material than you can use, and then you can edit yourself rather than sitting there wishing you had more musical material to work with. Plus you may end up with material you can spin into a different piece, or a different movement of the same sonata. Do that and, voila, your sonata will be united by similar motifs across all the movements.  Good luck and keep writing music!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

18 hours ago, Monarcheon said:

In early music (baroque, especially) it's customary to end on a half cadence, then start the development in the dominant, then simply resolve the dominant to the tonic for the recapitulation. It's not standard, but I've always found using a secondary dominant to do this is easiest, if you're having trouble making it sound smooth.
Contemporary music fudges the rules a lot, and basically just calls more motivic embellishment.

So, if I'm following (Classical era) sonata form closely, I'd already be in the dominant key, and I could just end the second section on a half cadence and pick up in the same dominant key in the development. Then, I end the development with another half cadence leading back into the tonic key for the recapitulation?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

37 minutes ago, Noah Brode said:

So, if I'm following (Classical era) sonata form closely, I'd already be in the dominant key, and I could just end the second section on a half cadence and pick up in the same dominant key in the development. Then, I end the development with another half cadence leading back into the tonic key for the recapitulation?

 

That's one way of doing it. Not a big fan of ending the exposition ending in a half cadence...I like to end it in the dominant key, but I sometimes have a transitionary motif (usually derived from earlier material) that leads into the development section.

Seni-G gave really good advice! The development section is basically to show your skills as a composer....think of it as structured improvisation. You can play with it almost any way you want to. The only rule is that you have to end the development and transition into the Recap without it being random and choppy. 

As for me personally, I don't really have a "formula"....I just take themes from the exposition and as Seni-G said, write mini variations. Usually I do this by putting the theme(s) in minor/major (depending on the exposition); putting the themes in weird, dissonant, unstable harmonic progressions; adding more counterpoint; taking a rhythmic motif from the exposition and playing around with that. 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

Hi guys,

There is some fantastic advice here, I was having this same problem, trying to develop a piece I really like and make a sonata of it and this thread has helped immensely, maybe it should be a sticky thread for all to follow and to add too from time to time.  I will certainly keep coming back to see if there has been any more "trade secrets" given away.

With this in mind, is there a neat trick or two for writing smooth transitional passages?  I tend to do lots of trail and error until it sounds good, but that takes a lot of time.  I'm sure there must be a better way.

 

Edited by Mark101
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...