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I've seen a lot of works in the forum that share a common thread: lack of musical development.

Developing your musical ideas is one of the top cornerstones of music composition. Certainly, we all could just state one idea after another -each totally unrelated but interconnected within a harmonic framework and structure. However nice we make the work sound... how similar the ideas are... it's not truly going to really go anywhere -and very little (if anything) will be remembered by the listener.

So, this post will look at a few techniques that can help you get the most out of your musical ideas. Before we begin, here are some basic terms that you should know:

Motif 

A motif (or motivic unit) is a short segment of your melody -or it can be the melody itself (reference the famous fate motif from Beethoven's 5th... or the opening notes of Mozart's 40th). I've also heard motivic units called other things: kernals, seeds, pitch sets, etc. These are the building blocks of your work... Yes, that's right... that melody you spent hours crafting... isn't the actual building block. The motivic material that it comprises of are. Thus, these are things that -as composers- you should pay close attention to. 

Period

A period is your basic, microlevel musical structure. No matter your aesthetic, a period is the full sentence of your melody. A period can be broken apart into usually two distinct parts: antecedent and consequent (also referred to as question and answer). Often... both parts of the period contain the same motivic material -with different endings. You see this type of microlevel structure throughout most of the common practice period -and composers today also rely on this stuff to some degree.

Phrase

A phrase is the fuller musical statement -a complete musical thought. In the Common Practice Period -as well as some works from today- phrases conclude with a cadence. 

So, to make sense of this... 

A motif or motivic unit should be built into a period which is then expanded into a phrase. Those who write contrapuntal textures (i.e. fugues) know good and well the value of structuring material in a way that allows greater flexibility in ideas. Motivic units are the key here to making your ideas blossom.

Development

So, when you are setting to developing your ideas... there are some basic foundational techniques you can utilize:

1. Sequence: Sequences can be utilized to expand thematic material. Generally, you move within whatever harmonic framework you have setup. Think of the fate theme from Beethoven's Fifth, for instance, the sequences are quite memorable and draw the motif further. These can move up or down within whatever harmonic framework you desire. This is a great tool for building tension as well.

2. Diminution/Augmentation: Diminution is the shortening of note values while Augmentation is the lengthening of note values. So for instance, if a particular motif is in 8th notes... you can shorten the value to 16th or lengthen the value to whole notes. This is a great tool to use in delaying or drawing out your material. 

3. Displacement: Displacement can apply to rhythm or note -hence why I group it together. Rhythmic displacement occurs when the metrical stress is placed on a different note than the original musical statement. Often you'll see this in more modern musical styles -Stravinsky was a big fan of this method! Note displacement, on the other hand, is a little bit different (though similar). This is where you play with the overall contour of the motif. So... for instance... if your theme is stepwise in nature (ABC)… then you displace the steps via octave displacement making one of the steps leap up to the next note an octave higher OR down to the next note an octave lower. This type displacement is something seen in works spanning from the Baroque on up to the modern day.

4. Alteration: Alteration is when you add or remove something from your material. So... for instance... if your motif contains the notes E C# A D (random notes), then you can alter that motif by changing the note itself EC#AD --> EC#G#D. The alteration can unfold throughout the work -though, this may not help the listener grasp onto your motif. Beethoven, as an example, altered the 'Fate Motif' within the entirety of the first movement -and- also altered it to connect each movement cohesively (yes, the motif appears in all 4 movements).

5. Inversion: Motivic units -and the larger phrases that come out of them- can also be inverted. This can change the overall contour of the motif AND present a different experience for the listener. 

6. Retrograde: Retrograde is the same as backwards. Stating the motif backwards maintains a similar contour -but it can change or alter the anticipations of the material. 

7. Dismantlement: Breaking up your motivic material is a powerful technique that can result in mixed results -depending on your overall structure. Many works feature the dismantling of motivic material from the classical period all the way up to modern day. Think of this as the ultimate development of your material -and one that can have a lasting effect on those listening to your music.

So, I hope this little review of development techniques helps. If anyone has any other techniques not covered -or wants to expand on one that is covered- feel free to reply!

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Staying in the classic period (baroque to romanticism), I mean leaving out contemporary techniques, I think reharmonization has to be considered.

This is something I miss a lot in the music many people write taking those styles as models. I don't mean that Bach or Mozart would reharmonize a phrase as if they were Bill Evans, but it's not unfrequent to see a repetition of a part where, suddenly, just a new unexpected chord (from what we had heard until then in the piece) comes around. Many times is a diminished 7 chord, other times a broken cadence (is that the term in English? "cadencia rota")..., or better deceptive cadence.

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5 hours ago, Luis Hernández said:

Staying in the classic period (baroque to romanticism), I mean leaving out contemporary techniques, I think reharmonization has to be considered.

This is something I miss a lot in the music many people write taking those styles as models. I don't mean that Bach or Mozart would reharmonize a phrase as if they were Bill Evans, but it's not unfrequent to see a repetition of a part where, suddenly, just a new unexpected chord (from what we had heard until then in the piece) comes around. Many times is a diminished 7 chord, other times a broken cadence (is that the term in English? "cadencia rota")..., or better deceptive cadence.

 

Reharmonization and Textural Changes are also good techniques -regardless of compositional style. I didn't include them in the original post because I'd be too afraid some would just add a new chord while keeping their material 100% in tact -or they would apply the new chord in a way to negate its importance.

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