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44

You ask an enormously deep question that could (and does) comprise whole books of material. I'll try to boil down the bare essentials for right now, and I'll expand on them later. "There are only two types of chords: I's and V's" My teacher told me that Joe Pass said this, although I'm sure it's probably a misquote. The sentiment, though, is right on. ...


42

First, a key is only really a basis. You can have an F# in a piece written in C Major without having the piece "switch" keys. Second, keys are defined arbitrarily. Sure there is theory about what sounds good and that sort of thing, but at the end of the day it's just a group of notes that's just as valid as any other group of notes. This is made clear by ...


32

Music, as an art, is in the ear of the listener. As a musician, I can say there are definitely times when a song sounds "better" in one key than another. The primary reason this is so is when the key fits the "natural" range of a singer or instrument. A song may sound perfect when sung by a female alto, but as those notes sung verbatim would be at the top ...


32

A drum solo is a song without a key.


28

As a composer, you mostly end up writing for instruments that you yourself don't play. Apart from Hindemith, it is fairly impossible to maintain a high level of proficiency on every instrument - there just isn't that much time and it is not feasible. However, that does not excuse having a working knowledge of the instrument. Though it might seem silly to ...


26

There isn't one definitive answer to this question besides "Try to be Paul McCartney." That said, here are some guidelines that I hope prove helpful: Mix It Up Don't just use chord tones (meaning, notes that are in the chord you're playing at the moment) and don't just use non-chord tones. Non-chord tones will give your melody a sense of momentum and ...


26

Why the past tense? How do classical (or rather, orchestral) composers write music? How does any composer write music for instruments they don't themselves play? Although a composer doesn't necessarily need to be able to play an instrument to a high standard, they do need to understand the mechanics of the instrument, its limitations and capabilities. This ...


25

Listen to as much music as possible in as many styles as possible and force yourself to listen to music that you aren't familiar with or even don't like. You can't progress from a point of no reference. Like when you learn to speak, you learn vocabulary from practice and by emulating others. Then, after you've built up a broad vocabulary, you can start to ...


25

Since you're looking for software to input a score that is still under construction, MuseScore (found at musescore.org) would be my go-to application. It's a GNU-licensed graphical score editor that has playback and range-checking abilities. In case you later want to engrave a finished score with LaTeX-like typographic quality, LilyPond is considered to be ...


24

The convention generally follows that which we see for minor key signatures. There is not a 1 to 1 relationship of key signature to root, rather, the key signature is there to tell us what notes exist in the scale. Then, we use the music itself to figure out where the root is. If you were writing in D phrygian, for example, would you have two sharps in the ...


24

The fact that you are in A minor without G# (or F# and G#) means that you are in A natural minor. What defines a scale as minor or major, is the third of the scale, not the accidentals. If you have A as the root of your scale and the third is a C, then the scale is a minor one. There are 3 different types of minor scales: A harmonic minor (it has G#) A ...


21

AbstractDissonance raises some good points; you don't 'need' theory to write good music, in the same way that you don't need good grammatical knowledge emote an elegantly constructed sentence when speaking. In both cases however, knowledge helps. Understanding how something works pretty much always improves your ability to utilise it; this is no less true ...


21

There are some very simple ways to transform the mood of a song by slight alterations in the melody, harmony or both. A transposition of the melody to the relative minor (ex. from C major to A minor) or to the parallel minor (ex. from C major to C minor) are both very simple ways to retain the melodic material, while drastically changing the sound. ...


21

The art of Counterpoint, as studied by composers for centuries, gives exact details on how to correctly ornament any melody. The lists of ornaments cited as point 4 in the question is only a subset of the possibilities given to us by counterpoint. There are five main species of counterpoint. The treatise by Johann Joseph Fux is today the most common source ...


21

Great question - I remember when I myself was confused about this very same thing many years ago, and indeed at first, it all seems completely random. In order to answer your question, there needs to be a little background: Historically, thinking about music in terms of harmonic progression is one that has really only come to complete prominence in the ...


21

The simple answer is no. Think of it this way: Does a composer write pieces only for instruments he can play? No, he does not. He might compose pieces for instruments that he has never touched in his life. You don't have to be a virtuoso pianist to compose fast music. You have to learn how to imagine what you want to compose. If you can imagine your piece ...


20

As I'm sure you're aware, you can transpose any tune to whatever key you like. One reason to choose a certain key, is simply that it sounds good. It might be that you feel that notes of a certain pitch inherently sound pleasant on your chosen instrument. I happen to like the tone of my guitar with a capo on the 7th string, for example. Or it might be ...


20

But there are rhythms, harmonies and melodies in nature. When you walk, you establish a nice solid beat. Two beats to the bar, at its most basic level - but by adjusting your gait or the way you count, you can think of it as four beats, or three, or as many as you like. Skipping brings in different rhythms. The musical intervals that make up melodies are ...


19

In modern Western music, we use equal temperament where all keys are basically equivalent. Notes are based on 2 n/12. Using A440 as a base, you get the following: A = 440 Hz * 2 0/12 = 440 Hz B♭ = 440 Hz * 2 1/12 = ~466 Hz B = 440 Hz * 2 2/12 = ~494 Hz etc. Historically this was not the case, however. Just intonation ruled the world, where notes ...


18

Before you replace chords with 3 or 4 notes with those with 5 or 6 notes (or even more), re-harmonize a melody by applying these 2 complementary strategies recursively (i.e. each is applicable to the result of applying them, so you can do it in many passes) to chord changes: 1) replace one chord with two (duration of 2 chords in new version = duration of ...


18

Use the diatonic harmony trick of stacking notes and see what you come up with. For instance, in G, the notes of the major scale are G A B C D E F# If we stack every other note in that list (wrap to the beginning when necessary) 3 times we get a simple minor or major chord/triad: G,B,D - G Major A,C,E - A Minor B,D,F# - B Minor ...


18

A fugue is one of the most polyphonic musical pieces you can write. In a typical fugue there are 3 or 4 voices in play that are each treated independent melodies. While this is going on, you have to not only have to keep all the rules of counterpoint in mind for each voice and make sure the harmony always make sense, but you have a structure to keep in mind ...


17

There's no absolute rules as to when a composer should use one over the other - it often comes down to the tempo and feel of the music, but it is subjective. I've (for better or worse) seen Presto 3/4 pieces that go much faster than some 3/8 pieces. The big difference in terms of timing is that 3/8 is mainly used as a compound time, whereas 3/4 is most ...


17

I'd suggest the piano. While it takes many years to master, the piano is one of the easiest instruments to begin playing. Learning to play even the simplest chords or melodies on other instruments can take weeks, but a complete novice can use a keyboard. The piano also lends itself well to composition because it has a wide range and it is easy to play ...


17

C sharp major has seven sharps, D flat major has five flats. Out of the box, the latter is preferable. The former may be more appropriate when there is more material requiring "flattening" the key signature than otherwise. Now major is a rather sharp mode, so it's not quite unlikely. For example, a "proper" fully diminuished chord in C sharp features C-...


16

It is a Major triad built on the lowered 2nd scale degree. It's usually in first inversion, hence the "6th" part of the name. So if I'm in C-minor, the Neapolitan 6th (sometimes analyzed as N6 or bII6) would be a Db-major triad, probably with the F in the bass. They are chromatic harmonies, and their primary function is to go to V. EDITED TO ADD: There is a ...


16

The list above is a great start. I'll add a few names below, but first let me speak to the technical question. There are a few basic techniques that characterize so-called minimalism in music. Not every minimalist or post-minimalist uses all these, and a number of composers who used to be called minimalists have changed style dramatically over the years, but ...


15

It sounds like you're specifically referring to marches written for military band. The idiom was largely defined by John Philip Sousa, who wrote 136 marches and conducted the U.S. Marine Band for a number of years in the late 19th century. Military marches are typically in 2/4 time and are driven by traditional marching snare drum beats. This is a big part ...


15

The Super Mario theme song is characterized by mode mixture and syncopated sixteenth note rhythms alternating with eighth note triplets. Each note duration is very short, and each voice has a different rhythm. When the voices overlap, you hear the combination of all of the rhythms into a more constant stream of impulses. Each impulse has a different ...


15

I'm quite used to it by now, my point being that at one point, you can sort of feel this rhythm patterns. However, when you start a new time signature, it's good to break the bar up in smaller pieces. For instance, you can count a 7/8 as 2 times 2 and 1 time 3. Just tap your foot on the 1 when counting in your head the following pattern: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3. ...



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