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I was wondering what techniques you could use in songwriting to write a song for an insane sort of character. The song idea I have in mind is a kind of frantic deranged circus song, but I need a bit more help figuring out exactly what makes a song fit for a deranged character. Dissonance that somehow sounds good? Frantic, unpredictable melodies? Maybe, maybe not. Thanks in advance!

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    The question is opinion based and open ended. You essentially ask to do the homework for you. Moreover, if you want to create art depicting a person with disability or mental illness you should better know very well what you are doing. Otherwise you are likely to reinforce harmful stereotypes. That's a sensitive topic. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 22:28
  • As an example, just last weeks Sia is being criticized for releasing video showing person with autism. The actor doesn't have autism, and the way she acted was perceived as bullying and mocking by autistic people. Possibly Sia had no bad intentions, but you can harm just with ignorance. cbc.ca/kidsnews/post/… Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 0:16
  • Schoenberg, Pierrot Lunaire Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 19:35

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You already have some good ideas. They are tried and true. The challenge when writing 'deranged' for a singer, as opposed to an instrumental, is that disjunct melodies and dissonant intervals are a lot harder to sing.

Unpredictability works, but so does repetition. Bernard Herrmann's sound track for 'Cape Fear'uses motifs, rather than chaos.

Exaggerated expressive techniques such as extreme vibrato, glissando/portamento and staccato can work.

You can try keeping the beat the same, but doubling, or halving, the speed of the melody to unsettle the listener. Or you could use metric modulation. Changing time signatures, and extreme syncopation can work, but so does a heartbeat rhythm.

Extreme, or unpredictable, dynamics are extremely effective.

You can play with texture and move from one to several simultaneous 'melodies'.

If you listen to 'Confessions of a Psychopathic Cowpoke' or 'In the Garden of the Frenzied Cortinas' by Mike Rudd and Ariel on the album 'A Strange, Fantastic Dream' you will hear hear some effective evocations of 'derangement'.

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Disclaimer: I don't have a lot of experience in composing, so take the following with a grain of salt.

You probably don't want dissonances - in my opinion, they are more about something like tragedy or danger, and not about insanity. But use all the other unusual features. Basically anything unusual. Some ideas:

  • Insanely high/low notes (if your instrument affords them)
  • Repetitive notes
  • Jumps from high to low or back
  • Not much harmony (but that maybe depends on culture)
  • Unusual instruments
  • Sound effects - experiment with combinations of digital effects in a DAW

The last two may actually be enough to make your character stand out, and be recognizable using sound alone.

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  • That's actually a really good idea, but what sound effects and instruments would you say combined the messages of "circus" and "deranged crazy guy" into one, if any? (if there's none I can probably just find individual circus and deranged instruments/sfx and put both in the song)
    – Alador
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 21:38

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