I am having some concern over whether it is appropriate or not to apply accentuation to every part of the song, apart from of course the drums, It's innately intuitive that these beats should be accentuated to give a sense of dynamic rhythm.

The ambiguity for me, though, is when it comes to everything else, basically the parts of a song which contributes a harmony to the sound (as opposed to the percussiveness of the drums), so, primarily, the bass and lead.

Here is a visual sample of an attempt to apply accentuation to the lead:

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I've tried to go with the standard Sw, Smw, Swmw type pattern, but i've also tweaked this pattern where I think it may be more appropriate. Though, to be honest, am really not sure if the overall the context of the song actually benefits from this. I've tried other variants, as well as just 'going with the flow', where I ditch the theory entirely and apply what ever accent I wish to go for. None of these patterns seem to make it sound significantly better however. I think it might sound slightly better with the standard accentuation taught in theory, but I think that's just because I know I may applying the 'correct' accentuation, where, when applying a blind test to myself, sometimes I cannot tell the difference at all.

Simultaneously however, I am very much attracted to the idea of dynamic rhythm, like the rolling of the tide, or the rotation of the earth, but acoustically. This works so well with the drums, so am wondering, in your personal experience, do you think it's better to just focus on the relative volume between the different parts, or is it worth investing the time to vary the notes within a specific instrument itself.


A complicated proposition to be sure: you are now wrestling with: What I've been taught doesn't fit for what I want to do. This is normal for everyone who writes music.

Your patterns of articulation won't make any sense if they don't complement the way the phrase is written. The whole point of articulation is to articulate (see: "express") the line that you've written. Think about what you've written. Think about which notes should be emphasized. Are you hearing (imagining) the notes go "doo DAH doo DAH" or "DOO dah DOO dah"? Your articulations should better define the music you hear in your head, NOT the other way around.

Here is a good exercise for practicing how to articulate your phrases:

  • MY cat went to the store.

  • My CAT went to the store.

  • My cat WENT to the store.

  • My cat went TO the store.

  • My cat went to THE store.

  • My cat went to the STORE.

Reach each sentence out loud and emphasize the bold word. Each time, the meaning of the sentence changes very slightly. For example, "my" cat, instead of someone else's cat.

I think that live sequencing instruments is definitely an option, however, I wouldn't say it's the only option. I very, VERY often sing parts that I'm writing. Singing a musical line shows me how I'm thinking about it and how I'm hearing it. After I sing I change the written music according to the sounds I'm hearing, NOT the other way around.

Alternatively, you could play the parts on a non-sequencing live instrument (guitar / piano) and do the same thing: analyze how you're playing and adjust the notation accordingly. If you find you're getting louder in a section, then change the channel volume appropriately for that section.

Not all notes are equally important. Ask yourself, "What are the most important notes in my phrase?" You should always be aiming for a target. Working toward a target will give your music forward motion, and it'll make it easier for your to shape your phrases since you'll have a better idea of what's important or not.

If you cannot play any instruments, learn one. Writing music on the computer is okay, but it is a vacuum if you have no real-world experience.

  • Hello Jimusicnotes, thanks very much for your answer. I think you raise a very good point when it comes to emphasis, in that you wouldn't say, want to accent the 'the', over a keyword like 'love', 'hate', or 'cat', (obviously, whenever the word cat is found within a lyrical line, that will always take presidency :D). I also very much appreciate your tip on singing the words, and I do indeed find myself applying accentuation without even trying, as singing comes so innately to all of us. Anyway, thanks again! – user108262 Jul 16 '15 at 2:01

Strong opinions ahead...

Almost1 all *ahem* proper instruments will inevitably introduce some dynamic variations, because the player will (deliberately or involuntarily) hit each note a bit differently. And a good musician will intuitively get this “right”, whatever that means exactly (there will be more than one right way).

Surpressing this natural variation should IMO be considered a special effect. Do it if you want to sound robotic / industrial. Otherwise, track the part on a real instrument or MIDI keyboard, and keep the dynamics as recorded.

Setting the dynamic level of each note manually, OTOH, will either imitate a human response (more or less convincingly – it is very laborious), or sound even weirder/mechanical than a completely flat dynamic level.

tl;dr: you should almost always apply accentuation, but do it “live”.

1Even organ, harpsichord and synthesizers without velo – while these don't allow per-note dynamic variations, they still allow timing variations, which are perhaps even more important.

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