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Beside playing drums I'm toying with software to create music. The problem is when I need to advance further. I may have some good, let's say "riffs" (or pieces, or melodies, or ideas), and I'm pretty harsh with everything I create (until I'm really proud out it, it's crap to me), but have no idea how to make it longer. I have lots of "samples", short melodies, but I just can't make them last longer.

Is there any way to make creating music little easier? Some music theory stuff? And how to connect pieces, how to extend existing one? That are things I'm really interested in.

I would be very grateful for any answer., I love both music and creating it, but the lack of ability to "continue" is getting me down.

And I know that there was thread for composing, but it was aimed for guitar, and I'm seeking more general tips.

  • See also music.stackexchange.com/questions/7165/… - my question is posdibly a dup of this.. – naught101 Sep 16 '12 at 1:57
  • Brainstorming. Just sit there and jam in your head with what you already have, ideas will come eventually. – Anthony Oct 7 '13 at 19:55
  • If you find that you're struggling to come up with transition material, that in itself can be a thing to work on. Take two segments that you think could be in the same song, and try to find many different ways to connect them. Identifying what it is that you have difficulty with is the first step towards improvement. You can give yourself exercises for very specific tasks without the pressure of creating entire pieces right away. Find short-term goals to work towards. – Remy Feb 18 '18 at 20:01
27

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 talk like your own self. The same is true with composing (or playing for that matter).

Technically speaking, theory certainly won't hurt. If you learn proven and accepted ways of doing things "right", then you can be more confident when you break those theory "rules". But remember, it is all still theory. You need to let your own ear guide you through.

Also, don't spend all your time writing at the computer if you can help it. A computer is a great tool and can certainly ease a lot of pain when writing, but it is just a tool. The music still comes from you. Use a pencil and paper and you'll see the difference. They both have their places.

Finally, for some practice, try to write every single day, even when it feels difficult. If you can only write a couple of bars in a day, then that's still better than nothing. If you need some structure around that, try just writing melodies and don't pay attention to key or even a time signature. Just work on melody. If you do that and practice it, you'll start to learn to incorporate that into your compositions in a practical way. Melody is king.

10

I write rock music, but I also write classical music. One set of techniques that classical composers use to create better melodies also allows you to start with a simple idea and create something much larger. I use these techniques to write rock music. This set of techniques is called motive development.

This is a long list, but you can chose just a couple to begin with. Once you've mastered those, you can learn a few more and so on.

An example of motive development would be Beethoven's fifth. The famous, da, da, da, dum at the beginning is called a motive. It's like the classical music version of a riff. Beethoven only had four notes in that motive, yet according to the third link at the bottom, he wrote 506 measures by developing that four note motive. So if you want "study with a master of motive development", check out Beethoven's music.

You didn't say if you read music. If not, don't worry. You can still use them.

The jargon may make this sound complicated, but it is just a list of ways to modify a motive, by rearranging the notes in various ways kind of like a puzzle. After you get familiar with a few of these, you probably come up with a few of your own.

Motive Development

First you write a motive. It's just a short group of notes you think sound good.

Then you will repeat that motive after it has been changed by one or more of these techniques. Then you change it another way and repeat it again. You can write a lot of music this way. Beethoven was a master of this.

  1. The first technique is just plain old repetition. You just repeat the motive.

  2. The next one is called sequence. You repeat it but you have shifted it higher or lower in pitch. This is how Beethoven wrote that opening theme to that movement. He moved those four notes up and down to create most of that music.

  3. Interval change An interval is the distance between two notes. C to D is an interval of a whole step. When you change it to go from C to Db, you have contracted the interval to a half step. If you go from C to Eb, you have expanded the interval to a minor third.

    -Interval change is where you repeat the motive but change the distance between notes in one or more places in the motive. If Beethoven had followed da da da dum with da da da doo, it would be interval change.

  4. The next one is called rhythm change. When you repeat it, you change the rhythm.

  5. The next one is called fragmentation. It is where you repeat just a part of the motive. You could follow that with a different piece of the motive. If your motive is long enough, you can create a melody using just this technique alone.

  6. Next is extension. This is where you add some new material (a new set of notes) before the last note of the motive when you repeat it.

  7. Compression is where you remove notes from the middle of the sequence.

  8. Expansion is where you add some new material (a new set of notes) after the last note of the motive when you repeat it.

  9. Inversion is where you flip your motive upside down. Where the motive goes up in pitch, the inversion goes down in pitch and vice versa. This is good for a call in response. The "response" (the inversion) is similar enough to the original motive to sound like a response to the "call" of the motive.

  10. Introversion is where you break the motive into fragments that make musical sense unto themselves and you change the order of the fragments to create the introverted motive.

  11. Diminution is where you shorten all of the note values. Half notes become quarter notes. Quarter notes become eights and so on. The modified motive is twice as fast.

  12. Augmentation is where you lengthen all of the note values. Half notes become whole notes. Quarter notes become half notes and so on. The modified motive is twice as slow.

  13. Ornamentation is harder to explain. You keep the same basic motive, but add fancy devices called ornaments to it. It could be as simple as adding extra notes between the notes of the motive to fancier things like trills and turns. For your purposes, just think of it as dressing up the motive to make it fancier.

  14. The final technique I have for your is thinning. This is where you eliminate notes. Beethoven does this in the first theme where he reduces da, da, da, dum to single notes at the end of the theme. You can eliminate any number of notes.

You can combine these. You can do two or more of these when you repeat your motive the first time. For example, you could repeat a fragment at a higher pitch with a slightly different rhythm.

When you have found the right combination, it will sound right. It works. It will sound organic, like it belongs with the motive.

For me it's inspiring when this happens. My process is to flounder around trying things out, but nothing inspires me. Then a day or two later something gels and then I am glad I learned these techniques.

If you learn these techniques, you will start hear them in all kinds music. A lot of songwriters do these things intuitively.

I wish you luck with your songwriting.

Further study/Sources

If you want to know more about motive development, check out these links:

These two links are the ones I use to remind me what the techniques are and are my source for this list:

http://jkornfeld.net/motive_development_1.pdf

http://jkornfeld.net/motive_development_2.pdf

Here is one I found that uses Beethoven's fifth as the example:

http://tobyrush.com/theorypages/pdf/0210motivicdevelopment.pdf

7

In addition to tptcat's nice answer:
Besides just listening to music you could try and copy music for yourself -- record it or write it down. This will force you to observe all the details of the music you are listening to. And when you've copied a song (as best you can), think about what riffs, pieces, melodies, or ideas there are (that you could have made) and how the songmaker extended these or connected them together. This might give you ideas to build on and develop for your own material.

  • 1
    @Dreat: You could try to search for sources like this. Perhaps that one's not your cup of tea, but with some clever searching you might find other idea spurring sites or sources. – Ulf Åkerstedt Aug 19 '12 at 21:44
  • Just to add a little detail: "Copying music" is technically coined "transcription". Transcription is a great tool for a musician and should certainly be valued highly. – Saebekassebil Aug 21 '12 at 10:48
5

Harmony is king, learn to write music 'improvising', 'rehearsing' on a real instrument.

contrary to @tptcat I don't write music on paper. And I don't think it can be easy for a drummer that don't play a multi-tonal instrument (strings or keys).

Harmony is the fact of putting several notes together. For example, managing a bass line and one line of melody, is already harmony. The bread and butter of many western tunes.

My favourites instruments for composition are the guitar and the piano or synth. Though it takes years to master them, it happens quickly that one can play simple pieces on them very fast. Playing a bass line and a melody line for example ( 2 notes progression).

But best is to try 3 notes progression, so as to instinctively learn and feel in the guts the movements between the modes, basically the circle of the fifth, that gives (given an start point, let's say a C Major) the 5 other possible chords you could play next step almost blindly and that will always sound good (Am, GM, Em, FM, Dm)... though sometimes not enough exotic or surprising ;-)

Then you could interest yourself in all the modes, Major, Minor of course, but also Ionian, Dorian, etc... that could show you paths for making melodies.

I think that before imagining music in your head (that's what writing with pencil and paper means, and means years of training for me), you have to feel music in your fingers, just like you play drums.

On the other side: @tptcat's argument to listen to any sorts of music to improve the hear... yeah, that's a really good advice. +1.

2

Try to sing one of your favourite songs out of key. Then sing it in key. Ask yourself - what makes it work. Change a few bars of your favorite song and see what you get. Dont worry if you destroy it in the process. Just add on a few bars of your own and keep going. Try to learn how to improvise? Ask yourself what works for you (not me)? Try this exercise even if you do not feel like doing it (everyday).

  • Nice tip about singing out of key. Another might be to re-write it in a different mode. Could get some interesting results! – naught101 Sep 16 '12 at 7:34
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I believe compositions are generated out of the experiences of one's life. Live you life to the fullest, rest will come chasing you. Let your feeling guide you for a while you will see the difference.

Importantly always appreciate your composition if it comes out of your life experiences and the feeling that came within you going through that.

Finally, Keep Practising!

  • 1
    as Paul McCartney said "Remember to let it into your heart, then you can start to make it better..." – Stephane Rolland Aug 21 '12 at 9:36
  • 3
    Yes, but how do you translate that into music? It's not as simple as "I'm happy, I'll write in a major key!" – naught101 Sep 16 '12 at 7:39
2

Another potentially helpful way to compose:

Take a look at different forms that are used in classical music, and use those as a guide for your own music. For example, take ternary form: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_form where the pattern is A-B-A.

Create an interesting melody A, then maybe perform a key change to a new melody B, then come back to A with some extra stuff added. Put those melodies together one after another, and you have a piece of music with some interesting development. Or you could try binary form, 32-bar form, etc etc.

More information on different types of forms here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_form

Note: Take the above with a grain of salt. I'm just beginning to compose myself.

1

Well, I'm guessing you are referring to songs with a melodic line, and not drum solos. Therefore, it would be much easier for you, I think, to write down what you are working on if you have a pitched instrument on hand. (I play drums but haven't ever written a song on them. Guitar, piano, and French horn have lead me to some interesting ideas though.) Software such as MuseScore, Finale, and Sibelius are a definite help when writing songs (at least for me) for many reasons. Sorry if this isn't helpful...

And don't worry if you get songwriter's block; I'm actually just coming out of a bout of that and it's pretty exciting, actually. Just don't give up!

1

Well one way to make a longer tune would be to "string together" some of those short melodies you have. Some theory would help a lot in that regard, because you might need to do some transposition and/or modulation, if you want the whole thing in the same key or you want to do some key changes.

If you want to be able to conjure some music out of thin air, one way to simplify the process is to establish a bunch of parameters, within which you can play around until you come up with something. Settle on a key, decide if you want minor or major, maybe pick a mode, decide on a time signature... you're a drummer so now take advantage of that fact; make up some simple pattern in the time signature you chose, then write down the notes. You can use that as the base for the melody, just using the timing of those notes, and the silences; then assign a real note to each drum hit. You may like what you hear or not, but now you have a starting point, you can fiddle with that melodic pattern until you like it or start again from scratch...

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