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I seem to have the absolute worst time writing transitions. Any musical project that I start that has even a semblance of requiring a transition ends up taking months, trying dozens of combinations of fragments to glue 2 ideas together. Usually what ends up happening is the piece is abandoned.

I try many different types of transitions - silence, introducing material slowly, modulation, voice leading, crescendos, 1 bar fills, 2 bar fills, 4 bar fills, exposition, transient material. But it all just sounds like crap, it sticks out in my ears like a sore thumb, and ruins the musical flow.

I've tried distancing myself, coming back weeks, or months later with fresh eyes and ears, but 20 minutes later and I'm back exactly where I started.

I feel like I've exhausted all my possibilities and I'm not getting any better. Even when analyzing other composers transitions in score, I can clearly see some of the inner workings of how they did this, but when I try to take these ideas for myself, the execution is poor, and the music is at a standstill because of a really jarring piece of material.

Is there anything else I can explore (reading, examples, etc) that will help me improve? I feel as though I have no intuition in this black art, and this is the biggest thing holding me back from completing any music.

  • Take a piece by a respected composer. Observe how they transition between themes. Does it sound good? Can you find any recurring patterns? What if you try something similar? Does it stick in your ears like a sore thumb? What's different between your application of the method and the master's? Can you find patters? Rinse and repeat. – Kilian Foth Oct 17 '18 at 6:27
  • @Kilian Foth - Looks like the OP has already "[tried] something similar" and it still "[sticks] in [his/her] ears like a sore thumb". See "Even when analyzing other composers transitions in score, I can clearly see some of the inner workings of how they did this, but when I try to take these ideas for myself, the execution is poor, and the music is at a standstill because of a really jarring piece of material." Emphasize "What's different between your application of the method and the master's?", although it's possible that the OP cannot find any. – Dekkadeci Oct 17 '18 at 15:01
  • That's my problem, on the surface it looks like I did exactly as they did, but on playback it sounds horrible. It's almost as if you need a human to make it come alive, because a human has intuitions on how to slow up/down and crescendo in a way that makes it seem whole. If I try to play what I want, it doesn't follow what I've written, so I don't know how to express it. – Igneous01 Oct 18 '18 at 20:46
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Kilian's comment is right on the money, but I thought I'd share some more specific ideas:

  1. Experiment between what we call depending and independent transitions. A dependent transition uses prior material to create the transition (i.e., it depends on prior material), whereas an independent transition uses only new material. Try writing with both types to get some ideas of what works best for you, or of what you need to work on in the future.
  2. As you're writing dependent transitions, experiment with what material you're bringing back. Try it with something large, like a two-measure melodic/motivic snippet that you can transform. But also try it with something impossibly small, like an E/G harmonic dyad. Experiment with how much you can flesh out of this tiniest of dependent material.
  3. Try what my old composition professor always said: just write out a string of 12 random pitches, using each pitch exactly once. Play it through a couple times, find your favorite part of the string, and then use that little segment as a kernel of an idea that you'll then develop.

Lastly, make sure you're not over-thinking this. It's possible that, in your own mind, you listen to your work and think "well, here comes the transition, I really suck at writing these" and then you hate the transition. Maybe play some music for others (or share it in our chat!) to see what others think. It's always possible that you are your own worst critic and are overlooking the positive qualities of the transitions you've written.

  • Important also to remember to start with the most basic question: Do I even need a transition? Separate thought: transitions aren’t meant to be listened to. – jjmusicnotes Oct 18 '18 at 16:50
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Not drawing from experience, but from Sting/Gordon Sumner. Sorry, I can't remember where I read/heard it first. Let someone else play it! Sting mentioned that he doesn't feel like his music is real, unless he hears it being played by someone else.

Drawing from my own experience, it helps me to record the ideas and listen later to it -- sometimes very much later (think: years, up to decades). Sometimes ideas stick and you have the urge to come back to them, sometimes they are just lost. And I often permute ideas when I write songs. I write some text and then develop a musical idea, which then seems to fit much better to some other text, which might lead to something else... etc.

And apart from that, just relax. Unless you have some deadlines or some other outside pressure, there is no external quality meter. What worked for me: when I really stopped worrying about writing, I started to write for real. (Please note: I don't care if it will never be heard or played by anybody.)

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