Creating Contrast by Changing Your Compositional Process

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Whether you write folk songs, rock songs, jazz, jazz/rock fusion, progressive rock, or compose chamber music most musical forms make use of the idea of contrasting sections.

While the idea I’m going to talk about in this blog has to do with writing music the concept works in other forms of creativity (painting, dance, cooking, gardening, etc…) .

I’m going to focus on the most basic of musical forms – the 3 part “Song Form”. Way over 90% of all popular music uses this form or a variant. The concept does translate into more complicated forms as well. I’ve chosen this form as it demonstrates the idea in a simpler context.

First I’m going to give a quick description of Song Form.

Song form is recognizable in music we hear every day. It is everywhere. It is annotated as:

ABA or AABA or ABAB

Where A is typically referred to as the “verse” and B is referred to the “chorus” or “bridge”.

A driving force that makes this form successful is the contrast between the A and the B sections. This contrast can take many forms. It will usually go to a different chord center, the arrangement will change, may include harmony vocals, or more dense orchestration.

But most importantly the melody and/or harmony will change its character.

One of the most important songwriting teams of the 20th century was John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They used their own differences to their advantage. While later in the Beatles carrier they would write complete songs that were obviously written by one or the other. But early on it is pretty obvious who wrote what part of a given song. They had a pact to publish everything as a Lennon and McCartney song regardless of who wrote what so the credits reflect that.

An easy example and one that meets our needs for this discussion is “We Can Work It Out”.

The A them is Paul:

Try to see it my way

Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?

While you see it your way

Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone

We can work it out

We can work it out

The B theme is John:

Life is very short, and there’s no time

For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought that it’s a crime

So I will ask you once again

Obvious contrast in the language and the sentiment. Also the rhythm of the lyric is very different. The A them bounces along and the B them is very choppy rhythmically.

When you listen to the music it changes drastically as well. The A theme accentuates major chords and the B theme goes to a minor sound and even goes so far as to alternate 4/4 time and 3/4 time.

This works out great. You take two very different people and have them alternate on A and B themes and you automatically get contrast. So while most of us don’t have a childhood friend as talented as John Lennon we have to find another way to create that contrast.

One way to create a similar situation is for you to change your compositional method. So what do I mean by that? What is a compositional method anyway? You very well might have not given it much thought. Probably you write your music the way you write it and have developed a pattern that works for you. What I challenge you to do is to try something new and see where it leads you. Changing up the way you write works great for the idea of creating contrasting sections as well as opening and widening the musical language that you have at your fingertips when you write. It also is great when you are just “stuck” and aren’t liking what you are coming up with. It is also a lot of fun.

A very simple example of what you can change comes from probably the most asked interview question of songwriters – “What do you write first? Lyrics or music? The most common answer is, “It depends.” Most people do one or the other most often and some actually kind of write both at the same time. You’re most likely going to think I’m a Beatles freak because I’m going to use another example from Paul McCartney. The idea of “scratch” lyrics is something that he used a lot. The opening couplet from his song “Yesterday” was:

“Scrambled eggs

Oh my darling how I love your legs”

So he often uses scratch lyrics to focus on writing the melody first.

Here is something for you to try. It is easy and will automatically create a contrast between the A section and the B section of a song.

Write the A theme by writing the music first and then going back and writing words to the melody you already have written.

Then for the B theme write lyrics first. Just with pen and paper. No instrument or even thinking about melody. Then go back and write the music for the B theme.

A variant would be to write melody with no instrument for the A theme then go back and harmonize it.

Then for the B theme write a chord progression and then go back and write a melody over the chord progression.

I play several instruments – trumpet, piano, and guitar, and I’ll sing if no one else will. So I have found that for writing melodies I write melodies with a very different character if I change my compositional method with these options:

Write on the trumpet.

Write on the piano.

Write on the guitar.

Write in my head singing the melody.

Write with pencil and paper with no instrument.

Also I write very different chord progressions with these options:

Write on the guitar.

Write on the piano.

Write with pencil and paper with no instrument.

So when I compose I’m always switching around which method I use to write – melody first, harmony first, kind of mushed together, and altering which instrument I use or if I choose to just sit with pencil and paper.

These ideas will help open up new kinds of melodies and chord progressions and help you create contrast between sections of a piece or between different pieces. I hope you find this general idea useful.

Give this idea a try and let me know what happens. If you come up with new variations of this idea please let me know.

Thanks for reading my blog and let’s all go out and make some music.

Art Davis

Art’s Music Table

View past blog posts at Art’s Music Table:

https://arthurddavis.wordpress.com

Contact me directly:

ArthurDDavis@hotmail.com

Visit my YouTube Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/MrArtddavis/

Visit me on SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/art-davis

Future Blog Topics:

Recording: Complementary EQ

Recording: Art’s Music Table Rig Rundown – Why I Chose The Equipment I Use

Composition: Add Variety To Your Chord Progressions Part II – Mapping Functions To Modes

Composition: Add Variety To Your Chord Progressions Part III – Using Approaching Chords

Composition: Add Variety To Your Chord Progressions Part IV – Chords as a Sonority – Stepping Away From Functional Harmony

Guitar: Epiphone Worn G-400 – Edition of the 1962 SG

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Art Davis

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Art Davis is a composer, keyboardist, and guitarist living in the Texas Hill Country just outside of Austin. While his music is rooted in Folk and Classical music, it is his incorporation of elements from Post-Minimal Composition, Jazz, and Celtic/English/Appalachian folk traditions that gives his sound unique and broad appeal. Fans describe Art Davis as Bruce Cockburn meets Phillip Glass meets Bill Frisell. His music is meditative, with strong melodies, the hypnotic cross-rhythms of world music, and an individual sense of harmony melding jazz with simpler folk, and ethnic influences.

Art comes from a long lineage of musicians and composers. His grandfather was a composer of concert band and orchestral music. Art began playing trumpet professionally at the age of 16 in his father’s Jazz Big Band, The Art Davis Orchestra. In many ways Art’s current music projects are a continuation of that lineage. While studying Music Composition at NTSU Art’s love of classical composition, folk, jazz, and ethnic music was a natural response to the vibrant music scene at the music school.

Art is currently in his studio studying acoustic guitar, composing, and researching new folk material for his new CD. “Sea Glass” will be released later this year. Keep an eye out for a free mp3 track, “Moontower Overture” to be released soon.

 

Visit Art at:

https://arthurddavis.wordpress.com

Contact me directly:

ArthurDDavis@hotmail.com

Visit me on SoundCloud:

https://soundcloud.com/art-davis

Visit my YouTube Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/MrArtddavis/

 

 

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