Developing longer pieces

Discussion in 'Composition, Orchestration & Technique' started by borisb2, Mar 23, 2019.

  1. borisb2

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    i recently looked through my folders and found a surprisingly amount of undeveloped ideas (4 bars, 8 bars), mostly piano based, that have some interesting melodies or progressions here and there, so worth to bring it to the next level at least.

    But it seems I got stuck too often in playing and finessing the idea on piano - which also often results that the piece/sketch became a piano piece eventually (because it evolved on piano into more than just melody + chords, but more themes played idiomatically on piano.

    So what I would like to know, how do you guys in this case develop a rough idea into a more developed structure (either still sketch or final piece)?

    - do you take the material from these „8 bars“ and start puzzleing it in to a longer piece? Still on piano? Still without grid?
    - do you press everything in to a grid before starting to arrange?
    - do you go to orchestration while developing the material? Without grid?
    - do you go to paper for development?

    Of course it depends on the style of music.. for piano style music I always have the piano as the anchor / root for the structure - so developing these pieces was never an issue. But complex orchestral stuff I find harder to tackle structure-wise sitting in front of DAW.

    Thanks for your thoughts
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
    sIR dORT likes this.
  2. BenG

    BenG Senior Member

    Structure will help a lot here!

    Using something like Sentences/Periods for creating themes and Sonata form for composing pieces goes a surprising long way and should help you really develop your basic ideas into much longer works. Always using different/complex harmonic progesssions to keep things interesting and motivic development to keep things tied together!
    ptram likes this.
  3. agarner32

    agarner32 Active Member

    Nov 7, 2015
    I would highly recommend checking out Alain Mayrand’s courses ( Start with his courses on writing memorable melodies and orchestrating the line. All the questions you have in your post will be addressed. You could also just study scores but Alain will save you time because his teaching is so organized.
    d.healey likes this.
  4. Eduardo Lopez

    Eduardo Lopez New Member

    Feb 7, 2018
    @Leon Willett is your guy for this answer :D

    I really struggled with the same things for years and he really has found all the answers to all this questions and more, like writer´s block, how to develop harmonically/motivically in a more "modern" style, all your orchestration questions, etc... would 100% recommend a mentorship/lessons with him.
    Leon Willett and ed buller like this.
  5. OP

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    I have 2 of his "orchestrating the line" courses. They are absolutely wonderful, indeed - but focusing on orchestrating, not linear development. I will have a look at the memorable melody course though.

    I guess, my main focus/goal is to "leave" the idiomatic piano-playing while still using the piano for composing. Since I am a piano-player most pieces - while maybe being complex, chromatic and what not - sound like a piano piece, especially when I am refining too long. I still have to find my way of abstracting and translating into orchestral world as early as possible
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
  6. ed buller

    ed buller Senior Member

    Totally agree. Fantastic teacher

  7. shawnsingh

    shawnsingh Active Member

    Jun 2, 2018
    Ok a lot of thoughts...

    Are you using an acoustic piano / VST? I find it very helpful to play directly on orchestral VST instruments to prototype ideas instead, even if it sounds dumb, it helps profoundly to imagine an orchestral piece.

    Also, using only one hand, one finger, using the left hand for melodic brainstorming, using a secondary instrument instead of your primary one - Or, if you have the stomach for it, even using only mouse and keyboard on a midi piano roll editor - these kind of tactics could help prevent the "piano playing" mentality from dominating your creative process.

    Also it would probably help to keep various orchestral idioms fresh in mind - i.e. ideas about how you can use different instruments and various "classic orchestral moments in history". Having that stuff in your mind can help counteract the piano-style tendencies a piano player brain might fall into.

    as for longer pieces in general, personally I've found that you just have to consume more of your ideas in one piece and make them interplay and gotta trust that ideas are plenty so you don't need to save your masterpiece sketches all for separate songs. Also it takes a leap of faith to "switch" from one idea to the next and believe that it flows well together... But at least for myself I've found that taking that leap usually ends up working out. It's one of those things that is colored by self perception bias - your own phrase transitions might seem dumb while great compositions have such natural transitions between ideas. There is the subtle art of smoothing over those transitions, which can improve over time. But the alternate can be a debilitating mental block, when people get stuck trying to extend only one idea, and what they really need are just to bring in more separate ideas.

    And similarly, I feel like in a lot of great compositions, there's a surprising amount of "filler material" in longer compositions. That stuff which develops, but is only remotely related to main themes, etc. That doesn't mean it's just junk to fill the time between glorious themes, but rather that you can feel more liberated about trying to solve "where does a piece go from here" or "how can I build on this". Don't need to be so deeply tied down by the 8-bar brilliant theme - it can still shine even if it's only 20% of the final piece, and actually having it be present too much could dilute it's brilliance anyway.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2019
    Hywel likes this.
  8. OP

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    These are great thoughts. Didnt check the existing skteches for the possibility of combining yet. .. sometimes one doesnt see the forest for the trees :P
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2019
  9. ed buller

    ed buller Senior Member

    "What I have tried to do, in many films that I’ve done, is to try to pretty
    much work the ending out, so that I know where the musical material is
    going to “land” and develop and then decompose it and take it apart, so to
    speak, so that individual strands of a more mature thing can be exposed
    singly, and then collect together in the end of the film."

    John Williams 1999

    Best Ed
  10. D Halgren

    D Halgren Senior Member

    May 6, 2017
    Portland, OR
    Cool, that is a standard story telling philosophy as well!
  11. Ned Bouhalassa

    Ned Bouhalassa Senior Member

    Sep 30, 2004
    The best way is to study with a teacher, take classes. Some lessons, ideas shared by profs and fellow students have stayed with me for 30 years.
  12. OP

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    thats pretty much what Mike Verta was mentoring as well: save the full idea to the end and build to it .. good advice
    d.healey likes this.
  13. OP

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    and there's another thing that lets me derail too often: I did music full-time many years ago - but in the dance/pop-industry, working together with DJs etc. .. many years later I am coming back to music - but this time more orchestral work (musical background was always piano / classic) .. but so far I find it hard to not fall back into old habits (playing and looping in 4bar blocks, moving the lego-pieces around for developing a track - which mostly results in a more pop-based arrangement .. that may work for Hans Zimmer style music (like inception), but it doesnt for complex movements .. on the other hand I maybe just over-complicating things (reading this :) )

    thanks for all the good advice so far
    MartinH. likes this.
  14. JMJ33101

    JMJ33101 Member

    Aug 24, 2018
    For me, I try to write music for a certain emotion or story. It’s a foundation for basically any piece of music. Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky is a good example. The story is one that has some very dark and intense parts, but it has the romantic part of it because the piece was based on the story.
  15. jmauz

    jmauz Member

    The most important book of my compositional career.
    borisb2 likes this.
  16. JMJ33101

    JMJ33101 Member

    Aug 24, 2018
    You could also try having your musical ideas, and have for example the strings play the melody, and then have the woodwinds play a variation of the melody. Then have a another melody or “sentence” played by a section of the strings. So maybe for the 1st melody the Violins play and then the 2nd time the melody is played, the Cellos play the sentence.
  17. Pantonal

    Pantonal Member

    Nov 9, 2017
    I'd like to add a counterpoint to this. While the advice given is good it negates the effect of learning about the capabilities of your materials as you use them. When writing I find lots of ideas on how the themes work and so when I'm getting ready to write the end I feel better able to craft a glorious climax and subsequent ending. I rarely have my best ideas early on. For me composing is an exercise in exploration where I can't wait to see how it ends, but I have to.
  18. Leon Willett

    Leon Willett Active Member

    Apr 14, 2005
    Late to the party! I see I was mentioned above but never got an alert, not sure why!

    The structure of a piece of music only really has 2 important factors.

    1) The subjects -- the musical heroes of your piece


    2) The harmonic journey

    A subject is a musical idea (usually a melodic idea -- but it doesn't have to be) that you would recognise if it came back later. Subjects are exactly analogous to characters in a movie... If you would recognise the idea if it came back later, it's a subject. You don't necessarily have to plan a subject: sometimes they just arise in your piece naturally.

    The harmonic journey of your piece involves waves of harmonic traveling, where you "travel" from a chord that feels like home, to somewhere else... and perhaps back (though you don't have to), or perhaps to a "new home" chord. Each chord that has a home-like feel to it that you hit during your piece marks the begining of the next wave -- the next harmonic adventure of the piece.

    To develop your piece of music means two things:
    1) to have ever bigger and deeper waves (that travel further from home each time, or stay away from home for longer),
    2) and to develop your subjects and have them gently evolve over time, the way characters evolve in a movie.​

    That's it.

    What music is, at its core, is:

    subjects that go on an adventure through your harmonic waves

    There are no "sections" (A, B, C, bla bla bla).

    This is the true meaning of "Form"!

    Consider what subject or subjects you have. And consider your harmonic waves.
  19. ed buller

    ed buller Senior Member

  20. OP

    borisb2 Member

    Sep 6, 2018
    well .. I did have a second look on alains courses. While I think these are one of the best available, and I really love the way he teaches, he still never leaves the 4 bars cycle or talks about longer forms. The topics in all courses are mostly about harmonics, orchestration and voice leading, less about form.

    My focus is mainly on 2 things at the moment:
    1. finding the best tools to stretch ideas into a longer piece (development of motifs, combining motifs), addressing binary or ternary form etc.
    2. finding the best workflow of when to move from piano to DAW, when to just play/jam without metric grid or click, when to move to grid for arranging / development

    to 1: transcribing and practise - so far I find artofcomposing the best course for classical form (that can be applied to modern scores as well)
    to 2: try and error - coming from pop-production click, looping and thinking in clear units was everything for us .. I am still in the process of letting go ..didnt Hans Zimmer come from pop-background as well? :P .. so far the decision of when to "translate" into cubase world slows me down ..
    MartinH. and Leon Willett like this.

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