Part writing or the importance of not being lazy – complete with fancy pictures and sound

OP
muk

muk

Senior Member
Here is a real-world example that is a bit puzzling to me. Just for sketching, Trevor Morris used an ensemble patch in this example (which is the equivalent to the ensemble patch audio example in the opening post - if sounding much better here):


He then proceeded to playing in individual lines (equivalent to the 'theme parts played individually' example):


As far as I can tell this is the final mockup version of the track, now with brass, choir, and percussion added:


What puzzles me about this is that the part-writing is rather sketchy, and to me that's clearly audible. Am I the only one bothered by this? I reckon that this piece was recorded with live players later on. It's possible that they changed some of the voice leading for the recording. Still, the chord progressions in this example don't sound good to my ears because of the part writing. But maybe that's just me. Or can you make out a reason why he might be using that particular voice leading here?
 

willie45

Member
There's great feedback already. What I'd be genuinely interested to hear is what people who haven't studied part writing yet make of the opening post. Do you hear the difference between the tracks? And do you have a preference between them? Most of all I hoped to reach people who don't know all about part writing yet, and tried to give a short impression of what it is and what it does. If anything is unclear just ask away.

I’m your man. I know nothing of this stuff but could clearly hear the differences you illustrated. I am looking for help with this subject having just started working with Logic and virtual instruments during lockdown.

My father was a Church Choirmaster so I grew up listening to different vocal parts. I also learned piano as a child but never even scratched the surface of this stuff. My theory is sadly lacking.

Your examples fascinated me and your tips for part writing were helpful and I wish there was a readily available resource for learning more

Anyway I just joined this forum the other day and came across this so a big ( and very belated ) thank you for sharing.
 
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Saxer

Senior Member
I think it depends on the style you are writing in. The example above is not a western classical style so you shouldn't expect a classical voice leading.

The golden age classical film orchestras were western musicians but while comping movies they had to mimic a lot of styles. Typical Western movie music has a lot of elements from Irish and Scottish folk music. It's more or less just Country Music played by an orchestra. Same with all kind of ethno styles like the parallel fourth when the Indians appear or the ostinatos for native tribes. Big parallel chords for historic epic films. And later the jazz influence with a different polyphonic approach: upper structure triads, parallel fifth throughout in voicings, four voice outlined melodies, a wider acceptance of dissonance etc.

So by faking styles of other peoples or ages or pop musicians who "don't know the correct way to play orchestral music" they established a pool of new styles in that era. That's a part of the film music orchestra language today.

Bad taste happens mostly in mixing this styles up without knowing. But pure classical voice leading results in classical sounding music. There aren't a lot of movies today where this would be the right choice.

btw: I love good voice leading.
 
But pure classical voice leading results in classical sounding music. There aren't a lot of movies today where this would be the right choice.
I think that's all there is to it. If you want your music to sound centuries old, then you can do that. But even in a movie about the 17th century, strict 17th century-sounding music is not going to move a modern audience in the way they're used to being moved by modern film music.
 

Uiroo

Active Member
Here is a real-world example that is a bit puzzling to me. Just for sketching, Trevor Morris used an ensemble patch in this example (which is the equivalent to the ensemble patch audio example in the opening post - if sounding much better here):


He then proceeded to playing in individual lines (equivalent to the 'theme parts played individually' example):


As far as I can tell this is the final mockup version of the track, now with brass, choir, and percussion added:


What puzzles me about this is that the part-writing is rather sketchy, and to me that's clearly audible. Am I the only one bothered by this? I reckon that this piece was recorded with live players later on. It's possible that they changed some of the voice leading for the recording. Still, the chord progressions in this example don't sound good to my ears because of the part writing. But maybe that's just me. Or can you make out a reason why he might be using that particular voice leading here?
I think the less "smooth" the voice-leading is, the more dramatic it often tends to sound.
With this otherworldy-vibe, I think the voice-leading doesn't need to be super smooth and delicate.
 

Pantonal

Active Member
I think that's all there is to it. If you want your music to sound centuries old, then you can do that. But even in a movie about the 17th century, strict 17th century-sounding music is not going to move a modern audience in the way they're used to being moved by modern film music.
You're assuming the use of triadic harmony. You've also assumed the context of music for media and you've made it seem like music that avoids parallels can't be emotionally engaging to a contemporary audience. I don't know you, but lately I've become very frustrated with the 'all intellectual approaches are BS' crowd. Have we really dumbed down the world? In a dumbed down world don't you think being smarter might be a competitive advantage?

In my experience avoiding most parallels makes even more modern harmony sound smoother and more elegant. Also they're easier to avoid in a more modern context. There is a place for parallels as they have a unique sound, but using them inadvertently just sounds like you don't know what you're doing. Still most people will never hear it so why bother? Maybe, because the musicians will know.
 

Gene Pool

Active Member
The first decades of film scoring were mostly counterfeit Strauss and counterfeit Ravel. Counterfeit Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Prokofiev and early Stravinsky also made regular guest appearances. In the 50's and a bit into the 60's, Big Band or jazz combos were brought in when a gritty, urban feel was desired. The 60's and early 70's were not strongly defined, but there was some influence of the Viennese school et al, particularly in TV. Then came John Williams, and we were back in the founding era, version 2.0. It was better than the original, because among other things he didn't overwrite, and he deftly inserted 20th century techniques as needed, simple added-note voicings, planing, and dialed back the Strauss-isms, etc. He put his own sort of “syncretic” stamp on it.

CPE voice-leading will not sound like “classical” music unless most of the other aspects of the composition are in the classical vein. CPE is not a style. It transcends it. It was the basis for voice-leading throughout the three major stylistic periods after all: Baroque, Classical, and Romantic, and across the national schools.

Voice-leading exists at a lower level than the surface-level stylistic identifiers. It's the part writing (and part writing is not the same as voice-leading), orchestration, texture, phrase structure, musical narrative, scope, rhythm, melodic character, harmonic approach (syntax, density, prolongation, harmonic rhythm), and overall complexity that define the style. Period style, and composer style.

Wagner's approach to Tristan und Isolde certainly doesn't sound anywhere similar in period or style to anything composed by, say, Vivaldi. But they both composed from the same foundation level of voice leading. And that Wagner prelude is expressive beyond anything I’ve ever heard in film music. But of course it all comes down to what's appropriate. The score to Napoleon Dynamite was not brilliant in the musical sense, but it was perfect for the film. (I betcha didn't see that Napoleon Dynamite reference coming. And right after Wagner, no less.)
 
You're assuming the use of triadic harmony. You've also assumed the context of music for media and you've made it seem like music that avoids parallels can't be emotionally engaging to a contemporary audience. I don't know you, but lately I've become very frustrated with the 'all intellectual approaches are BS' crowd. Have we really dumbed down the world? In a dumbed down world don't you think being smarter might be a competitive advantage?
I didn't assume the context of music for media. That's literally what we're talking about- Trevor Morris's score posted above.

Of course I don't think it's bullshit. I also don't think it's gospel. Other people in this thread have more eloquently phrased the idea.
 
OP
muk

muk

Senior Member
The effect the composer (Trevor Morris) is going for in the video posted above is not one where c.p.p. voice leading would be applicable.
Well I disagree. In my opinion proper part writing very much applies for this kind of writing. It is basic strings writing. Chords, with a melody on top. Proper part writing very much applies here, as there is nothing else going on than moving from one chord to another, between a strict number of voices. The explanation that I can imagine that at this point there is something in the pictures that warranted it. On it's own, to me it sounds clumsy and bad.

As to parallel fifth in the classical literature, there are many places where they occur, for various reasons. Mendelssohn, for instance, used them deliberately to characterize a rural scene as archaic.
Brahms had a notebook where he notated the parallel fifths/eights he had found in classical scores, together with an explanation why he thought they were used there.