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Stuck with thinking in A-B-A patterns of four to eight bars each


Newbie Composer
Hi everyone,

I can't seem to get my brain to think outside the box, or.. bar. Classic patterns are deeply engrained in my compositions, which means most of my music follows sonata or rondeau forms. Eight bars A, eight bars B, eight bars A again (with small variations in orchestration). I would love to try something more modern, or even a free-form fantasy, but I don't quite know where to start.

Hope my ramblings make sense, and perhaps a kind soul could nudge me into the right direction :)


Senior Member
Step one is listening to as much music outside of your comfort zone as possible. The problem is “hearing” outside the box and the more music you have in your inner ear the more natural it will become to write outside the box.

Paul T McGraw

Senior Member
@berlin87 writing in 4 and 8 bar groups is usually a good thing. Many struggle to learn to organize their ideas that way. But if you want to add to your palette, a good place to start is with extension. You can find resources on the internet to describe this method. "Art of Composing" is a website with lots to offer, which includes information on expansion and extension. Anyway, just try to do a repeat of the last two bars of your 8 bar phrase. You can change octaves or orchestration. Now you have a ten bar phrase.

I am a hobbyist writing romantic classical music for myself, and hopefully a few friends. So take what I offer with a grain of salt. Especially if you hope to make money as a media composer.

Try writing a 5 bar phrase where the fifth bar modulates to the dominant or subdominant. It may seem hard to break old patterns but you can do it. But be sure to stay with 4 and 8 bar phrases for the builk of a piece to keep it accessible to your audience.

As for the classical forms, I still use them. Sure, stretch yourself, but don't through away things that are working for you. Just add new tools to your toolbox as occasional alternatives.


stale member
Not to be pedantic, but sonata form is much more than eight bars ABA, there are two themes involved, a development, a ricapitulation, etc. Even rondeau is more than that... nothing to do with writing in groups of four or eight either


Senior Member
Maybe listen to Bartok. He uses many variations.
My favourite is “The Miraculous Mandarin, “ but others are his fourth and fifth string quartets and his duets for violins.

if that’s too much, maybe try Jerry Goldsmith’s movie scores. He at least uses odd meters. One popular example is “Air Force One.“ Odd meters are one of his trademarks.


Newbie Composer
Thread starter
@prodigalson – as simple as your advice may look at first sight, you are absolutely right. I'll start searching for some "less comfortable" composers. :)

@ProfoundSilence – sorry, I don't understand your question :/

@Paul T McGraw – Your insightful comment made my day, good tips that I will put to practice. And thank you fo telling me about "Art of Composing"!

@Rob – Pedantic, but oh so right ;)

@JohnG – Thank you, I took your advice to heart and just bought the score for Miraculous Mandering. This will be a good study.
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