Developing an Idea

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Developing an Idea

Postby DeEquisCogitoErgoSum » 06 Apr 2013 11:40

How do you expand on a short musical idea. I have lots of 4 bar melodies/chord progressions, but I'm at a loss as to how to expand them into a full song. Once I get to a nice cadence, my brain says "Good job", and stops working. So my music ends up being either up being a hodgepodge of disjoint melodies or too many repetitions of the same idea.

For example this piece has (in my opinion) too many repetitions of the same idea:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/24227563/too%20repetitive.wav

This piece has too many unrelated ideas:
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/24227563/pirates.wav

Am I just paranoid and overly critical, or do I have a problem?
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby itroitnyah » 06 Apr 2013 12:07

Just begin placing down notes on the piano roll until something comes out of it. Or just save it as a midi file and use it in a future song or something.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby prozeyic » 06 Apr 2013 12:29

A good way to expand on melodic ideas is to reverse on invert them. Or both. You might find that you like the reversed melody more than your original idea. If you invert it you have to fix some of the notes so they still fit in the song but it's a good way to come up with things you wouldn't usually think of.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Freewave » 06 Apr 2013 13:04

I think a key part of making a song is not just the musical focus (notes on a piano roll and a melody) but are also the song concept. I always start with and develop a song with a particular mlp theme in mind from the outset and often expan upon that as time goes by. Otherwise the song can just wip123.wav instead of something with meaning or life inside it.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby ph00tbag » 06 Apr 2013 13:30

Well, there's really nothing wrong with what you're talking about. A little repetition of one idea is a good thing, since it cements the phrase in the listener's mind. If you need to, you can do variations by adding notes or changing the rhythm slightly. It's also fine to have multiple themes that you move between. As long as they're generally in the same key, the listener will be able to transition perfectly fine. The real key is to strike a balance between repetition of familiar themes and introduction of novel ones.

I think both of your WIPs are fine, incidentally--if a bit on the short side.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby prozeyic » 06 Apr 2013 13:48

It's not a bad idea to make different sections. Like an A and a B section. Then you could make a simple arrangement of A B A B, you'd want to add more parts or make variations as you get further into the song to keep it interesting.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby DeEquisCogitoErgoSum » 06 Apr 2013 15:42

Thanks for the replies. It looks like I need to read up on song structure.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Majora MIM » 06 Apr 2013 16:03



Repetition can be cool too.


But yeah try to have a certain progression, change notes rythm in a loop.
Try to have at least two different themes (they can go together like classical verse-chorus or clash together like verse-dropthebasshalftimeswagger) and practice building up and dropping down the energy.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby prozeyic » 06 Apr 2013 16:13

Repetition is good, it gives the song a foundation. But variation is needed to keep it interesting.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Alycs » 06 Apr 2013 16:55

Usually what I find helpful is to write down a single 4 to 12 bar melody, then find a good chord progression it fits in, and then lay down a bassline for those chords; that will be your "A". For the "B", copy the chord sequence from "A" but flip around the last two chords of every 4 bars, then write a melody that fits the new progression. I also usually have a "C" section, too, in which you take the two variants, and combine them, so if:
A: C, F, G, A - C, G, A, F
B: C, F, A, G - C, G, F, A
C: C, F, G2, Dmin - C, G, A, F7

After you have those, you're really almost halfway done with the song already. To keep consistency, what I like to do is have either a single motif or drum pattern that I repeat throughout all parts of the song. By doing this, you have a solid base, but it doesn't get boring.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby DeEquisCogitoErgoSum » 06 Apr 2013 17:48

I made these pieces by flailing on my keyboard until I hit some interesting chords, then flailing some more until I found a melody that fit on top of them.
First piece was C Eb C Ab G
Second piece was Dmin F G A

I'd like to try your technique, but I don't know how to write a 4-12 bar melody without chords or any other starting point.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Callenby » 06 Apr 2013 18:38

If you don't already know about it, you can check out this page.

When you have a motif, there are three (and only three) options you then have: 1. repeat it, 2. vary it, 3. add something new.

That's it. That covers all of your choices. But even though it may not sound like much, it actually encompasses a great deal of possibilities. You can imitate it, invert it, retrograde invert it, change the note values, change the notes but keep the rhythm, change the rhythm but keep the notes, etc. But trying to develop all of your ideas at once is a good way to drive yourself insane so I'd recommend picking just one, no matter if you think it's fantastic or dull as dirt, and trying to do everything you can with it. I think it would be better to begin as simply as possible. Find a motif that can fit in one or two measures and see what happens. The website I linked to can give some pointers here.

This is exactly the sort of thing the greats did. The beginning of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, for example, is just the same four-note motif used over and over and over again. The thing is he stretches and transposes it so much that our interest doesn't waver.

In terms of apply this to entire songs, you can always practice with antecedents and consequences (aka a phrase). Again, you can start out small: write a four bar phrase and "answer" it with another one, then repeat that first phrase and "answer" it again but this time with variation (often through a change in the chord progression).

You said you got those chords by flailing around on the keyboard. Suffice it to say this is not an ideal way to compose. I don't know how much theory training you have, but you really ought to have some fundamental stuff like the movement of diatonic chords (though it would be better if you knew many more chords than just diatonic ones) if you're going to continue writing music. If you want I can refer you to some more websites.

Do yourself the kindness of not worrying about completing full songs right now. Build up your strength (and confidence) one step at a time and your music will be all the better for it.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby DeEquisCogitoErgoSum » 06 Apr 2013 19:47

I wasn't serious about the flailing.

I do have a strong background in theory, but the emphasis was on analyzing existing pieces so that we could play them better, and we spent no time writing music (except SATB stuff that we didn't even listen to). So I could sit down with a piece and easily label the chords, cadences, phrases, and forms. But I wasn't taught how to apply theory towards composing. I know that I'm not writing music "properly", but I don't know how to fix this. I know I need to develop a melody, but I don't know how to develop it. I know that I should introduce a second theme, but I don't know how to write something that complements the existing theme and introduce it.

Thanks for the post. I was ignoring theory sites since I'm already very familiar with analyzing chords and was not expecting theory to directly teach me how to write music. I think, that this may be the answer that I've been looking for.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Alycs » 07 Apr 2013 08:57

Well, in my music composition classes, what I learned is that once you have a good melody; you don't need to rewrite a whole new one. There are three basic things you can do:
1. Imitate (CDEDEFG -> CDEDEFG)
2. Invert (CDEDEFG -> GFEFEDC)
3. Reverse (CDEDEFG -> GFEDEDC)
If you have a melody, break it up into its motifs (CDEDEFG-> CDED, EFG) and you can work with each of those individually and change them, so if you, say invert the first half and reverse the second, you have something completely different:
(CDEDEFG -> FEDEGFE) or
(CDEDEFG -> DEDCEDC)

And there you go, you have completely different melodies that still fit with the original.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby JSynth » 07 Apr 2013 16:33

prozeyic wrote:A good way to expand on melodic ideas is to reverse on invert them. Or both. You might find that you like the reversed melody more than your original idea. If you invert it you have to fix some of the notes so they still fit in the song but it's a good way to come up with things you wouldn't usually think of.


Huh, I need to try that sometime.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Wisp » 07 Apr 2013 19:55

JSynth wrote:
prozeyic wrote:A good way to expand on melodic ideas is to reverse on invert them. Or both. You might find that you like the reversed melody more than your original idea. If you invert it you have to fix some of the notes so they still fit in the song but it's a good way to come up with things you wouldn't usually think of.


Huh, I need to try that sometime.

Yeah, that's a good idea. Never thought of that before.
Usually when making a song, I make a basic loop of what I want to have at some point in the song (usually it's the chorus), and then I make a couple other loops that work together with the first one, then I make a beginning and ending that works with the loops I've made so far. Then all thats left is just arranging the parts of the song into an actual song.
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Re: Developing an Idea

Postby Lying Pink » 08 Apr 2013 12:08

DeEquisCogitoErgoSum wrote:I do have a strong background in theory, but the emphasis was on analyzing existing pieces so that we could play them better

The more time you spend writing music, the more that'll come in useful. Eventually you'll be able to tap into that stuff as you're going, even if you originally learned it with analysis and performance in mind. Theory sites are definitely helpful, but since theory is just a description of what 'works' according to a certain musical framework, a lot of the stuff you can pick up as you go - you already know what does and doesn't sound good, learning the process of creating sounds that work is something that falls into place the more you write music: studying theory just helps the process along.

Personally I often find that playing what I've already written on a different instrument, or singing, can help. Since different instruments (and the voice) lend themselves to different kinds of melodies and progressions being easier than others, it's sometimes an interesting way to open up different directions you can take.
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