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General Musing

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Doug Gibson, Jul 7, 2018.

  1. I've notice in the past couple of months a lot of "Mono-thematic" pieces are getting posted.

    Not a bad thing in and of itself.

    Just my 2 cents a general principle with music composition is if one thing remains static another element can (or needs)
    to become active.

    For example the rhythmic aspect of moonlight sonata mov. 1 is static. The harmony is very active.

    Thus when repeating a single theme throughout, to avoid the piece feeling static, other elements around it need to become more active to make the work exciting.

    One common area film composers have to work at is "pushing the music forward". This occurs often at end of phrases and sections.

    I'll just offer a piece I feel develops a single motif, and in a film music style, very well. Easy to follow yet compositionally very interesting.

    That is all. Be well everyone

  2. Robin is my favorite my-generation orchestrator. If I need a guy, he's my first call. This piece, however, I have to say is a collection of wonderful orchestrations with merely the impression of thematic strength. I couldn't tell you even a minute into the piece what its central idea is. I can tell you what's its vibe is, but not its thesis.

    I think we need a lot more mono-thematic pieces around here, until such time as those singular themes are in and of themselves regularly compelling, develop-able, and developed. It's the most basic, hardest skill to master, and also the pass/fail gate through which all pieces ultimately pass.

    I have been working on a new class idea to try and solve this issue because try as I have, and despite having put the building blocks down several times in several ways, there is something I have failed to teach - it is not materializing clearly enough among my class-takers. I've been using my son as a guinea pig since he's A) 7, and B) a sponge.

    I just haven't cracked this yet, obviously. Something's missing; almost without exception, we're not hearing truly well-developed and cohesive statements. I have some very nasty suspicions as to why this might be, which I can't do anything about, but I have equally strong convictions that I haven't done my job well enough yet.

    Daniele Nasuti and Sam Miller like this.
  3. #3 Alexander Schiborr, Jul 7, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
    Hi Guys,

    Hmm, Maybe that takes time to learn how to devlop truely a longform piece? I mean thats not done in one year to make that happen, it takes years of studies. Pieces which are posted are imo a good first step into the right direction, sure there is a lot of to improve. But I don´t see it like a failure in teaching. I notice in the recent videos that you focuss more on that subject which is good though. Maybe you can present little examples or maybe a little workshop where people can participate and then we can discuss those results here?
    I like Robins Piece and the orchestration is cool and playful. I have a little clue why don´t feel that his piece is not truely developed in a sense of Williams manier. I don´t know if your time allows that but it could probably help if you point out whats in particular missing for you, development, maybe structural wise. Because his piece is on a high level and not really to grasp for the average participant here where to see problems.

    EDIT: You know Mike, you are doing those things for over 20 years or even longer and here are guys which do that for sometimes a few months, maybe a few years only. Many of us still need to learn to master simple things like A/A/B/A simple ideas form. To get people there they need to learn the sophistication in reharmonizing those mono thematic stuff to put them into different contexts. Thats allready a task for many how to reharmonize things so that the same written motif gets a new fresh look.
    Mattia Chiappa likes this.
  4. Surprising. Don't you think the theme at 1:31 is the un-dressed version of the main theme ?
    (1:31 - 1:44 A / 1:45 - 2:01 B)

    I clearly hear it as such, and - to my ears at least - I hear this was intended as a mid/late-in-the-film cue.
    (ie. in a context referring back to a piece in which the melody was drawn out.
    Thus, the fragmentation would be enough to trigger the memory of the theme we hear at 1:31 - 1:44)

    Intersting. Always good to know how different people hear things in different ways.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  5. @Doug Gibson of course I hear tons of self-referential stuff and re-purposing, but not a clear thesis, stated, and developed. That's always unusual for a self-supporting piece, regardless of what it's trying to emulate, and I can't think of a piece I admire or have been inspired by which fails in this regard. Of course, none of this is easy...

    @Alexander Schiborr I've been doing this for 40 years - long enough to know that at its core, it does not require 40 years to understand strong thematic statements and developments. Many composition teachers write the whole thing off as, "You've either got it or you don't," and point to the mere handful of great melodies out of billions of attempts which we truly cherish and value as evidence. But I've always suspected this was a lazy recrimination, while acknowledging that it really IS hard to quantify, and seemingly impossible to teach. I've been doing some experiments, and I think I'm closing in on an even simpler, more elegant way to think about all this. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  6. I don't think you're failing at teaching us at all! It's just very very difficult to do that's all, even if you're willing to put in the work to develop that skill set. I've been taking your classes for a couple of years and rewatched them very often. I think the message is loud and clear, but knowing how it's supposed to be done doesn't give you any superpower. It might not take 40 years to develop a good understanding of the craft but it certainly takes constant practice, which I'm sure that's the way you learned to do that in the first place.
  7. @Mike Verta Sure, I don´t think that this takes 40 years, of course not. But I like I said, here are many members which just started discovering those things since that forum exists or since they discovered your masteclassses. Maybe you need to give people a bit more time? I don´t know what you expect that others post pieces which are fully ready developed? I don´t believe too that this is something god given. Sure there are people who might learn faster than others. Still I believe it is a matter of right practise. But sure always welcome if you feel to help in that regards more, I appreciate your input. Like I said: I believe that many people here still need to get settled to understand to write short pieces of music featuring idea, b - motif. It sounds in theory easy at it is maybe for you but I don´t think for most of the others. :)
  8. You haven't failed to teach us. You have students who are succeeding, understanding your teachings and applying them. I'm a strong believer that you don't only have to be willing to learn, but be ready to learn (be ready to accept the new information).

    Going off of countless times you said Mike, "one day it just clicked for you". I believe describing your methods in as many different ways all saying the same point is important. I've said before in a post, that my father taught me the same principals you teach, but my father said it in different words to me. I never really understood my father until I saw your videos and it then "clicked" for me. Just because you said it a slightly different way I'm now able to organize my thoughts instead of being lost in randomness.

    I don't believe you failed at teaching us, however I am all for another video to help explain it further. To look at it at different angles and different explanations to help all of us see it easier until it "clicks". ;)
  9. This is a very interesting thread. I am extremely curious to learn what @Mike Verta comes up with to better teach composition skills. I really enjoyed the piece by Robin Hoffmann posted by @Doug Gibson above. It did not sound like a stand-alone concert piece but sounded like a believable film cue to me. I recently spent a lot of hours studying the Raiders March by Williams, the concert version. It is structurally a remarkably simple piece of music. Just two themes. The A theme is repeated five or six times. It has several alternating extensions, changes in key and in orchestration, but still, the same theme 5 or 6 times. You have to have a really strong theme to make that work! But it works.
  10. I guess that is the the pinpoint here with those monothematic material. The Raiders march though features a b Section which still elegantly somehow repurpose things from the main motif plus what you say. As I said: I think all of us agree here: Thus things are pretty cool when you can do them, but yeah..1. Strong idea..you need..2. the skillset to make those recapitulations. I don´t think that this is that easy as this requires years of study. I mean..he wrote that theme in 1980/1 so..at that point this man was already doing 30 years of music, went through jazz harmony and big band and I don´t know what else. ..
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  11. Mike, I think you've expressed your ideas in a very clear way so that people "hear the point" and understand it. However, understanding it and implementing it are different things. Humans are creatures of habit and once we establish our methods, they are very hard to change. This is why its so valuable to teach kids when they are very young as they absorb things like a sponge. I doesn't work quite the same way with older students. A study was done on a group of people who would have life-threatening consequences unless they made drastic lifestyle changes, and guess what? Only 10% could change even when their life depended upon it. So you can imagine the struggle that many of us older students face when trying to learn new things and make changes to our habits and patterns, and our life doesn't even depend upon it! How many will succeed? So don't beat yourself up, I think you've been doing an excellent job and I highly value all that you've shared.

    Also if you go back in time, to when JW started for example, everyone who wanted to be a composer was from a highly filtered group of people. Today, that is no longer true. Someone who would have become a carpenter in 1900, might today pick up his guitar and suddenly decide he associates himself as a composer. Today, its as easy to "relate" with a new career as it is a new gender. However, that doesn't necessarily make one qualified. So when, Rimsky-Korsakov was teaching Stravinsky and Prokofiev, he wasn't just getting anyone who wanted to learn but a very select group. I guess over time, those who hang around will act sort of as a filter and you'll likely notice progress from those specific people who are truly striving to learn.

    Learning to compose a coherent monothematic idea is similar to learning to construct a meaningful thesis sentence and expanding it into a single paragraph essay. Many people struggle with this concept as simple as it should be. It seems there is a connection between clarity in thought through language and in music. And maybe through using such a metaphor this might be a possible way to teach the structural concepts you feel many are missing? When I first started to learn to improvise, I learned something really enlightening from Jimi Hendrix. As I listened to him play, it was as if he was talking (or so I thought). When I started doing the same with my guitar, it opened up an amazing door to being able to express myself. Suddenly, what I was playing were no longer just notes from scales but expressive ideas which I could then easily expand upon. I was literally thinking words in my head as I was playing and it opened up a wonderful door of expression for me. You can hear the same thing in lots of serious music as well. Dvorak's Water Goblin tells the tale of a child that is abducted and taken underwater to be married (abduction and abuse ain't what it used to be!). And all throughout the music, you can hear the literal depiction of each character and the vile acts. Not that the story is anything to celebrate, but I guess such tone poems were meant to be moral tales (don't wander from your mother dear) and they were written with clear form and structure (rondo in this case). There are many other such impressionistic examples and these might be a great way to teach simple musical concepts in a digestable way.
  12. In defense of the thematic content, I think we are a bit confused because the original piece presents just a little too much interesting material before giving us a first glimpse of the theme [0:30+] and the theme is a bit tepid there. However after a few listens, the theme is readily apparent. I think the “development” material gives some good textural contrast but doesn’t pull away from the main theme too much or for very long, so it mutes the drama of the tutti return of the theme at [1:30+] … although that return is masterful orchestration. I think if you added a strong statement of the theme at the very beginning, the piece would have a more recognizable structure for a stand-alone piece.

    Anyway, sounds very JW-style with expansive gestures, lots of use of 4th# (or #11th).
  13. One big compositional challenge is remaining able to hear it from a newcomer/everyman's perspective. This is often the cause of both underdeveloped and "over developed" pieces. Sometimes we assume they're hearing what we're hearing, sometimes we overestimate how much they've absorbed.
    Paul T McGraw and Dillon DeRosa like this.
  14. Wow.....this thread exploded.

    I did not interpret Mike's comments to be as depressive or self evaluating as others have. At least I hope not.

    @Mike Verta : Of course when you crack the code I, and many others will be very eager to sign up for your masterclass.

    Sure, but Stravinsky was in no way a great melody writer. I would even say Prokofiev was OK, but not great.
    In fact, I would argue most of the best composers were did not base their main thing on melody.

    Consider Bach. Not a great melody writer (Most scholars doubt he composed the D minor Toccata and Fugue. It's so unlike everything else.) Beethoven..... had moments.. but not his main thing. Debussy....no. Wagner.. ok he has one tune you can sing.

    My overall point is that A) There seems to be general confusion amongst all the posts on what "it" "is"
    B) Composers who generally excel at melody to the exclusion of other compositional aspects don't tend to get the accolades.

    Barry Manilow is a great melody writer. So is Andrew Lloyd Weber. Puccini was a better melody writer than Stravinsky, but there is no question who is the better composer.

    Even in film. Horner was a pretty deft melody writer...... but is not in the same league as Goldsmith or Hermann.
    Hermann was not really a very good melody writer. He would definitely fall within the "Fragmentation" category.

    Also.... look at Williams.
    In my opinion some of his best work is found in say - Hook, Catch Me if You Can, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

    You can follow them, but they are not as catchy as say Imperial March or Harry Potter

    Also, notice how few people write about Williams mentor Henry Mancini. He was a wonderful melody writer, and I am sure Williams learned a ton from him. Why don't people mention him more ?

    Look Melody, and Rhythm are the Meat and Potatoes of composition. You can make a career by being excellent at either one.
    There are many (think dance music, even James Brown) artist who only excelled at the rhythmic aspects of music who became famous.

    Not sure of my point now.....so I will stop
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  15. In this context, "melody/motif/theme" are placeholders for that aspect of musical control which we can rely on consistently. Being able to choose the degree to which, and the manner in which we win our audience over is the pass/fail ability in making a career professionally. It is irrespective of the style, genre, or the actual methods employed. That's part of why it's so difficult to talk about, but also essential, and thus the actual backbone of this forum. Being able to craft melodic hooks is actually less abstract than creating purely chordal or rhythmic hooks, even though those seem easier on the surface, so I try to focus on melodic development. But in the end, it is about control.
  16. @Doug Gibson thanks for mentioning Henry Mancini.

    Peter Gunn
    Moon River
    Breakfast at Tiffanys
    Baby Elephant Walk
    Days of Wine and Roses
    and my personal favorite:
    Pink Panther

    These were not just successful as media tracks, these tunes actually made it onto top 40 radio stations (remember top 40 radio?) and every piano student had to have the sheet music. But now his music is fading out of the public consciousness. Would any of these tunes be programmed in a POP orchestra concert today? But undeniably wonderful melodies with great hooks.
  17. Wow, so true. I know I make this mistake a lot! I suppose the idea is to develop a good musical instinct (if not born with it). It is a lot easier with other peoples music than with my own music. :)
  18. @Mike Verta

    You have not failed us at all, your relentless pursuit of instruction in music is amazing, and frankly, unheard for teachers in any topic (esp for the more then reasonable cost). In my experience of teaching, some people need weekly 1 on 1 tailored instruction to grasp the concepts you wish us to learn. Tons of feedback, far more the a forum alone can provide.
    Also, ideally, it would be able to be on site teaching as well, especially since the production side of this is all about the ear. Alas Skype is the best most of us can do.

    Out of curiosity, who would you trust to teach the knowledge (full depth of your music brain - composition, orchestrstion, score writing for orchestra, virtual instruments, film scoring, etc) at the same level as you?
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  19. Don't be too hard on yourself Mike! I agree that this stuff is not "unteachable magic", but that does not automatically mean, that "it can be taught to everyone". Simple stuff like reading and writing, almost everyone can learn that. Speaking a new language, you can probably also "force feed" that ability into someone over time, as long as you can make them listen to you. But something like doing a halfway realistic oil-painting from a life model, that requires a lot of active participation and active learning through trial and error from the student. It is totally teachable, but imho it isn't the kind of knowledge you could "just explain" someone and then they can do it. And some may even never be able to do it, no matter how hard and how much they try.

    One common trick that painters use is looking at their painting through a mirror. Some flaws that they hadn't noticed while staring at it for hours will then jump out at them immediately. Not sure what the equivalent would be for music. Maybe replace all fancy instruments with 8bit chiptune synths and listen to the melodies and rythm with all the orchestration taken out? The two hand piano reduction already goes in the right direction, but as long as you're still playing it yourself it might be harder to hear it like a first time listener would.

    One more painting analogy if I may: There is a saying "It takes two people to make a great painting - the painter, and someone who takes away the canvas from them at the right moment."
  20. It might be worth remembering that there are many works today which we all study and know, that
    were absolutely panned and considered worthless when they were premiered.


    There are also many works that were hits, briefly, then and we no longer remember today.

    Led Zep. never had a #1 single nor did Jimi Hendrix.

    John "Public Domain" Williams faced his fair share of backlash too.

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