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Development - am I doing it yet?

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Martin Hoffmann, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. This is the latest of several attempts at fixing an old piece of mine that sucks due to lack of development, by bringing it back to a piano reduction. My main questions are:

    - Is there development to be found yet? I'm not trolling, I just never know "am I doing it yet, or is this some other nonsense?"

    - Which parts feel "too random" or disorienting? My girlfriend said "Sounds nice but there's something about it that irritates me", but she wasn't able to pinpoint it and on repeated listens it was even harder to hear for her, as seems to be common. And do you have any suggestions how I could have found those myself without asking others?

    - Is there any part that works and that I should do more of?

    - Is there anything I'm overdoing and should do less of?

    - I didn't really care about dynamics, so there's barely any variation in them (all entered with the mouse in my daw). Is this a big no-go for piano reductions or is it a plus because that element of "vertical development" would distract from the "real" developments?

    The midi is attached as zipped archive, in case that's usefull to anyone. Tempo is 115 bpm.

    Thanks for listening!

    Attached Files:

    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  2. I don't think there's much development here. Here are some thoughts in a random order:

    1. In the first section, every measure has the same rhythm, and that gets tyring very soon. It feels too static. The simplest development type is rhythmical, by varying the patterns, adding more or less notes as the melody unfolds, etc.
    2. Your piece is 100% white piano keys, it's 100% diatonic. That leaves very, VERY small room for development, if you watch Mike's videos, you'll see him adding modulations is one of his basic tools to make the music move somewhere.
    3. The bass notes are a collection of pop music clichés. Pop music has almost no development, which is fine, but you say you were looking for development. Almost all the possible development types in pop music are reduced to a thickening of the texture and upping the dynamics. If you want to try something else, I'd add some modulations, and maybe even some cadences, perfect, deceptive, dominant prolongations, something to make the music go somewhere.
    4. Also, just listening to the first 3 measures, you have a double 8ve in the tonic, then a supertonic over a tonic pedal, but then you forget about the tonic pedal and the dissonance it has, and you jump to a double 8ve on the 3rd degree. That direct octave is super weak.
    5. The second section has many pauses which IMO are quite upsetting, if you intended to put some development here, the pauses are killing it.
    6. Then you return to the opening idea and then you add a section with scales, so the overall form seems ABAC. It's a some simple rondo form I guess.
    To summarize, I think you need to learn more music theory, which you can at places like http://openmusictheory.com/. Also, if you follow Mike's advice, learn them jazz chords.

    Also, composing in a DAW when you don't have an ultra-solid foundation in theory is IMO a bad idea, either compose at the piano, or compose with a score.
  3. @Albert de la Fuente: Thanks a lot for the detailed and honest feedback, I really appreciate it! I'm glad you joined redbanned and share your knowledge with us.

    It'll take me some time to really dig into all the things you've mentioned, but I'll try it and report back here with a hopefully better developed version of the piece, to check if I learned something!

    Albert de la Fuente likes this.
  4. Hi Martin,

    I don't have much time to dive deep into your piece because I'm off to work, but I look forward to hearing your pieces and development. (Ha!, pun intended since you asked about development). So, I had to just give you a little feedback.

    Two things since this piece is very repetitive and doesn't change harmonically enough is...

    1. Develope it harmonically through modulation or just interesting harmony.

    2. Develop rhythmically. Your theme/motif is fine, but because of how simple it is and the chords that go along are relatively simple you need to start moving quicker in development or a contrasting B theme rather quickly or as your girlfriend put it, "something starts to irritate the listener".

    One thing to explore that will help you is chromaticism and chromatic voice-leading/harmony. That'll help spark some interesting places for you to visit.

    For me your actual development or perhaps you can call it a B theme of sorts, (to each their own) is at 1:23. That was the part that was like oh hey, that's interesting and new'ish.

    Keep writing and working on it. Looking forward to more!


    Development has to have a direction and perhaps a story/point to it. So if you think about your music in that sense (like a film score), what is your story/arc? Perhaps, that will help you lead to how you will develop your idea.

  5. @Dillon DeRosa: Thanks a lot for your feedback too! I have a lot of homework to do and I'll keep you guys updated when I'm making any progress.
    You raise a very good point of me not knowing where to go. That's certainly the case, and something that I've struggled with in other creative endeavours too. I'll try to be more deliberate about the story/arc in my next attempt. I'll probably do some from scratch new excercises before I take another shot at working with the melody of the piece that I posted here. But I'll get back to it eventually.
    Thanks a lot for the encouragement! I also haven't forgotten about that aleatoric thing we talked about a while back, but I didn't get around to going back to that yet.

  6. @Dillon DeRosa: Now I did get around to work on this again:

    It's probably not very good, but I learned something and I feel like it's somewhat more interesting than the all-white-key stuff that happens when I try to write melodically.

    I started writing the first dissonant "riff" (the one that gets re-used) and later thought I need something much more dialed back for contrast to make this one stand out more, so I took notes from that part, stretched its length and developed the melody you hear at the start from it. It would probably make a lot more sense to do it the other way around, but that's something to try for the next piece I guess.
    I did - again - fail to have a clear "internal story arc". I tried in the beginning, but I got so overwhelmed by taking care of all the other stuff that I lost sight of that aspect. I hope with practice that will get better.

    Originally I wanted to make it about 3 minutes long but at the point where it's at I thought "maybe it's as long as it needs to be and I better start from scratch for another one".

    In case anyone cares about which libraries were used, the short and boring list of those is:

    NI Symphony Series Collection String Ensemble
    Metropolis Ark 1
    Fluid Shorts

    Metropolis Ark 1

    Metropolis Ark 1
  7. #7 Rohann van Rensburg, Feb 12, 2020
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2020
    Hey man, failures or not, that was still pretty convincing sounding "horror action music"! Seriously, good job. You may not have had an "internal story" enough to your liking, but you had a "theme" of sorts that was pretty followable, repeated, and overall sounded convincing. Template sounds great too.

    It can be tricky to get more jarring pieces like this to sound "developed", but treating dissonant ideas as "motifs" and applying the same principles is a simple way to do that (you're on track there).

    EDIT: I honestly have a hard time sitting through aleatoric or atonal pieces so I tend more towards effects with melody. This score is a good source for that kind of thing, but Doug's example is probably going to be more productive for you (especially because the Bioshock composer is quite obviously influenced by Shoshtakovich and Schoenberg).

  8. I would advise doing some score study.

    For me (just my 2 cents) the percussion drags the piece.
    It feels bloated and there is nothing for me to latch onto.

    What do you think of this piece?

  9. Thank you for your kind words!

    Thanks for the example. I played through that game ages ago but honestly couldn't even remember if the soundtrack was orchestral or not. I'll check out some more tracks from it, but I have a hunch that it's actually harder to listen to for me than the Deadspace soundtrack that I looked to for guidance. I know what you mean though, other than Deadspace's and some parts of the Soulsborne soundtracks I don't really listen to atonal stuff either.

    Thank you for your feedback Doug!
    I find it hard to predict with music in this realm what would allow people to latch onto and what wouldn't. With a melody it seems more predictable to me. I think I might be "parsing" these atonal pieces differently than you do, and maybe yet again differently from how Rohann does, and so on. For me they are almost "just rythm - but in a very dark and dissonant color". So to answer your question:
    I feel like it's missing something for me personally in some parts of the rythms. That void that I perceive there could be filled with percussions, or with more variation in the rythm. Might sound a bit ironic but I'd almost say it's a little "too monotonous" for me? Ironic because a lot of the music that I frequently listen to is increadibly monotonous (but it probably is rythmically more complex and layered). To some degree I find it easier to listen to than the piece from the Bioshock soundtrack, which for me is a bit too slow and missing a "pulse". But it's not something that could make it's way onto my proverbial "playlist".

    Please listen to the beginning of this piece (first 20 seconds is enough, I don't want to torture you :) ).

    It pretty much goes on like that for 2 minutes before it gives you a break from the "horror". And that's not really how it would sound in the game because you rarely fight for so long without some downtime in which the music would also quiet down to match the energy of the scene. But for the soundtrack it is what it is, and I've listened to the full soundtrack on occasion. For me the thing that orients me is the rythms and the almost verbatim repetition of short parts, the patterns that emerge from the chaos. I tried to weave a similarly "dense" fabric of rythmic elements and tried to strike a balance between sections playing in sync on accents and doing their own thing and/or trying not to step on each other's toes in other places.

    Do you think what you don't like about how I used the percussion has more to do with the way I specifically used them, or the overall color-choices of mostly "banging on trashcans and big drums" type of percussions, or does that Deadspace track make you go "I don't like that one either, but I see where you're coming from"?

    Thanks for listening and commenting you guys! Much appreciated!
  10. Hi @Martin Hoffmann

    Congrats on writing this out. I think its sounds fantastic. Especially, for one of those intense moments perhaps in a dark cavern or hallway (I'm thinking big places because of the amount of space/reverb on your percussion makes me think big space).

    Here are so overall stabs to consider next time, because I do agree that you should just write another sketch or track because practicing more of this it'll start to click.

    1. Speaking of stabs, your piece is very STABBY! (I like bad puns). I hear your melody/motif in the beginning, I recognize how it's being used but also you could've done more with it. Your piece is very stab and punch heavy which is why I think Doug as well as myself aren't attached to anything in this piece. You use your brass as sort of the anchor in harmony or tension while the strings do these short bursts of intensity and aggression. The Percussion is the GLUE and the only thing sustaining the momentum forward. I always suggest literally muting all percussion and listening to your piece. Do you still gain the same forward momentum or interest? Now, I completely understand there are percussive pieces and sometimes the percussion is featured and the drive of the piece entirely. So, don't get rid of the percussion but just be aware of what your music and composition is saying without it. If you're happy with it, then by all means percussion away.
    2. You actually have a good sense of throwing the listener's attention back and forth. Here is strings, here are the brass, here is the percussion, back to the strings etc etc. If you were to expand this since its short but keep in mind at all times about timbre and colors. You have the whole orchestra pretty much playing and don't forget to just break down to one or two sections only. You are bouncing back and forth between them but give us a break from one of them completely and focus on one group. For example, percussion drops out and its just strings for 80% while brass comes in for a big hit at the end of a phrase, or vice versa. Build, build, build and bam! A percussion section solo for 2-4 bars which brings us back into the whole orchestra or a new development. Little things like that will spice it up and have it not sound so repetitive even though you're not being so repetitive. You gave us a nice steak, and sometimes after eating the steak for 2 minutues I just want a bite of some potatoes or veggies before getting back to my mouth-watering steak. Colors, don't forget timbre/colors.

    Deadspace - Jason Graves that you just linked. Very intense piece and invigorating. Nothing to attach to musically accept for pumping intensity and lets get the F**K out of here because some aliens are gonna eat us. Just a quick thing that's majorally different from his piece to yours besides the obvious, "JG is rapidloy quick gestures vs yours is more prolonged with a lot of stabs". JG repeats his phrase or idea at least twice before moving to his next. When he moves to his next idea he repeats it twice. So, he has an idea, he varies it, then moves to a different variation and repeats it to establish a pattern as well as give him more time. His structure and form at least in this first minute of the piece is just the form of variation. What's his glue or point? Intensity is the game. So he has an idea and story and he's driving it forward, but not forgetting about variation and purpose.

    0:00 - 0:06 first idea
    0:06 - 0:12 repeats the first idea
    0:12 - 0:18 Second variation expansion of first
    0:18 - 0:23 repeat then swell to next idea
    0:23 - 0:28 - new idea with swelling chords
    0:28 - 0:33 - repeats idea, change of swell to low brass to horns, change of color perhaps and growing but varying.
    Etc, etc.

    I agree with Doug that if you aren't already doing so, definitely score study. That Shostakovich piece where he linked is very exciting, dark, and a lot of variations on his simple'ish motif. As well, as Shostakovich repeats a lot! Don't forget repetition is how we lock on and attach ourselves to your idea and music. So don't forget to repeat (but not repeat all day because that's when we get bored). This section is really cool of Shostakovich but also in macro sense simple to what he's doing. Forget the canon kind of thing he's doing but look at simply the rhythmic acceleration (which you should start practicing now). He starts with 8ths, then takes his ideas to triplets (2 to 3) then takes his ideas to 16ths, (2 to 3 to 4). Apply that to your next piece and have some fun with that.

    I hope some of this feedback is useful and makes sense. Happy writing and looking forward to more of your work.

    @Doug Gibson
    Cool Shostakovich piece, thanks for sharing.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  11. @Dillon DeRosa: Thanks a lot for the awesome feedback! I've started another track and I'll try to write it first without percussion and then maybe add some in at a later step. I hope that will improve the things you and Doug talk about a little and make the string and brass stand more on their own legs in terms of forward momentum.

    I'll also check out more of Shostakovichs work too and try to absorb some better instincts for how to move through the compositional possiblity-space. I think it really shows that I'm so used to music that is structured in "riffs" and doesn't really develop. I'm currently listening to the string quartets. Is that a good place to start? Before I can truely "study scores" I'll need to get better at reading notation first, which I'm having on a somewhat lower priority, but I'm working on it.

    Thank you also for the pattern breakdown of Jason's piece! Very helpful for me because I'm often having trouble seein what is supposed to be a variation or a new thing.

    I hope I'll be able to share a new piece soon-ish, because if it's not done soon-ish it'll take a while because I'm just on a short break between crunching through freelance (non-composing) work.

    Also I got my first ever paid music commission request today for... just big drums and a hybrid synth pad basically x]. Not sure yet if I wanna do it.
    Dillon DeRosa likes this.
  12. @Dillon DeRosa Dillon!

    Glad to see you posting, and great post! Lots to digest between you and Doug.
  13. Of course, do it !! As long as it does not take over your life.

    You know ..... work on the things that are most relevant to you and the music YOU want to write.

    It's obvious what your aesthetic leanings are.

    Honestly..... I would focus on Rythmn. Since big drums and synths are going to be a central part of your music.

    If you get really good at rhythm .... you'll get work.

    Think of all the dance artists. Rhythm is infectious.

    It would be a fantastic advantage to you to be able to write all your percussion parts and not rely on any loops.


  14. @Doug Gibson: Sorry for the late reply, I had a couple busy days and my break between freelance gigs wasn't as long as I had hoped it will be. Thanks a lot for the encouragement and the great examples! I didn't even know there was this kind of drums-only music. There is some interesting text below the last video in the youtube description. I'll copy it here:

    "Unusually for Xenakis, Rebonds is written as two autonomous movements. They can be performed in either order. The "A" movement begins with a repeating rhythmic phrase built from a continuous pulse. The pattern is varied as a matter of course, and the pulse is gradually filled in with faster and faster fills. As in Psappha, there are only a few instruments used in order not to distract or muddy the rhythmic structure: seven drums and five woodblocks. The momentum builds higher and higher, until the tension is dispersed with a fragmented return to the opening phrase. Movement "A" is often performed after "B," which has a more complex design. The most obvious formal distinction is between sections featuring drums or sections featuring woodblocks (the final section combines the two). The organization within these sections is less linear than in "A," but there are variational processes used. The ongoing pulse is occasionally vaporized by the switch to continuous rolls, but there are also passages in which the layered succession of patterns creates fascinating textures of shifting accents."

    I'll check out some more of those, but I don't wanna give up on listening to more of those Shostakovich string quartets yet. I think those are a very nice combination of far enough outside of my comfort zone to be a healthy stimulant for artistic growth and still enjoyable for me to listen to. :)

    I'll let you guys know when I finish another track. Right now I'm trying to get a better guitar tone for some djenty metal stuff. Jumping back and forth a little between projects is a habbit I'm not sure I'll ever be able to reign in.

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