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Question about Structuring a Piece with Story beats

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Michael Lückgen, Sep 21, 2020.

  1. I am currently struggling with the structure of my next piece and hope some of you might help me with it.
    Mike is always stressing the importance of the structure so I thought it might be worth it to discuss it, before diving too deep into it.

    I am not sure how to spread the themes and ideas across the piece... But let me explain the ideas first:

    I have the idea for this kinda swashbuckling pirate piece and I tried to come up with a story for it, like Mike did with "The Race".

    I thought of three themes/motifs and have some variations of them prepared.

    - Main theme
    - Hero
    - Bad Captain (has a short motif and dissonant tones)

    And here are my story beats:
    1. Dark cave with growling pirates in it
    2. "get him here lads" A handcuffed guy gets pushed into the light. It's our Hero!
    3. Revealing the treasure "This treasure has enormous power!"
    4. "And soon we will rule over the seven seas! Hahaha" reveal of the Bad Captain
    5. "All we need now is the missing key, the Hero has swallowed. Cut em up now!"
    6. Hero gets scared. "Wait!" they stop.
    7. "Look over there!", they look. comical
    8. hero cuts his handcuffs with the sword of the pirate in front of him and steals his sword. Swiftly.
    9. All pirates are drawing their sword now. Da Dum
    10. The fight begins! Hero fights a few off
    11. But they are just too many and he gets knocked down
    12. Hero is preparing a smoke bomb and throws it
    13. He manages to get near the bad captain and steals his part of the key
    14. He gets caught, and kicked down the rock the captain is standing on
    15. Hero on the ground, pirates coming in. "Stop! I will take care of him." the captain is drawing his sword
    16. Hero stands up and they fight
    17. Captain is fighting unfair
    18. He grabs the Hero at his throat and punches him in the stomach
    19. Hero is almost dying, but manages to provoke him
    20. So he gets kicked through the room onto the chest
    21. He coughed up the key from the hard hit. He can use both keys now
    22. As the captain approaches to end the Heros life once and for all ...
    23. The Hero opens the chest
    24. Twist-fully the magic of the treasure is unleashed and all of the pirates who looked at the treasure are now mindless as long as they are around it
    25. Cut: all of the pirates are left on the island with the treasure and the Hero sails away with their ship.
    (Obviously the Story is not good, but I think at least it has some dramatic arc to it which I can follow)

    My idea is to start the main theme on point 10, when the fight starts and then iterating on its variations. So for point 10 I plan to present the main Theme in AABA and then go forward to point 11.

    The trouble I have is with the parts before. I started with hinting at the bad captain motif and the Hero theme here and there when appropriate. I tried to follow Repetition and Modulation principle Mike spoke about, but I am not sure if this would be a good way to handle this 'story'.
    In theory I would think that I would need to present the Heros theme in AABA, to get people used to his theme, but with those beats I don't feel like I am able to present the Hero theme in it's full length, since he is in constant danger and in my mind the beats at the beginning are very short (and I kinda want to get to the fight, which this piece is about).

    So has anyone ideas on this?
    Am I overthinking it, and going from point 1 to 10 with Repetition and Modulation is totally fine?
    How would you approach this Scene structurally if it was a Movie you would need to score?
  2. I would set all that aside for now, and simply begin discovering what is the essence of "pirate music." I would begin playing purely in that idiom; learning how to signal it, control it; how many colors it has harmonically. I would listen to precendents, and transcribe them; work there until I could speak my own words in that language; express my own ideas in the idiom. Unless you have a fully developed vocabulary and understand the syntax and grammar, you'll have no way of properly telling your story.
  3. Thank you for your answer Mike!

    This sounds like a good idea. The vocabulary is definitely something I am lacking now.
    I will do that, but isn't it just a way to learn more devices?
    What do I do after I learned to speak in this language?
    Will it help me with my structural problem?
  4. Won't those pieces have a "structure"? If you transcribed 10 pieces, in theory, you will have 10 possible models for structuring your
    piece. If you find, say for example, out of the 10 pieces 5 use the exact same 4 bar phrase/16 bar section/ 32 bar statement then you have empirical
    evidence that this form(ula) is significant to this genre. Which you can later choose to confirm or subvert.

    The other thing to remember is "TIME". Unlike a visual artwork in which the total can be experienced in an instance, music however unfolds over time.
    This is why "memory" and "expectation" are also linked to our perception of form.
  5. PS. Where does he speak about this? Is this in a masterclass?
    Michael Lückgen likes this.
  6. Usually the way I say it is, "Something familiar; something new." But it can be - and has been - said 1000 ways. Establish patterns; fulfill expectations; orient the audience; make them feel smart. Having won their confidence, they are now ready to follow you to new places, so long as you keep a clear tether to terra firma.
  7. I see. I think I tried solving this too disconnected from the music then.

    So for the beginning I could state a few genre cliches until I arrived at the 'fight begins' point?

    I am still not sure how to connect the listener to the good guy theme when there seems to be no time for it (I know, its my story I could change it to make more time for it :D). But maybe the idea of a 'full theme' for the good guy is not appropriate for this short story at all?

    Yeah it is in the "How to Score a Film in 7 Days" Masterclass. A real good one in my opinion.

    There are still so many questions I have, even after watching a lot of masterclasses and trying stuff out.
    Hopefully it will all fall into places eventually.

    Thanks to both of you!
  8. Go find a bunch of pieces that sound like the sea to you - like swashbuckling - and learn to play them/transcribe them. Once you internally understand what makes them what they are you will begin to develop your ability to speak in that language.
    George Streicher likes this.
  9. Will do, thanks!
  10. You may or may not find this helpful, but here is one of my all-time favorite scores:

    Which just happens to be a "swashbuckler" movie! It's definitely the lush, Romantic style, so if that's not what you're going for this may not be helpful. I think this captures the idiom pretty well though, and the essence here may translate to other "genres" if you're going for something other than the Romantic orchestra sound.

    One common thread through traditional pirate movies is the love-interest secondary plot. It makes a great contrast to the more heroic action themes and can provide you an opportunity to get some great motivic development. Let the listener get really familiar with a theme/motif in the slow, pretty B section so when you fragment it in the action parts, it is more recognizable. This may help with your form/structure question.
  11. Cody Ortz likes this.

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