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Winter on the Plains

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by George Streicher, Jun 27, 2019.

  1. #1 George Streicher, Jun 27, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
    Just watched Mike's "Chord Voicings" class and I'm trying to focus on honing my piano sketch methods. With this I'm hoping to get as far as I can on the piano, then take it to orchestration. So...here's a little melody I've been messing with!

    I'd love to hear your feedback and I'll try to keep things organized for progress to be seen / heard.

    V1 - Piano Sketch

    V2 - Piano Sketch Alternates
  2. Hi George,

    As usual, a grain of salt may be needed.

    While I really enjoy the mood and overall ambience, with this short a piece, the melody feels a bit meandering. I like the note choice, but Doug's advice of paying attention to rhythm and meter springs to mind here with long phrasing like this. There are also few if any repeating motifs or devices, so it's difficult to lock onto even on the second listen. It's not that melodies can't be more complex, but complex melodies require more pattern repetitions in order to keep one following. Even keeping that first rhythm in the third bar would help it feel more like a repeating pattern (excuse my quick-and-poor notation):


    The main reason I feel compelled to comment is because I'm struggling with the exact same thing. Melodies are tricky, but what I'm noticing is I have a tendency to either not know where to take a melody, or to over-complicate it which means it meanders and doesn't really feel like it's saying anything. I'm continually taken aback at how simple many fantastic melodies are, often containing a great deal of internal rhythm-and-meter repetitions or simple diatonic motion. Unfortunately I can't give anything more prescriptive, but I'm sure others will be able to help there.
  3. The flowing mood is nice George, definitely. I think the melody needs a bit more of shape. First it feels like (just to my ears and after playing it a couple of times) that it:

    a). sounds to me like the melody is already in the last section of the piece, you know? Start a bit slower and increase the pacing especially your left hands motion figure is doing quite a lot of motion.
    b). Also just for me its not that clear where your strong beat is, I mean when I just tap tempo I am quite not sure where I am, when I start counting from the beginning I am wrong, understanding the first note as a grace or up-beat, counting 4 beats is also wrong. Its confusing
    c). The melodies zig zagging nature is making it hard to have any predictibility or expactation where you want to go with it, It needs a bit of a structure for me because it feels like that a bit improvised and just random at parts. You know your left hand motion is very predictable but the melody above it makes a very contrary character and stronger motif I feel. Think of of Yann Tiersens Comptine d'un autre été. left hand motion but a strong motivic upper line which is both melodically but also rhythmically very disctinctive while your rhythm is just like all over the place.

    Just try more messing with it.

    Thanks for sharing mate.
  4. Reading your post I was not sure if you are asking about the process of going from piano sketch to orchestration, or if you are just looking for general advice on the composition.

    I have not seen the chord voicing video, so I can't really comment on anything related to that. I am sure the info is battlefield tested and awesome, so just keep absorbing what you can from it.

    Rohann and Alexander have done a really nice job pointing out what I think will most help shape the piece.

    1. You change the harmonic rhythm so it feels unbalanced. I think if I was notating this exactly as the audio I would use 2/4 as the meter and then the whole thing is basically 16 measures, and simple duple form. The problem (assuming we are using 2/4 as the meter) is having three measures for the first harmony, and three measures for the next. It then ..sort of feels more like one measure of 4/4 when you return to the opening sonority. I think that's your measure 7 and 8. (but it does not feel convincing that's where we are in the form) The "B" section, or would be next 8 measures, is on much more solid ground. It would be a straight forward one measure per chord towards the end.

    Basically there is no need for the opening to be three measures (or 6/4). Square it, in the opening, and distort it later in the piece.

    2. Your "melody" is fundamentally a instrumental one. My advice, or at least what I would begin experimenting with, is taking your melody and
    use that as a melodic accompaniment and then write the main theme. I would probably write just write a single melodic line. No harmonic accompaniment.

    Lastly one measurement I think about when evaluating my own work is that if one aspect of the composition is very simply make another element more active/complex. Vice Versa. If one is very active, make the other simple.

    If you can imagine in your ear the Moonlight Sonata (the 1st mov.) the rhythm is is very repetitive and simple for the accompaniment.
    Thus the harmonic progression and the syncopation he uses give it the complexity.

    For you take the opposite approach.
    Since the harmonic progression is very simple, I think you music would benefit from more syncopation. (also balance out the phrases as mentioned above.)

    To show, I have taken your melody and first put it in the odd phrase grouping you use, and then to show the difference square it off into 4/4.
    Added in the syncopations I mentioned, and I think it will be real easy for people to grab onto the now that everything is in 4/4.

    So when the progression returns to D the is more the direction I would go.
    Lastly added in a simple reharmonization, repeated an idea again, and added in a Melody to go with the one you wrote.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. #5 George Streicher, Jun 30, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2019
    Hey everyone!

    Thanks so much for all the great feedback so far! @Doug Gibson @Alexander Schiborr @Rohann van Rensburg

    I went back to the piano and tried working out some alternates; focusing on consistent figures in rhythm and shape.

    I made this a much more simple "two-fingered" approach to try and focus purely on the A Section melody line. There are 4 Alternate Ideas separated by some silence in the link below:

    *Note: This is just my initial A-Melody idea that I plan to use as my base for building the rest of the full piece (B section, etc).*

  6. Hi George,

    I’ve been drafting a reply to the first example you shared with us, but now that you’ve shared more examples I’m not sure if all of it is still relevant. So I’ll cut those parts out and stick to the things I think are relevant to all your examples thus far.

    First, I dig the vibe you’re throwing down. I’ve always been a sucker for modal writing and really anything that reminds me (as your first draft does a little bit) of Celtic fiddle tunes. I’ve had a lifelong passion for Celtic folk music, so even if that’s not exactly the vibe you’re going for, it’s hard for me not to want your sketches to go in that direction. I’m sure that’ll be less of a “problem” for me when I hear the completed work.

    Alright, standard disclaimer: Ignore everything I say (except for this sentence; that would create some sort of paradox).

    I’m probably merely echoing the valuable input received from Rohann, Alex and Doug, just using different words and examples. Maybe that’ll be helpful; sometimes it’s nice to get a three-dimensional perspective on something. Or maybe it’ll just be needless repetition. Also, I don’t have street cred as a composer, so none of this is intended as “advice” but more as just an opinion from the proverbial “man on the street.”

    I wasn’t sure if the new sketches were intended to replace your original share, or more as introductory material that will eventually lead into something like your first example. (My personal vote would be for the latter.)

    Also not sure if in the 3 new examples, you wanted us to pick a “favorite” … ? I don’t really have a favorite — if it were me and those were my sketches, here’s what I’d do: I’d plan to write a complete musical “paragraph” that’s roughly twice the length of one of your examples, and I’d incorporate bits and pieces of each sketch into that final version. The second sketch would probably have the closest affinity to the final version, and some of the brighter stuff in the third example (like the B natural for instance) I’d save to sprinkle in lightly (just hints of it really) somewhere toward the end.

    I respect that you went back and focused on consistency of the elements. But to my ear these drafts go just a little too far in that direction … as I was listening I heard many opportunities where you could spice it up just a little, without sacrificing any of the gains you’ve made by focusing on consistency.

    As a man on the street, here’s the most important thing that for me is “missing” or “oh, I wish he’d do this …” (and I think it applies to all the sketches you’ve shared in this thread so far) —

    To my ear you’re confirming the tonic too much. I’d feel much happier as a listener if you threw in some half-cadences (or cadences that have a similar effect). I want to hear bookended phrases, question and answer, call and response — that kind of effect, even if those literal tools aren’t the ones you use to achieve it. It’s worth reminding ourselves that a cadence on the dominant is enough on its own to establish a key for the listener — there are many examples in the literature where that’s all you get before they’re already modulating somewhere else, and it doesn’t throw us off.

    I made a very simple example to illustrate (yesterday night, so obviously it’s not based on the more recent stuff, but I think the basic principles apply). Since you were reminding me of Celtic fiddle, I decided to imagine a solo violin (that’s why I got a little carried away adding some grace notes).

    So the first phrase could be something as simple and “not innovative” as this:


    (The bar of rest at the beginning is because I wanted you to establish the accompaniment figure at least that long before introducing the melody. Not relevant anymore, if your new sketches are of material that will be placed before the original share. Since I’m imagining a violin, the slurs and sometimes the tenutos are more intended to indicate bowing rather than phrasing, though as you know the distinction between these two can get blurry real quick! I still have a lot to learn about bowing so this is just a best guess.) Of course you can do something much tastier than this example, but if you’re like me, it’s worth reminding yourself that you don’t have to — you’ve heard a phrase end like that a bajillion times because it works; it ain’t broke and it don’t need fixin.’

    And then you answer it with a phrase that's similar but not necessarily exactly so; here's an example but you'll come up with something better:


    I modified the first phrase slightly to hold back from going up to the high C — wanted to save its impact for the second phrase. The shape of the second phrase’s ending matches the shape of the first phrase’s ending — but at the price of confirming the D less stridently than you did.

    Using those two phrases as an example, as a listener I’d be happiest if you treated a matched pair like that as A, then gave us A’ (i.e., a repeat with development), then some kind of B or “bridge” that contrasts with A but is clearly related to it, and pulls us inexorably into a return to A’’ (i.e., a repeat with even more development, which can go even further out without losing us). So you’d end up with AA’BA’’ … as listeners we don’t get tired of hearing A that much, when its done with panache.

    The “A” and “B” stuff above refers to the melody. By the time we’ve been through AA’BA’’, we’ll be very well-immersed and you can take us still further … including a B section (now here the B is referring to musical form, not melody).

    I second the valuable input you’ve already received, but for me personally, returning to the tonic so often was my biggest “hmmm not quite there yet.” If they were my drafts I’d focus quite a bit on that aspect. (My second biggest concern with your first example doesn’t apply nearly as much to your new examples, so I won’t go there unless you tell me you want to hear it.)

    I’m looking forward to hearing your final draft when the time comes. Part of me wants to listen in on the entire process as it happens, and part of me wants to wait until I hear the completed piece before taking another peek behind the scenes. No matter what, I promise I won’t try to make you turn your piece into a Celtic tune. ;)

    Have fun with it!

    p.s. I’d be interested to hear what instrumental colors you’ve been imagining/considering as you explore this material … unless of course you want to save that as surprise for us when you share the finished draft.
    George Streicher likes this.
  7. @Sam Reed Thanks for the solid feedback, Sam! I'm still tinkering with this thing and I'm just exploring and trying hone my problem solving skills / developmental skills.

    I actually added a 4th take of the A melody to that link that kind of combines two of them.

    I'm trying to go for a very simple folks-y and kind of melancholy sound. Something that sounds like the dead of winter in the plains.

    I'll keep crackin at it and I think it's fun and really valuable to get feedback on here. Trying to get better at this and gain some perspective and different practice to help me improve.

  8. Nice post !

    Respectfully I would like to add a few points (opinions) to ponder regarding two points made.

    I agree, however what I felt was left un-said in your post is this can also be alleviated by changing the bass note. The problem is both outerlines return to tonic. Using chord inversions, or re-harmonizations create a similar "syntax" function when returning to the tonic (in melody only) if both outer voices returning is saved to end sections.

    Basically one does not have to think of this a "melody" only issue.

    It's a good point.

    I think one has to decide how much "modal flavor" is wanted. The classical cannon was exploring the major/minor.
    Personally I hear the thing as Dorian. (leaning) What makes a Dorian cadence is the i minor to IV major, and vice versa. It's plagal.

    His G chords confirm this as does the C major, i - VII (major) - IV (major) ......that's Dorian. So if the flavor is needing to be in the melody
    I would insert the B natural as that is the note that signals we are not in major/minor mode.

    Tossing in a DOMINANT, changes the mode.

    I already gave an example that shows my opinion, so I don't have anything else to add.

    Basically I think at this stage two things are fucking you in the ass.

    1. You're simply are not singing your melody. Your fingers are leading you.
    2. The octave displacement is fucking you. Save that for later in your process. Move all that shit - of the C going high- down an octave.
    That's instrumental writing. Get the melody solid as a line, and then dis-place the octaves. You would not sing the melody like this. You would drop it an octave as I am saying.

    The result is your "tonal gravity" is weaker due to the lack of line, which is I showed above.

    Good/BAD/The Ugly and "Johny got his gun" are good examples of Dorian --- and you can make it more Adagio or more extension if this feels to "Western" to make it more "Dakota/Kansas" like.

    Remember most of that shit were composed as hymns tunes, or drawing inspiration from "spirituals"

    George Streicher likes this.
  9. I think I'm going to bail on this one. I'm just getting lost in it and figure it's just a bad start / idea. On to the next one!
  10. Huge improvement! Well done. V4 was very followable and distinct.

    I think you unnecessarily abandoned your "flowing" approach though. I'd love to hear one of these ideas combined with your initial harmonic approach.
    George Streicher likes this.

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