Below is a short video with some tips on how to take a motif
“Motif: a short succession of notes producing a single impression; a brief melodic or rhythmic formula out of which longer passages are developed”
… and make a few simple changes to expand it into a verse or chorus. The idea expressed in this video is to come up with a small melody idea and be able to repeat it 3 times but each time changing it just enough to keep it interesting. This strikes a good balance between something familiar for your listener while at the same time, providing something new with minimal effort.
There are many methods for altering a motif that I won’t list here, but this video shows 2 examples that should be easy to re-use in your own composing efforts.
play the motif
repeat the motif but add a different ending to it
repeat the original motif with the original ending
play the motif a 4th time with another new ending.
play the motif
repeat the motif unchanged
play a shortened version of the motif twice (in the time allotted for the first version of the motif)
I’ve seen the transcribing of other people’s music recommended many times as a way to learn the art of orchestration and composition. The idea is to get a recording of a classical piece of music, attempt to recreate it by listening to it, performing the parts you hear into your DAW and then checking the actual conductor’s score to correct any mistakes. Doing this for a while will help to recognize patterns and be able to re-use those patterns to compose our own music.
There are places that sell conductor’s scores but I’ve found another interesting (free) way. Some live composing videos on YouTube are detailed enough that you can see exactly what is being recorded, by seeing the composer’s hands on a piano as they record a track, or seeing the piano roll in enough detail to figure out exactly what notes were recorded.
I would recommend performing a YouTube search for “live composing”. This will lead you to videos of composers as they work on a new piece of music. You can see step by step exactly how they do it.
Here are some of those videos (if you’re interested in epic/trailer style music):
In the video description of the following video, you will find a link where you can actually download the audio of individual tracks and the MIDI as well. If you become a patreon (paid subscriber) of Alex Moukala, you will be able to download the audio tracks and MIDI of many of his compositions for studying purposes.
Thor: The Dark World’s Theme – by Alex Moukala
In the following video, by carefully watching his hands, you should be able to figure out exactly what is being played so you can create your own version for studying.
CineSymphony LITE Composition Screencast – by Michael Patti
This next 2 part video series walks you through a live composition that eventually is submitted to be considered as background music for use on T.V.
Does melody even matter? – by Nick Murray
Does Melody Even Matter – Part 2 – By Nick Murray
How I make EPIC CINEMATIC MUSIC – bY Olexandr Ignatov
A short video demonstrating the sound of doubling, in unison, various combinations of instruments. I thought this video would make a useful reference. The instrument combinations demonstrated in the video are:
Brass & Woodwinds
Trumpet + Oboe -or- Flute -or- Clarinet
French Horn + Clarinet -or- Bassoon
Trombone + Bassoon -or- Bass Clarinet
Tuba + Bassoon
Woodwinds & Strings
Violins + Oboe -or- Flute -or- Piccolo
Violas + Oboe -or- English Horn -or- Clarinet -or- Bassoon
Cellos + Clarinet -or- Bass Clarinet -or- Bassoon
Double Bass + Bassoon -or- Bass Clarinet
Strings & Brass
Violins + Trumpets
Violas + French Horn
Cellos + French Horn
Cellos & Double Bass + Trombone & Tuba
Strings & Woodwinds & Brass
Violins + Oboes + Trumpets
Violas + Clarinets + French Horns
Doubling Orchestral Instruments (by Global Composers Network)
A short video but I found it interesting how the composer starts by creating a 4 bar loop in his DAW, adds one chord per bar (Dm, C, Gm, Am), then while the loop is still playing quickly adds accompaniment. This seems like a good idea for quickly generating ideas.
The elements of this composition are as follows (in the order they were added to the video):
strings playing chords
harp playing arpeggio
low brass playing bass notes
basic steady percussion rhythm (sticks or something light)
taiko drums providing rhythmic accents
violins playing legato lead melody
strings playing simple ostinato (alternating between 2 or 3 notes, but simpler than harp arpeggio
horns play melody when violins are not playing melody, then harmony/counterpoint when violins are playing melody
What I would do after what the composer has done, is go back and pull apart the added accompaniment so it eventually builds up to the point where all the accompaniment is playing. I’d try mixing and matching the accompaniment, perhaps repeat the whole process to create a B section then put everything together for a complete composition
This video demonstrate a few good techniques for smooth transitions between chords. My explanations below, taken from the video (far below), assume a general knowledge of scales and chords. The techniques used in the video are:
1. Using a pedal note. This is a note that remains the same through each chord in the chord progression, usually higher or lower in pitch than the chords in the chord progression. This could be a common note in the chords or the root note of the scale from which the chords originate. For example, in the key of C, if playing a C F G C chord progression, you could use C as the pedal note. This technique can be a good effect when used sparingly. Hearing the same note frequently or for long periods of time, gets boring quickly.
2. Chord inversions, or voice leading. For smooth chord transitions, it’s best to keep the distance between adjacent chords to a minimum. For example, if transitioning from a C (CEG) to an F (FAC) chord, recognize which notes both have in common and place those notes in the same position in each chord. Look at the difference in movement to get from one note to the other in these 2 examples of transition from a C chord to an F chord.
This is good voice leading with minimal movement between a C and F chord (C root position to F second inversion or C to F/C):
C -> C (no movement) E -> F (semi-tone) G -> A (2 semi-tones)
This example is more movement which will not sound as smooth between C and F chords (C root position to F root position):
C -> F (5 semi-tones) E -> A (5 semi-tones) G -> C (5 semi-tones)
3. Suspended chords. A suspended chord is achieved by moving the 3rd of the chord up or down. This is a useful way of providing a smooth transition between chords that have no common note. For example, to transition from a C (CEG) to a Dm (DFA) a suspended chord can be injected between the two as a short transition chord. In the following example, the 3rd in the C chord (the E) is raised to F to create a Csus4 chord. This means the 3rd has been suspended and replaced with another note.
C -> C -> D E -> F -> F G -> G -> A
In the above, there are now common notes between the C and the Csus4, and the Csus4 and the Dm chord.
4. Anticipation. This involves playing a note from the next chord, early in anticipation of the new chord. A suspended chord achieves this but this can also be achieved by anticipating any note in the new chord:
C -> D -> D E -> E -> F G -> G -> A
… or both can be used one after another for an even more smooth transition, first the sus chord, then the anticipation:
C -> C -> D -> D E -> F -> F -> F G -> G -> G -> A
As you can see, the C (CEG) chord, one note at a time, blends in to the Dm (DFA) chord.
5. Joining notes. This means instead of playing the same note twice, hold the note twice as long. In the first example where the chords were C played as (CEG), and F, played as (CFA) instead of playing the C twice, just hold the C.
C ____ E -> F G -> A
The above is meant as a brief summary or reference. This is best understood by watching the video from “Hack Music Theory” which demonstrates these concepts very well.
5 Hacks for Better Chord Progressions – (by Hack Music Theory)
This short video shows some simple steps to easily create a harmony for your melody, whether the harmony is for a vocalist, a piano or an accompanying instrument.
To find the high harmony, start with the melody note and move 2 scale notes up. The low harmony is the melody note but 2 scale notes down. For example, if your melody note is an E (in the key of C), your high harmony is a G, your low harmony is a C. You can use either the high harmony, the low harmony or both harmony notes together with the melody.
If the high and low harmony notes are played together, they form a chord with the melody note, so adjustments may be necessary if the harmony forms a diminished chord (which may sound too dissonant). Try lowering or raising a harmony note to avoid this.
Check the harmony notes against the chord progression. In the video, the low harmony note had already been lowered a tone to avoid a diminished chord. This turned the harmony from a 3rd below the melody to a 4th below the melody but this clashed with the chord progression so the low harmony was lowered another scale note, which then made the low harmony a 5th below the melody which fit with the chord progression.
Also note that the high harmony can be played an octave lower, and the low harmony can be played an octave higher. This turns harmony in 3rds to harmony in 6ths.
All this is demonstrated in the video below.
How to find harmony the easy way – (by Quincy Kane Morris)
This is a 4 part series that starts with a piano sketch for 8 bars and goes through a few options for how to orchestrate it. The piano sketch is interesting to me because it starts with 3 staff lines. One for melody, one for chords and one for bass line. In the first video, Peter Scartabello turns his 8 bar piano sketch into an orchestration for woodwinds. The second video repeats the process for brass. The third video does the same for strings. The 4th video is where things really get interesting as elements of the 3 previous versions are blended together into 2 new versions of a much more “colourful” orchestration using woodwinds, brass, strings and some added percussion.
The videos might start out a little slow, but stick with it. When he gets to the actual orchestration, his technique represents an interesting formula for composing and orchestration.
(New video added Oct 4, 2020)
The original track by Bill Hennessy was intended as a backing track for a vocalist who never did anything with it. I found the track, liked it and added an orchestra.
The original track only had the generic name of “Piano Ballad3”. Prompted by Bill to come up with a new name, I tried to think about what words might describe the feeling in the music. To me the song feels a little sad and wistful at times while also conveying a sense of hope. I came up with the name “Better Days”. The title could mean, longing for better days from the past and/or looking forward to better days in the future. For the video, I made it about childhood memories.
original composition, piano, bass guitar, drums
orchestral arrangement, piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello, string bass, trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba (all from Virtual Playing Orchestra sample library), mixing
In a marathon video session, broken into 2 parts lasting over 15.5 hours, (Yes that’s right. Part one is over 11 hours) Mike Verta critiques works of music submitted by various amateur composers (like us) and offers tips on how to improve them. Over the course of the long video, the same problems are found in many of the musical pieces. I recommend watching the video, (yes the entire 15.5+ hours but not all in one sitting) to really drive home the tips he offers. The tips that stand out the most to me, have been summarized below:
Don’t expect the listener to focus on more than 2 things at a time. If your music is too busy, the listener will be lost.
Establish a pattern that the listener can lock on to. This requires something to be played at least twice.
Don’t abandon an idea too soon. Develop an idea. Change the accompaniment, change the harmonization, change the instruments (often referred to as changing the colour).
At the same time, be wary of too much vertical development or horizontal development. Both are important but in the right proportion. Vertical development refers to changing/adding instruments to the same melody. Horizontal development refers to modifying a melody/rhythm, or changing and developing an idea.
When moving forward with developing an idea, only change one thing at a time. Change just the rhythm or just the melody or just the accompaniment or just the colour.
When transitioning from one section to another (from an A section to a B section or verse to chorus) keep a common thread between the two so it’s clear they are related otherwise is will sound like a completely unrelated piece of music.
If you start your introduction with the focus on what will become the accompaniment, perhaps you start with just chords or an ostinato pattern, when the melody is laid over top of the accompaniment, decrease the volume of the accompaniment. The listener will still hear it because they are familiar with it and they will know that their focus should be shifted to the new music that was just added.
Don’t use more instruments than you truly need. To paraphrase Mike Verta “no colour is as clear as a solo instrument”.
Beware of the trap of over orchestration. You will have listened to your music for hours while working on it and what has become a boring 8 bars that needs more instruments to keep it sounding fresh to you, is new and fresh to a first time listener without any extra instruments and will sound muddy and confusing to a new listener if too many instruments are added.
Keep your melody and accompaniment in different registers (or at least very different tone colours). If your melody is focused around middle C, keep your accompaniment an octave higher or lower, especially if the accompaniment is similar in colour to the melody.
Never forget that your MIDI mockup is supposed to sound like real people are playing real instruments. Real brass and woodwind players need to breathe. Real string players can’t play really fast ostinato patterns forever.
Be aware of the relative power of each instrument. A solo flute will not be heard over a loud brass chord. Sure, you can turn up the fader to make the flute louder but it won’t sound realistic.
Well, that’s what I remember at the moment from watching the video below (and other videos from Mike Verta). Take your time, watch the whole video and it could make your music better.
A cover of Oh Holy Night written by Adolphe Adam in 1847, arranged by Donovan Farrell, Paul Battersby
Although I’m not a fan of Xmas music anymore (I’ve heard the songs far too many times) and I’m not into religious or gospel music, I thought the singing in this was so good that when asked by Donovan, I had to work on it. Unfortunately my orchestration was not used in the official video and I discovered that fact too late for me to release this before Xmas.
guitar arrangement, guitar, vocals
Phillip Michael Parsons
Brandi Lynne Wightman
orchestral arrangement, piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello, string bass, trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba, harp (all from Virtual Playing Orchestra sample library), percussion, mixing