This post is a further exploration of one of the tricks mentioned in a grain of sand: coming up with a rhythmic idea devoid of any pitch content.
There is a legend, quite possibly not apocryphal, because the game of billiards was indeed one of his hobbies (another apparently being the collection of bathroom graffiti while on tours throughout Europe which he detailed in letters to his father), that Mozart would sometimes use the rhythmic pattern of the clicking of the balls in a break as the generation of rhythmic motives.
But, unless you’re a billiards or lawn bowling player (hmmm… shuffleboard would work too, wouldn’t it?!), you’ve undoubtably given into the urge to spontaneously tap out a rhythm on the tabletop of a diner while waiting for a 2 a.m. breakfast, or, possibly scat sing one like THIS. For this discussion, we’ll use my vocalized motive heard in that example.
The next step can be tough for someone without formal ear-training–but it’s doable with some effort and free software–and that’s turning that improvisation into written music notation. Either of those methods, however, depend on one basic skill: memory. Develop the skill of remembering exactly what you just improvised so you can repeat it exactly, over and over until you’ve sussed out the notation of the rhythm.
Developing this skill has other applications, too. There’s a technique used in certain types of pop vocals where the artist overdubs tracks with themselves singing in unison with what they sang before. I’ve heard pros who could do this matching every slight inflection and nuance of their first track’s performance for a 3 minute tune. Memory is a valuable skill.
Anyway, back to the task at hand.
Once you’re certain you’ve got your riff (motive) deeply embedded in your memory, you’re ready to write it down using the techniques you learned in Ear Training 101…or, if you prefer the software method, record it on your cell phone, then open the mp3 in your free Audacity software. I use Magix’s SoundForge Pro Mac 3, simply because I’ve used it for so long and my fingers do their thing without me having to think about it, but Audacity is great. Get it. It’s cross platform. And it’s FREE! Whichever audio editor you use, you’ll see your waveform, like this:
Now, I bet you “patted your foot,” either mentally or physically, when you improvised your rhythm. Breaking down this procedure a little bit further, let try to identify where those “foot pats” are in the waveform.
The red lines in the above example represent where I felt the beat to be for my riff. That tells us a little, but not everything we need to know. To get closer, try tapping your foot exactly twice as fast as you listen to the motive. The blue lines in the following example show where those would fall.
We’re almost there! Now, suppose we subdivide each of those in half. The green lines in the next example represent those subdivisions.
Patience, patience, patience…almost done, almost done.
Now, suppose that the distance between red lines is a quarter note, then the four subdivisions would each be sixteenth notes, wouldn’t they? Mapping that out using music notation it would be 2 sixteenth notes, then a long note starting on the last sixteenth of that beat, then another short note halfway through the next beat, followed by two more sixteenth notes on the beat (like the opening). Looks like this in music notation:
OK…that’s enough for now. We’ll continue this exploration next post by adding pitches, harmony, orchestration, tempi, and dynamics in Tabletop drummer part 2. We’ll also take a peek in a 3rd part at how this motive could be explored even further by developing into throughout time.
Look forward to seeing you next time.
The collection of music scores and recordings (and live performances, of course), however, was an entirely different story. That, mostly, is where I learned what I learned, the music itself (including the musical examples in the books). If you have $10 bucks and a choice between a book about music and the music itself, buy the score!
That said, there are books that I keep beside my desk, even in this world of the Internet in which we keep the sum of the world’s knowledge (and quite a few lies) in our shirt pocket. This is my list. If you can find them and afford to buy them, I recommend them. A few were only of value to me when I was young, but most still help me, and I reach for them often when working.
Next to each book, you’ll see some of the ideas that spoke to me most in that book.
|The Study of Orchestration — Samuel Adler||Everything!|
|The Technique of Orchestration — Kent Kennan||Everything…much less info than the Adler, but sometimes that’s just what you need.|
|What to Listen for in Music — Aaron Copland|
|A Composer’s World — Paul Hindemith|
|Counterpoint — Knud Jeppesen||This is the primo modal counterpoint book. If you’re one of those who believes in “the two-voice framework” modal counterpoint is essential|
|Polyphonic Composition — Owen Swindale||While the Jeppesen is practically a primary source, the Swindale actually teaches you how to write points of imitations and motets and such…that’s why it’s named what it’s named.|
|Form in Tonal Music — Douglass M. Green||Each of these books covers the same material, but each has its own unique observations and techniques of showing them.|
|Form in Music — Wallace Berry|
|Musical Form — Ellis B. Kohs|
|Essentials of Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint — Neale B. Mason||As Swindale does for the 16th Century, this book does for the 18the Century. It teaches you how to actually compose in its contrapuntal forms.|
|Counterpoint — Walter Piston||An early, but important, counterpoint book, although not as authoritative as the Jeppesen is to modal counterpoint.|
|The Craft of Musical Composition — Paul Hindemith||His unique theory and approach to step progressions (that melodies have skeletons) and his classification of harmonic dissonances make this important; later theories (Heinrich Schenker, for instance, took Hindemith’s step progression theory way too far until it became meaningless. Hindemith keeps it reigned in.)|
|20th Century Harmony — Vincent Persichetti||Not valuable for me any more, but as a high-school student it gave me entry into something beyond J. S. Bach (I was an organist).|
|Harmony — Walter Piston||An early, but important, harmony book. Its weakness is, in a way, its strength: it’s only concerned with the order of traditional harmonic progression.|
|The Contrapuntal Harmonic Technique of the Eighteenth Century — Allen McHose||McHose’s approach to analysis was entirely statistical, based on rigorous statistical analysis of important Classical composers. What I like about his approach, other than this statistical grounding, is his chart of traditional harmonic progressions that I will present in my own simplified form at some point in this blog.|
I know, I know, I know: yes, I’m betraying my very old-fashioned training; yes, each one of those books (except the Adler and the Kennan) may only contain a few fragments of ideas that are valuable; yes, some of those books are so old they’re probably not in print any more. NEVERTHELESS, they’re my favorites (was raised on ’em) and I was surprised to see that even something as obscure as the McHose is available, used, on the Internet. The Hindemith Craft of Musical Composition is even available in downloadable PDF. So…hunt around, you can find them, and probably pretty cheap. Keep them in your knapsack.
What I like so much about Messiaen’s approach is how thoroughly practical it is. He doesn’t justify anything. He just describes what he does. It’s quite literally about how he composes. He only describes some of the things he, himself, does, certainly not everyone. It’s the most honest book on composition I know. It is completely without pretense.
If you get a chance to look at this book, I recommend it to you. It may give you some ideas.
Here’s a YouTube video with score of Book Two of his Catalogue d’oiseaux.
You might discover you don’t like his music, but you do like some of the ideas in his book. That’s okay. That can happen! Don’t let prejudice against his style blind you to what valuable ideas you might discover in his book. And, you never know…someday you might find you like, at least, some of his music. I know I do.
By the way, this technique can be applied to everyday writing. You don’t need to save it for when you’re completely bereft of ideas.
Who You Were Meant to Be
A Guide to Finding or Recovering Your Life’s Purpose
Lindsay C. Gibson, Psy.D
New Horizon Press
Far Hills, NJ
Copyright @2000 Lindsay C. Gibson
|You may wonder why I begin a blog about being a composer with a book about “Finding or Recovering Your Life’s Purpose.” First and foremost, you are a human. Somewhere down the line–nowhere near the top of the list–is a description of what you do, one of those things perhaps being composing. But way before the technical stuff comes the human stuff, including your purpose, your why. That’s what this book is about.
This book may be the most underlined and full of marginalia of any book I own. Something about this subject and her approach to it touches my soul deeply. She could easily have made each chapter a separate full book. I wish she’d do that. I would buy them all.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who feels that one’s inner and outer life are not in sync, or simply doesn’t know what one should focus on, or simply want to better understand one’s choices.
She helped me in many ways and some of her suggestions I remember to this day and use. It’s an old book, and I doubt you’ll even find it for sale used, but if you do, snap it up. It’s the kind people don’t take to the thrift shop. I’m hanging on to mine!
Recently, there was a theme build-up over several Sundays at the church where I play (Lakewood UCC, St. Petersburg, FL) culminating on a fourth Sunday. The theme of the build-up was “O God, Our Help.” So, I wrote a different prelude based on the St. Anne tune for each of the 3 build-up Sundays, playing one each Sunday, then all on the fourth Sunday.
The order in which they were written was actually 2, 3, 1, but this arrangement (1, 2, 3) seemed the best if played as a group on a church recital or something.
Here’s link for SoundCloud album: https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sets/the-geography-of-dreams.
As part of this re-orchestration I also finally (!!!) got the score done. For free download go to https://hiltonkeanjones.com/PDFs/The_Geography_of_Dreams.pdf, right-click and “save as…”
I’m spending some time looking at my personal and professional priorities. Those change as time passes. It’s time for me to look at mine again and see what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, what’s become more important or less important.
In doing so, I’m looking at a lot of resources to help myself with this. I came across something called Paired Comparison Analysis. I was familiar with bubble sort from my dabbling in computer coding long ago. This is similar but with a couple extra features. The site where I learned about it–which has a handy, free, downloadable worksheet–is www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_02.htm.
I thought you might be interested in an application of this device in a creative person’s context. To understand how this analysis works, read the article linked to above and watch its very short video. No point in me re-explaining it. They do it better anyway.
Below is my analysis of the items I couldn’t really decide among. The results conform to what I sort of suspected, but nice to know there’s some data to back up my suspicion. The list is what to write next since I feel an urge to do them all (anthems, piano solos, short concerti for piano a la Mozart scope, orchestral music of which several pieces are already started, 4-hands piano pieces which can be fun to bang through with friends, or some more purely electronic music).
Now…don’t be fooled! The creative mind will have its own way. It may cooperate and do what this analysis suggests or it might not. More often than not, Kokopelli has other plans. As Woody Allen said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Also, every time–and I’m pretty sure it’s EVERY DAMN TIME–I tell anyone what I’m going to write next…I never do. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.
Paired Comparison Analysis does seem like a useful tool as a helpful hint in decision making, though, even if it’s not an oracle.
PS: this was originally posted on my personal blog, hkjones.info.
It is so easy to get distracted in life, isn’t it?! My intention with this blog was to regularly call attention to past pieces I’ve written as well as new ones. It’s the “regularly” part of that intention that went astray. So, today, I’m trying to climb back on that wagon and see if I can stay on it.
Tales of the Laughing Wizards is a suite of pieces for electronic sound. Each piece within the suite is a different wizard with a name suggestive of the tone of that piece. I don’t write much electronic music any more, but at one point in my life that was “my thing” so to speak. Now, I prefer to write music that humans enjoy playing on acoustic instruments.
I wish I could find a way to make the sounds that are possible to make with electronics, but with an acoustic orchestra, but that’s beyond me. That’s ok… Getting older has taught me one’s limitations are best just accepted sometimes.
Here’s Tales of the Laughing Wizards!
There are some recent additions to my website in the Organ and Choir listing. If you get a chance, please listen, especially to the newer organ pieces. Of course, if you know any choir directors or organists who might be interesting in any of this, please forward them the link to this post. I’d love to get some performances.
NOTE: Choral recordings may differ slightly
from scores because of later editing. Both 4-part
and simpler 2-part versions are available for most anthems.
|O Loving Founder Of The Stars||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||2015|
|I Look to Thee in Every Need||(2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||2014|
|The Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning||(Unison with EZ 4-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||2014|
|The Lost||(2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||2014|
|The River’s Song||(2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||2013|
|All Bless the One||(2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||1993|
|Be Still And Know (Psalm 46)||SATB (or TTBB))||MP3||SCORE||1993|
|Have This Love||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1993|
|Bound by Love||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1993|
|Happy Are the Lowly Poor||(2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||1990|
|In You We Live||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1990|
|As A Doe Longs (Psalm 42-43)||SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1990|
|Psalm 40 (May We See Your Radiant Face)||2-part mixed)||MP3||SCORE||1990|
|Kol Mishp’chot Haahdamah||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1986|
|Beloved, Let Us Love||(SATB w/soprano & baritone solos)||MP3||SCORE||1980|
|Music for Eucharist; Rite II||(unison congregation)||MP3||SCORE||1980|
|Three Hymn Tune Anthems||(SATB)||MP3||SCORE||1968|
LYRIC RAGS — a sonata for violin and piano
Mov 1 – City Nights
Mov 2 – Silent Waltz
Mov 3 – Sky Highway
Composed in 1975, the 3rd movement is my favorite of the three, but I’m also fond of the 2nd movement. The first movement is a bit severe…more dissonant than I remember. The score is available at https://hiltonkeanjones.com/scores/Lyric_Rags.pdf.