Tip #12 – Pictorial Writing

Take a look at the image below:

What does it look like? A pair of wings? Lips? Maybe a flatted heart? Either way, you could have probably understood right off the bat that this musical idea has more of a visual aesthetic that an acoustic kind.

While writing music in the way that you want it to sound should be a priority, there is nothing wrong with having some fun and experimenting with trying to draw pictures/shapes with the music. You never know – it might sound really could if possible to perform!

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Tip #11 – Fusion of Ideas

In my personal opinion, upcoming composers never lack in having enough original materials & ideas for new works of music. However, a good portion of them do lack in the skill of seamlessly transitioning from one idea to another (unless that stark contrast is desired – but it shouldn’t happen all the time, as abrasive transitions sound cheap on the composer’s part over time).

Think of this technique of solving this problem like those apps that take two photos and fuse them together by finding the commonality point in the middle. The same thing can be done with musical figures/themes. Take two separate ideas and look at their shape, intervals, repeating patterns, contour, pitches, etc.

Take note of the similarities and differences between the two. Some stuff may overlap. Now, combine those aspects in different ways. Observe how each “offspring” figure has a commonality with each of the “parents.”

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Tip #10 – Grouping & Reordering Figures in a Melody

Maybe when you were a kid you played with a toy that involved building your own character. You got separate cards of various heads, torsos, and bottoms… only for you to do something silly and have the head be in the middle, and the torso on the top.

Let’s try something similar with expanding melodies with a lot of smaller figures within them. First, label each unique standalone figure within a melody. Group them to how you feel best fits and separates from the others.

After that, experiment by reordering the different parts. Some of them may not work, but others might be really cool and crafty!


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Tip #9 – Fun with Retrograde

Want to do something sonically and acoustically creative, but not exactly sure on how to develop a melodic theme? Try using retrograde techniques!

As the name implies, retrograde means doing something backwards. Think of it like a mirror copy of the original. For example in practice, take a small (or large – whatever you prefer) melodic idea:

Now, copy and write the new melody in the following measures as if you placed a mirror across the bar line. Notice how the pitches and rhythm reflect over the bar line in backwards to ow it was originally written.

While retrograde typically involves repeating backwards the phrase on both levels of pitch frequency and rhythm, a composer can experiment by dropping one of them. What if we took the rhythm factor out of retrograde, and just had the pitches go backwards? It would look something like this:

And now the other way around: only keeping the rhythm in retrograde.


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Tip #8 – Finding That Melodic Pair with Contrary Motion

Have you ever noticed that when we ask a question, our voices tend to wander higher in pitch? Even as you were reading that pervious question, the voice in your head must have had direction in their tone, contour, and phrasing. When someone answers a question, the voice goes in the opposite motion and lowers in pitch.

Sure, can you find examples where this does not happen? Yeah, but it is a phenomenon of a natural occurrence of contrary motion in contour.

Say you have a melodic fragment, and idea, that needs some kind of “answer” to it. First, observe the melodic intervals, direction, and shape of the melodic line.

Now, flip that shape upside-down in your head. For example: if it went up, have the melody go down now in roughly the same interval area. This adds a complemental structure to the melody.


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Tip #7 – Extreme Dovetailing

Continuing with the idea of alternating between instruments, there is the technique of dovetailing. As the definition already goes, dovetailing is when things interlock with each other at some joint area. Melodically in music, dovetailing is when a relatively incomplete music idea is carried out by another voice starting from where the original voice ended. Typically, there is usually at least one note of overlap, but these rules can easily be diverted from – so long as there is a sense of flow instead of alternation.

Inspired by the guitar technique of “chicken picken’ ” where a guitarist plays a chord or melody between alternating sounds of pick, mute, bend, cluck, etc. – we get this extreme for of dovetailing that can be applied to any music ensemble.

Take an original melodic line:

Now, look at the ensemble. Find where their ranges overlap. You might need to transpose the melody to a shared octave so that there are no jumps between voices. After doing so, break up the melodic line between the different members of the ensemble. Remember, having some melodic overlap is okay, in fact, probably even better. However, this example does not do so. Finally, experiment with having each instrument do different techniques. It would come out looking similar to this:

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 2.) Understanding Dynamics

When you are listening to your favorite music on your device, you increase the volume if it needs to be loud – and vice verse, decrease the volume when it needs to be quiet.

In music notation, there are dynamics, which are symbols used to indicate to the performer how loud or soft to play. Below on the grand staff, or the treble and bass clef connected by a curly brace, you will notice letters underneath the notes. Those are the dynamic symbol abbreviations used to tell how loud/soft an instrument is to play until the next dynamic is mentioned. Typically, they are to always go below the staff (or in the middle of a grand staff); but for situations involving vocalists or for separating the upper stave of the grand staff, they should be put above.

The most commonly used dynamics symbol abbreviations (going from softest to loudest) are: pianissimo (pp), piano (p), mezzo piano (mp), mezzo forte (mf) forte (f), fortissimo (f). Piano meaning “soft,” and forte meaning “strong.”

In the rare case you need to go beyond and hit the extreme ends of volume, add an “issi” to it and another letter. Ex.: pianississimo (ppp)

If you want to notate a gradual change in the volume, try using these shapes:

A cone/hairpin with the open end on the right is a crescendo that tells the performer to get louder. If it was facing the opposite direction of ” > ” instead of ” < ” then is it a diminuendo/decrescendo that tells the performer to gradually decrease in sound.

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