Tip #128 – Rethinking One-Part Density / Unison Lines

I can personally speak for myself in this scenario – sometimes when we are writing a piece of music, we tend to overwrite. And with this, we clutter the musical atmosphere and distract the audience from the main melodic lines. This is because it is scary to have a single melodic line that every instrument is playing; a fear that this will be considered “too easy,” “simplistic,” or “lazy” even.

In actuality, having a one-part density (or otherwise known as unison lines), can be the best option. Some arrangers and composers have estimated that 70% – 80% of a piece of music should utilize unison lines.

After writing a sketch of a melody, consider this process:

  1. Will one-part density strengthen the line, or make it too thin compared to what else is going on?
  2. How many instruments can/will play the line?
  3. Which instruments fit the primary range of the line?
  4. What instruments will you choose and do they compliment/contrast in color?
  5. Are there any addition instruments that can double at the adjacent octave above/below for greater effect?
  6. Can percussion hits be added to the line?

And after considering these questions of the process to writing a unison line you will begin to have a better grasp of the arrangement/compositional process of your music.

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Tip #127 – Cheat-Sheet for Harmonic Lead-Ins

Say that you have a repetitive chord progression in your composition. Everything sounds good, but you want an introduction that is harmonically new… but at the same time leads into the main chord progression harmony.

Below, I have included a condensed “cheat-sheet” of options on what chords you begin a composition with and what are the best lead-ins before it:

Of course, these are just options that I have read about in discussion. They may or may-not work with your composition. Still, it is worth a try.

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Tip #126 – Checklist for a Well-Crafted Introduction

When composing an original composition or adapting a pre-performed piece of music as a new arrangement, the writer must consider how to deal with “free areas,” otherwise known as: the into, the ending, and the turnarounds.

When writing an introduction, there are certain aspects – think of it as a checklist – of things that the introduction should accomplish in order to make it an affective beginning statement for your work.

Some of these aspects would be having the introduction…

  • Be interesting and captivating to the audience
  • Harmonically lead into the first chord of the main structure
  • Function harmonically and stylistically as the main body of work
  • Preview some segment of the composition for thematic continuation

Of course, these are suggestions. None of these have to be followed, but they do pose critical features for making a strong introduction. Regardless, a composition must be deliberate with everything you write – even if conventional rules are not followed.

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How To Beat Writer’s Block – Tip #12

Sometimes, we are tasked with writing a piece of music for a large band/ensemble comprised of many different instruments. That might turn out to be a daunting task – considering all the possibilities of what instruments to use and how.

From there, you might get a sense of writer’s block for not knowing how to proceed forward with all these possibilities.

One thing you can do to alleviate this stress is to focus down to one instrument – the piano. By composing to one instrument, you mind is more focused and more free to be creative within the realms of one instrument.

Once you have sketched out your composition, you have the ability to arrange appropriately by assigning melodic lines to instruments in their “natural register” and harmonic changes to the rhythm section.

There, a huge task made simple!

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Tip #125 – Crossing Voices to Avoid Repetition

Say you had this line written and you wanted to arrange it for three voices:

What would you do? Would you simply gives lines top-to-bottom?

While that is an option, you do run into the danger of sounding monotonous with having some voices continuously repeat notes.

A way to avoid this is by crossing voices!

So, instead of having the bottom two voices stay of the E4 and C4 respectively, they can cross and alter between the two.

Therefore, you would get something similar to this when arranging for three voices:

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Tip #69 – Interpolation of Quotes

From music of the Renaissance era, to the prime-time of jazz, and all the way to now in present-day, musicians have been using other famous works as “quotes” within their music.

Obviously, one does run into the problem of plagiarism or lack of originality depending on how the quote is used. Using music in the public domain is a safe way to get around the act of plagiarism, and your own creativity will solve the remaining problem.

The main goal of quoting a well-known theme embedded into your piece is to reinvent it. in some way, shape, or form. People have taken a theme and used it as a cantus firmus, bass-line, fragmented motif, etc. before. If you are expecting to use it as a primary melodic idea, here is a checklist of tips:

  • Context – Is the theme “well-known” for your intended audience? Does it fit the composition (thematically, harmonically, melodically, motifically, fluidly)? Can the quote be paraphrased in some way? How about restated?
  • Reconfiguration – Will you be able to adjust the pitches and rhythms without losing the premise of the quote? Can the quote be developed into later themes used? What about broken fragments?
  • Inflection – what emotional, symbolic, ironic, personal, or associative meaning does this new and reworked quote provide to your composition? Is it worth it?


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