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Not sure how to get that feel? *Theory & Composition Q&A*


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#1 Vermanubis

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 10:19 PM

Hey, guys.

I've lurked OCR for the longest time, but only recently decided to post. Hopefully a new guy making a music advice thread won't seem too presumptuous, but I feel that after a while of studying music and trying to become as intimately acquainted with is as I could, that I've developed a fair musical sense and a somewhat unique approach to it. If there isn't a thread like this already, I'd be very happy to see if I can help with any music theoretical questions, or if I can help you nail a feeling in a song you're composing. What kinda "feels" are there? Too many to name. A subtle shift in tempo, rhythm or note choice can alter the feeling of a song, and even more daunting, the surrounding context can morph that feeling even more (which to me, is one of the most potentially frustrating and seemingly impossible concepts to apprehend). Want to know what makes something sound "classical," "jazzy," "smooth," "dark," or "flighty"? Each feeling has an array of patently unique properties.

The purposes I hope to achieve with this thread are:

-Provide musical ideas to help push a song along
-Provide subtle and simple composition techniques to ornament a song (hopefully to provide inspiration)
-Help anybody struggling with a concept by explaining it and providing examples

I know for the longest time I had a hell of a time trying to compose, because I had no idea where to take my songs. I know how frustrating it is, so I came here in hopes of maybe helping those who're curious about expanding their horizons or want to understand how to achieve a particular feeling so you don't end up spending hours over a keyboard just trying to get a basic atmosphere.

I've personally found it best to examine and explore different sequences, phrases, modes, chords, melody and rhythm combinations to not have an exact idea of what I wanted my songs to be, but rather, a referential template that I could use to have a general idea, and how one could know where to "break the rules," so to speak. E.g. if I wanted a really whimsical, Stygian-sounding phrase, I could use a whole tone scale and resolve to harmonic minor and various techniques in between. Of course, it's not quite that simple, but I'd imagine you get the idea.

In short, if you're curious about how to achieve certain sounds, I think I can help, at least to a reasonable degree. I apologize if there's already a thread of this nature. If not though, I hope I can be at least a mildly valuable resource. I'll also try to use examples to make the concept feel less nebulous and more practical, 'cause I know firsthand how frustrating it is to conceptualize music through words alone.

#2 Rozovian

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:10 PM

A lot of time, ppl don't know what they're looking for, they just want to learn something new. If what they find is a way to make a "really whimsical, Stygian-sounding phrase", they'll probably find that it helps them improve their music overall. I would never have come up with the question of how to make a "really whimsical, Stygian-sounding phrase"; I reckon a lot of ppl could use answers to questions they don't know they could ask.

Consider writing a guide to moods in music, one that covers a lot of different moods.

Not to say you can't do a thread like this, I just know I have no idea what to ask. :P

#3 Vermanubis

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:21 PM

A lot of time, ppl don't know what they're looking for, they just want to learn something new. If what they find is a way to make a "really whimsical, Stygian-sounding phrase", they'll probably find that it helps them improve their music overall. I would never have come up with the question of how to make a "really whimsical, Stygian-sounding phrase"; I reckon a lot of ppl could use answers to questions they don't know they could ask.

Consider writing a guide to moods in music, one that covers a lot of different moods.

Not to say you can't do a thread like this, I just know I have no idea what to ask. :P


That's actually a good point. The only reason I made it a Q&A instead of an FAQ is mainly because the number of things that could be covered would be enormous. It doesn't have to be a terribly specific kind of mood though; if someone has an idea in their head for a happy sounding song, that'd be enough for me to go on.
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Lest the world forget

#4 Gario

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Posted 22 March 2012 - 11:39 PM

Ooo, a Theory thread! A perfect time to shamelessly plug my own thread about a similar subject...

As for the purpose of this thread, I don't really know how you're going to achieve your goal, seeing that what evokes one emotion in a user may evoke another emotion in another person, due to variance of how music has influenced the two people in question in their lives. I am nonetheless curious, though, so I'll send in a question for you - how would you harmonically represent chaos, how would you rhythmically represent disorder, and would the two differ in any significant way?
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#5 AngelCityOutlaw

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 12:05 AM

Ooo, a Theory thread! A perfect time to shamelessly plug my own thread about a similar subject...

As for the purpose of this thread, I don't really know how you're going to achieve your goal, seeing that what evokes one emotion in a user may evoke another emotion in another person, due to variance of how music has influenced the two people in question in their lives. I am nonetheless curious, though, so I'll send in a question for you -how would you harmonically represent chaos, how would you rhythmically represent disorder, and would the two differ in any significant way?


To the harmony: Dissonance. Really any thing that uses half steps, tritones etc. Diminished arpeggios, pedal tones....all of those could potentially work.

To the rhythm: Staccato, off beat rhythms, gallops, descending or ascending chromatically etc. all could work.

#6 Vermanubis

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 12:40 AM

Ooo, a Theory thread! A perfect time to shamelessly plug my own thread about a similar subject...

As for the purpose of this thread, I don't really know how you're going to achieve your goal, seeing that what evokes one emotion in a user may evoke another emotion in another person, due to variance of how music has influenced the two people in question in their lives. I am nonetheless curious, though, so I'll send in a question for you - how would you harmonically represent chaos, how would you rhythmically represent disorder, and would the two differ in any significant way?


While subjectivity is an object of concern, I think that because of how music fundamentally works, and because of certain musical conventions to which most people generally ascribe a sound (harmonic minor being Egyptian, or the descending natural 7th of HM sounding "baroque"), a general template can be created to achieve a basic sound. For instance, a certain word can be connoted differently from person to person, but the word's fundamental meaning is still intact, if that makes any sense. I say "most people" because of how similar feelings are achieved in both Western and Eastern music (e.g. Goldeneye and Castlevania respectively). Some types of sounds just, in my mind, can't be mistaken as another kind, such as someone feeling like a moderate tempo song in a predominantly major key is terrifying.

As for the question though, a harmonic representation of chaos could be done in a lot of ways. It can either be approached intellectually or, I guess you could say, "intuitively." By intellectually, I mean making the song itself chaotic and disharmonious, and by intuitively, I mean using a discernible structure, but consistently redirecting the flow of the song with either abrupt modulation, dissonant melodies/harmonies or both rather than through an actual chaotic structure so that the chaos is more felt than acknowledged.

If I were express something "chaotic" I'd maybe prep the harmony with a consonant melody and progress in diminished, augmented or mmaj7 chords and false cadences into these chords. Like I said though, that would just be a template. I'd by no means use a "word bank" so to speak to make a song, since I think that'd be a disingenuous way to approach music. Briefly, my personal template for composing a "chaotic" song would be alternating time signatures, use of chromatic harmonies and melodies, false cadences, symmetric scales and possible tonal scales to create contrast and emphasize the dissonance of the symmetric scales.

Rhythmically, there're a million ways. Alternating time signatures, syncopating on the off-beats, asymmetric note patterns. Words I keep in mind in addition to "chaotic" would be asymmetry, unpredictability and dissonance.

Though, "chaotic" can mean a lot of different things, so the musical armory for creating a chaotic sound is pretty stacked. Though, that's another good thing to mention, is the decomposition of certain words into more basic, definite ones. To me, the epitome of chaotic is either a frenetic pace with no particular key destination or an ambient soundscape. Tone can be very important as well.

And when you ask if the two differ, what do you mean?

Oh, also, pretty familiar examples of what I feel represent "chaos" in music:

- Curse Zone

It has a solid melody, but it's mostly chromatic, never resolves and satisfies a lot of what I'd consider "soundscapes," with asymmetric ornaments.

- A Man of Artificiality

A lot of rhythmic ornamentation that gets contrasted by the brief Minor resolution.

Sorry for the huge post, but "chaos" is just such a broad term. :P

To the harmony: Dissonance. Really any thing that uses half steps, tritones etc. Diminished arpeggios, pedal tones....all of those could potentially work.


I agree with the pedal tone, especially. The constant alternation of dissonant/consonant really bends your ear.

- Golbez, Clad in the Dark

Uematsu spells out a diminished arpeggio on the accented notes. Such a cool sound.
Possessed by the Earthen Elegy
Obsessed by its Minuet
Every life a note of its melody
Lest the world forget

#7 Moseph

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 02:33 AM

how would you harmonically represent chaos?

With the best Baroque music ever.
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#8 Gario

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Posted 23 March 2012 - 03:17 AM

With the best Baroque music ever.


HA! I got that track as a part of a listening exam once. Easiest baroque track to identify ever.

I was gonna bring that one up, but I wanted to hear everyone else's response first. :P
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#9 Die

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Posted 14 April 2012 - 10:59 PM

Well, it's all about the the arrangements, the rhythm, the chords, etc..

For example, something sounds jazzy when the chords have jazz extensions, like a dominant with an augmented 5th and an augmented 9th, the rhythm is "jazzy", for example med-swing, the bass does jazzy arrangements (i.e. playing with the chord notes along with its extensions), etc..

If you want your song to have a particular "feel" to it, you can listen to some songs from the genre you want to compose in, and pay attention to the harmony and the arrangements, particularly the drums and the bass. Identify the chord progressions, that's essential. Also identify the chords extensions, especially if you want to compose jazz. If you want something baroque, learn about secondary dominants, circle of fifths, baroque bass arrangements, etc..




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