Composing D: Development

In Sonta Form there are usually two themes (see last week’s post for the Main Theme of our new piece). This past week that theme and the complimentary Secondary Theme were added to the score, twice each, and spread amongst all the instruments. When these two themes are presented for the first time in their entirety, it is usually in a section called the “Exposition” and this is what it sounds like in our “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra”:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sonata-for-Chamber-Orch-Expo.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

Now it’s time to move on to the “Development” section. This is usually the longest section of a piece in Sonata Form as the composer can take snippets of both themes and twist, turn and combine them. They could also be played backwards, upside-down and of course, backwards AND upside-down! These compositional techniques serve to add variety, interest and keep the attentive listener guessing or trying to figure out what’s happening to the music.

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Add variety to your work – can you do something in reverse, upside-down, or another zany way? via @Stephen_P_Brown

 

As an example, let’s take these four notes:

 

Now let’s place those notes in reverse, like a mirror image. You don’t have to be able to read music to see the “Retrograde” pattern: 

 

Ok, now it gets a little tricker. Notice the way the original notes move up (higher) first, and then jump down at the end. Then look at the second bar and see the opposite – the notes move down (lower) first, and then jump up at the end. The melody has been “Inverted“:

 

Finally, let’s try and combine these two elements together. In this example, we first inverted the melody and then took its mirror image. See how the first note of the original (E, in between the top two lines) is also the last note in the Inversion Retrograde variation:

 

There was a time when audiences didn’t have the kind of soundbite distractions we do today, and many could actually HEAR these variations as the music was being played. What a skill! Nowadays we’d consider someone who could do that a genius, in the same way anyone under 18 would call someone who can legibly write cursive/ joined-up text must be a genuis (since public schools in the USA stopped teaching it).

For our new piece “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra” here are some of the snippets from the main themes that appear throughout the Development section:

 

 

 

 

And you’ll just have to wait to hear the complete Development section, I’m afraid!

Tell me below one thing you found fascinating about today’s post. Next week we should have the introduction and Coda (ending) completed, which means the entire composition will be ready! This is your last chance to have an influence on our new piece of music!

Composing C: The Main Event

Well, it’s not an event as such, but it makes for a great blog title, right?!

Today we develop the Main Theme of our piece. In music, a theme is usually a melody but it could refer to an accompaniment or even just a rhythm, but we’ll stick to something conventional this time.

How is a melody created?

My first task is to decide how often to have different chords played. Most of my tonal pieces have one chord per bar (or measure). In our piece, that would mean we play a G Major chord for four beats (a G Major chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the G Major scale – refer to last week’s post for info about that, or check out Wikipedia for a communal explanation about chords).

In the second bar, we’d play a different chord, but one that is closely related to the previous one. Perhaps D Major. Maybe then back to G Major, followed by C Major, and for the next four bars, G, C, D and finish on G again.

This is what it would sound like:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/untitled-2.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

However, there are other options, and I’ve opted for a pretty challenging one: to make the melody an eight-bar phrase but keep the same chord throughout. It’s possible! A lot of classical era composers managed it, so I’m going to attempt it. Why is it a challenge? It’s going to be tough to make it interesting and likable over such a long period of time.

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One type of challenge is to make something interesting and likable over a long period of time. via @Stephen_P_Brown

First, just for reference, the primary (root) note of each chord is placed in every bar in the bass part. I can build the composition from there. In some complicated pieces I’ll add a piano part with all the notes of the chord in it but delete the piano part before I finish.

Now I’m taking the chord of G Major and making up a rhythm as I plug in notes from the scale of G Major into the violin part. It’s that [easy]. Here’s our main theme:

Score of Main Theme

Chord sequence (in bass part) and main theme (in violin part)

 

Click here to listen to it:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Untitled-120923.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

Notice how the first two bars repeat in bars 5 & 6 – that creates familiarity and gives the listener something to hold onto. The melody also ends on G, the root of the home key. Next we will add the second theme and expand the exposition, adding things like ‘bridges’ and ‘interludes.’ Exciting stuff! Really !!!

Composing B: And so it begins…

Following last week’s post about how to start a composition, well… how I am starting this composition… a few decisions have been made.

Whilst looking around for a compositional structure I came across several main elements:

Each have their own special qualities and after a little thought, I thought it would be nice to try Sonata form. I don’t remember the last time I wrote something in Sonata form (and stuck to it) so here’s an opportunity.

At the moment, Sonata form will form the dominating format, although during the creative process unexpected twists and turns can often lead compositions into completely unplanned territory.

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The creative process can take unexpected twists and turns that lead into completely unknown territory. via @Stephen_P_Brown

Sonata form structure:

  • Introduction
  • Exposition: A main theme (usually a melody) followed by a second theme in a different key*
  • Development: Both themes mixed together through wildly changing audio experiences, although still always related to the exposition somehow
  • Recapitulation: The main theme revisted plus the secondary theme in the ‘home key’
  • Coda: An ending unlike any other. Or, probably like every other.

Beethoven had a really hard time ending his music, so pieces like his famous Fifth Symphony could actually end many, many times but none of them actually do end the piece. Until there are no more chords left.

Dudley Moore had a similar problem:

Dudley Moore doesn’t stop…

So, quite imaginatively, let’s call our piece after its structure, “Sonata.” But who is it for? Well, it’s for a chamber orchestra of sorts. Not piano, nor violin or any other solo instrument. So we can expand the title of our new piece of music to: Sonata for Chamber Orchestra. Like it? I do. Don’t like it? Are there any other options? Yes. Lots. Think of a title and put it in the comments below.

(*)
I also chose to go with the key signature of G Major. The KEY of a piece of music tells the players what tonality to focus on. In the Western world we have developed a system using 12 different tones that repeat (on a piano, play every consecutive note starting with the left of the three black keys, F sharp(#). You’ll end up hearing ‘another’ F# 13 keys later). From those 12 notes, 8 of them form the basis of tonality – major (happy) scales and minor (sad) scales.

Again on a piano, find ‘C’. It’s the white key immediately to the left of the two black keys. Play that C plus only the 6 white notes to the right, and then finish with the 8th key which is actually another C. Repeat. And repeat. Start with any C and play the scale – they all sound the same only higher or lower. The combination of tones forms the scale, in this case a major scale.

Copy that combination of tones but start on G (G is 5 notes up from C, including C. It’s the white key immediately to the RIGHT of the LEFT-MOST of the THREE black keys. Got it?!). Only this time, instead of playing all the white keys, when you get to the 7th key, don’t play it. Instead, play the black key immediately to the right – that’s right, F#.

This major scale is what will form the tonal foundation of our new piece.

G Major scale on a keyboard

G Major scale

 

Next week, lets look at the melody, or the ‘Main Theme’