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Composition Techniques


How to develop a theme?  How to create a coherent, catchy melody?  How to add harmony?  These are some of the questions most people

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have about composing.  Some ideas follow.


There are many tools for developing a theme, to shed light on and embellish the main idea.  Composers can vary the timing of the theme, change the key, cut the theme into pieces, invert it and play it upside down, double the tempo, halve the tempo, make it legato or staccato, add counterpoint, change the octave, change the intervals, and more.  These are all tools in a composer’s toolkit, each of which can help to make the intended statements with the music.


For creating a melody, it also helps to think simple.  Many verses follow the form of introducing a theme, repeating the theme, adding a contrasting element, and then returning to the original theme.  In other words:


1.      introduce an idea

2.      establish or maintain the idea

3.      introduce contrast/suspense

4.      resolve back to the main idea


In following this pattern, it helps even more to focus on just one idea to present.  Focus on one feel, pattern, musical concept, that you want to get across.  Change it, and use the tools to develop it, but do not stray into various other ideas too quickly.  This will help establish the idea and produce a more memorable sound.


Finally, how to add harmony?  The more theory one knows, the easier it usually is to add interesting harmonization.  By knowing b9 chords, altered chords, #5 chords, common and also unique progressions, and many other ways to add color, a composer can quickly “pull up” the desired harmony to complement the melody.  Try to have a solid grasp of the basics, and add your own experimentation with voicings and what you learn from listening to great recordings.  Try listening to different players, such as Bill Evans, or Herbie Hancock—how do they voice chords and fill out melodies?  Or listen to a Beethoven concerto—what chord progressions does he use to create ideas?



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