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“The Same But Different”


For composition this saying means to retain one idea at length, while also varying and playing upon that idea.  It means to create development and build substance, not by introducing numerous new


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themes, but rather by exploring and fully presenting one single idea.


Most works do not merely jump from theme to theme, presenting one after the other.  Rather, they present one solid, interesting theme.  Then they make use of compositional techniques to develop that idea.  The composer uses repetition, or changes the rhythm of the theme, or the length, or inverts it, or changes keys—all ways of altering the theme into many different things, while simultaneously maintaining the one single idea.


What happens if this idea is not followed?  If one theme after another is presented, a series of unrelated, undeveloped musical ideas, then there is often little to hold onto for the listener.  There is also less room for substantive exploration of ideas.  Of course, that is not to say it is not possible to use this strategy, but using the “same but different” guideline is usually a good way to start out writing.


Likewise, aside from overall structure, the “same but different” concept also applies well to shaping a melody.  A melody can sometimes get away from the composer so that it is not really leading anywhere.  But if emphasis is placed on maintaining one idea, solidifying that musical concept or feeling, and only straying further to add emphasis or suspense or climax, then a more interesting melody can be developed.  Thus, a rich piece of music often takes a single idea and fleshes it out, shedding light on it in different directions, and making use of the full spectrum of compositional tools, rather than jumping too quickly between various themes.





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