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#1247423 - 08/11/09 05:37 PM Harmony or Melody, Simplicity or Complexity
steinwaymaster Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/18/08
Posts: 52
Loc: New York City
Hi all, I haven't been on in a while... I recently was thinking about composition and I wondered how most composers develop music. Let's take part-writing chorales for example, a simple four-part harmony. Does one first write a good melodic line for a couple of phrases, then utilizing harmonic implication through intervals, repeated notes, and strong beats, determine the harmony, then write an acceptable bass line with inversions and scale lines, lastly part-writing inner voices? Or does one determine a good harmonic progression lasting a couple phrases, then write the bass line using inversions etc., then fit an acceptable soprano line that would fit with the bass, lastly filling in inner voices? There are many combinations, that I recently have notices composers have their own preference of order.

Thinking about this, led me further to consider other forms of composition, large scale symphonies, sonatas, and others. One could possess an extremely capable ability as to envison a complete symphony in his/her own mind, seeing each instrument's role and all the harmony, melody, and orchestration in such complex forms. They would then simplify it until in a usable form, then develop it into the work, which when completed would be written down as a whole. This method was what Beethoven worked with, going from complex to simple.

However, others most notably Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg, worked the opposite direction, taking simple melodies, motives, and ideas, and expanding and developing them into full scale pieces. What I was so interested is how the two methods compare. Obviously, we can't compare Beethoven to Tchaikovsky. They are two different people with different training, different time periods. So I want to ask you all out there. How do you compose? Is it melody to harmony or harmony to melody, simplicity to complexity or complexity to simplicity? I look forward to hearing your answers and opinions.
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
- Leonard Bernstein

-Middle School music teacher
-Private Piano Teacher
-Amateur composer (hobby)

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#1247467 - 08/11/09 07:28 PM Re: Harmony or Melody, Simplicity or Complexity [Re: steinwaymaster]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5976
Loc: Down Under
I seem to recall a thread about this - I might try to find it. I wonder what I said in it? smile
Du holde Kunst...

#1247546 - 08/11/09 09:47 PM Re: Harmony or Melody, Simplicity or Complexity [Re: currawong]
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2789
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
If there was a previous thread I don't recall responding to it. So I'll respond here to this. My pieces evolve over time and every piece is different. Generally the thematic materials tend to determine how a piece comes into being. I'm a strong believer in I only work on the material that holds my interest. I have lots of sketches that vary from a bar or two to most of a page and then I lost interest. Many times I've come back to such a sketch and found inspiration and then went on to finish a piece, but more often that not I've had good reason to lose interest.

To respond to a few specific questions, if I have a melody generally the bass line comes next. Then I'll fill in the middle, but reserve the right to completely change things. BTW most melodies can be harmonized many different ways and in the course of a piece I hope you'll utilize a few of those different ways.

As for my approach to form I usually devise a very general framework for a piece then fill in the details. In that respect I'm somewhere between Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in that I have an overall view, but build the details expanding on motives and melodies. I strive for an overall form that sounds natural and unforced to my ear yet has a few surprises.

I hope you find that useful.

#1247552 - 08/11/09 09:54 PM Re: Harmony or Melody, Simplicity or Complexity [Re: Steve Chandler]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5976
Loc: Down Under
THIS might have been the thread I was thinking of. It wasn't as long ago as I thought!
Du holde Kunst...

#1248063 - 08/12/09 05:18 PM Re: Harmony or Melody, Simplicity or Complexity [Re: currawong]
Claude56 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/02/09
Posts: 469
I think about chords first and melody seconds. Then I go into detailed harmony........

basically it goes from simple to advanced. I start out making a "sketch" (chords and melody) of the whole piece and then go into detail.


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