Music Composers Unite!
I've been composing musical scores for a little over 4 months now, and I've found that a good rule of thumb to making an interesting sounding score is to incorporate the tonic and the dominant notes of the current key as skillfully as possible. For instance, if I'm writing in A, the tonic and dominant are A and E respectively. If I'm writing in E, the tonic and dominant are E and B respectively. I've had numerous conversations with a fellow composer, a guitar player, and, from what I've gathered, the tonic and the dominant are the two most powerful notes you can use in any given diatonic scale. Then, once you've established for the ear what these notes are, you can play around with them via half-step pitch changes in sequence, which opens up numerous possibilities for the music.
Now, this has been an observation of mine as well as a tried composing technique. I don't know if it concurs with established music theory or not because I've never formally studied music theory. I just think that I may be onto something.
Though the tonic/dominate relationship is a staple of tonal music. I found more interesting tonal music doesnt use that relationship, or if they do, they do it in a way that is more interesting. I say this because for almost a century the tonic/dominate relationship ruled over music and now we live in a world outside of a common practice period. After a while the tonic/dominate relationship can be over done and with so much music behind us that used that relationship so much, I find it more interesting when a composers can find a way to end a musical phrase without defaulting to the tonic/dominate relationship.
Yeah, theory says that its the standard way to end a musical phrase or end a piece with a dominate going to a tonic chord, but theory isn't a compositional tool, its a analytical tool. It doesnt make your music less interesting if you decided to drift from the tonic/dominate relationship, in fact it might make it more interesting. Just keep that in mind
Also think about the dominant chord - the pull of the dominant 7th to the tonic in a final cadence.
Do what jazz people do an find chords which act like a dominant. but are more interesting - eg instead of G7, G, B, D, F, try using B diminished - B, D, F and maybe even B, D, F, Ab - which is B diminished 7th.
You can see how it's a similar chord to G7, but will make the music more interesting.
Congratulations, you've discovered the magic of the T-D axis (otherwise known as the "axis of evil")! All on your own even, it's like you're a genius!
Just having a little fun with you Noah, but tonic and dominant is a quite basic concept, I'd suggest getting yourself a standard music theory text (like Kostka&Payne, Aldwell& Schacter, they're all good) if you've become interested in such ideas. Don't be afraid of or think you're too good for the dreaded music theory. Well, be wary of thinking there is one single theory of music and all else is theory-less. That's sort of like "the white man's lie": Everybody has an accent except for me, or everybody has "culture" except for white, Indo-European males. For example, the notion that T/D is old hat and what makes music more interesting is to be saturated with complex harmonies is another theory about music. Theory is simply a way of thinking about music. Not any a specific way, there are multiple theories. Since your hero is Mozart, I'd say looking into the standard variety, the one most refer to as "Music Theory", ie. the theory of the "uninteresting" common practice period would be a great idea.
Tyler, there's a great article by Joseph Dubiel called "Composer,Theorist, Composer/Theorist" that you may find interesting (in the compilation Rethinking Music). He maintains (and I agree) that all composers use "music theory", and that they are disillusioning themselves if they claim not to use it. If you are defining "music theory" as what you learned about as an undergraduate then you may or may not use that, but you are using one theory or another every time you compose. The notion that theory is merely a "tool for analysis" is like saying ropes are only for climbing. Many old books which we today think of as theory books were actually written as composition/improvisation manuals (figured bass treatises, lists of musico-rhetorical figures, counterpoint texts and so on). The key book here is Joel Lester's Compositional theory in the Eighteenth Century.
And Adrian, apparently you like Jazz. Maybe Noah doesn't? Using the sonorities you suggest may make you like his music more, but that won't mean his music will somehow be universally more interesting. Mozart is pretty damn interesting if you ask me.
Apparently I'm becoming a grumpy old man!
I don't want to champion music theory too much here though. If you approach its study too rigidly you end up writing rigid, academic music. I fell into that trap myself and wrote some pretty awful stuff, trying to fit square pegs into round holes and other such cliches. But in general, knowledge is good, just as long as you realize that you really know nothing. Ohmmmm.
A good professor once stated: "Any chord can go to any chord".
I then spent four years,
using a basic major and minor chord flow chart,
using modal interchange,
using the modes of the scales;
the scales of major, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and harmonic major,
using basic chord substitution chart,
extending the above concepts:
"I've concluded that anything can go to anything".
Still something quite wonderful about a tonic dominant relationship!