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I want to ask the question that was suggested in another thread because I think it's important. The question is: How should an inexperienced composer who wants to write dissonant and rhythmically complex music learn how to do that?

I've been writing and playing music a long time but I'm basically a beginner at 'classical' composition. I can read score at an intermediate level. I know basic theory and have some experience with extended harmony and odd time signatures and syncopation. I can write four part harmony and I have a basic understanding of counterpoint. I haven't spent much time on orchestration. I do spend time studying scores and listening to a variety of composers. I can write basic pieces that mimic (poorly) composers of the baroque and classical period.

So my question is: What else should I be doing, what is the next step? I don't post music here because lately I haven't much time to write anything; and to be honest, the level of bickering and personal attacks on this site in the past at least makes me think that it is a waste of time.

But I'd like to hear any thoughts or suggestions.

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Very interesting Julie, kind of an anti-set theory approach. I don't think you'll ever drive us crazy.

Julie Harris said:

This is how I usually compose - thinking and writing and talking about non-musical concepts and then finally writing the notes I think best represent that concept.  And driving people crazy with strange topics ....

Thank you Rodney for the explanation of set theory and for giving us a very musical and enjoyable demonstration of it with "Sins of the Old Testament".  Set theory has been a bit off-putting to me but your example makes it much more attractive.

Rodney Carlyle Money said:

I apologize for not reading the entire thread, but I personally believe set-theory is a great place to start writing in a "modern" style. 

How to Compose Using Set-theory

Here's one of my pieces that uses set-theory called "Sins of the Old Testament: Listen to Sins Of The Old Testament by Rodney Money #np on #SoundCloud
https://soundcloud.com/rodney-money-1/sins-of-the-old-testament

Your tips are definitely very helpful Steven, thank you for that. Breaking the process into bite size pieces is the way to go I think.

You know what they say about curiosity though, gotta be careful with that stuff!  :-)

Steven Blomfield said:

Hi Ingo

Best place to start like with anything is the very basics. Try composing something very simple using the 12 tone method. Just randomly write 12 tones down in any order. Remember the rule not to repeat any of your notes. This really opens up the subjective aspect of composing and creating 'organised sound' which is what we are doing. 

Look to study scores of Alban Berg, Schoenberg etc. You can find loads of scores on IMSLP. 

As you are aware...how we learn to compose is through our insatiable curiosity as musicians.

Maybe start with a solo instrument and then start to get in to the nitty gritty of harmony and orchestration.

Hope This Helps.

Kind Regards

Steven

Ingo,

     I think many of us are struggling with the concept of atonal music.  This thread has been helpful to me.  I think we often associate atonal with dissonance as in the early works.  Julie and Mike have demonstrated that atonal can be non-dissonant.  I like the idea of combining a melody with an atonal accompaniment.  The recent post by Marco is purely atonal and demonstrates complex structure and rhythms often associated with jazz.  Rodney posts a piece that I would classify as multi-tonal in that the tonal center shifts throughout the piece, and he incorporates quite a bit of dissonance. 

     Perhaps it is wrong to pigeon hole music into little categories, but it helps me navigate a path through the avant garde landscape.

There is more to atonality other than emancipated dissonance ( I prefer extended harmony or what about pan-intervallic writing, to avoid negativity).

It is one thing to release gravitational shackles surrounding the actual notes, but without similar freeing developments in rhythm and melodic contour or line, atonality can sometimes  sound wrong. 

Negating or disguising pulse with complex rhythm could arguably be the more alienating compositional element to the general listener than dissonance. Similarly, melodic contour has gone way beyond the singability of a tune because in atonality there is no need to adhere to older rules of melodic construction.

The beauty of using technical artifice as a guiding hand in atonality lies in the fact that as you make your rules, you can temper or embrace dissonance to any degree you wish. I'd suggest that is the easy bit though, the hard part comes once you start to think in a temporal manner because a lot of aesthetic decisions have to be taken concerning line and rhythm. Logically, along with study and technique about handling vertical aspects and note distribution, one should also develop an adventurous rhythmic sense allied to practise in linear thinking that is not necessarily dependant on formal construction.

A possible way to do this would be to open up a percussion track in notation software and just punch in complicated tuplets and nested tuplets alongside the usual semis, quavers etc, maybe  an odd number of bars. Assign a drum and playback with a click until you can think the rhythm. Do this many times, almost like scale practice, until you become more attuned to thinking "off the beat". The next step might be then to create a row and write a melody to that rhythm, taking into account an instruments capabilities and strengths. When doing this, consider how to make the melody climax with dynamic force and contour. It is best to get used to thinking instrumentally as much as possible.

Just a few ideas....

Ingo,

"dissonant and rhythmically complex music"

You've gotten some great suggestions. But in the end, as the saying goes, "just do it."

Because I'm an old, traditional guy, I tend to think of the word "dissonant" as implying sonic conflict. And by the nature of that definition, requires resolution. That's the world I write in. You can say that I'm limited, un-liberated, and close-minded. Guilty on all counts. But I believe that when I write, every note is important. There are no "throw-aways". No "practice pieces". Every piece of music is what is going on inside. Every note I add to a piece comes from my soul, so to speak.

How important is "every note"? Play a chord. Listen to that chord. Play it several times. Play it like you mean it. Now change one note. Any note. What you now hear is something completely different. Not at all what you started with. One note made that difference.

The point is that whatever type of music you write, it has to, first of all, come from your heart. One note at a time. Sure, you craft a string of notes into something bigger, but each note shapes the entire piece. Each piece is important. It has the right to be the best it can be. Otherwise, why bother. Why put yourself, and others, through a half-hearted  effort. Write that math formula music, those tone clusters, or that wandering melody with an accompaniment in another key.

Listen to the kind of music you want to write. Do some study. But in the end, it comes down to how much you care about each note.

Bob,

     You are sooo old school.  I resemble your remarks.  In the end the proof is in the pudding, and so far, often times, the pudding isn't that tasty.  Atonalism is still in the experimental phase.  I doubt that it will abolish tonal music but will more likely add bits and pieces to the total body of music like previous genres.  Think of the innovations of the last century, jazz, swing, folk, rock, new age, rap, (forget rap), country, minimalism, atonalism, and some I have forgotten.  When we've gleaned all there is from atonalism we will move on to the next phase, whatever it may be.
 
Bob Porter said:

Ingo,

"dissonant and rhythmically complex music"

You've gotten some great suggestions. But in the end, as the saying goes, "just do it."

Because I'm an old, traditional guy, I tend to think of the word "dissonant" as implying sonic conflict. And by the nature of that definition, requires resolution. That's the world I write in. You can say that I'm limited, un-liberated, and close-minded. Guilty on all counts. But I believe that when I write, every note is important. There are no "throw-aways". No "practice pieces". Every piece of music is what is going on inside. Every note I add to a piece comes from my soul, so to speak.

How important is "every note"? Play a chord. Listen to that chord. Play it several times. Play it like you mean it. Now change one note. Any note. What you now hear is something completely different. Not at all what you started with. One note made that difference.

The point is that whatever type of music you write, it has to, first of all, come from your heart. One note at a time. Sure, you craft a string of notes into something bigger, but each note shapes the entire piece. Each piece is important. It has the right to be the best it can be. Otherwise, why bother. Why put yourself, and others, through a half-hearted  effort. Write that math formula music, those tone clusters, or that wandering melody with an accompaniment in another key.

Listen to the kind of music you want to write. Do some study. But in the end, it comes down to how much you care about each note.

My point is that one note at a time allows you to write any kind of music. No constraints.

The arts are a funny thing. I can pick a random year, let's say 500 years ago. 1518. By that time two of the most famous pieces of art on the planet had recently been completed. The Mona Lisa, a relatively small work on wood panel. And the bigger than life, David. Which stood outside for 300 years before somebody suggested that, hey, maybe this thing shouldn't be exposed to the elements any more.

Classical music, as we know it, was only just beginning to form.  

The argument I hear most often in favor of atonal music is that the old styles are played out, tired and used up. Tonal music is boring and not relevant. Therefore, composers reject tonal music altogether. The freedom of atonality is true beauty. The worst claim is that if I would only listen to more of it, then I would grow to love it. But for me, if the opening notes of a piece don't get me, than I'm not really interested in going further. No matter the style. 

A better argument is that this modern music is just the way they want to write. Without any pretense of being the way forward. I don't know if it is or not. I don't know how they can be so sure, either.

We all get to write the kind of music we want.  

All human experience progresses.  You see it in any form you choose to look at. That doesn't mean that progress is consistent and predictable; sometimes it takes three steps backwards to take one step forward. Sometimes we "rediscover" something from the past and embrace it, but the general trend is always forward. There will be something new tomorrow, I promise you.

I've learned many things from this thread and I appreciate all of the contributions, I haven't seen any negativity here even though there has been a wide variety of opinions presented; very cool.

One big thing that I'm getting from this thread is that "atonality" is not a rigidly defined entity.  It may have been that way at some point, perhaps with some of Schoenberg's early work, I don't know, but now we've been fortunate to see an enjoyable variety of music posted here that is probably atonal but doesn't fit the stereotype that I had before I started this thread and that's great, thank you all for helping me out!

Once I asked my teacher, Humphrey Searle, how to write atonal music of real character. He said" just write it from the heart, as you would any other music". 

Anyway, technically the best place to start is with serial technique. It's relatively uncomplicated!

Hi Nick, thank you for responding to this thread.  'From the heart' is always the best compositional approach I think but I wouldn't normally associate it with atonality and that is a mistake. Artists with skill and experience can usually 'fake it' pretty well but for art to really resonate it has to, on some level, be 'from the heart' I believe, and there's no reason atonal music should be any different.

I see you've been a forum member for a while and are getting back into it.  There have been some changes you'll see, so welcome back!

Nick Capocci said:

Once I asked my teacher, Humphrey Searle, how to write atonal music of real character. He said" just write it from the heart, as you would any other music". 

Anyway, technically the best place to start is with serial technique. It's relatively uncomplicated!

Thank you, Ingo. I omitted to mention my own technique of Thomes and Phases. More complicated than pure atonal techniques, but with the "advantage" of employing tonal structures. I tried to explain it here a few years ago, but met largely consternation!!... I'd be happy to expand if you're interested. Anyway, here's a link.   ( hope it works, as I'm pretty crap at modern technology).  http://www.nickcapocci.co.uk/thomes-phases/

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Nick, thank you for responding to this thread.  'From the heart' is always the best compositional approach I think but I wouldn't normally associate it with atonality and that is a mistake. Artists with skill and experience can usually 'fake it' pretty well but for art to really resonate it has to, on some level, be 'from the heart' I believe, and there's no reason atonal music should be any different.

I see you've been a forum member for a while and are getting back into it.  There have been some changes you'll see, so welcome back!

Nick Capocci said:

Once I asked my teacher, Humphrey Searle, how to write atonal music of real character. He said" just write it from the heart, as you would any other music". 

Anyway, technically the best place to start is with serial technique. It's relatively uncomplicated!

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