Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

If you're composing harmonies that are not, in the strictest sense, tonal. how do you choose the notes to use.
I'm pretty familiar with the tonal world and all that jazz. So, if you have any ideas, thoughts or methods you have found to be inspiring and working. please enlighten me...
Also, I'm interested in hearing about different resources (books and such) on the subject, if you know any.

Views: 619

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

SEDstar said:
I always wonder if I'm missing out on something great by noot appreciating non-tonal music . . . I just dont want to be missing out on something great . . .
"Great" is subjective. Something is always great or not to someone. It will be great to you if you like it a lot. So if you don't like it a lot, you're not missing out on something great (to you). You might be missing out on something great to someone else, but that's always going to be the case. You're not going to like everything every single person inthe world likes. Maybe you'll come to like more dissonant stuff a bit in the future, maybe not. I wouldn't worry about it. Let it happen naturally if it's going to, and it's no problem if you never like something.
I'm sorry my opening post was not really explaining my motives behind the question... The reason for the question was that I find it fascinating how other people interpret the music they write... what is their explanation for "why it sounds so good" or "why I believe it works so well".
If I start to analyze my music afterward(this is concerning structure) (you can of course do this while composing, many do) I find that I create a tension (by some dissonant interval or change of the speed of the musical movement... just building into a some kind climax) and resolve the tension in some sort of "logical" way. usually i try to keep the same method through out the piece. this keeps the music consistent and pleasant sounding, easy to follow... At least I think so.
I'm interested in hearing if you have similar ideas concerning harmony in the atonal domain.
Now. I know that there are probably thousands of different theories on how some ones music works or doesn't work (I bet all of you have your own ideas and that's what I'm interested in hearing).
The whole concept of studying composition is IMHO about the "why", and not the "how". Someone with a good ear and musical understanding can make music that sounds good, but knowing why it sounds good helps you expand your skills and sonic repertoire. That's why I'm interested in this sort of stuff. And I thought this might be of interest to some of you other folks too.
Excellent summary Chris! The legend goes that Schoenberg created the twelve tone method becuase he was having trouble finding the true "emancipation" of all the notes from one another that he wanted.

One other thing a composer should avoid when trying to be atonal is repeating notes or having long sustained notes in the bass. Both of those arrangements lead to a sense of one note being "central".
Henri Vartio said:
I'm sorry my opening post was not really explaining my motives behind the question... The reason for the question was that I find it fascinating how other people interpret the music they write... what is their explanation for "why it sounds so good" or "why I believe it works so well".
If I start to analyze my music afterward(this is concerning structure) (you can of course do this while composing, many do) I find that I create a tension (by some dissonant interval or change of the speed of the musical movement... just building into a some kind climax) and resolve the tension in some sort of "logical" way. usually i try to keep the same method through out the piece. this keeps the music consistent and pleasant sounding, easy to follow... At least I think so.
I'm interested in hearing if you have similar ideas concerning harmony in the atonal domain.
Now. I know that there are probably thousands of different theories on how some ones music works or doesn't work (I bet all of you have your own ideas and that's what I'm interested in hearing).
The whole concept of studying composition is IMHO about the "why", and not the "how". Someone with a good ear and musical understanding can make music that sounds good, but knowing why it sounds good helps you expand your skills and sonic repertoire. That's why I'm interested in this sort of stuff. And I thought this might be of interest to some of you other folks too.

There's a good reason for the murkiness there--simply that "sounding good", or "being good music" is NOT a fact. It's subjective. What sounds good to one person does not sound (as) good to another person. The reason why for that is that we're individuals. We have unique brains, unique DNA, unique ways that our brains function, and we've had a unique lifetime of experiences influencing all of that.

You can't know what sounds good to everyone because there isn't anything that sounds good to everyone. Even when you try to go by commonalities, you need to keep in mind that there's a social component to it that has nothing to do with how the stuff in question affects individuals aesthetically--there are social influences and pressures at work so that often people will say something is good, and even convince themselves that they think something is better, just because of those social influences. If you took the same stuff and exposed people to it in a vacuum of social influence about whether the stuff in question is good or not many of them would give different answers.
Re the other comment, limiting "atonality" to serialism hardly reflects common social practices in music, including academia, and it's also not the way that many people hear various approaches to pitch content. It is definitely one type of atonality however.
I came to atonality from hearing, reading and playing some great masters - mainly Scriabin, Debussy, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev. They affected my improvisations and eventually compositions. Since I usually do not write music (my sequencer does), I do not apply any specific formal technique, although I am acquainted with some. The idea that worked for me: take your favorite instrument and try random phrases, chords, clusters, glissandi (e.g. those with black notes only) etc. That which you like will eventually form your individual language.

Even when I'm writing things that are truly atonal/dissonant, it is still extremely important to be aware of the intervals you are using, their relative acoustic strength, and their relationship to the overtone series.  If you have a grasp of all of these things you can write 12-note chords (no doubling) that actually sound quite nice....I'm NOT kidding.

 

Here's a short little thing that based completed on thirds, although I could have used different intervals as a basis.  Please excuse the crummy Sibelius piano sound.

 

 

 

 

Attachments:

Check out some music by people like Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, Joe Henderson, and other guys of that generation. There's a lot of "non-functional" harmony in use in their tunes, but all done with recognizable chord changes. They structure movement from chord to chord by patterned root motion and/or patterned sequences of chord types, the next step beyond constant structure.

 

ex.

 

| Cmaj7 Ebmaj7 | Gbmaj7 Amaj7 | (maj7's ascending by minor 3rd root motion [RM])

 

| Cmaj7 | Bb-7 | Fmaj7 | Eb-7 | (chord quality is maj7 followed by min7, RM is down a minor 2nd, then down a P4, repeat)

 

| Cmaj7 Bb-7 | Db-7 A7 | Fmaj7 Eb-7 | Gb-7 D7 | (same beginnings just expanded to include another two chords in the pattern.)

 

it's easy to go crazy with this way of patterned thinking, but it works in setting up expectations in the listener's ear that have very little relation to tonality. 

 

Hope this idea helps.

 

 

Pitch Class Sets.

I don't know where anyone has mentioned this above but the way I do it when asked for non "tonal" harmonies, is to start with something (a scale perhaps?) that people would consider non "tonal".

 

I saw this somewhere above, octatonic scales, the superlocrian (diminished whole tone) scale (7th mode of the melodic minor), hungrian minor? 

 

Maybe stay away from tertian harmony? Go into quarter tones? A minor scale with a #4 and a minor sixth that's flattened a quarter tone? Or you can build it mathematically like the examples above.

Experiment with modal scales that aren't taken from modes of major key. Use modes of harmonic or melodic minor.

 

Check out Bartok's Mikrocosmos books, lots of great compositional ideas laid out in a way that would make it seems like a beginner's method book for piano. Starts with melodies in octaves and it quickly gets into canons and fugues, as well as melodies in 2 and 3 keys at a time. Great starter on some of his ideas. Or if you're brave dive right into some of his string quartets, lots of GREAT ideas in there for chromatic and polytonal writing.

 

I will second Caj's suggestion of Serial Composition by R.S. Brindle, great book. Check out Vincent Persechetti's book "20th Century Harmony" as well. 

I second this suggestion. Bartok is a great place to start and set up camp, way more accessible than Stravinsky, and really underrated.

Jeremy Stewart said:

Experiment with modal scales that aren't taken from modes of major key. Use modes of harmonic or melodic minor.

 

Check out Bartok's Mikrocosmos books, lots of great compositional ideas laid out in a way that would make it seems like a beginner's method book for piano. Starts with melodies in octaves and it quickly gets into canons and fugues, as well as melodies in 2 and 3 keys at a time. Great starter on some of his ideas. Or if you're brave dive right into some of his string quartets, lots of GREAT ideas in there for chromatic and polytonal writing.

 

I will second Caj's suggestion of Serial Composition by R.S. Brindle, great book. Check out Vincent Persechetti's book "20th Century Harmony" as well. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Sign up info

Read before you sign up to find out what the requirements are!

Store

© 2020   Created by Gav Brown.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service