Getting started in composing, I spent a long time making sure everything "fits" and "goes together"... to the point that its all hopelessly "in tune", lol.


I think parts of my stuff could be construed as "mildly interesting, MAYbe, but just in patches here and there" as the overall whole is harmonically bland.


I finally found one or two internet pages that seemed to be showing examples and exercises in polytonality, particularly bitonality. For the first time, the subject made a small bit of sense.


The given example was with Gm and Em... they share many pitches, but each had something that would be dissonant with portions of the others scale.


I quickly grew bored with looking at a score, and listenign to some horrible midi rendering of it... so I just followed the basic idea of a lead line in higher octave in Em... and the accompaniment in the bass lower down was in Gm.


Sure enough, the experiment was neat. After introducing the simple melody, then repeated with its bass accompaniment (all on piano sound, naturally) I went to the Gm/Em melody/accomp. setup they proscribed... huh. It sounded "weird" to my ears, at first... then? Eh, after 10 listens or thereabouts, okay... I decided I LIKED it when the accompaniment suddenly went from being in Em suddenly to Gm... the slight clash/dissonance... okay, it was useful, I likd the effect.


I could see trying more exercises in this, then trying to apply it to one of my sonata exercises... to try to make it more exciting.


Question: could anyone recomend any other "given examples" other than the given Em/Gm practice example? I am without the "harmonic calculus" everyone here seems to break into when arguing how to modulate from key 1 to key 2, LOL...


my ears seem to like this effect, in small doses anyways... when i first did the "clash" (as I think of it) the melody suddenly had a... I dunno...  a slightly funny, or slight confused sound to it... then after a few iterations, it gets to sound "normal" almost... THEN, when I went back to the original "in tune" melody, it suddenly sounded "new" and "bright" again....


I'm thinking I want to get more used to doing this, and try to incorporate it to fight boredom in my longer exercises... but short of knowing WHY those 2 keys were picked for the example, it would suffice for NOW anyways, for other key pairs to play with...


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  • E minor and G minor are a good starting point for exploring the possibilities of bi-tonality.  The pitch "G" can be exploited as a pivot between the two keys.  Also, "A," "C," and sometimes "D" are possible as points of convergence.  Once you get tired of E minor and G minor... try E minor and A flat Major, E Major and G minor, G Major and E flat minor.  Have fun :)
  • The most awkward sound (for me) when it comes to bitonality is using keys a minor second apart. Try staying in C major in lower registers and having your melody in B major or C# major. You can also try both minors, or mix them up. Have fun xd
  • I first started experimenting with this by playing scales from two different keys in parallel.  For example the left hand would play Cmajor scale while the right hand plays Eflat major.  This produces interesting variety of intervals as you play the two scales up and down.  Even more interesting is if you mix major and minor of different keys, such as playing C Major and E flat minor.  This creates a pleasing mix of minor thirds and major seconds as you play the scales up and down.  If you get bored of that combinations can be made by combining different modal scales, or different kinds of minor.  From there you can try writing counterpoint with the two scales and it really gets fun!
    I feel a compositional technique like poly-tonality also comes with it's own unique "language".  Those who are renowed for their use of the technique (such as stravinsky) had their methods of making it work.  As I've been trying to get into this style a key for me has been concentrated listening.  Not so much score analysis but listening to recordings of the great works written in this style.  After a while its as if your intuition begins to understand what the different hallmarks and traits are, and composing like this becomes more effortless.  You can see my post a while back about understanding what you compose vs. intuiting what you compose for more about that.  Of course I don't truly know how organic my attempts in this style have turned out.  I'll have to upload some of it to the site to get your feedback before I know.

  • There is a known exercise in playing polytonality for pianists: take some simple (traditionally tonal) melody and play it in such a way that every note is accompanied by a major chord with this note as the key. Every time I did this I discovered new interesting chords. For example, a theme Do Re Fa# would be played as a sequence of chords (Do Mi Sol do) (Re Fa# La re) (Fa# La# do# fa#) with left-to right ascending reading of the chords in brackets. You can combine this with traditional homophonic accompaniment for this melody, thus getting natural-sounding bitonality. You can do this with polyphony too.
  • Prokofiev does this several times in 1st part of his 3rd piano concerto (sequence of major chords ascending by a halphtone)

    Greg Brus said:
    The most awkward sound (for me) when it comes to bitonality is using keys a minor second apart. Try staying in C major in lower registers and having your melody in B major or C# major. You can also try both minors, or mix them up. Have fun xd
  • There are 11 possible poly roots for a major triad and 11 possible roots for a minor triad...and there are 11 roots for a three-note stacked fourth chord.  Most of the resulting chords are dominant, but you don't have to use them as "V7" chords.

    From there, you should be able to think of either adding triads to the existing bass structure, or vice-versa.  The final step is being able to voice lead both sections independently.




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