How to build "non tonal" harmonies?

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.

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  • 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. 

    How to build "non tonal" harmonies?
    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 wor…
  • I could learn a lot of lessons from you.

    Roberto Soggetti said:


    Greg Brus said:
    Roberto Soggetti said:
    point 2 is serial composing, but it took too long to write point 1 so I have to procrastinate it until next time! :)


    I consider serialism to be kind of a science exercise rather than a technique composer could efficiently use to express his ideas in atonal way. However, one might use it to severely limit the endless amount of possibilities which come when you're free from tonal thinking - might be helpful when you're getting started.
    Pointilism seems intriguing, though :)

    not sure... I agree to a certain extent, but since eventually you are (your ear is) the judge of the final output, the science exercise could turn into an expressive medium for the composer. Plus, it's easy to get pieces done very quickly this way :). Here's an example I did some time ago, as a demo for Wallander's woodwinds. It took about 30 minutes to compose...
    http://www.robertosoggetti.com/serialwoods.mp3
    How to build "non tonal" harmonies?
    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 wor…
  • Atonality is vast, and to go by emotion would be the way I do it. Atonal chords and compositions usually have very strange and unique characteristics and they can lead to their own unique form of resolution of progressions, but there's no recipe that I know of to find them, for me at least it's all about the composition and each chord must be precise in the whole, and there should be a form that leads one to think it's not random but rather a unique expression as a whole or in several parts.
  • I'm not into atonal, I have not yet managed to appreciate it and thus not write anything "atonal". But.

    "Atonal" means without tonal center, the absense of motion from musical (harmonic or melodic) point A to point B. Resolving a G7major to C major is a clear statment of tonality if there is nothing else before or after.

    If you want to create atonal melodies, then yo have to take out the element of "logical continuation"-the very thing that can express a tonal centre in an one voice melody. 

    If you want to make atonal harmonies (which to me is what makes sense-an apparently "atonal melody" could be harmonised and in the end become tonal) then you need to NOT express tonality. Not having a cadence and constantly moving around different tonal regions (could be every 2 chords) will take away the sense of a constant center, but it will still have some kind of "logic", flow. This would be a pretty traditional aproach, but could comply with the term atonal, if made with care.

    You can take it a step further, and change the "natural" roles of chords, resolving things in ways unexpected, again wondering around regions, constantly trying to make the ar listen to something it was not expecting-writting not what you naturally feel should be there, but what shouldnt. This however  means you will have to "defy" your inherent sense of harmony and go against your own thought, unless of cource you can actually "think" that way (musically speaking), something I doubt anyone can do, at least not after much getting used to this specific way.

    So in an experiment this would be interesting, but when trying to express yourself you dont avoid what you think should come next- you embrace it, or else this is not your thoughs, it is you avoiding them.

  • This kind of random composition method rarely leads to a good piece IMO. There are right and wrong atonal progressions (some have more impact than others), but I can't say if everyone would agree with a specific progression. Some are more emotional and others end up too random, but to my sense it should still be emotional and not against what feels natural. Ligeti was very good at getting the emotions out for example

    Spiros Makris said:

    I'm not into atonal, I have not yet managed to appreciate it and thus not write anything "atonal". But.

    "Atonal" means without tonal center, the absense of motion from musical (harmonic or melodic) point A to point B. Resolving a G7major to C major is a clear statment of tonality if there is nothing else before or after.

    If you want to create atonal melodies, then yo have to take out the element of "logical continuation"-the very thing that can express a tonal centre in an one voice melody. 

    If you want to make atonal harmonies (which to me is what makes sense-an apparently "atonal melody" could be harmonised and in the end become tonal) then you need to NOT express tonality. Not having a cadence and constantly moving around different tonal regions (could be every 2 chords) will take away the sense of a constant center, but it will still have some kind of "logic", flow. This would be a pretty traditional aproach, but could comply with the term atonal, if made with care.

    You can take it a step further, and change the "natural" roles of chords, resolving things in ways unexpected, again wondering around regions, constantly trying to make the ar listen to something it was not expecting-writting not what you naturally feel should be there, but what shouldnt. This however  means you will have to "defy" your inherent sense of harmony and go against your own thought, unless of cource you can actually "think" that way (musically speaking), something I doubt anyone can do, at least not after much getting used to this specific way.

    So in an experiment this would be interesting, but when trying to express yourself you dont avoid what you think should come next- you embrace it, or else this is not your thoughs, it is you avoiding them.

    How to build "non tonal" harmonies?
    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 wor…
  • no, you misunderstood me. I'm having second thoughts in the case  of "writting not what you naturally feel should be there, but what shouldnt". If you write a Gmajor and then you just feel, need, want a C major after that, then you HAVE to put it there. And why shouldn't you? After all it's your piece and tonality and atonality are two words made to describe the same thing:

    Emotion. 

     

    By all means I am against randomness. A random piece is not your piece-its Godess' Luck to claim. 

    telod said:

    This kind of random composition method rarely leads to a good piece IMO. There are right and wrong atonal progressions (some have more impact than others), but I can't say if everyone would agree with a specific progression. Some are more emotional and others end up too random, but to my sense it should still be emotional and not against what feels natural. Ligeti was very good at getting the emotions out for example
    How to build "non tonal" harmonies?
    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 wor…
  • Atonal music can't be analyzed using traditional chord symbols. There are other methods for melodic and harmonic organization, and there obviously has to be some rhyme and reason to the whole thing, creating music that has an impact on the listener is about setting up expectations moment to moment and following through (or occasionally not). There are still very specific techniques used in writing chromatic and non-tonal (even "atonal") music. Some of the organizing principles become so esoteric that they may not be apparent to the listener or have any real meaning to anyone except the composer, but the music is still highly organized.

     

    If you look at a lot of major academic sources on this subject, there's some debate over whether atonality can ever be achieved, most "non-tonal" music would be more correctly identified as "non-tonal" or "chromatic". Check out the Persichetti book (20th Century Harmony). It's essentially a menu of chromatic composition techniques. All briefly explained with short examples, and organized in a way that's really easy to get through.

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