Beat Basics: Composition
Understanding all of the parts that go into making music can seem like a daunting task. Can’t I just put these two beats together and call it a day? Just like with anything, one must truly comprehend it, integrate it, and then apply it. One can’t just learn how to hammer a nail, and then try to make a boat. It would be a total wreck! The same goes for music.
Though admittedly, there are many people who have little understanding of music that create and release “songs” to the masses. This is what most people are exposed to and accept. Then there are albums that come out that are mind-blowing, and steps above the norm. What makes these albums so epic? (besides actual good musicianship) Composition!
Composition is the actual nuts and bolts structure of the song. We take the components we’ve learned about in previous blogs, like 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, measures, time signature, etc. and assemble our musical piece into a solid structure. An actual written composition will have all of this literally laid out including dynamics, accents, even mood (usually written in latin). It is everything one needs to know about the song, and that anyone in the world can pick up and play exactly how the composer intended it.
For electronic music, the composition need not be scored out like it does for an orchestra. It DOES still need the structure, however. Its important to know things like verse, chorus, intro, bridge, solo, etc. and exactly when these things happen in a song. The primary structure of a song is based around the chord progression, the melody, or both. Most often this is in 4, 8, or 16 measure segments called Phrases. For example, if a chord progression is 4 measures long and repeated, and at the end of the second time through it there’s a slight difference (measure 8), you got an 8 measure phrase. This phrase is repeated throughout the song, every 8 measures having that change at the end.
Understanding phrases really helps in the construction of a composition. Instead of counting out individual measures, you can now count phrases. You can make the verse 4 phrases long, or 8 phrases, then add a change. Phrases make structure more comprehensive. Melodies to follow this formula, typically being 8 or 16 measures long. This is a melodic phrase.
When you know all of the different phrases in your song, you can assemble the composition all in one go, and then tweak it later. Example: verse phrase 4 times, then chorus phrase 2 times, verse phrase 8 times, etc.. then you can add the intro phrase, a middle change, or anything you want.
Putting a structure to your song brings a direct focus that can help you make the song exactly how you hear it inside. Mapping out the composition not only forms the song, but ensures that all the pieces fit together evenly and at the right moments. Otherwise, a song will sound random, which is not inherently pleasing to the human ear, as we tend towards balance. This means an even amount of measures, and the changes happening at the end of phrases. Bringing a song into focus keeps it from rambling, and losing the listener’s attention.
Create the phrases, then piece the phrases together to create structure, add some flair etc. and your song is done. Trying to come up with structure on the fly can be laborious and not as focused as setting out the structure ahead. This can seem a rather linear way of doing things, but one would be surprised at how fluidly one’s songs are produced utilizing this.
This is a brief introduction into the structural aspects of song creation, more will be covered in future articles. Hopefully this makes Composition more understandable, and you can see the logic behind such a practice. Plus the ability of passing on one’s music to future generations to play is quite awesome. Try it with your next song, you will be pleased with the results.
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