Beat Basics: Composition

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.  Mevoice_synth01-8262013lodies 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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Time Signature Sub-Division


Beat Basics: Sub-Division, Making Time Signature Work For You

As we know, the time signature defines the count for each measure.  The count is like a palette of options, and the measures are like a canvas, ready to be created with.  Sub-division is what gives us the rhythm.  It is the color spectrum on the palette.

Sub-division is the breaking down of the count into smaller counts.  These smaller counts create the rhythm of the beat.  Also, they add up to equal the time signature, i.e. the overall count.  There are many ways to sub-divide with any given meter.  (Meter is another name for the time signature)

Let’s have an example.  We’ll use 7/8, which as we learned in the last Beat Basics article means a count of 7 eighth notes in each measure.  First, let’s break it down this way: 1-2  1-2  1-2-3,  1-2  1-2  1-2-3.  Three groupings of eighth notes that equal up to 7.  Hand clap on the 1 of each group to get a sense of the rhythm that is created by this sub-division: 1-2  1-2  1-2-3, 1-2  1-2  1-2-3, 1-2  1-2 1-2-3.  Notice the rhythm?  This is used in Turkish, Arabic, and some Latin music.

Another way to breakdown 7/8 is: 1-2  1-2-3  1-2, 1-2  1-2-3  1-2.  Do you see the difference between the two sub-divisions?  They have a different emphasis, and the count makes a different rhythm, even though they are both still in the same time signature.  7/8 can also be broken down as: 1-2-3  1-2  1-2,  1-2-3  1-2  1-2.  This creates yet another type of rhythm.  Any combination of eighth notes can be used, as long as they add up to 7, each one creating a different feel.  Even this unusual one works: 1  1-2-3  1-2-3,  1 1-2-3  1-2-3,  1  1-2-3  1-2-3.  Try clapping that one, it almost has a broken record feel as it comes back to the beginning of the rhythm.

We’ve looked at 7/8, let’s try a different time signature to further emphasize the point.  This time we’ll use 9/8.  The most common form of 9/8 is this: 1-2-3  1-2-3  1-2-3, 1-2-3  1-2-3  1-2-3.  This gives a triplet feel to the count.  Here is another way to do it:  1-2  1-2  1-2-3  1-2,  1-2  1-2  1-2-3  1-2.  There’s a big difference between the two, but they are both using the same time signature.

Do you see the value of knowing sub-division?  It opens up a whole new range of musical expression.  Knowing how to break down a time signature into different rhythms allows one to create with a whole range of different feels.  Not only does sub-division effect the rhythm and movement of a song, but it also significantly effects the melodic and chordal structure of the song.  The melody will be written based upon the rhythm of the music.  Rather than sticking to the standard 4/4 beat of most music, sub-dividing adds a whole variety of possibility.

Once one masters sub-dividing, one can then begin to create music that switches time signatures multiple times throughout a song.  This adds a great depth to what one can create.  The possibilities are indeed endless.  Hopefully this helps further your understand of time signature and rhythm.  The next installment of beat basics will cover Syncopation.  In the meantime, start counting and experimenting!

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