Fantasy Novel

Fantasy Novel
Read a fantasy novel written by me and my brother!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Artist's Toolkit II

Themes & Motifs II 

Here is the second part to the first. These tools are more advanced but, applied carefully, can give your music a powerful edge and make it worth remembering.


1. Notes Change

Playing the exact same melody every time to signal a motif may get old after a while. Besides, themes may darken, brighten, become more elaborate, or change in other ways depending on the mood of the movie. Thus, it is useful to sometimes change the notes of the motif while still making it recognizable to your audience. This may be more challenging than it sounds.

2. Mode Change

Classical music uses this a lot. The most common one being transitioning from minor mode to major mode or vice versa. Other changes could be from major mode to lydian mode, lydian mode to mixolydian mode, or minor mode to phrygian mode. Of course there are many other mode changes which sound good. Finding the right one is the trick. Also, making the motif still recognizable is very important.

3. Rhythm Change

Depending on the mood of the theme you're showing, you might want to change the rhythm of the motif so that it better conveys the new mood or atmosphere of the movie. This change in rhythm is not the same thing as changing the time signature, although it may incorporate it if you are going for a dramatic rhythm change. The easiest way to do this though, is just to change the timing of individual notes while still sticking with the same time signature. For example, you could turn half notes into quarter notes, while turning eighth notes into quarter notes to keep the balance.

4. Segmentation

Another technique to use for motifs is to split your melody into pieces and fill it with new musical material. For example, you could play 1/3 of your motif melody, then break off into a new part before finishing the other 2/3 of your motif. Alternatively, you could split off into new material every 1/4 of your motif. Depending on the length of your motif, this process could take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. This is not a very common technique, but if used masterfully could give your music an interesting edge.

5. Reverse Notes

Reverse the main melody of your motif or reverse sections of it. By reversing I mean to make your notes go in the opposite direction. For instance, if you motif uses E D C G F E D, you would reverse it to D E F G C D E. This might be too extreme for you. If this is the case, you can only reverse a few notes while still keeping most of the main theme. In this case, E D C G F E D becomes C D E G F E D. If used right, this technique is very powerful and will definitely keep your motif from becoming stale or overused.

6. Instrument Choice

If you've already established an instrument which is mostly used whenever a character or theme is shown, then you can use this one. For example, a flute may often be playing in the background during a scene featuring a certain character. This instrument becomes part of the motif for your character. Whenever a flute is played, your audience would connect it with the character. This technique is useful but dangerous. After all, if you did this for every one of your character motifs, you wouldn't have many instruments left to use for regular themes. Some characters may be stuck with their motif being a snare drum or a wind chime. One way to get around this problem is to use instruments in only certain cases to represent a character. For instance, a solo flute may represent a character, but when a flute is played with other instruments it may not. Alternatively, a piano played along with just a violin may represent a location or theme while a piano played by itself or with other instruments would not. Knowing how to make the best use of this technique is critical and will wondrously improve your music.

That's all for now. Have fun composing!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Artist's Toolkit I

Themes & Motifs

Almost every movie needs to have themes and motifs in them. There are various kinds of them, some being about different characters, others about locations, still others about certain themes or other types of things that the film composers want to convey. The Lord of the Ring's movies are a great example of this. It's really fascinating to study the soundtracks. It couldn't have been easy for Howard Shore to weave together so many intricate puzzle pieces into a complete whole.

Five basic theme techniques will be discussed as follows. This is not an exhaustive list, these are just a few that came to my mind.

1. Tempo Change

One of the simplest ways to change a theme is to slow down or speed up the tempo. This isn't a very powerful tool, but it can be used to bring about a slight change in the theme. It can be really potent if used in combinations with some of the other tools.

2. Key Change

Another great tool to use. This is especially useful if the previous music for your movie is in a different key than your original piece and you want to make a smooth transition between the two. It's also useful for creating more of a dark mood by key changing to a lower key, or making it more majestic, by key changing to a higher key. 

3. Instrument Change/Addition

By adding instruments or changing which instruments are used, you can dramatically alter the sound of your theme. Sometimes the theme might come in with flutes, other times with brass instruments, other times with the piano or a combination of instruments, depending on what mood you're aiming for.

The Crown Prince, one of my compositions, is as an example of this. Listen to the first 22 seconds of it and get the feel of it. Then skip ahead to 1:34 and notice the different feel. Believe it or not, the melody line for the tuba is exactly the same, but now new instruments are added which change the whole atmosphere of it.

4. Chord Change

Even if the main melody stays the same, just by changing the chords, you can create an entirely different mood. If you're motif is major, for instance, turning it to minor for a rather depressing or sad scene in the movie would work very well.

Arcade Fire's song Abraham's Daughter is an example of this tool. Listen at 25 seconds until 38 and note the dark, foreboding sound of the piece which utilizes only one minor chord. Then listen to 39 seconds until 52 and notice the more hopeful sound of it which is caused because it uses other chords, particularly some major ones.

5. Harmony Addition 

By adding harmony to your motif, you can greatly improve and beautify it. It's very useful to use when embellishing a theme for a more powerful part in a movie. Try it and see the results.

That's all for now. Keep composing!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Atmospheric Conditions

Music's Aura

Every music piece has a certain mood or feel to it. Just like every great novel we've ever read had at least one underlying theme to it, every music piece needs to convey a certain mood or atmosphere. Some moods are weaker than others, some are forcefully powerful, and some may even be hard to define, but the moods are still there.

It seems best to me, when starting work on a song, to come up with both the mood and the name for it. If you can do these two things, composing the song should come much easier. However, if you are the type of person that just makes the music and then comes up with a name, that's great as well.

1. Emotional

Do you desire to make people sad when they hear your music? Often sad music is very beautiful, so this is a very good choice. Listen to The Call by Regina Spektor, and you'll see an example of this type of music. Certainly, the lyrics add to the emotional feeling of this music, but even just the instruments, the chords, and how the song is sung gives off a sad feeling.

2. Epic

Maybe you feel like writing a piece of music that inspires people and leaves them with a feeling of grandeur. If such is the case, keep your song's mood in the triumphant/epic genre. He's a Pirate by Hans Zimmer, showcases this mood perfectly. 

3. Mystery

Ever wanted to make a song which leaves your listeners with a sense of mystery and wonder. Give this mood a shot. With the added touch of solemnity, this Gregorian Chant song perfectly fits this genre.

4. Scary

Perhaps you always wanted to scare people with your music. If so, try this mood. Nazgul Theme from Lord of the Rings is a great example of this. Probably not a good idea to listen to this before going to bed though, unless you don't value your sleep.

5. Peaceful

Maybe you want to create a piece of beauty and relaxation. Try this mood. A River Flows In You by Yiruma captures this atmosphere perfectly. 
6. Magical

Have you ever wanted to transport your listeners to another world, another place. It's time to make use of this mood. This musical piece from World of Warcraft about night elves fits this mood with precision.

7. Happy

If you want to make happy music that's not annoying it might be sort of a challenge, but if you're a classical composer, you have a good chance at making this happen. Listen to The Prince of Denmark's March by Jeremiah Clarke and you'll understand this mood.

I know that's not nearly all the moods, but this covers some of the basics. Also, I know that moods can be combined to create some interesting complex combinations. Experiment with it to see what you can come up with. I'll be back with a post about themes & motifs sometime soon. Good luck composing!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Unlocking the Secret

Key Changes 

The world of composition really opens up when you begin to expand your horizons from simply playing in one key the entire piece to switching keys. Whether briefly, or lasting the rest of the song, key changes have a dramatic effect on your music. A carefully placed key change can bring your piece up to the next level. Do not overlook this composition secret!

1. Key Change (+1)

Changing the key up 1 half step (or 1 note) is a powerful technique to use. It's usually a dramatic change, because the new notes you'll be playing will mostly be completely different from the ones in the previous key. This key change is very useful for giving your piece of music that extra touch at the end.

For an example of this, go to this link to a musical piece I composed called Two Moons Inn. Go to about 2:08 and listen for the majestic key change. 

2. Key Change (+2)

By far the most common, the whole step transition gives your music a beautiful, epic sound. Works great in almost any case. The only problem with this could arise if your instruments or voices cannot reach the new notes because they're so high. Be careful of this. Otherwise, use this key change to add more power to a final chorus, bridge, or ending of your song.

3. Key Change (+3)

Think Lord of the Rings when you think of this key change. This is the key change used in the beginning of the song called the The Fellowship Theme. If you want to make your musical piece way more epic and triumphant sounding, use this key change. 

4. Key Change (+5)

Chronicles of Narnia uses this chord progression masterfully. Go to the following link and listen to this song called The Battle at about 37 seconds in. See if you can catch the key change. It's hard to catch due to the fact that this new key uses many of the same notes as the previous key. 

This key change which, like the previous one, is great for making great soundtrack music, is particularly powerful and effective when going from major to minor. Start with major and then, once you key change up, go to minor. See the amazing results!

5. Key Change (-2)

Very interesting key change. May have the effect of making your music feel like its sinking and that you're traveling deeper underground. Also, can have the effect of giving your piece a Celtic feel due to the fact that it's similar to using the Mixolydian mode. 

6. Key Change (-4)

The one word to describe this key change is eerie. Listen to this music piece I composed called Snow Queen's Palace and you'll see what I mean. Near the very beginning the key changes. See if you can spot it.

If you love to scare people with your music or if you just like composing music for horror films, this key change is certainly one for you to add to your repertoire. 

I know this didn't cover nearly all of the key changes, but, to be honest, I really am not sure what some of the other ones are good for and what they do. I hope to find out more so that I can post a follow up to this. Anyway, thanks for reading. Hope to catch you later with another post!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When Will It End?

Song Endings 

How do you end a song? Sometimes ending a song can be the most frustrating thing ever. Here's 5 techniques that will help you to complete this task with ease.

1. State of Suspension

Extend the finishing notes to a perfect close. This can also work for songs, with people holding onto the last note longer and then suddenly releasing. Regardless of the type, this is a classic way for ending songs and works really well. When people hear a songs notes holding out longer than usual, they naturally expect the song to end. Don't disappoint them.

2. Loop and Decrease

A popular method when you just can't find out how to get that finishing touch to end a song. Instead of creating a clear ending, just loop the last section of a song over and continue to decrease the volume until nothing can be heard. Soon after that point of nothingness, the song should end. Not a bad technique, and it makes your listeners feel as if your song is not really ending, but rather that they are just moving away from the source of the music. To put it another way, the journey never really ends, but they just aren't a part of it any longer.

3. The Power of Friction

Near the end of your song, slow the tempo down. When people hear the tempo begin to decrease, they know the song is ending. Use this technique and people won't be surprised or mad at you when your song suddenly ends.

4. Clashing Cymbals

End your song with a bang, a clash, or a loud boom. Cymbals, gongs, and timpani crescendos work very well for this. When you use this technique, you are definitely making it easier on yourself. Without much brain power, you just need to find out the right tool that will signal that your song is about to end. It's not too hard, unless of course, you choose to end a really mild or gentle song in this way. Then, you're in trouble. Good luck trying to get a clashing cymbal to finish off your peaceful new age song.

5. Fancy Finale

I'm sure this one is the most well-known. After all, who doesn't want to end a song with a magnificent flourish, showcasing your amazing ability to end songs with style! Almost everybody does. The truth is though, this isn't always the best way to end a song, and, quite frankly, it's definitely one of the hardest, unless you opt for a cliche finale which won't impress anyone. Still, if you manage to create a unique and impressive finale, you will definitely awe your audience. So, keep in mind the other four techniques, but always keep an eye (or perhaps an ear) out for opportunities to implement this one as well.

That was definitely insightful for me. I think I learn more from these posts than even those who read it! Come back soon for another post regarding key changes and how to use them and which ones are the best.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stranded on a Desert Island

Movie Composer's Toolbox

Imagine if you were stranded on a desert island and had only one item with you. What would it be? Now imagine you were a film music composer and could only choose one type of instrument for your music. What would it be? 

1. Piano
I'm sure that some of you would pick piano, and this is a very good choice. The piano is one of the most versatile instruments available, and if you need music for a film, this could work--in some situations. The piano is great for suspenseful scenes, romantic scenes, calm, peaceful scenes, and sad scenes. However, if you are making music for a film that's set in Africa or Asia, I don't need to tell you that you probably don't have the right instrument for the job.

2. Violin

Although not quite as versatile as the piano, this instrument should not be overlooked. It can basically capture the same movie scenes as the piano only that it works even better for melancholy moments. If you want people to really be moved by your music, choose the violin. 

3. Drums

I'm not really sure why anyone would choose this, but I'm sure there are some of you who would. And it's not a bad choice. Drums can make great tribal music, suspenseful music, and exotic music. However, by themselves they can't do much more, so this probably isn't the best choice for a solo band to have.

4. Harp
A lot can be done with the harp. It functions similar to the piano, although it has a more dreamy and fantasy feel to it. If you plan on writing music for an enchanted forest, this would be a good choice.

5. Flute

An excellent choice. Can be used in many situations. Flutes can create very sad tunes and also very beautiful ones. Perfect for certain movie scenes.

Though of course this didn't cover nearly all of the selections, this is good enough for now.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Enter the Cathedral

Church Modes in Composition

The church modes, which became very popular in the medieval ages, were actually borrowed from ancient Greece. Each one of these modes have a unique feel to them. If you are completely lost and wondering what I'm talking about, read this site for information about the modes:

Each one of these modes has a common version, which is the most popular one to play, or perhaps the easiest to memorize. These versions are followed by a letter which signifies the chord they are supposed to resolve to. These modes can be transposed and played on different notes, but once again, there's no point in making it too complicated, unless of course, that's what you want. Anyway, here are the seven modes.

1. Ionian Mode (C)

This is perhaps the easiest mode to play and the most common. There are countless songs that use this mode, such that it doesn't really even seem like a mode at all. Another name for this mode is the major scale. Jingle Bells, Mary had a Little Lamb, and Hot Cross Buns, plus many other children's songs, are in this mode. That's not to say that this mode's good for only kid's songs. No, it's great for many different types of songs. Although this mode is often thought of as major and happy, that's not always the case. Composers can also make very sad songs using this mode, though it does take more skill to pull off.

2. Dorian Mode (D)

Greensleeves is the classic example of a song in Dorian mode. In fact, many medieval songs use this mode. If you want to make a song which will take your listeners back to the age of castles and monks, employ this mode in your compositions.

3. Phrygian Mode (E)

The most mysterious of all the modes and often the most depressing and sad. It has a minor sound to it, but it also has a suspenseful quality to it as well. This mode works as great background music for rainy, dreary days. It also has a solemn feel to it, reminiscent of stone temples and ancient ruins.
4. Lydian Mode (F)

Don't fall asleep. This mode can be used to create dreamy ethereal songs which will make you feel like you're floating on clouds. Like the previous mode, it also has a sort of suspenseful feel to it, though not a scary or sad one. This mode never seems to resolve itself and thus it can be quite nebulous-sounding. It really is sort of happy-sounding, though.

5. Mixolydian Mode (G)

Not to be confused with its younger sister, Lydian, this mode has a Celtic flair to it and is completely different, not having the suspenseful feel to it at all. If you've always wanted to compose an Irish jig, make a song which will sound like an inn from your favorite rpg, or simply create a happy tune, this is the mode for you.

6. Aeolian Mode (A)

This is the second easiest mode to utilize and the second most common. Like the Ionian mode, this one doesn't really seem like a mode. Another name for this mode is the natural minor scale. Many popular dark-sounding songs, sad songs, and scary songs use this mode. Mastery of this mode is essential for composers as it is so powerful and can be used in so many ways.

7. Locrian Mode (B)

I think of clowns, circuses, and barren wastelands whenever I play in this mode. Overall, it doesn't have a very pretty sound, and as such doesn't have much of a place in the music world. It is by far the most rare of all the modes, and hardly any modern songs use it. Still, if you're feeling brave, and can withstand the ugly sound of it, try your hand at composing in this mode. Who knows, you might just come up with the next hit song.

Well, that was certainly a longer post than usual. I hope you didn't grow too tired reading it. I hope to come up with another one shortly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Epic Chord Progressions

  Lord of the Ring's Chord Progressions 

1. Gandalf Falls

This first chord progression is one I'll name after one of my favorite songs from the Lord of the Rings. In case you haven't guessed which part of the movie it's from, it's from the first movie, the part when Gandalf falls off of the bridge in the Mines of Moria. Let's do this chord progression in 4/4 time signature, each chord taking up a whole measure. The chords are as follows a minor, F major, C major, and G major. This chord progression is not only very useful, it is also very common and popular. It can definitely be used to make sad songs, but, if used properly, it can also be used to make epic and triumphant songs. This song is used in the beginning of Enya's song May It Be.

2. The Shire

This chord progression is from the first movie of the Lord of the Rings, near the beginning. It's focused on the hobbits. There are different chords used in this theme, as it develops throughout the movies, but we will just focus on the simplest one found near the start of the movie. Using 4/4 time signature, these are the chords used as well as how many measures they take up. Here they are: F major (4 measures). B flat major (2 measures), F major (1 measure), C major (1 measure). If you want to make melancholy and beautiful compositions, this is definitely a good one to use.

That's all for now. Come back later for more music tips.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Composing Haunting Music

Haunting Music Tips

1. Octave of Terror

One way to create a song which has a scary mood is to hit an octave with your left hand. As octaves by themselves don't really sound minor or major (your brain usually just choose whichever one you're more comfortable with), you need to establish the minor sound with your right hand. I hope you agree that a major sound doesn't really work for creepy music.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get to work. Let's start by hitting both A notes. Try to hit a low A octave if possible. Probably avoid the very lowest of any minor octave as they really stop sounding scary at that point and just start sounding ugly. That's all for this technique.

2. Chilling Suspense

Now, pressing the right pedal, hit the A octave with your left hand and keep holding it down. Now's where the melody comes in. Create a melody (with your right hand) which uses the notes found in an A minor chord. Try to hit different notes. No double-hitting any notes. Listen for the cold sound which comes from executing this tip perfectly.

3. Ethereal Vapors

When creating the melody with your right hand, use the high notes on the piano. The contrast between the low bass in the left hand and the high notes in the right hand makes for a really eerie sound. Last note--maybe avoid the very highest octave as this doesn't really sound that good.

That's all for now. Come back later with more piano composition advice!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Composition Secrets

There are at least five ways to compose songs on the piano

1. Envisioning

Look at a picture and imagine creating a musical piece which fits with it. For example, you could stare at a beautiful picture of a reddish sunset over the ocean and try to make a song which fits with it. This technique is highly important when composing music for films or games.

2. Blank Slate

Compose a song by just playing around the piano, hoping to come across a good melody. Probably the most commonly used technique and although it might not be the most effective, you can still compose decent songs using it.

3. Imitation

Listen to a favorite song of yours and try to copy it, making your own song which sounds similar but yet different. This is a very useful technique, and, if you are feeling defeating while composing, a good one to start trying. 

4. Royal Decree

Someone tells you to make a song that has a certain style, quality, or feel to it and you follow their advice. This technique has the advantage of being unambiguous. You know what you are going for, you just have to get to it. However, getting to the goal is not always easy, and trying to reach that elusive quality which fits the demanded specifications is often very challenging.

5. Telescope

Choose a style of music and try to compose a song that sounds like it. By narrowing your focus to a particular style, you definitely don't waste as much time as trying to start with a blank slate. Also, if you have your own particular genre of music, you probably use this technique without even thinking about it.

That's all for now. Come back soon for more composition secrets.