This is already Orchestral Sketch no.4. One that I’m not particularly proud of. But that’s ok. Doing these sketches are an exercise to get a better understanding of composing, orchestration and why certain things work and others don’t. This time I had my focus mainly on counterpoint and rhythm.
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The steps: from piano to orchestrated version
- 00:00 – Introduction
- 01:03 – First listening to cantus firmus and orchestrated version
- 02:09 – Cantus Firmus
- 03:15 – Counterpoint, intervals and motion
- 05:47 – Rhythm
- 06:57 – Decoration
- 07:52 – Orchestration
Theoretical perspective used as a basis for composing music
This sketch is mostly done from a theoretical perspective. That means, I didn’t sit behind the piano to sketch out a melody. I didn’t have a clear upfront idea where I wanted to go with this sketch. I just wrote a cantus firmus in StaffPad on my iPad and followed some basic steps to develop that to an orchestrated version.
To be honest, I followed these theoretical steps on purpose. And you probably think, why? Well, I don’t have access to a piano all day. For example, when I’m travelling. But I do have access to my iPad all day! So sketching out ideas like this, will give me tons of possibilities during the day. I can do it whenever I want. Where I want. And that’s maximum flexibility!
Cantus Firmus: the piano line I started with
I tried to write a very very simple cantus firmus. To make it easy for me to start. But also to challenge myself. Cause I need to develop this simple and not very exciting line into something that connects to me and other listeners.
As always, there is a pattern to discover in this cantus firmus. You probably already noticed it. It’s going one step up, one step down and repeat. Then I mirrored the first bar. It’s going one step down, one step up and it repeats. The third bar is a mixture of the same notes with an ending on the a in the final fourth bar.
In the video I explain it visually.
Counterpoint, interval and motion
This first development step is all about intervals, motion and counterpoint. Doing first species, second species, third species and fourth species counterpoint. All impressive terms, but let me put it simple.
First species counterpoint is one to one. Meaning, you write one note in your counterpoint melody for one note in your cantus firmus. Second species counterpoint means you write two notes in your counterpoint melody for one note in your cantus firmus.
Third species counterpoint, I guess you already understand. You write three notes in your counterpoint melody for one note in your cantus firmus. And fourth species counterpoint … yeah, you already figured that one out. I know that for sure.
Hey David. First of all, great video. I really enjoyed the composition and all of the process that took you to it! I feel obligated to clarify something though. You got your species counterpoint definitions wrong at some point. First species is 1 to 1 Second species is 2 to 1 Third species is 4 to 1 Fourth species is 1 to 1 again (but the notes are offset to create suspensions) Fifth species is the mixing of them all. These are according to Fux in Gradus ad Parnassum. Happy composing! [Leonardo Outeiro]
Same approach as the last orchestral sketches when looking at intervals. I aim for thirds, sixths and tenths and above. These are imperfect consonances. These intervals give us a rich harmonic sound.
Does that mean you can’t use other intervals like fifths and octaves? No, definitely not. But be aware when you use them and why. Cause fifths tend to sound louder and octaves mostly feel like only one note is being played.
Let’s have a look at the motion I ended up with. I already discussed the cantus firmus. When watching the video you’ll see me draw in the lines how this moves. Nothing really special. Just as I mentioned before.
When we look at the counterpoint melody something becomes clear. It moves mostly in the opposite direction of the cantus firmus. And that is something to keep in mind when you write music. Enough diversity in your motion makes your music interesting to listen to. But don’t exaggerate, otherwise you will lose your audience and people will disconnect from your music.
Rhythm connects and makes us want to dance
If you follow me along from quite some time, you probably know that I started to play the drums as a little kid. Not doing much with it nowadays though. I have to admit, my drums are stored on the attic for years now. Making my neighbours very happy.
But rhythm in music is really important. It connects. It can be a comfortable hold on for your listeners. Rhythm makes us want to dance. So in this sketch I wanted to do something with rhythm. But still in a very simple and basic way. So I added sixteenth pedal notes on the low a. And some off beat notes.
At this point I didn’t thought about orchestration yet. I just added these parts, knowing I would figure it out when I needed to.
Decoration for some fun and excitement
When I asked my son what he thought about this sketch, he was dead honest with me. He said: “I don’t like it. It’s awful”. One of the reasons why he said this, was the decoration parts I added. These were extremely loud and over shouting the rest. So I lowered them a bit in this example.
Did I need these decoration parts? I guess not. But I love string and woodwinds runs, the fast celeste or marimba parts or the harp in the background. So I had that in mind.
The cantus firmus is played by the celeste and the basses. The last one play it an octave lower in pizzicato style.
The celeste also plays the counterpoint melody. So I guess, I gave this instrument the main part in this sketch. I truly love the sound of the celeste and I use it very often in my compositions.
The rhythm, the fast repeating pedal notes, is done by the triangle. And the off beat notes are taken care of by the Rototoms. Supported by the xylophone to which I added some extra notes. The tubular bells address the first note of the bar. They play a constant note which is a.
The marimba plays the runs. Subtle, but it is noticeable.
And that all sounds just like this.