In this orchestral sketch I want to show you one approach that is ridiculous. But yet can be very effective to get you on your way! I think this one is really awesome! So keep with me during the steps, cause I take you to a part of my brain that drives the nerd in me. And for all who can’t or have difficulty with reading music notes, I’m going to show it to you in MIDI too!
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The steps: from piano chords to orchestrated version
- 00:00 – Introduction (boost creativity and inspiration)
- 01:26 – First Listening (piano line and Orchestrated version)
- 02:13 – The approach (use the name David for composing rules)
- 03:43 – Cantus Firmus (the piano line I started with)
- 04:24 – Harmony (a simple chord progression can do the job nicely)
- 05:43 – Melody (only 20 notes left to write a descent melody)
- 09:08 – Orchestration (the symphonic version I ended up with)
First listening to get an idea
I get a lot of questions about how to enhance your creativity and inspiration for writing music. How I come up with the melodies, the chord progressions, the music that I compose. I understand these questions, but I don’t have a “one fit all” answer to that. There are many ways to achieve this.
In this orchestral sketch I want to show you an approach that is ridiculous. The challenge I gave myself this time, is to write an orchestral sketch in StaffPad based on my name.
Let’s listen to the piano line I started with and then the orchestrated version. And hopefully you agree with me that this approach can lead to something beautiful!
The ridiculous approach
Perhaps you know that my name is David. So how can I turn that name into music? Here we go. And you can do this too, cause we all have a name 🙂
My name is David. My name contains 5 letters. So the assignment is to write 5 bars of music. A bit ridiculous, isn’t it?
The letters of my name are D, A, V, I, D. Looking at the alphabet, these letters are numbers 4, 1, 22, 9 and 4 again. Are you with me? Letter A is 1, letter B is 2 , letter C is 3 etc.. Not so ridiculous 😉
When we count those numbers up we end up with 40. So the assignment is now: write 5 bars of music that consists of 40 notes.
But that’s not all. We can do more!
Let’s put accents on the notes based on my name too. We take the numbers as intervals and use the 22 as two intervals of 2. So we have intervals of 4, 1, 2, 2, 9 and 4. These notes get accents. That’s ridiculous!
So the assignment is now: write 5 bars of music that consists of 40 notes with accents on intervals of 4, 1, 2, 2, 9 and 4.
The cantus firmus
This idea is ridiculous and quite challenging. So I decided to start really simple. A cantus firmus with one note per bar. In the C Major scale.
Going from 1 to 3, to 4, to 5 to 1. Or you could say, from C to E, to F, to G to C.
I played it very safe here. So I used only 5 notes from the 40 I can spend.
The chords or harmony if you will
With the cantus firmus I already kinda laid out a chord progression. I, iii, IV, V and I. So I started to write this chord progression into StaffPad.
One thing to pay attention to when you do this, is the motion. Make sure to avoid parallel fifths and octaves. I talked about this already in the orchestral sketches before this one. Intervals of 3rds, 6ths and 10ths are the ones I aim for. These ones give a rich harmonic sound.
To get a little bit out of my comfort zone I wrote a B flat in the second chord. That makes this very simple chord progression just a tiny bit more interesting.
So this is what I ended up with. 5 bars, 5 chords, 20 notes spend out of the 40 I can use.
Let’s do a quick listening an continue with the next step which is about the melody.
This step was a bit more challenging. 20 notes left to spend for a melody or decoration in 5 bars. Where to start I thought!
Eventually I started with a simple line downwards along the scale. With an eight rest to emphasise the chord at the start.
I decided that I wanted to start with an E in the second bar. That kinda determined the start of the line downwards on the C. This way I could end on a D which works perfectly towards the E in the second bar.
After the busy first bar with already 7 notes spend out of the 20 notes I had left, I felt the urge to be economical with notes in this second bar. So I only spend two notes. The E and the F which completes the first part of the melody line. 11 notes left!
The third bar is a simple motif. It starts on the C which is part of the F chord. It continues with a pattern of eights notes going one step upwards. Then falling down in steps of two ending on the A. It kinda gives the same flowing feeling as the line downwards from bar 1. There is no further big idea behind it.
5 notes spend again, so 6 notes left!
The fourth bar exists of 5 notes too. That would leave me with one note to end with in the last bar. I thought that was a great idea. I guess I did not have an idea upfront when I wrote this bar. Feeling and intuition were my guidance. But looking at it now, I can see a pattern. It goes up 3 steps, it goes down 5 steps, it goes up 3 steps and it goes down 5 steps.
I ended up with a staccato style to break with the flowing legato feeling from the first three bars. Maybe unconsciously working towards the end of this orchestral sketch.
I had one note left. First I wrote it like that. So I ended with a final chord in the last bar. But it did not feel good. So I borrowed a note from the chord progression and used that in the melody. Making a total of 40 notes!
The last thing I needed to do, putting in the accents. Remember: 4, 1, 2, 2, 9 and 4. So let’s follow me along in the video.
I guess I completed my assignment! Let’s continue with the next step which is about orchestration.
I have to admit that I used more than 40 notes in the orchestrated version. But that’s because I simply use more instruments and doublings. Otherwise, it would have been a bit dull.
Ok, let’s go through it.
I ended up using quite some orchestral instruments. The flute, the oboe, the clarinet, bassoons, timpani, Glockenspiel, Tubular bells, Xylophone and the complete string section.
The violins I and II, the violas, the cellos, the double basses and bassoons cover the harmony. The chord progression as you will. With an exception of the fourth bar where the violins I take part in the melody doubled with a flute an octave above.
The clarinet, an instrument that I start to love more and more, takes the first main role in this sketch. It kicks off with the three first bars of the melody in legato style.
The accents are highlighted by the glockenspiel.
In the fourth bar the clarinet takes over the role of the violin I in the harmonic part. And this time the xylophone highlights the accent.
We end on the tonic in the last fifth bar. Staccato and pizzicato style to accent to last note. Covered with the timpani and the tubular bell in the background.
And that’s it! A lovely orchestral sketch based on my name.