In this video I concentrate on the first storyline out of the orchestral composition Seven. I named it “A friendly opening”. How did I write this? What were my thoughts? My process? Which pointers can I give you to write something similar? All topics in this video which I will address.
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Timestamps of the video
- 00:00 – Introduction
- 00:56 – Tip 1: fiddle around until you repeat yourself
- 02:02 – Tip 2: add without judgement, trust your ears
- 03:37 – Tip 3: You’re stuck, embrace it!
- 04:50 – Tip 4: repetition by another instrument sounds fresh
- 06:14 – Tip 5: use sound colours wisely & dress up
- 07:39 – Next week: storyline 2 which is dark and sinister
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Tip 1: fiddle around until you repeat yourself
I can clearly remember how everything started. It was the evening of the 2nd of June. I was sitting behind the piano fiddling around. Before I knew it, I was repeating the same part over and over again. Sometimes that happens. And when that happens I have learned myself that you might have a lead to something new and wonderful. So I wrote it down in StaffPad.
I’m talking about this pattern. It starts on the G and it ends on the G an octave higher. The pattern goes: two steps up, one step down. Two steps up, one step up. Two steps up, one step down. And again two steps up. All white keys on the piano. Add some accents to it and you have a rhythmic pattern if you will. A beautiful basic layer which gives you many opportunities to build on further.
Tip 2: add without judgment, trust your ears
At this moment I only had the pattern played by the piano. One thing that always works to enhance my writing and creativity, is adding a high open harmonic string. Or a flautando. I don’t know why, but it always sounds great in an opening scene. It just fits.
The high harmonic violin sound screams for a counterweight in the lower registers. So that is the reason why I picked the cello for a little opening motif. Starting on the G, two steps up to the B. Simple, but yet effective.
And then I did something that surprised myself. I wrote an ‘A sharp’ followed by a ‘D’. That A sharp sounded great, but a little uncomfortable too. At that point I didn’t know where I was going. I trusted my ears. That led to a repetition of the motif played by the solo violin. And the part played by the clarinets and bassoons.
So my point here is, in this stage of writing I don’t think about music theory or rules to follow. I just write dots and lines on virtual paper and trust my ears. Try not to limit myself in any way. Everything is allowed as long as it sounds good. Add without judgement, let creativity flow.
Listen to the full mockup of Seven
Tip 3: you’re stuck, embrace it
To me this happens a lot. I get stuck after a while not knowing what to do next. You have to know, I’m not a fast writer. In the sense of a composer who can write a work like this composition Seven in a day. This takes time and for me that’s ok.
Nowadays I embrace getting stuck. It’s not about the result, it’s all about the process. So just leave it there. Your brain will continue with it unconsciously. It will come, just give it time. Write something else. Or if you like cycling just like me, grab your bike for a long ride.
After the ride on my bike I had a clear moment. Inspired by the latest orchestral sketch which was about the mode Dorian, I knew what direction I was heading to with this opening. I gave myself an assignment to write a work based on the seven modes: ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian, myxolydian, aeolian and locrian.
Tip 4: repetition played by another instrument sounds new and fresh
At this moment I had a direction and an idea of what I was going for with this work. But still I was stuck after the solo violin part. How to continue after the great sounding sharps? Actually, in what mode am I writing right now? Or better said, in what mode do I want to continue?
The G was the important note in the work so far. I had build the piano pattern around it. So I decided that the G should be the tonic. And honestly, to keep it simple from now on I decided to use only the white keys on the piano for this first storyline. So I ended up with G myxolydian. Maybe a big disappointed for you knowing there wasn’t a bigger or more complex thought behind it. Just practical to keep things flowing.
And that led to a repetition of the pattern. Not played by the piano though as in the beginning. That would be boring. No, I had to tickle the brain with a new and fresh sound. A sound that supports the idea of a friendly opening. One that brings a little excitement. In this case, I chose the harp.
Tip 5: use sound colours wisely and dress up
As I mentioned in the latest orchestral sketch video, you have to hammer in the tonic of the mode you writing in. So in this case I wanted to address the sound of the G even more.
The harmony starts with a soft tremolo in the strings. Focus is on the G.
Now woodwinds and strings always sound wonderful and magical together. And when you bring in the woodwinds a bit later then the strings, the brain of the listener absorbs and embraces the sound of them to the fullest. At least, that is how my brain works.
And notice, this harmony part is very basic and simple. It’s a continuous G chord. But by adding different sound colours, different techniques like tremolo and pizzicato and the use of dynamics, it became a breathing and living organism.
By now I had the feeling the first storyline was completed as in the amount of bars. I only felt the urge to dress it up a bit with some other orchestral colours like a glockenspiel, timpani and a run in the flutes. Not going crazy or anything, still keeping it simple and supportive within the concept of a friendly opening.
Next week: storyline 2 which is dark and sinister
That’s it for this week. Hopefully I gave you some valuable insights and pointers to start writing your own opening scene.
Next week I will continue with the second storyline which I named “Dark ages are upon us”. It’s a complete mood swing that brings us in totally different vibe. Already looking forward to that! I hope you do too!