Tracking and Demoscene discussion.

Variations on themes

Variations on themes

Postby fbjon » Thu Feb 04, 2010 1:44 pm

(continuation from a song comment)

I tend to create something (A), tack something else at the end (A-B).

Then I copy just to keep the song going (A1-B-A1), and vary it a little bit (A1-B-A2), and then vary some more (A3-B-A2). So the original A, which is what I remember as having composed, actually gets lost in the process. This sometimes confuses me, when I try to find a particular passage, only to discover that I've evolved it away long ago.


Anyway, sometimes I compose by variation: create something that sounds ok-ish, then keep making variations of it until something really nice comes along, then make that the new base of the song and go from there.

Anyone else do these things?
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Postby Airmann » Thu Feb 04, 2010 6:40 pm

Thanks FBjon for sharing your workflow. I'm always interested in things like that, because it has a lot do with the creative outcome I guess.

Your workflow reminds me pretty much of iterative approaches of software development. Especially those iterative modifications of A (A1..A3). In software development this is a common working modell for making things better and better.

Mostly I have a similar approach. I often start with a single pattern and few elements. On what I focus first varies. Sometimes it's the rythm/beat, sometimes the melody and sometimes things like sound design or progressions. If I'm happy with the first pattern(s) (A) I try to extend it with (B). What's sometimes difficult is to go on and to create an overal suspense curve. Also C-Part is not so easy IMO.

I usually don't copy from existing stuff like other songs, loops or midi files. I really start from scratch and try to make everything new. Though this is very funny, I think in the meanwhile it's not very clever, because I don't learn new things from others. And then there's the unnecessary reinvention of the wheel

A friend of mine, which makes really decent Pop-Music (guitar mainstream) creates ALWAYS the whole progression / arrangement of the song, first - based on melody ideas. For him it's like the architecture of a building. I've done that, too, but I had a feeling like that I was locked in that architecture somehow.

Question: how do you build your melody lines and progressions ? On the PC keyboard, live-playing = improvising or in your mind ?
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Postby fbjon » Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:09 am

Airmann wrote:Your workflow reminds me pretty much of iterative approaches of software development. Especially those iterative modifications of A (A1..A3). In software development this is a common working modell for making things better and better.


I am a developer, in fact. I wonder how much influence that has. Or whether the influence goes the other way.

Airmann wrote:A friend of mine, which makes really decent Pop-Music (guitar mainstream) creates ALWAYS the whole progression / arrangement of the song, first - based on melody ideas. For him it's like the architecture of a building. I've done that, too, but I had a feeling like that I was locked in that architecture somehow.


It's been a while since I tried that. It can be refreshing though, having a complete structure to work on, but I'm usually worried that the structure might be unsound. If it is, it's so much work to redo it that I'd be overwhelmed.

Airmann wrote:Question: how do you build your melody lines and progressions ? On the PC keyboard, live-playing = improvising or in your mind ?


Hard to say, so I probably mostly write them from my mind. Perhaps in a sort of abstract way: "this next bar needs to be softer sounding", and thus my mind conjures up something soft. I think I have a pretty good sense of "how the next thing should sound", or at least I like to think so. :)
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Postby tenfour » Wed Feb 17, 2010 6:59 am

I am a developer too :) But I try hard to make my song writing workflow different than my software writing workflow. In software i have a problem, and i find an efficient solution. with music I don't ever strive for efficiency. inspiration / creativity is priority #1, and if it can be more efficient, then good, but it shouldn't get in the way of the others.

for this reason i don't think i have a workflow. in general, i might start with an idea, or i might start with a sound. often i just want to try something interesting harmonically. if i find a new workflow, i will write something unique. if i use the same workflow as another song, it will end up sounding the same.

for this compo, i tend to start out by just listening to the given samples a million times, and seeing if my brain generates ideas. again, not very efficient, but this is how I believe I make my most unique music - just by letting it trickle up to my brain. when i played my latest compo tune to a friend she said "it really has your DNA" - and I believe there is no way to give a song my DNA by force.

my brain thinks first in terms of harmony, and this means i usually start with a chord progression (not melody or beat). my music is almost always extremely mellow & subdued until I start adding a beat / groove to help the energy. Well then it's still usually mellow.

I almost always find a chord progression on my piano, not in renoise.

i don't like to think in terms of "chord progressions" though but of course for the sake of productivity I use them. They just tend to be a bit long I guess with the idea that if i start to repeat something it must be done for a reason, just like if i change something it should also be done for a reason. And "i want it longer without more work" isn't a reason that helps make the song better.

i often find myself with a chord progression but no melody, and i always have the best luck finding a melody by fooling around in renoise rather than my piano for some reason. Maybe it's because by this time I usually have crafted a couple fx chains for melody instruments, and that's more inspiring than piano because it's more like the end result.

i guess when i think back to when i first started with music, everything was a discovery. to me, something sounded normal or weird. when it sounded weird i wanted to find a way to make it sound natural, and these explorations helped build a vocabulary in my head of different go-to chords / melodies / sequences. certain rhythms that i was always fascinated by, or certain intervals over certain chords. the genius use of a pedal tone in some random pop song. over time i have enough of these phrases floating in my head that I think it's easier for me now to make a musical decision when i'm faced with writer's block. this allows me to not rely on a workflow, and trust that i will still be able to produce something no matter how scatterbrained or inefficient i am being.

ok, end of self-centered ramblings :)

I agree that it's really interesting to read about other peoples' workflows. I always find that it's so vastly different than my own - in a way that "i just couldn't have thought of that".

one common question people ask me is "which do you write first, lyrics or music?" Well I don't know the answer because i just don't write lyrics, but I know it's been done both ways. And for the songs I have written lyrics on, the answer is another question: "which do you write first, the guitar or the piano?" or "which do you write first: the characters or the setting?" To me if you want a poem with accompaniment, write lyrics first. If you want a narrated song, then write music first. If you want a SONG, you write them together just like you write everything else together. But I have the feeling I am naïve on this topic, and I'd love to hear other peoples' answers to this question.
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