#1
It is frustrates me to have a pile of little chord progressions and being unable to expand upon them without the result being something lacking luster.

If any of you have had this problem, how did you overcome it?
#2
Abandon the idea of chord progressions all together. Think about music horizontally, not vertically.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#4
Quote by Jesse Clarkson
*Looks at Bach*

What? I know where you're coming from, but it is truly strange to hear this from someone who loves Bach's music so much. Does this come from the "we'll never compare, so why try" school of thought?

......what?

What I said is exactly in line with Bach's approach...

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#7
When I was first learning about counterpoint and was writing it in bach chorale form, I would have a tendency to anticipate what harmony would fit over a certain note in the process of writing my cantus firmus. The problem is that this (thinking about harmony) then dictates the melody, which goes against the point (I.E. you want to have strong, independent melodies). I imagine that Xiaoxi is discouraging thinking in terms of chord progressions for some reason related to this.
#8
^ you got the right idea, man!

Quote by Jesse Clarkson
That's true, but I recall Xiaoxi suggesting that I listen to Bach vertically instead of horizontally in order to truly appreciate it.
That's exactly the opposite of what I just said...

I don't know if you'd look at it as being vertical in terms of the way the melodies all align, or horizontal due to the reason you stated. I would have imagined that Bach had harmony in mind first though.
There is no way that Bach could have achieved what he did if he thought about harmony first. It is all about the individual lines which inherently have harmonic implications and tendencies. Unless there was a specific point in the design, there was no need to plan out the harmonic layout the same way that a rock guitarist plans out 4 chords to lay a melody over. The music moves in a linear fashion with a distinct set of behaviors, and harmony is created out of that cause, not the other way around.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Nov 30, 2011,
#9
There is no way that Bach could have achieved what he did if he thought about harmony first. It is all about the individual lines which inherently have harmonic implications and tendencies. Unless there was a specific point in the design, there was no need to plan out the harmonic layout the same way that a rock guitarist plans out 4 chords to lay a melody over. The music moves in a linear fashion with a distinct set of behaviors, and harmony is created out of that cause, not the other way around.


This is basically how I was lead to understand it as well. The harmonic movement is emergent from melody. If one thought about harmony first, then the melodic content would be predetermined or constrained by that, and it's the freedom of the melody that is vital in counterpointal music.

I fear this tangent doesn't quite get at the specific problem that the OP was having though. They're already thinking in a context of writing harmony first, and it sounds like they're bumping into the issue of "so I have this chord progression and I don't know where to take it from there, or how to end the song".
#10
Quote by Brainpolice2
This is basically how I was lead to understand it as well. The harmonic movement is emergent from melody. If one thought about harmony first, then the melodic content would be predetermined or constrained by that, and it's the freedom of the melody that is vital in counterpointal music.
Spot on! But I have a couple of suggestions: Forget about cantus firmus. Forget about species. Just study real works and internalize them. Become an expert at anticipating what Bach would do before he gets to it, because he is very consistent in his tendencies, and it just comes from ear and, after a while, instinct.

I fear this tangent doesn't quite get at the specific problem that the OP was having though. They're already thinking in a context of writing harmony first, and it sounds like they're bumping into the issue of "so I have this chord progression and I don't know where to take it from there, or how to end the song".
Well he wasn't very specific, but why even remain in the cage of a chord cycle at all? It's one way to get out of a rut...

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#11
Quote by Jesse Clarkson
Not in this thread, but in the past I recall you suggesting I listen to it that way instead.
Well then I was either way too high or you misunderstood me because I would never intentionally suggest that.

I understand the music is written in a linear fashion, but it has a clear focus on harmonic intent too. Unless it's an atonal piece, a melody tends to insinuate a harmony that goes with it and I don't think anybody can ignore that when composing.

But the harmonic intent in the vertical sense does not need active planning. There is a consistent set of tendencies and behaviors from the individual lines that, if done right, will ensure "correct" harmony. But like brainpolice said, actively planning the harmony not only restricts the linear movement, but also restricts the harmonic movement.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#12
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I understand the music is written in a linear fashion, but it has a clear focus on harmonic intent too. Unless it's an atonal piece, a melody tends to insinuate a harmony that goes with it and I don't think anybody can ignore that when composing.

Well, I think that if we're looking at something like a fugal setting (since that's how Bach springs to mind for most people) the focus is clearly on the linear motion. Naturally, there's a harmonic implication with the melodies, but the focus for me at least when either listening to or writing a fugue is in the horizontal realm. Even outside of fugal writing, from my experience with Bach I've seen consistent enough patterns, for lack of a better word, to make me feel as though the melodic lines were in the forefront of his mind rather than the harmony.
#13
I will grant this to Jesse: when writing a line, with knowledge about harmony, one can see what harmonic possibilities there are relative to a snapshot of the line (say the key is C major and I see a Db in the line going up to D - my mind immediately thinks "V/ii to ii").

But this is actually a description of how we build harmony from lines, not writing lines with the harmony necessarily in mind already.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Nov 30, 2011,
#14
I also need to point out that this isn't some exclusive technique used by Bach...almost all conventional classical music is contrapuntal even when it doesn't sound that way. Almost all of it is written with a linear orientation. Without that orientation, there is no way that classical music could have the flowing quality that it has.

When a beginning student of Brahms tried to impress him by writing all these complex harmonies, Brahms simply said "why are you giving me all of this? I need you to just show me the outer lines!"

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#15
Quote by Jesse Clarkson

When writing in this style you still have vertical relationships in mind. The way the individual lines interact with each other isn't just a coincidence.
Of course. I wasn't suggesting that you can ignore the vertical parameter altogether. But again, the harmony is fleshed out through the development of the individual lines, and not usually decided upon artificially as its own entity.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#16
Quote by Brainpolice2
I will grant this to Jesse: when writing a line, with knowledge about harmony, one can see what harmonic possibilities there are relative to a snapshot of the line (say the key is C major and I see a Db in the line going up to D - my mind immediately thinks "V/ii to ii").

I don't even think about that anymore. I find that articulating the harmony in analysis makes it extremely hard to deviate, which is ultimately what you need to do to keep things interesting. I used to have a very hard time making convincing modulations because of that. Now, I just let the lines completely take over and I could be in a key 3-4 signatures away from where I was and yet it's all an afterthought.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#17
But I have a couple of suggestions: Forget about cantus firmus. Forget about species. Just study real works and internalize them. Become an expert at anticipating what Bach would do before he gets to it, because he is very consistent in his tendencies, and it just comes from ear and, after a while, instinct.


I believe I've already been doing this, from an educated listener's standpoint. I think I've internalized the tendencies enough to be able to pick out certain patterns or even cliches that are formed in classical music, especially Bach. I've had the experience of listening to classical music on the radio and anticipating the resolutions and the general direction of the melody as I improv-hum along to it. There is something really instinctual about how it flows.
#18
Quote by Brainpolice2
I believe I've already been doing this, from an educated listener's standpoint. I think I've internalized the tendencies enough to be able to pick out certain patterns or even cliches that are formed in classical music, especially Bach. I've had the experience of listening to classical music on the radio and anticipating the resolutions and the general direction of the melody as I improv-hum along to it. There is something really instinctual about how it flows.
I'm curious, do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?
#19
Quote by Jesse Clarkson
I'm curious, do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?

Mostly a good thing. But you just need to be familiar enough to anticipate, but have enough awareness and control to deviate and do your own thing. To write with that kind of convention by today's standards wouldn't be very stimulating, but there are still plenty of need for it in electronic media.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#22
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Well where's the excitement when you can anticipate everything?


Ah, well I wouldn't say I can anticipate everything. Since I've actually never heard the song before, and it's classical music (which means its likely to have quite a lot of movement), as I hum along I still run into surprises. Things can resolve to places and move in directions I didn't expect.

And my humming is still in some sense reacting to what I'm hearing, very much in the same way I'd be reacting to my environment when playing guitar in a "pure improv" situation (I.E. when everyone just starts playing, and adapts themselves to what the others are playing).
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Nov 30, 2011,
#23
Just curious. I don't think predictability necessarily equates to boring. Thanks for the answers, something to think about I guess.

Xiaoxi, I'd love it if you elaborated on your signature. Maybe explain it in the chat thread because I seem to have lead this thread off topic.
#24
Quote by Jesse Clarkson
Well where's the excitement when you can anticipate everything?

loool...well you can't exactly anticipate everything. If you could...what the hell are you doing here? You should be conducting your new symphony with the BSO.

You're anticipating basic things. How the composer goes about getting there is something that is unique to them. And also, what about that great moment when they completely throw off your anticipation?

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#25
Quote by Jesse Clarkson

Xiaoxi, I'd love it if you elaborated on your signature. Maybe explain it in the chat thread because I seem to have lead this thread off topic.

lol I've been plugging this link in for the last 3 days...

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showpost.php?p=28549841&postcount=3

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#26
Xiaoxi, do you hate traditional harmony textbooks? I don't mean that sarcastically at all, I'm just wondering your opinion on them. It's interesting because I use a text (that my crackpot theory teacher cooked up 30 years ago) called "Harmony through Melody" that kind of goes against the way traditional texts teach harmony, i.e. melody takes precedent over harmony, or rather the harmony springs from the melody. It, in theory, talks about the principles you're talking about, but I hate it because of the moronic execution and the importance laid on a very specific and ultimately useless method. I think the issue might not be the method of the textbook, but just textbooks in general being ****ing useless for teaching harmony in a compositional sense. Thoughts? And suggestions of texts (not necessarily textbooks) that aren't total poop boxes?
#27
To the OP, closely related to what Xiaoxi said, stop thinking monophonically (one voice/melody) and try to think polyphonically (multiple melodies).
Having multiple parts with different contours and textures is so much more interesting to listen to than only having one melody.

Also, there are a huge amount of ways to spice up a simple chord progression, different voicings, arpeggiation, non-chord tones, etc.
I don't know what kind of music you play/compose, but instead of thinking about chord progressions first, how about coming up with a cool groove on the drums/or bass first?


(Btw, I'm I the only with Bach as a background picture on his phone?)
Last edited by Keth at Nov 30, 2011,
#28
Quote by NboECdyK
It is frustrates me to have a pile of little chord progressions and being unable to expand upon them without the result being something lacking luster.

If any of you have had this problem, how did you overcome it?


I have half a dozen chord progressions that don't yet have melodies.

One way I decided to work on that problem - because I wasn't finding melodies by just playing the chord progression over and over again - was to start by writing melodies, absent chords.

And then harmonize the melodies.

The idea being to train yourself to think in melodies, to write songs differently for a while, and then come back to your chord progressions with new, buffed-up melody-building muscles.

If you have a hard time writing melodies, my advice for you would be ear training. My own experience has been (it's ongoing) that the more I work on my ear, the more I'm able to think in music, and the more I'm able to come up with original melodies. I think people who haven't trained their ears tend to think very non-specifically about melody (pitches are vaguely defined in their heads) which makes it, obviously, very hard to write them.
#30
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Xiaoxi, do you hate traditional harmony textbooks? I don't mean that sarcastically at all, I'm just wondering your opinion on them. It's interesting because I use a text (that my crackpot theory teacher cooked up 30 years ago) called "Harmony through Melody" that kind of goes against the way traditional texts teach harmony, i.e. melody takes precedent over harmony, or rather the harmony springs from the melody. It, in theory, talks about the principles you're talking about, but I hate it because of the moronic execution and the importance laid on a very specific and ultimately useless method. I think the issue might not be the method of the textbook, but just textbooks in general being ****ing useless for teaching harmony in a compositional sense. Thoughts? And suggestions of texts (not necessarily textbooks) that aren't total poop boxes?

I think I might have even heard of that book, or something like that.

Admittedly, I learned the conventional way for harmony with figured bass analysis and counterpoint with species. While they can help make sense of things, they ultimately trap you in a textbook box if that's the only way you think about them. Fortunately, I was able to connect the dots in a way that these approaches couldn't identify. In the end, you have to think about all of these parameters in a unified way.

So I can't say for sure that traditional textbooks don't have any merits. But I definitely think they are harmful for most people. They discourage and flatten way more than they inspire and revolutionize the way people think about music. And if you become an expert of these books and nothing more, your music will be rudimentary at best.

The one thing I really really hate is the way that conventional theory characterizes its concepts as "rules". And then if something doesn't fit it, it is "breaking the rules". We hear that phrase all the time regarding music, and it is so unhealthy because we're thinking in terms of rules and then figuring out ways to break them. That will make your efforts forced and uninspiring. There are no rules. I think we should think about it in more organic terms. Everything has the potential for consistent behaviors and tendencies, not rules. Behaviors and tendencies are things that are not absolutes or givens, they are crafted.

I know that Schoenberg and Hindemith have both written their own treatises on these topics. I think they must have a better way of conceptualizing, being as good as they are. Haven't read them though.

I'd also love to maybe just start trying to explain it myself. But it is probably the hardest thing ever to explain in words, so maybe that's why it's not widely done.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Nov 30, 2011,
#31
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https://www.guitarlessonsinsandiego.com/Most_Important_Skill.html


instead of advertising the links in your signature, why dont you just help the TS?
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#32
Quote by Xiaoxi

I'd also love to maybe just start trying to explain it myself. But it is probably the hardest thing ever to explain in words, so maybe that's why it's not widely done.


It's kind of weird, because while I'm becoming fairly comfortable composing in a more "modern" idiom, if someone asked me to write something tonal I would be completely lost, it's just not a language I have at all. It's something I'm interested in learning, but I've yet to really find a textbook that teaches it in a practical way and if I was to go about learning it from analyzing "the greats" I never know where to begin or what to study. I think, well I could learn from Haydn, but why not use a more modern tonal language like Beethoven, or even more modern like Mahler or Wagner, and then at that point why even bother with tonality?

I guess I just don't really know how to go about learning this in a practical manner, instead of a theoretical manner. Because it's one thing to be able to harmonize a melody in four part writing, decorate it and throw in some mixture somewhere because the assignment asked for it and get something that sounds sort of like music, but it's another thing to write "real music."
#33
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
It's kind of weird, because while I'm becoming fairly comfortable composing in a more "modern" idiom, if someone asked me to write something tonal I would be completely lost, it's just not a language I have at all.
That's pretty fuckin' weird, not gonna lie

It's something I'm interested in learning, but I've yet to really find a textbook that teaches it in a practical way and if I was to go about learning it from analyzing "the greats" I never know where to begin or what to study. I think, well I could learn from Haydn, but why not use a more modern tonal language like Beethoven, or even more modern like Mahler or Wagner, and then at that point why even bother with tonality?
Of course you'd expect this from me, but I honestly believe it:

"Study Bach. There, you will find everything." - Brahms

He is their most important idol. He is my most important idol.

I guess I just don't really know how to go about learning this in a practical manner, instead of a theoretical manner. Because it's one thing to be able to harmonize a melody in four part writing, decorate it and throw in some mixture somewhere because the assignment asked for it and get something that sounds sort of like music, but it's another thing to write "real music."
Most people have that problem, me included. It takes a lot of practice. I think you would benefit from learning tonal writing because it is in many ways a tougher discipline than contemporary writing.

Maybe one of these days I'll take a stab at explaining...

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#34
Quote by Xiaoxi
The one thing I really really hate is the way that conventional theory characterizes its concepts as "rules". And then if something doesn't fit it, it is "breaking the rules". We hear that phrase all the time regarding music, and it is so unhealthy because we're thinking in terms of rules and then figuring out ways to break them. That will make your efforts forced and uninspiring. There are no rules.

I've wanted to make a post on this to catch people's attention for a while now, but I never find myself quite motivated enough. I think a lot more people would be willing to study theory in the first place if it weren't presented in such a rigid manner - I think this is where most of the argument for "don't learn theory, it inhibits creativity" comes from. There have been too many times where someone's said something to the effect of "no, I can't make that chord minor, it's not diatonic" or "what do you mean I can play an F# in C major" and I think the sort of approach you're describing is the crux of the problem. If people would view theory as the descriptive tool it's supposed to be and not an evil teacher saying "YOU HAVE TO DO THINGS MY WAY OR DON'T BOTHER" I think we'd see more study of it.

That being said, I think I'm still too unmotivated to make a big post about this...
#35
Quote by Xiaoxi
That's pretty fuckin' weird, not gonna lie


I know I talk to my performer friends who generally deal in strictly tonal worlds and they're weirded out when I say I've never really written anything tonally. Hell, I'm weirded out when I say I've never written anything tonally.

Quote by Xiaoxi
Of course you'd expect this from me, but I honestly believe it:

"Study Bach. There, you will find everything." - Brahms

He is their most important idol. He is my most important idol.


I hear this all the time, but where do you begin when you study Bach? What are your goals when you're looking at a score?


Quote by Xiaoxi
Maybe one of these days I'll take a stab at explaining...


I'm still waiting for Set Theory: Part 3
#36
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
I know I talk to my performer friends who generally deal in strictly tonal worlds and they're weirded out when I say I've never really written anything tonally. Hell, I'm weirded out when I say I've never written anything tonally.
Don't you listen to pre 20th century stuff??

I hear this all the time, but where do you begin when you study Bach? What are your goals when you're looking at a score?
You look at his lines, how they interact with each other, how he makes continuous use of cellular motifs and their developments, and how that all tie into the big picture. I think I'll write something about it in a few weeks after the semester's over.


I'm still waiting for Set Theory: Part 3

I didn't even do part 2... >.>

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#37
Quote by Xiaoxi
Don't you listen to pre 20th century stuff??


I do, it's just I spend most of my time actually studying 20th/21st C. for my lessons and stuff.

Quote by Xiaoxi
You look at his lines, how they interact with each other, how he makes continuous use of cellular motifs and their developments, and how that all tie into the big picture. I think I'll write something about it in a few weeks after the semester's over.


Don't tease me now.


Quote by Xiaoxi
I didn't even do part 2... >.>


I know... <.<
#38
Quote by NboECdyK
It is frustrates me to have a pile of little chord progressions and being unable to expand upon them without the result being something lacking luster.

If any of you have had this problem, how did you overcome it?


Having more options which were provided by having a strong grasp on music theory.

By having this understanding on how music works and functions as a whole, I have more doors that I can open as well as understanding WHY they would work.

Also I really dont mirror any single or few influences. I listen to what my inner voice likes. I don't set out having to be as good as someone else's works, I set out to be as good as I am and to faithfully represent what I want, and that's important. That's why I can appreciate so and so, but never want to be like them (we already have them, the world doesn't need another), I want to be myself.

Best,

Sean