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Xiaoxi
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#1
I often see these kinds of issues brought up by aspiring songwriters/composers on this forum: "I've come up with a cool idea, but I can't think of how to go on or what to do next" or "I always have trouble finishing a piece" or "I don't like the results. It seems very lacking and stale". These are very common problems, and it inspired me to write this lengthy analysis of Brahms' String Quartet No. 3. The first movement of this quartet shows an incredible level of maturity in compositional craft, one filled with creative solutions at every turn.

Composition advice is often put in vague terms, focusing only on the overall concerns and leaving a vacuum on the inner workings, which I suspect many people would like to know. Too often when we're struggling to write, we don't stop to ask, "Why this, now?", the answer to which will break the creative blockade. That is why I've attempted to retrace every step of this piece, breaking down every nuance along the way to show exactly what Brahms was thinking and what prompted each minute decision that allowed the music to progress and take shape. In documenting all this at such a micro level, I hope it will reveal to us new ways of approaching those common problems no matter what kind of music you're writing. Of course, this is a very long read (sorry no tl;dr), but there's no need to do it all in one sitting. What's important is taking it all in and really absorbing it, so read at a comfortable pace.


1. The way in which Brahms uses and develops his primary ideas, which is extremely economical. Becoming familiar with this approach will expedite your writing process and help you get the most out of your musical ideas.

2. The flow of the music and its importance in creating a very convincing and exciting piece throughout. "Flow", as I call it, is the pacing and the way in which the music keeps moving forward and transitioning through a variety of rhythmic, textural, and other juxtapositions. It is a very untreated area when it comes to talking about music, perhaps because it's the most intangible aspect. But I believe this is the most important aspect of music, because good flow takes the music to the highest level. No amount of technical correctness in harmony, voiceleading, etc can achieve that without an awareness of effective flow.

3. Harmony: Brahms uses some very cool harmony in here. While still tonal, there is a lot of creative manipulation of common harmonic conventions that makes the music very refreshing and inventive. You can incorporate some of the highlights in your own music, or even better, create your own with the same voice-leading principles. This will be a separate analysis.

Let's get started!
Download a copy of the PDF and listen along:
http://youtu.be/I-O8XY17Ej4













Harmonic Analysis coming soon

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Dec 11, 2012,
Nietsche
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#3
Reading now. And consider the Douglas Adams quote fixed.
.
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#4
i was really looking forward to seeing you try and get 5 posts reserved before we ruined your thread. but i'll need to set some time aside before i jump into it, work today and my last finals tomorrow, ick.
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#6
Very interesting Xiaoxi. I'm transcribing and analyzing my favorite albums, so your post will come in handy reference.

Will read when I get the chance.
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Xiaoxi
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#8
Quote by Nietsche
Reading now. And consider the Douglas Adams quote fixed.

That makes it all worth it :''''''''''''')

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i was really looking forward to seeing you try and get 5 posts reserved before we ruined your thread.

I have to give myself a pat on the back for the solution I came up with. I'm a goddamn genius.

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Will you be covering any Chopin in this discussion?

Sure, here it is:

He is terrible. Oh my god. What the hell's the matter with you?

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Dec 11, 2012,
amonamarthmetal
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#9
Quote by Xiaoxi


He is terrible. Oh my god. What the hell's the matter with you?

LOL
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#11
you don't like chopin?! chopin is great!

i mean, he's not a master of composition like brahms, but he's great!

interesting read. i'll come back to it again when i have more time to really appreciate it in depth.
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Xiaoxi
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#12
No mo cho please!!!!!!!!!!


...modes and scales are still useless.


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Xiaoxi
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#14
The hell is THAT supposed to mean??!!

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#15
Quote by Xiaoxi
No mo cho please!!!!!!!!!!



How bout you Liszten to some Liszt, instead? Or can you not Handel it?
amonamarthmetal
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#16
Quote by CryogenicHusk
How bout you Liszten to some Liszt, instead? Or can you not Handel it?

I'll be Bach


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#17
I'm sick of Brahms after listening to his first symphony for analysis countless times.
AeolianWolf
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#18
Mother****er I Didn't Even See It Was Brahms' 3rd String Quartet When I Came In Here Before

This Is Legitimately My Favorite Piece By Brahms

i guess capslock isn't tolerated here anymore.
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TheHydra
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#19
Hey, thanks for writing this. I listened to the piece and followed along with the sheet music, and I read your whole analysis while doing my best to go and revisit the sections you talked about. Approaching classical composition methods is kind of daunting so stuff like this really useful and inspiring. The final section really gave me some motivation and things to think about.
Last edited by TheHydra at Dec 12, 2012,
Xiaoxi
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#20
Quote by TheHydra
Hey, thanks for writing this. I listened to the piece and followed along with the sheet music, and I read your whole analysis while doing my best to go and revisit the sections you talked about. Approaching classical composition methods is kind of daunting so stuff like this really useful and inspiring. The final section really gave me some motivation and things to think about.

Glad it did something for you. Did you find it understandable/easy to understand?

...modes and scales are still useless.


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TheHydra
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#21
Yeah. I think it's accessible enough for anyone if they know basic music concepts and what they sound like. The upcoming in-depth harmonic analysis might not be.
chronowarp
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#22
This is cool. Reminds me a lot of the analysis papers I wrote in my theory classes.

I remember doing a few Beethoven Piano sonatas - those were a lot of fun. It's fun to see a thread here that isn't about splitting hairs on trivial, novice bs (like modes), but a good discussion about the most integral part of music (form) is a much more enjoyable read.
Xiaoxi
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#24
Quote by chronowarp
It's fun to see a thread here that isn't about splitting hairs on trivial, novice bs (like modes), but a good discussion about the most integral part of music (form) is a much more enjoyable read.

Not quite sure what you mean by this.

You are more than welcome to comment/discuss form and anything else here. I welcome discussion and this thread isn't meant to be a one way street. But I disagree that form is the most integral part of music. It is certainly important, but as I stressed in the OP, I believe coherent flow is the most important. Good form by itself is not compelling or difficult to achieve.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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chronowarp
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#25
In all the content ever posted on this forum...what do you think is an integral part of analysis that is almost never discussed?

...Form

So props to you, friend. Keep it up. What I meant by my post is: It's nice to see an actual discussion and dissertation of MUSIC, rather than someone splitting hairs over how you define a collection of 7 notes.
Last edited by chronowarp at Dec 13, 2012,
Xiaoxi
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#26
Quote by chronowarp
In all the content ever posted on this forum...what do you think is an integral part of analysis that is almost never discussed?

...Form

So props to you, friend.

Well, sure, but that is a culturally specific concern. Prog rock/metal, for example, has no consideration for coherent form. I guess I still don't understand if your initial statement was a criticism or pointing out that it's good I talked about form.

But what is universal is the need to have good flow and issue of "creative blockage". That's what this is really intended to address. Yes, lots of aspects of music go unmentioned here, but that's mostly because there is such an overhwelming concern about scales. In other words, we can't even get pass the concept of basic alphabet, let alone discuss the literature.

But here we are, going beyond the alphabet for anyone who cares enough to.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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jazz_rock_feel
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#27
Form and flow go hand in hand. Without flow any form will fail. To me flow serves to support form, as does a number of other elements, but flow is just a part of an overall formal concept. I have to agree with chronowarp that form is the most integral element of music, and I disagree with Xiaoxi that good form is easy to achieve. Clear, coherent form is the most difficult thing in writing music and the biggest thing that novice composers are missing. Form is so much more than just ABA or T1-T2-Devel-Recap.
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#28
When I think about form...I think about this one Leonard Bernstein quote. It was about how he viewed Beethoven as the MASTER of form & motif, and for that mastery of form his music was an incredible. It wasn't that he had an incredible sense of melody or harmony (though obviously he was great at both), but it was his mastery of form that really made him something else.

I think it might be in this series of videos, which is great, but be careful, I think he says the word mode a few times.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IxJbc_aMTg
Last edited by chronowarp at Dec 13, 2012,
505088K
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#29
Amazing stuff! Things like this are exactly why I keep lurking this forum.

I find it interesting how Brahms, despite being a "romantic" era composer, is so far away from this stereotypical image of romantic composition that is often associated with guys like Chopin; this cheesy, discouraging idea of a composer just improvising away at the piano alone in the moonlight when he suddenly gets struck by a rush of inspiration and completes a whole piece before dawn.

Brahms has an amazing sense of balance between emotionality and organisation, I really love the idea of depending more on craft instead of just hoping for inspiration.

Looking forward to the harmonic analysis.


Also, when do we get to hear your quartet?
Last edited by 505088K at Dec 13, 2012,
Xiaoxi
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#30
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Form and flow go hand in hand. Without flow any form will fail. To me flow serves to support form, as does a number of other elements, but flow is just a part of an overall formal concept. I have to agree with chronowarp that form is the most integral element of music, and I disagree with Xiaoxi that good form is easy to achieve. Clear, coherent form is the most difficult thing in writing music and the biggest thing that novice composers are missing. Form is so much more than just ABA or T1-T2-Devel-Recap.

Well, this is getting too subjective. We can all agree that form, at its most basic definition, is about the structure and order in which musical material is laid out. Following that definition, it really is just about rounded binary, or sonata, or theme and variation, song, etc. In that sense, any monkey can follow a form.

With that in mind, you can see how flow and form can be separated. For example, this perfectly satisfies what constitutes the textbook definition of sonata: 8 bars of theme A, 8 bars of bridge, 8 bars of theme B, 8 bars of coda, 16 bars of development, recap, 4 bars of final coda.

That tells us nothing about the flow (the squareness tells us it's probably terrible), but it's hard to deny that this is the sonata form.

I think you might be squeezing in the concept of motivic development into form, which IS much harder than simply following an established layout. I think this concept can be separated as well, but it no doubt goes hand in hand with form.

Quote by chronowarp
When I think about form...I think about this one Leonard Bernstein quote. It was about how he viewed Beethoven as the MASTER of form & motif, and for that mastery of form his music was an incredible. It wasn't that he had an incredible sense of melody or harmony (though obviously he was great at both), but it was his mastery of form that really made him something else.
I think Bernstein here also squeezes flow into form. Beethoven excelled in both separately.

He was a master of form (isolated) because he was able to stretch it and configure it in ways that no one else had before him.

He was a master of flow because the pacing of the music was almost always flawless. He knew exactly when to shift the rhythmic perception, to add power, to stay meditative, etc.

I am adamant about individualizing the concept of flow from personal experience. I had started writing a piano sonata, which perfectly constituted the sonata form and had tight motivic integration even throughout the exposition. Yet as I was close to finishing said exposition, my teacher said it's still not as good as it could be because the pacing was very forced. I also sensed that something was missing, and when he identified that, a lightbulb went up in my head.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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jazz_rock_feel
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#31
Yeah, I think of form in a much broader sense than that, which is why I see it as the most fundamental element in music. Form, to me, encompasses structure, it's created by motivic development, recollection or restatement and contrast of materials and necessitates flow and pacing. To me form is a grander concept than just structure, but at this point we're just talking about semantics and I don't think it matters. Whatever you call it, we're on the same page I think. I totally agree that flow and pacing are key, but to me they're elements of form. Structure without pacing is worthless.
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#32
Quote by 505088K

I find it interesting how Brahms, despite being a "romantic" era composer, is so far away from this stereotypical image of romantic composition that is often associated with guys like Chopin
I'm very glad you noticed this. Brahms was at once incredibly conservative and traditional, and fiercely progressive in the most subtle ways. This is in huge contrast to his contemporaries who sought to be very obviously progressive, championed by Listz and Wagner.

Brahms highly valued the importance of the coherent, integrated forms as developed by Haydn to Beethoven. Yet he was also doing things within these forms that were very innovative, including advanced manipulation of harmony and rhythm, as well as cellular motivic development that pervades an entire movement or suite. The latter of which prompted Schoenberg to write a treatise entitled "Brahms The Progressive"


Brahms has an amazing sense of balance between emotionality and organisation, I really love the idea of depending more on craft instead of just hoping for inspiration.
That is why he is such a master, like all masters. He had such great control over emotion/inspiration, which is held so tightly and coherently by the discipline of technical craft.

Frankly, I just don't see how any composer can last without both. We often hear of many rock/pop musicians slowly getting worse as the years go on. I believe this is because their inspirational well runs dry over time, especially as they use so much of it so fast. But they don't have the technical capability to sustain that kind of approach. Contrast this with the great composers who were masters of craft, and their music almost always get better as they age, not worse.


Also, when do we get to hear your quartet?
A full sonata suite quartet? I don't feel ready yet. But here's a standalone piece that is a perfect example of what not to do

http://soundcloud.com/xwanhosting/music-for-the-dead-of-space

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Xiaoxi
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#33
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
Yeah, I think of form in a much broader sense than that, which is why I see it as the most fundamental element in music. Form, to me, encompasses structure, it's created by motivic development, recollection or restatement and contrast of materials and necessitates flow and pacing. To me form is a grander concept than just structure, but at this point we're just talking about semantics and I don't think it matters. Whatever you call it, we're on the same page I think. I totally agree that flow and pacing are key, but to me they're elements of form. Structure without pacing is worthless.
Yea we're on the same page. But I think my emphasis on flow/pacing stems from the shortcomings of academia. In my experience (I suspect a very common one), there was no raising awareness and consideration for pacing when it came to analyzing the music. It was always about harmony, and when things change from section to section and the label of those sections in relations to academic layout of form. In the course of this discussion, there was rarely anything like what I talk about in this analysis. I was very fortunate to have a great mentor who got me thinking beyond such mechanical, trivial crap.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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jazz_rock_feel
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#34
Quote by Xiaoxi
Yea we're on the same page. But I think my emphasis on flow/pacing stems from the shortcomings of academia. In my experience (I suspect a very common one), there was no raising awareness and consideration for pacing when it came to analyzing the music. It was always about harmony, and when things change from section to section and the label of those sections in relations to academic layout of form. In the course of this discussion, there was rarely anything like what I talk about in this analysis. I was very fortunate to have a great mentor who got me thinking beyond such mechanical, trivial crap.

That's a great point. I consider myself lucky to have a teacher that consistently questions the pacing and flow of my pieces, although it's not something I think about a lot (him pointing it out, not the flow) because he's just always done it. It's virtually constant, and a tiny bit annoying But I know it's good for me. And to me, it's natural to analyze music in the terms you have above, because that's how he analyzes music and how he's shown me to look at music.

This analysis is really well done, by the way, now that I've had a little while to look through it. I kind of want to do one now...
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#35
Quote by Xiaoxi



Sure, here it is:

He is terrible. Oh my god. What the hell's the matter with you?


Damn right you're right chopin is terrible. i'm a classical pianist and i still hate his work! its all just frills and jingles
CryogenicHusk
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#36
Quote by jazz_rock_feel
This analysis is really well done, by the way, now that I've had a little while to look through it. I kind of want to do one now...


I read this one and liked it (mad props and a thank you to Xiaoxi ), but since I'm too ADD and still a theory noob, I will revisit it (maybe a couple of times... I've had to revisit some of the things I had already read explaining rhythm, even the basics, and it's becoming clear, and nothing beats the feeling you get when you finally get it). I would read yours too! You have a piece/composer in mind?
jazz_rock_feel
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#37
Quote by CryogenicHusk
I read this one and liked it (mad props and a thank you to Xiaoxi ), but since I'm too ADD and still a theory noob, I will revisit it (maybe a couple of times... I've had to revisit some of the things I had already read explaining rhythm, even the basics, and it's becoming clear, and nothing beats the feeling you get when you finally get it). I would read yours too! You have a piece/composer in mind?

I've thought about a couple of different options. I want to do something from the 20th century, but something accessible that I can talk about without set theory or twelve tone techniques. I thought I might do Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (the first movement is a sonata form that might complement this analysis nicely) or Stravinsky's Octet for Winds, just because it's awesome.
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#38
Thanks for posting Xiaoxi! My theory knowledge is quite basic but I found the first couple sections I read to be easy enough to navigate. I will probably do a more in-depth reading and finish it tomorrow. I really am glad you posted this, I see very little actual analysis like this ever being posted. I find things like this quite interesting, and VERY helpful for my own compositions.
Xiaoxi
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#39
Quote by wandering_taco
Thanks for posting Xiaoxi! My theory knowledge is quite basic but I found the first couple sections I read to be easy enough to navigate. I will probably do a more in-depth reading and finish it tomorrow. I really am glad you posted this, I see very little actual analysis like this ever being posted. I find things like this quite interesting, and VERY helpful for my own compositions.

Thanks for reading. This is exactly the kind of help I wanted to bring.

And I really tried to put this in layman's terms as much as possible. There are a few technical jargons but I try to describe everything in a very general way, so I hope you don't get too overwhelmed with the concepts. If you do have any questions, of course feel free to ask.

Quote by jazz_rock_feel
I've thought about a couple of different options. I want to do something from the 20th century, but something accessible that I can talk about without set theory or twelve tone techniques. I thought I might do Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (the first movement is a sonata form that might complement this analysis nicely) or Stravinsky's Octet for Winds, just because it's awesome.

Those are good, although you should do a non-sonata one for variety. I could definitely use this. Been too focused on tonal music.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Dec 16, 2012,
Xiaoxi
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#40
Quote by Erc
Damn right you're right chopin is terrible. i'm a classical pianist and i still hate his work! its all just frills and jingles

Frills and jingles. Goddamn right.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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