Fortunately, Spring Break gave me quite a bit of time to work on in-depth related things. I managed to complete my first full-length composition! I made it for a solo pianist, because I felt like using too many instruments would have made the piece too complicated. Unfortunately, I’m still trying to find a way to properly record it, because the way that Noteflight plays it makes it sound really choppy and unmusical. I think I’ll be able to have a good recording for the next blog post, but I’ve attached the sheet music if you want to take a look at it.
For this song, I focused a lot on the melody, as well as on the chord progression. My last song had a really basic chord progression, so I spiced it up a bit for this one. Below is the intro to the song; it’s pretty much just the chord progression, because I thought it was important to establish it as it’s repeated throughout the piece. This is a technique that a lot of modern songwriters use, mostly because it sounds a bit rushed and urgent if the melody just comes in right at the beginning of the song.
As you can see, I use 6 different chords (if you consider D7 and D to be ‘different’ chords) in the intro alone, and continue to use different ones throughout the piece. So, in terms of my progressions, I think I’ve improved drastically since my last song, which only used 3 chords throughout the entire piece.
I only managed to meet with Jacky once during the break, but fortunately it was near the start of Spring Break so I had time to use what I learnt into my new composition. During our meeting, we talked about how to write melody lines. Good melodies are really subjective, so I personally found it really hard to tell Jacky some characteristics of good melodies. Think about the last song that you had stuck in your head; if you tried to describe why it got stuck in your head, you probably wouldn’t know.
However, we both agreed that a good melody should feel natural when heard. Imagine a melody that starts from one note, then skips to another note far away, then jumps back, and then keeps jumping back and forth. This melody probably doesn’t feel natural, does it? After discussing this with Jacky, we got into two components of melody writing: motion and range. As you can see from the picture on the right, there are different kinds of motion in melodies. Conjunct motion is when the notes move by step-wise motion; on the contrary, disjunct motion is when the notes move by leap. Range is also important to consider; a melody with a low range (the distance between the highest and lowest note) will have little variation in pitch and might sound boring, but a melody with too large of a range will sound weird and unnatural, as mentioned above.
When Jacky gave me that information, I wasn’t sure how to actually make the melody. Should I take an existing melody and change it a bit? Should I start singing random things and hope something comes up? Instead, I sat down at my piano and kind of improvised a song. I thought it sounded pretty cool, so I quickly got it down on paper before I completely forgot it. I think a piano is an invaluable tool to have next to a composer while they’re making something, because they can hear what they’re doing as they progress.
Anyways, here’s a section of the finalized melody. I tried balancing both range and motion in my melody, and I think it turned out pretty well. I also used some accidentals and triplets to try to make the melody more interesting.
And here’s the entire piece! I think I’m getting a bit better with using Noteflight, but these 3 pages still took me hours of work (click on the images to make them bigger).
1. What kinds of learning opportunities does the mentor provide to expose you to new learning?
Jacky provides me with some extra information about programs his studio runs, such as jazz piano programs, music harmony, theory, and even guitar lessons. I think it’s great that he’s exposed me to some potential new activities related to my in-depth topic, as that is something all good mentors/teachers should do.
2. What kinds of learning opportunities exist to reinforce new learning?
To reinforce learning, I could go online and research more “in-depth” about the things that Jacky has taught me. For example, if he teaches me about rootless chords, I could go online and read a few articles about how to use rootless chords in my music. Not only does this reinforce the new concepts, but it also saves time because he won’t have to waste time reviewing what I’ve learnt previously.
3. What kinds of opportunities exist that might accelerate learning?
I guess I would learn faster if I had a more solid foundation of music harmony. Some opportunities that might accelerate learning would be to take an intermediate and advanced harmony course, as I’ve only done basic harmony. This would help speed up the learning process with melody writing and chord progressions. Joining something like a songwriting club would also help me learn more information at a faster rate.
4. When you get together what do you talk about?
Some days we talk about harmony, while some other days (like last meeting) we talk about melody and motion. At the end of the day though, we usually talk about characteristics of good music, and we try to identify those characteristics so we can both use them in our music.
5. What is going particularly well in your mentoring relationship right now?
I think we’ve started to turn into friends. For example, we’ll both talk about our days for a short while before diving right into “music-y” stuff. We’re both comfortable talking and even disagreeing with each other, because we respect the other’s opinion. On top of all this though, I’m learning a lot about how to make good music and I think (at least I hope) that we’re both enjoying our time with one another.
6. What are you learning about one another?
We’ve learnt that we are both very passionate about music. We’ve also started to talk about the kinds of music we listen to, and what kinds of music we plan to compose in the future. Jacky enjoys the jazzy/classical side of music, while I enjoy rock/indie music; despite our differing tastes, I think we’ve learnt that people with varying tastes in music can still get along.