The three levels of approach of music composition

To contribute so that people make more music. That is the goal of ARPEGE in term of cultural contribution. I deeply believe in the aesthetic power of music and what it can bring. To create is to live. To compose is to express oneself. Each one should be able to do it in one way or another.

Let us continue our discussion about composition. We had seen that music creation could be broken up into three phases, which one could also regard as abilities to acquire to express oneself creatively in music:

  1. The methodical location of sound effects
  2. The possibility of selectively reproducing them according to what you want to express
  3. The coherent construction of musical work

Sans titr

One can also consider the time dimension, the duration of the musical impression. One will find in particular in the articles of Michel
Philippot on composition, three levels of approach and appreciation of music, which I would express as:

  1. The sound effect for itself (instantaneous effect)
  2. The melody, the rhythm, the chords forming a structured musical sentence (sound effect covering up to several tens of seconds)
  3. The structured development of a complete musical work (sound effect covering a full piece of music)

With regard to the first point, by using a synthetizer, you can spend some very pleasant moments discovering the various sounds. These sounds can generate by themselves pleasant and aesthetic musical impressions. A chord of strings with a good reverberation. Some notes of such or such instrument. Some sound effects of a synthetic type. All that can contribute to express simple but effective impressions. You can also combine several sounds and the possibilities multiply, the atmospheres are built and grown rich. However, we are yet only at the first stage: considering the sound effects for themselves, apart from a more elaborate structure.

You can make a systematic exercise out of it. Discover the various sounds of your synthetizer or sound card. With a musical keyboard, have fun selecting each sound, then listen to them in the lower, middle and higher ranges of the keyboard. Locate the effects they can create, the atmospheres they release, the thought they generate. Try to play several notes one after the other, slowly or quickly. Try to play several notes of the keyboard at the same time. If you do not know about chords, test and try. See while groping whether by playing two close notes, far notes, intermediate notes, you can get a sound effect you like. write it down. Again search, combine, play, test… Do it again the next day, two days later… the repetitive side will lead you to discover elements which you did not hear the first time.

Do not neglect this simple exercise. By practising it regularly, it will help you to approach the next phase, because the various musical effects will be added to your musical “memory” and this as much as you practise it. Don’t forget that this musical “memory” will be the data base in which your inspiration will try to find elements to express your music. Fill in your data base!

An important point is to be noted as of this moment. To get an interesting and enriching effect, you need a sufficient and well balanced volume level. And this independently to the quality of the synthetizer or sound card you have. You must be able to feel the low notes make you vibrate, the sound must really go through your room. This is related to the distribution of sounds in your surrounding space. Your balance should of course be found, the level which is appropriate to you. But with little experiment, you will note that a minimal volume is required, without which the created effect is lost. The nuance is of the same level as the difference there is to listen to an orchestra during a concert or to listen to it as a background music while waiting at the post office… If post offices were equipped with a good sound system with a sufficient volume, it could become a pleasure waiting at the post office!

If you only have a simple sound card, see that you to get a cable to connect it to your hi-fi system with a sufficient volume. The generated effect will be definitely more expressive than with a 10 centimeters table loudspeaker. You will gain in motivation and musical pleasure. Of course, if you have the possibility, a good quality sound card, or even a good synthetizer will motivate you even more by considerably increasing sound quality. It is a question of balance and means.

By working this exercise regularly, without forcing yourself, at one moment or another, by search and groping, you will find some notes forming a melody, something which you like and which you would like to be able to reproduce, memorize and develop. It will be the beginning of the next phase: building a structured cell, i.e. a time sequence of several notes and sound effects. The use of a musical software will be highly advised at this step. You will be able to record this small melody on a staff, then while listening to it, you will be able to continue the preceding exercise by changing instrument and by seeking which other sound effect could reinforce or supplement the first.

Once the main melody is established and reinforced by some other instruments (start with 1 or 2), you can then develop this element. Developing is simply taking again the same element by modifying it in various ways, by adding new effects to it, while keeping a sufficient similarity so that the link remains present with the original element. These modifications can be of various natures: change of rhythm, the pitches of the notes, transformation of the melody by various formulas, time inversion, rhythmic division, change of chords, sonorities, sound effects which accompany it… Complementary themes can also be added, developed, as long as a link of some nature can connect the whole as being part of the same coordinated structure.

notes écouteur crayon

One could in some way compare this method to a writer. Before writing a book, he must initially know enough words and their exact and various significances. He must be able to build complete sentences and to connect them. Then, with practice he can build a whole story. He keeps an overall picture, a common link which enables him to design each chapter and in each one of those he can align the sentences so that the chapter expresses what it must express to contribute to the full work. It is with this global idea of his book that he can then align word after word to build his work.

Arpege currently develops software modules making it possible to apply this working method. They will be integrated in the future versions of Pizzicato (see

Dominique Vandenneucker

Designer of Pizzicato.


Tagged: , ,

%d bloggers like this: