We experience music in time. While we can perceive the complete scope of a painting in just moments, music slowly reveals itself one second at a time. This gives the composer complete control over how the audience experiences the composition. It also becomes a factor in the creation of the composition itself
Knowing there is time to gradually expose your creation, you can pace yourself as you compose. This relieves the great burden of having to start off with a bang, or even of preparing all your elements ahead of time. But this is not just a technical consideration. Our ears actually like to hear the process of gradually adding elements. Just like watching a movie unfold, it’s fun to hear a musical creation evolve.
We’ve all heard examples of pop music where the song starts with just a drum and bass groove. Then after five or ten seconds, guitar chords are added to the mix. This might even be followed by a few keyboard or guitar licks. Finally, after some anticipation, the vocals are introduced and the song is in full swing. This process also allows each new element to be clearly identified as it makes its first entrance.
We can demonstrate this technique in the following electronica music example. Pay close attention to each new addition of musical elements. We add something new every four bars.
As you’ve just heard, we started with four bars of an electronic percussive groove and a bass part. Then we added a staccato keyboard part. Four bars after that, we introduced a slower synthesizer part. Four bars later, we started to fade out the music while a new organ part entered the mix.
We can use this same technique in orchestral music as well. Listen as we add new orchestral colors every four bars.
In this example, we started with a rhythmic groove, as played by the violins and timpani – with the help of additional orchestral colors. Four bars later, the blaring French horns entered the mix. And four bars after that, the trombones and trumpets created even greater urgency.
In both the electronica and orchestral examples, we created a clear sense of growth in under thirty seconds. Building musical elements on top of each other not only speeds up the composing process, it’s fun to listen to as well.