Requests

by Gary Guttman · 23 comments

I’ve been getting some letters and posts requesting I discuss various topics. I appreciate all your enthusiasm. Please use this page to post your requests. I can’t guarantee when or if I will get to them, but this will at least give me an idea of what topics you are most interested in.

Thanks!

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Manu June 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Hi Gary,
Currently I’ve been reading Structural Functions of Harmony by Schoenberg. What’s your point of view about chord progressions?

Regards!

Gary Guttman June 11, 2009 at 12:29 am

Hi Manu,

It’s been years since I looked at that Schoenberg book, but my point of view is that chord progressions are an invaluable musical subject to study. For me personally, harmony is the heart and soul of music. If there is a specific emotion I’m trying to capture, I usually start with some harmony and see if it suggests a melody to me.

I think one of the most important sections of the Secret Composer program is the chapter on the 13 Lucky Chord Progressions. And it’s not so much about introducing these chord progressions, but showing that these chord progressions can assist the composer in the creation of their music, whether it be pop, jazz, rock or classical. They can provide inspiration for your compositions.

In terms of learning new chord progressions, I can’t stress enough the importance of listening to as much music as you can and finding the composers who speak to you emotionally. For example, studying the lead sheets of music by the group Steely Dan can open up new worlds for you if you’re interested in writing pop music. Or studying an orchestral score like “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” by Frederick Delius can teach you harmonic moves that you may not have imagined before.

I think music textbooks are great teaching aids, but nothing replaces the study of musical compositions that personally speak to you. You will get to the heart of what you’re trying to learn quicker that way.

– Gary

Manu June 14, 2009 at 4:25 am

Hi Gary,
Thanks for your reply. I was rather talking about fundamentals leap. For instance, from Ab to C, a major third rising leap, there is a “conclusive” sense for me, between Eb and C , a minor third falling leap, there is a “conclusive” sense as well. And viceversa, a major falling leap between two major chords has an “incomplete” sense. However, a leap between two minor chords can make me feel a different perception. I think there could be a classification for that. I think most of these perceptions are the same to all people. Of course, certain progressions might be a bit more ambiguous.

Thanks!

Manu

Gary Guttman June 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Hi Manu,

The relationship between individual chords is an interesting topic that deserves a much longer discussion, possibly in a future version of the Secret Composer program. In the meantime, I think that the next best approach is personal experimentation.

No one can better determine how two consecutive chords makes you feel, than yourself. For example, I agree with you that a major 3rd rise, from one major chord to another (Ab to C) does have a sense of resolution (depending on the context). But you then state that the minor third drop (Eb to C) also has a “conclusive” feel. To me – depending on what chord is the tonic – the minor third movement (between two major chords) has only a temporary feeling of resolution. It still feels unstable, like it still wants to move on. So there are lots of subtleties to these movements.

Sometimes there are simple explanations as to why certain chord progressions create certain feelings. Your example of the “conclusive” sense you feel from an Ab chord moving to a C chord (a major 3rd leap up) is a good case in point. The Ab chord consists of the notes Ab, C and Eb. The C chord consists of the notes C, E and G. When the Ab chord moves to a C chord, the note C is constant. In addition, the note Eb resolves up a half step to the note E natural and the note Ab resolves down a half step to the note G. This combination of one note staying the same, one note moving down a half step, and one note moving up a half step creates the feeling of resolution that you experience in that chord movement.

By the way, both examples you stated – the Ab chord to the C chord, and the Eb chord to the C chord – are examples of a Chromatic Mediant relationship. This is where the root of two chords are related by either a minor third or a major third and where the chords share one common tone. This harmonic relationship has been used for hundreds of years.

But other theoretical explanations as to why certain chord movements create certain sensations can take longer to explain. Sometimes an effect is based on how a note of a chord resolves to a note of another chord. And sometimes it depends on what scale these chords are naturally found in.

Since there are 12 different notes in an octave, as well as major, minor, augmented and diminished chords, you can see that it would be an exhaustive undertaking to describe and explain the feel between all the different chord movements.

That’s why I say that if you get a certain emotion by the progression of one chord to the next, then you know how that progression works for you. Your own experimentation will tell you all you need to know. That’s more valuable than me explaining how it should feel (or even why it feels a certain way). I would trust your instincts on this one.

– Gary

Baba August 13, 2009 at 8:01 am

Hi Gary,

I miss reading from you. I just want to let you know that your insights and advise are invaluable and highly appreciated by me, and I’ll like to hear from you more often even though I’m aware of the fact that you are a very busy guy.
I’m still enjoying my secret composer software. Question for you , what is the most effective way to composing action and adventure music ? I tend to get these style mix up pretty regularly. Could you please demonstrate the most basic differences between these two ?

Thanks for your time

Baba

Gary Guttman August 14, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Hi Baba,

Great question. Actually, those are two questions: 1) What is the difference between “action” and “adventure” music? 2) What’s the most effective way to compose them?

You do usually hear the term “action/adventure” as if it’s one genre. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Most “adventure” music is action filled, but not all “action” music depicts adventure. For example, the themes to “Star Wars” and “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” both prepare us for adventure. And while the action elements in these themes are not overly stated, they both convey a majestic sense of movement. In another example, the theme to “Back to the Future” clearly prepares us for the adventure ahead while delivering a strong action pulse.

However, you can have intense action music that doesn’t really convey a sense of adventure. A good example of that would be the musical underscore for a martial arts action sequence. There would be a strong feeling of “action” but not necessarily of “adventure”. Typically, “adventure” music has elements of heroism and sometimes a hint of romance.

In terms of the most effective way of composing them, I would refer you back to the Secret Composer program. You will notice that I have two distinct topics “Adventure” and “Drum Loop Action”. The “Adventure” lesson demonstrates much of what I just described. There is a heroic quality to the theme, which is stated over a driving pulse. In that example, I created a French horn theme based on the Lydian scale. And I placed it on top of a strong rhythmic vamp. This is the exact same formula used in the “Back to the Future” theme.

In the “Drum Loop Action” lesson, the emphasis is on the rhythmic intensity. The melody takes a back seat. There is a sense of adventure to that piece as well, but it doesn’t feature the heroic and romantic quality of the “Adventure” lesson. Instead, it features strong percussive movement and an unsettling scale – the diminished scale. In writing action music, I would strongly recommend that you create (or find) interesting rhythmic grooves and percussive elements, and then craft a melody that works well over your established groove.

I should also refer you to another composition of mine from my website: http://garyguttman.com/mp3/seafari.mp3 This is a good example of music that has both action and adventure elements. The piece briefly starts and ends with a heroic sense of adventure. But the middle section is intense and chaotic, and quite atonal. Here, the focus is strictly on the action. So you get a taste of both genres in this piece.

Action and/or Adventure music is about the most demanding of all musical genres – the tempo is usually fast, which means you need to compose more notes per minute, and the full orchestra is usually utilized. But carefully incorporating some of the above mentioned techniques should yield great results.

I hope that helps. And I apologize that my new postings aren’t that frequent. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

– Gary

Alex August 24, 2009 at 9:54 am

Hi Gary,

What proportion of your writing would involve entering notation directly into notation software like Sibelius or Finale vs playing directly into a sequencer such as Sonar, Logic etc and then creating the notation from the recorded midi?

Thanks,
Alex

Gary Guttman August 24, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Hi Alex,

I use the second method you described. I compose everything directly into Digital Performer and then use their QuickScribe music notation to get the notes. Then I copy all the notes by hand, into a full score. I’m sure this is not the fastest way of preparing a score, but I’m used to this method.

Because I’m a keyboard player, I can record the parts into Digital Performer almost as fast as I compose them. And because I’ve been composing for so long, there is very little time between my thought process of the composition/orchestration and the actual sequencing of the parts.

– Gary

Baba October 9, 2009 at 3:32 am

Hi Gara,

It’s been a while I’ve heard from you. I hope you are doing well.
Question for you ! how would you approach writing a film score without seeing the script, and on the other hand how would you approach a score with a script or a preview of what the movie ?

Gary Guttman October 13, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Hi Baba,

Without seeing the film or at least a script, it would be quite difficult to compose a film score. You might end up composing some great music, but it might not be the perfect fit for the movie.

And while a script can convey a sense of mood and action, you really need to see the film itself to ensure that your music matches the subtleties of the movie. Cinematic elements such as lighting, editing and camera angles greatly influence the choices you make in your film score.

– Gary

Baba November 10, 2009 at 3:51 am

Hello Gary,

Are planning on making secret composer 2 available to the public any time soon ? I’m eagerly expecting it; Please keep me posted regarding this matter.
Thanks

Baba

Gary Guttman November 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

Hi Baba,

We’re happy to hear that you’re looking forward to Secret Composer 2. As you might imagine, it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to create and complete a product like Secret Composer. Volume 2 is still a ways down the road, but we will definitely let you know when it becomes available.

– Gary

Joe December 8, 2009 at 9:01 am

First of all, thanks for Secret Composer. It’s an invaluable resource.

I had never explored the concept of changing keys as an alternative to chord progression, but have a question on that topic.

When scoring key changes that occur that every few bars, do you alter write the new key signatures in the score or just change the notes and assume the musician will figure it out (or perhaps not even need to know).

Thanks again for the great resource!

Gary Guttman December 8, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Hi Joe,

We’re glad you’re enjoying Secret Composer. Regarding the statement about changing keys as an alternative to chord progressions, I don’t think I’ve suggested that exactly. I think I may have suggested that you can use a chord progression and then modulate that progression to a different key. This will get you more mileage out of the same chord progression. By modulation to a new key, you bring new life to old material.

But keep in mind that some key modulations bring a fresher sound to the music than others. For example, if you’re in the key of C major, you will not achieve that much of a different sound if you move to the key of F major. But if you move from C major to Eb or E major, you will create more of a sense of change.

You bring up an interesting question when you ask if I change key signatures every time I change keys. I think my answer might not be the same answer that you would get from the world of academia. They would suggest that you change key signatures every time you change keys for more than a few bars.

I tend to not like key signatures. Because I write in a more modern style than traditional classical music, I usually don’t stay in the same key for very long. And when I do stay in one key for a while, I use many accidentals not found in the key signature. So I just use sharps, flats and naturals in my scores – note by note as they arise. But to be truthful, I do sometimes use key signatures if I am staying in the same key for a long time and the music is mostly diatonic.

Hope this helps.

– Gary

Baba January 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Hi Gary,

Happy new year !
I was just wondering if you have any new year good words for composers like me. It could be on any topic or subject.
Thanks
Baba

Gary Guttman January 5, 2010 at 2:22 am

Hi Baba,

Happy New Year to you as well! It’s funny you should request this now. The first of this year, I was planning on introducing a new feature to the site, where I would be posting a few “good words” on a daily or semi-daily basis. But I’m swept up in too much work at the moment and unfortunately have to postpone that plan. I may try to start that up later in the month if possible.

In the meantime, keep on composing!

– Gary

Baba January 29, 2010 at 2:45 am

Gary,

I find your little tips very useful and invalueable. Please keep it coming.

Thanks

Baba

Gary Guttman January 29, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Hi Baba,

I’m glad you’re enjoying them.

– Gary

Baba February 3, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Hi Gary,

Thank you so much for finding time out of your very busy schedule to pen down these useful and informative daily tips. I find them very educational and informative. Please keep it coming.

Thanks

Baba

Baba March 5, 2010 at 5:53 am

Hi Gary,

Just wanted to thank you for those daily tips. They are very informative and fun
Please keep writing them.
Baba

Gary Guttman March 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

Thanks, Baba. And if anyone’s missed any of the past tips, they’ll be recycling in a few more weeks.

– Gary

baba April 3, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Hi Gary,

I’m missing some of the daily tips and I was wondering when you’ll start the recycling process. I’ll appreciate it if you could please keep me informed.
Thanks

Baba

Gary Guttman April 4, 2010 at 3:31 am

Hi Baba,

The tips will start recycling in a few days. Keep an eye out for ’em.

– Gary

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