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Relationships 2



This isn’t just about intervals. It’s a detailed way of thinking about anything. The idea is to focus intently on a particular thing, and see how much change you can bring to  it. This isn’t composition as much as composition training.


Changing the interval


The original interval can be changed in 11 ways. The interval we’re working with is a perfect 4th.  The other intervals are:


  • unison
  • minor 2nd
  • major 2nd
  • minor 3rd
  • major 3rd
  • augmented 4th
  • perfect 5th
  • minor 6th
  • major 6th
  • minor 7th
  • major 7th


Here’s the original interval again.


music relationship


You can change the interval by keeping one of the original notes and changing the other.

comp ex- new interval


Or you can change both notes, and form either a different interval…

comp ex- new interval2

or the same interval as the original.

perfect 4th



Keeping one of the notes maintains a clear relationship with the original interval even though the interval changes. So does changing both notes and keeping the original interval.


Changing both notes without maintaining the original interval is the only move that cuts all contact to the original.


Melody strings

Try stringing a few 2-note ideas together. Make all of the notes the same duration (this is so you can focus on pitch relationships). If there’s something you don’t like about what you’ve got, change a note.


Be clear about what needs to change, and why. Maybe there’s a large leap that doesn’t work where it is, but might work elsewhere. Keep track of your decisions. This brings self-understanding, indispensible to being a composer.


Of course, it may not be the notes that need to change. It might be the rhythm…



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Musical relationships are created when you place one piece of musical material (note, chord, field recording, sample, etc.) after another. Once you identify a relationships, you can decide how you’re going to use it in the rest of the piece. These relationships form the basis for coherent content.


To make this clear, I’ll start as simply as I can.


Here’s one note played after another.


music relationship

There are three relationships here.

  • the interval/distance between the notes
  • the location of each note (one high, one low)
  • and the duration of each note.


Interval implies melody. It refers to how far one note has to travel melodically to get to another. More generally, it’s simply the distance between two notes. Thinking melodically makes the concept easier for some people. The location of the notes is about where we place notes on the staff. The duration of the notes creates rhythm.


Work with changing the value of these relationships.  The interval can widen or narrow. This will change the location of the notes. You can make one note duration shorter, and the other longer. It won’t take long before you start seeing endless possibilities.


If you play with this for awhile, you’ll wind up with a lot of different 2-note musical objects. Do any of these objects go together? Does it make sense to string them together into a melody? Superimpose them to make chords?


Doing this helps you see how working with small ideas leads to larger ideas.

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Intuition and Intellect

Putting sound together with apps is largely intuitive.  Let’s add the intellect now.


Writing stuff down

As you notice things you like, the intellect unconsciously catalogues them. Take the time to write these things down. Or record them somehow. You can use the same idea in different pieces by figuring out how to vary them.


Writing ideas down shows you what you’ve done. It creates choice and awareness. You can choose to do something you’ve done before (fully aware that you’re doing that), or do something new. That’s better than endlessly repeating yourself and feeling trapped.



You have a chord progression you wrote at some point. If you know you wrote it, you can choose to use it differently. This means playing it in a different style, a different speed, on a different instrument, or any other way that’s not the same as the first time you used it. If you don’t remember writing it, you’ll often use it the same way without knowing it. Which gives you the feeling that you’re repeating yourself without knowing how. Which makes you crazy.



Intuition is an important part of the decision-making process. But it only takes you so far if you don’t use your brain as another tool. Nobody builds bridges or buildings intuitively. Design ideas for a bridge or a building are often intuitive, but the way they’re put together comes from the brain. These construction methods come from centuries of trial and error. Exactly like music.


So start noticing what you do when you make music. Then write it down.




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Making and playing

Where to start? And how to make it seem simple…

Composition is about making. We all do it every day. Things like forming relationships, and having conversations are types of making. We make our life as we live it.

If we have a hobby, then the making is more obvious. Electronics projects, woodworking, rebuilding the engine of a car, etc. produce tangible results. We learn to do these things as we do them.

Music composition is no different. But it’s perceived as a calling rather than a hobby. That’s because of its history (all those dead composers we keep talking about), and its place in the art world. It can be intimidating.

And then there’s the part about doing it in public.

But like a hobby, it involves technique and craft that anyone can learn.

The first thing to do is just start playing with sounds. This is where apps come in.


These are made to be played with. They aren’t fake instruments; they’re apps that let you combine sounds. I’ll list some of the ones I have, and add others as I discover them. Send me suggestions for any that you discover.


Drop balls on a keyboard. This one is interesting because of the different cross-rhythms you can create. You can also sync multiple ball-drops to create chords.

Aural Flux

Drag elements onto the screen to create spacy textures. Adjust element positions once they’re on the screen. Choose between four moods as the texture plays.


Similar to Aural Flux, but more activity on the screen. Touch to place circles that grow until their edge touches another circle’s edge. As edges touch, delicate sounds emerge and the circles diminish to nothing before growing again. Add as many circles as you like.


The inspiration for Loop and Aural Flux. More spacy textures, but the most interesting one visually. Costs more, but still less than $5.


These are closer to improvisation than composition, but the two are related. Both are about putting sounds together in a search for something that sounds good. These apps don’t involve craft like composition does, but there are other apps that do. I’ll talk about those when they relate to other topics.

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How to write chord progressions a pro would love, part 8: Chord progression patterns

First some review. Remember the seven chords in the key of C from part !? I know. Hard to forget since you’ve been using them consistently for…however long you’ve been looking at this blog. But I need to write them down again because I’m going to do something new with them.

Cmajor          D minor           E minor           F major            G major            A minor             B diminished
    I                    ii                   iii                     IV                     V                      vi                   vii
Roman numerals! I know. Exciting! And it is exciting, because you’ve now risen to a new level of knowledge.
Well, ok, not yet. First you need to understand what these are for.

Roman Numerals?

Don’t ask me why we use roman numerals, and not regular arabic numerals for chords. The answer won’t help (I’ll tell you at the bottom of the page; you’ll see). I’ll tell you why they’re useful, though. They’re useful because they point to a chord’s function.

The function of chords

A chord function is basically what the chord is generally used for. For example, the function of the I chord (the C major chord in the key of C) is to provide a sense of coming home. That’s why it’s almost always at the end of a song. It makes things feel final. The V chord’s function is to create tension, and goes to the I chord most of the time: G (V) to C (I). All the other chords have functions as well, but they aren’t quite as well defined as these two.
 Instead of telling you what those functions are, I’ll show you. They’re basically defined by where the chord is most likely to go.

How to sound like you know what you’re doing

This roman numeral thing has been around for centuries. Some of the most familiar chord progressions you’ve ever heard follow these rules. And you know what they say about rules. You have to know them to break them. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be showing this to you.
Here are the rules:
The I chord (C major) can go to any chord it wants.
The iii (E minor) chord almost always goes to the vi (A minor) chord.
The vi (A minor) chord almost always goes to the ii (D minor) chord or the IV (Fmajor) chord.
The ii (D minor) and the IV (Fmajor) chord almost always goes to the vii (B diminished) chord or the V (G major) chord, and those two almost always go to the I (C major) chord
If you like diagrams, it looks like this:
iii  –  vi  –  [IV/ii]  –  [V/vii]  –  I      or      E minor – A minor – F major or D Minor – G major or B diminished – Cmajor – anywhere.
As we go forward, I’ll plug the roman numerals onto chords that I use. After a while it’ll make sense. Don’t force it. Unless you’re one of those people who like forcing things, in which case be my guest.
Ok. So now use that song form from the last post and write a chord progression for it. Follow these  roman numeral chord movement rules I just outlined  until you get used to them. Then start breaking those rules, and see what happens.
Then read the next post where I do the same thing.
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