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Thread: Any tips for learning to compose dissonant music in my head?

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Question Any tips for learning to compose dissonant music in my head?

    I've been learning to hear music while looking at a score, but I can't write down music that I hear in my head. If I want to compose music, I need an instrument or, in the worst case scenario, a digital program with MIDI playback.

    I would like to be able to get music straight from my head to the paper, because I think that's one of the reasons or the reason that I struggle to compose a pieces that's even 2 minutes long, unless I'm very inspired, and I want to compose extremely long, dissonant, modern pieces.

    Any ideas for working on this skill? It seems completely different for tonal and non-tonal music. I can write a tonal piece completely in my head, but I'm lost when I try to create dissonance without an instrument.

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    Senior Member MarkMcD's Avatar
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    I don't suppose there are any short cuts. You can write tonal music in your head because your brain is accustomed to those types of intervals after years and years of hearing and identifying what they are and how they look on paper and really the only way to do the same for more exotic intervals, is to listen them over and over and over, reading the score or at least looking at the written form of the interval, until your brain can identify the sound, without the need to see the notes. Time and repetition is the only way I know to recondition the brain.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    I tend to think of disonance as a part of a certain kind of harmony rather than its own goal. Sometimes I have a certain melody in my head or accompaniment that would have some disonance, but it's like swerving on the road a bit to get where I want. But you could 'hear' 2nds and sevenths and tritones in your head and use them to pepper a melody as accompaniment or form part of it itself.
    Last edited by Phil loves classical; Jul-24-2018 at 13:00.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member shirime's Avatar
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    Aural training. Sight singing. Learning how to internalise intervals so that you can really sing and imagine the intervals, rhythms and combinations of them you are singing before you sing them is extremely important for anyone making music of any sort.

    I don't use instruments to compose, and I use a computer only to neaten up my scores after I write them on manuscript paper. I am forced to rely on what I can do with my body to actually be able to listen back to what I compose, or when improvise music in advance of writing it down. At the moment it's both extremely difficult but extremely liberating, as the human element of performing music guides what I write and the act of producing sound becomes very physical above all else.

    The only thing I can suggest is to rely on your own voice more to compose, sing the intervals you want to write down and combine those intervals with other intervals you can sing. Being quick at recognising intervals and chords (having perfect pitch is completely irrelevant) is something anyone can learn how to do and a useful skill to have for life in all areas of music.

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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    I agree with shirime. I would add only the following. The playback software is a tool, neither bad or good in itself. It's bad if you use it because you can't imagine how the music you write on the score would sound. But, it can be good if you use it as a learning tool for developing the skill that shirime describes. For example, you can write your favorite patterns and the play them back and get used to associate those sounds with the actual visual stuff on the score (of course, also having in mind what are the specific intervals, etc.) Then, gradually, you can start to combine the patterns and you will be able to imagine their combined sound without the playback. I found this particularly useful for complex stuff, with many notes. For simpler things, a basic familiarity with the intervals by the singing method is the most direct manner.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    If you want to compose, it greatly helps to be able to play an instrument. Study an instrument such as a keyboard instrument. The instrument is a way of duplicating the sound you hear in your head. Take lessons! If you want to write dissonant music, it helps to get mad, to feel an intense or dissonant emotion as a way into it. It’s rare that someone be a composer without being able to play some instrument. Composers often start out as musicians, including musicians with the ability to improvise. Practice, practice, practice. Good luck!
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Jul-24-2018 at 19:51.
    ”Art is how we decorate space; Music is how we decorate time.”

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I tend to think of disonance as a part of a certain kind of harmony rather than its own goal. Sometimes I have a certain melody in my head or accompaniment that would have some disonance, but it's like swerving on the road a bit to get where I want. But you could 'hear' 2nds and sevenths and tritones in your head and use them to pepper a melody as accompaniment or form part of it itself.
    Are you suggesting to compose a melody (which is easier to hear in your head) and then use the melody as part of chords using dissonant intervals? That sounds like a useful tool, thanks!

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shirime View Post
    Aural training. Sight singing. Learning how to internalise intervals so that you can really sing and imagine the intervals, rhythms and combinations of them you are singing before you sing them is extremely important for anyone making music of any sort.

    I don't use instruments to compose, and I use a computer only to neaten up my scores after I write them on manuscript paper. I am forced to rely on what I can do with my body to actually be able to listen back to what I compose, or when improvise music in advance of writing it down. At the moment it's both extremely difficult but extremely liberating, as the human element of performing music guides what I write and the act of producing sound becomes very physical above all else.

    The only thing I can suggest is to rely on your own voice more to compose, sing the intervals you want to write down and combine those intervals with other intervals you can sing. Being quick at recognising intervals and chords (having perfect pitch is completely irrelevant) is something anyone can learn how to do and a useful skill to have for life in all areas of music.
    I can sight sing tonal melodies pretty well. I have a book of sight singing exercises, but I think it focuses mostly on tonality (I should check though, if I can remember where the book is). Do you know any exercises that are more chromatic and atonal? Would that help with dissonant harmony? It doesn't seem like singing pitches melodically would help me hear how they sound resonating together, which is what I care about. I'm familiar with tonal harmonies but not dissonant ones.

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aleazk View Post
    I agree with shirime. I would add only the following. The playback software is a tool, neither bad or good in itself. It's bad if you use it because you can't imagine how the music you write on the score would sound. But, it can be good if you use it as a learning tool for developing the skill that shirime describes. For example, you can write your favorite patterns and the play them back and get used to associate those sounds with the actual visual stuff on the score (of course, also having in mind what are the specific intervals, etc.) Then, gradually, you can start to combine the patterns and you will be able to imagine their combined sound without the playback. I found this particularly useful for complex stuff, with many notes. For simpler things, a basic familiarity with the intervals by the singing method is the most direct manner.
    I wrote/composed a list of all the possible three-note chords within an octave. Do you think it would help to go through that and study it and memorize my favorites? That seems akin to what you're saying.

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    Senior Member Fredx2098's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    If you want to compose, it greatly helps to be able to play an instrument. Study an instrument such as a keyboard instrument. The instrument is a way of duplicating the sound you hear in your head. Take lessons! If you want to write dissonant music, it helps to get mad, to feel an intense or dissonant emotion as a way into it. It’s rare that someone be a composer without being able to play some instrument. Composers often start out as musicians, including musicians with the ability to improvise. Practice, practice, practice. Good luck!
    I can play piano at a basic level, but I'm better at instruments that are less "composerly". I struggle with piano, but I can coax sounds that I want out of it, at least with a real piano. With a fake piano I can't really hear how the sounds would resonate on a real instrument so it blocks my creativity. I've tested it...

    I don't hear dissonance as madness though. I feel intensely dissonant emotions and sensations at all times, so I like to use dissonance as a cathartic expression of misery and confusion. It's not all intense and angry.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fredx2098 View Post
    Are you suggesting to compose a melody (which is easier to hear in your head) and then use the melody as part of chords using dissonant intervals? That sounds like a useful tool, thanks!
    That was part of it, the other part was compose (or "hear") in your head a melody that is not necessarily consonant, stemming from your emotion or instinct guiding you.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    A good chunk of my piano pieces come from just sitting at the piano, closing my eyes, and just letting my hands do what they want to do, using only my ears and emotions as a guiding light.

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