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Thread: How to come up with a theme?

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    Default How to come up with a theme?

    When I get the itch to write some music, I always have trouble coming up with a theme (I'm writing tonal music). Writing the second theme is always easier for me as I have something to work with from the first theme... Am I approaching this wrong? Is the technique to generate a melody around chord tones?

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    A theme can start anywhere, with a characteristic rhythm, a gesture, a harmonic progression, a short motive, or it even might come singing out all at once. The best advice though is probably the same advice they always give aspiring writers:

    (1) Just write!
    (2) Don't be afraid to kill your darlings.
    (3) Be ready to kill lots of them.

    1) Write at least one prospective theme (or harmonic progression, etc.) a day, every day, and keep them in one place (physical or virtual). If you begin with a string of notes, maybe try harmonizing them a couple of different ways, then try varying the rhythms. Or see if you can write an interesting bass line to accompany it. Or try it in retrograde or in counterpoint to itself. Explore the potential of the idea for a while and see if it generates other ideas — if it has promise. If it doesn't:

    2) Don't be afraid to abandon it (Kill your darlings!) You might write ten or twenty different themes before you find one that's really worth going with.

    3) Don't be alarmed if you generate page upon page of garbage. If you get one gem out of twenty pages it's fine. Beethoven's sketch books were full of abortions.

    Write, write, write. Every day.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-13-2018 at 19:06.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by memewaffle View Post
    When I get the itch to write some music, I always have trouble coming up with a theme (I'm writing tonal music). Writing the second theme is always easier for me as I have something to work with from the first theme... Am I approaching this wrong? Is the technique to generate a melody around chord tones?
    In addition to utilizing chord tones of the progression, a good melody will also use the scale and non-chord tones (research all the different kinds of non-chord tones).

    Try writing an 8 bar melody this way: break the phrase into four, 2-bar motifs and just write 2 bars at a time. Each motif should stand on its own. Arrange them in order, such as abcd where each letter is a 2-bar motif. Another good order is abac (so the a motif repeats). Or maybe abcb (the b motif repeats). You get the idea. Then rework the melody, smoothing out the seams between bars and try and make the melody seamless. Then do it again for another 8 bar phrase that answers the first. That should give you a good theme.

    You can also try drawing a picture/line graph of a melody before composing it. Just take a pencil and paper and draw the contour of the melody to get the idea of how it should go. Think about where to put the high point, low point, climax, denouement, where it pauses, where it starts, etc., etc. Then try and write it in musical notation.

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by memewaffle View Post
    When I get the itch to write some music, I always have trouble coming up with a theme (I'm writing tonal music). Writing the second theme is always easier for me as I have something to work with from the first theme... Am I approaching this wrong? Is the technique to generate a melody around chord tones?
    Usually they say to harmonize a melody, but I've tried writing a melody around chords also. Generally I think you should have some sense of the melody and harmony together, but it may come after you tried out stuff, and you can do multiple steps at once.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    How about coming up with a theme based upon a strong feeling that you have? to start with the heart instead of trying to think something up with the head. It’s called inspiration and it can happen while you’re working. Good luck. Keep at it.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Sep-14-2018 at 00:49.
    Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things. —Ray Bradbury

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    Well, I just can tell you the way I do my music...
    If I want to compose something, I have to be inspired, I can't do it mechanically, or in that case I will repeat just modified themes that ive done before. If I want to be original against myself, I have to be inspired. Of course, I learned to trigger the inspiration, usually with something sad or something that cracks the shell of my rationality. I can think in those things that ususally we don't think during the day.
    Some people use another mood to trigger the passions (mine is the melancholy) your mood can be another one, a quite different one.
    Then, as soon as I reached the status I start to see a "form in the air"... (in allegoric terms, but sometimes the forms are actual shapes, archetypal shapes).

    I suddenly conform those shapes to a scene (because I make soundtracks) but it is also applicable to non scenic music.

    Depending on the mood I go to the Piano, or I use Strings or choruses... remember that the instrument has its own language and it feedbacks the inspiration towards yourself in a way that modify and evolve the original shapes you´ve first perceived. So it is important that you choose a sound that really can construct and develop the comnposition in its correct way.

    Remember this:
    The music is NOT an abstraction that you can theorize and create from your rationalization. The music exists independent from your existence and it is independent of your musical capabilities.
    The musician just induces the music and brings it into an audible form.
    So if you don't reach the inspiration, you'll compose like those neural AI systems that can "compose" nowadays (did you listen to it) If you listen to it, the thing it composes is absolutely lacking of real forms, is just a correct mathematical progression of notes and chords... but that's not enough to be music. It's like the comparison between a robot against a souled living being.

    Well, once you've reached the shape, it will flow as a melody and the chords will also move bringing tonalities that can perform a spatial background for he composition.

    Remember that the melody is the object in front of the camera, the protagonist, and the harmony is the set around that object.
    If you have only chords, harmony without melody, you have an empty room, or an empty scene, which is also valid.
    And if you have only a melody you have a protagonist floating in the space... just suggesting some environmental aspects (like upside, down, far , close, dark, sunny, cold, warm, etc... but it is actually lacking of background, it is only suggesting a background because you tend to extract a hidden background from its behavior.

    The same is for the empty background, you can distill some forms that are not existing there, just by condensation of some elements that exist in the background.

    When you reach an equilibrium, a scenical equilibrium (whether it is complete or suggested parts), and you close your eyes and you can see the original form replicated, you got the composition done.

    I hope this can serve in some way to your needs.
    Last edited by Carol Rein; Sep-14-2018 at 18:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carol Rein View Post
    Well, I just can tell you the way I do my music...
    If I want to compose something, I have to be inspired, I can't do it mechanically, or in that case I will repeat just modified themes that ive done before. If I want to be original against myself, I have to be inspired. Of course, I learned to trigger the inspiration, usually with something sad or something that cracks the shell of my rationality. I can think in those things that ususally we don't think during the day.
    Some people use another mood to trigger the passions (mine is the melancholy) your mood can be another one, a quite different one.
    Then, as soon as I reached the status I start to see a "form in the air"... (in allegoric terms, but sometimes the forms are actual shapes, archetypal shapes).

    I suddenly conform those shapes to a scene (because I make soundtracks) but it is also applicable to non scenic music.

    Depending on the mood I go to the Piano, or I use Strings or choruses... remember that the instrument has its own language and it feedbacks the inspiration towards yourself in a way that modify and evolve the original shapes you´ve first perceived. So it is important that you choose a sound that really can construct and develop the comnposition in its correct way.

    Remember this:
    The music is NOT an abstraction that you can theorize and create from your rationalization. The music exists independent from your existence and it is independent of your musical capabilities.
    The musician just induces the music and brings it into an audible form.
    So if you don't reach the inspiration, you'll compose like those neural AI systems that can "compose" nowadays (did you listen to it) If you listen to it, the thing it composes is absolutely lacking of real forms, is just a correct mathematical progression of notes and chords... but that's not enough to be music. It's like the comparison between a robot against a souled living being.

    Well, once you've reached the shape, it will flow as a melody and the chords will also move bringing tonalities that can perform a spatial background for he composition.

    Remember that the melody is the object in front of the camera, the protagonist, and the harmony is the set around that object.
    If you have only chords, harmony without melody, you have an empty room, or an empty scene, which is also valid.
    And if you have only a melody you have a protagonist floating in the space... just suggesting some environmental aspects (like upside, down, far , close, dark, sunny, cold, warm, etc... but it is actually lacking of background, it is only suggesting a background because you tend to extract a hidden background from its behavior.

    The same is for the empty background, you can distill some forms that are not existing there, just by condensation of some elements that exist in the background.

    When you reach an equilibrium, a scenical equilibrium (whether it is complete or suggested parts), and you close your eyes and you can see the original form replicated, you got the composition done.

    I hope this can serve in some way to your needs.
    Jeez, What a great reply. This helped a lot. Thank you for this. I think this will help me a lot, seeing the music as something I channel rather than create, and also not as a math problem but a work of art. I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to write a very helpful reply

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