Here are three simple things we think about when we make tunes.
You may or may not find them useful to think about when you make tunes.
1) Call & Response
We almost always think about sounds as if they’re in conversation with each other, so when one sound ‘calls’ another ‘responds’ to it. This can happen tonally, rhythmically or texturally. A melody started on one instrument can be resolved or commented upon by another, or maybe the same melody repeated with additional layers to give the feel of many answering one, (also known as an antiphon).
This is a useful habit to get into as a call & response routine is a very human thing to do whereas mindless repetition is not and will appear thoughtless or robotic. If something appears to be more human then humans respond much better to it.
Rather than play the same sound over and over, we often repeat the character of a sound in different ways throughout a tune, again either tonally, rhythmically or texturally. For example, a melody played on a piano may be repeated on another instrument later in the tune. Or, rather than repeating the same melody throughout the tune, we may vary it in different ways or even reverse the notes. At other points we may echo the pattern of the bassline with kick drums or percussion. Doing this allows you to establish the theme of a track without boring the listener.
From time to time we make deliberately overt use of sounds or melodies that we have used before in other tracks, so the leitmotifs stretch over several pieces of work. On very rare occasions we will deliberately use a well known sample that is designed to be recognised for its source rather than its inherent characteristic. This would be an example of a cultural leitmotif rather than the internal ones described above. The geekier among you may also know cultural leitmotifs by their other name, ‘memes’.
3) Narrative Flow
Narrative can work on both macro and micro levels. At a macro level most of our tunes work in the same way, with a set-up, conflict / passion and resolution. At a micro level we always think about what a section of music is saying about the section that directly follows it. Rather than just cutting and pasting sections over and over they almost always change to introduce the next set of events with a view to also serving the macro narrative.
This gives you a narrative that develops over time with a tune often ending up in a slightly different place from where it started. The advantage of this is that the listener will always hear something new the longer they listen to the tune. This disadvantage of this is that most people need to understand a tune in the first 30 seconds or so and rarely believe that it will develop much beyond that.
We feel a tune is successful when, after listening to it all the way through, you feel slightly drained and exhausted and the place you’ve reached seems to be a very long way from where you started.