Composition and structure - help me!

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Thread: Composition and structure - help me!

  1. #1

    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    Composition and structure - help me!

    Right. I need help with this.

    Quick life story - music teacher mother (classical), piano when young, several years of clarinet, sight reading, exams etc. Gave up. Couldn't cope without playing an instrument so went to guitar at 13, eschewing the theory and all that. Lots of metal. Now my tastes are extremely broad, but mainly it's metal and free -> avant jazz.

    What I really struggle with is getting ideas from my head and into some kind of structure. I want to be able to come up with a plan, a storyboard of sorts, that I can expand upon, give to other musicians etc.. What I envisage is some kind of avante metal fusion. Structure verging on chaos, with groove. I love what Zorn is doing with Electric Masada, I love what Uri Caine gets up to with his interpretations of Mahler.

    Where do I start?
    Last edited by dpm; 10-04-2008 at 12:22 PM.

  2. #2

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    Heh. This is a pretty advanced (and open) question, Dan.

    "I want to understand the universe. Where do I start?"

    I'd say, obviously, the key to improve in jazz is typically a) falling into the rhythm, and b) having a concise melodic idea. With metal, you're not going to be as constrained with using syncopated lines, but those really do help with a groove. Having a bass line grooving over some tonal element is probably the main hallmark, and maybe where one would "start." I guess it wouldn't even have to be strictly diatonic, but you'd need to have a pretty clear idea where to go together (with the bass and/or other harmonic instruments) from the outset.

    Hmm. So -
    A) decide on key/harmonic backbone. (Major? Minor? Modal?) Juxtaposing different tonic elements can be interesting, but you have to be smart, and careful.
    B) develop a theme. Some sort of melodic expression. Even a riff can carry this. Or perhaps the theme is more rhythmic in nature, a la Meshuggah. Either is fine, but you want some sort of overall idea. Even if you just sprinkle it in here and there like sugar on a donut.
    C) for me, a good bass groove is next. It's almost a key element for anything improvisational. Like with jazz, the structure of the bass groove is probably not extremely important, but rhythm and key structure are.

    4) know where the bass is going is going, though! If you throw too many non-scalar notes in there, you can introduce perhaps unpleasant dissonance, or make the elements you're using too chromatic. Same thing applies with time and rhythm. Now, if you want something like that, that's fine, but realize you'll lose any real sort of melodic ideas if you push that envelope too far (see 20th century classical music for an example.) Is atonality what you want? Then go for it. But I get the idea you just want to flirt with it. So, in my opinion, the clever use of passing tones, to hint at some odd modality, or perhaps even chromaticism, would be in order. And you can even use all 12 tones over the course of a phrase or run, as long as you do it smart.

    My best ideas on it. I get what you want to do, because I play with that sort of thing myself occasionally. And sometimes I envision some crazy, technical metal-acoustic-soft jazz improve monster band.

  3. #3

    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    it is a bit of an open ended query

    Interesting points you make, boober. Makes me think of Trevor Dunn with the bass grooves, I'll have to go back and listen to his stuff more.

    I'm interested in pulling things in and out of dissonance. Snapping in and out of grooves. Also pushing areas of the frequency range, changing the balance there, which has it's own distinct effect on the listener.

    I was thinking maybe some kind of storyboard approach to laying things out might work. Blocks incorporating melodies, themes, thoughts, whatever.

    I'm making some enquiries into lessons, to have someone kicking my ass might help, and to get me brushed up on theory. I have an aversion to theory because I meet so many people who are too concerned about that side of things, and seem to have forgotten about actually expressing themselves through music.

    Here's Electric Masada with Trevor Dunn on bass. I'm trying to understand how JZ communicates everything in this stuff. The hand signals are fairly clear, but I'm not sure to what depth the written side effects things.

    [VIDEO]]YouTube - Electric Masada !!! - Tekufah[/VIDEO]

  4. #4

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    One excercise I regularly do is to pick a certain groove in 4/4 time signature, and alternate the same pattern in 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4 time signatures, and start improvising from there. It opens up alot of ideas.

    Steely Dan is always a good band to listen to as Donald Fagen is a master of combining jazz scales with groove oriented pieces.

  5. #5

    Join Date: Sep 2008
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    Mmmm....Steely Dan. I listened to a "Best Of" & "Aja" last night. Timeless!

    Here's my general songwriting process in the last 5 years or so...
    I tend to write in chunks. One tool that really helps me with song construction is using the PowerTabs program. Sound weird, but it's true. Everytime a piece of music enters my head, I tab it out in PT. I have an entire library of ideas. PT allows me to write all the parts & change note choices, time sigs, tempo, etc. on the fly. Then, I can use the playback feature to hear a basic idea of the piece.

    Every now & then, I'll find another unfinished piece that I've saved & it'll flow nicely with my current piece. Then after hearing how those go together, it usually inspires me to come up with even more ideas. Next thing I know, I end up with a song structure. I'll take that basic song structure & present it to the band. As outsiders looking in, they can usually give an even better insight that you wouldn't have thought of. From there, I'll make refinements & VOILA! I got myself a tune!

  6. #6

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    the first bit of that video totally messed with my head. whe.

    wtf did i just hear?!
    Sparrows (Space Punk, LOUD):

  7. #7

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    Wow, that Electric Masada was badass. That first part blew me away, and my instinctive reaction was "Ugh." Them just as I started to get into it, it ripped into some awesome groove jazz.

    Neat shit.

  8. #8

    Join Date: Oct 2008
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    Avante free metal fusion? Dude, welcome to my universe!!!!

    First of all, forget all the heavy jazz theory stuff. That menagerie of rules does not apply in our little universe.

    The first issue is what exactly are you doing--an actual group or solo recordings?

    In a free/avante group, the first thing you have to be able to do is to trust everybody. You're doing no more than giving them the most basic guidelines, and you let them fill in the actual music through group interplay. If you have a group of players, I would start simply in rehearsals. Don't try at first to get to the full conducting thing like Zorn is doing in that vid. I would go back and start with what Miles Davis was doing in the early '70s--very basic key center and ostinato-type bass. Get the group interacting and learning each other first. Start for a few minutes with an ostinato funk groove and then just have everybody start playing more freely off of that. The key is that everybody has to be LISTENING to everybody else. After everybody gets the feel going, you can have the drummer and bassist lose the ostinato funk shit and start playing freely themselves. The beauty of free playing is how people interact with each other and spontaneously create structures without pre-planning. That is some addictive stuff, once you get the feel for it. Playing composed music becomes a freakin' bore. It will also greatly improve your guitar playing, since you aren't just giving a little blast of solo, but actually having to come up with good hooks and ideas on the fly. You will *think*, not just *perform*.

    What Zorn appears to be doing here is conducting little mini-ideas for each player, in a simpler version of what Frank Zappa did with his bands. Unlike Zappa's bands, Zorn's players are improvising, but they are going in and out on his command. I hear a couple of pre-planned concepts for everyone to play around, but I'm guessing that most of it is spontaneous. If you want to use some pre-planned stuff as a springboard, I recommend keeping it very simple and groove-oriented. The point is to spark additional musical discussion and not to dictate terms.

    My next album is a a solo recording of me interacting with myself for 48 minutes. It's a single continuous track--just try and pop that in your iPod! I started with electronic percussion played through a Korg padKontrol over a basic click track. I'm playing the drums to nothing, in effect. I started with some loose funk, but then just played whatever the hell came into my mind, with the only structure being a couple of tempo changes. All kinds of dropped and added beats and wayward fills. I then successively overdubbed the bass and then a whole bunch of guitars--all completely improvised. The advantage of improvising along with yourself is that you will tend to anticipate harmonic movement, even if you don't remember exactly what you did on the previous tracks.

    It's rough and raw and not for the faint of heart.
    Last edited by jacksonplayer; 10-08-2008 at 12:52 AM.

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