How to create an inspiration library

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How to create an inspiration library • CharlotteBax.nl

Hi folks,

Everyone knows the writer’s block and everyone dreads it. There is nothing worse than having to write some music but not having any. inspiration. at. all. Well, don’t worry, because I have the perfect solution for you: start building an inspiration library following the guidelines below! It’s really easy and you’ll never be in a tight spot again for a commercial pitch, song of commissioned work ever again.

1 – Create an empty library!

First things first, get your supplies. You’ll need an ordner and a stack of music paper. (A pencil and some regular lined or checked paper won’t hurt too.) Some suppliers have notebooks with staves AND lines, that’s great too!

2 – Collect pieces of music you like

Whether it’s the chorus or intro from a song, a leitmotif from a film score, a psalm chant or just a rhythm, collect it!

3 – Consider what you like about it and write it down

Is it the rhythm? The harmony? Melody? Arrangement? Try to obtain the score or write it down on some music paper while listening to it. You don’t have to write down everything, just the part thats inspirational and important to you. Don’t forget to add the title and the original composer.

4 – Analyze it

To understand why you like it and to use this inspirational part in your own way, you have to analyze it. This is what most people really don’t like, but it’s essential and you learn so much from it!

Harmony / melody

  • When it’s a harmony / melody part you’re adding to your inspiration library, start with the basics: write down the key signature and all te chord names plus the used bass note if it’s not the tonic.
  • Then write down the function of the chords.
  • I like to colour code the tonic and dominant and point out every chord that’s not in the original scale (for example chords borrowed from G minor in a G major progression).
  • Write down the function of the melody notes (for example “c e g” in a C major part will be “1 3 5”, but “c e g” in an A minor part will be “3 5 7”).
  • Colour code again the tonic and dominant. Also point out any notes that are not in the chord, and notes that foreign to the key at all.

Congratulations! You now have a blueprint to use any time you like. When you add more of this kind of pieces, you can compare them and possibly spot similarities, for example you get drawn to I-vii progressions, or a melody with notes that are foreign to the chords used.

Rhythm

  • Yes yes, also rhythm can be analyzed! Why shouldn’t you? First, note the time signature and tempo and any changes.
  • Then, point out all the accents. Are they on the first beat of every measure or not? Are there any minor accents? Divide complex time signatures in parts of 2 and 3, for example 7/8 can be divided as 2-2-3, 2-3-2 or 3-2-2.
    When you compose, it is really important to point this out very clearly, otherwise every musician interprets it in his own way, which can lead to unnescessary difficulties or the piece not sounding like you intended. I’m very lazy and put accents only on the first measure and the I write “simile”. It keeps your score clean and easy to read (and it saves time and ink).
  • If you have different rhythms playing simultaneously, notice when they come together or go their own ways and whether the accents are in the same or different places. It’s really worth it to not only write down a drum part you like, but also the bass part, just to see how they work together.

Arrangement

Arrangement is a bit more subtle and tricky to get a hold of. I try to analyze this in the following way:

  • What are the key, time signature and tempo?
  • What instruments are used?
  • What kind of patterns do they play? For example long notes in brass and fast scales in strings is totally different than the other way round.
  • Is there any sign that the composer used a special technique, for example aleatoric composing?
  • Are there any leitmotifs? If yes, put brackets around them and note if they are used in other places backwards, upside down, faster, slower, etc. (This is really a hell when analyzing a fugue, which essentially only consists of the introduced leitmotif in ANY variation imaginable. That’s the art of writing a fugue. Bach was really good at it. I don’t dare to get my hands on it. Yet.)

Great work! Now gradually keep adding fragments of music you love to this inspiration library and when a time comes when you really don’t know what to write, you have your solution ready!

My piece “Dream On” for example uses a rhythmic part from Enya’s Orinoco Flow and some harmonies from the “Now We Are Free” theme from the Gladiator film. Is this plagiarism? No, I don’t think so. Firstly, because I used only really small parts and not directly recognizable pieces. Secondly, because I used these parts in a totally different context which absolutely doesn’t relate to both pieces.

The art is using pieces small or universal enough to not violate the rights of the artist that inspired you. Otherwise everyone gets sued because they’re using a ii-V7-I progression or a pentatonic scale in their music or whatever. That would be absurd, don’t you think? This method of creating an inspiration library is meant to help overcome composer’s block, not to be a copycat. Use it wisely!

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Music theory: Aleatoric music

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How to use the aleatoric method in your music • CharlotteBax.nl

Hi folks,

From today on I will talk to you a bit more in-depth on music theory and specifically a few useful theories and techniques. This blogpost will be all about aleatoric music, or “random” music. (more…)

10 assumptions people make about musicians that really annoy me

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10 assumptions people make about musicians that really annoy me • CharlotteBax.nl

Do you talk much about your profession? Sometimes I rather don’t. A lot of people who know that I “do something with music”, tend to assume the weirdest and most annoying things about my knowledge, my taste or my lifestyle. Take a look at the list below:

1 – People who think that I know everything about every genre of music.

Yes, I learn how to write music. Yes, I know a lot about music theory, how to produce certain types of music and some composing methods. No, I do not magically know everything about all the music in the world.

2 – People who think I listen to every musician in the world and know every song ever written.

Yes, I am a composer. No, that doesn’t mean I am a walking encyclopedia of music. Yes, I know the Rolling Stones. No, I do not listen to their music. Yes, I know some songs of Metallica. No, I don’t know the lyrics by heart. It doesn’t make me a less better musician. I know music that you don’t. That’s called “taste”. I prefer listening to certain film soundtracks. No, not all the soundtracks of all the films. Just the ones I happen to like. Just like you happen to like some rock bands and some others not.

3 – People who ask about it but do not listen to what you say.

“So you study music? At a conservatorium?”
“Yes, I study music composition and production.”
“So what instrument do you play?”
“I study music composition and production. That means I write and record music.”
“So do you write everything all by yourself???”
“No, I take one of Beethoven’s works and I sign with my own name.” #ragequit

4 – Other musicians thinking they can play that music from sight.

I once conducted a little ad hoc ensemble made up from music students and professionals from the local orchestra, and our teacher and the librarian of the orchestra agreed that we had to send the sheet music 3 weeks in advance, so people could look over it and prepare their parts.

There was only ONE guy, a great cello player, a student, who actually looked over the music before rehearsal. How could I tell? One of my pieces had a shitload of time signature changes from 5/8 to 6/8 to 4/4 to 7/8 – and he was the ONLY one that wasn’t surprised and tried to save his arse. Even the professional cellist next to him had no idea what she got mixed up in, lost track and had a bad time nailing that rhythm even the next few rehearsals.

5 – Teachers that are surprised you work as a bartender.

Like they could pay their rent just from working as a musician during college years and the first years after graduating…

6 – People who expect all composers automatically are conductors.

Trust me, this is an entirely different set of skills altogether. I WRITE. Yes, I have conducted an orchestra once. I like doing that, but I need to learn a bit more. I like to leave the things I’m not good at to more talented people.

7 – People who think that I can and will write every type of music they ask for.

Hey, I have a certain taste and signature sound as well! I love listening to orchestral and choral music, and I love writing it. I love writing songs with Irish folk influences, Enya-inspired vocals and of course I’m open to new things, like adding electronical elements to my music, or writing a funny chiptune. But I will never ever do a hardcore electronic music or jazz production, or make a career out of chiptune music. That’s just not me.

Okay, I did do a jazz production for school one day. The song was quite sweet, but I totally fucked up the recording. I had no experience whatsover with choosing mics and stuff. It was one of the early years… Reminds me. Maybe I should polish up that song and record it again 🙂

8 – Friends who think you work for free.

Yes, I like writing music. Yes I like you. No, I will not write you any music for free. It’s my work. Do you design mobile applications for free? I didn’t think so.

9 – Family who expect spectacular stories about college.

“Yeah, I go to college. There are teachers. They teach us.” That’s about it. You want me to list all the EC I earned in the last semester or what? I do a lot of computer work and sometimes I get off of my arse to put up a microphone for someone or I sing a bit myself. You don’t get instantly famous when you get admitted to the conservatorium.

10 – People who think you have time for everything because you work mostly from home.

Yes, I am a entrepreneur who works at home. Yes, that means I divide my time as I please. No, that doesn’t mean I live like it’s a permanent holiday. I try to spend the regular 8 hours working: writing music, producing demo’s, administration, PR… So no, I do not have time to go shopping with you today.

 

What prejudices about musicians really bother you?

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7 things I learned when conducting an orchestra as a total newbie

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7 things I learned when conducting an orchestra as a total newbie • CharlotteBax.nl

Last saturday I conducted my very first concert! With 3 classmates, we’d set up this event called “Film Music Live”, at which we conducted our own compositions to film. I shat bricks because I was so incredibly nervous, but in the weeks before the event I’ve learned so much about conducting!

1 – Conduct CLEAR!

Your orchestra will be really happy if you make clear movements. Nothing is more annoying than burying your directions in a load of frills and ornaments. If you want your orchestra to do what you want, give clear directions, so they don’t have to decipher what you actually mean.

2 – Give an obvious “one”

The first count of every bar is really important. If a musician loses track of his part, he will allways try to get in sync with you. Being clear about what the first count of every bar is, is really important. Even if you yourself fuck up as a conductor, keep counting and give that “one” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

3 – Learn your part

You expect the musicians in the orchestra to know their part, so make sure you know your own part as well! Practice in front of the mirror and sing the most important melodies, so you get a clue about how the piece is written.

4 – Colour your score!

This was so incredibly helpful for me. I just took a few neon markers and coloured EVERYTING that looked the sightest bit important: time changes, tempo changes, double barlines, when a new instrument starts playing after a long series of rests, etc. With this, you barely even have to read your score, just a short glance and you know what’s next.

Conducting tips for beginning composers/conductors ~ Charlottebax.nl

5 – Help the musicians

You’re not just a metronome. Musicians really like it when you let them know when their part kicks in. Especially if it is after a huge multi-measure rest. Sometimes just eye contact is enough. Also, short breaks during reheasals will be really appreciated, because concentration only last for so long.

6 – Be a strict conductor

Being nice is important, people have to like you (or otherwise they won’t play for you again). But being strict is also important. Count out loud when they don’t keep up with your time. Sing along when someone forgets to play, so they will recognize their part and won’t forget again. The conductor is supposed to be the center of attention AT ALL TIMES, so remind them reheasal time is not tea time (with a stern voice if nescessary).

6 – Relax and enjoy!

People notice when you’re nervous and react to that. Stand confident in front of your orchestra or ensemble and radiate that confidence to the musicians! They will feel that everything will be allright and relaxed musicians will play ten times better than tense musicians 🙂

7 – Don’t forget to say thank you to the orchestra

The traditional way to do so is by shaking hands with the first violinist. But an additional short thank you speech afterwards in the dressing room will be appreciated 🙂

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5 different ways to start a composition

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5 different ways to start a composition • CharlotteBax.nl

Hi folks,

For a lot of composers, beginning a composition out of the blue is really difficult. You have to make something out of nothing. In this blogpost I will teach you 5 ways to begin writing a piece.

1 – Lyrics

If you’re writing a song, this is a great way to lay out the overall structure of the song. If you’re a lyrics person, there’s bound to be a few phrases that are stuck in your head, keep repeating itself. Here you have your chorus! Also, if you’re stuck with lyrics, try telling a story.

For example I’m working on a song for mixed choir with the theme “winter”. The story I’m telling in the song is a story of two lovers, one of them has just come home from – well, I dunno – a long walk, an errand, doesn’t matter. But the other one notices all the little details like rosy cheeks and snowflakes in the other’s hair and so on. That’s what the sory is about.

2 – Melody

You could also start a piece is by taking the melody as starting point. This could be a melody that has just come up in your head. Then you could expand it, add bass and harmony to it, and things will spin off from there.

What you also could do to “force” some inspiration, is taking the melody from a piece you really like and the adding completely different harmonies to it. Then remove the melody and add a new one on top of your newly obtained harmony.

Another way of using an existing melody is writing an extra treble voice on top and then removing the original.

Last option using a melody as your starting point is taking an existing melody and changing the signature. I have once taken a hymn from the New English Hymnal and changed it from 4/4/ to 5/4. After 2 phrases, it caught on in my head and took an entire different path than the roiginal melody. This way of starting a composition is quite tricky, because you may never know who recognizes the original song. I would rather do this with old folk melodies than using modern pop songs.

3 – Harmony

Harmony is also one of the pillars on which you can base a composition. Just like with a melody, a harmony can just grow in your head. That’s great! Add a bass and melody and you’re on your way. But here also you can cheat a little if you have no inspiration at all.

You can take the harmony from an existing piece and change it from major to minor, or the other way round. I would not do this with simple songs but I’d take a more complex piece.

A second way to use an existing harmony is to change it a bit. I won’t explain the entire theory here, but basically chords a minor third apart are “linked”. You can play around by replacing the chord built up on for example C by a chord a minor third away from it in the same scale (Am or Ebm). Bela Bartok uses this technique a lot in is music.

4 – Sound

This method is a bit different. Instead of using the actual pitches of notes as starting point for your composition, you begin by determining the sound. For example, you can write a piece around a great synthesizer sound you made.

But sound doesn’t necessarily need to be electronic. By deciding on your ensemble, you also are working with a certain sound. For Campusninja I decided to use a symphonic base with lots of percussion and some electronic pads woven through.

Instead of choosing instruments first, you can also think the other way round: combining playing techniques and then see what ensemble you end up with. For example a light shower in spring I;d picture with pizzicato strings, xylophone, acoustic guitar and pizzicato flutes. That’s a quite random ensemble. You wouldn’t come up with it if you were just to pick an ensemble.

5 – Mindmap

This way of starting a composition doesn’t even involve notes or sounds! I used a mindmap when I started on my “Vikingen” piece. I had to write for an orchestra and the theme had to be “Scandinavia”. With no idea where to start, I just wrote down the word “Scandinavia” on a piece of paper and everything that came in mind: composers like Grieg and Pärt, vikings, Thor, Thorgal Aegirsson, fjords, etc. When I was busy, a melody took form in my head. The final composition was about viking’s adventures and sounded really filmic like the Thor soundtrack. Mission accomplished!

Now go write your own piece of music!

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