You get off to a flying start, template loaded up, coffee at the ready, hands on the keyboard and…
Or maybe you have a terrific theme, you’ve got the arrangement but it just doesn’t drive forward.
This post shows you how to take that theme and reconsider your approach so you can get past the wall and get down to really making the most of your ideas.
Inspiration & Momentum
“Inspiration must find you working”- Pablo Picasso
Yes… but sometimes you have a deadline, and you need that inspiration, and you need it NOW!
If you are working on a professional level, you should be able to compose quickly, not because your hours will be worth more money, but because efficiency enhances creativity. Furthermore, when you are composing, you should be able to keep up those levels of creativity and momentum.
Over the years I have developed a way of looking at music that allows me to start composing fast and keeps the momentum going.
I will not elaborate on it too much here, (as this is more of a producing/mixing series of posts) but I thought it worth mentioning; no matter how good are you at mixing, if you are not able to come up with some good ideas to start composing, or if you end up with a mediocre arrangement, you will not be able to fix that during the mixing process.
Still, I understand that composing is a very subjective process and composers have many different workflows or processes. This system doesn’t replace the study of harmony, counterpoint, etc. but it can help when you’re stuck and need the ideas to keep flowing.
The 5 Elements System
Any musical passage can have up to five elements. These are not layers. They are more like musical components. They can either be combined or not. The five elements are:
- Direction: Anything that creates a tendency. Something that leads from point A to point B (a melody, a harmonic progression that creates more tension as it progresses, increasing/decreasing orchestration density or thickness, etc). This element makes the listener feel like the music is progressing from one point to another.
- Movement: An aspect of the music that creates flow or action (a rhythmic pattern, ostinato, harmonic progression that repeats/modulates, call and response between instruments or families, etc). This element creates motion and also aids in creating direction.
- Background (Glue): Anything that sits behind in the mix. It will usually be something that is not obvious, but it is there, and you can tell when it is missing. This element fills in the gaps and helps join the different musical ideas together.
- Enhancer: Something that intensifies, augments or develops a musical idea, helps connect sections, or adds sparkle and “ear candy” (textural flourishes like runs, scales, and trills, woodwinds fluttering around behind a soaring melody, cymbal or timpani roll swells, etc).
- Bass: Anything that adds an extra low end. The contemporary modern orchestral sound requires an extra layer of a solid, compact and controlled low end. It is important that you are able to create it. We have many resources available like low synths, electric basses, sub-boom percussion hits, and well-recorded or sampled double basses.
Combining these five elements in some way, no matter the musical style will create a full musical entity. That does not mean that you must always combine all of them. You can go with just one, or you can combine several, and this can vary as the composition progresses. Sometimes one musical idea can be used as two elements at the same time.
In the world of film music, the director or producer will ask you for changes and rewrites. Having a clearly defined structure to your music will allow for ease of alterations should you be asked to “get rid of that.” or “can we have more of this?”- Changes will be easier and your music will still serve to be as effective as intended.
It is not uncommon for an alternative version of a pre-existing cue to be reused later in the movie, with the theme presented in the winds instead of the strings, or maybe the synth/percussion bed is all that required sitting under dialogue. This 5 Elements structure is very effective in those “get it to me by lunchtime” situations.
This is just how I look at music, especially when I’m stuck. Obviously, I think about many other specific components like harmony, balance, and specifics on orchestration. But although this open, broad, five-element system frees my mind and creativity without pressure, I am not trying to force it on anyone else. There are many other ways you can organize music. This is just one system that takes the hassle out of thinking about musical terms as sometimes the director doesn’t want to be speaking with Beethoven.
*TOP TIP*: It is also a good system if you are a film composer, because it allows you to communicate with directors using non-musical terms, and it allows you to approach scenes in a very logical way.
AUTHOR - Orlando Perez Rosso
Orlando is Colombian composer based in Los Angeles. He is a classically trained composer with a profound education in popular music and Sound Engineering. His work can be heard in worldwide trailers, national commercials, and worldwide distributed films. In 2016, Perez Rosso co-founded the Music Agency LoudMono in Los Angeles, CA.
- Fred Karlin, On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring, 2nd edition, 2004.
- Richard Davis, Complete Guide to Film Scoring: The Art and Business of Writing Music for Movies and TV, 2000
Last but not least
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