Is it important to have a recognizable voice as a film or TV composer? Many have plenty of work without one, quite content being musical chameleons. But to be unique is something many musicians aspire to and it can also be good for your career.
Here are some tips for finding your own voice.
What You “Don’t like” is Just as Important as What You “Do like”
Obviously, knowing what you like is important but it’s also quite easy for it to lead to imitation and lack of individuality.
Aim to understand what it is about a certain musical passage that you connect with. Don’t just play and learn the chords; that will help, but not enough. Dig a bit deeper and find out exactly what you like about it so you can extrapolate a concept out of it, a modus operandi for you own writing.
For example “I like this melody?
Why? Here are things you can look at
- The tonality or mode
- The relationship of the melody to the chords
- Use of expressive non-chord tones and how they are used
- Expressive leaps in the motive
- The structure of the tune
So you might come to the conclusion that that tune really connected with you because
- In was in the dorian mode
- It emphasized appoggiaturas on strong beats
- It had step-wise elements and larger leaps that were very expressive
- It used only one motive throughout
- It had a descending step-wise direction
And from there you experiment creating music using those parameters specifically in order to build your own approach to them. And you should do this in a variety of contexts, not just the same mood and tone as the original, but in very different ways.
What you don’t like is just as important and instructive so don’t just dismiss that off hand. It is completely worthwhile to dig a bit deeper find out exactly what elements you don’t like about it. For example, it could be:
- Too repetitive
- Not repetitive enough
- Orchestration is not varied
From that you will see what you do like and then you can take that important next step “how would I do it differently?” This will most likely take you on completely new avenues and exploring new ideas you might not have thought of otherwise!
Assimilate, Don’t Imitate
By understanding music you like and dislike and then exploring possibilities it opens up, you can assimilate the music rather than just imitate it. I refer to that as “Borging” because I aim to assimilate the distinctiveness of a great musical idea into my own language to achieve perfection! (Yep, I’m a nerd.) This is something that can happen to some over time, but here a few simple steps instead of leaving to chance and time.
Step 1: Find a few measure of something you like very much, and learn to play it, analyse it in order to understand every aspect of it. (This could also be something you like only in part.)
Step 2: See what else you can do with it, let your imagination run wild with it.
Step 3: Once you run out of ideas try this systematic approach to perhaps go a little further using the musical parameters we all know and love.
- Tempo: if it’s slow, speed it up and vice-versa.
- Dynamics: if it’s loud, play it soft and vice-versa.
- Register: if it’s high play it low…
- Tonality: if it’s minor play it minor or some other mode
- Timbre: change the orchestration
- Phrasing: legato becomes staccato, accents can change positions etc…
- Rhythms: have a blast
- Counterpoint: change the order of voices
- Can you think of more?
If you do it right you will have at least one idea that has promise and can grow into a voice or at the very least a phrase and even a piece. I call those “seeds.”
Make sure you plant those “seeds” and help them grow into a voice. Keep them well organized, I prefer paper in binders for this because it saves you a lot of time. Recording ideas and taking the time to listen to them takes too long! Revisit them often, play them often, do little improvisations with them, whatever you feel like doing to assimilate those ideas so you can use them at will. Having a voice means having your own vocabulary, and that’s what you are doing here.
[Photo by Steven Depolo]