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Compose Yourself: Learning From The Rule-Breakers

This week’s Compose Yourself demonstrates that many music students often forget that the best composers are also the best listeners.  That’s certainly where Richard gets all of his ideas from – other composers, past and present!  Here’s his list of 5 counter-intuitive genius ideas that should get you thinking…..and composing!

  1. The First Movement of Mahler’s First Symphony

For the first 10 minutes of the piece, Mahler keeps hitting you over the head with the note A, high, low, throughout the orchestra.  Then there’s suddenly an F in the bass!  It not only turns your idea of the key of the piece on its head, but it is incredibly portentous and ominous.  Sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it – genius!

  1. Cathy Dennis & Rob Davis – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

I think Kylie, Cathy and Rob’s  2001 classic is absolute genius.  How can something so dance-led have a BASS PART WHICH IS OFF-BEAT throughout?!  Not only that, but it’s got the very unfashionable diminished 7th chord in the Bridge!

  1. Charlie and Lola on the Titanic

Not enough people use tertiary modulations.  Forget the cheesy drum fill into the chorus cranked up-a-tone.  Tertiary modulations can move by a third interval, up or down.  My favourites: the theme from Charlie and Lola; and My Heart Will Go On from Titanic……..indeed, anything by James Horner!

  1. William Walton – Crown Imperial

Having studied Bach Chorale harmonisation for 5 years as a teenager (child cruelty if you ask me!), the major rule was never have parallel 5th or 8th intervals.  Parallels were a crime against music.  Enter Stage Right, William Walton and his Crown Imperial.  The main melody is made up of a set of parallel triads.  Genius!

  1. Sting – I Hung My Head or Seven Days

I love Sting’s work – for me, he is perhaps the ultimate musicians’ musician in Popular Music (discuss……..!).  Writing in irregular time signatures is such a tricky business – it can sound so lumpy.  But Sting has an ability to work in 5s, 7s, awkward groupings of 9 etc, with such seeming ease.  Listen to songs like I Hung My Head or Seven Days.

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