All posts by thetimgirard

I am a Colorado composer, interested in writing music for film, television, and games, as well as instrumental and choral music for the concert stage. I have a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Denver.

Expanding My Form Voice and Workflow

These next four tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Weeks 8 and 9 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Sonata Form was the end-of-the-week assignment for Week 8 to “write a one-minute (or longer) piece using a form idea you’ve never used before.” I wanted to try sonata form (even though it’s a very watered down version with no transitions), because I actually never have. I also incorporated an idea from another class (with the same professor) about hero music and action adventure music, where the A theme is heroic, in the brass, with lots of P4s, P5s and Major triads, and then the B theme is more lyrical for the strings and woodwinds. The piece has a total of six sections. In the exposition the A “heroic” theme is in a home key (C Major) with just a tonic pedal underneath, and a B “lyrical” theme in a different key (F Minor). For the development I have a C section that uses fragmented motives from the A and B sections, with some chromatic modulations and no definite tonal center (although there is a G pedal underneath the whole thing to lead back into C). For the Recapitulation, the full A theme returns, this time harmonized, in the home key of C Major, and then the B theme returns, but now it is also in C Major. The piece ends with a coda where the A and B themes are played together in counterpoint.

DAW was a Week 9 exercise to “compose a short musical idea using DAW software.” I originally set out to fight against some of the tendencies of writing in a DAW, but I quickly saw why those tendencies happen. I was originally going to use separate tracks for each instrument, and focus on their lines, but I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep the chord progression in my head, let alone each individual line. If I had to do something like this in the future, I would probably just pick four chords that repeat, instead of a 16 bar phrase. Either that or I would write it down first.

Notation was another Week 9 exercise to “compose a short musical idea using notation software.” I used Sibelius (which I’ve been using since the late 20th century), and it was easier to write a melody, chord progression, and countermelody that all match, because I could see all of the notes at once. I came up with an ostinato, but I was also able to easily change articulations, and adjust the ostinato to fit the notes of the chords, because I could see what the chord progression is, as well as the instruments’ individual lines.

Workflow was the end-of-the-week assignment for Week 9 to “write a piece that is one minute using a workflow you typically don’t use…if you typically write with DAW software, try writing at a piano or in a notation program…if you typically write in notation software, try writing at a piano or in a sequencing program.” I wanted to compose something on acoustic guitar since I hadn’t played guitar in a while, but I didn’t want it to be “performed” on guitar. I wanted to see how well I could get the guitar to translate for the orchestra. When I write for guitar, I like to create  contrast by using open-string chords, bar chords, and/or power chords in different sections. I like that open-string chords tend to have better voice leading, but bar chords work really well for power since they all have root-5th-root on the bottom. After I had the chords, arpeggios, and rhythms down, I notated the guitar part in Sibelius so that I could arrange it more easily, and then reference it when orchestrating it in Logic.

The A section is orchestrated for woodwinds and strings: the strings are just sustaining the chords, and the woodwind section plays arpeggios (except for the oboe which sustains the highest note of each chord as a melody. The B section (which I envisioned being played on electric guitar) was orchestrated for brass and percussion (and still included strings). I also wanted to focus on the other thing guitar does really well besides arpeggios: repeated notes. I also incorporated muted strings, which I translated to snare drum. The C section is a retransition back into the A section, and I returned to arpeggios in the woodwinds and sustained strings. I also used one of my favorite techniques on guitar which is to start by playing an open-string chord, but then slide my fingers up (usually a M2 or m3), so that those notes change, but the open strings stay the same. For the return to the A section, I continued the arpeggio pattern from the C section, but with the chords from the A section, except now all of the minor chords have become major. The use of guitar definitely influenced my choice of keys, chords, and how I moved from chord to chord, as well as the use of arpeggios, repeated-note rhythmic figures, and using open strings as pedals while moving other notes of the chords.

Expanding My Tone Color Voice

These next three tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Week 7 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Orchestra and Rock was an exercise to “…compose a short phrase that combines orchestral and popular music instrumentation. You may combine orchestral and pop elements in any way that is musically interesting to you.” I combined bass guitar and drum set with strings and brass, and had the strings and brass play power chords in place of an electric guitar.

Orchestra and World was an exercise to “… compose a short phrase that combines a world or historical instrument with the orchestra. You may combine orchestral and world/historical elements in any way that is musically interesting to you.” I used a Middle Eastern Zurna as the melodic instrument and accompanied it with sustained strings, concert toms, and concert bass drum. I used the scale C Db E F G Ab B and came up with a bass line for the strings to play, then improvised with that scale for the Zurna part. I also experimented with using extra reverb to try to counteract its very nasal sound.

Tone Color was the end-of-the-week assignment to “…write a one-minute piece using an instrument or tone color idea you’ve never used before. You may use common or rare instruments, acoustic or software sounds.” I continued with the concepts that I experimented with in the two exercises this week: combining rock/pop instruments with orchestral instruments, and combining world instruments with orchestral instruments. I used a combination of all three, and while I was combining things, I thought it might be interesting to use 12 Bar Blues as my form. For rock/pop instruments, I used electric bass and drums again. For orchestral instruments I used strings, and had the low strings play a pad, while the violins played a melody in octaves. For world instruments, I used the Indian Tanpura, the Middle Eastern Zurna, and a Middle Eastern Darbouka. I also used a vocal synth sound in the C section. The drum set has such a wide range of colors between bass, snare, toms, and cymbals, and there is such a punch to it that you don’t get from orchestral percussion. Similarly with electric bass, you get a nice percussive attack that cuts through (especially in the higher register) in a way that string bass doesn’t. I didn’t want this to sound like pop music or a chamber ensemble, so the strings give warmth and a roundness, and also make the track sound bigger. The Tanpura has a buzzing, sustained sound, with a fuzzy attack, so there is only a vague sense of rhythm, all of which creates a meditative bed underneath everything else. The Darbouka has a nice high pop sound which makes it work well with, and stand out against the drum set. It functions the way bongos might, but with a more unfamiliar sound because it isn’t used as often as bongos are. The Zurna comes in for the C section and final A section, and it cuts through everything with its intense nasal timbre. Once again, I used a huge wash of reverb on it to try to give it a less abrasive sound. In the last A section it is playing in unison/octaves with the violins, which also warms the timbre.

 

Expanding My Rhythmic Voice

These next three tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Week 6 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Changing Meters was an exercise to “…compose a musical idea that incorporates more than one meter… consider how the meter change interacts with other aspects of the music. Where in the phrase does the meter change occur? Is the meter change paired with a change in harmony or counterpoint?” I assigned 7|8 (3+2+2) to the tonic chord, and whenever the chord changes, I changed the meter also.

Syncopation was an exercise to “…compose a musical idea that employs syncopation.” I set up the accents in the percussion and strings to really make it clear that the ostinato is in 4|4. For the chords, I incorporated a “rhythmic acceleration” because in addition to most of the attacks being on unexpected beats, the note values get shorter and shorter and the attacks move earlier and earlier in the measures in each phrase.

Rhythm was the end-of-the-week assignment to “…write a one-minute piece using a meter or rhythmic idea you’ve never used before.” I explored an idea that I’ve wanted to try for a while: fitting a measure of 5|8 and a measure of 7|8 together in a measure of 12|8. My A section alternates between 5|8 and 7|8 and explores the different subdivisions of each. The first phrase alternates between 7|8 and 5|8 and the second phrase alternates between 5|8 and 7|8. I arranged them so that in the first phrase there is an underlying 3 2 2 pattern that repeats four times followed by a 3 2 pattern that repeats four times, and in the second phrase there is an underlying 2 3 pattern that repeats four times, followed by a 2 2 3 pattern that repeats twice. For the B section, I switch to a more straightforward 12|8, but I emphasize all of the different even groupings that can fit into 12|8: groups of six 8th notes, groups of four 8th notes, groups of three 8th notes and groups of two 8th notes. After four measures, the A section material returns and is layered on top of the continuing B section material, so all of the different ways of dividing 12 8th notes are played simultaneously.

Expanding My Harmonic Voice

Hexatonic Complements was from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Week 5 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring. The  assignment was to “write a one-minute piece using a chord type, progression, or harmonic idea you’ve never used before.”

I used hexatonic scales that are complements of each other because they have an unfamiliar melodic character, but have many major and minor chords to choose from, and fit well within each other. I began with the scale that starts with a m3 then m2, and with C as tonic (C D# E G Ab B) and its complement (D F Gb A Bb C#), and used one scale per phrase. In the first phrase of the A section, the chord progression was CM AbM CM EM, and for the second phrase DM BbM F#M DM. For the B section I  used the other two transpositions of the hexatonic scale, which are also complements of each other, and I switched from 3|4 to 2|4 and used all minor chords: Ebm Gm Bm Ebm and C#m Am Fm C#m. For the return of the A section, I kept it in 2|4 so that it would have some variation from the beginning, and I also brought the melody up to D instead of A. I really like the contrast of unpredictable melodic movement, but moment to moment consonance and stability.

Expanding My Melodic Voice

These next two tracks were from my Berklee Online Winter Semester, Week 4 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring.

Octatonic Melody was an exercise to “…compose a short melody in one of the scales we previously discussed…major, minor, chromatic, Lydian, Dorian, Lydian dominant, Phrygian, Spanish Phrygian, Mixolydian, octatonic, whole tone, and altered scales…with traditional melodic phrasing…you do not need to write accompaniment material for the melody…you may add a pedal point drone…if you wish, but it is not required.” I chose (half-whole) Octatonic with F as tonic. The melody is in the cellos and there is a tonic pedal underneath, in the basses.

Whole Tone with Added Note was the end-of-the-week assignment to “…write a one-minute piece using a scale or mode you’ve never used before…the music should be unique in some way, but need not break from every established tradition of melodic writing.” For this assignment, I chose the Whole Tone scale with an added note. I structured it ABA’, and the A sections focused on the C Whole Tone scale with an added dominant (G), but the B section tonicized the G in “traditional” fashion, allowing me to use the Whole Tone scale with the added tonic (same pitches, but a “mode” of the original scale). I figured this scale was going to have a “dreamy” quality, but with some stability, as well as dissonance because of the added note. The more I played around with this scale, the more I got a vibe of “extra mystical Gregorian Chant”, so I chose to use male voices. I used only two voices at the beginning, so that there is some ambiguity as to what the implied chords are. I didn’t want to be too in-your-face and obvious about the Whole Tone nature of it, so at the beginning it seems like it could be in major, but as it progresses, each new note that is revealed implies a different mode, until near the end of the A section when there is an implied augmented triad, which really brings in the Whole Tone flavor. For the return of the A section, I added a third voice, so that all of the harmonies are solidified, and it is clear that this piece does not use a traditional mode.

Personal Experience Assignment

Personal Experience was from my Berklee Online Winter Semester  for Week 3 in Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring. The assignment was to compose a short piece “influenced by some aspect of your personal experience… creative preferences of your past clients, ideologies promoted to you at school, characteristics of music that you admire, or other life experiences.”

I chose to compose a piece that was influenced by my time at the University of Rhode Island. One of my main influences  was playing solo marimba music , especially works by Mitchell Peters, and Rhythm Song by Paul Smadbeck (I was supposed to be learning the basics like sight reading, but I would borrow solos that the upperclassmen were learning, and try to learn as much of them as I could). I had also been interested in progressive rock since high school, so a lot of marimba music that I liked meshed well because of the mixed/changing meters (7|8 is my favorite).

I also started getting interested in World Music, especially percussion, and that was when I bought my first djembe. After hearing a performance of the Ethos Percussion Ensemble playing Rhythm Song, and incorporating djembe as well as other drums and percussion, I was re-inspired by that piece for new reasons. Soon after, the URI Percussion Ensemble ended up doing a similar arrangement/performance, and I played djembe. 

I was also excited to have the opportunity to write for strings since my high school didn’t have a string program, and I only had a chance to play in an honors orchestra in my senior year (I was instantly hooked). I love how percussive strings can be, and I love the contrast of long lush string lines over rhythmically active percussion. 

That was also when I first became interested in minimalism, partly because it was so closely related to drumming and some of the marimba music I was learning. I love the idea of taking a small germ of an idea and seeing how much you can get out of it. 

Parallel Harmony Assignment

Parallel Harmony was my Berklee Online Winter Semester assignment for Week 3 in Composing the Orchestral Film Score. It is “an eight-bar piece using parallel harmony” and we were also allowed to use a tonic pedal if we wanted to. I wrote a melody in G Locrian and harmonized it with parallel major triads. I scored it for brass, percussion, choir, and strings. There is a low G tonic pedal played by the bass trombone, tuba, timpani, bass voice, cellos and string basses. It was composed in Sibelius so it isn’t as well produced as some of my later works are, but maybe someday I’ll drop it into Logic…

Berklee Online Film Scoring Masters

For those of you who don’t know, since the end of September 2021 I’ve been in Berklee Online’s Film Scoring Maters program. During the Fall Semester I didn’t compose any new music except for a score to a student film (which will be posted later), but during the Winter Semester I had multiple short composing exercises every week. Most of these were for Compositional Voice Development in Film Scoring, and there were also a few for Composing the Orchestral Film Score. Now that I have time to breathe, I’m going to release one of them every week, so you have a chance to hear what I’ve been doing for the last six months. I hope you enjoy!

SPITFIRE AUDIO | DC’S STARGIRL SCORING COMPETITION

At the beginning of August, I participated in the Spitfire Audio | DC’s Stargirl Scoring Competition  where I had to score a scene from season 1 of Stargirl. This time, I was actually able to get my video uploaded on time, with no problems from YouTube! I’m also especially proud of this accomplishment because this is the first project I’ve completed using only Logic Pro. Usually I would create a score in Sibelius, then import it into Logic, and edit it there, but this was created using Logic from beginning to end. I hope you enjoy it!

#MyStargirlScore