Category Archives: Top–Down Writing

Top Down #7: Melodic Pedal Point and Vertical Dissonance

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We hear melodic pedal points all the time in blues, country, rock, jazz and classical…. it’s a complicated, jargony name for a simple concept: a note in the top voice repeats or sustains while other voices move underneath. A high … Continue reading

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Top Down #6: Melodic Motion–Space is the Place

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You can give your writing rhythmic tension by varying the “groove” under a melody, melodic line, or syncopated figure. You can also create space for counterlines and more music material under, after and around your melodic figures. This adds a … Continue reading

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Top-Down #5: More off the Grid

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When your phrases breathe and have some space, counterlines and background figures come more easily. When you write from the top, everything fits, because you decide how much space to allot each element, then you fill in the rest. When … Continue reading

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Top Down #4: Rhythmic Control and Moving off the Grid

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One goal of writing from the top-down is to compose more expressively. Not that your melodies need any help to be expressive, but perhaps there’s a way to “open it up” more. Thinking about your music with flexible rhythmic feel … Continue reading

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Top Down #3: Phrase Length and Form

Listen to some old-school blues tracks, and dig upon how some phrases/lyric lines are longer than the 4 measures that we’re used to. The performer goes to the IV chord, back to the I, to the V, when it feels … Continue reading

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Top-Down #2: Phrase Length, Strength, and the Third Dimension

There’s nothing wrong with strict song form, standards, blues, etc., and I have no objection to chord progressions – some of my best friends have strong resolutions. But, jazz music’s two big building blocks, song form (4-8-12-16 bar structure) and … Continue reading

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The Doctor is In

In an arrangement for my ensemble I performed a lot of surgery on Duke’s classic Solitude. I’ll provide an analysis and score and musical samples in my next post, but I wanted to give a little background on the technique … Continue reading

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Lines Intertwining….

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(spoken in your best movie trailer voice:) In a world….full of hackneyed cultural references and tunes in D minor…, a composer seeks to break free. Free from the confines of the oppressive overlord…tonality…reality…How does a sailor lost at the sea … Continue reading

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Write for the Players and Play like a Writer

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How can a composer control the flow of musical information in a piece that’s improvised? How do you get a group to improvise together without it turning into an out of control free jazz fusion blowing session? Use the best … Continue reading

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Think Ahead and Write Backwards–An Overview of Top-Down Composing

Here’s what comes to mind when I try to come up with a direct way to explain “top-down” writing. Pick and choose words that fit as you see it: The TOP (melody, gesture, idea, phrase) influences (changes, guides, moves, anticipates, … Continue reading

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