Make Better Music 20: Clarity and complex layers

make better music. Trebuchet magazine
make better music. Trebuchet magazine

There’s a point, I think, at which separate layers of musical material stop being processed by your mind as different things, and sort of collapse down into a single complex sound.

I’d noticed, listening to a song earlier, that in the verses there were just vocals, drums and a single keyboard sound, and that I could concentrate on them as a complete sound. I could also mentally focus on each one too, there was clarity there which meant that all the layers could be comprehended individually and as a complex, combined sound.

Then, in the chorus, there were loads of complex elements…a mind boggling amount of different sounds, rhythms and melodies. It still worked as part of the song, but my mind could not really separate the different ideas. They become one complex thing that I had to absorb in one go, like eating a mouthful of different flavoured sweets…you end up with a combined flavour, and can only pick out individual ones with some mental effort.

So what does this mean to us, as creative musicians? It means be aware! Know when you are careful constructing something where each element can be savoured…and know when you are combining things that will blend down into one (sort of incomprehensible) single blast of complexity.

Knowing when to use one technique and when to use the other, and how best to contrast them in context will serve you well!

Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday.

Image: Francesco Marino /

About Dave Graham 70 Articles
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition, the classic text on twentieth century harmony by Vincent Persichetti, Henry Mancini's Sounds and Scores, Rimsky-Korsakov's excellent books on orchestration as well as studying any scores that intrigued me. He is a founder member of two bands, avant pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith, and have performed across Europe with them.

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