Make Better Music 6: Master and Servant

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

I’ve mentioned in a few places that when you are making music everything serves the message.

I think I need to qualify this a bit to avoid confusion!

By “everything”, I mean the musical ideas you have, how you use them, the sounds/timbres you use and the structure of the track. In a word, I mean the sound you have made.

When I say the “message”, I mean that music is a language, and it expresses things. The language is recognised by humans in a peculiar way and unique way. It is the sort of language the mind uses to express feelings, instincts and emotions. Meanings are personal and flexible. It is not the same as languages that use specific words for specific objects and concepts. Music works on a lower, more primitive and powerful level than conscious thought…but it doesn’t only work on that level.

This all seems to fit together nicely…except there’s one problem.

What a piece of music expresses is determined by the listener – not the creator.

The “message” is not fixed – it is created uniquely by each listener. Listeners may share a similar message, but like snowflakes and memories…no two will ever be exactly alike.

The creator can try to evoke ideas or feelings with their music, but they can never guarantee the content of the message that the listener will receive.

Hence, everything that you put into your music serves the message – even if you do not intend a message, or if the music is generated by some algorithm or artificial process. The message will be generated by the listener as a response regardless of the intention of the creator.

Curiously, a solution to this contradiction lies in instinct – what you instinctively know how to say in this strange language will also have the best chance of being communicated accurately, at some level, to other humans. We all share the same basic construction…deep down we all work in the same way. Tune in to what you instinctively feel is right for your music, and you will reach out directly to other people in a more honest way.

About Dave.
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of avant pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.

Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday.
Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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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