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Hey everyone! I haven’t posted in awhile. I miss the forum! I need to get back into the groove of checking up on here.

I’m starting to get into composing my own music. I did 1 piece a few months ago, and am coming along now on my second. My question is about the left hand. In my first piece, I did just your basic rolling chord throughout it for the most part (well, not even really the whole chord – like for a Bb it was Bb-F-Bb – etc.). I think it sounds fine. And I have lots of music that I’ve been referencing to see what other big name composers do with their left hand stuff. It looks to be basically the same. Either rolling chords, or just octaves, or even just a single note in the bass.

I have it in my head that my left hand needs to be more musically complicated for some reason, as if to make it sound more interesting. Deep down, I feel like I know that isn’t necessarily true. Also, it sounds good to me to keep the left hand simple, while the right hand carries the melody and more of the harmony. I guess if it sounds good to me, that should be enough, right? Can’t forget KISS, too – Keep It Simple Stupid. smile Less is more, right?

I just want to avoid being boring or repetitive in everything I come up with. That’s my main fear.

Do my fellow composers do basically the same thing?

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Also, it sounds good to me to keep the left hand simple, while the right hand carries the melody and more of the harmony. I guess if it sounds good to me, that should be enough, right? Can’t forget KISS, too – Keep It Simple Stupid. smile Less is more, right?


Hey BS, yep "less is more" works pretty well for me too particularly early on, but there are plenty of simple options for the LH to carry the rhythm and part/all of the harmony. You have many options using the boom chucks, shuffles or blues bass lines, block chords, rolling 10ths in addition to the short arps.

Basically it's solving musical puzzles using your ears. I would guess you are gonna be great at this stuff sooner than you think.


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In my latest composition (which I played with my wife in public last Sunday!) I used the following formula:

The right hand carries the melody. However, half of the time there is only one note playing per measure. There are some scale passages and thirds (up and down), but that's it.

The left hand carries the 3/8 time signature of the piece (almost all broken chords (I IV, V7) in four major and minor keys), however it never gets louder than mp, whereas the right hand goes all of the way from pp to Forte.

As I explained to my wife, the left hand is the engine that drives the piece, most importantly the tempo, which changes dramatically several times during the 1:45 total playing time.


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I am not a piano composer but had similar issues/doubts when composing for guitar. Essentially the problem comes from a poor mastery of repertoire and by default, a poor mastery of the instrument. People might disagree but I believe invention and innovation come from mimicry, the ability to take from others and manipulate it to your own needs.

There are probably books on the subject so if it were me I would be doing a little more research.

There is also the question of are you composing for your own fun or would you like other people to be able to enjoy your music? If the latter then it probably is a battle of balance. Light enough (or hook driven) for the casual listener or complex, perhaps even challenging, enough for the more experienced listener.


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I'll be very very honest, and probably a little harsh, but as someone who holds a PhD in music composition, I probably can offer some advice.

There are many ways to compose something. The 101 on "How to compose" is not a real class and anyone telling you so is wrong.

Yes, you can get a sort of a formula to compose something. The left hand can have repeated chords (Chopin prelude in Em), it can have tremoli (Beethoven pathetique), it can have the alberti bass (Mozart, Beethoven), or it was have arpegges (Chopin), chords and leaps (Satie, Chopin, Rachmaninoff), etc...

The right hand can play the melody, the counterpoint, a counter melody, chords with the LH playing the melody and and so on...

Thing is that ultimately people don't compose with a "formula". Composing is not an IKEA furniture that you have to build and you need the instructions. Of course it can work, but if you are to be a bit more serious about composing and about creating you need to break away from all that. At least in a conscious level.

There are no hard rules in composition: KISS doesn't exist (Except as a lovely band in the 90s and 00s maybe). The classical rules of harmony also don't exist... The Ravel concerto in G is filled with parallel 5ths! grin.

Point is that the only rule that exists is that of the aesthetics. If you decide, for example, to compose something for a film, of a certain aesthetic you have to follow that path. You can't score Lord of the Rings with some trance R&B and Rhianna singing! :Grin:! Simmilarly you can't score that Matrix just with Schubert lieder.

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So my advice to you would be to not try and rationalize fully what you're doing (cause you really do need to know what you're doing, instead of pounding on the keyboard by instinct alone). Check what other composers have done, through their works: That's called analysis. Then try for yourself what you can come up with. Then try something different, etc...

Maybe it sounds/read close to what you want to do already, but just the word "formula" ticked me off... smile

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Originally Posted by Brandon Sip
And I have lots of music that I’ve been referencing to see what other big name composers do with their left hand stuff.

Did you really mean to say that? Maybe that phrase would look better if you left out the word "other" smile



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Originally Posted by MRC
Originally Posted by Brandon Sip
And I have lots of music that I’ve been referencing to see what other big name composers do with their left hand stuff.

Did you really mean to say that? Maybe that phrase would look better if you left out the word "other" smile



BS probably meant "what big name composers did with their other left hand stuff" ... some of them compose like they think humans have more than one per side. smile

Last edited by Rerun; 11/21/15 02:45 PM.

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Let's call a thing by its name: arrangement for the left hand. Hence the need for definitions of musical parts of arrangement. Here they are :
1. Melody

2. Counterpoint - 2-nd melody

3. Pedal

4. Harmony

5. Bass

6. Rhythm


From these elements, the pedal is less common , but it has a characteristic color, at which should not be neglected in the introduction, interludes or endings.
In a large orchestra for each part can be designed a special group, but a pianist has only two hands;It means - arrangement requires imagination and ingenuity , how to combine all the orchestral parts in both hands.If the right hand plays only singing melody, the left must fulfill the remaining 5 parts ; If tune is rhythmic - like bebop, then for left hand remains 4 parts.
In addition to the orchestral parts exist notion a texture : monophonic , two voices (3,6) , octaves, arpeggios , broken chords , chords , bass-chord , polyphonic .
In addition to the orchestral parts exist notion Texture : monophonic , two voices (3,6) , octaves, arpeggios , broken chords , chords , bass-chord , polyphonic .
Everything else depends on the imagination and taste.


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One thing I did not see mentioned is piano skill level. As a beginner level pianist, if I want to play my compositions, they have to be relatively simple. I hear some things and would like to try them, but they are often way beyond my beginner abilities. One example is Stride piano, where there are often two or more parts on the left hand going at the same time.

I find variety even in simple. If I change the left hand from simple chords, to 7ths, to open fifths, single notes, octaves, occasional counterpoint, that keeps the piece from being too set, too predictable.


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Brandon, root-5th-octave is a very common bass figure used in many many compositions. Nothing wrong with it. But if you are looking for more options to branch out from there, try these-


1. Root-5th-10th (3rd above octave. This can be a bit of a stretch but the benefit is it provide an extra level of harmony and sophistication)
2. Root-5th-9th (again provides more harmonic interest, 9th chords can make a regular major chord sound even more lovely). And makes minor chords sound even darker too.
2. Alberti Bass (someone already mentioned this, you should research it. It will make a piece sounds like it has a complex classical sound, but it is actually fairly easy to master)
3. Root, 5th toggling (think Beatles, many of their songs made use of alternating the 5th in the bass)
4. Root 5th together, as a perfect 5th interval. (It is easy to neglect and forget about the 5th as an option in the bass, but using this interval can provide extra crunch, weight, and power for the right type of song)
5. Use the dotted quarter, followed by eight note rhythm.

All of these are very common.


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A good part of Tim Richards' "Improvising Blues Piano" is spent teaching left-hand blues patterns. There are _lots_ of "traditional" ways to play I-IV-I-V-IV-I.

They might not be useful for what you're doing, but the book is worth checking out. There's a thread here, if you search.



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I think the more you play of other composer's music - the good ones - the more ideas you will come up with. Sure, sometimes you take their idea that you think is pretty cool. Stravinsky said the best composers steal. smile But I am kind of with Nikolas on this.

I think instead of trying to change something because you think it's too plain, it's important to understand what you're really trying to address. Is it really the LH pattern that is boring, or is it the harmonic progression, melodic content, or rhythm? Is it that you don't have a clear affect or emotion or idea that you are trying to convey?

Simply coming up with a formula won't really address any of those issues.

Also, is this for solo piano? And the music you are comparing yourself to, are they playing solo piano, or do they have other instruments playing too? The more instruments playing in general the less each of them have to do to keep things interesting.


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Goodness! Thank you all very much for the replies! Lots of great ideas and things to think about.

Originally Posted by Rerun

Quote
Also, it sounds good to me to keep the left hand simple, while the right hand carries the melody and more of the harmony. I guess if it sounds good to me, that should be enough, right? Can’t forget KISS, too – Keep It Simple Stupid. smile Less is more, right?

Hey BS, yep "less is more" works pretty well for me too particularly early on, but there are plenty of simple options for the LH to carry the rhythm and part/all of the harmony. You have many options using the boom chucks, shuffles or blues bass lines, block chords, rolling 10ths in addition to the short arps.


And here I thought I was getting a little more experienced, being 3 years into it. I don't know what some of those are. Off to YouTube!

Originally Posted by BrianDX

As I explained to my wife, the left hand is the engine that drives the piece, most importantly the tempo, which changes dramatically several times during the 1:45 total playing time.


This has already helped me immensely! I saw your reply before the weekend and was able to apply that and already did come up with a more interesting left hand arrangement for one of the parts in this new piece that I wanted to sound more upbeat.

Originally Posted by earlofmar

There is also the question of are you composing for your own fun or would you like other people to be able to enjoy your music?


Definitely a bit of both. I want to be able to take video and upload them to my Facebook for friends to see, and also perform my stuff at our local piano parties.

Originally Posted by Nikolas
Check what other composers have done, through their works: That's called analysis. Then try for yourself what you can come up with. Then try something different, etc...


That's been the FORMULA I've been following thusfar! Hehe sorry, just had to. I do appreciate your advice, though. Just had to kid you a bit!

Originally Posted by MRC
Originally Posted by Brandon Sip
And I have lots of music that I’ve been referencing to see what other big name composers do with their left hand stuff.

Did you really mean to say that? Maybe that phrase would look better if you left out the word "other" smile



You mean you HAVEN'T heard of me??

Originally Posted by Nahum
but a pianist has only two hands;


A point I tend to forget when I try to over-complicate things sometimes!

Originally Posted by Sand Tiger
One thing I did not see mentioned is piano skill level.


I'm about 3 years in. Not total beginner, but not that advanced, either. I struggle with many of those same things.

Originally Posted by blueston
Brandon, root-5th-octave is a very common bass figure used in many many compositions. Nothing wrong with it. But if you are looking for more options to branch out from there, try these-


1. Root-5th-10th (3rd above octave. This can be a bit of a stretch but the benefit is it provide an extra level of harmony and sophistication)
2. Root-5th-9th (again provides more harmonic interest, 9th chords can make a regular major chord sound even more lovely). And makes minor chords sound even darker too.
2. Alberti Bass (someone already mentioned this, you should research it. It will make a piece sounds like it has a complex classical sound, but it is actually fairly easy to master)
3. Root, 5th toggling (think Beatles, many of their songs made use of alternating the 5th in the bass)
4. Root 5th together, as a perfect 5th interval. (It is easy to neglect and forget about the 5th as an option in the bass, but using this interval can provide extra crunch, weight, and power for the right type of song)
5. Use the dotted quarter, followed by eight note rhythm.

All of these are very common.



Just what I needed! I'm gonna be looking at all of these. Thank you for the reply!

Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
A good part of Tim Richards' "Improvising Blues Piano" is spent teaching left-hand blues patterns. There are _lots_ of "traditional" ways to play I-IV-I-V-IV-I.

They might not be useful for what you're doing, but the book is worth checking out. There's a thread here, if you search.



I'm still debating on where I'm taking my piano playing. I dabbled in jazz/blues earlier this year and then it fizzled out for me. I do want to get back to it, though.

Originally Posted by Morodiene
Stravinsky said the best composers steal.

Is it that you don't have a clear affect or emotion or idea that you are trying to convey?

Also, is this for solo piano? And the music you are comparing yourself to, are they playing solo piano, or do they have other instruments playing too?


That's good to know about other composers! Makes me feel better. For this piece I'm working on now, I do have an emotion I'm trying to convey, yes. And yes it's solo piano. The arrangements I'm comparing are arrangements made for solo piano (Disney songs, some pop pieces, some musicals, etc).

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Goodness! Thank you all very much for the replies! Lots of great ideas and things to think about.

Originally Posted by Rerun

Quote
Also, it sounds good to me to keep the left hand simple, while the right hand carries the melody and more of the harmony. I guess if it sounds good to me, that should be enough, right? Can’t forget KISS, too – Keep It Simple Stupid. smile Less is more, right?

Hey BS, yep "less is more" works pretty well for me too particularly early on, but there are plenty of simple options for the LH to carry the rhythm and part/all of the harmony. You have many options using the boom chucks, shuffles or blues bass lines, block chords, rolling 10ths in addition to the short arps.


And here I thought I was getting a little more experienced, being 3 years into it. I don't know what some of those are. Off to YouTube!

Originally Posted by BrianDX

As I explained to my wife, the left hand is the engine that drives the piece, most importantly the tempo, which changes dramatically several times during the 1:45 total playing time.


This has already helped me immensely! I saw your reply before the weekend and was able to apply that and already did come up with a more interesting left hand arrangement for one of the parts in this new piece that I wanted to sound more upbeat.

Originally Posted by earlofmar

There is also the question of are you composing for your own fun or would you like other people to be able to enjoy your music?


Definitely a bit of both. I want to be able to take video and upload them to my Facebook for friends to see, and also perform my stuff at our local piano parties.

Originally Posted by Nikolas
Check what other composers have done, through their works: That's called analysis. Then try for yourself what you can come up with. Then try something different, etc...


That's been the FORMULA I've been following thusfar! Hehe sorry, just had to. I do appreciate your advice, though. Just had to kid you a bit!

Originally Posted by MRC
Originally Posted by Brandon Sip
And I have lots of music that I’ve been referencing to see what other big name composers do with their left hand stuff.

Did you really mean to say that? Maybe that phrase would look better if you left out the word "other" smile



You mean you HAVEN'T heard of me??

Originally Posted by Nahum
but a pianist has only two hands;


A point I tend to forget when I try to over-complicate things sometimes!

Originally Posted by Sand Tiger
One thing I did not see mentioned is piano skill level.


I'm about 3 years in. Not total beginner, but not that advanced, either. I struggle with many of those same things.

Originally Posted by blueston
Brandon, root-5th-octave is a very common bass figure used in many many compositions. Nothing wrong with it. But if you are looking for more options to branch out from there, try these-


1. Root-5th-10th (3rd above octave. This can be a bit of a stretch but the benefit is it provide an extra level of harmony and sophistication)
2. Root-5th-9th (again provides more harmonic interest, 9th chords can make a regular major chord sound even more lovely). And makes minor chords sound even darker too.
2. Alberti Bass (someone already mentioned this, you should research it. It will make a piece sounds like it has a complex classical sound, but it is actually fairly easy to master)
3. Root, 5th toggling (think Beatles, many of their songs made use of alternating the 5th in the bass)
4. Root 5th together, as a perfect 5th interval. (It is easy to neglect and forget about the 5th as an option in the bass, but using this interval can provide extra crunch, weight, and power for the right type of song)
5. Use the dotted quarter, followed by eight note rhythm.

All of these are very common.



Just what I needed! I'm gonna be looking at all of these. Thank you for the reply!

Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
A good part of Tim Richards' "Improvising Blues Piano" is spent teaching left-hand blues patterns. There are _lots_ of "traditional" ways to play I-IV-I-V-IV-I.

They might not be useful for what you're doing, but the book is worth checking out. There's a thread here, if you search.



I'm still debating on where I'm taking my piano playing. I dabbled in jazz/blues earlier this year and then it fizzled out for me. I do want to get back to it, though.

Originally Posted by Morodiene
Stravinsky said the best composers steal.

Is it that you don't have a clear affect or emotion or idea that you are trying to convey?

Also, is this for solo piano? And the music you are comparing yourself to, are they playing solo piano, or do they have other instruments playing too?


That's good to know about other composers! Makes me feel better. For this piece I'm working on now, I do have an emotion I'm trying to convey, yes. And yes it's solo piano. The arrangements I'm comparing are arrangements made for solo piano (Disney songs, some pop pieces, some musicals, etc).

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^^^^ That's just UNCALLED for! grin cry Hehe.


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