Patterns in music

Submitted by naught101 on Thu, 08/09/2018 - 11:02

[Work in progress]

I'm really interested in what makes good music good. Some of that is described in Western Music Theory, but a lot is not - particularly broad scale patterns more focussed on rhythm than on the interactions between harmony and melody. I plan to try and document some of that here - patterns I come across, that are useful in guiding music production.

There should usually be a single focus

At any given point in a piece, there should be a single focus point - a single sound that draws your attention, and for which all other sounds provide a base layer.

This can be done using multiple tools. Volume can be used, such that non-focus parts of the music are lower in volume than the focus. Filtering, reverb and other effects could be used to push sounds into the background. Resonant filter movement, or other effects could be used to add interest to the focus.

This is related to Counterpoint, when it operates on shorter time-scales (within phrases), but it can also be used on longer times scales (between phrases/sections).

Complexity requires trade-offs

At any given point, there should be a limited number of sources of complexity. Too many, and music will become chaotic, and hard to listen too, too few, and it will become boring.

For example, when writing for bass and drums, if the drums are complex, the bass should be simple, similarly, if the drums become simple, the bass has more room to move, and can get more interesting without becoming confusing.

This is related to the previous point, especially for longer time scales.


Repetition with variation

This is really a fundamental part of what makes music music, but it can be easy to forget. Forgetting to add variation is what makes shit house music boring, and it is also what makes modern architecture so mind-numbing. Repetition is great for the human mind, which is excellent at pattern detection, but without variation, repetition quickly becomes aggravating.

Common patterns include using 4 repetitions of a 1-2 bar phrase, and altering parts of every 2nd, 4th, or 8th bar, by adding fills, melodic or harmonic variations, or adding space or changing sounds.