Someone posed a question on a Facebook group about getting out of a rut, regarding harmonic progressions. I wrote this in response … sharing it here just in case someone finds it helpful.
Traditionally I think a composer really showed their chops in the development section(s) … what can you do to *develop* a particular idea and stir the emotions of your audience?
Some more ideas and thoughts:
Try focusing on specific emotional qualities, get more specific about which particular emotion you are working on. Write down about three concise words that capture the spirit of your piece, emotionally, and try to write those and only those… for instance not just “sad” but which kind of “sad”?
As you start nailing a specific emotional quality – for me that’s often a combination of a melody and some *simple* harmonization; maybe just a couple notes in the left hand rather than entire chords – then start looking at how to further to *develop* the idea, before you start “orchestrating” the basic framework and get stuck in a “loop”. Picture the journey you want the piece to take.
If that’s not working…
Another thing I’ve done which has helped with TV music is write 26 different 15-30 second sketches (just 8-16 bars), often in one or two sittings, one for each letter of the alphabet. I pick the ones that really nail the brief and put the others in a virtual “sketchbook” for later. I develop only the ideas that sound best for the brief. This opens up a lot of creativity (think of it as “free writing”) but it also sheds light on some of my “habits”. I find there’s usually a couple nearly-duplicate ideas in the batch! In these cases, I see if they can be combined into the same piece somehow. Sometimes this method also generates “A” and “B” sections that can be combined later into “call and response” phrases, etc.
The process of “finishing a sketch” for an idea that is *not* what you want, naming it (i.e., “Apocalyptic Drama Tension J”), and setting it aside helps force you to come up with something different. Because your brain really wants to move on and “solve the problem” in a different way next time.
Even more simply…
A couple of my recent pieces have had the same harmonic progression drawn out for the first section(s) and then double time for the finale. You can do the same with melodic motifs and figures; double or halve the amount of time they take to play. There’s a musical term for this compositional technique but I forgot it! 🤣