TIP OF THE DAY

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Structuring Music in Groups of Four

Yesterday we brought up the idea that music should achieve a balance between the static and the dynamic - too static and your music is boring, too dynamic and your music is too complicated, which also means boring.

A common sort of structure in western music is to play a certain riff four times, but make the last one a bit different. The difference signals to the audience or to other musicians that this one is special - and it is, because it is the last of four similar riffs, and it signals that something new is coming. So, take that riff and change it, and repeat the new one four times in all. You can plot grand paths in this way - slowly building up in volume and intensity through four cycles of four different riffs - and at the end of those sixteen total riffs, that is a good time to climax or break into a different gear.

If you organize your improvisations in this manner, it gives you something firm to grasp as you make your way through music space. But more importantly, it helps musicians you are playing with understand what you are doing. It provides a happy medium between music that doesn't change enough and music that changes too much. You can always fine-tune the change as well - you don't have to repeat the starting riff exactly the same, but can change it a bit each time, saving the biggest change for the fourth time to herald the next little section.

If you are playing with people who don't get what you are doing, you can always point it out. If a whole group is grooving on this concept, you will find that the band just counts on its own. You will count to four in your bodies, and it will all just work out in a beautiful subconscious way.