How to Turn 4 Bars of Music into 60 Minutes

Ok, this seems to be a very hard task! And it actually is, when you don’t know how to tackle it. The good news is that there are as many correct ways to solve this problem as there are composers out there. But all of these ways have something in common – and that’s a methodology or a process!

This is one of the good reasons why you should have theoretical knowledge and know how to turn this knowledge into the application. Essentially, you want to use techniques and musical device to tell a story. Let the 4 bars describe your main characters, like the hero and the anti-hero. They are little musical seeds that you plant at the beginning of your story. Now that you’ve introduced your main idea (this can be a motif, the main theme, a very characteristic chord progression, etc.) it’s time to start telling the story, and stories are about emotions.
Here are some suggestions that might help you to tell a story.

1) Let’s pretend we are working with a motif and we would like to introduce that motif to the audience in a very gentle way, like a baby seeing the light of the sun for the first time. You might want to give this motif to the flute first, play it in free time at first and let the musician figure out the pulse of life to this motif. Bring in some repetition of the motif in different registers and tempi. Be playful with that line and maybe let it try to go other places as well but it always returns to the initial notes.

2) Now it might be time to bring in a set tempo. Take into account that a horizontal line can be translated into a vertical structure. Use other colors to bring in the aspect of harmony in a different register. Think elision of full chord structures so you can build to actual chord progressions and still being true to your initial notes.

3) Once you’ve set harmony, repeat this whole section and focus on decoration or even a small and gentle counterline like a mother reacting to the facials of the newborn. The subject of decoration also has the power to put the whole music into a different emotional context.

4) Let the motif explore different emotions. Let it become a bit adventurous and energetic by changing the rhythm and move into different scales. For that reason, we’ve developed the “Matrix of Modes” that is part of the composition course. This gives you control over the modes and lets you use them emotionally in scale flow charts.

5) Take only a small portion of the motif, maybe an interval, and harmonize that with either chord tones or use the “Matrix of Intervals” to bring in a bit of chromatism. It’s just another way of presenting the line as it becomes thicker due to the harmonization.

6) Expand on your original line by taking those notes and put them on the 1st downbeat of every bar. Then, write a line in between to connect the dots. This way you can use your original line to outline a longer passage.

Of course, this is not at all a comprehensive list of options but some very useful starting points that for sure can bring you over the first 10 minutes. Take into account that you may repeat whole sections but change the orchestration so you create contrast along the way without changing the actual musical material.

This is all part of what our mission at M.I.T.A. is. We want to help you become a better musical storyteller and a more successful composer!

Best always,
Frank

About the Author

Frank Herrlinger

Frank is the co-founder of Music Interval Theory Academy (M.I.T.A.) and a professional composer working in the industry for over 10 years. He wrote music for numerous video games published for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. His music is also constantly heard on German television (RTL, Pro7, VOX, etc.), in commercials, and trailers.

Furthermore, he gives live training sessions in composition and how to use interval theory inside the membership every month.

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