Freedom is the Enemy of Creativity


mobbs3.3 K8 days agoPeakD4 min read

How does a composer get from this:

To this:


in 25 minutes?

Well, the magic is in the little numbers underneath the music.

This is basically figured bass, a highly antiquated method of composition from the Baroque days of Bach, where the composer would write the bassline - Cantus Firmus - and the performers fill in the gaps with the implied instructions the numbers provide.

This was largely improvised in the form of 'basso continuo' which to a modern musician is a mad skill to have, but by following those numbers, and the hardcore ruleset, the outcome of what the musicians play goes from practically infinite, to somewhat predictable.

Musicians often learn this process in school, although from the day you finish learning it, you'll never, ever use it again unless you then become a teacher to the next generation or you're a very niche musician in an old baroque ensemble.

So, needless to say, I'm pretty rusty at it, and thought I'd grease the old bones and attempt the above example.

The above image is everything I had to work with, and I filled in 3 more voices: The main melody on top, and the two harmonies in the middle. Consider it like a choir; Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass.

Stick to the rules!

Rules are made to be broken they say, well, not so much in the days of old. But I'm ok with it. I do agree with the old adage;

'Freedom is the enemy of creativity'

or any of its variations.

Parallel NO-tion

The main pain in the arse is famously the 'Parallel 5ths' rule, in which no two notes in a chord can move in the same direction if they are a 5th apart from each other (DO to SO).
I figured for my first attempt I'd just forget these rules and see what my ears could do purely by what I think sounds good. So this is what I made, which took about 7 minutes:

The red notes are just 'cause the instrument can't play that low in the real world, but I'm messing with MIDI so who cares.

So yeah this is all built upon the numbers which basically tell that:

Each chord has 3 notes, and this bass note is this particular one. You can fill the rest of the parts in with the remaining two notes.

Well, then I remembered that the old Musescore program I'm using has a plugin where you can check for parallel 5ths (and octaves), so I exported it into the old program to check because I'm way too lazy to do it myself, and here's the results:


Annoying. That's a whole bunch of errors! Let's see what I can do here, though:

Ok this one is free from that egregious curse of parallel notes.

Generally, like all things in life, the best way to avoid them is by having a healthy balance of different types of motion, whether it's staying in the same spot, or going in opposite directions (contrary motion).

Generally, I find when I follow the rules, it does tend to sound better overall, but there are some other things to consider that are a bit more subjective, such as maintaining an 'interesting' melody line (which has its own ruleset), a 'boring' pair of inner lines, and being careful not to exceed certain intervals and jumps.

There's also a structure you should consider just like any novel: a beginning, a climactic peak, and a resolution. You can generally accomplish this with your ear and personal taste, I reckon.

The last thing I did here was quite literally just copy and paste those four lines separately into a string section (violins etc), a brass section (horns, trumpets) and a choral section (voices), ramped up the volume and voila!


I'm pretty happy with it. I'll definitely have to read up and review the ruleset for the next one, as I'm doing this from memory and I'm sure a professor would be cringing at this if they saw it!

But at the end of the day, I quite like the melody (a tad plain), and it just sounds pretty neat!

The sounds I'm using are all freeware from the Musescore software. If I plonked it into my production software and gave it a proper go at sounding epic, this would make an excellent LONG...LIVE...THE KING.... moment.


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