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When most people think of a composer, they imagine someone sitting in a dusty attic with a grand piano, big white wig, and the year is 1800. That might have been accurate back then, but the modern composer is just like you and me. In fact, I am one.
In this course I’ll show you techniques I use for writing music in a variety of styles and situations. I’ve worked with major American orchestras, film studios, and video game designers, so I’ve got more than a little experience. I’m also a PhD in music composition and a university professor (of music composition).
Recently I was named as a semi-finalist for the Grammy Foundation’s Music Educator of the Year award because of my in-person university classes. Now I’m taking those classes to Udemy in an online format in order to reach more students, and give them the joy of Music Theory.
I’m planning on making several “sections” of this class, and this is Part 2. As the class grows, we will go deeper and deeper into my techniques. This class is focused on the creating a sense of Tension and Release: one of the most fundamental concepts in music composition.
What will I learn in this Course?
- My background, and listen to some of my music
- Why Tension and Release?
- Tools of the trade: Software
- Tools of the trade: Pencils and fine paper
- Long Term and Short Term Tensions
- Using Form for Tension and Release
- Forms that Create Drama
- Sonata Form
- The 4 Elements of Form
- Example: Mozart, Moonlight Sonata
- Composing with Sonata Form
- Modern Uses of Sonata Form
- Example: Muse, Butterflies and Hurricans
- Tension and Release with Meter
- Compound Meters
- Meter Signatures
- Alternating Compound and Duple Meters
- Using Rhythm for Altering Expectations
- Rhythmic Patterns
- Pattern Obfuscation
- Example: Philip Glass, Truman Show Soundtrack
- Example: Allen, Aporia
- Using Harmony for Tension and Release
- Consonance and Dissonance
- Prolonging Dominant
- Emphasized Resolution
- Pedal Tones
- Moving “Pedal Tones”
- Example: Aphex Twin, Ventolin
- Combining Multiple Techniques
- Example: Mozart, Sonata in C
- Example: Allen, Angel of Repose
- Film Music and Tension Cues
- Composing for Films
- Any much, much, more!
About the Instructor
J. Anthony Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater.
He currently is an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, and is the CEO and co-founder of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.
Praise for classes by J. Anthony Allen
“Without a doubt the best explanation and east of use that one can get. It leaves you enough room to go explore. The classes go by quick, so you can be on your way at being proficient. What are you wait for!”
“Amazing – Seriously Loved It! I took all his courses and have to say I’m so happy! Learnt loads! Jason is an awesome teacher!”
“I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going through this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me.”
“I like these courses because you can get up and running quickly without having to spend hours of time wading through TMI (too much information!). Jason hits the high points but shows you what you need to know. Thanks!”
“I’ve watched many other videos on scales and chords before, however, this one has been the best. I now understand minor scales and chords and even how to analyze songs. It really gave me the confidence to start producing music because I feel like I have some structure and guidelines to follow. AWESOME!”
“Clear and Informative – Jason has a clear uncluttered style (with the important dashes of humor) of presentation that is focused on the important key aspects of this course. Recommended for those starting out!”
“Dr. Allen does it again with his music theory series. This course really opened up everything I learned from the 1st section, and now I understand more about the composition side of things for music. I highly highly recommend this course to anyone!!! Really opened my eyes to many things I wasn’t aware of.”
“The Best Teacher Ever, who makes you understand the ins & outs of Music Theory by all means without giving what you don’t want to know.”
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Welcome & Overview
Before we go to deep into the weeds here, let me tell you a little bit about my background.
Why Tension and Release?
Why is this such a major topic? You will find that it informs nearly every compositional decision you make.
Download: Staff Paper
Here is some staff paper for you to use. Print out a few copies and keep it handy.
Tension & Release in Form
Forms That We Know So Far
We’ve looked at a few different formal constructs in my other classes. These are the ones we know so far.
Forms that Create Drama
You wouldn’t think it, but you can actually create tension just by using form. Some forms work better than others.
The 4 Elements of Sonata Form
Sonata Form can be broken down into 4 elements. Learning them will have you using it in no time.
Using Sonata Form for Tension and Release
Now let’s look at how we can use this in any style of music.
Download: Moonlight Sonata
Here are the files for the piece we were using in the last example if you want to play with them.
Tension & Release in Meter
Using odd meters doesn’t work in all styles, but there are some ways around that.
Compound Meter Definition
This can be a tricky topic to explain (and understand), so let’s just put a definition on the table first.
Alternating Compound and Duple Meters for Tension
Next, let’s see how using both compound and duple meters can create tension.
Tension & Release in Rhythm
Example: Philip Glass (From the Soundtrack to The Truman Show)
This is a great example of pattern obfuscation.
Download: Glass, Truman Sleeps
Here are the files for that song, if you want to play around with it.
Tension & Release in Harmony
Pedal Tones can make anything dark and full of tension. Resolving them can make it feel like the sky just opened up.
Film Music and Tension Techniques
The world of film scoring has all kinds of special techniques for this same purpose.