Create Power, Development, and Contrast in Your Music

The second recording I’ll be doing this year for Piano Sketches is called “Dig Deep.” I want to share three key areas that helped me create power, development, and contrast in the music.

Power

How is power created in music? Do you know the difference between power and intensity? I want to take a moment to discuss the two.  

Intensity has to do with the performance of the instrumentalist. It’s the bowing of the strings, the picking of the guitar, and the staccato notes that come from a slap bass. It’s the level of energy that the player brings to their performance.

When a violinist vigorously attacks the strings, they create an intense performance but it won’t necessarily create musical power. That’s because the range of the violin, although extremely versatile, does not have the frequency to generate the kind of power I’m talking about.

Musical power is has to do with the type of range that you use in you song, and a lot of times, is paired with bold rhythms.

In my piece, I create power by using low chord voicings below middle C and a driving rhythm. The low mid and bass range contains the power tones of music. You can take a chorus and remove the bass and mid range and there goes the power. I also use a driving rhythm the highlights the tones. I’m pleased with the overall effect.

Please see video for an example.

Development

Music should always be evolving. Look for every opportunity to build on existing ideas rather than always thinking of new ones. This distinguishes sections of your music, holds the listener’s attention, and adds cohesion. It also makes the music more fun to play too!

In my piece, I take the pre-chorus melody and go a little further with it. I add some rhythm complexity and new chords, while keeping the same melody. I also move the melody up an octave to the higher range of the piano.

This frees up space in the mid and higher range, which allows me to add new harmonic elements. It essentially repackages the melody in a space with new rhythms and modified harmony. The double-time drive builds expectation and anticipation for what will happen next.

Contrast

Writing out parts for a song is the easiest part to composing—the real work is mapping out all the parts in an interesting way. That’s the magic of master arranging. This is what I focus most of my time on as a composer. My initial ideas always come out in flurries of inspiration; it’s the song structure that occupies most of my brain space.

Contrast is a tool, a spice to use for excitement and for taking the listener on a journey. Each section of your song should flow to the next, but should have elements of drama built into their fabric. Try to pair interesting combinations that create tension, builds excitement, and surprises the listener.

It doesn’t always have to come from left field. It can be a new chord added, a variation of the melody, and my personal favorite, extra space (silence) before you move to the next section.

In my piece, I do a combination of the two. Before the second chorus of the song, I play a new rhythm and highlight a chord that I really like. Something about the sound and how it leads to the next chord spoke to me. It’s the only moment in the piece that I use this chord and rhythm combination, so it’s a prime example of contrast.

Always strive for moments of contrast in your music, then bring it back to familiar territory.