Posted on

Noodling with form


One of the effects of my listening to so much classical music ““ particularly symphonies ““ is that I appear to have developed an ear for forms such as rondo, sonata, minuets, etc. Out of curiosity, I’ve also read a little about the historical development of these forms. Even more curiously, I’ve been pondering how they might be exploited in my writing.

For example, I’ve been noodling around for a couple of years (yup, a couple of years) with an extended tune that includes a verse and a refrain. The interesting feature for me is that it moves pretty seamlessly from the minor tonality in the verse to the major in the refrain. Now, with a little bit of imagination ““ or flight of fancy – this combination could be construed or reinterpreted as a “sonata exposition”! A school form of the sonata may be written down as follows:

||:a b:|| development ||a b’||

Where a and b are “themes”, and the “development” is (using guitar-player speak) a sort of written down improvisation upon those themes. Typically, the a/b theme group at the start would be repeated whereas the return (a/b’) would be played only once. An important feature of themes in a sonata is that the b theme at the start should be in a contrasting key the a theme (there are conventions regarding key relationships, but they can be ignored for my purposes here). In contrast, when the theme group returns after the development, there is no such change of key (hence the apostrophe to differentiate).

Going back to my noodles, it occurred to me that I could use a pastiche of sonata form within which to shoehorn my proto-song, in something like the following way:

Verse (D minor) refrain (D major); repeat; guitar break; verse (D minor); instrumental refrain (D minor); refrain (D major). The last refrain would act as a coda and the guitar break in the middle would imiitate the development of a sonata. The only real surprise for a listener, I think, would be the instrumental version of the refrain, but the tune is actually transposed up a minor 3rd which taken with it’s new minor mode, is ““ ah ““ unconvincing when sung. It’s rightly left as secondary guitar break.

This will all seem a bit contrived to many, and, to be honest, I’ve been a bit suspicious myself about the merits of doing this. This latter explains why the song has remained incomplete for so long, having picked it up and put it down repeatedly. It’s something to do with the overall coherence of the thing. I’m concerned that I might be trying to shoehorn as song into a form for which it might not be suited. But, hey, you can do pretty much what you want to with most material, if you have the craft. Most of my songs have seemed to have an inevitability about their form already built in within the first few phrases from which they develop. But this may be and illusion borne out of habit; a routine reinforcing the safe and familiar.

Not this one – and neither a few other ideas sitting around. I will finish it, though, and see if it “flies”.

One thought on “Noodling with form

  1. Update. This was nearly a song. I even had lyrics. I even sung a couple of verses through a few times. But it’s gone now. It didn’t “fly.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *