Updated: Oct 4, 2020
Music composition requires artistic and technical expertise, but there is one thing you should never forget.
Music composition is a skill that involves using both sides of the brain. There is an artistic side that designs musical notes in a way that is pleasing to the ear.
The artistic side determines the harmonic direction of each and every measure. It determines the right time to subvert expectation.
The artistic side of the brain decides matters of orchestration, changes in dynamics, articulation and instrumentation, and changes in tempo.
But there is an analytical or technical side to music composition as well. Virtually every artistic decision is accompanied by technical proficiency.
It would be practically impossible to make appropriate harmonic decisions without possessing the technical expertise in the area of tonal harmony and orchestration.
Timbral decisions are not likely to turn out well without a thorough understanding of instrumentation.
Clearly it takes an extraordinary amount of knowledge and training to successfully compose music for any ensemble.
However, if music is truly going to stir the heart and move the soul, it requires one critical ingredient...
Passion is the most crucial element of a successful piece of music. Music without passion is like an empty gift bag — meaningless.
Passion puts the meaning in music, so much so, that I believe I could take a poorly composed piece and create something worthwhile just by adding this one element.
Passion is a term I use to express an essential component of music that emphasizes the emotional transfer or emotional contagion through the music itself.
A composer's most important job is to elicit an emotional response from the listener. Passion is the vehicle through which this is done.
How is this accomplished?
Passion is added to music throughout the composition process. There is no single way to do this and there is no single point in time when this is accomplished. Passion is a fluid, continual, and constantly evolving function of the music.
Having articulated the complexity of producing passion, I will briefly discuss a few ways in which a composer can make this an integral part of their music.
Melody can be a useful tool for the composer and can evoke a powerful response from the listener.
Melody can be lyrical or it can be more subtle.
Lyrical melodies can be beautiful to hear, but it's when they are broken down into fragments that a composer can use processes such as repetition to build momentum, create excitement, and generate passion.
Harmonies can be either consonant or dissonant. Through certain harmonic progressions, a composer can create tension in music.
The careful consideration and placement of consonant and dissonant harmonies is one way in which passion is added to music.
Harmonic rhythm is another way of building and releasing tension in music.
Increases in harmonic rhythm can accelerate the music and build toward climactic moments before a sudden shift and ultimate release.
Rhythm is often overlooked as a tool to cultivate passion in music. If you're looking for excitement in music, rhythm is the first thing a composer may reach for, but when attempting to endow a piece with passion... rhythm is not as easily embraced.
Of course, rhythm can be an integral part of passion expressed musically. Melodic passages, for example, can be expressed rhythmically. If overtly expressed, rhythms can create a sense of consonance, dissonance, and urgency.
Repetition is a close cousin of elongation and is perhaps the most important way to convey expression through melody, harmony, and rhythm.
A musical idea is just that — an idea. But a musical idea that's repeated can become expressive. When a repeated idea becomes expressive, that idea is interpreted as passion.
Obviously, the things mentioned here just scratch the surface, but they serve as a basic foundation for endowing music with that one essential ingredient.
The bottom line? A piece of music can be technically sound. It can be musical. It can be expressive. It can communicate well. It can have all of these things and more, but if the one who listens feels nothing, it lacks passion.
Does your music have passion? Do you think all music needs passion? Is it really an essential ingredient? Let me know in the comments section...