Development and momentum

Development and momentum are two concepts in composition and production. They make longer term structure effective. They are the difference between a collection of sections in a logical order and a complete unified song that tells a coherent story.

Development

A song having a sense of development means that the listener hears the song grow and unfold as it progresses. This makes for a more compelling and engaging experience for the listener because there is a level of intrigue and surprise, simultaneously with a feeling of being taken along for a ride. When there is new musical material, it is not like changing the channel – it builds on previous material, appearing as the next extension. In some cases, this can come across as the original material growing out and becoming larger or more complex than before. In other cases, it can come across as additional detail being revealed – as if the listener is ‘zooming in’ and seeing more.

To give your music a sense of development, you need to think beyond musical structure being a collection of sections in a logical order. You need to think about each musical element. Not necessarily instruments or tracks – but musical elements. This includes:

  • Characteristic sounds
  • Melodies
  • Rhythms
  • Chord progressions

Think about ways in which they can be extended or expanded, and see how those extensions work as developments of the original material.

Another approach is to take a musical element that’s already quite complex, and reduce its complexity. The reduced version becomes the ‘original’ – the form in which the listener first hears it. As the song progresses, bring the complexity back in.

Momentum

Momentum is a sense of moving forward. Think of it as using development with a deliberate rate of chance. The rate of change is key here.

Beginning composers often make music where the rate of change is too slow. This can be the case if each section is too long – even if the song has a good contour, and even if there’s a good sense of development. When the sections are too long, the listener gets bored and stops anticipating the next section. In other words, you lose momentum. This happens regardless of how ‘exciting’ rhythms or loops are. Even if it’s 150bpm high-energy techno – a minute of the same bar over and over again has no momentum.

At the other extreme, a rate of change that’s too fast will confuse and disorient the listener. Instead of excitement, you’ll end up with randomness. If the listener cannot understand the music, there’s no anticipation and no momentum.

What rate of change is right? This is a matter of judgement, and different sections of a song will require different rates of change – depending on the contour of the song. As a composer (or producer), you have to develop your own sense of pace.

With a bit more work in giving your music a greater sense of development and momentum, you’ll make your music more compelling and keep your listeners coming back.

-Kim.

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    • DangerCo
    • November 2nd, 2010

    Great insights – somehow I know this but will be thinking of it in a new light, thanks Kim

  1. @DangerCo
    Cheers! Sometimes these kinds of ideas a sitting at the back of our minds, and it’s useful to simply bring them to our attention.

    -Kim.

  2. this is a great article! beautiful crafted development and momentum in a song is what determines an excellent song from a good song.

  3. @Tina
    Thanks Tina. I agree that development and momentum are instrumental (npi) in making a great song.

    -Kim.

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