Composition Tutorial: The Musical Transition (Part 1)
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Composition Tutorial: The Musical Transition (Part 1)

September 11, 2019


This is the one nightmare you absolutely don’t want to encounter when writing a piece of music it’s caused composers and songwriters of every description to tear their hair out at some point in their career a Friend of the Polish composer Chopin once wrote that this problem was so bad for him that he’d weep with Frustration it persisted throughout the centuries crossing continents and affecting beginners and experts alike Some will testify that it is the most painful thing to overcome in the pursuit of writing excellent music It’s not the initial idea itself or the hook or the ending or the spark or the production or the effects? But it is something that can make or break your music the problem I’m gonna be discussing in this series is the art of the musical transition? Here’s a scenario You’ve thought of a really good idea you played around with it a little bit on an instrument or on some music software You’ve shown it to some friends And they’ve told you it’s good Then you begin fleshing out the idea and in the course of your experimentation you stumble across another really good idea You think this is gonna make the music even better. It seems like whatever You’re writing was meant to be. Only, when you listen to them one after the other You realize that something’s not quite working and for some reason these two things just don’t Complement each other. So anyway you listen to these two things you think wow, this sucks! I’m a bit of a loser for doing this Christ. How did I let this happen? I can’t believe you’ve done this So the problem being caused here is pretty straightforward. Hearing these two ideas next to each other is so jarring that it’s actually lifting the listener out of the music Because they’re now focusing on how the parts are fighting each other in an instant your music sounds clumsy and amateurish Something has to be done to fix this the type of skill required is not really within everyone’s grasp in fact This is often what separates the really good writers from everyone else the ability to write a seamless transition That allows one part to melt into the other But let’s start with something that most musicians should be able to do For this video the particular transition under discussion is what I’m lazily gonna. Call the bringing it all back home quickly transition This is where the writer has already taken us on a bit of a musical journey and wants to get back to earlier material Without losing too much time the two examples of this we’re going to look at are one the song pretty news released by the Seattle band In 1996 and to the Firebird written for Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky and premiered in 1910 I’m choosing these two examples because they use a very similar solution to the same problem in a way That’s both efficient and satisfying then afterwards I’m going to look at two other bits of music that try to do the same thing, but fail spectacularly Let’s start with Stravinsky in the opening seconds of the Firebird the strings repeat an ominous opening theme. Let’s give it a listen So at this point the music goes on a bit of a journey a Stravinsky experiments with this team having to play by different instruments in various keys Over a minute or so things become slightly more energetic It feels like something big has been worked towards but Stravinsky doesn’t want the music to get ahead of itself and decides to rein it back for just a second before pushing forward and He does this by returning to the opening theme. We just heard but since the opening was quieter and slower it Can’t immediately be returned to mr. Vince key doesn’t want to spend 30 seconds slowing things down because it would throw away the sense of forward momentum that he spent so long trying to create He needs a momentary reprieve, and he needs it now So let’s see how he goes about doing So right at the end there you would have heard the transition composed of two chords What that’s it two chords well yes, that’s exactly it It took two incredibly well chosen chords to bring us back to where we started Obviously this was all set up by the preceding music but still the effect is so seamless that it doesn’t even sound like there was a problem to be solved in the first place if You think this is all bluster listen to how it would have sounded if Stravinsky had left out those two chords Now your first impression might be that wasn’t so bad Maybe you even thought it was an improvement and that’s okay It’s okay to be wrong But let’s move on to the next example in the case of Soundgarden They also have an introduction that they want to get back to let’s hear the introduction Now we’re dealing with standard verse-chorus structure earth But Soundgarden are obviously seeking to avoid predictability by firstly repeating the chorus line three times rather than four on Returning to a quick Restatement of the opening before continuing on with the second verse However, just like Stravinsky. They only want to touch on the intro briefly without losing too much momentum And they achieved this in the same way by using to really well chosen chords See how well that works they’ve managed to zip us through all the previously established material in a few seconds, and it’s seamless and This kind of detail is important It’s a way of taking the listeners hand and directing their attention where you wanted to go the majority of bands professional or otherwise Take a kind of cookie cutter approach to assembling music often Just repeating a chorus line four times and then linking straight back to the verse without thinking about it untrained listeners can often tell when something clumsy has happened even if they don’t quite realize why and If you’re going to simply place blocks of music side-by-side without examining how they interact with each other you’re probably going to get sniffed out In the wrong hands, here’s how that sound garden example would have sounded So this doesn’t really require any further comment But there is something else that it should be mentioned at this point This type of transition isn’t automatically a good thing and is only appropriate where necessary When there are two parts being linked up that clearly don’t work together, and here’s the important point But your intention is that they work together? I Say that because some composers seek to create a different kind of meaning by intentionally Juxtaposing sections of music that grind up against each other and there are so many examples of this being done to great effect That I could create another video three times the length of this one going into it so I thought it would be fun to give two examples of musical transitions that to my ears really really don’t work the first one I’m going to deal with this dog to me ever since I was a kid It’s an inescapable song that every single person on the planet knows by heart Yeah that one Now what I find particularly funny about this example. Is that everyone knows the bit I’m about to point out, but whenever I do I usually get a reaction like oh yeah, that’s terrible I’m so used to this song that I never gave that bit a moment’s thought so what bit in particular Just after the big sak solo itself a glistening example of a T’s cheese the writers Yeah, yeah more than one want to calm things down for just a second by returning to the intro We just heard sound familiar before leaping into the final chorus for one last hurrah, and they decide to go about it like this Hey the time Sweet Jesus on paper this idea makes sense filled up to a loud crescendo And then take it all the way down for the last hurrah But rather than take the listeners hand and elegantly guide them to the finale this transition goes Hey look at me I’m a random brass section arpeggiating a bunch of clumsy sounding chords for a song. That’s otherwise well written How did this knot end up in the bin is this bit a symptom of creative tension between Jones and Nicola and? Donald Markowitz Do you think it was discussed by the panel that awarded them the Oscar for Best Original Song? How did they manage to beat Bob Seger’s shakedown? But one last example we’re gonna look quickly at number 21 in Rolling Stones list of the 500 greatest songs of all time born to run by Bruce Springsteen Now when I told one of my friends that I was doing this he immediately came up with this example a transition that runes and otherwise Fairly decent songs this one is even more gratuitous than the last and on top of that is also completely pointless Because it doesn’t actually link to anything this one doesn’t require a setup. Let’s just jump in Everyday men don’t need to think through their transitions They just need to get to where they’re going on their gilded suicide machines or whatever that stupid lyric is Born to run he didn’t stop there Okay, thanks very much for watching um This is a new format for me So I’m not exactly certain what I’m gonna be covering in the future if you have any suggestions. Please just say them Let me know um I could be more descriptive. I could be less descriptive. I could go more into theory I could not Anyway, let me know Thanks. Oh and Subscribing is pretty useful for me if you wouldn’t mind doing that Now this video is meant to be about all kinds of different musical transitions but after a while I realized I was only gonna deal with one and if you’d like me to continue talking about different ones I Have more detailed ones. I was going to describe I can do that in the second video. Thanks again and take care

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  1. I don't know if they did a better job of that transition, but I think they did quite a good job of krassing the song?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAHrIOWpfIE (Danger: Panzerballett. Bombs of bombast will grin down into all the plosives, all grim with hilarity, shortly).

  2. 5:31 I got distracted from your voice over because of how much of a good promotional shot that is and had to put the video back. I learned things about both photography and music by watching this video.

  3. Born To Run's transition? Beacuse Rock. No compostional theory required. To paraphrase a friend of mine's defintion of Rock Music: Rock sticks it to the man. Compostional theory is 'the man'.

  4. 11:06 Blimey, that one straight up devolved into white noise >~>';
    Shame too because it sounded quite good up to that point…

  5. Another terrible example is the transition after the chorus in "It's my life" by Talk Talk. Apparently, that was very common in the 80's.

  6. Let's imagine I didn't understand what you were saying at all, and it's not that bad for me personally, but I sometimes get that impression for more than a few seconds. Where would I start to rectify the knowledge gap?

  7. Pete Townshend of The Who has this exact problem with Pinball Wizard. He wrote it as quickly as possible, it was never intended to be on Tommy, it was last minute. He calls it the clumsiest piece of writing he ever did. It's just a few different disparate good sounding bits just shoved together with terrible transitions. Though it's still a great song.

  8. I don't thin the Springsteen example was a transition at all. Its the climax, and fakes you out that it's ending, then jumps right back in for a little more. I really dislike Springsteen's music in general, but that bit functioned just as intended as far as I can tell.

  9. Great topic – most writers don´t give it much thought and you can hear that. A successful transition that makes me smile everytime is the Beatles tune "for the benefit of Mr. Kite": the sycopated piano stabs at the end of the short walz section lead back nicely to the verse which is in 4/4. You hardly notice it and it matches the circus music clichee nicely. Well done George Martin!

  10. I’ve never ever had that problem…

    Ok I lied

    Happens in any creative endeavor, especially playwriting or story writing.

  11. 9:40 I'd say "rather than taking listener's hand gently, it kicks him down to the top of an escheresque staircase" =D

  12. In the example of “The Time Of My Life” I think that transition was sort of perfect. It works. I didn’t like it but that’s not relevant,
    IMO the whole song and chord progression is cliche and cheesy, the transition was nothing suprising but it doesn’t take anything away from the moment and works perfect, it’s bridging the parts as intented.
    BUT perhaps I’m not a good judge because I’ve always hated the entire song.
    I feel like I’m a better judge when it comes to music I like or love.
    Love this video and all your other video’s as well!

  13. it is the transition that is the problem of those songs? The whole approach to the songwriting is an olive oil laced gay orgy where at some point multiple orifices are filled with the most random ins and outs. You don't need to understand harmony and counterpoint.

  14. Mh, guess I have no musical sense after all, didn't think the segments of the first two examples clashed that much without transition.
    Liked the video, though.

  15. This guy is very pretencoius. If I'm listening to a piece of music, I don't judge the musicianship of the artist. Instead, I just try to understand the feeling that that gave to me and what the artist was thinking, what was going on in their head, as if every note is there on purpose and not by a mistake or bad musicianship. Sometimes I notice that there was a lack of idea to continue the song, but I don't go saying the musician is bad. A transition not always must be smooth. This guy probably doesn't like some experimental stuff.

  16. Good choices for examples. You showed how the first two could be done wrong. I would like to see how the last two could have been done right.

  17. Would you deep dive into this idea in the work of progressive metal masters? I'd love to hear your thoughts on transitions in Opeth's discography.

  18. IMO I welcome more observation of different ways to solve ideas musically with less judgement would be great as it is really subjective and sometimes breaking so called rules can just work fine but really interesting to analyse and helpful too

  19. 4:29 – I am not sure I can take seriously anyone who notates an Amaj chord with flats instead of sharps. Stravinsky DID write a Db (instead of C#) for 2nd Vln II, but this is only to allow an easier reading. Your Emaj chord is wrong as well. It is E7, not Emaj. Wouldn't hurt to know a thing or two about music theory before you talk about such pieces as "The Firebird", which is possibly one of the most important works in 20th century classical music 🙂

  20. Dude I disagree on the born to run one. It's a little ridiculous but I just think that it fits the whole feel and flow of the song and that last moment sets up a tension that gets ripped through when he counts it off. I will mention that I've always noticed how off this moment sounds as it lands but I've always loved it.

  21. It's been my hope that using mathematical functions to describe musical ideas will help figure out how to transition from one musical idea to the next.

  22. I will listen to all my songs again and look for where a transition could work better !!! More racking my brains with my songwriting, I love it!

  23. Ok suggestions then: to bridge or not to bridge, when was the bridge invented and I imagine, are there hit songs with bridges that don't need to be there?

  24. What do you think of Frank Zappa's famous lack of transitions and interludes? check out how many different tangents and lack of transitions there are in this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMrDL6rqhMM . Part of the reason he likes lack of transition is because one of his causes was waking people up to be more critical thinking and it makes sense that shocking changes would be opposite to the dulling and more expected effect of transitions. Just a thought

  25. This video had no value besides obvious stuff like: "Good transitions are important" or "I like this transition but i dont like that one". More theory and less subjectivity please!

  26. A lifetime of complacent listening has clearly tinned my ear and corrupted my musical sensibilities. The Stravinsky sounds fine to me either way, and the Soundgarden less interesting, but not wrong. Blasphemy? Per'aps.

  27. You piqued my interest in the Firebird – I've never given it any attention, having the Rite of Spring at hand instead…

    The instrumental musical mentality (ignoring the lyrics) (which I do 99.99% of the time) that you are dwelling on is archaic – meaning it is wrong to think about mechanics at all. This is especially true after you've mastered the mechanics. Before you've mastered the mechanics, producing good music is based on luck – or a talent for editing long efforts (in score or in improvisation).

    What SHOULD you be thinking about? Mental imagery and emotions. Note that mental imagery is subjective – being different for every person, so you just want to know that there is enough mental stimulus to be worth listening to (no matter what the actual subjective results are). I say 'emotions' because works of art, especially dynamic art (music, dance), have more than one emotional nuance. A mistake that people endeavoring to produce 'popular' art is focusing on only one emotion (if they think of emotions at all, their attention being diverted to mechanics by archaic thinking), which will produce shallow and boring works of art.

    As you may vaguely sense (since you are not enlightened yet), having your mind mired in the mechanics will not produce good art, unless the piece is about the mechanics, which usually results in comedy (which is a stop-gap genre until final enlightenment is attained) (and humans are not there yet, if you were curious – they are still universally clueless – read my philosophy – it is where you will find Final Enlightenment… and while I'm waiting for you to enlighten yourself, I will create music – with my mind dwelling far beyond the mechanics (and far beyond emulating the past, for that matter – which dooms me commercially – no sleazy A&R director looking for a quick buck will touch it because it does not ape what is currently successful… but then, I have a day job, which gives me total artistic freedom, just to mention that side of artistic creativity) (simply driven to 'create', but adding 'thought' to it)…

  28. Aw man. C'mon, it's the Boss. The Boss can do what he wants. He's the Boss. Born to Run is a fantastic song.

  29. Nice observations with Stravinsky and Soundgarden. I definitely share your sentiments with regard to 80's "cheese" (were we really that superficial and vainglorious?) But awakening the memory of Bruce Springsteen and that %@*#!ng E Street Band phenomenon was so thoroughly cringeworthy and depressing…and then Obama doing the American equivalent of Knighting him with some gold medallion of national honor!? You're pretty funny. You Brits have a wickedly subtle sense of humor. I like that. I did not get the appeal [of Springsteen] at the time, and even if I could get it now, I don't want to. It is the anti-matter to my aesthetic and appreciation of music and culture.

    "Baby, we were born to run."
    Okay, so what are you two gonna do when you get there? You can't settle into anything, cause don't forget: you were born to run! Maybe fly off the edge of the earth and land on Mars where you can seed a new branch of humanity that is unencumbered by culture and literary reflection. Then on to Neptune's moon, Triton…

  30. Tantacrul: why the heck would Stravinsky write in the key of C flat, and not just in B natural? My thinking is that 5 sharps should be easier to read than 7 flats, so I can't imagine why Stravinsky (or any composer) would do this unless they're "in" on something that I'm not… Any ideas?

  31. What this shows is that art does not have to follow strict rules all the time, and should not. Take "Born to Run." I've always considered that transition to be jarring, but that's what it's supposed to do. The song's about young people trapped in a working class industrial town who really need to get out. The transition, which I think of more as a bridge passage, is consistent with the feeling of the song and of the people. In some ways, it makes the song what it is. It's exciting and meaningful.

    When this album first came out, I was running the record department in a discount department store. No one came in and refused to buy the album because the transition in "Born to Run" was not academically sound. The records flew off the shelves.

    Also consider that this record was released through a major house. Springsteen may not have had a music degree from a fancy conservatory, but someone at the record company did, and this transition passed muster, probably for the reasons I've stated.

    Art is not about quasi-intellectual analysis. We do not try to do something that will get the eggheads to clap and pat us on the back because we made a pretty transition according to the way their composition 101 instructor told them it should be done. It's about saying what we have to say in a compelling way. The success of the songs trashed in this video is proof of that.

  32. I don't know. I see born to run more of a bridge that gets its own space rather than a quick transition. Definitely more than a 2 chord transition for sure. And Soundgardens Prety noose it sounded just as good without the Transition… I thought. Just my opinion of course. The transition definitely helps give it colour… uh, not the put baby in the corner music. That sounded like it was just fighting with itself til it ran into the back of original chords like a car crash.

  33. I love how I came for the musical theory, and found some songs I hadn't heard before that I absolutely love! Firebird sounds so goddamn cool

  34. I suck at progression and transitions of intro to main melody because I change things too much and try to be too unique so I won't sound like all other artists in the soundtrack genre. This really helped me 🙁

  35. I found this video to be quite insightful, as when I write, I never pay much attention to the transitions, I am usually too caught up in making the sections of my songs long enough to matter. So my transitions usually consist of a crescendo of the last chord played with a very occasional dominant 7th thrown in. I’ll keep this lesson in mind.

  36. PLEASE what is the song used in the beginning? im in love with the chord progression and strumming pattern I NEED THIS

  37. I never noticed that part in Time of My Life. Pretty clunky, you're right. But citing the Springsteen just makes it sound like you're allergic to fun, and the Soundgarten totally works just fine without the transition chords. (the Stravinsky sure as heck doesn't) Kyle Gann always told me that the ear really doesn't need to be led around

  38. the realization that a is equal to b because they are both letters is the difference between transition and band aid

  39. I was watching a japanese band (Ningen Isu) playing a song (Heartless Scat) and found myself listening to the solo (4:22) after verses one (1:29) and two (2:30) wondering how the hell they're going to get back to the verse 1 structure, when what they'd developed was now in a different tempo and different key. reminded me of this video. they basically had a breakdown (5:13) which brought them right back ready for the verse structure

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbI79e5iZKs

  40. I may not be that good with expositions and developments but if there's one thing I've always been good at is transitions, recaps, and endings lol

  41. I would like to know what you think about the fanfare section in Stairway to Heaven. I feel it Is one of the best transitions in the history of rock'n'roll.

  42. You are the most pretentious dude I’ve ever seen calm tf down those first two examples sound perfectly fine you elitist asshole
    Music is one of the most subjective things ever and you saying that these songs are objectively worse off bc it doesn’t have the kind of transition you find pleasing is ridiculous. Step down off your high horse there

  43. I would like if you could go more into the theory . I mean u called this video a tutorial but to me it seems just to be a showcase.
    Like could you show techniques how to actually do transitions if u write a piece ?

  44. I think the OT version of "Time Of My Life" kind of improves it a little bit by basically removing the final buildup, but then again I think Marilia did "Hasta La Raíz" much better than its original singer so I'm probably not a bearer of great musical criterion…

  45. ok so you did the examples and … where is the analysis? why is it wrong to think the first one is an improvement? if it is merely how it sounds to the oh-so-uninitiated ear, isn't it simply a question of high art vs things people enjoy?
    I am willing to believe, you, if you would actually explain why the things are the way they are

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