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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Describing music.

   
Author Topic: Describing music.
walexander
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Describing music?

I'm looking for examples of well written material of characters being Entranced by music.

Anyone have any great examples of authors capturing there characters listening to music?

Or care to share their own thoughts on how to go about creating such a scene?

For some reason this is very difficult for me. I can't seem to find the right words.

W.


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Osiris
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I sort of had a similar issue with one of my stories. My brother is a musician, so I talked to him about it. I simply asked him to listen to a piece of music (really, it was a sound that occurs in nature) and describe it.

Do you know any musicians? That might be a place to go.

For my piece, I broke the music down into its components and described them, in this case, it was a baritone droning with an undercurrent of a thumping bass, so thats basically how I described it (though hopefully a bit more eloquently).


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MartinV
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The way I see it, music is emotion written in sound. You can describe the emotion or mood the music creates, perhaps adding which instrument makes what kind of effect.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As with anything that is hard to describe, you can either try to go into details about the actual thing, or you can describe the effect it had on the character experiencing it.

The former can be a good part of "showing" but usually only if you really can describe it so that it has the desired effect on the readers.

The latter can be more "telling" and thereby leave the readers cold.

It's a difficult choice, and the best I can offer as advice would be to write it both ways as well you can, and then have people read both versions and tell you which one works the best for them.

Then decide which one you like the best yourself, and go with it.


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dee_boncci
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The only one that stood out to me came in "The Return of the King" when the company is reunited after the Ring is destroyed prior to the return of the hobbits to the Shire. It's just a couple of sentences describing the atmosphere of a feast. I don't have a copy where I can get my hands on it to provide a better reference. I don't know how well it would stand out of context, but during my first reading of the story I remember stopping there and sort of saying, "wow".

The only example I can really remember that was somewhat integral to a story came in The Foundation series when the Mule used music (at least I think that's the right series). It was a good story point but I don't remember anything outstanding about how the music was described. That might be because it's been 25 years since I read it.

In contemporary settings, Stephen King is pretty effective at citing popular songs to augment his moods, almost functioning like the score to a movie, but there you are counting on your readership's familiarty and taste for the "music" to create an effect.


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satate
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Try listening to music and describing it. What is the feel of the music, light, heavy, intricate, pounding? Does it rise and fall, sad and mournful, joyful, and light? I would stick with very general descriptions and not go into little details like C major chord or tonic and dominant resolutions.

Definetly point out how it makes your character feel.

Counterpoint is having two melodies intersecting and creating harmony. Minor is generally sad, wisfull, and hauntingly beautiful, while major is more happy sounding, resolute, proud, and joyful.

What type of music is it?

Think in terms of dark/light, heavy/soft, slow/fast, short notes/long notes, forward motion/less motion, loud/quiet, thick tone/hollow tone, lots of harmony/single melody line.


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Crystal Stevens
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Several of Anne McCaffrey's Pern series books deal with music, and singers and musicians in particular. So do the Petaybe books she wrote. You might want to check them out and see how she brings the music out.
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Robert Nowall
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I suppose one could describe what key the piece is in and what notes are struck---and what they're struck on---but after a point one needs specialized training to understand what a writer is talking about. (I remember how the phrase "Aeolian cadences" entered the mythology of the Beatles---I, like they, haven't a clue as to what it means.)

To a certain extent, one can write out a slice of lyric for the song, and let the reader's mind trick him into hearing a tune to go with the lyrics---but that'll only work with a song with lyrics.


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satate
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Aeolian is the sixth tone of a major scale and is a mode. It's basically minor. Modes refer to the different steps of a major scale and if a scale is built on a different step (other than the first step) it is said to be built in that mode or be a modal scale. A cadence is a group of chords that resolve. An aeolian cadance is probably a chordal resolution that either begins or ends on the aeolian step of a scale.

Now you know

Of course I wouldn't put that into a story.


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Robert Nowall
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My musical education progressed as far as reading music, but not far enough to understand resolving chords. I've heard them, but do not know the term in English for them---if, indeed, that term is in English, and not some other language. Reemphasizes my point---that this is meaningless to anyone without the education or training necessary to understand it.
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DRaney
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The modes were first 'separated' and identified by Aristotle, if my aging memory serves me correctly. The point of the essay he wrote was that the different sounding modes have a very strong and individual effect on the subconscious. Minor modes make you feel melancholy; Major sounding modes tend to make you feel happy, etc. I have always thought that a character with the ability to enhance the effects of the individual modes could wield a great deal of influential/suggestive power in ‘story-land’. Bear in mind that these 7 modes are derived from the Major scale. Someone with the ‘fantasy &/or scientific’ ability to manipulate these sounds (which are no more than specific, stable vibrations in the air, totally subject to physics) could potentially produce a greater gambit of physiological &/or psychological effects on living creatures; humans, aliens, animals, etc.
Hope this helps trigger ideas.


quote:
Aristotle in the Politics (viii:1340a:40–1340b:5):

"But melodies themselves do contain imitations of character. This is perfectly clear, for the harmoniai have quite distinct natures from one another, so that those who hear them are differently affected and do not respond in the same way to each. To some, such as the one called Mixolydian, they respond with more grief and anxiety, to others, such as the relaxed harmoniai, with more mellowness of mind, and to one another with a special degree of moderation and firmness, Dorian being apparently the only one of the harmoniai to have this effect, while Phrygian creates ecstatic excitement. These points have been well expressed by those who have thought deeply about this kind of education; for they cull the evidence for what they say from the facts themselves." (Barker 1984–89, 1:175–76)

Aristotle continues by describing the effects of rhythm, and concludes about the combined effect of rhythm and harmonia (viii:1340b:10–13):

"From all this it is clear that music is capable of creating a particular quality of character [ἦèïò] in the soul, and if it can do that, it is plain that it should be made use of, and that the young should be educated in it." (Barker 1984–89, 1:176)


Sorry for the Wikipedia... it's a good place to start?!

Added: The key to maniplulating scales to change their aural nature is the changes made in the location and number of 'half-steps' in the scale. You are welcome to grill me for info, either here or via email.

[This message has been edited by DRaney (edited October 24, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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Of course the assumption is that the music is in the traditional Western mode...I recall an early Theodore Sturgeon story, whose title escapes me (but I think was his first in Astounding), where he talked in passing of "modern" music (of the time of the story) being in "five-beat" and the revival of some classical opera in four-four time.

I suppose if the music is, say, the North Indian Classical much bandied about during the 1960s and such, describing it must be difficult in Western technical terms.

Come to think of it, there's a lot of music talked about in Sturgeon's work...I recommend examining how Sturgeon handled it.


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walexander
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Thanks for all the good advice. It helps.

If I wasn't so busy I would suggest a writing challenge with music as the theme because I believe it would be a good challenge for the writers here.

W.



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XD3V0NX
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I just had a story accepted for publication "The Soul Collector" that used the music aspect quite well. For what it's worth, maybe use a song you feel would go well with the story you're writing and set the mood just right so that the song fits. Depending on how you use it, will determine the emotion you set for your reading audience. I don't know if that makes sense. Maybe it would be best if I sent you an excerpt from my story, the one that just got accepted. The editor really liked how I did that with the music, I might add, which is why I'm thinking it could possibly help. I'm not sure if this is how or what you mean, but it wouldn't hurt to check it out. Maybe it will help you, at the very least a little bit.

[This message has been edited by XD3V0NX (edited October 25, 2010).]


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