Kim Lajoie's blog

Proportion and variety

by Kim Lajoie on October 17, 2011

It’s a funny word, but it’s critically important.

Proportion in music best understood as the relationship between the amount of musical material in a song and the length of time that the song goes for. By ‘musical material’, I’m referring to the unique ideas – not counting repeats or slight variations. Another way of thinking about proportion is as the amount of variety in the song. There has to be a balance – too little variety will result in the listener getting bored and too much variety will result in the listener getting confused.

With too little variety, a song will have too much repetition. This is a common problem among beginner dance music composers. You’ve probably heard it before – a seven minute track that only has eight bars of music in it. It’s just different variations and combinations of the same material.

If you’re working on a track like this, you probably have very little source material and you’re trying to squeeze it for all it’s worth. The most effective solution will either be to introduce some more original material (not just variations or developments of what’s already there) or reduce the total length of the track.

With too much variety, a song will have too many different ideas, with little connection between them. You’ve probably heard this as a song that has a lot of good ideas in it, but seems to have a weak identity or doesn’t seem to have anything that binds it together. Instead of being heard as a single focussed piece of music, it comes across as a collection of different ideas.

If this sounds like one of your songs, you probably need to separate the ideas out into two or three (or more!) individual songs. Focus on getting more mileage out of fewer ideas. By varying and developing fewer ideas (instead of simply adding more fresh ideas) your song will sound much more focussed and cohesive.

Of course, the goal is to find the right balance. This is where judgement and experience play such an important role, and why it’s important to listen for proportion in your own music and others’ music. Try to identify when you’re listening to music that feels like it’s repeating itself a bit too much (like a sense of not knowing how long the song will go for) or when you’re listening to music that keeps switching between different ideas (like switching the TV channel or radio station).

There’s no magic ratio here. It depends on your personal taste and your listener’s expectations. Listen to a lot of music and you’ll know it when you hear it.

-Kim.

7 thoughts on “Proportion and variety

  1. Bert says:

    if you follow a few guidelines you can have maybe 4 elements such as your verse ,your main chorus and your middle 8th section and a b section of your main chorus and have variations on each of them for example

    you could use the abaa approach
    or the aaba approach and create seperate music ideas.

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Bert
    That’s right – using common structures can certainly help get you in the right ballpark.

    -Kim.

  3. That’s actually a problem I had recently, a song I am working on having a good melodic idea but probably too weak to stand on its own. My very personal solution was to develop it further by adding a part after the break with a substantially different melody, bridging the two parts by blending ideas from the first into the second and from the second to the first.
    Kinda hard to explain but, admitting the two parts aren’t too far off from each other, I think it’s a good way to “bridge the gap”, so to say.
    Of course the main problem is to realize when you just cannot mix two sections because they don’t fit at all. Sometimes one idea is not good enough to be developed more than a certain much without just being repetitive.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    @Gabriele Maidecchi (@maidoesimple)
    That’s right – the decisions about when to further develop the material you have and when to add new material is a matter of judgement. As you’ve found, it’s sometimes even possible to blend two different ideas.

    I’d be interested to hear your end result – throw up a link here when it’s finished!

    -Kim.

  5. @Kim Lajoie
    Oh no problem, I can give you my soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/odiam

    Consider Megavox is a complete joke (in fact, it really was a joke around a fake super-hero we created.. ok long story haha) while Daydream is a project made entirely in Maschine as an experiment, thus it has some limitations especially in mastering.
    Macàbro and Dynamyo are the ones I consider finished at the moment.

  6. Pingback: What if I want to make a song longer? | Kim Lajoie's blog

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