Jul 30 2012

Hi everyone,

In an earlier post I illustrated a technique for creating musical source material using your name or some other important words as a source. Today I’d like to take that a step further and show how we can take two 12-note sources (known as “rows”), restrict each row to a specific key and then create some music.

We will now look at how the technique of Diatonic Restriction is used in an actual song. The name of the song is What If, composed by myself. Example
1 below illustrates several things. First of all, it shows us two different rows being used as source material. These 12-note groups of
pitches are labeled Rows 1 and 2, located on lines one and 3. Secondly, we can see that each one of these 12 – note rows has been restricted, in order
of appearance, to two smaller 7 – note rows that conform to the key of Db Major (or Bb Minor). These are located on lines two and four. Finally, the last
line places both restricted groups, in order of appearance, into the key signature of Db Major. In the last line, we can also observe that each 7-note
group is going to be assigned its own function. The newly restricted Row 1 will be used as a source of melody notes for a section of the song.
Conversely, Row 2 will provide the foundation for harmonic motion (where the chord changes will occur) and what the bass note will be.

"What If" Source Material

In my next post I will apply these newly restricted sources to an actual song.


Until then, keep writing!



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Hi everyone,

“The Other Side” was finally recorded at WGBH’s Fraser Studio here in Boston on April 3rd. The recording process was different than I am normally used to. In fact, it was like walking on a high wire without a net! We did not use a click, nor did we isolate any instruments. The idea was to conduct it and get as natural a feeling as possible – old school!

The tracking session took about two and a half hours and occurred as follows:

1. Full take (9.5 minutes straight through)

2. Full take 2

3. Recorded each individual section, 16-40 measures at a time depending on how that particular section sounded. The piece is around 265 measures so this is where a majority of the session time was spent.

4. Full take 3 (The players were definitely tired at this point as we took no breaks, but were up for a final run of the complete piece).

The final mix was created on April 13th (Friday the 13th!), also at WGBH. After the tracking session, the engineer had given me stereo mixes of all the takes and sections that we had recorded (17 audio files). My job was to listen to the recordings and make notes as to which sections we could use from each for the final version (I knew none of the three full takes was going to be perfect from beginning to end).

A note about engineers: Make sure that your engineer is musical and not just someone that knows how to twist knobs. This may seem fundamental and obvious, but the engineer I used (Antonio Oliart) is a very good musician as well as a very good engineer. Because of this I was able to concentrate on the music and my conducting. Antonio was able to look at my score and tell me exactly what things needed to be fixed or revised according to how they were being performed by the individual players – invaluable!

When we got together to mix on the 13th I had made already many notes of what I was hearing in the various takes and sections. We then proceeded to cut and paste these sections together to make a final version – kind of like a Frankenstein piece! Because I had made timing notes (where to cut in and out of each file) we were able to cut and past a version together in about 45 minutes – very smooth. After that it was a matter of making sure all of the tempos and pasted sections transitioned together smoothly (the wonders of technology!). We also used software on the final mix to take out a great deal of extraneous noises such as the noise from a moving chair etc.

I mentioned earlier that we did not use a click. Normally, a click is used to make sure that the tempo stays the same for all takes (or cover up bad conducting!) so that you can easily copy performances between takes. I would not have thought it possible, but the tempo I was conducting turned out to be pretty steady for 2.5 hours – although my arm was sore the next day!

The final version can be heard at:


My next project is in a completely  different direction and will be starting in about two weeks. For this project I am going to record a couple of my songs, but instead of the “old school” way of recording where everyone is at least in the same building, I am going to use friends from a variety of places around the globe. I will send sequences to the bassist and drummer to get the foundation built and then start replacing sequenced tracks with live players – one track at a time. I’ll let you know who all of the players are as I go through the process – I bet you’ll know some of the names, too!

Until then, keep the faith!





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Hi everyone,

Surprisingly, I had  quite a bit of time to work on this piece since my last post. As you might remember I had the skeleton of the piece completed, but the orchestration and background ideas needed to be added. Here is a pdf version of the score:

The Other Side

Below is a MIDI demo:

The Other Side – Demo Audio

The instrumentation is harp, oboe, clarinet, flute, 5-string violin and acoustic bass. The hardest part of working with a simple melody is creating enough ways to keep it sounding interesting. Adding background lines, counter melodies, changing orchestration, changing keys, adding rhythm to the melody and adding additional sections of new material are all techniques I employed to attempt to do so.

When listening to the demo there are spots that sound like melodic material is missing. If you follow the score you will see that these sections will be filled in with improvisation from the clarinet, flute and finally the violin. The live performance will be February 27th here in Boston.

Feel free to make comments!


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The Sketch

Jan 12 2012

Hi everyone,

Since my last post I’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time sketching the piece. I’ve even decided on a title, “The Other Side.” The title is simply representing that this is something different than what I usually write. It’s really beginning to take shape. You can download a pdf of it below:

The Other Side 3-Staff Sketch
The audio can be found at this link: http://soundcloud.com/jerrygatescomp

As I said in the last post, before I start orchestrating I usually like to know “where I’m going.” To this end I try to sketch in as many notes as I can, but the main idea is to get a sense of total form of the piece (intro, interludes, “A” sections, “B” sections, Solo sections and an ending if something presents itself).  To me, this stage is usually the really hard part as ideas don’t always “magically appear” as much as we would hope they do. Even when they do, we still have to like them! (some of us are more critical about that than others)

Note the following within the sketch:

1. Measure numbers

2. Chord symbols (for my reference mainly)

3. Articulation where I hear it

4. Notes as to possible solo sections

5. Tempo marking

6. Possible solo and interlude sections

7. Mostly melody on the sketch with a few flourishes here and there. The next version will have more background ideas, fills, etc.

The next version will include the orchestration process. Let me know if you have any questions before then, though! In the meantime, have a good weekend,


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The Building Begins

Jan 06 2012

Hi everyone,

It has been several weeks since my post, but in the meantime I’ve gotten quite a bit organized. In my last post I had determined an “A” melody, a variation and a “B” or contrasting melody and a variation. I also provided some accompaniment ideas. Now it is time to start organizing these ideas.

It can be helpful to think about this in a “conceptual” way. In other words, writing in text where you want certain things to happen – like a basic road map. I like to describe it in terms of traveling – we know we are going to take a trip by car from say Boston to Los Angeles, a distance of around 3,000 miles (this could be likened to the completed piece we are going to compose). We also know that we are going to stop in several cities along the way such as Philadelphia, Nashville, Memphis, Dallas, Fort Worth, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Barstow and finally Los Angeles (similar to introduction, verses, choruses, solo sections, interludes and ending in our piece). What we don’t know is where we will stay in each city, where we will eat, take in any museums/sporting events or what we will do along the way. This type of detail would equate to the notes, harmony, accidentals, dynamics etc of our piece – the fine tuning!

So far, I’ve come up with the following layout:

Intro – A – A1 – B – B1Interlude (based on Intro) – A – A1 – B – B1Interlude (new harmony) A – A1First Improvised Solo (new harmony section 1 + A & A) – Second Improvised Solo (B – B) – Third Improvised Solo (new harmony section 2 + A & A) – B – B1 – A – A1 – Ending

A = verse, A1 = verse with a variation, B = chorus, B1 = chorus with a variation

Both the A & B type sections are 8 measures long. I don’t know how long the Interlude and new harmony sections are going to be yet, but I am going to use these sections as a way to keep the listener interested (I hope!). We’ll see how this goes.

When I lay it out like this, one thing that strikes me is that depending on the tempo, the piece is going to be long. This should be okay though as I am creating a piece that is 8-10 minutes in length. I also allowed for three improvised soloists. Being that the overall form of the piece is long, three improvised solos should be fine as long as the solos are performed on contrasting instruments and the ideas behind the solos are varied.

Since my last post I’ve also been able to finalize the instrumentation. Deciding on this also helped me work through the overall form because I will engage players that can improvise as jazz or rock players do. I will use the following instruments:

1. Harp, 2. Flute, 3. English Horn, 4. Clarinet, 5. Violin and 6. Acoustic bass

Important note: Always keep in mind that at anytime during the composition and orchestration processes to come, the above form and ideas can change as you might have a better idea as you really get to know your piece. But, by doing the above work first I at least have an idea about how I want to approach the overall form. Now, to start deciding where we will eat and stay on our hypothetical trip – the musical details!

Until next time,


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Hi everyone,

Now that I’ve got contrasting A & B ideas started it is time to think about accompaniment for them.

While composing these melodies, ideas were floating around in my head as to the rhythms and harmony. Indeed, it is never an exact “step by step” process to compose music. In most cases the general idea for the accompaniment will come while you are working on the melody because the melody is suggesting the style. Sometimes you might have an idea for accompaniment first (like a groove) and then write a melody that fits. However, note that I said “general idea” because once you focus on the aspect of accompaniment you will determine more of the detail.

In the last post I presented a basic accompaniment, but that one idea isn’t going to stay interesting for a whole piece. The accompaniment doesn’t have to change radically every time we hear it, but like the melody, it should change at least a little bit to keep the overall sound fresh to the listener (and the players!). Listed below are some ways we can alter the melody or accompaniment:

1. Alter the rhythm (even slightly).

2. Alter the pitches (add passing tones between the target pitches).

3. Alter the harmony (use different chords for the same melody).

4. Add additional lines within the accompaniment.

5. Add rests to keep a repetitive part from getting boring – the listener and the player.

Below I’ve illustrated variations created for this piece. As a review, I’ve first uploaded the melody and basic accompaniment:

Melody A & B w accomp original

The audio can be found at:


Next, I’ve uploaded the first variation of the above original and basic accompaniment. Note that the difference in the first A sections is in the melodic aspect of the bass line. I’m a bass player at heart so it is second nature for me to try and find ways to make the bass line more interesting (hopefully without getting in the way of the melody!). In the B sections, the upper part of the grand staff part gets a bit more rhythmic while the bass part gets less rhythmic.

Melody and Accompaniment Var 1

The audio can be found at:


I’ve also created a 2nd variation of the accompaniment for this new piece. Depending on the length of the composition I may need other variations as well, but between the original accompaniment and these two variations I’ve got a good amount of source material to get started with. The differences in this variation are more active rhythms and harmonizing lines within the accompaniment.

Variation 2:

Melody and Accompaniment Var 2

The audio can be found at:


The next step is to start bringing together the elements I’ve created so far into a piece of music. The performance is getting closer (February 27th) and I’d like to have a rehearsal before that just to really hear what I’ve created and get critical feedback from the players – I better get some serious writing done!

Until the next update!


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Hi everyone,

I’ve had a chance to work on this melody a little and I’ve now come up with a “B” section.


Melody B


Kids-Melody (B)

Note that in measures 9-12 I have placed the melody an octave higher than measures 1-4. This is a simple way to restate the idea. Composers have been using this technique for centuries. When you factor orchestration into the equation, the effect can be quite profound (more on that later). I also wrote a little glissando to get up to the first note of the second statement of this melodic phrase.

Putting both the A & B” sections together sounds like this:


A & B Melody

A & B Audio

Finally, I’ve added some basic accompaniment rhythm and chords with the melody to see how it all works:


Now I’ve got an “A” and a “B” section that I’m reasonably happy with. I think I’ll start putting this together (Intro ideas, how many A’s and B’s etc.) and see where it takes me.

Stand by ;-)






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A New Composition

Nov 25 2011

Hi everyone,

Last year I posted some of my thoughts and processes  while I was working on “Innocent Wonder.” I’m working on a new piece, so thought I would run the risk of doing the same thing again since it brings up a lot of issues that composers all face.

The scenario:

I was asked to write a piece for a concert in late February 2012 here at Berklee. It will be on a program with other pieces. No parameters were given other than length – perhaps around 10 minutes. This means that the instrumentation, style and tempo is up to me. I know that the stage is not large however, so will need to keep the size of the ensemble small – no more than 10 players. The leader of the concert, Peter Cokkinias (if the instrument has a reed on it, he owns and plays it!) will be included in my instrumentation and I’ve also been wanting to write a piece that features the wonderful harpist, Felice Pomeranz. She is available on the date in question (February 27th 2012). So, at least I know that whatever I compose, the piece will include at least one woodwind and a harp.

On to the composition:

Prior to actually looking for pitches and rhythm, I spent a bit of time thinking about “what” I wanted to write for this concert. If you have time, doing this one step will help you focus on ideas so that you won’t get side tracked into a lot of different areas that might not help you. Knowing I would have a harp to work with made me immediately want to write something fairly pretty and perhaps even Celtic in nature – something I hadn’t done before but wanted to. This immediately told me that the harmony and melody should probably be fairly simple (maybe not rhythmically, but certainly from a pitch point of view).  I also decided that some sort of triplet feeling would be involved such as 3/4, 6/4, 12/8, 9/8 or 6/8 since traditional Celtic music is often in these meters.

As I began to think about the initial melody I came up with the following:

Melody A no Artic

Kids-Melody (A, no artic)

A couple of things to note from a craft standpoint:

1. The first 8 measures are very similar to second 8 measures (two “A” sections as denoted by the double bar lines)

2. The second 8 measures varies what was stated in the first. Specifically, look at the small changes I made in rhythm at measure 10 beat 4, measure 11 beat 4, and measures 15 and 16 where adjustments were made to both the rhythm and octave of the melodic idea.

One thing that I find student writers do not often indicate is articulation or “how” is a specific pitch to be played. With today’s technology it is very easy to try out a few ideas in the privacy of our head phones ;-)   After applying some thought to articulation of the melody I came up with the following:

Melody (A, artic)

Melody with Articulation
I think you can see and hear how the simple addition of articulation changes the character of the line.
More to come as I progress on this project. Until then, happy writing!

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Hi everyone,

It was asked of me recently if I could discuss my thoughts on what is the best way to submit scores for composition competitions (thank you Dreux!). Not having been involved in these types of competitions myself, I decided to research this question through my network of people here at Berklee that have submitted music for these types of events or have been adjudicators (there are hundreds of competitions worldwide). Here are a few things I found out, in no particular order (most of these you would do for a commercial client as well):

1. Follow the directions that are posted for the competition: This may be obvious, but you would be surprised how many people overlook various submission requirements simply because they didn’t double and triple check what they were submitting in the package, when they were submitting it and how they were submitting it.

2. Don’t miss the deadline: An often missed detail and one that will usually disqualify you right away because of the sheer number of submissions that need to be reviewed.

3. Scores should look professional and created in Finale, Sibelius or other high end notation software. Of course, just because one uses notation software doesn’t mean that they know how to use proper page layout techniques. This one detail could make a big difference in whether your score even gets looked at so give it the priority it deserves. There are several good books on this in print. Another option is to simply have a professional create the score or at least “fine tune” what you’ve already started.

4. Use 11 x 17 inch score paper, in portrait view, for an orchestral size instrumentation. I know from my own experience as an educator how difficult it is to review a score that has 25-30 staffs. Printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper only makes the job incredibly more difficult and worthy of discarding the score – get out the magnifying glass!

5. Be sure to put a front and back cover on the score. Often, the front cover is clear plastic and the back is black and firm, but there are no absolute rules on this – it just makes the whole score look professional (and special) when this is done.

6. Related to number 5, be sure to bind the score. This is usually done with wire spiral binding or plastic spiral binding. Both of these options are normally pretty easy to take care of at most photo copying centers.

7. Send a sound file of the best quality that you have access to. I’ve noticed in my own research that it is often okay to send a MIDI representation of your work in addition to the score. This is just to speed up the review process and normally a point that is made in the submission guidelines.

8. If the competition is looking for music in the style of George Gershwin, your composition should not sound like something that A.R. Rahman wrote for “Slum Dog Millionaire.” Be sure that your composition fits any stylistic requirements that are called for.

9. Place copyright information (“© 2011 Open Gate Music”) at the bottom of the first page of your score - even if it’s not officially copyrighted through the US Library of Congress.

I can’t say enough how important it is to proof read, proof read and then proof read again before sending out your package. The proof reader doesn’t have to necessarily hear the score the way you do, but a second or third set of eyes will more easily see things that you won’t (they can often be far more objective as well). When ready to proof read, DO NOT do it on the computer. Print out the score so you can REALLY see what it is going to look like. Many mistakes not seen on the computer screen become quite obvious on the printed page. Often, a competition will require several scores from you, so make sure you have thoroughly gone through the score BEFORE printing these extra copies (that are also bound and covered).

I’ve uploaded a couple of scores with different instrumentation and layouts for you to get an idea what is required. I’m certainly open to hearing of anyone else that has had experience with these types of submissions.

Happy Writing!


Innocent Wonder Final


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Wow – it has been a long time since I’ve last posted – gotta do something about that!

A question to all:

Does anyone have an idea/opinion/fact about where chord symbols, as we use them today (not figured bass) came from? I’ve heard Ferde Grofé (George Gershwin’s time) and also Jelly Roll Morton. Any thoughts?

The following seems plausible:

We’re all familiar with George Gershwin writing “Rhapsody in Blue.” The first version of that piece was written for Paul Whiteman’s band which was a very popular dance band (the band included banjo and lots of woodwind doubles) at the time – around the 1920′s. Gershwin had mentioned to Whiteman that he wanted to write a piece for the band (he was formulating some ideas but hadn’t written anything down yet).

After this conversation, out of the blue one day (and unknown to Gershwin), Whiteman publicly announced that Gershwin was going to write a piece for the band and it would be performed at a concert only a few weeks away (this part is well documented). In fact though, Gershwin was on his way to work on a show in Boston when he heard that Whiteman had announced this. Needless to say, he needed to start writing – fast, while also working on the show in Boston (Hence the need for a short hand system to quickly indicate intentions for instruments such as the banjo and possibly the piano as well – otherwise everything would need to be all written out, for the piano or taught by rote, for the banjo).

Ferde Grofé was brought in to orchestrate Gershwin’s ideas which is when the system was introduced. (Grofé would later do several other orchestrations of “Rhapsody in Blue” that became more famous)

From my research it seems that the issue wasn’t so much about a problem teaching the banjo player his part (one of the only instruments that didn’t formally need to learn to read music to play), but the speed at which the music needed to be learned.

I’m going to continue the research, but any further “angles” on this topic could be fun.

Happy researching!


PS: If you want to see what players looked at before lead sheets came along (Tune Dex index cards), go to:


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