Subvert expectation

The element of Surprise!

The element of surprise in music is paramount. You never want the listener to feel that they always know what’s coming next. Pop music is most often based on fulfilling expectations not to mention fantasy. This is why so little of it contains the requisite mystery that attracts me to deeper art. Great Jazz and classical music are most powerful when the listener’s expectations are sometimes thwarted, so that the journey always feels new. Here are some practical ways to do that:

1) There is a terribly tired formula that many jazz -based works fall into vis a vis solos. Don’t always do a “head/ solos/ head” format. Have two different solo sections, or begin with a solo, or just play the head at the end. Mix up the orchestration so solos have different backing.

2) Don’t be complacent with phrasing- sometimes an extra beat, or odd measure grouping, keeps attention strong. Mozart had 7 bar phrases- why shouldn’t we? Sometimes if I’m writing in 3/4 I throw in a 2/4 or 4/4 bar. The feeling is either a quickened step or a breath.

3) Mix languages: the composers who most interest me today have little regard for style or genre. Mix consonance and dissonance, free improv and chord changes, notation and solos, lyricism with jaggedness. We are free to use the entire history of music, anywhere, anytime. Sometimes a frighteningly dissonant piece can be enlivened by a ray of consonance.  A very serious piece can have a moment of self-reflective humor. Why not? Stories are rarely linear.

Question: What’s your biggest rut? What is it that might make YOU to predictable.

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