Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Musings on Musical Texture.

I realised last year that I could make my music far more interesting simply by making better use of texture. Some of the greatest songs ever recorded are examples of expert musical use of texture - the layering of instruments within a song. Now I’m no musical expert, even though I’ve never studied academic music, excluding music tech of course but I am a decent musician.

I was writing a song earlier and I was layering up harmonies and melodies, not the normal way I go about writing - I normally start simple and work up but I’m trying new things.
Anyway let me site a prime example of textural variation. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by The Rolling Stones. If you don’t know it, find it. It’s classic Stones.

The song begins with a choral part but this subsides into Keith Richard’s understated acoustic guitar line. Then a French Horn, played by Al Kooper, comes in panned hard left with Mick Jagger’s vocals coming in a few bars later as the Horn part drops out. As the prechorus begins a shaker adds rhythm.
As the chorus comes in a gospel choir enters along with drums, percussion, Richard’s bluesy electric lead guitar line as well as Al Kooper playing the piano. As the verse begins a Hammond Organ, again played by the great Al Kooper, comes in riffing over the piano line. The song ebbs and flows. It climaxes with the return of the full choral chorus and it seems every possible instrument is layered into the song over the chord progression as the tempo doubles up.

This expert use of texture is what bakes the song so brilliant. There are hundreds of songs that also use the same technique. To name a few: Stairway to Heaven (most Led Zeppelin songs are texturally exquisite), Hotel California - The Eagles, the Phil Collins one of the Cadbury’s advert (R.I.P Cadbury) and many more, almost all good ballads. However saying that texture is just one aspect of a good song. There are many brilliant songs with very little textural variation.

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