Telling a story with a song (without vocals)

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Jagwah
Posts: 1073
Joined: 16 Jan 2015

21 Nov 2017

A friend told me telling a story through your song is one of the most important parts of the music making process.

When it comes to doing this with synths and melodies and chords, well it's not an easy thing to grasp. I googled a lot and felt like I was trying to decipher meanings of poetic statements more than actually getting to the nitty gritty of what this actually means. I think we all get the 'question / response' theory, but telling a story must involve more than that?

I could really use some advice and thoughts here. Do you practise this concept, all the time or some of the time? Can you try and explain in your own words what it means, and how you go about it? Any examples you have in your music or have deciphered in others?

Looking forward to hearing some input on this one, cheers!
Last edited by Jagwah on 21 Nov 2017, edited 1 time in total.
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Loque
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21 Nov 2017

For me "telling a story with a song" is that it creates the story in front of my imaginary eye. The sounds, melodies and moods reminds me on things and a in conjunction build a story.

Like you hear a "thunder" and it reminds you on a "stormy, rainy and windy day". The darker the "thunder" sounds, the darker your feeling is and the later the day in my imagination. And now, create this without a thunder sample :-)

Some uber wonder guys can "speak" and "tell" through musik and you understand them. Combined with different tones and sounds, and you get it. Make it "musik" and not only "tones" and you have it. This is the ultimate story-telling with music IMO.

Did not heard much of this quality music.
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Olivier
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22 Nov 2017

I like this subject ! :)

Here's where i would go to start researching this..


In music theory you can find the term: Program Music. Program music has existed for a long time.
See where the net can take you starting for example here : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Program_music

You can go the way of mimicking actual sounds through instruments and through that paint a picture. Use birdlike melodies and flutes for example.. But there isn't always an analogy available. Most of what music transfers is emotion and often there are no direct musical representation available for what happens in our environment.

There are lots of writeups about how different musical aspects are experienced generally by listeners. What does timbre do, what is the role of pitch and tempo.. what about volume. What do we take from how instruments interact melodically ? Then the larger subjects like dynamics, orchestration, arrangement and recently ofcourse (multi channel) mixing.

What all these things do to the listener are quite well documented. But by all means start by getting a good feel for yourself of what all these aspects do. Try putting it into words. What does agression sound like ? Harsh ? Loud ? Fast ? Does stress have a fast paced rhytm ? What IS a "lovely" sound ?

There are many classical examples. To the modern movie-goer they will sound like soundtracks. Thats mainly because a lot of modern soundtrack composers use a lot of the program music techniques. So there's another place where you can find information ;)

Several examples i like:





Or just watch a movie for the music and try to listen for how the different aspects of the music support the feeling of the scene.

Bonus:
Game music can be a great example too.. Listen to what happens here :

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TritoneAddiction
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Joined: 29 Aug 2015
Location: Sweden

22 Nov 2017

Interesting topic.

I don't really care about "telling a story" necessarily myself. I'm more into painting a picture or evoke a certain feeling. They are related but not exactly the same.

What's interesting is we all get different associations from the same music anyway. That's become very apperent to me the times I've asked other people for title suggestions for my own tracks. Some suggestions are completely off compared to how I experience the music myself.

I feel like the topic is so connected to what we are used to listening to. I can listen to a brutal death metal track with endless blastbeats and get positive uplifting reaction to it, while someone not used to it might feel like it's just irritating noise. The song was the same yet it evoked completely different emotions. So maybe there's some guidelines to telling a story, paint a picture with music, but in the end it mostly comes down to the individuals preferences and earlier experiences I think.

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Jagwah
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22 Nov 2017

...
Last edited by Jagwah on 06 Dec 2017, edited 2 times in total.
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Jagwah
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23 Nov 2017

Still hoping for more input from people on this difficult topic.
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Jagwah
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06 Dec 2017

Loque wrote:
21 Nov 2017
For me "telling a story with a song" is that it creates the story in front of my imaginary eye. The sounds, melodies and moods reminds me on things and a in conjunction build a story.

Like you hear a "thunder" and it reminds you on a "stormy, rainy and windy day". The darker the "thunder" sounds, the darker your feeling is and the later the day in my imagination. And now, create this without a thunder sample :-)

Some uber wonder guys can "speak" and "tell" through musik and you understand them. Combined with different tones and sounds, and you get it. Make it "musik" and not only "tones" and you have it. This is the ultimate story-telling with music IMO.

Did not heard much of this quality music.
Thanks for your reply Loque.

Create the thunder without the thunder sample hmmm, this is like the information I found when googling this topic. I guess the story can be told through moods of music, rather than trying to pin point exact sounds for ever part of the story.

I have definitely heard music that is telling a story and it seems such quality music, but one thing I love about Reason is just starting and ending up somewhere I could not have possibly imagined, and story is not part of that at all, so I am of two minds about it right now.

Anyway thanks for your input, you should join the chat room sometimes if you aren't already.
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Adabler
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Location: Oslo

07 Dec 2017

I think telling a story with music can be done very well, but for it to work you'll need to help the listener a little. People associate different things with different sounds and melodies and while we've found a lot of common grounds, like minor=sad, major=happy, there is still a lot of room for interpretation.

As soon as a song is released, the composer loses control over it's story. He or she can't force the listener to interpret the song the same way.

On of my all time favorite works really invites the listener to make up a story, and I am pretty sure my story is very different from Mike's:


The way I see it, there is no musical common language detailed enough for you to be sure that composer and the listener sees the same behind closed eyelids.

As Olivier pointed out, there is a lot of interesting theory on program music you could read up on. A lot of brilliant people has spent a lot of time thinking about this. In the meantime, here's is something you could try: make different animal themes! Make a cat theme, snake theme and fish theme. They look very different, surely they must sound different too? I think this is a great way to think about music as a descriptive tool.

This is also relevant:
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avasopht
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07 Dec 2017

I've always been more of painting an idea, experience or frozen moment.

I do have a few stories but I've never released them.
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CaliforniaBurrito
Posts: 470
Joined: 11 Nov 2015

08 Dec 2017

I tend to go with an idea, vibe, theme, experience, etc. and then it is up to the listener to create their own story. I think we should all want listeners to be engaged as opposed to having them sit there like a rotten potato mindlessly consuming television. Television is the medium to be in if you want to write stories and shove them down people's throats. :lol:

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