Dawn with A Crescent Moon | The Nguyen Composes

This is a short piece inspired by this beautiful morning sight at 6:30am.

Since I didn’t write this piece in a notation software (I used GarageBand instead), the following sheet is just an outline of melody and harmony for analysis purpose.

If you like this piece, you will also enjoy The Starry Night, aother meditative piece inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting.


My composition process for this piece:

I intended for the bass going back and forth with string pizzicato to bring a rhythmic, routine, somewhat hustling feel to the night time. The melody dabbles briefly to Dorian but back to Minor at the end of each phrase so maybe that’s where the folkiness comes from. I want it to represent the beautiful scenery that is always there, longing to be appreciated, but neglected nonetheless by the busy and hustling lifestyle of the night. Maybe the pensive sadness is also inspired by the downward crescent moon like an eye looking down with eyelid almost closing.

But then all of that is washed away by the sun (soon to be) rising at the end, inspired by that bit of pink sky above the trees. I want the sun rising to cast some overwhelming brightness to the piece, thus the Picardy third shifting modes from Dorian/Minor to Major, and the crescendo sustained strings. Hm, maybe I should even increase the volume there a little.

Something Romantic, Something Ruined | The Nguyen Composes

Two people long for, yearn for the magical spark from the beginning. Where did it go?

If you like this piece, you will also enjoy my other melancholic piece Every Journey Ends.


My composing process:

I wrote the slow waltz part at the beginning first and feel that it exudes strong yearning. So I decide to explore that emotion more. The middle part is intended to be the part where the music explores what is being yearned for. It serves as the happier cousin of the beginning, where the harmony stays the same for the most part, repeated, with a cloud on its feet, and spiccato string to provides the dancy feel. The middle part progressively gets happier until it suddenly all come crashing down again at the chromatic whole tone scale climb and fall back down.

I could wrap the piece up here by restating the opening, but I want to add a bow on top of this story. I modulate this piece to its relative major, playing a similar melody to the beginning in the same tempo. Although a major scale usually sounds bright, in this context, it highten the difference with its surrounding, always make me shake my head in sorrow because it’s just too beautiful. After the brief moment of crying out in major, the piece goes back to the original melody and harmony in minor key to conclude the yearning journey, disappointedly that through all that longing, all that imiginary happiness, and crying out for something, anything out there for help, nothing changes. Perhaps, it’s too late.


Note on the romanticism of the piece:

I chose the picture of a couple for this piece since I think it is the concept most often associated with the yearning feeling. But this piece doesn’t necessarily need to apply to romance between two persons. The core feeling of the piece can be applied to romance with an idea, with a concept. The original thing I thought of for this piece is dreaming of a wealthy life, or dreaming of being happy, just to realize that it wasn’t real.

Music connects directly with our feelings while words have to go describe can never describe the precise feeling. Just like I can never use words to explain to you the exact experience of getting punched in the face (not that I did experience it, just close), I can never use words to explain to you the exact experience of listening to a piece of music. It evokes something different for each and everyone, either due to nature, or nurture. So experience music, specifically, and art, generally, for what it is. It doesn’t matter if our interpretations of art differs from the majority’s.

Clash of The Clans | The Nguyen Composes

I now upload my music to YouTube as well. Kind of an upgrade. I will gradually update all the older music, too.

The blog will still be used to write reflections, contemplate philosophy, and nerd out about music theory.

If you like the fantasy music, you will also enjoy Welcome to The Sunrise Village.


Here’s the process of writing this piece:

The initial idea was to write a Lydian melody on top of a Phrygian harmony of the same tonic center, hence the clashing nature between them. After writing a few measures, I can hear the two modes never cease to create stark dissonance against each other. So I decided to bring that quality out even more instead of tucking it away in some cute (musical) corner. And I decided it would be pleasing to the ear if the two becomes one by the end.

Indeed the piece conclude with melody and harmony both in Lydian, hammering the most iconic Lydian chords I and II back and forth. These two chords always sound ethereal to me, and is the great triumphant conclusion to the conflict portrayed earlier.

What’s left is to write the middle part, painting an ever more conflicting battle. I have experimented with the contrast between bowing and pizzicato strings sounds in another piece and loved it. So I used driving pizzicato strings in the background, signaling where the battle begins. I also ended up introducing another voice among the string in Phrygian in a call-in-response manner with the Lydian trumpet. That worked out well.

After the battle reaches a climactic point with density of notes and rhythms, I suddenly switched to a slower tempo section, but with even more heighten tension. It’s as if the two modes are now done having fun, and start to throw more meticulous blows at each other with the intend to end the battle for good.


Throughout composing this piece, I learned two things.

First is to be more comfortable with writing dissonant music. As long as the notes have a purpose, the composition will work. I’m internalizing the idea of “there is no wrong notes, just notes that bring different feelings” more.

Second is more specific toward writing polymodal music. I tried constructing a palette of notes in Lydian that works with specific chords in Phrygian. That doesn’t work well.The high dissonance makes it hard to find combinations that work, resulting in a limited musical toolbox to pick-and-choose from. Instead, letting Lydian does Lydian thing and Phrygian does Phrygian thing works better.

Rhythmize and Harmonize A Melody 1 – The Nguyen Composes

Here’s a challenge: This is a melody without any rhythm.

Use the notes in this specific order, from the beginning, and choose the duration for each one (a whole note, half note, eight note, etc.) to form some musical sentences. It doesn’t need to have a 4/4 time signature (and it’s also fine if it is). We don’t need to use all the notes. Stop where we think it makes sense. Or, if we need more notes, loop back to the beginning, still in that specific order. Then, harmonize the new melody we came up with!

Here’s the results:

Melody 1

Melody 2

Melody 3

Melody 4

Melody 5

Here’s the interactive noteflight music sheet with all the melodies.

What Does Music Mean? – A Curious Reflection

Does music mean something? If so, what does it mean?

Let’s go down to the fundamentals a bit. Music is just good sound. Sound is some waves at a certain frequency that human perceives by ear. When the waves have certain property, they harmonize, and human ears and brains perceive that as something nice. With that, music is the type of beauty that human experiences from nothingness, from the symmetry of the universe. That’s what music is.

But what does it mean? Music is a collection of sounds that is good. It serves as a way for human to enjoy ourselves. It, together with other form of beauties, means the joy of existence, utilizing the weird way that our bodies perceive and makes sense of sound. Music means the mastery of ourselves over our bodies, using it to pleasure ourselves, creating emotions, invoking memories. It’s similar to paintings, perceiving good things by eyes, by senses, to serve our purpose in life.

But what does it mean? Like, what’s the meaning of it being used to pleasure ourselves. The reason for its existence.

Hmm… I see your point! Let’s take a detour a bit. All the questions of what something means assume that it was created with some intention. Intention implies that those things have certain intended function. A car’s intention could be something along the line of bringing people to places. The Sun’s function could be to shine the Earth. An idea’s function could be to make people contemplate, or to push innovation. Or if you believe in a religion, that religion function could be to enlighten human, to guide them to the right path.

With that logic, the question “what the meaning of life is”, for example, assumes that life has some intended meaning. And similarly, the question “what does music mean” assumes that music is created with a certain meaning to it. We visited the fact that music only consists of sounds of certain frequency that sounds good to the human ear together or in sequence. It has no meaning. We exploit our way of perceiving the sound (the waves in nature) to our advantage. We realize that hearing sound in certain order or fashion makes us feel good, happy, sad, or dancy. So, we exploit this to our advantage and continue using the proven technique of producing sounds in a “good” way to continue enjoying this type of beauty.

But why do we have a certain type of response physically or emotionally to a certain type of sound sequence or sound combination? Here’s an unsatisfying answer: I have no clue. It’s similar to the fact that I have no clue why human ear picks up waves at a certain frequency as sound, waves at other frequencies as light, waves at other frequencies as pressures. That’s how we adapted to survival through evolution, and there happens to be some “bugs” or “features” of the human bodies that help us exploit it for our happiness. It’s like a flower has a certain function in the nature, but it also happen to look nice at the same time (well, there are two question embed in there: first is why people think flower is good looking, and second is why flower takes that shape). The answer to both are I don’t know. I can tell you that I know the intended use for flower is to attract bees and other insects, so they must look nice and smell good. So maybe that’s the meaning of flower? It fits into the ecosystem of both plants and nature.

Ok, counterpoint (not Bach): if all things in life has meaning, does life also have meaning? Why does “meaning” apply to some things but not others? Why does something have intended use, but not others?

Hold yer horses! Let’s take a look at a waterfall (beautiful! I know). What’s the waterfall’s intended use? Well, I’m not entirely sure, but certainly it wasn’t intended to be turning turbines and generating electricity for a long long time. So should we say that a waterfall is meant to generate power? Or would we say that it has many intended use, and as smart living beings come round, they/we come up with different ways to exploit them, then we give them more meanings. So if we constantly give things new meanings, that opens up the possibility that in the beginning, they have no meaning to begin with.

Ok, back to the meaning of music, or the intention of music. Waves that sound good in combinations or in sequence to the human ears may have no meaning from the beginning. But we exploit that fact to make “music”. Music has no intention when it comes to how we experience it. But the way that people have gradually learnt to exploit this weird perceiving feature of us has intention, to convey emotion. Since we know that music has certain bodily response from the human, which we have in common, we can use that to communicate with others, use it as a language. People have been obsessed with communicating with each other. That’s why we developed many language system. Meanwhile, music already has certain bodily response and can be transcended between cultures. It’s similar to the body language of opening up, hissing, making a face, or appearing big to scare off enemies. Since it’s embedded in the human package as a whole, we don’t necessarily need to learn to know what that means. Heck, we can even detect body language of other livin beings.

I’m pretty sure you don’t need to understand some lion’s language to know that it’s about to have you for dinner here.

Exploiting the fact that we perceive music in similar ways, people use music to communicate in the more primal level, the level that cannot really be explained by words. Take a listen to the music in this scene from Star Wars.

Urgg! I feel… feelings. How do we even come close to replicating that feeling by using words in a similar period of time? We can say we are hopeful, but the feeling elicited from the listener is no where near hearing this.

So here’s my conclusions: Music doesn’t have any innate meaning, but since human discover ways to enjoy it, and use it to communicate, we infused it with some meanings. If you feel like my explanation is not satisfying, that sucks! Jk, try Adam Neely’s explanation of the meaning of music. He made some interesting points.