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.

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.

Things Will Be Fine – The Nguyen Composes

I was in a dark period of my life two years ago, stressing about the unknown future. The constant support from family members and friends were what brought me through that period. I wrote the main melody for this piece shortly after, with the intention to pass on the support to anyone who might need it in their darkest time. Now I have the music skill to expand the melody into a full choral piece. The idea is to have the main self-doubting voice be accompanied by other voices (by friends, if you will) during the breakthrough.

The software I use cannot sing the lyrics, so I recommend opening the Noteflight website to see the lyrics with interactive music playback. Also, I’ll ask the choir that I’m in to practice and perform this. Hopefully they will agree.

If you like this piece, you may also like this one about other’s expectation of us.

Melody Writing 4 – The Nguyen Composes

This time I mess around with (possibly excessive) passing tones and neighbor tones. The alteration of the normal and raised scale degree 7 in the minor scale introduces chromatic tones early on in the melody. This prepares the ear for the chromatic scale near the end.

Have a listen!

Melody 4 in E minor, written in chorale style

Melody Writing 2 – The Nguyen Composes

Again, I challenged myself to compose as many tunes as I can, using choral style, in 2 hours. The chord progression for this time is I-IV-V-I-I-IV-V7-I.

What I learned:

  • Parallel thirds sound fine.
  • Although ending on the tonic chord, the whole tune only have a sense of finality when the melody voice ends on the tonic. It doesn’t sound so stable when the melody voice ends on the median, and even more so on the dominant.
  • Having soprano moves in contrary motion compare to bass is a good rule of thump when moving in small interval only. The underlining principle for this rule of thump is not to have parallel octaves or parallel fifths. Thus, when creating a big leap in either soprano or bass, option 1: temporary transpose them up or down by octave(s) so they are adjacent to the previous note for comparison and applying the contrary motion rule; or option 2: look at the notes of soprano and bass to see if they violate the parallel principle.
  • The leading tone in soprano should always resolve upward to tonic. That explains why melody 2 sound a bit off at the end. Instead, it would be okay for the final tonic chord of melody 2 to have 3 roots and a third.

Here they are. Have fun listening!

Audio: Melody 1; 4 measures from the beginning of Sheet 1
Audio: Melody 2; 4 measures in the middle of Sheet 1
Sheet 1
Audio: Melody 3; 4 measures at the end of Sheet 1

Audio: Melody 4; 8 measures from the beginning of Sheet 2
Audio: Melody 5; 4 measures at the end of Sheet 2
Sheet 2