Chance music, also known as Aleatoric music, is a type of music that was created or performed using some form of probability. In the 20th Century, many European composers were very intrigued with the idea of composing scores of music that's melody and rhythmic flow were left up to chance using dice.
As you can imagine, anyone can create a song that is Aleatoric since you wouldn't need to know much about how music works. But the most popular chance songs only have one of a few elements that are left up to chance, while the composer then adds other elements that will fit around the chance elements to make more musical sense in the end.
As an example, a composer or songwriter can decide to create a melody line for their chorus or refrain completely randomly by rolling dice. They would then follow up with logical chord progression and rhythmic flow that would then make the music phrase more cohesive as a whole.
The probability can be determined by a variety of things outside of rolling the dice. Artist and creator Jarbas Agnelli made "Birds On A Wire" using the position probability of real birds sitting on 5 real wires that reminded him of a music staff.
Other chance compositions made by deeply skilled nerds have sections that are designed and controlled by the composer while the single components of sound are controlled by mathematical theories.
As a creator, you can also encourage performers or conductors to use a form of chance when it comes to the performance aspect of the song. For example, many 20th century composers liked to leave the order of movements in a work up to a conductor's random choice right before the performance started.
Singers and instrumentalists can also choose how they will sing certain sections of a song, which can tie into improvisation and ad-libbing that is often found in genres like Jazz and Latin music. With the element of chance in the performance aspect, the song will always be done uniquely.
As described above, here's Jarbas Agnellis's example of chance music being made in a way that would be sonically pleasing to most ears. Here the birds were used to determine which notes would be played, but the overall key of the song still followed the scale of A minor.
The most popular example of chance music is John Cage's "Music Of Changes" which was released in 1951. Many more elements of this song were left up to choice in comparison to the example above. Here, the method is referred to as Indeterminacy, which some like to use interchangeably with the term Aleatoric, while other music theory nerds will fight you for saying that. Though the detailed technicalities may differ here and there, the general concept of using the art of chance to create or perform is the same.
Atonal music, which can often sound a lot like chance music, is a style of music that does not follow the traditional harmonic concept of a key or a mode. While chance music allows probability to take the wheel in the composition, atonal music is still carefully and purposefully created one note at a time, and it's just that those notes don't follow the rules that our ears are used to hearing in Western music styles.
Songwriters and composers are often plagued with bouts of writer's block where they are unable to come up with melodies, lyrics, or other elements of a song. I have not seen Aleatoric methods being recommended with other songwriting exercises like the 10-minute song, the word association song, or freewriting, but I do believe that using chance music methods can be a great exercise for writers who are in need of some inspiration and fun creativity in their process.
You don't have to go full chance like the "Music Of Changes" example, but simply adding the element of chance to one small part of your songwriting process may take your songwriting session to brand new heights!
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This blog was written by singer, songwriter and producer Yona Marie. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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