Workflow Directivity

Day 110 Week 16 Q2 Friday, April 19, 2024

A diagrammatic representation of workflow directivity Design Powered by DALLĀ·E 3

Well, here’s a new concept for you: the way in which workflow works has to do with whether or not you are going top-down or bottom-up. What I meant to say is that if you start with a big picture and work your way down to the details, or if you start with the smallest building block and work your way up to the whole, you have a very different workflow.

For example, in music, let’s see you begin with a melody. To my mind, the melody is the smallest building block. It contains elements of the rhythm and has a tempo, or at least a feel, and because of the notes in the scale that are chosen for the melody, it can be said to be in a particular key with a particular tonal center. This implies a sort of potential harmony, or at least a set of potential harmonies. That is quite a lot for a single melody or melody fragment. A composer could begin with a melody and build up to an entire piece. It does take a while, though. And many different potential pieces could be constructed from the same melody.

On the other hand, if you began with an entire piece in mind that had a structure, form, harmonic, progression, style, rhythm, and energy envelope, you could rough out an entire piece very quickly on an index card. And it would even contain sufficient degrees of freedom to permit a great deal of improvisation while still existing within the form and the structure. If you developed a set of chord changes, they would contain within them a number of different melodies, already harmonized. If you consider each cord in the sequence as a milestone, with a number of different ways to get from milestone to milestone, the melody might not even be sacrosanct.

These two distinct composition methods call forth very different workflows, which is why I say that bottom-up and top-down composing brings me to my concept of workflow directivity. And, of course, you can change direction within the workflow. For example, you could begin with the melody and then harmonize some of the notes, leaping up to the top, and then do a top-down, increasingly detailed treatment.

If one attempted to deal with composition algorithmically, they would first need to decide whether they were a top-down or bottom-up composer. 

The same workflow directivity could also be applied to writing words instead of notes. And in fact, sometimes you are writing both words, and it’s at the same time. That is to say, some pieces of music have lyrics. It is my suspicion that people tend toward one or the other. They are either top-down or bottom-up. These require different kinds of minds and different mental models of how the universe operates. Neither one is better, but they will definitely affect which tools you choose to help you get the job done.