Ideas for compositional textures?

I’m curious to hear from other composers about how you create ideas for compositional textures. This is one area of composing that I have a lot of difficulty with. What I mean by “compositional textures,” are the parts underneath your main melody lines or motifs, such as woodwind runs/trills, string arpeggios/comping, brass stabs, ostinatos, or even straight counterpoint lines.

I know that choosing what to do in any given situation is many times simply an artistic choice and that, so long as your parts follow the harmony, you technically can do anything. But, over the years of practicing composing, I’ve found that isn’t quite true and very often a texture I would like to use sounds out of place or doesn’t “feel” right. For example, I want to use aprs in the violas to give some backing harmony and rhythmic movement to a part, but ends up sounding out of place. It sounds good in my head, but doesn’t translate to the score.

Do you have any particular rules or guidelines you follow when deciding on a texture for a part, or do you just go off your creative instinct?

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A few quick tips that might help sometimes.

  1. Take a break an hour or a day from the section.
  2. Loop the section and mute different notes to see if it works
  3. sometimes a simple pattern will work better with a delay than a more complex one
  4. use pedal tones or common notes. Sometimes just a little change in a pattern will do. For instance if we have a pattern: A,B,C try A,A,C or A,D,C or change the rhythm a little
  5. Go back to an earlier section before the unfitting part, maybe the part just doesn’t fit and that was number 6 too. Kill your darlings and save them to another piece.