Tuesday, May 15, 2007

 
Composing For Beginners

Forget theory, forget everything about paper. Paper and theory will just keep you from composing at this stage. Never forget that music is sounds, not a recipe for making a cake and not the symbols drawn on a page.

If you play piano, choose any five finger position, five notes. If I might suggest, don’t begin with c,d,e,f,g. Start with d,e,f,g,a or the five white keys up from e or f. Play with those trying to find melodies, harmonies, etc. that please YOU. You must please yourself first, if you try to please someone else you might as well let them write that music because it won't be your music. Make some of your pieces start and end on the same note some of them start and end on different notes. Use all of the notes of the five, for the last note in different pieces.

Watch out for repeating yourself, if you find a figure, rhythm, etc. that you keep coming back to, try to avoid it for a while. Write down those things you find that you really like, work on those. If you know what it means, watch out for 6/8 and 9/8 rhythms, getting into a lilt is alright on occasion but it’s a banality trap if you don’t watch out for it. Don’t be afraid to change meters either. Don’t be afraid to try anything because it’s too far out or too far in.

When you've had enough of those five notes, find another five notes with a different pattern of half and whole steps (different mode) or add another note to the five you had in the beginning. Proceed as above until you gradually add more notes.

Virgil Thomson advised composers with writers block to compose one piece of music a day. One whole piece a day. He said eventually you would find the music you wanted to keep.

And if your instrument isn't piano, use what you have. If you don't have anything, get a plastic recorder that plays in tune and use that. Use recordings of second parts if you want harmony.

Comments:

Virgil Thomson advised composers with writers block to compose one piece of music a day. One whole piece a day. He said eventually you would find the music you wanted to keep.


This is true of any creative endevour, is it not? Oftentimes quantity begats quality -- the "thousand monkeys at a thousand keyboards" analogy actually ain't to far off.

Consider how much of what is now seen as the best music comes from eras where large sums of money supported large numbers of artists who could write music all day -- eventually something truly masterful would come out of it. The same is true in painting, pretty much all of the sciences and probably other creative fields as well.

I like to give the analogy of a fashion photographer. The stereotype of a fashion photographer is that he is constantly snapping pictures -- and one of those will be the one that is just right.

That's sometimes how creativity works, nu?
 
Interesting idea especially since Thomson was the one who did all those musical portraits while the subject sat in front of him. I thought of it more as a function of having to learn slowly and gradually how to control your choice to what you wanted to use to accomplish your intentions. But I like it your way too.
 
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