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#2132004 - 08/12/13 07:56 PM Advice for beginners in composition?  
Joined: Jul 2013
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neuralfirings Offline
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neuralfirings  Offline
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Hey all, I'm starting to give composition a try.

Does the collective wisdom of this forum have any tips for a composition newbie--mistakes you guys have seen time and time again, or things that you look for in quality work. Or maybe some resources (websites, books, pianoworld posts) you've found helpful?

Thanks


Working on Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, Mvt 3.
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#2132050 - 08/12/13 10:03 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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rada Offline
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rada  Offline
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You could always pick a favorite piece of yours and possibly use some of the ideas as a template. Why not try a Bach minuet.

rada

#2132054 - 08/12/13 10:16 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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Sand Tiger Offline
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Sand Tiger  Offline
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You don't mention your background and education, your skill level on piano, your goals in terms of what kind of music you want to write (eg: neo-classical, new age, songs with lyrics, soundtracks, or video game backdrops, other). The background information will give any suggestions more context.

I'm sure some others will chime in with their ideas and suggestions. In the mean time, there is this old thread from February.

As for mistakes, a common one is that many new composers expect to write good stuff from day one. It can and does happen, but it is rare. Much more common is writing a bunch of not-so-good stuff before a person develops enough skill at the craft to advance.

Another common mistake is trying to be too clever, too original. The too clever kind of music is fine for intellectuals, and other music geeks, other composers, but not so good for general audiences. This goes back to goals and kind of music a person wants to write.

There is a lot to be said for beginners to start with simplicity. That goes double for anyone asking for advice. If a person can not write simple pieces effectively, how can they write complex pieces?

My number one suggestion for all beginners is to commit time to the task of writing music. The beginner pianist knows that he/she can not advance without putting in consistent practice time. For most composers, it is the same. Consistent time will bring results. Waiting for inspiration, or reading and researching usually yields nothing. The small caveat is this is after a person has a basic vocabulary in music. However, most that ask the questions in the original post, have plenty of vocabulary. What they often lack is the burning desire, the passion, the need to write so that they will spend time on the task every day.

#2132058 - 08/12/13 10:30 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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neuralfirings Offline
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Thanks. My goal is to have a creative outlet, a hobby that's different from my day to day work. This isn't something I want to pursue professionally, something for myself and to share with some family and friends. I have a basic knowledge of theory, but a LOT more there I want to learn.

I've played piano growing up. I did basic theory--chords, intervals, scales. I also studied counterpoint for one semester in college. As for playing, I would consider myself intermediate, and I haven't really touched the piano in 10 years. Last thing I played was the Rach 2, but I'm using the term "played" generously--still a long ways to go on that one!

I'm interested in classical music composition because that's what I grew up playing. I also think composing would help me analyze the music I play better, and appreciate them more deeply--so that's an added bonus.

Last edited by neuralfirings; 08/12/13 10:36 PM.

Working on Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, Mvt 3.
#2132062 - 08/12/13 10:59 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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Sand Tiger Offline
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Originally Posted by neuralfirings
Thanks. My goal is to have a creative outlet, a hobby that's different from my day to day work. This isn't something I want to pursue professionally, something for myself and to share with some family and friends. I have a basic knowledge of theory, but a LOT more there I want to learn.

I've played piano growing up. I did basic theory--chords, intervals, scales. I also studied counterpoint for one semester in college. As for playing, I would consider myself intermediate, and I haven't really touched the piano in 10 years. Last thing I played was the Rach 2, but I'm using the term "played" generously--still a long ways to go on that one!

I'm interested in classical music composition because that's what I grew up playing. I also think composing would help me analyze the music I play better, and appreciate them more deeply--so that's an added bonus.


So you know plenty, and have plenty of skill, or at least did. Given your substantial background, I suggest deconstruction as a process. Analyze some of your old favorites, and see what parts particularly appeal to you.

Take a score apart, phrase by phrase, bar by bar, measure by measure. Now that there are pieces of music all across the floor of the living room, so to speak, put the blocks back together into your own original work. Again, I suggest, starting with simple and basic and building up. In the other thread, there is a link to a Youtube video by Turley that goes through some basics of deconstruction using new age music.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AKw16S2jfY

You might find that using composition software or notation paper to be more or less effective than sitting, playing and recording. Try both, and see what is more interesting to you.

#2132085 - 08/13/13 12:57 AM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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Write music at the instrument and use pencil and paper. Connect with what music really is - music performed by someone for an audience.

And study the kind of music you wish to write. Learn it's language, its rhythmic patterns, melodic devices, structural elements, harmonies, and textures.

And learn to ignore people who say things like "just write what sounds good" and "use notation software." Those can both be dangerous paths to undisciplined mediocrity.


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#2132100 - 08/13/13 03:11 AM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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JoelW Offline
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All of history's greatest musicians will tell you that their best stuff came from "above" or as it was "breathed onto them". Don't try to force out good music. Listen to a bunch of your favorite stuff, get inspired to write and go over and sit at the piano and mess around until something comes to you (or doesn't come, that's fine).

Keep composing. You gotta keep doing it to get better at it. I would recommend writing like 5-10 small pieces to test the waters/discover your writing style.

#2132125 - 08/13/13 05:07 AM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: Kreisler]  
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Nikolas Online blank
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Originally Posted by Kreisler
And study the kind of music you wish to write. Learn it's language, its rhythmic patterns, melodic devices, structural elements, harmonies, and textures.
I'd argue that one should study a lot of different styles even if they are not their cup of tea. In the end one may choose what style fits them, but until then, (all) the tools should be readily available. After all the tools (techniques) most of the times do not dictate the aesthetics so one can bend the "rules" to their advantage.

Quote
And learn to ignore people who say things like "just write what sounds good" and "use notation software." Those can both be dangerous paths to undisciplined mediocrity.
Yes, BUT,

Copying a work (especially from a composer you know, from manuscript to a computerized version) is an invaluable tool to learning and analysing. You're forced to analyse what the heck is going on in a score while copying it! Plus you get to learn the tool of notating on the computer.

But, as Kreisler says, be careful and not get trapped into the "compose on the computer".

#2132191 - 08/13/13 09:41 AM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: JoelW]  
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neuralfirings Offline
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neuralfirings  Offline
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Originally Posted by JoelW
All of history's greatest musicians will tell you that their best stuff came from "above" or as it was "breathed onto them".


You know, I've was thinking about this the other day. I think music is very special in that it's largely internal (inspiration coming above, coming within). Of course, all artforms can be internally inspired and externally inspired, and I'm just talking in broad strokes.

But take drawing, for instance, a lot of drawings is externally inspired--still-life and landscapes are an easy examples. You see something in the outside world, you interpret it and put it onto the canvas. Nonfiction literature is the same. Whereas, music is largely fictional. Words are specific and descriptive, and same with visual medium (eg photography, sculptures). But music as a language (form of expression) is vague, but poignant. This is why I think the musical language is best suited and often used to express internal things--emotions and moods.

So given that, I would think that not only the greatest musician's best stuff was inspired internally/from above; but I think that could be said of a lot of works by the greats (and the not-so-greats).

Though, I suppose sometimes you can hear a tune being whistled on the street, or try to capture stories, or scenes from a movie. So, not always the case that music is always fictional. But, by and large I think it is.

Last edited by neuralfirings; 08/13/13 09:42 AM.

Working on Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, Mvt 3.
#2135101 - 08/18/13 11:08 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
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One thing that helped me a lot to write is practicing improv, or flow. This can be as simple as sitting down at the piano and noodling in a key or going back and forth making up melodies over as few as one or two chords. If you try to play what you're hearing in your head you will develop a better sense of what techniques you will have to develop to flesh out your sound. Usually when I write a piece it is preceded by a lot of playing around with different ideas, be they certain intervals, chords, rhythms, techniques or whatever. This is also a good way to expand your ear and technical capabilities beyond your repertoire and knowledge of music theory. It can also be a great way to practice new techniques from difficult repertoire and to elaborate on your theory knowledge. Hope this helps!

#2138439 - 08/24/13 06:13 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
Joined: Jun 2013
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Peter C D Offline
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Peter C D  Offline
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No matter what method you use (pencil & paper, notation program, noodling at the piano), set aside at least an hour a day. Composing is different from practicing an instrument where you can set aside 15 min. blocks. My experience with composing is that once you get into the flow, you don't want to stop. Many a time I've had a woe-begone looking dog with her legs crossed wanting to be taken out because I need to get a certain phrase just right.
I usually do my composing first thing in the morning while drinking a pot of tea, much quieter with no distractions. Even if nothing new comes to mind ,I still use the time to go over work done the day before. the thing is, to do this every day for awhile so as to ingrain the habit. Believe me, after a while , if you take a day of you'll miss it.

#2157480 - 09/25/13 02:29 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: Peter C D]  
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blueston Offline
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Originally Posted by Peter C D

I usually do my composing first thing in the morning


Very good advice. Whatever is the most important thing in your life (composing in this case), you should try to prioritize it and do it first thing in the morning, not late in the day after you've worn yourself out from all other mundane errands and activities.

#2161272 - 10/03/13 04:18 PM Re: Advice for beginners in composition? [Re: neuralfirings]  
Joined: Feb 2004
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Rob Mullins Offline
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Rob Mullins  Offline
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When I first started writing music, jazz was the idiom of choice. Easy to understand the structure of an A section that repeats, a B section or bridge, and repeating the A section at the end...song form of AABA sections. Writing using a computer can be helpful because software forces you to be very clear about your sections IMO.


Rob Mullins
www.planetmullins.com
Recording Artist and Jazz Piano Instructor

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