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#2309236 - 07/31/14 08:03 AM compositional methods  
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Hi Everyone,

Maybe someone here has a position on if it is worthwhile to compose while not inspired. Temporarily I am in an absence of being in such a state as a composer of music, which happens from time to time over the years, during which any results of composing would not be particularly inviting even to myself. Yet I do get some ideas of less urgent interest, maybe suitable as Diversions nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, et c. - I can always hear such music in my mind. Maybe it is best to continue to not compose at all? This lull has been a long one, since May 28 of 2013. I don't doubt that I will intersect with the forces of inspiration compositionally again, perhaps I am just impatient though there is concern that one's compositional equipment may became less able to properly hear and transcribe the music during too long a period of disuse.

I realize that this is not a normal method of composition with which there is much familiarity, yet maybe some composers here will have a viewpoint on this.

To write out reams of diversions doesn't seem that it would be a productive use of time.

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#2309255 - 07/31/14 09:01 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Hi Michael,

For me composing is an arduous process. It's not that I have any difficulty stringing notes together, it's that I want those notes to mean something. For example I posted a nocturne for the summer composition competition. It's fairly derivative of Chopin, but that now has in my mind the idea to compose a nocturne that goes in a different direction. That may be my next piece.

The challenge is to find a purpose for the music you would make the effort to compose. It can be a musical challenge, it can be an emotional expression, and the best music has aspects of both. I often find the emotional expressions more compelling. In another message you shared some of your frustrations with a governmental process. How does that make you feel? Might that fear, frustration and anger serve as catalyst to new musical expression?

#2309256 - 07/31/14 09:07 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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If you want to take composing seriously, then the answer is yes, it is worthwhile to compose even if you are not feeling inspired. As someone whose income comes only from writing music, I can say that a lot of the time I am not feeling very inspired at the start of the day, but that doesn't mean I can just skip work that day. Deadlines are not set by inspiration, deadlines are set by performance/recording dates and the piece has to be ready by then, regardless of my state of inspiration.

However, most of the time inspiration will come through hard work. Quite a few times I've found myself in the situation where early on in the process I feel that it's hopeless, all ideas are rubbish and I will never have the piece finished in time. But the ideas feel boring mostly because they are still at a very early stage of development. Once I take one of those ideas, put some work into it and develop it further, I usually become inspired, because through hard work the idea has developed into music that inspires me. When this stage is reached, the remainder of the process is often a lot easier.

If you are not feeling inspired, but want to write music, set a goal for yourself. For example to write one minute of music every day. Then you write it, no matter if it is good or it is bad. If it's bad you can forget about it and write something else the next day. Some days you might stumble onto something that inspires you to work on it further, then you can continue with that the next day (or the same day if inspiration pushes you forward). But most importantly, you will be writing music and learning by doing so. Composition, like any other subject, requires practice. And who knows, maybe something that starts out as a diversion could develop into something much bigger in the end.

Last edited by RogerW; 07/31/14 09:08 AM.
#2309257 - 07/31/14 09:14 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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A very quick hello to RogerW. It's been so long since I last saw you. Hope you stick around! smile

#2309275 - 07/31/14 09:59 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Nikolas]  
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Hmm... no wave smiley available... But hello to you too Nikolas! Yes, haven't been around in a few years. I'll try to check in more often. smile

#2309395 - 07/31/14 02:57 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Originally Posted by Michael Sayers
Maybe someone here has a position on if it is worthwhile to compose while not inspired.

Unless it is your source (or one of your sources) of income, then I don't see why you have to. It's not like you're going to forget how to write music if you're not doing it constantly. I started composing again about two months ago after a four year hiatus and if anything, I came back better than I was before. Music is a way of sharing complex ideas and emotions that can't otherwise be expressed, and if at the current time you don't have anything in particular you feel worth expressing, then there's nothing wrong with taking a break.

Originally Posted by Michael Sayers
To write out reams of diversions doesn't seem that it would be a productive use of time.

Personally, I can't say that I agree with this entirely. Of course if you don't feel there is any inspiration behind them, then yes I completely understand what you mean. However, I think if there is some inspiration or expression behind them, then that's a good enough reason to write them down. Whether you merely just write down melodies or lines or even just chords that convey certain musical textures, there is some value in keeping these and playing through them in the future.

I feel, as a composer, if a musical thought or idea conveys some sort of emotion, image or musical feeling, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing it written on a piece of staff paper, even if I know from the start that I will never turn it into a full piece of music. I think as long as there is some inspiration behind such work, then it is never unproductive, and recording such diversions can only benefit you.

Don't force yourself to compose if you don't feel it is worthwhile at the moment, because then it may become a chore. However, don't let yourself be discouraged from composing because you don't feel like certain ideas are important enough.

Best of luck! I'd be interested in hearing some of your works in the future.

-William

#2309479 - 07/31/14 06:34 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Composition is a trade, and as such is mainly treated similarly to cabinet-making. If you're doing it for a living, you turn out cabinets whether you feel like it or not. If it's your avocation, you can noodle around at it as you feel like it.

The "art" part of composition is moot. We could debate about this forever and not resolve it, but I personally don't believe that art exists, while others can be rather touchy on the subject. In many ways it can be compared to the belief/non-belief schism, with a good many faith-types falling into the "art" camp.

Composition is such a personal thing that I often wonder if it's a good thing trying to give advice. For myself it's a matter of work and work-habits, but I know many people, many of whom are very good musicians, for whom this doesn't work at all.

#2309529 - 07/31/14 09:27 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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If one is capable one should be able to compose when not inspired. The compositions produced may not be particularly strong, but it is possible to compose competently and even well.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2309621 - 08/01/14 02:06 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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The answer for me is a resounding yes. I am relatively new to piano, but have been writing songs for some time. There was a long time period when I wrote maybe one song a year, only writing when inspired. What changed was participating in an immersion group where everyone wrote constantly, and that jump started my writing.

If I only wrote when strongly inspired, I would likely be doing one song or composition a year or less. During my 2+ years learning piano, only one short phrase from one composition felt inspired. The rest, I see as creations of working at the craft and dedicating time to the task.

Most responding here are not beginners, but many beginners are reading along. For beginners, I strongly suggest writing music as a habit. Writing music every day, like many successful prose writers write prose every day. As with many things in music, there is no right or wrong answer.

A loose analogy is the musician that only practices when they feel like it. A few super passionate musicians might get away with that because of their deep love of music. Most of the rest would be absolute hacks because most days they don't feel like practicing.

#2309633 - 08/01/14 02:59 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
If one is capable one should be able to compose when not inspired. The compositions produced may not be particularly strong, but it is possible to compose competently and even well.


Stravinsky wrote his Symphony in C when things were going very badly for him. If I'm remembering rightly, he had lost a daughter to illness. But you'd never know the circumstances of his life from the music.

#2309839 - 08/01/14 03:28 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Steve Chandler]  
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Hi Steve,

The primary catalyst is awareness of the passage of time. Though rare, even men my age have heart attacks and significant unexpected illnesses, and just being aware that for all I know I could be "gone" tomorrow is a fairly incisive spurn to frenetically notate when the force is strong.

It is difficult to explain but there is an area which is music outside of any conceptualization and that is where inspiration can intersect to produce music. Focus on specific emotions take one away from that area, it is more about inner quiet and stillness to achieve a certain type of listening for the music . . . the music might be funereal, etheric, or what not, but oneself isn't feeling any of those emotions except in response to the music being heard and notated (not the other way around). It is a total reversal of the normal cause and effect.

Thanks for the encouragement, I might have a look at using a normal emotional impetus to compose, the issue might be that I don't experience much strong emotion anymore and have become a bit of a stoic. As with the frustration involving that governmental process, who knows how I would have reacted ten years ago, but now it is relatively subdued though persistently distracting. I don't think any government owns me but sometimes a government's processes and decisions seem ignorant of this cause and effect: in Europe and the U.S. we own the governments, not the other way around, the ultimate accountability is from "them" to "us".

On the positive side, maybe being at times relieved of the burden to compose is a good thing? It isn't as though there isn't a lot of piano practice to do and various projects to follow through on such as recording some of your music.

#2309891 - 08/01/14 05:20 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: RogerW]  
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Hi Roger,

Thanks for the reply and the insights, yes I do take composing seriously though not for myself as a profession, with me musical honesty is helped by having music divorced from money.

About doing something everyday or on demand regardless of variation of quality I can think of a few piano recitals when my playing was off interpretively and sounded a bit "flat", but I couldn't just not show up because my mind was distracted and I wasn't in the mood.

I might just need to be more persistent with composing during these lulls, maybe there have been days recently when I was inspired in that way but did not realize it as I didn't sit down, focus and give it a go. The force has been acutely strong recently which has added to the puzzlement.

Maybe I am "composed out"! wink

(no, you are right, I should give it some time every day rather than just waiting to see what happens)

Thanks to everyone else as well for the replies!

#2309894 - 08/01/14 05:30 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

#2310058 - 08/02/14 01:52 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Ritzycat]  
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Originally Posted by Ritzycat
Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2310068 - 08/02/14 02:46 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.
I don't know about that.

At least based on my own experience, I have various notes, drafts, ideas and other stuff hanging around which are certainly not complete. I'm just looking for the right opportunity to revisit them again. Had I completed them in that "untimely" fashion I wouldn't look back, but it would've been a shame to "lose" them.

... I think

#2310270 - 08/02/14 02:49 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Nikolas]  
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Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.
I don't know about that.

At least based on my own experience, I have various notes, drafts, ideas and other stuff hanging around which are certainly not complete. I'm just looking for the right opportunity to revisit them again. Had I completed them in that "untimely" fashion I wouldn't look back, but it would've been a shame to "lose" them.

I don't know what you're talking about. Lose them?


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2310369 - 08/02/14 08:31 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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I have boxes full of odds and sods that I've saved for later. I go through them from time to time to see if any ideas are similar to others in terms of construction, and often I'll fit ideas together that represented different approaches to solving posers that pop up during the process of writing.

I began doing this a very long time ago when writing counterpoint. Very often when writing counterpoint, you (speaking only for myself) hit a crossroads where your composition could go in very different directions. Sometimes I'd try one direction, end up being stumped, set that one aside, try something else, and end up with one solution that worked, and many that didn't, but often held tantalising possibilities that kept me coming back and working on them a little at a time.

#2310370 - 08/02/14 08:31 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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I defer to gsmonks since he knows all.


Scott
#2310463 - 08/03/14 12:24 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.
I don't know about that.

At least based on my own experience, I have various notes, drafts, ideas and other stuff hanging around which are certainly not complete. I'm just looking for the right opportunity to revisit them again. Had I completed them in that "untimely" fashion I wouldn't look back, but it would've been a shame to "lose" them.

I don't know what you're talking about. Lose them?
Well. If I finish a composition I won't go back to it. If it remains in a state of a "draft" I will revisit it until I consider it done.

#2310466 - 08/03/14 12:33 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Nikolas]  
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Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.
I don't know about that.

At least based on my own experience, I have various notes, drafts, ideas and other stuff hanging around which are certainly not complete. I'm just looking for the right opportunity to revisit them again. Had I completed them in that "untimely" fashion I wouldn't look back, but it would've been a shame to "lose" them.

I don't know what you're talking about. Lose them?
Well. If I finish a composition I won't go back to it. If it remains in a state of a "draft" I will revisit it until I consider it done.

Then you are the exception rather than the rule, but surely, if a composition is finished, it is anything but lost?


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2310474 - 08/03/14 12:53 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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I did say that it was based on my experience.

The idea is that if I sit to work on a piece prematurely (or when I don't have enough time), perhaps the quality will deteriorate and as such the piece will be "lost", in a sense that it will be done and thus not to be revisited again.

In other words it's better, for me, to wait for the right circumstances, or for me to create the right circumstances anyhow (which is difficult enough as it is).

I don't know if I'm making much sense right now... too early in the morning.

#2310531 - 08/03/14 07:46 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.

That can't be true, because I don't think I am one of the best composers. wink

At some point it's time to move beyond short pieces, though. Writing a melody and short pieces is only the first step in a composer's development. Once you advance beyond that to longer pieces it is not an option to make a complete piece in one sitting. For me the process usually starts with brainstorming and coming up with a lot of ideas and save them for later. Then I start going through these to see which could work together to make a coherent piece of music.

Very rarely do I start from the beginning and write bar by bar until the end. That would only happen occasionally if I work on some short <5 minute piece.

#2310640 - 08/03/14 02:35 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: RogerW]  
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Originally Posted by RogerW
Writing a melody and short pieces is only the first step in a composer's development.

Who wants to break the news to Chopin?


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2310672 - 08/03/14 03:58 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by RogerW
Writing a melody and short pieces is only the first step in a composer's development.

Who wants to break the news to Chopin?
I doubt an example v is any kind of an argument. wink

#2310749 - 08/03/14 08:13 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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What is an "example v"?


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2310766 - 08/03/14 09:05 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Ritzycat
Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.

Poly, that may be your modus operandi, but I always save it for later. My pieces are built up over lengthy periods of time. I don't believe I've ever composed any piece in one sitting. However, I also don't consider myself one of the best composers either. It strikes me that this is simply a difference of working methodology. I count on the different perception of things a day later to add insight into the finished product. I find the concept of inspiration of the moment to (for me) be overrated.

#2310826 - 08/04/14 12:42 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: ScottM]  
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Originally Posted by ScottM
I defer to gsmonks since he knows all.


This is why I refer to you as a troll. If you're not going to contribute, if you're simply here to be disruptive, then bugger off.

#2310833 - 08/04/14 12:58 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Steve Chandler]  
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Ritzycat
Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.

Poly, that may be your modus operandi, but I always save it for later. My pieces are built up over lengthy periods of time. I don't believe I've ever composed any piece in one sitting. However, I also don't consider myself one of the best composers either. It strikes me that this is simply a difference of working methodology. I count on the different perception of things a day later to add insight into the finished product. I find the concept of inspiration of the moment to (for me) be overrated.


I don't think you can generalise about methods of composition without putting your foot in it. Approaches to writing music are probably as varied as the number of people working at the craft.

Songwriting is a simple case in point. Some begin with the music, some with the lyrics, some work on both simultaneously, some still take a stab at textual declamation as they're writing, most modern popular songwriters have never heard of it. Some prepare before writing by setting the situation and/or mood. Others wait for the "right time" and/or situation. Some feel a deep need to travel, and write about experiences along the way. Others lock themselves in a cubicle with no windows go to work at it like composers back in the old Tin Pan Alley days.

I never work from "inspiration" because the kind of ideas that come to me when I'm feeling inspired are appealing but lacking in substance. But I'd never claim this is true of everyone, because it's easily demonstrated that it's not.

It's always a mistake to assume that what works well for yourself would work well for others.

#2310869 - 08/04/14 04:36 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
What is an "example v"?
A real typo, because I was typing from my phone! wink

Other than that, you still don't get what I'm saying?

#2311530 - 08/05/14 03:12 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: gsmonks]  
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Originally Posted by gsmonks
Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Ritzycat
Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.

Poly, that may be your modus operandi, but I always save it for later. My pieces are built up over lengthy periods of time. I don't believe I've ever composed any piece in one sitting. However, I also don't consider myself one of the best composers either. It strikes me that this is simply a difference of working methodology. I count on the different perception of things a day later to add insight into the finished product. I find the concept of inspiration of the moment to (for me) be overrated.


I don't think you can generalise about methods of composition without putting your foot in it. Approaches to writing music are probably as varied as the number of people working at the craft.

I believe I was very careful to NOT generalize. I was simply comparing the two methods as I perceive them and what I believe to be (for me) the benefit of my modus operandi. I really don't understand how you missed that.

#2311639 - 08/05/14 07:02 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Nikolas]  
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Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
What is an "example v"?
A real typo, because I was typing from my phone! wink

Other than that, you still don't get what I'm saying?

An opinion that it is naive to compose short pieces cannot be taken seriously.


Regards,

Polyphonist
#2311781 - 08/06/14 01:14 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Nikolas Offline
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
What is an "example v"?
A real typo, because I was typing from my phone! wink

Other than that, you still don't get what I'm saying?

An opinion that it is naive to compose short pieces cannot be taken seriously.

Your reply about Chopin, was a reply to RogerW. I can't see the word "naive" in his post, or actually any kind of meaning close to that.

More over he, as well as me and as well as Steve are talking from our own perspective and are very clearly stating so. I don't know what's so wrong about that!

*I think* that the idea about short pieces vs large pieces is that a large piece eventually will need some development, while a shorter one can be "just" the melody and a counter melody and that's it. Nothing wrong with any of them, and I love them both (considering what I've been composing), but perhaps this is what Roger and Steve are saying (?)

#2311820 - 08/06/14 04:41 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Steve Chandler]  
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by gsmonks
Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Ritzycat
Some days, I only write a few measures before I get bored and feel I've exhausted myself. Sometimes I write a roughly two-minute long piece in an hour. I'm not a "seasoned" composer, so I don't know the complicated musical components that I can 'use'.

I usually start my pieces with a theme that I get stuck in my head. I am often conjuring up melodies in my head and then I just memorize them until I get home and write them out in Finale. Then I work on it some more there or save it for later.

The problem with "saving it for later" is that all but the best composers will never come back to what they have saved. The better thing to do is make it into a complete piece, however short.

Poly, that may be your modus operandi, but I always save it for later. My pieces are built up over lengthy periods of time. I don't believe I've ever composed any piece in one sitting. However, I also don't consider myself one of the best composers either. It strikes me that this is simply a difference of working methodology. I count on the different perception of things a day later to add insight into the finished product. I find the concept of inspiration of the moment to (for me) be overrated.


I don't think you can generalise about methods of composition without putting your foot in it. Approaches to writing music are probably as varied as the number of people working at the craft.

I believe I was very careful to NOT generalize. I was simply comparing the two methods as I perceive them and what I believe to be (for me) the benefit of my modus operandi. I really don't understand how you missed that.


I wasn't commenting on your post, Steve.

#2311822 - 08/06/14 04:50 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Nikolas]  
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Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
Originally Posted by Nikolas
Originally Posted by Polyphonist
What is an "example v"?
A real typo, because I was typing from my phone! wink

Other than that, you still don't get what I'm saying?

An opinion that it is naive to compose short pieces cannot be taken seriously.

Your reply about Chopin, was a reply to RogerW. I can't see the word "naive" in his post, or actually any kind of meaning close to that.

More over he, as well as me and as well as Steve are talking from our own perspective and are very clearly stating so. I don't know what's so wrong about that!

*I think* that the idea about short pieces vs large pieces is that a large piece eventually will need some development, while a shorter one can be "just" the melody and a counter melody and that's it. Nothing wrong with any of them, and I love them both (considering what I've been composing), but perhaps this is what Roger and Steve are saying (?)


Development is more an attribute of 19th century music and earlier. Later composers (late 19th century, early-to-late 20th century) wrote more programme and programme-like music that was through-composed.

#2311823 - 08/06/14 05:05 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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What are all the things you can do to a melody (just thinking out loud, here)? Original, retrograde, inversion, retrograde inversion, augmentation, diminution, reharmonisation . . . you can play with the harmonic rhythm, the melodic rhythm, you can write the melody at a different scale degree or using a different scale altogether . . . change the time signature, expose it as a single melody with or without accompaniment or weave it into a contrapuntal texture . . . then there are the various melodic shapes, there is reorchestration . . .

None of which addresses the use to which the end result is put.

For example, who among us can write a scary melody or piece of music? Something that strikes a visceral fear into the listener.

Maybe we should have a series of contests or challenges. Beginning with writing something truly terrifying.

H'm . . . you know, off the top of my head, I can't think of a single piece of really scary music. Can you?

#2311829 - 08/06/14 05:25 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Polyphonist]  
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Originally Posted by Polyphonist
An opinion that it is naive to compose short pieces cannot be taken seriously.

I have no idea where you read that opinion. I can also say that it is normal for a pianist to start by learning short pieces, then eventually progress to learning longer pieces. That doesn't mean that I think it is naive to perform short pieces by Chopin.

The dictionary meaning of composition is "the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole". The quite natural progression when learning something like this is to start from the smallest elements. You first learn to combine notes to form a melody (or rhythmic patterns, harmonies, textures, soundscapes etc.). Next you learn to combine these new elements, melodies with harmonies, rhythmic patterns and other textures to form a bigger whole. Then you learn to combine these larger chunks into larger pieces of music. There's really no way around this. You can't write a sonata unless you first learn how to write the smaller elements of a sonata. And Chopin was very able to compose sonatas, so I really don't know what news you want to break to him.

#2311887 - 08/06/14 10:02 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: RogerW]  
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Hi Roger,

Maybe there is an art to the appropriateness of particular musical material for various durations of music? The opening of Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata is "obviously" (but not necessarily) the start of something other than a prelude, and as well of something other than a work with for instance only 20 minutes compass. Some composers seem to have issues in one extreme or the other - Chopin is great in both, but for instance Schubert seems to have had some issues in composing for large multi-movement forms.

I don't know if originating one type of material vs. the other, and either of the needed quality, is easier, maybe shorter compositions with more concentrated focus just need a different type of effort rather than being intrinsically easier to pull off.

Some composers seem to be most secure with the monumental and gargantuan, and to possibly have issues with the miniature (with Wagner and Bruckner there are examples of this).

This is all a very general observation, and very roughly sketched out, yet maybe there is something to it? As a professional composer maybe you have some insight about this.


#2311920 - 08/06/14 11:59 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Hi Michael,

Regarding material suitable for long or short pieces, I think proportions is the most important word. There needs to be no difference between a 3 minute or a 15 minute movement when it comes to form, they might both consist of the same structural elements, but the individual elements are longer and more expanded in the latter. An 8 bar main theme that ends with a perfect V-I cadence would for example be very difficult to use as base for a large scale piece.

Composing good music of any length is not easy by any means and it would be wrong to claim that anyone composer writing mostly short pieces is less worth, if those short pieces are of great quality. Some composers will find that they like one or the other more, which is good, because we need all kinds of music. We wouldn't want all novelists to churn out only >2000 page epics either. smile

#2314230 - 08/11/14 03:04 PM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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The difference between long and short pieces music can often be likened to the difference between novel writing and poetry.

It's often said that the best writers (both novel-writers and poets) have more written about them than their own total output.

Several cases in point- a number of very short compositions by both Schumann and Debussy. Their very brevity is the reason they're used as examples for analysis in university. Bach's Chorals, Inventions and Symphonias would qualify as well.

#2314843 - 08/13/14 06:08 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: RogerW]  
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Thanks Roger!

#2314859 - 08/13/14 07:02 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: gsmonks]  
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Originally Posted by gsmonks
The difference between long and short pieces music can often be likened to the difference between novel writing and poetry.

Perhaps, yet these are two different genres or "instrumentations" for communication with words, the distinction isn't so much about form defined in connection with an expression over time as it can be in music. Poetry can be short or long, and prose writing can be short or long. Epic poetry can be vast in its breadth, length, height and depth, as with Byron's Don Juan.

With Thomas Wolfe his short story "Death the Proud Brother" has a different feel than the great novel "Look Homeward, Angel" - Thomas Wolfe's short stories seem closed off into being short stories, even when published "unedited" (not Charles Scribner's Sons published, Maxwell Perkins ed.) and where they appear as more episodic and with a less apparent, more subtle basis of structure. It is possible to feel that the paragraphs in his short stories are quite different than in his novels, yet analysis doesn't seem to disclose in a widely applicable way the essence of the distinction.

Charles Dicken's famous sentence - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." - this "obviously" belongs with a novel. And yet the much shorter opening sentence of George Gissing's "The Nether World" also belongs with a novel - "In the troubled twilight of a March evening ten years ago, an old man, whose equipment and bearing suggested that he was fresh from travel, walked slowly across Clerkenwell Green, and by the graveyard of St. James's Church stood for a moment looking about him." Even in much shorter sentences than that last one there can be something in it which says "novel", not "short story". Sometimes a sentence that seems to say little actually says a great deal if it is heard properly, sometimes what it doesn't say and how it doesn't say it is what conveys that there is "more".

Getting back to music, a short prelude can have some of this "open" quality as well, such as Chopin's Op. 28 No. 20 which was a fountain for variations by both Busoni and Rachmaninoff. Yet many short works are "closed", e.g. Chopin's Op. 10 No. 1 is closed off into being an etude.

I've been trying to think of the precise way to conceptualize such distinctions with music. It is something beyond harmonic analysis and phrase lengths, something that seems elusive of exact description yet a simple "open" or "closed" paradigm doesn't by itself convey what it really is about. As with some sentences, what music doesn't say somehow can be a dominant factor in what it does say, and that area isn't an easy one to explore.

p.s. - During an interval time in the past I was an English Major, and I have read virtually everything by the great authors and not only the "American" and "British" ones wink. Henry James is an "American" author when written about in the U.S., in Brittania he is a "British" author.



#2315331 - 08/14/14 06:56 AM Re: compositional methods [Re: Michael Sayers]  
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Originally Posted by Michael Sayers
Originally Posted by gsmonks
The difference between long and short pieces music can often be likened to the difference between novel writing and poetry.

Perhaps, yet these are two different genres or "instrumentations" for communication with words, the distinction isn't so much about form defined in connection with an expression over time as it can be in music. Poetry can be short or long, and prose writing can be short or long. Epic poetry can be vast in its breadth, length, height and depth, as with Byron's Don Juan.

With Thomas Wolfe his short story "Death the Proud Brother" has a different feel than the great novel "Look Homeward, Angel" - Thomas Wolfe's short stories seem closed off into being short stories, even when published "unedited" (not Charles Scribner's Sons published, Maxwell Perkins ed.) and where they appear as more episodic and with a less apparent, more subtle basis of structure. It is possible to feel that the paragraphs in his short stories are quite different than in his novels, yet analysis doesn't seem to disclose in a widely applicable way the essence of the distinction.

Charles Dicken's famous sentence - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." - this "obviously" belongs with a novel. And yet the much shorter opening sentence of George Gissing's "The Nether World" also belongs with a novel - "In the troubled twilight of a March evening ten years ago, an old man, whose equipment and bearing suggested that he was fresh from travel, walked slowly across Clerkenwell Green, and by the graveyard of St. James's Church stood for a moment looking about him." Even in much shorter sentences than that last one there can be something in it which says "novel", not "short story". Sometimes a sentence that seems to say little actually says a great deal if it is heard properly, sometimes what it doesn't say and how it doesn't say it is what conveys that there is "more".

Getting back to music, a short prelude can have some of this "open" quality as well, such as Chopin's Op. 28 No. 20 which was a fountain for variations by both Busoni and Rachmaninoff. Yet many short works are "closed", e.g. Chopin's Op. 10 No. 1 is closed off into being an etude.

I've been trying to think of the precise way to conceptualize such distinctions with music. It is something beyond harmonic analysis and phrase lengths, something that seems elusive of exact description yet a simple "open" or "closed" paradigm doesn't by itself convey what it really is about. As with some sentences, what music doesn't say somehow can be a dominant factor in what it does say, and that area isn't an easy one to explore.

p.s. - During an interval time in the past I was an English Major, and I have read virtually everything by the great authors and not only the "American" and "British" ones wink. Henry James is an "American" author when written about in the U.S., in Brittania he is a "British" author.


I had quite a chuckle because of your comment re Henry James, during which I had a flashback to a Star Trek episode where Klingons (and other alien cultures) claimed Shakespeare as their own.

In terms of long- and short-form works, it depends upon the concentration or density of ideas, and here I'm referring to the overall body of work, not the many exceptions. If there weren't any exceptions, I'm sure someone would feel compelled to create them, humans being the perverse-minded creatures they are.

Where paragraphs are concern . . . now isn't that a lost art! Paragraph construction! Editors and proof-readers have turned into a dumbed-down, parochial lot, with their mind-numbing obsession over short sentences and small words. I'd love to send some of them excerpts from Hemmingway's posthumous book The Garden Of Eden, in which he explores a breathtaking approach to sentence and paragraph construction, not only eschewing the use of punctuation whilst maintaining subtle breaks in the form of conjunctions and other devices, while weaving complex sentences and paragraphs together, each sentence often containing three parts- one part situationally descriptive, one part tactile, one part dialogue. The effect is akin to watercolours and pastels, of trying to physically merge with a painting.

Rowling's Hairy Potty is so much washroom-stall scribbling by comparison.

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