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How do you compose? #2747195
06/26/18 01:48 PM
06/26/18 01:48 PM
Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
D
Daniel Tkach Offline OP
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Daniel Tkach  Offline OP
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Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Hello musicians.
I wonder, how do you approach a new composition? Do you follow certain steps, do you improvise, do you start with a story, what do you do?

I usually have a theme in my head and I elaborate on that. Other times I press some keys by accident and I got the theme lol Sometimes I there's a very deep feeling or story I want to express and music comes out naturally.

I normally let it flow, since I did not study composition, I write music I'd like to hear. What do you guys do? How can I improve my composition skills other than "keep composing"?

Last edited by Daniel Tkach; 06/26/18 01:49 PM.
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Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2747226
06/26/18 05:00 PM
06/26/18 05:00 PM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 6,040
Isengard
J
JoelW Offline
6000 Post Club Member
JoelW  Offline
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Joined: May 2012
Posts: 6,040
Isengard
Quote
How can I improve my composition skills other than "keep composing"?

1) Read a composition book
2) Read about composition on Wikipedia
3) Read about composition out of a music student's notebook
4) Read about composition off a music student's napkin
5) Invent your own method of composition
6) Analyze a piece
7) Analyze two pieces
8) Analyze three pieces
9) Analyze four pieces
10) Watch "Five Easy Pieces"
11) Pay a teacher

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2747270
06/26/18 07:49 PM
06/26/18 07:49 PM
Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
D
Daniel Tkach Offline OP
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Daniel Tkach  Offline OP
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Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ha! awesome advice Joel. Will try to do all that at least.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: JoelW] #2747272
06/26/18 07:52 PM
06/26/18 07:52 PM
Joined: Jan 2018
Posts: 594
In the Ozarks of Missouri
NobleHouse Offline
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NobleHouse  Offline
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In the Ozarks of Missouri
Originally Posted by JoelW
Quote
How can I improve my composition skills other than "keep composing"?

1) Read a composition book
2) Read about composition on Wikipedia
3) Read about composition out of a music student's notebook
4) Read about composition off a music student's napkin
5) Invent your own method of composition
6) Analyze a piece
7) Analyze two pieces
8) Analyze three pieces
9) Analyze four pieces
10) Watch "Five Easy Pieces"
11) Pay a teacher


Sounds like good advice.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2748350
06/30/18 04:23 PM
06/30/18 04:23 PM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 341
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indigo_dave Offline
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I'd say develop your ears. Your mind's ears that is. Do you hear (perceive) root movement. Are you fluent with inversions and passing diminished chords etc. on the piano ?

And I'd say work thru some sort of composition method book with exercises at the piano. One thing that Stravinsky said in Poetics of Music (lectures he did at Harvard around 1940ish) always has stayed with me - he said a composer improvises aimlessly the way an animal digs in the ground grubbing for roots. He said they both yield to the compulsion to seek things out.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2748413
06/30/18 09:03 PM
06/30/18 09:03 PM
Joined: Sep 2013
Posts: 14
Maryland
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Brian_R Offline
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Brian_R  Offline
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Maryland
I come from an electronic music background, and a lifetime spent thinking in that context before falling in love with this instrument—so although it is piano blasphemy and clearly heretical, I record in layers.

Chords first to establish things, then (as I do not know theory) pluck around different zones for the melody until find something I like, record it, move to a higher or lower register, and repeat until the sound is filled out.



Don’t judge me. I’m trying.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2748452
07/01/18 02:39 AM
07/01/18 02:39 AM
Joined: May 2016
Posts: 508
Moscow, Russia
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Iaroslav Vasiliev Offline
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Iaroslav Vasiliev  Offline
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Moscow, Russia
I think a wonderful exercise is to try to re-compose music for some movie. Just get some movie that you're not very familiar with, turn off the sound, watch it carefully and try to compose your own score for it scene by scene.

The best composers say that music just comes to them naturally when they immerge themselves into desired mood.

Otherwise it's disputable what to begin with, but in my opinion it's the rhythm that is the best to begin with, then harmony, then melody.

BTW, there are books about composing. Consider buying one or two.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Iaroslav Vasiliev] #2748562
07/01/18 02:59 PM
07/01/18 02:59 PM
Joined: May 2012
Posts: 341
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indigo_dave Offline
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indigo_dave  Offline
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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I think a wonderful exercise is to try to re-compose music for some movie. Just get some movie that you're not very familiar with, turn off the sound, watch it carefully and try to compose your own score for it scene by scene.


A variation on this could be to take a piece you admire, maybe a couple of pieces. Study them for elements you admire in the composition. For Burt Bacharach you might, for example, notice an occasional measure of 6/4 at a dramatic point in the song. Or a big leap in the melody. You could use things from these pieces as a model - not copying the original, but using these devices in your own creation.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: indigo_dave] #2750255
07/08/18 04:56 PM
07/08/18 04:56 PM
Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
D
Daniel Tkach Offline OP
Full Member
Daniel Tkach  Offline OP
Full Member
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Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Originally Posted by indigo_dave

I'd say develop your ears. Your mind's ears that is. Do you hear (perceive) root movement. Are you fluent with inversions and passing diminished chords etc. on the piano ?

And I'd say work thru some sort of composition method book with exercises at the piano. One thing that Stravinsky said in Poetics of Music (lectures he did at Harvard around 1940ish) always has stayed with me - he said a composer improvises aimlessly the way an animal digs in the ground grubbing for roots. He said they both yield to the compulsion to seek things out.




Hi Indigo_dave.
I can tell by ear root movement and the different inversions of 3 note chords and can recognize by ear 4 note chords. I can play them more or less easily too, and I can play all minor and major scales. I know basic harmony as well.

How would I develop my ear? I had used those "perfect pitch" kind of courses for a while, and I recall I was able to more easily write the music that I heard in my mind. Now that I'm not doing those kind of exercises it takes me some time to translate to the keyboard what I'm thinking. How do you recommend I go about this? Any courses that you recommend in particular?

Interesting quote about improvisation. Does this mean I should improvise without thinking too much? When I do this fantastic things come out, which are forgotten the moment I play the last note... and the times I tried recording, nothing that good comes out lol I guess this is connected to the previous point.

I do need to work on this, I searched Amazon for books but there are so many... your guide is appreciated.

Originally Posted by Brian_R
I come from an electronic music background, and a lifetime spent thinking in that context before falling in love with this instrument—so although it is piano blasphemy and clearly heretical, I record in layers.

Chords first to establish things, then (as I do not know theory) pluck around different zones for the melody until find something I like, record it, move to a higher or lower register, and repeat until the sound is filled out.



Don’t judge me. I’m trying.


Ha! This clearly answers my question. I was actually interested in knowing about how you compose, and also interested in getting advice. So Thank you Brian_R.

Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I think a wonderful exercise is to try to re-compose music for some movie. Just get some movie that you're not very familiar with, turn off the sound, watch it carefully and try to compose your own score for it scene by scene.

The best composers say that music just comes to them naturally when they immerge themselves into desired mood.

Otherwise it's disputable what to begin with, but in my opinion it's the rhythm that is the best to begin with, then harmony, then melody.

BTW, there are books about composing. Consider buying one or two.


Great composition exercise and advice.
Now rhythm... how do I learn this... I studied about 4 years of solfeggio and all that stuff a classical piano student learns... but specifically about rhythm? Where do you recommend I look (other than youtube). Any reputable sources?

And which books do you recommend, there are tons on Amazon.

Great advice everyone, thank you.


Last edited by Daniel Tkach; 07/08/18 05:04 PM.
Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2750569
07/10/18 11:06 AM
07/10/18 11:06 AM
Joined: Apr 2016
Posts: 222
Germany
Pianist685 Offline
Full Member
Pianist685  Offline
Full Member
Joined: Apr 2016
Posts: 222
Germany
Just speaking for myself, others may follow a different approach...
I cannot sit down at the piano with the aim to compose "something" now. I need some special inspiration from things I have heard, encountered, seen, felt or experienced. A tune might develop in my head out of that, associated with an instrument that would be suitable and the appropriate key signature (like C major/a minor for simple statements, A-flat major for love-related or emotional things...) and format of the composition (a song with words or an instrumental piece, a jazz tune, a pop song, a folk song, a nocturne, a character piece, a prelude or whatever suits best to express what I want to tell). Then I study the form such a piece should have (like A-B-A for a simple song, maybe a bridge in a song with words, sections with different characters and tempos in a more complex classical composition) and then start filling in the tune and a suitable accompaniment according to the characteristics of the composition. Then, there should be some development throughout the piece, e.g. a B section could be a new, contrasting melody or use a derivative of the initial motif in a different key signature, if that is appropriate to "tell the story". While I am working on the piece, it begins to grow by itself, and I am experiencing some kind of "flow" and I get inspired from similar pieces I heard before. If the initial tune is repeated at the end, it should differ from the "exposition" in some way, e.g. have a different accompaniment, and the listener should understand why it has got this accompaniment now, as per the "development" I mentioned.
That might all sound quite theoretical, I just would like to say that I am not composing because I want to compose something. That does not work in my case. I can only compose when I have got a specific motivation, and then I know what I want to compose and why.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2750681
07/10/18 09:23 PM
07/10/18 09:23 PM
Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
D
Daniel Tkach Offline OP
Full Member
Daniel Tkach  Offline OP
Full Member
D
Joined: Nov 2011
Posts: 81
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Pianist685,
I totally relate to that, and that's what I do, I usually start with a "story", something that happened to me.

So I guess now the question is how do some people compose so much without seemingly being any "inspirational moment/reason behind", they just pour music! And good quality music, like the great composers of the past. How they did it I guess that's a million dollar question and it's probably a very silly question too.
They had fewer distractions or what, I don't know. So I couldn't agree more with your post, and that's usually the process I follow, and I became aware of that and things do come easier, but well, I still feel there's something else other than everything you've described.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2750932
07/12/18 09:40 AM
07/12/18 09:40 AM
Joined: Apr 2016
Posts: 222
Germany
Pianist685 Offline
Full Member
Pianist685  Offline
Full Member
Joined: Apr 2016
Posts: 222
Germany
Here's Beethoven's secret thoughts when he composed "Fuer Elise"

[Linked Image]
[Linked Image]
[Linked Image]

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Daniel Tkach] #2751073
07/12/18 06:44 PM
07/12/18 06:44 PM
Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 8
Colorado
Brundle-Fly Offline
Junior Member
Brundle-Fly  Offline
Junior Member
Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 8
Colorado
I don't imagine this will be very helpful for someone who doesn't already work this way, but just to put a stake in the ground, and by way of introducing myself...

I improvise at the piano (digital until very recently). I don't have the theory or notation chops to compose on paper. New pieces generally start out as a combination of a rhythmic 'hook' and a short chord progression - sometimes partially or mostly arpeggiated into a melody - that I have 'stumbled upon' while letting my hands roam the keyboard, more or less randomly, looking for new chord shapes and rhythms. I don't usually have a 'story' or any particular intent in mind, but what comes out is certainly influenced by my mood and recent events in my life.

I have a sort of a muscle-memory-based mental tape loop that is always 'recording' the last 4-8 bars of whatever I am doing so that I can go back and replay something I like and begin to experiment with it. I just have to be careful not to start immediately moving to far beyond the original motief, or I'm likely to lose a crucial element of it (most often the rhythm) that makes it special. On the other hand, if I keep playing the same riff for too long, I risk loosing the ability to hear 'what comes next', and not be able to develop it more fully. Improvising on a MIDI keyboard is helpful in this respect because I can easily record an idea and start playing with variations or move on to something completely different without worrying about losing that particular secret sauce recipe.

Where the piece goes depends on the nature of that initial idea. Some are so rudimentary that they don't really lend themselves to a lot of development, and just become sort of a musical 'mantra' that might make a good foundation for overlaying percussion, bass and melodic parts (using MIDI). I often refer to these ideas as 'grooves' because they're usually rhythmically 'catchy' and just feel good to play in the same way that dancing feels good.

Other ideas are more sophisticated or evolved from the start, and lead natually to the development of choruses, bridges, modulations, variations, intros, outros, etc. (we're talking jazz/fusion/pop-style music here) to become fully-developed compositions. This can happen rapidly in a single session or it can take days, weeks, months or even years of playing around with something before I 'find' all the pieces to finish it. The intro, if there is one, often comes last, and may be another musical idea that evolved independently that just happens to fit.

As a result of this approach to 'composing' (and having been at this for so many years), I have a large inventory - some mental, some MIDI - of unfinished compositions that start and end 'in the middle'. I enjoy playing them for myself, but try not to subject friends and family (or the Interwebz) to them.

Re: How do you compose? [Re: Brundle-Fly] #2751268
07/13/18 05:11 PM
07/13/18 05:11 PM
Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 8
Colorado
Brundle-Fly Offline
Junior Member
Brundle-Fly  Offline
Junior Member
Joined: Nov 2012
Posts: 8
Colorado
Coincidentally saw the video linked in this post: http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...f-an-individual-harmonic-vocabulary.html

Between 0:56 and 1:13, the speaker, Aaron Parks, is expressing exactly what I described above as 'stumbling on... ...a little germ of something'.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqUxs83j380

Not such a surprising coincidence, I suppose; I'm sure it's a common experience of many musicians/composers, though maybe not employed as deliberately and strategically as a technique for starting a new composition.


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