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Topic: Your Composing Styles

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  1. #1

    Lightbulb Your Composing Styles

    I have tried both successfully and unsuccessfully to write orchestrations in two different manners. The first is melodically, the second is chordally. Both produce completely different results. I am just curious as to how most of the people here write their music. Lets divide it into two groups: Those that read/write music and those that play by ear. This largely goes out to those who know the theory behind your music. Do you write by creating a chord progression and then fill in the blanks, or do you write a part out that you may hear in your head, and then "play by ear" the other parts. Perhaps, it is some combination. With much commercial music, you need to have a hook developed. Does this occur after the structure of the song is inplace, or possibly before any of the song is created. I find I hear music best by creating an original piano piece and then structuring the instruments around it. However, I don't take the time to say this chord is going to consist of just a straight C chord, etc. It, inturn, takes me an insane amount of time to write these parts. I wish I didn't hear all of the music best like this. Maybe there is more strength in a chord progression. I have tried, but it is not as creative of a process to me.

    For example, lets take a Williams, Holst, or a Shostakovich piece. All of these composers have so much going on with quick string runs, quick flute runs. But, they all seem to follow theory to a "T." All of the winds are usually in octaves. The brass tends to be the same way. The strings have the most complex parts and tend to have stings in octaves as well. Every tutti is a nicely structured chord.

    I know I will find it interesting to see how everyone else writes. Perhaps others may too. Hopefully, it will be an interesting enough topic that it can be a learning experience for many others as well.
    Jonathan Kerr
    J.Kerr Music, Inc

  2. #2
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    Re: Your Composing Styles

    So, when you say "filling in the parts", you mean you've got your melody and you're trying to add some harmony to it?. Or, vice versa, you've got a nice series of chords mapped out and you want to add your melody afterwards?. Both are kind of pop-song like approaches and not necessarily best for the type of music you seem to be talking about.

    If you're thinking of Holst or Shostakovitch or whoever, these were men who thought far more in terms of cells, themes, gradual development, and understood that ultimately good orchestral writing boils down to understanding counterpoint, realising that every element of what is perceived as being just vertical is actually the result of seperate parts moving horizontally to create the whole. Its not a case of sitting there and filling in blanks all the time - you have to be more panoramic in your approach and see the bigger picture. Sketch work in your head or on paper, mapping out complimentary ideas, be they melodic or whatever, is helpful because they let you chisel your statue so you can see through the block of marble, so to speak, and have a clear realisation of what it will all sound like.

    When I first started composing seriously when I was in my early teens, I would scribble everything down at breakneck speed and act, like Obi-Wan suggests(!), on instinct. I didn't start with a roadmap, just a couple of clear ideas and an almost improvisatory approach which, I still think today, led to some of the most vibrant music I've written. Pretty rhapsodic in form, what it had in zest it lacked in tight structure and concentration of development. I was aware of this and spent my mid-teens immersed in scores and at LSO rehearsals at the Barbican. Consequently, when I arrived at conservatoire age I was obsessed with making sure every note was in its correct place - BUT I think I was too busy trying to make sure my mentor didn't have room to criticise the technique and in so doing lost some of the spark of the earlier music. Fortunately, it was a very short lived phase and these days I feel there's a balance between the two approaches that I suppose comes with maturity and experience.

    I'm rambling a bit, but what I'm trying to say is that its a good idea to try and learn to capture your best ideas as quickly as possible and be able to develop them with a sure technique without damaging the goods in the process. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, what you want to say, and build up a good aural apparatus. Being able to hear what you're about to score is a good thing because it means less time messing around and more time working productively.

    By the way, there's always that danger line that too much knowledge can be abused - its easy to fall back on what you know will work and forget to experiment. Knowing that the horns and clarinets work nicely together in 4 part in the mid register might lead you to use the combination simply because you know it works and forget there are other ones that will actually end up sounding more inventive and true to the end goal - I'm being simplistic but you get the idea. Its always a good idea to change your working methods from project to project so that staleness doesn't creep up on you.

  3. #3

    Re: Your Composing Styles

    I have too many notes in my head at one time, so composing for is simply organizing all the crap in my head into something that makes sense. I know it seems a tad unusual, but for me I can't control the constant music. It is killing me at night. I try to sleep but with all of it flying in my head, It just marinates in my brain. I find that separating myself from all people and just having it be myself, I can control what is going on. My theory of writing comes from having a LARGE pallete of musical backgrounds but never following what just one composer does, or in fact in what any composer does. Many times I will listen to music but not even bother to look at the composer until the piece is finished. It helps me focus on the picture as a whole and not just a the "elements" of a composer and western tonality. I find that sticking to one school of composition only limits the mind to what it can really do. Experiment, allow yourself to think strange things, eat something new everyday, say something new everyday.

    Hope this might help a little,
    Sean R. Beeson

  4. #4
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    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Beeson
    Experiment, allow yourself to think strange things, eat something new everyday, say something new everyday.
    That's a healthy approach - a good approach to have. But its always important within this to have the technique to make it form a convincing whole and avoid losing your original voice in the process.

  5. #5

    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Yes, tools are well too. Everyone needs fine tuning in their mastery, I was just trying to iterate the point that in the end your voice defines who you are, because you covered/spoke of the academic part of it.

    Beeson

  6. #6

    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Hehe I ReRead JonP's post and I must have ignorantly missed the part about keeping your inner voice. Well, anyway... What JonP said, and I guess I just said it again. What has been said so far Makes a great bit of sense.

    Beeson

  7. #7

    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Well, according to Jon, my orchestral writing style is like pop music. This would make sense since I produce all genres of mainstream music. I can see that by playing a piano part and building the orchestra around it would be the same as someone coming to me with an acoustic song and wanting it produced. What I don't understand is how some people manage to achieve such a great theme/hook throughout their pieces. It seems that you should write mostly chordally as opposed to one individual part to structure the song. I just can't find as much creativity per part when I am just filling in the structure with a particular instrument. I fell that I can create a killer orchestral piece by writing it out on piano then adding parts. Perhaps I should look at the chords on piano and some of the movement and add parts around it based upon the chords. Currently, I will play the piano part, then try to write each part individually. Hopefully others can share some more info on their particular writing styles.
    Jonathan Kerr
    J.Kerr Music, Inc

  8. #8

    Unhappy Re: Your Composing Styles

    I know it sounds like I don't know theory - after re-reading my posts. However, I do know theory very well. It just seems that when I write, I write more by ear. When I write a piano part I know exactly which chords I am moving to and why I want the particular progression. However, adding the other parts seems to be more of a "by ear" technique that I really long to abandon. I really don't like writing it out on piano first because I don't really know where I want each instrument to come in and what I want them to play because I really like the piano part I wrote. I seem to be between a rock and a hard place that is hindering my creativity. Help!
    Jonathan Kerr
    J.Kerr Music, Inc

  9. #9
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    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Just a suggestion, but try and take your head away from "chord" thinking and set yourself a straightfoward task. Take two voices and write a piece for them. No other instruments involved. Find yourself a nice poem or write some lyrics (or just use solmization) and see how you can make these two voices work together. Use imitation, canon....try different techniques to make it interesting (ie: not just two voices in 3rds all the time - you know what I mean!). If you can, find a couple of singers who'll do the honours and prepare a performance for you. Work with them on the writing, what could be written better to suit their ranges and strengths etc. Doesn't matter on the style, could be classical, could be gospel, whatever you want. But setting words is always a good way to encourage the imagination and not get so bogged down in purely technical aspects.

    OK, this is obviously just a suggestion but all I'm trying to say is that sometimes tackling this sort of music is really going to help you not just on technique but on understanding counterpoint and good part writing. When you're happy, try three voices....and so on. And you might find some of it turns out to be amongst your best work because you've limited yourself to a certain degree and are forced to be inventive to make it work well. And I'll bet you'll be really pleased with the results

  10. #10

    Re: Your Composing Styles

    Quote Originally Posted by JonP
    Just a suggestion, but try and take your head away from "chord" thinking and set yourself a straightfoward task. Take two voices and write a piece for them. No other instruments involved. Find yourself a nice poem or write some lyrics (or just use solmization) and see how you can make these two voices work together. Use imitation, canon....try different techniques to make it interesting (ie: not just two voices in 3rds all the time - you know what I mean!). If you can, find a couple of singers who'll do the honours and prepare a performance for you. Work with them on the writing, what could be written better to suit their ranges and strengths etc. Doesn't matter on the style, could be classical, could be gospel, whatever you want. But setting words is always a good way to encourage the imagination and not get so bogged down in purely technical aspects.

    OK, this is obviously just a suggestion but all I'm trying to say is that sometimes tackling this sort of music is really going to help you not just on technique but on understanding counterpoint and good part writing. When you're happy, try three voices....and so on. And you might find some of it turns out to be amongst your best work because you've limited yourself to a certain degree and are forced to be inventive to make it work well. And I'll bet you'll be really pleased with the results
    I appreciate the advice - but I think it is not quite what I am asking. I sometimes do not convey my questions very well. So here it goes:

    I am a producer for mostly all other genres of music. I add string parts, horn parts, guitars, mandolins, etc. without a problem. However, I am speaking clearly on an orchestral level. I also compose. Scoring for a full orchestra is the focus of this question (NOT pertaining to pop music in any way). I can score an orchestra in a variety of techniques. The first technique is writing a line out first on a particular instrument and adding all of the other instruments to it. The second technique is writing out a chord structure, then develop your themes. Lastly (and the way I tend to my music) is I write a piano part out that covers the phrasing, main themes, etc for the entire orchestra. Once it is written, go back and figure out what parts you want wherever to play them.

    I find that writing out a piano part quickly tells me how the piece is going to sound. However, it takes an eternity for me to figure out what I want where. Writing chordally is the way I think many people probably prefer, but I feel I cannot develop themes and melodies and let the music choose its path with as much ease and confidence as I can when I write a piano part or just write out a line for another instrument then fill around it.

    By nature (as a producer) I hear one instrument and then want to add others to it. I just think this is not the best technique for my personal scoring because it takes me so long to finish a project. I am constantly learning how to improve my skills. So, I was just trying to ask how everyone else writes. Here is the scenario:

    You decide to write a piece of music on a quiet Sunday afternoon. You fire up your DAW. What are the next steps everyone else takes? (Sorry for the long reply)
    Jonathan Kerr
    J.Kerr Music, Inc

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