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Topic: Finding time to compose?

  1. #1

    Finding time to compose?

    Just thought it might be interesting to pick everybody's brains on how and when they find the time to compose.

    I studied composition in college and graduate school, and I did most of my composing in long all-night spurts. Now I'm married and working full-time in addition to rehearsing most nights, and I see my composing time fizzling away. All-nighters are rarely possible anymore.

    Sure, I have an hour free here and there, but I usually can't compose like that -- when I compose I tend to get "in the zone" and will work for hours and hours straight without even getting up from my seat. But since I rarely have that luxury any more, I need to find a new way of doing things.

    Also, I work as a music teacher and conductor, so often my "composing" time gets used up arranging music for one or another ensemble, rather than composing my own work.

    I know that a lot of you manage to be very prolific composers while balancing a work and family life. So how do you do it?

    I think this could be a great discussion, since most composers nowadays do not do it full-time. Any thoughts?


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Recanati, Italy

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    Chris, I'm in the same situation. My teacher is very hungry with me, since he usually weaks at 6:00 AM each day, and composes for one hour. He is one of the most prolific composers around, so I guess this should work.

    Monks have woken early for thousand years. So, why can't we learn to do it?


  3. #3

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    I can compose a a decent rate because I go to school. On Friday and Saturday nights, I hype myself on Mountain Dew and compose for several hours straight till about 3-4 AM. It works though.
    Colton J. Provias
    Film Score Composer, Location Sound Mixer, and Sound Editor
    Full-stack Web Developer

  4. #4

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    An interesting topic, and one that is near and dear to me. I spent about 20 years after conservatory not doing a lot of composing. I had a few "prolific" years where I actually wrote two or three things, and I occasionally wrote rock and electronic songs, but put it all together, and it feels nothing like 20 years worth of music.

    I finally decided that composing was the most important thing in my life, and quit my job so that I could do it full time. I know this isn't a solution that is available to everyone, but if there's any way for you to swing it, you owe it to yourself to try. It is the best thing I've ever done.

    I made the move on April 1 of this year, and in the last four and a half months, I have written more than the previous ten years combined! I figure even if I run out of money and have to return to programming (quite possible) I still will come out ahead. I'm proud of what I've accomplished in this short time, and even if I end up penniless, I feel like a real composer at last.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  5. #5

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    Wow, This is really an relevant topic!
    Chris, I am in the same shoes, except I haven't had the formal training and am not a working musician yet.

    I am TRYING to get into music school. but am a father of a very active and not very quiet 15 month old. I work nights at a hotel and watch our daughter on the occasion when my wife substitute teaches during the week.

    I have found myself "in the zone" a lot of the time away from my computer or desk. I often hum and sing to my daughter, and often she enjoys watching and listening to her daddy sing to her. She often dances to my singing<---(hopefully an approving gesture, since she is also smiling, but you never know! )
    I usually try to devlop my ideas in this fashion. She doesn't understand what i am doing, she only knows that she is with her daddy and he is looking at her when he sings and hums and trys to work out some musical problems in his head, so it is FUN for her. I am sure the faces I make while doing this makes for comedy.

    As soon as she goes down for naps, I am hectically trying to flesh out on paper or Finale the music I have been constructing in my head with my daughter. I then try to fuse s much as what I have done into my memory for later.

    I often rock her to sleep for naps and as has been our habit since she was born, to sing to her. This is the time when I try to come up with more meldoic aspects and ideas.

    Do I ever get the long, much needed times "in the zone" where I get to just be free and compose? Yes, but those are extremely rare. Most of the time it is 10 min. here, 5 min there. But I get quite a bit accomplished in the time. Quality of time spent, vs. quantity. I wish it were BOTH, but I settle for what I can get. I do need those long times to give some context to these randomly inspired and worked out ideas, which comes on Friday and Sat Nights when Claire (our daughter) has gone to bed for the night.

    THAT is how I survive the compositional impulse and still be a decent father and husband. I cannot wait till the situation is different, but until then, I sleep less, but am more happy.

    Now, waking up with several melodies in my head fighting for attention is another matter for another thread....and maybe for professional physciatric help later...

    Jerry Wickham
    MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5ghz 4GB Ram OSX 10.5.8
    Korg TritonLe & MAudio Oxygen 8
    T3, Logic 9, DP7, K2, GPO4, Strad, Gofriller, C&MB, Finale 2010

    My Website!
    New Film Scores!
    Also, Ever think about having your very own personal documentary? See my new Website!

  6. #6

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    Oh I forgot to mention - I do get some time at the hotel every so often to log some quantity time in, since it is quiet at nights. But those are not always dependable.

    But for the most part, I am often lost in thought trying to work out music in my head. My wife gets annoyed by my lack of really attentively listening to her sometimes when we are having conversations, but she has learned that when I have a preoccupied look in my eyes, to just tell me later, or to make sure I repeat what she has told me so she knows that I know what she said.

    If singing to my baby girl helps me flesh out ideas, I do it. When she gets older this technique will have to be altered or abandoned. When it changes from being fun time to a "Oh my gosh, I think my dad is really insane!" moment. it will have to change. By then maybe I will be a professional.

    Who knows?

    MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5ghz 4GB Ram OSX 10.5.8
    Korg TritonLe & MAudio Oxygen 8
    T3, Logic 9, DP7, K2, GPO4, Strad, Gofriller, C&MB, Finale 2010

    My Website!
    New Film Scores!
    Also, Ever think about having your very own personal documentary? See my new Website!

  7. #7

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    Your story sounds familiar.

    It seems there's so much time when we're young.. And now the focus is paying bills and spending time with family.

    In my case most of my work is done during the night. After my wife and I retire for the evening, I'll wake up and do some work for a couple hours.... I found I only need about 5-6 hours of sleep.

    I'm a full time visual artist, so my workday is filled, however I've purchased a small handheld pocket pc, which I'll use to construct all my rough layouts during my lunch breaks, or moments of inspiration.

    If I dedicate my lunch and coffee breaks for my creative muse, I find I can get an extra 30 -40 minutes per day.. It really adds up at the end of a week.

    The key is to budget your time as best as you can... and to have the necessary tools for your craft always nearby and ready to go!


  8. #8

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    For me the keys are 1) a target, and 2) a deadline.

    I find that I really like composing to picture. That's my target. I'm not just trying to compose something "pretty" or "clever" or "virtuosic" or "cool"; I'm trying to create the best music I can for the scene at hand. I guess I'm a problem solver at heart.

    Add the target to a deadline, and I will fill every spare minute with composing. Without the deadline, I might watch a movie, post on NS or just stare into space!

    I guess you could call this fireman mode. Some people work best with the hour a day at 6am routine. (Such people are probably very good at maintenance - I am not.) Others, like me, give their best efforts when in a pressure cooker.

    As an example, I just completed six minutes of finished music from 2am to 4pm Sunday during the 48-hour film project. http://www.48hourfilm.com/portland_oregon/ I hadn't composed a thing during the previous month.

  9. #9

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    I treat composing like any other job. I force myself to compose for about four to five hours everyday (except weekends, unless inspirations hits). I used to be a chronic procrastinator and would tackle commissions about a week or so before the deadline; my wife said I was unbearable to be around during that week. One of the benefits of consistant composing, other than better crafting, is keeping ones sanity.

    James Eakin III
    Turtle Creek Chorale
    Assistant Director-Film Scoring program,
    Aspen Music Festival & School

  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Albuquerque, NM

    Re: Finding time to compose?

    I enormously appreciate all the input people are giving here. This has been my greatest frustration since I started getting serious about composing again. I need to find creative ways to fit this in. I also need to find the discipline to follow through with it. For cryin' out loud, I'm still working on my entry for the July 4th competition!

    Anyway, I'm forumlating a plan based on much of what I've read here. Unfortunately, it probably involves getting up early since that's the only conceivable time that I can work without interruption, and as I believe someone else said earlier, I'd rather be tired and happy.

    Jeff, you mentioned using a Pocket PC. I could get access to use one, what are you using to construct rough layouts? Is there a viable notation program for inputting ideas to export later? Right now I'm just trying to get in the habit of carrying around a couple sheets of staff paper and jotting down ideas, but would love to find a more efficient method!

    Thanks to all for their ideas, it's been invaluable to me!


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