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Topic: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

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  1. #1

    What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    What do people think about or plan before starting a composition. Do people say to themselves I am going to write something somber or graceful. Do they say I am going to write something in sonata form or or a binary form. Do people sketch out a harmonic plan. I compose very tonal music so I do not work with tone rows or serial methods.I am always curious about the methods of those who are far more experienced than I.

  2. #2
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    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    Before I retired from college teaching almost everything I composed was a commission or a request for a piece for a specific group or soloist and often for a specific event. I always thought through the problems and pleasures of writing for that person or organization. These pieces ranged from a work for a small church choir to one for a professional string quartet. Once I knew what the restrictions would be, I found it easy to imagine appropriate music for them. As a general rule I would start sketching the piece from the beginning and eventually work out the important middle sections and the end. If the piece was long I often omitted measures where I wasn't certain what I wanted and jumped ahead to places where I was confident about what to compose. Finally, I would connect these things together and rewrite some of the sections as needed.

    Norman

  3. #3

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    I have a theme or mood I want to convey before I start. I write a lot of cues for clients at the moment so these come with keywords of the mood, emotions required, intensity and probably general tempos of slow, mid or fast. I run through a made up cue in my head based on the keywords required - a kind of ghost image of the music - not notes, just tones, then I write. If the result feels to be matching my initial thoughts - it's done.

    I plan some of the instrumentation - with my orchestra template already primed, I usually add extra patches as required by the target genre, a piano perhaps for something bittersweet, and perhaps tutti hits and textures for horror music. I've refined it to a level were there is almost no technical hurdles to leap during the process. Load and go.
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Tom_Davis's Avatar
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    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    When working on commission, such as the Missa Brevis I did last year, the basic structure is pretty well established and I simply come up with a few melodies from which all else matures. The same is true of anything written for voices. However, for purely instrumental works I usually have recently stumbled across a particularly attractive chord progression or melodic element. From there on the music goes where it will go. I just write it down.

    However, when exploring technical compositions such as 12-tone or quartal harmony, I tend to create a basic template into which I make everything else fit.

  5. #5

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    I say to myself, "I'm going to finally sit down and write me a f***ing composition, even if it kills me!!"

    Several months later, I might actually do it! LOL!

    And when I do sit down with pencil and manuscript paper on the table, I either bang out an eight-bar melody or some kind of chord progression. If I start with a chord progression, then I experiment different melodies on top of it. Once the melody is finished, I f**k around with it. In other words, retrograde, invert, retrograde-invert (etc) the holy crap out of it. THEN, lately, I set up some kind of scheme or outline for the entire composition. It would be something like this: Intro, A, A, B, B, A, interlude, C, D, C, D, interlude, B, A, Ending. Then I spend forever putting it all together as outlined with sketched out compositional tools at hand. This includes putting my hand up my rectum until it reaches my brain to stimulate old memories of things learned from music college 30+ years ago. This might include working with quardal harmony, some kind of contrapuntal stuff, etc., etc., all (hopefully) crafted together to fit within the form of the tune that I established for myself.

    Now, to be clear, I do not mean to be offensive with my language. I set myself down earlier this year to start another composition (with the last one being completed last spring). I cleaned the working area, sharpened the pencils and made more blank copies of manuscript paper. I have yet to start the composition!!! There are two work-related projects that need my attention in addition to some family illness that has my attention. Tending to my mom's needs comes first (she's in the hospital). Dealing with her illness is inspiring me to write something sad, but with the love of a son's heart. Indeed my next composition might very well be inspired by the reality surrounding my mother as end-stage cancer slowly decays her vulnerable and failing body. But right now, the staffs on the blank manuscript papers remain very blank.

    I wish everyone well as YOU work to sit yourselves down and put your "pencil to manuscript paper".

    Ted
    Music and humor are healthy for the soul.

  6. #6

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    I compose in a similar fashion as do those above. I often compose for specific groups and levels of difficulty, so, at first, I try to create melodies that are fun to play or are catchy, that are appropriate to the skill level I've set, and that will be playable by other instruments at the skill level.

    Sometimes I don't set out to do anything when melodies just come. These I write down as soon as I can--if I wait, I often cannot remember them. I have manuscript paper everywhere, and my wife knows it's not uncommon for me to pull over to the side of the road to write something down. I have many files of these sketches, and I review them every so often. I choose to develop maybe one out of 20.

    As the OP suggested, I do sometimes write to a particular mood. And I also write occasionally to specific instrumentation--lately mostly string orchestra and concert band.

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  7. #7

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    Thanks for all the responses. I am not a professional composer so I have not had the thrill of being commissioned to create a composition.

    Quote Originally Posted by jandjnelson View Post
    As a general rule I would start sketching the piece from the beginning and eventually work out the important middle sections and the end. Norman
    I tend to sketch from beginning to end and I always wonder if I am missing something as far as planning and structuring a composition.

    Quote Originally Posted by Plowking View Post
    I have a theme or mood I want to convey before I start.
    This is something I may want to try. It can be very formidable for me to stare at a blank piece of manuscript paper. I am not one to keep a notebook of ideas or melodies.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom_Davis View Post
    When working on commission, such as the Missa Brevis I did last year, the basic structure is pretty well established
    I am curious as to how you establish the basic structure of a piece you are working on. Do you sketch out a plan or are you able to imagine the structure in your head?

    Quote Originally Posted by efiebke View Post
    And when I do sit down with pencil and manuscript paper on the table, I either bang out an eight-bar melody or some kind of chord progression.
    Do you bang chrod progressions out in your head or on an instrument?

  8. #8

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    Not a pro here either. What usually happens is I find myself playing a melodic fragment in my head, or I wake up with it. Example: the first 4 notes of Skating were the genesis of the entire piece. I recognize that it has potential and I start to work with it. I do a complete sketch of an entire movement, melody and harmony, usually just writing a chord name down, or putting in the actual notes if it's a weird chord, like augmented, diminished, etc. It often is in the key of C at first, but as I start to get ideas of what instruments are going to be involved, eventually it somwhow gets rendered into the final keys it will be in. It's a very organic process for me, as if I'm discovering or unravelling something, rather than forcefully creating it.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Tom_Davis's Avatar
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    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    Quote Originally Posted by RichardMc View Post
    Thanks for all the responses. I am not a professional composer so I have not had the thrill of being commissioned to create a composition.



    I tend to sketch from beginning to end and I always wonder if I am missing something as far as planning and structuring a composition.


    This is something I may want to try. It can be very formidable for me to stare at a blank piece of manuscript paper. I am not one to keep a notebook of ideas or melodies.



    I am curious as to how you establish the basic structure of a piece you are working on. Do you sketch out a plan or are you able to imagine the structure in your head?



    Do you bang chrod progressions out in your head or on an instrument?
    If it is an established form such as a Mass, there is rarely much I do to change that format. But starting from scratch I rarely think, “Okay, this is going to be a sonata rondo, or a symphony; I let the music flow from my head onto the paper and try not to get in the way. That makes it exciting. I get to watch it grow and mature. Frequently that growth is beyond what I would have planned.

    The real thrill, of course, is that when it ends I am the only living entity in the universe that has heard it. Well, until I decide to share it.

  10. #10

    Re: What Do You Think About Before Starting A Composition

    It's a great topic with really read-worthy replies.

    When I want to compose something, in the best of times, I don't Think at all. For me, the more Thinking there is, the less worthy the moment is for composing.

    Randy

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