Monday, October 5, 2009

Stuck?

I understand from reading student blogs that at least some of you have felt "stuck" at some point(s) during the composition process for this project. If this sounds familiar to you, here are some things that may help, beginning with a slightly modified version of the answer I gave Mary Beth:

  1. Be aware that the feeling of being stuck is a very normal part of the creative process. A common reason for being stuck is that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves, and this awareness can help you react in with at least some degree of equanimity, which in turn can help you become unstuck.
  2. Try different things; there are many ways to become unstuck, none of which work for everyone. (More specific suggestions are listed in one of the links below.)
  3. In this project you were asked to write three character pieces, so consider the mood/atmosphere that your first two pieces have, then think about what kind of mood/atmosphere would go well with them, either as a contrast or as a complement.
  4. Think about textures; what textures do you use in your first two pieces, and what texture(s) might make a nice contrast to them for your third piece?
  5. Feel free to drop by my office with your compositional sketches if you'd like suggestions that are more specific to your particular situation.

Want even more suggestions? Consider reading a couple of earlier and more detailed blogs I wrote on the subject:

11 comments:

David said...

This entry is exactly what I've been needing to read for the past hour or so. It's so easy, after doing two compositions and hearing so many more, to start putting pressure on yourself to make it as close to perfect as possible. The first one in a sense was easier because I didn't know what to expect so I just composed what I wanted. We tend to be our own worst critics, so I have to keep reminding myself that I just have to compose my music my way and let the class tell me how they feel about it when the time comes.

Adam said...

I found that the hardest part of composing these three character pieces was the very intros. Basically trying to get the beginning "right" so that the development can flow out of it. I'm always staring at the computer screen with one or two chords down, waiting for something to click. aha. I guess it can be compared to writing a paper or an essay. To try and organize your thoughts so one flows smoothly from the next.

Brooke said...

That organizing your thoughts idea is something I have trouble with! I have lots of musical ideas floating around in my head, but acually writing them down and then making something out of them takes a lot of organization I find. If I don't have a plan then I get stuck really fast. I find that I can develop and idea if I'm just playing aroun with it on my instrument but then when it comes down to writing it out I have no idea what I want to do.

Aiden Hartery said...

I find myself stuck A LOT of the time. My biggest problem is finding it hard to just write simple ideas. I always catch myself over thinking and putting things that are too complicated when I could have done something much simpler. These character pieces have been a real challenge to find non-familiar ways of thinking about music (at least for me) and present them in a short little character piece. They've been a great exercise for the ol' noggin.

Adam Batstone said...

Being human and all I also exepeirnced this during both of my compostions.

With the first, I think my problem was the sheer amount of choice. We had 16 chords. I feel like I could have written hundreds of pieces of music using these chords. In the end I only took around 5 that I thought worked well together, and had a logical flow of tension.

My problem with the second was the fact that I wrote all the guitar parts out first, without anything else. Only the text set to a rhythm. I had a flowing 16th note passage that did not want ot stop repeating. i had a hard time composing a smooth transition from that into a new section with a lighter texture.

Steve said...

When I am stuck, I will often run whatever material I already have obessively through my head until I hear new areas it could go. I do find it helpful to press play on the midi-playback and hear what you have from the beginning... to see if ideas are effective/appropriate length, things flowing, etc. But getting away from what is already pre-determined by what I've notated and letting it naturally flow through my head seems to be a useful step. I'll often find the material I already have could be improved upon, and after every last detail is in my memory, I seem to hear places where the music should go, how I should get there, and I have a start of ideas on how to get un-stuck.
I think this works for me because my writing tends to have very even and simple phrasing and lots of repetition.. i'm not sure how easy it is to memorize every detail of exceptionally complex music, or if running it through your head would be effective.

squinlan said...

I found with the last project that I got stuck quite frequently. I think I struggled with writing what I wanted and what was expected of me. A lot of the time I would sit down, try to write, and get frustrated. Forcing it out never really helped. I found that I would randomly think of a new idea after listening to something, or even just thinking about it out of boredom, so I would often times write it down in words as best I could until I could sit down and write the music. There were numerous times I came up with great ideas while I was trying to fall asleep!

Andre McEvenue said...

These all seem like good ways to become unstuck. I can relate to the sensation of having put too much pressure on myself. I find it most helpful to try thinking about my piece in a different way. I would even go as far as to say that one of the most common reasons for getting stuck in the first place is that I am unsure exactly what the character of the piece should be at that point.

I find going for walks, and in general changing my environment helps to think about the character, which will in turn generate more ideas for the piece.

Robert Godin said...

This always happens in different sections for me. I'll start working on, say, the 3rd section. I'll get some momentum and then things just completely stop. My usual fix is just moving onto another section but then you just end up with a bunch of unfinished sections lol So trying these suggestions sounds like a great idea. I also like Andre's idea of going for a walk and trying to clear my head; it's fairly easy to just be stumped and stuck at the computer for too long.

Luke said...

One of the biggest challenges I find in composing is getting stuck on an idea and not knowing where to go next. Usually my solution is to go and listen to a bunch of music to get some ideas. I usually try to listen to something I haven't heard before, or either that listen to some of my favorite music that I know to see how or why I love it. Getting unstuck is usually less of a challenge than we often think. And we often get stuck by over thinking or over analyzing music that we are writing, and we sometimes have to step away from the piece and sleep on it, have a break and return with a new outlook and inspiration.

Sarah-Beth Cormier said...

When I feel I'm stuck, I give myself ten more minutes, and in those ten minutes, I keep trying new ideas. Good ideas, bad ideas, strange ideas, anything. Usually those ten minutes don't provide me with anything usable, but they often lead me to material I can work with. I find that the important thing is to avoid simply staring at your screen or manuscript paper and trying to think of something; if you could just think of something, you wouldn't be stuck! I prefer to put some sort of material on my compositional anvil and to try to hammer it out. This keeps up the creative momentum, helps to prevent the feeling of spinning one's wheels, and often results in the eventual creation of satisfactory content. By taking these ten minutes of unrestricted brainstorming, I prevent myself from giving up too soon, even when it feels like trudging through mud. Almost invariably, I'm able to get "un-stuck" in those ten minutes; if not, I do something else to allow the piece to percolate in my mind for a bit. Otherwise, I just end up frustrated.