Sunday, August 31, 2008

Composition Issues (outline)

This is a handout prepared for my introductory composition class, posted here in case anyone might find it useful, or have any suggestions for improvements. Its main objective is to provoke thought about issues that come up when composing, and to engender discussion on these issues. There are usually no right or wrong answers to the questions posed, but some may find benefit in considering and debating them.

Here are the 9 sections, and how they break down; each is a separate blog entry:

1. Originality and Quality of Initial Musical Ideas
1.1. The quality of ideas may not matter very much in determining the quality of the complete composition that emerges from them; and
1.2. The degree to which these ideas are original may not matter very much. Shocking, isn't it?

2. How do you Develop Compositional Craft?
2.1. Study the music of others.
2.2. Compose as much as you can.

3. Understanding your Musical Idea
3.1. Live with it for a while.
3.2. What's it about?
3.3. Does it change character?
3.4. What is its function within the context of the piece?
3.5. Structural Analysis.
3.6. Harmonic (or Pitch, Scale, etc.) Analysis.

4. The Pros and Cons of Development

5. How to Extend or Develop Musical Materials; Specific Suggestions

6. Balancing the Old with the New, the Expected with the Unexpected

7. More Dichotomies to Ponder…
7.1. Less is more, vs. More is more.
7.2. Always leave them wanting more, vs. Give them what they want.
7.3. Don't treat the listener like an idiot, vs. There's a sucker born every minute.
7.4. There can be 'too much of a good thing,' vs. If you have a good idea, then stick with it!
7.5. The George Costanza approach.

8. I think my idea has run its course. Now what?
8.1. The three models for composers' roles.
8.2. Mastery or Mystery?
8.3. The value of a plan.
8.4. Getting stuck, and possible workarounds.
8.5. Don't obsess!
8.6. Challenges = Opportunities for inspired solutions!

9. Taking your inspiration from wherever you find it


Steve said...

"The way in which your musical ideas are extended and developed into complete compositions matters more than the quality/originality of the ideas themselves". I just want to say I really like this idea and think it's important for composers to understand.
Certain things in art will appeal to certain types of people, and looking beyond what may not initially excite you personally, and to understand what the artist is trying to achieve and how well they did that is crucial in understanding and appreciating the art.
With regards to composing, a great initial idea can certainly go a long way. The thing is, I feel the skill to come up with a "great" idea is harder to develop than the skill to structure and develop ANY idea into a coherent and effective piece of music. This is important for composers to understand if that "special" idea doesn't seem to be coming to them.. take that idea that seems "not bad", and have the skills to make it into something great!

Another thing I found interesting about myself after reading this blog is that I am aware of a lot of the tips given, yet I rarely think of them during the composition process. I know I could explain some tips for developing ideas to others, I know that listening to music influences and helps me, yet when I'm actually writing, it usually seems to be a simple process of just playing around with an idea until I have something I like. I continue this and hours upon hours later, I have a composition. I rarely think, "I should do this, now...". In retrospect, I will see things I did and understand why I did them, but I didn't consciously identify them while I was doing them.. if that makes any sense. I feel like some of it is naturally embedded in my writing because of practice/experience, but if I were to clearly identify what I should be doing to further a composition, or to look to this blog for a SPECIFIC approach rather than hope for some sub-conscious skill to aid me, I would probably
a) be able to write good music in a shorter period of time
b) write better music...

I don't know. Something for me to think about.
This comment is long... I hope it counts as 2 comments...

Evan Smith said...

I can't believe I have not seen this yet. I have printed this out, and am not only using it as a check list for my current piece, but I'm returning to old pieces and seeing how much of my piece agrees with this.

I'm very excited to read the 9 other posts related to this. Thank you! This is a great help for composing!