• Register
  • Help
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 17

Topic: The 'process' of composition

Share/Bookmark
  1. #1

    The 'process' of composition

    Hullo all.
    I was a little hesitant about posting this, as I wasn’t sure if it would be considered the right place. But then it is rather a ‘general’ question so I guess it’ll be fine here. Anyway...
    Music has jumped back into the foreground in my life recently, and I’m currently making a start on my A Level music composition task. I’m writing for a string orchestra with a little bit of percussion (timpani and cymbals), and I feel I’ve made a decent start. But I can’t help but feel rather inexperienced with this whole composing thing – as indeed I am. I’ve read various materials on music writing, including some of the lessons in this forum’s interactive ‘Principles of Orchestration’ (notably the sections for melody and harmony with strings). I’ve also studied four part harmony at school, and I have a good idea of chords and inversions for major and minor keys and suchlike.
    But for all that, I find I’ve never been given a great deal of guidance about the process of composing. After all, it’s not something they really teach at school. What I’d really like to know is how people here work; in particular, how do you get from the idea in your head to a finished piece?
    I’m aware that a lot of composers write piano sketches before orchestrating their work. For those here that do this, I was wondering how detailed you make these sketches before orchestrating. Do you just write down the melody and a chord structure underneath, or is virtually every note that would be in the final piece written in the piano sketch? If the latter applies, how has each voice been developed from a simple framework of chords?
    Some of these questions may be a little awkward to answer without giving me an entire lecture, but all I really want to know is how composers here would describe the process – what happens between the mental idea and the finished piece?
    Thanks for your time, and a very happy New Year to you all!
    Tom

  2. #2

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Since finishing my studies with Professor Belkin, my "method" has pretty much solidified and I basically write utilizing the same "process" for most of my pieces.

    From a melodic or harmonic element, I will decide a form. Sometimes, I will sketch purely the melodic contour on paper. From that contour, I might highlight certain elements which will be repeated and serve as development later (that process is particularly marked in my "Symphony in C").

    Often, I will through-compose large sections of a piece, putting in as much information as I can... to which I generally return once the movement is completed. Upon this completion, I start the trimming process. Here, I cut things that I may have added in the "full fervor" of my compositional passion

    I also adjust harmony, melody, rhythm... there are always bits and pieces that are not quite to my liking when I first write a piece.

    Most times, during the "first draft" phase of my compositional process, I might make the counterpoint leaner, and come back later to either augment and thicken it, or further cut it down in texture.

    Composition is a process of construction. The form is its architecture. The melody and harmony are its roofing and siding. The instrumentation might be the additional "decorative" elements of the construction, like the windows, sunroofs, decks, sliding doors, the in-ground pool. And the dynamics and articulations are the furniture and decor.

  3. #3

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    In essence, what cue-see said.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    Location
    www.wisemanproject.com
    Posts
    398
    Kentaro Sato (Ken-P)
    Composer/Conductor/Orchestrator
    www.wisemanproject.com

  5. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Budleigh Salterton
    Posts
    1,477

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom P View Post
    Hullo all.
    What I’d really like to know is how people here work; in particular, how do you get from the idea in your head to a finished piece?
    [FONT=Calibri][SIZE=3]I’m aware that a lot of composers write piano sketches before orchestrating their work. For those here that do this, I was wondering how detailed you make these sketches before orchestrating.
    Well Tom - since I'm a supporter of Kent County Cricket, I would say it depends on how good a keyboard player one is. I don't work on too detailed orchestrations because most of the time I don't write it down. Computers make me very lazy, plus I don't write much anyway. Orchestration is an additive/subtractive process to me. It also depends on the type of music - I would imagine melodic writing and orchestration is a long way off something more atonal or minimalist for instance.

    If you're interested in the more melodic style, then I would suggest orchestration may be dependent on what it stands for - i.e. is it happy or sad etc etc. You start with your melodic structures and then you can orchestrate that in thousands of different ways. All I would say is try and be original in orchestration and experiment. Try to be contrapuntal and ornament main melodic statements, Q & A style just as an example.

  6. #6

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Thanks for the ideas, all. Those are some interesting techniques, qccowboy. Sketching melodic shapes on paper is something I've thought about but never really practised. It's certainly worth a try. I've tried some through-composing before now on one or two occasions, though I found it hard to establish a sense of balance and structure (though, to some extent, that may be the nature of the technique). Then again, if it can give me one or two melodic gems which I can lift and use in piece in ternery, rondo, sonata and all other forms, I'll try it out if I haven't got any clear ideas in my head.

    Composition is a process of construction. The form is its architecture. The melody and harmony are its roofing and siding. The instrumentation might be the additional "decorative" elements of the construction, like the windows, sunroofs, decks, sliding doors, the in-ground pool. And the dynamics and articulations are the furniture and decor.
    I shall remember this forever.

    Thanks very much for the link, Ken, it looks very informative indeed. It's getting late now, so I'll look at that in greater detail tomorrow.

    All I would say is try and be original in orchestration and experiment.
    That's some advice I'll try my best to remember. I think some of my problems come from worrying excessively about the rules. Don't get me wrong, I respect them. In fact, I think breaking the rules is a bit like so called 'free-verse' in poetry. It can be done, and it can be done well, but it can also very easily be done badly. Still, I guess my primary goal should be to, as you say, experiment, and if it sounds good and original, then I'll worry about the rules. I don't think they're as restrictive as some people make them out to be, anyway.

    Thanks again, everyone. I'll try some of this out tomorrow.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    SAN ANTONIO, TX
    Posts
    1,386

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Hi Tom,
    In most cases, it's best to have a reason to write any piece.
    An elegy, a heroic piece, a piece of sadness, etc.
    Start with an idea of what you want to express. Dig into your mind to find each note & the following note. The instrument color should match the mood.
    Dark colors-cello, euphonium, low register clarinet, English horn, french horn. They convey emotional, pensive lines.
    Bright colors are trumpets, high pitch woodwinds, etc.
    These sounds are bright & cheerful/active.
    The instrument choice has lines which move up or down, sustain to identify the instruments best register and give the melodic line interest.
    After this is about done, come up with an equally strong bass lie which compliments the melody.
    Don't add any more parts than absolutely necessary.
    There is no one way to do this, but it's how I do it.
    Gary

  8. #8

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Hello,

    On my side, when I have a melody in my head, I use my keyboard to check the tonality to get the key I'll work my piece. Once I have the tonality, I switch the keyboard off: it won't be needed anymore. Then I start to write the bass line (contrabass) and I try to apply as much as possible the rules of harmony on the bass line (progression chords etc.). Then I write the melody I had in my head above the basses. The melody should be automatically corrected according to the bass line. I use the 1st violins to write my melody. Once both are made (basses & melody) I orchestrate according to the rules of orchestration and to what I have in mind to create the effects I want to do.

    I hope this will help you.

    Fred.
    There is no spoon.

  9. #9

    Wink Re: The 'process' of composition

    The possible processes are of course a lot, all working well, according your skills, your attitude and your target. By the way I think that some common starting point can help a beginner to find his own way:

    - you may write without any target (e.g. as if you were improvisating at piano, and simply you take note of the outcome, then you refine it with a little recursive process of re-play, refine, re-play, up to the end).

    - you may write with a specific target. actually it helps a lot, and I consider it the best way of starting to understand the process.

    The "target" is a kind of pre-designed structure: e.g. the text and the duration of a song, or the exact duration of a video to soundtrack. This is a common actual practice so it's probably easy to understand for every modern composer. But a classical way exist also and is following a structure (a sonata or a fugue were kind of "empty boxes" to fill in...).

    If you create your structure before, you may for instance take a sheet of paper and write a kind of little project. how long it is, and a possible amount of bars; the key and the meter, tempo etc.; how many sections you want to use for structuring it; the proportion of the sections.

    This first structure can create the "empty boxes" you will fill with music. Then you can start writing or playing keyboard to find ideas, but still in your project sheet you should before go a step forward: you may assign to sectionsa kind of "colour" and understand how hard or soft, slow or fast, flowing or beating, melodic or rythmic you expect the section sounding. It will help a lot to drive your search for ideas, adn will anticipate orchestration ideas too (then you can find during improvisation melodies and rythm already fitting the instrument you imagine you will use in the finished work).

    The finalization is creating paper or notation file with all the decided structural elements and put in the musical ideas.
    The usual process of "theme development" (usually working as exposition of main idea, followed by kind of answer/development/digression/contrast etc., and finally conclusion with-or-without re-exposition) would be used to fill the number of bars you need for every section.

    An important note is that this process is based on recursivity and flexibility, so never be rigid, the opposite frequently happens that writing you will find some idea good enough to push you changing the initial plan, sometime even in a totally unexpected direction, and it's a creative improvement. (the only very rigid "forced" structure is the video duration if you make music for video, but all the rest is flexible enough for dramatic changes work-in-progress)

    For orchestration of ideas, I think that 2 possible approches are possible:
    - you have still a very basic chord+melody perception of music
    - you have already a polifonic perception of music and you can write countermelodies and counterpoint.

    In the first case don't spend time in refining the "keyboard scretch", move urgently to the orchestral score and fill it like a painter (using sounds as colours): put notes that make chords to the right instruments, and the melody to your favorite solos according the plan, then listen and refine.

    In the second case and if you are a fine keyboard player you may look for nice countermelodies during composition, or use counterpoint skills for writing voices and polifony directly during orchestration: this is usually a final stage, not really a beginner starting point, but as soon as you do it, as soon you will improve your "orchestral thinking" (feeling the instruments in the "role", with pedale effects, countermelodies, rythmic effects etc. etc.)

    I hope it give some point for experimenting: "structuring" it was the main lesson I learned in classical music composition classes in Conservatorio.
    No way of writing large forms without it.

    2 unwritten additional rulesa are:
    1) use the eraser more than the pencil!
    2) and always enjoy!
    the bad results are always coming by the lazy attitude of keeping first version or to finish soon becaus you get bored...

    Good luck and enjoy!

  10. #10

    Re: The 'process' of composition

    Just put a bunch of notes in a bag, shake it up, pull them out and record the notes as they come out of the bag...

    ummm, sit for 4' 33" and see what the audience does...

    uhmm, put a bunch of trash cans, lids and drumsticks in the audience and tell them to humor themselves...

    You see, music is everywhere...

    The other answers were much more to the point, I just got attacked by the "John Cage" syndrome.

    Bill
    We dream to write and we write to dream.

    Challenge #10 Winner

Go Back to forum

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •