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Topic: Composing Away From an Instrument

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  1. #1

    Composing Away From an Instrument

    I am interested in composing away from any instrument. At least to create a sketch. I practice solfege and singing and identifying intervals. And when I have a melody in front of me I can hear possible harmonizations. I am wondering if any one has any suggestions for improving my capacity for composing without an instrument. I can comfortably write in one key but when I begin to change keys rapidly it becomes difficult. But I just love the freedom of writing directly from head/voice to paper.

  2. #2

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by RichardMc View Post
    I am interested in composing away from any instrument. At least to create a sketch. I practice solfege and singing and identifying intervals. And when I have a melody in front of me I can hear possible harmonizations. I am wondering if any one has any suggestions for improving my capacity for composing without an instrument. I can comfortably write in one key but when I begin to change keys rapidly it becomes difficult. But I just love the freedom of writing directly from head/voice to paper.
    Unless you have a good memory, there are several ways if you want to note ideas. They can be used in any combination that suits you.

    Use a digital audio recorder (like the Zoom H1 or similar; small enough to fit in your hand, sounds great and very portable) to record ideas. Don't be afraid to just go crazy with ideas. Nobody but you is going to hear the playback of the recording anyway.

    Smartphone/tablet apps like Evernote allow you to do something similar; you can record or dictate or even take a snapshot of an idea on a napkin and retrieve it later on your Evernote account.

  3. #3

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by RichardMc View Post
    I am interested in composing away from any instrument. At least to create a sketch. I practice solfege and singing and identifying intervals. And when I have a melody in front of me I can hear possible harmonizations. I am wondering if any one has any suggestions for improving my capacity for composing without an instrument. I can comfortably write in one key but when I begin to change keys rapidly it becomes difficult. But I just love the freedom of writing directly from head/voice to paper.
    Take a melody or compose a hymn practicing writing parts for SATB. Avoid parallel 5ths and use proper voice leading avoiding awkward intervals. Try starting out with the melody first, then the bass, and then filling out the harmony with the alto and tenor lines. This is what I do for fun. I compose without an instrument all the time.
    ~Rodney

  4. #4

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Thanks for the suggestions. I like the idea of part writing. Once I hear the key center in my head I am ok. I don't have perfect pitch so I use a pitch pipe to take reference note every now and again to make sure I am on track. I have to learn to change keys on the fly and I think part writing will help me hear the key centers and harmonies more fully.

  5. #5

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by RichardMc View Post
    Thanks for the suggestions. I like the idea of part writing. Once I hear the key center in my head I am ok. I don't have perfect pitch so I use a pitch pipe to take reference note every now and again to make sure I am on track. I have to learn to change keys on the fly and I think part writing will help me hear the key centers and harmonies more fully.
    Composing is just like practicing any other instrument. The more you do it the more natural it becomes. I actually work more from paper and pencil than I do the computer. You don't need perfect pitch by the way, relative pitch can be of better use. Studies have shown that people with perfect pitch tend to lose it as they get older due to the fact that the pitch itself in their head starts lowering.
    ~Rodney

  6. #6

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Thank you. I believe composing is something that has to be practiced and I am setting time aside each day to sketch with just my ear and my pitch pipe.

  7. #7

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    I agree with Rodney. Perfect pitch is not really a factor in the composition of music without the aid of an instrument, at least as far as my own experience indicates. I don’t even know if I have perfect pitch; that has never been a concern of mine. Indeed, relative pitch is central to composing in this way. One must have the ability to hear accurately the various intervals in one’s head. Once that skill is attained, one quickly realizes the ability to imagine one’s creations, without ever touching an instrument.

    I resolved to train in this way from the very beginning. Learning of Beethoven being forced by deafness to “imagine” his works as well as seeing my own limitation in playing only guitar, which does not really facilitate the creation of works for large ensembles, led me to this system. Although composing mind to paper is not at all necessary, it surely does have its benefits; especially in that it enables the composer to create works of a virtuosic quality beyond any limitations one may have in instrumental technique.

  8. #8

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    I'd say go with whatever works. Many composers get quite snobby about the need to be able to work in your head, because that's how it used to be done. But the simple fact is that the harmonic language that composers such as Beethoven, and even Schumann were using was simpler than much modern music - and very few people can develop the ability to internally hear really complex sonorities. Wagner wrote at the piano; Stravinsky never wrote away from it. Hans Zimmer (and some might say this is a good thing) would probably never have created a single cue without his sequencer. There might be a greater satisfaction in getting there through greater effort, but the listener doesn't really mind how you got there.
    David

  9. #9

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    Quote Originally Posted by Pingu View Post
    I'd say go with whatever works. Many composers get quite snobby about the need to be able to work in your head, because that's how it used to be done. But the simple fact is that the harmonic language that composers such as Beethoven, and even Schumann were using was simpler than much modern music - and very few people can develop the ability to internally hear really complex sonorities. Wagner wrote at the piano; Stravinsky never wrote away from it. Hans Zimmer (and some might say this is a good thing) would probably never have created a single cue without his sequencer. There might be a greater satisfaction in getting there through greater effort, but the listener doesn't really mind how you got there.

    Excellent post, Pingu, which I quote in full in order to underline what you've said.

    People who get snobby about working in their heads are being absurd. Plenty of heavy weight composers have worked at the piano, as you point out - and the bottom line is - Who Cares--? A piano/keyboard is the portal into the entire world of Western music. Use it, like a carpenter uses his measuring tape, and a painter uses his palette.

    Any endeavor under the sun can be conceived in our heads - Fine, then, at some point, some physical Tools need to be used. There's exactly Zero difference in the quality of what began in a noggin or what began on a keyboard - Just go forth and Compose!

    Randy

  10. #10

    Re: Composing Away From an Instrument

    I agree. What ever works is what counts. I have always used an instrument for the most part. I am not a proficient pianist and am a guitarist by training. When I use the guitar I can do things harmonically that I am not yet able to do in my head. It's not that I am trying to be highbrow. It's just that the music flows better for me when I can go directly from mind/voice to paper. I suppose I am easily distracted. If Stravinsky composed at a piano who am I to question.

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