Compose Yourself

So, one of the things I’ve gotten to spend some more time with during my – err – sabbatical from gainful employment – is my piano.

For those who’ve been around here a while, you might recall that a couple of years ago, I was stressing about and then actually enjoying learning a little music theory in the last piano class I had before I started taking private lessons.

So, last year, after I’d settled in and developed a bit of rapport with my teacher, I’d described the things I’d liked and not-liked about the classes I had taken.  One thing I’d said I’d appreciated (and that maybe it was my analytical-science side coming out) was the introduction to music theory that I’d had – how it helped shaped the way I heard and learned new pieces.  She suggested that I start a series of workbooks on music theory for the piano.

I think this series is pretty good, and after a year or so I’m right in the middle of the set.  I’ve really enjoyed learning the hows and whys of how a musical composition is put together.  We’ve covered meter, scales, keys, intervals, chords, ornaments, motifs and have begun to analyze different compositions for melodic phrase structure.  There are also sections for ear training and sight-reading.  Altogether, I think they’ve really helped me be a better (and I use this word very generously) musician.

So, of course, reading and dissecting music naturally began to make me curious about how it gets created.  Do you start from a motif and build?  Do you start with a feeling and go?  What are the “rules” that make something sound “good”?  And so on…

And so, last month, I started another series: “The Craft of Music Composition”.  This also has several levels and naturally I’m starting at the entry level, since I’ve never written music in my life.  The first book has a sort of a lead-you-by-the-hand way that takes some of the intimidation out of the idea of putting notes to paper (or notes into Finale’ as the 21st century equivalent might be…) – while learning some of the common techniques used by composers.

I’ve never really considered myself a “creative” person.  Insightful, maybe.  Analytical, for sure.  So composition is way out of my comfort zone – and maybe that’s good.  I don’t know that there will be any critical successes coming from my brain, but it sure is fun to sit and plink-plunk-plink at the keys and decide what you think sounds good.

Wish me luck!

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20 thoughts on “Compose Yourself

  1. I've had a couple of six-month sabbaticals from work and it's had to overstate the effect it has on one's perception of work, career, friends, family and life. (I don't think employers like the effect it has, but never mind that! :))Good luck, enjoy while it (the time off) lasts and all the best.

  2. This is so exciting! I don't know what you're talking about not considering yourself a creative person–your writing on your blog alone is a testament to your creativity. I think you'll do brilliantly at composition. :D Obviously I'm rather biased on this, but I've always thought composing music is ten times more fun and interesting than learning to play someone else's stuff.It's funny, because Brian and I have very different approaches to composition. He's more of a let's-set-up-a-structure first kinda guy, planning things out before he ever writes down a note. I prefer to mess around until I find something (a theme, a chord, anything) that "inspires" me (I hesitate to use that word…), and then I take a more serious approach to expanding it.I hope you'll be sharing your masterpieces with us!!! :D

  3. Although I know it takes a lot of work to get there, this sounds really fun! Sometimes I think the amount of "natural" ability needed in creative pursuits is overestimated, and the amount of learning and practicing needed is underestimated. When I took a drawing class, I was pleased to learn that I could actually get something out that was halfway decent (although it took my FORever)… but coming from a stick-figure doodler, not bad.

  4. I can't believe you don't think of yourself as creative Steve? Your blog is very creative. That's cool you are giving music composition a whirl. It makes me think of this piece I read about Paul McCartney. He had challenged his bandmates in Wings to create a hit single for the B side of a record and none of them could come up with something worthy and then he just plunked out silly love songs or one of his big hits to fill the space like in an afternoon.

  5. you know, I've got a lot of the courses from The Teaching Company. There's quite a few about music, and I've really enjoyed them. Might deserve a look.

  6. I agree with the above comments about you being creative. Have you heard the "music" that is notes assigned to DNA base pairs? If you get stuck maybe you could try something like that!?!?!?!?!…:)

  7. This sounds so cool! That's the amazing thing about music – you can hear one piece that's technically demanding and think "meh"……and then hear another that's less complex and yet be totally moved by it. (As a side note, don't think that even if you can't compose something extravagant, that doesn't mean it can't be great.) But what is that "it" factor? And yes, does the composer start out with the end in mind, or does the end crystallize as the author travels along the musical staff, plunking out the notes? It's like painting.
    My advice – don't be too analytical. Just let it happen. ('Cause, you know, I'm such an artist.)

  8. Well — you know Joie — I sort of credit you with the kick in the pants to get started after musing on it for a while. We were having an IM chat and I brought it up and your subtle advice was "GO DO IT!". :)

  9. Hapa — I think that these books are designed for those (like me, like us) that don't come to it "naturally". The initial exercises are contained and simple to get you over that hump — create a motif with these notes, now add a bass note accompaniment… and so on. They aren't complicated at all, but you can see how it will build up from there.

  10. Thank you jenny! I guess i don't feel like this blog is all that creative, because I just find things that I think are interesting and "talk" about them — to me, that's a lot less intimidating than composition! :)

  11. sdede2– dude! Good to see you here! I had heard about the "DNA music" — and there is something about the mathematics/harmonics of music that brings out the nerd in me — which, granted, isn't all that hard to do. :)

  12. Thanks Mello! Right now the exercises are pretty easy — "create a motif from the following set of notes" and build from there. So in a way it really is sitting there and trying out different notes and rhythms and going "oh — I like that" or "mmm — that's not quite right".I have a hunch that anything I write will be brooding and minor-key. :)

  13. well, grrrace — given that I've yet to post me PLAYING (because that's way too scary and intimidating), I can't even imagine posting a composition. Maybe I can get Joie to play them…. :)

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