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Author Topic: Becoming limited??  (Read 1374 times)
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davdud101
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« on: Jun 28, 2017, 09:53AM »

Hey trombrethren!  Hi

I haven't had much time in the past few months to just compose stuff "straight from the heart". But a bit more free time has come into my hands.
But lately, I've been feeling like everything I start messing with has this "cold-handed", down-right SIMPLE approach to composition that lacks any sort of "spice", I guess. Like, I need a new chord progression or a new genre/sound in my 'inner ear' to give myself something to be WRITING for.

My music has NEVER been terribly "progressive" - it often stays within basic melodic/harmonic/rhythmic confines. But now I'm starting to feel that my BIG lack as a composer is that I'm missing THAT stuff - the weird scales and chord progressions, time changes, etc.

Anyone ever been in such a funk - where you feel you lack the theory knowledge to really be able to unleash your creativity? What are some good ways to overcome this?
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« Reply #1 on: Jun 28, 2017, 12:01PM »

It's very hard to hit that small window between "they've heard too many times before" and "it's not like what they wanted."
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davdud101
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« Reply #2 on: Jun 29, 2017, 02:19PM »

It's very hard to hit that small window between "they've heard too many times before" and "it's not like what they wanted."

I can certainly attest to that.
Sometimes I just wanna jump out and do something that makes NO musical sense whatsoever - perhaps the process of going WAY outisde the boundaries and then sorta "reeling it in" from there could be a good way to expand. I'll see what happens.
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« Reply #3 on: Jun 29, 2017, 03:48PM »

Nonsense has been tried.

Starting with Schoenberg and continuing on with every clueless academic who thought they could scold people into admiring their very cerebral musical-formula gibberish.

People who probably couldn't write a Girl Scout campfire song have written very serious treatises and taught very serious university classes as if they had discovered some monumental truth that civilization was just too backwards to see.

They pretty much ruined the audience for new music. Symphony PR departments know a good way to kill ticket sales for a concert is to headline a "world premiere".

Wendy Carlos nailed when she said, "they killed music."

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« Reply #4 on: Jun 29, 2017, 03:57PM »

I find that using instruments in roles that they are not traditionally used in can generate some really cool results.

Also: combine musical genres/styles/tools together that don't normally go together.

I'll cite one successful chart of mine, linked: https://andrewmeronek.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/08-szazados-ur-sej-haj.mp3

It turned out pretty cool. I was going for a combo of heavy metal and Indian raga applied to a jazz orchestra, and I role-reversed the piano, treating it more like a conga than a piano, plus treating the string bass like a tampura. Lots of curveballs don't always come together cohesively - but when they do, it's an awful lot of fun.  :)
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« Reply #5 on: Jun 29, 2017, 05:38PM »

Nonsense has been tried.

Starting with Schoenberg and continuing on with every clueless academic who thought they could scold people into admiring their very cerebral musical-formula gibberish.

People who probably couldn't write a Girl Scout campfire song have written very serious treatises and taught very serious university classes as if they had discovered some monumental truth that civilization was just too backwards to see.

They pretty much ruined the audience for new music. Symphony PR departments know a good way to kill ticket sales for a concert is to headline a "world premiere".

Wendy Carlos nailed when she said, "they killed music."



I probably shouldn't respond and get what you're trying to say, but if you're going to make that argument make it in a way that doesn't completely ignore tons of well documented history. I'm not disputing your argument about aesthetics (which is entirely personal and no one should dissuade), just the content.

Schoenberg is widely considered to be one of the greatest minds in the understanding of traditional functional harmony to ever live. When he fled to Los Angeles, he was the teacher great film composers sought out to improve their education and understanding. Much like Nadia Boulanger, he and his students very much could write a camp fire song.

Schoenberg created the post tonal system he did because he was an inventor. He invented hundred of things in his lifetime (most of them non music related). He saw that music had become so chromatic (Strauss, Wagner, etc) that there was no where for it to go if composers were to continue pushing forward. Whether or not pushing forward is what people agree with isn't really the issue- he felt like it was his responsibility as a member of a German lineage to find a system to hold harmony together as traditional functional harmony no longer applied to the music being written (much like what developed in after contrapuntal music ran its course with Bach). 

Dislike his music? Cool. Imply that his work was pointless and clueless? nah. He was an incredibly intelligent and skilled composer with a deep understanding of music history and the German tradition he came from, and he sought to help preserve it's identity and traditions.

Milton Babbit, whose music I dislike, was a great expert on Tin Pan Alley, could sing and play on piano any of those tunes. If you got a beer with him he'd want to talk about American popular music, not academic music. But he wrote the music he did because that was how his brain worked and it was genuinely what he wanted to write.

Wendy Carlos studied with one of the major figured in academic music and has been able to do what she's done, in part, because of it.

In every type of music there are hacks, but don't insult people who aren't with a weak argument that is arbitrarily based. 

I get what you're saying, but insult it well. Having a ton of things that simply aren't true undermines a very fair argument.

To the OP, I totally agree that there's nothing wrong with feeling like your music is simple. If it's the music that you want to write then you should stick with it.

 One thing to also consider is Schoenberg's book on harmony. It's a really fantastic book for expanding understandings of traditional harmony and form. It just helps understand and become more fluent in functional harmony, which might help feeling like you can do more without needing to move towards other materials that don't appeal or feel genuine.

Also +100 to what Andrew suggested. 
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« Reply #6 on: Jul 09, 2017, 05:31AM »

I perform fairly regularly with a Pianist that studied with Howard Hanson, Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger.
He wrote Sammy Davis, Did Commericials and wrote for the soaps.
He does not feel trapped or limited and has an incredibly inquisitive mind about what is happening now in Jazz and in particular more modern big band writing.
Music should push you , move you and at times, make you uncomfortable and make you think.
The mind set of "I know what I like and I like what I know" is what is killing Symphony Orchestras across the country. They have become 18th & 19th century Cover bands.
Just my opinion
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BGuttman
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« Reply #7 on: Jul 09, 2017, 08:23AM »

...
The mind set of "I know what I like and I like what I know" is what is killing Symphony Orchestras across the country. They have become 18th & 19th century Cover bands.
Just my opinion

I take issue with this comment (as a Symphony Orchestra Librarian and Trombonist).

Firstly, audiences like to come to music they know.  So the music that is familiar is what puts butts in seats.

Secondly, orchestras have limited budgets for music.  It can be horribly expensive to rent any music written after 1923 (the dividing line in America between Public Domain and Copyright).

If it's going to cost me $600 to rent a piece by Ellen Taafe Zwilich (and we are a small player in the Orchestral spectrum; others pay much more) resulting in half the audience I normally get, there is little impetus for us to program the work.

Now if some young composer wants somebody to play their new work so they can hear it (but no or little fee), we might be willing to perform it.  Especially if it is good and sounds interesting.
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« Reply #8 on: Jul 09, 2017, 08:59AM »

Now if some young composer wants somebody to play their new work so they can hear it (but no or little fee), we might be willing to perform it.  Especially if it is good and sounds interesting.

Speaking of becoming limited! A good young composer will go to where they can get paid.

More thoughts on the OP:

Going to find new music theory can also be a neat source of ideas, although to make music effective it still has to be based in sound (as in good, pun intended) dramatic mechanics. For new scales and chord structures, probably the most "new" I've encountered is this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgFQAGyF0Gw

I think it's really beautiful and has great dramatic impact - but it's a huge shift from what people expect to hear, probably too big for most people. Still, the concepts behind how this music works is a great source of inspiration for me.

For time signature fun, I think that even more than jazz/classical, progressive rock has people doing some really aggressive and interesting stuff. One of the most extreme example would be from Dream Theatre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ik9qECIWgc
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davdud101
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« Reply #9 on: Jul 10, 2017, 01:54PM »

beautiful tips!

I'm listening to some Rick Beato stuff and just trying to beef up my music theory knowledge - I think if I start up by learning some theory 'nuances', and then restricting my next few arrangements to mastering those few techniques at a time, perhaps I can walk away able to use them more.

I have been messing around with composing using bass guitar as my go-to "composition motor", as I like to say. Part of my imposed limits are because, while I have an extensive library of chords that I CAN play on keys, I have a tendency to play the SAME things over and over and I have trouble coming up with something on piano that doesn't already sound like something I've done before.
Establishing chord structures on bass guitar is sort of helping me expand that. But then - I'm no bass virtuoso, and I yet again have a few styles that I REALLY like to play on e.bass (notably 4-on-the-floor neo-soul grooves, I LOVE that stuff!!!). I think I miss out on meaningful chord movement, though, since I still draw back to use the same chords when I'm back on the keys.


I'm thinking the biggest help now is to just learn more about chords and scales!! Somethin' tells me that'll lead me pretty far.

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« Reply #10 on: Jul 10, 2017, 02:34PM »

In the beginning , I would sing into a tape recorder of what I wanted to write and transcribe (and edit) what I had sung. Then I would harmonize and flesh it out.
If I tried to write from the trombone, everything would end up sounding like a Trombone solo.
But by singing the parts, I didn`t fell limited to what was possible
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« Reply #11 on: Jul 17, 2017, 01:16PM »

Hi Davdud,
I think its reasonable that composers often feel like jazz soloists "all my licks/melodies etc" sound the same. With improv I'm a believer in borrowing licks and making them "my own". Same with composing. I've recently written some charts where I've prepped by getting into some Schnieder, McNeely, Weckl stuff. That helped me get a little away from my norm, and learnt some less convential voicings and approaches.
Rob
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davdud101
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« Reply #12 on: Jul 21, 2017, 07:27AM »

In the beginning , I would sing into a tape recorder of what I wanted to write and transcribe (and edit) what I had sung. Then I would harmonize and flesh it out.
If I tried to write from the trombone, everything would end up sounding like a Trombone solo.
But by singing the parts, I didn`t fell limited to what was possible

Humorously enough, I USED to do this back when I was making strictly vocal pop/rock-type music. Not sure why I stopped... It's like I stopped looking for singable melodies , even though the singable melodies are often the most memorable. I'm gonna get back into this, I think it'll help me big time!


I think its reasonable that composers often feel like jazz soloists "all my licks/melodies etc" sound the same. With improv I'm a believer in borrowing licks and making them "my own". Same with composing. I've recently written some charts where I've prepped by getting into some Schnieder, McNeely, Weckl stuff. That helped me get a little away from my norm, and learnt some less convential voicings and approaches.

Hey Rob, great suggestion. It comes to mind that I *haven't* been spending much time listening to other artists either, so i don't have much recent inspiration to draw from. Musical background makes a big difference, but recent/immediate inspiration also pulls cool ideas to the forefront. My most recent piece (the one I posted in this forum) was directly inspired by a tune I heard from the Production Tracks of a 90's cartoon (it was public domain - thereby, probably written pre-1940's I'd reckon?)

Thanks a lot for the ideas, guys! Creative funks are a drag, and anything to get out of them is welcome  :D
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