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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningComposition, Arranging and Theory(Moderator: zemry) Studying composition with or without a teacher
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BFW
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« on: Jul 07, 2003, 12:00PM »

I know a number of you have studied composition or are currently studying composition.  I'm considering taking composition lessons, or otherwise making an effort to improve my writing skills, in the not too distant future.  I have some questions and concerns; perhaps some of you could share the benefit of your experiences.

I studied theory and composition as part of my undergraduate music curriculum 20+ years ago, and enjoyed it very much.  I've done some amount of writing over the years since then, mostly choral, nothing longer than about six minutes of music.  I'm not as comfortable as I'd like to be with counterpoint in more than three voices or with chromatic harmonies.  I've tried working out of the Jeppesen counterpoint book or the McHose counterpoint book, but found it really difficult to evaluate what I'd written, and so had trouble learning ways to resolve the problems.

I did find a private composition instructor a while back, but things didn't work out as well as I would have liked.  He was pushing me to write freely, using more modern techniques (I picked up the Persichetti book on 20th century harmony on his recommendation), but I didn't feel my skills were up to that; I think I wanted more theory than he was prepared to teach me.  It was frustrating trying to work on what he asked me to do, and I quit after a few lessons.

OK, enough background.  I'd like to hear about other people's experiences studying composition.  How does it work out trying to study on your own?  Any recommended books?  Any advice?  If an instructor is a necessity, what should I look for, what should I ask?  

Thanks in advance!
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« Reply #1 on: Jul 07, 2003, 06:45PM »

One big plus of studying by yourself is that you have to rely on your ear.  If you like or don't like what you hear, figure out why, basically.  It's very important to be able to do this in order to develop the skills needed to write what you want to.  But studying with a teacher is definitely helpful.  They'll be able to point you in directions that sometimes would have never occured to your brain or your ear that you may like a lot - and some that you probably won't like but are still useful to know so you can practice strategic avidance.      

Of course, it helps to find a GOOD instructor.  Someone who probably teaches or taught at college, not just someone who writes a lot.  More experience = less time figuring out what they need to teach you and more time getting down to business.
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« Reply #2 on: Jul 08, 2003, 08:50AM »

Having my Masters in Music Composition, from what you have written I think you would benefit from an instructor.  But you need to make the instructor aware, BEFORE the lessons even begin, that you are interested in working on 18th and 19th century counterpoint techniques, NOT 20th century.  It is my feeling that you aren't really interested in a "20th century" approach, and prefer the structured tonal and contrapuntal techniques.  I don't have my books handy, but Counterpoint by Walter Piston might be a good choice.  It's an older book, but I believe covers the pre-twentieth century styles and techniques well.
The main reason for having a good instructor is because they SHOULD be able to see the mistakes that you make, especially the "grey" ones (the ones that sound okay but aren't quite right).  They should also be able to better explain some of the techniques that you don't quite understand on your own.
Hope that helps.
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« Reply #3 on: Jul 08, 2003, 09:45AM »

Thanks for the comments, Andrew and Mike.  It really does sound like a teacher is the most reasonable way to go, if I can manage it.

 
quote:
Originally posted by Mike Brebes:
But you need to make the instructor aware, BEFORE the lessons even begin, that you are interested in working on 18th and 19th century counterpoint techniques, NOT 20th century.  It is my feeling that you aren't really interested in a "20th century" approach, and prefer the structured tonal and contrapuntal techniques.

I am interested in modern counterpoint and modern harmony; I guess I've always assumed these things were taught more or less chronologically, since that's how I was taught.  But yes, I definitely want a structured approach.

I infer from your comments that a typical "20th century" approach to teaching composition isn't as structured.  Could you describe this a little more?
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« Reply #4 on: Jul 08, 2003, 05:17PM »

*resists urge to imply 20th Century composition requires no training*

To date, I have been self-taught. I see my compositions as passable, but not necessarily mature all the time. Some spots are kind of empty. They might have 4 part harmony, but the chords are lacking something. And I also don't know the names of a lot of what I'm doing. My friend, a theory buff, looked at my trombone quartet and said something like "Wow, you just did a perfect IV-VI Cadence" or something like that, and my eyes will glaze over, and I'll say, "I don't know what it's called. I just tinkered aroung on the keyboard until I got the sound I wanted."
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« Reply #5 on: Jul 09, 2003, 09:46AM »

quote:
"He was pushing me to write freely, using more modern techniques (I picked up the Persichetti book on 20th century harmony on his recommendation), but I didn't feel my skills were up to that; I think I wanted more theory than he was prepared to teach me."
It has been my experience that in 20th century counterpoint and harmony, things are very free form.  It's more about concepts rather than rules.  There is a structure but it is more abstract.  Writing using 12-tone rows is considered modern counterpoint, and that has probably more rules than any other concept in modern counterpoint.  You might want to do some study in "form and analysis" of modern music.  You should be able to find books that cover a lot of that.  A lot of scores are available in Dover editions, which are fairly inexpensive, and are worthy of use for analysis of style and technique.
If you are looking for the kind of structure that was available in 17th, 18th, and 19th harmony/counterpoint, you aren't going to be able to find it.
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« Reply #6 on: Jul 13, 2003, 04:11PM »

The amount of structure you're going to find in 20th century style depends on who you're studying.  In general, counterpoint rules have definitely changed over the last century; in a lot of rock and jazz, for example, parallel motion is desired.  But there are quite a few composers that have very strict rules of their own: Part, Stravinsky, Reich, etc; sometimes the rules can change from piece to piece.  But the structure is there.  It's just impossible to classify the rules into one large set like it was in earlier centuries because there are several different rules sets just as strict that are for the most part incompatable.  Yet, the vast majority of all classical composers still look to Bach for advice on counterpoint as well.
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« Reply #7 on: Jul 14, 2003, 05:12AM »

Could you describe how modern classical composition is taught?  Surely composers need a command of the basics; they can't be expected to write serial compositions without some understanding of voice leading and imitation and form.  Again, I'm used to a chronological approach, becoming reasonably conversant in 12th century counterpoint before moving on to 16th century, 18th century, etc.  Is that unusual?

By "structured approach" I was referring to the pedagogy, not the writing method; focused exercises, deliberate stylistic imititation, directed analysis, things like that.  I am certainly aware there is no universal set of rules to apply to modern composition.

Perhaps what I'm looking for is more properly termed "theory" than "composition."

 
quote:
Originally posted by Mike Brebes:
You might want to do some study in "form and analysis" of modern music. You should be able to find books that cover a lot of that.

Thanks for the suggestion.  Any recommendations?
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Brian

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« Reply #8 on: Jul 15, 2003, 09:17PM »

Composing, to me, is alot more personal that learning the trombone, or the piano, or whatever.  Most professional instrumentalists have to know the same basic things as any other instrumentalist in order to succeed, and so everyone's taught the same thing (I'm not saying that everyone learns the same method, because we all know that's not true    )  There are alot of basics to composition too, but the professional composer has free reign over the style they compose in, so when they get a commission the person commissioning the piece knows what to expect stylistically.  So basically, you get to compose how you want, so you should find a teacher who will teach what you want to know, when you want to know it, and not take out the most structured program that might not be what you want to aim for.

Personally, I went for quite awhile without stidying composition and did quite well, and this year I was picked for this student composer program with the local symphony orchestra, where I study with the composer in residence and write a piece that the orchestra will play at a few concerts next season.  Studying this way is great because I'm working on one piece with him, so that's the objective I'm working for.  Now that I know how to write for symphony orchestra, I don't know if I'll study composition any more before I go to university... I find that pointers whenever I want them works better for me than weekly lessons...

I talk too much for someone who hasn't logged on for a year and posted only once before...    

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« Reply #9 on: Jul 16, 2003, 12:46AM »

I read two recent ones Erin and I hope you stick around. Very interesting viewpoints.  
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« Reply #10 on: Jul 16, 2003, 03:13AM »

I must admit that this discussion has not gone the way I anticipated.  I figured that people would be saying, "Oh, yes, you really should pick up 'The Tao of Counterpoint' and 'The Te of Harmony,' it's very important to do your compositional calisthenics every day, get your basics down so you can be flexible, Brahms wrote fugues every morning before breakfast," and things like that.

I've looked up the curriculum for undergraduate curricula in composition to see what they contained, but they still don't tell me what people DO in them, just the names of the subjects.

People who study writing (in English) sometimes just "write what they know," and discuss effectiveness and get pointers from peers and things like that.  Others analyze essay structure and write to specific formats for practice, reading about style and technique, emulating various writers to get a facility with the mechanism, planning and crafting all the way.  I think music writing has similar parallels.  I am interested in the second set of composers, and how they learn what they do.

I can be personal, but I'd also like to be able to write a four-voice fugue in diminution, use 19th century harmonic techniques, write a serial piano sonata, or write something that sounds vaguely like Mendelssohn or Hindemith or Palestrina if I choose.  I have music in my head, I can't get it to work on paper, and I want to learn how.

I know, I know, get a teacher.  I'll look into that.  Any other recommendations?
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« Reply #11 on: Jul 16, 2003, 06:09AM »

Um, Dover scores are excellent.  Very accurate, readable, sturdy (i.e., don't fall apart) and cheap.  If you are going to do some score study, which I recommend, get some.  They have catalogues and you can find them at some Border's and Border's Outlet bookstores.  Want to go and compare what your Bach counterpoint books say to how Bach actually writes?  Go get the Dover edition of the complete Brandenburg Concertos.

This is in fact a lot of what people do in those college composition classes.  They learn the technique from a book then look and see how a composer uses those tools in music via score reading and (woah!    )

And they practice cranking out exercises using those techniques.  Even if you know that you're not going to be generating the next Pulitzer Prize award, just the repetition of excreting those things is part of practice to really get to know what you're doing - just like banging long tones to death.    

Is that more what you're looking for?
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« Reply #12 on: Jul 16, 2003, 07:56AM »

I agree with Andrew regarding using the Dover scores.  All of my upper division and graduate courses that dealt with analysis of musical form involved taking a score and tearing it apart to see what the composer did.  Orchestral scores are harder to analyze because of the complexity, but one that I used in one of my classes was the Beethoven String Quartets.  You've only got 4 parts to deal with, but they can give you months of work just analyzing them.

I can't think of any class, studying modern compositional techniques, that actually had a book for the class.  The class materials usually consisted of a synopsis of the semester, the needed scores or excerpts for evaluation, and whatever scores or excerpts were handed out by the teacher.  The various techniques (dual tonality, quartal harmony, 12 tone rows, etc.) were explained to the class, then we went to the written music to see how the composer used it in his compositions.  
When I get a chance, I will pull out my documentation for my previous classes and see if there are any other recommendations I can make for you.

One thing I want to clarify, especially because of some of the remarks in the replies:  20th Century or Modern Compositional techniques, by college and university standards, usually DOES NOT include jazz, pop, or rock.  It usually includes composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Webern, Berg, Reich, Stockhausen, etc.

Another thing you might want to try, if you live close to a college or university, is go to the bookstore and see what books they are using for specific composition classes.  You can also use their library to find the books that might cover the musical forms that you would like to better understand.
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« Reply #13 on: Jul 16, 2003, 08:17AM »

quote:
Is that more what you're looking for?
Yes, thanks muchly.

 
quote:
When I get a chance, I will pull out my documentation for my previous classes and see if there are any other recommendations I can make for you.
Thank you, too!  Much appreciated.
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« Reply #14 on: Jul 16, 2003, 12:49PM »

Yeah, Mike is right.  I just had an errant thought:

One thing that happens in classes ir via private instructors is that they have sections of music picked out to demonstrate whatever techniques they're teaching at the moment.  Yeah, common sense - but for someone who is trying to figure out that stuff by themselves, they often can't just go and look in a score to review composer's examples because they don't know where to look sometimes.  For example, if I wanted to review some Stravinsky set technique writing, I'd have to know first which pieces he uses those specific techniques in.  Just picking some at random and trying to figure out what he did is much harder than at least knowing what I'm looking for.

So, if you opt to go look for composition books, be sure the books include plenty of documentation on further score study at the end of chapters.  I haven't actually looked in any of my old texts, but if I find any that do a good job of this, I'll let you know.
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« Reply #15 on: Jul 20, 2003, 08:39PM »

Being just a performance major at a Canadian school of music, I've not gotten to have any kind of training in composition (composition was my first choice to major in, but they kind of decided that they wanted me to major in performance instead...). Anyway, I still do a lot of composition on my own time, and I'm totally self taught (I just finished a set of orchestral variations on The Battle Hymn of the Republic...kind of like Ives Variations on America).
I would recommend two books that helped me out. First would be an old book on counterpoint called Gradis ad Parnassus (you should probably get the english translation called Steps to Parnassus) written by Johann Joseph Fux in 1725. It's the same book that several great composers used in their youth to learn counterpoint (ie Beethoven, Mozart; it was also used by several other composers like Haydn and Albrechtsberger to teach their students.
The other book that I would recommend is on for instrumentation. After all...you can't write good instrumental music, unless you know what the instrument is capable of doing. For this I recommend the Treatise on Instrumentation by Hector Berlioz (later revised and edited by Richard Strauss). It's a really good book, and gives a lot of examples of music (mostly Wagnerian Opera) that shows what type of effect you can get with the different abilities of the instrument.
Hope this helps you out a little bit.
   
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« Reply #16 on: Aug 03, 2003, 07:25PM »

Brian,

I couldn't believe it when I read your initial posting!!!  I could have said many of the same words myself!  I took two years of theory, an orchestration class, and a jazz arranging class back in '79 - '81 when I was at college.  Now, some 20 years later, I have a great desire to begin writing.  The type of writing I want to do is more for marching bands, drum corps, and brass ensemble with various instruments accompanying, such as piano, organ, and/or percussion.

My situation is thus:  I'm 42, and currently enrolled full time to obtain my teaching certificate in secondary education (history/social studies).  While taking theory / composition classes at the local university might be the most logical way to go, that would mean that I would have to become a music major, and frankly, I just don't have time for that right now.  My primary goal (and my wife's    )is to get my teaching certificate so I can get my butt back to work.  Writing / composition would purely be a hobby for me.  So, like you, I've been looking for information on books that I can delve into that explain theory and composition in a way that I can pick it up on my own.  Or, if there were someone I could get in touch with who could coach me on a "as needed" basis, that would be cool too.  I thought of contacting the person at Western Michigan University (where I'm a student) who is the chairman of that area to see if they had any recommendations.  If I get up enough nerve to do it, and if I get a reply, I'll pass along what I get from him/her.

Best of luck!!!
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« Reply #17 on: Aug 15, 2003, 02:06PM »

When it comes to college libraries do you have to be a student to use them or are they public but owned by the school?  To be more specific I'm talking about Colorado Universities Music Library
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« Reply #18 on: Aug 15, 2003, 03:47PM »

I believe most college libraries allow you to use material in the library, but you need privileges to check things out of the library.
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« Reply #19 on: Aug 18, 2003, 06:42AM »

I appreciate all the commentary, thanks.  I've come to the realization that I don't think I'll be able to commit to regular composition lessons, though, so I'm going to try to do more of this on my own.  I've ordered a copy of Modal and Tonal Counterpoint: from Josquin to Stravinsky (here's an Amazon link); it looks like a good choice for someone in my situation.  I like the fact that it goes through a broad range of contrapuntal styles; I think that will be very helpful.  I decided against the Fux for now in favor of this other book, perhaps supplemented by the Jeppesen (16th century counterpoint) and McHose (18th century counterpoint) books that I already have.

I'm not sure how much home time I'll be ready and willing to devote to music this year, unfortunately.  I haven't figured out if I'll be doing any performance work outside of my lunchtime chorus.  We'll see.

Again, thanks for all your suggestions and comments.
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« Reply #20 on: Aug 20, 2003, 02:40PM »

Ahem.

Here's a thought.

BFW, I am assuming that you have a fairly decent grounding in traditional theory, and will proceed under that aegis.

A teacher would be helpful, but for someone who already has "the basics" (whatever THEY are) under your belt, all you really need is a grounding in some new techniques.  The rather simplistic analogy is that you already know how to _build_ a cathedral; but you want to move from Romaneque to Gothic.  New techniques.

I would suggest a decent keyboard, clean ears, and a few excellent texts with which to experiment--not just intellectually, but with sonic feedback as you go, i.e., prop the book up on the music stand of the piano.

1.  Vincent Persichetti: Twentieth Century Harmony--Creative aspects and practice.  ISBN 0-393-09539-8.   Okay, so it's really a book about Vince's creative aspects and practice, but he absorbed a lot from _everywhere_.  I have yet to discover a more lucid, straightforward text with examples of all the different things you can do.  Perhaps not an exercise in Stravinsky's rotative arrays, but good, solid, _usable_ stuff.

2.  Paul Hindemith The Craft of Musical Composition, part 1.  ISBN 0-901938-30-0.  A standard, this text should not be overlooked.  Don't just read it, play through the examples (that goes for all of these books).  Hindemith's book, published by Schott, enters the mathematical background of his ideas of musical construction.

3.  Felix Salzer:  Structural Hearing.  (can't find my copy right now...urrr.)  This is somewhat dated, but the materials within are timeless--the idea of listening to the entire work as an archlike construction, as an _entity_,  rather than the traditional analysis of listening to each beat as an end unto itself.

4. Norton Series, ed. Robert Morgan: Anthology of Twentieth Century Music.  ISBN 0-393-95284-3.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PLAY THROUGH ANY OF THESE EXERPTS UNTIL YOU'VE READ THE OTHERS.  In that fashion, there _will_ come a place during your readthrough in which you will think, "Hey!  I can hear what he's doing!"

I might also recommend the George Macdonald Fraser "Flashman" series to read in between.  Nothing to do with music, but damned entertaining.

r
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« Reply #21 on: Aug 20, 2003, 02:59PM »

And with that post I hope that all the regular users will note that we have added some real expertise to the moderating of this room.

Welcome Richard (rib)!
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« Reply #22 on: Aug 20, 2003, 03:00PM »

(just watch out for the lightening and the earthquakes.)
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« Reply #23 on: Aug 20, 2003, 05:51PM »

quote:
Originally posted by rlb:
Ahem.

Good to hear from you again!  I really appreciate the detailed suggestions.

 
quote:

BFW, I am assuming that you have a fairly decent grounding in traditional theory, and will proceed under that aegis.

Well, that depends.  Way back in the topic note I mentioned that I'm not as comfortable as I'd like to be with counterpoint in more than three voices or with chromatic harmonies.  I've written some stuff I'm proud of with good four part counterpoint and reasonably chromatic harmony, but it feels like a fluke or a flash of inspiration rather than a repeatable exercise.  I don't feel obliged to write in a modern style; some of my ideas are in that mode, while others are more 15th or 18th or sometimes 19th century.  I have a piece I've started a dozen or so times (like quitting smoking) that I really want in a 16th century style, with six unaccompanied vocal parts, for example.

 
quote:
Vincent Persichetti: Twentieth Century Harmony
I have that book, it's terrific, full of wonderful insights.  I find it overwhelming, though; it's kind of like, "you can do anything you want, here's what it will sound like."

 
quote:
Paul Hindemith The Craft of Musical Composition
Hmmm... This sounds very familiar.  I may actually have this one, too.  I used his harmony text when I was a kid, and thought very highly of it.  I vaguely recall either planning to get this book or getting it, starting it, and not going very far with it 30+ years ago.  Definitely worth resurrecting, in any case.

 
quote:
Felix Salzer:  Structural Hearing.
Definitely have this one.  I agree, good stuff.  A bit hard to go through, but great concepts.

 
quote:
Norton Series, ed. Robert Morgan: Anthology of Twentieth Century Music.
Definitely DON'T have this one.

 
quote:
I might also recommend the George Macdonald Fraser "Flashman" series to read in between.
Hey, you haven't steered me wrong yet.
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« Reply #24 on: Aug 22, 2003, 07:53AM »

The Norton: Anthology of 20th Century Music is a good book for introducing you to the various composers and the compositional techniques that they used.  This will help you get the basics of the techniques.
I find your comment regarding the Persichetti book very interesting, regarding too much freedom.  That is the thing about modern composition, the rules or lack of rules has totally changed.  Various composers decided to make up new rules to give themselves a direction.  It was a tool they used to help them focus their artistic energy.  

Regarding your statement about wanting to complete a piece in 16th Century style, then you need to do the homework.  I still have my Norton two volume history of music, which is a great reference.  You find out general styles.  You go to a college library resource center, if available, and find out if there are any books that cover the analysis of the music of the period.  There are lots of books that examine the form of specific pieces by various composers.  You have to take the time to research them out.  You buy Dover scores and analyze pieces yourself.  What is the harmonic structure of the piece, is it linear of vertical harmony, what form is it?  Then when you find out the characteristics you have to apply them AS YOU SEE FIT.
If you are going to do this without a teacher, you have to be willing to move forward without fear of going in the wrong direction.  There are no books that can really guide you. They give you no feedback.  It's like learning the mechanics of poetry or painting.  A book can tell you various poetry schemes or brush techniques, but YOU still have to write all the words, or complete all the brush strokes that makes a picture.
Composition is not like a paint-by-numbers picture.  There is no set formula.  I could give 100 students the same musical phrase, and the same instruction regarding Bach fugue contrapuntal techniques, and I would get 100 different fugues.  None of them would be the same.  They would range from very good to very bad.  If we took away the ones that had contrapuntal or harmonic errors, what would be the difference between the good and bad of the remaining ones?  That's the part that you cannot and will never be able to find in a book.  It's subjective, sometimes two different "authorities" disagree as to which is better and why.  Sometimes something "just doesn't feel right" in a certain part, even though ALL the rules have been followed.
Composing can be a very frustrating task at times because of all the abstract parts that can't be taught in a book.  The rude awakening is that there is no Chilton's Mechanics Book of Composition that has everything tied in a neat little package with pictures and numbered steps to follow to get the job done.  My advanced composition courses, as a senior and graduate student, consisted of the class listening to what the various students had done and then making our comments to the composer about what we thought worked and what didn't, followed by the instructors comments.  Usually when the majority of the class agreed with specific comments, it was something we really needed to reevaluate.
Hope my comments help in some way.
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« Reply #25 on: Aug 22, 2003, 09:14AM »

quote:
Originally posted by Mike Brebes:
The Norton: Anthology of 20th Century Music is a good book for introducing you to the various composers and the compositional techniques that they used.  This will help you get the basics of the techniques.

I will definitely get this book sometime.  I find that analyzing the work of others is very useful, but it's not at all the same thing as trying to write myself.  I feel that I can do a halfway decent job of analysis, but where I fail primarily is the synthesis.

 
quote:
Regarding your statement about wanting to complete a piece in 16th Century style, then you need to do the homework.
That is what I am trying to do, my homework.  I care less about whether what I write is historically accurate, and more about whether it "works" to my own ears.  I want practice in writing parts that fit together properly, so I reduce the amount of time I spend saying, "Oh, that doesn't work."

It's not that I'm a 21st century composer trying to constrain myself to write in a 16th century style.  I'm a big fan of 16th century music, I have 16th century musical ideas at times, and I'd like to be able to get them executed properly.

I understand that not having an instructor is a serious handicap, but unfortunately that's what I have to do.

 
quote:
If we took away the ones that had contrapuntal or harmonic errors, what would be the difference between the good and bad of the remaining ones?
If I could get to that point, being able to write music with reasonable facility without contrapuntal and harmonic errors, I'd be happy.  Stuff with more than three moving parts, with chromatic harmonies.  Reasonable applications of sonata form and motivic development.  Basics.

 
quote:
Composing can be a very frustrating task at times because of all the abstract parts that can't be taught in a book.
I understand, and I approach this endeavor with some trepidation.  I hope it isn't another one of my myriad unfinished projects.

 
quote:
Hope my comments help in some way.
Quite definitely they do.
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« Reply #26 on: Aug 23, 2003, 07:53AM »

quote:
I care less about whether what I write is historically accurate, and more about whether it "works" to my own ears. I want practice in writing parts that fit together properly, so I reduce the amount of time I spend saying, "Oh, that doesn't work."
I think you've synthesized the whole discussion in this one paragraph.  It's about the ear and what works for you.

For me the bottom line is trust your ear, trust yourself, and in the big picture failure is not an option, it's mandatory.  You learn and grow from them.  The more often you fail the quicker you move along the learning curve and truly internalize what works and what doesn't.

I've spent a lot of time going through theory books, composition courses (both classroom and one on one), and analyzing scores from Bach to Bartok and beyond.  Theory comes to your rescuse when your ear paints you into a corner.  The more theory you know the more corners you can escape from.  Having had to try and crawl across the ceilings many times I know of what I speak.

At the same time it is that process of writing that reduces the time spent looking for the closest window.  (Not to jump from, btw; just to get out of another blessed corner!)

One suggestion I have for you is this.

Select a short, simple melody (nursery rhymes work quite well) and try applying different techniques to the same melody.  By freezing the melody you can hear and isolate how the different harmonic ideas and techniques affect and transform the melody.  Write at least eight measure a day if that's all the time you can afford, but do it on a daily basis.  Nelson Riddle's book on arranging uses this approach of taking a nursery rhyme and running it through endless harmonic and orchestrative permutations.  It is very effective.

Last thought . . . I promise . . .

Don't get discouraged.  We've taken your honest and straight-forward question and harangued you with a ton of information and opinion.  Our comments are made with the best of all possible intentions.  I can see where it might come across as overwhelming and I sensed a bit of that in some of your responses.  Don't ever let "theory" diminish your love and enjoyment of music; listening, performing, or creating.

Go have a blast with all of this!!!!

Take care!

Doc
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« Reply #27 on: Aug 23, 2003, 09:03AM »

quote:
Originally posted by Doc Bann:
Theory comes to your rescuse when your ear paints you into a corner.  The more theory you know the more corners you can escape from.  Having had to try and crawl across the ceilings many times I know of what I speak.

Yes!  That's exactly it!  You've expressed the issue much better than I did.  Thank you!

 
quote:
One suggestion I have for you is this.
That is an excellent, uh, set of suggestions (I count three or so).

 
quote:
We've taken your honest and straight-forward question and harangued you with a ton of information and opinion.  Our comments are made with the best of all possible intentions.  I can see where it might come across as overwhelming and I sensed a bit of that in some of your responses.
No, no, not overwhelming at all!  I understand the intentions are all good, and I find all the feedback on my questions really helpful.  They'll probably be even more helpful once I get going.
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« Reply #28 on: Sep 11, 2003, 02:46AM »

An update for those who may be interested: I've been working in the "Modal and Tonal Counterpoint" book, I'm in chapter 5, and it's terrific.  The exercises are very appropriate and varied, the musical examples plentiful, the analyses and discussions clear and to the point.  I'm really happy with it and looking forward to the later sections of the book.
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« Reply #29 on: Sep 21, 2003, 05:25PM »

Extremely good book--I have fond memories of it meself.  Go, cat, go.  
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« Reply #30 on: Dec 01, 2003, 09:41AM »

What's the difference between a theory and a composition teacher?
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« Reply #31 on: Dec 01, 2003, 12:26PM »

The same difference between analysis and synthesis, but generally they're very similar.  Learning composition generally involves a lot of studying of what other people have done, so you can understand individual techniques, techniques of certain "schools," and so forth.  Learning theory generally requires writing of original work to demonstrate understanding of the techniques.

Theory generally has less emphasis on the synthesis (creation of original work) and more on the analysis than does composition.
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« Reply #32 on: Jan 05, 2004, 08:20AM »

Or, to analogize, theory is the toolbox; composition is the car.
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« Reply #33 on: Jan 26, 2004, 12:47PM »

The teacher issue is a personal one. I began composing about ten years ago and have had some success, probably because I was ready to take the musical ideas in my head into a concrete state. There was also a part of me that said "I can do this... better" - after playing all styles of music for years.

I can't imagine being guided by a teacher, but I do make a point of studying scores and analyzing the music that I like to see what "makes it tick."

I find that writing honestly (for me) is always effective. By that I mean that I write from in internal process rather than making an effort to emulate another composer. Even if I like... say Stravinsky - and want to allow an aspect of his writing to come through my music, I know that it will be filtered by my own personality. I just finshed a trombone quartet called Labyrinth. It would be nice to find a good group to read through it.

Anyway - good luck composing. It is encouraging to see so many budding composers.
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« Reply #34 on: Dec 02, 2006, 08:58PM »

I am corrently a Composition Major in college (im only a Freshman though) and I start taking composition lessons next semester, and this has helped me to know somethings to look at...thanks guys! (and gals)

God Bless!
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« Reply #35 on: Dec 03, 2006, 03:13PM »

I've studied Theory in school for 3 years on the AP and now the IB level, never once did I take a single lesson in Composition. Alot of Composition is based entirely on your ear and a strong ear develops through ear training and music theory. I highly reccomend having a strong background in Music Theory before getting into intense composition.

2 great theory books:
(Not the exact title) Berklee books on Music Theory books 1 & 2.
The complete Idiot's guide to music theory (not to say your an idiot).

However this is NOT to say don't compose before you do theory, practice makes perfect.
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« Reply #36 on: Dec 03, 2006, 08:32PM »

:D So there are composing classes out there? I like composing, it's fun, but I've never had a compososion class before :/ or even a theory class(they don't offer those types of classes at my school). I've written several songs though, except all of them are Baritone, or Trombone solos, usually short pep, or jazz :D yay for composing :D
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« Reply #37 on: Dec 23, 2006, 07:48AM »

I received my MFA in composition/theory from Princeton University in 1976 and promptly defected to the computer industry for the next 25 years. Keep in mind that I went to school during the 'do your own thing' days, but I have to say that as both an undergrad and a graduate student, I received very little in the way of progressive studies. All of my teachers - Joan Tower, Ben Boretz, Milton Babbitt, Paul Lansky - operated in the mode of critiqueing what I brought to them rather than trying to make sure that I had 'the foundation'. I'm not wholly convinced that this is a bad thing - especially combined with extensive score study. But I do feel that my ear would be a lot better if I had had a more rigorous conservatory style education.
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« Reply #38 on: Nov 08, 2008, 09:11AM »

I do quite a bit of composition and arranging without a teacher - but luckily I'm in contact with a lot of composers who help me out.

Studying on your own simply through constant work is good - it helps you develop your own style and signature in your work. But if you have trouble - even just working out how to convey something, or if you can't get a harmony you want or anything like that you can ask an expert and I'm sure they'll give you some pointers. I've been considering a full time composition course and have quite a portfolio but I couldn't have done it without string players there to help get it on the page correctly!

Players are the greatest critics of compositions!

Ali
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« Reply #39 on: Nov 24, 2008, 08:29AM »

Not exactly a composition book but I found it very useful in that feild anyway.

http://www.amazon.com/Score-Reading-Key-Music-Experience/dp/1574670565/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227544111&sr=8-1
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« Reply #40 on: Nov 24, 2008, 02:08PM »

I strongly believe a composition teacher is necessary if you'd like to go above hobbyist.  Especially for orchestration, counterpoint, score analysis, form, etc. 

Alan Belkin, a talented composer and teacher has written a really good letter to young composers that you would get a lot out of.  It discusses what to look for in a teacher and some valuable advice he has based on hard lessons he's learned.

I highly recommend it...
http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/personnel/Belkin/letter.html
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« Reply #41 on: Feb 16, 2009, 09:28AM »

Great Letter

BNow I do not think a teacher is 100% absolutley necessary to be any good at it.  I've been making half of my living from arranging and composing and orchestrating for the better part of 10+ years -I've found networking and persistant hard work to get everything right is just as good as having a teacher.  Will having a teacher help? YES!  I too have to always go through things a little longer since I'm in effect teaching myself as I go.  Teachers can definitely shorten and refine the process.  But most important is finding a Good Teacher.

A teacher will definitely make things a lot easier -

but - like the letter said

nothing can substitute DOING.  those other musicians you're writing for are really the best teachers.  They'll let you know, one way or another, if what you're doing is hip or NOT.  Without them we just have boxes of unplayed material.  And King Brand Score Paper to line the pet cages with...

Whether you have a teacher or not, just STUDY - and more important than studying man, PRACTICE!  Buy Books.  Find bands to write for.  Start a rehearsal band if nothing else... it takes work, but it sure is rewarding.

Z to the Lee
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« Reply #42 on: Feb 05, 2010, 09:51PM »

On a different angle, I'm not sure being a great composer would make you a great teacher. Sometimes the magic is the magic and trying to come up with curriculum to 'educate' the masses on how to weave the magic might lessen the meaning and respect for the magic.

I say this because I have been approached about possibly teaching composition for a summer internship at a Fine Arts Academy...middle school kids.  Not sure I can do it.  I am somewhat self-taught...or rather self-realized (or just plain obedient to my destiny). My approach would end up very non-standard, heavy on the do, less on the think (Yoda might appove). Just not sure...

Ken F.
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« Reply #43 on: Jun 24, 2010, 02:46PM »

Hey folks,

I think every composer, by the sheer necessity of the craft, is somewhat self-taught.  You have to continue to teach yourself new things, otherwise you don't grow or develop as a composer.  It doesn't hurt to have someone to be kind of a guidestone, or sounding board.  In my case, my wife is a great sounding board.  "Nope!  That's too Philip Glass-y!"  (dammit!)  We learn by doing, too, so just do it!

I wouldn't go so far as to say that one route or the other is better.  Having a teacher/mentor isn't a guarantee, and neither is NOT having a teacher/mentor.  There are people who think that just by sheer virtue of the fact that they went to Conservatory ABC automatically makes them a better composer, or whatever.  On the other hand, I've run into just as many people who wear the "I'm TOTALLY self taught, so what I write is better, because it's from my HEART".  Neither is necessarily true, or makes better music.

I've found that the best teachers I've had, or the ones that I got the most out of, asked me questions, or asked me to explain why I did one thing or another.  Having to give an intelligent answer to someone you can't BS, or not being able to give an answer to something made me re-evaluate my method, what I was trying to communicate, etc.  Then if they were feeling generous they'd drop a nugget of wisdom, but you can get those from people who aren't conservatory teachers as well.

What I have little patience for is a composition teacher, or composers in general who say "well, you're some kind of ***** unless you have a tone row/third stream/DSP program, etc."; these are the same folks who look at you like you're nuts when you infer that voice-leading, melody, rhythm and harmony still exist in 12-tone-or-whatever-music.  If you have something to say, just say it how you want to say it.

It's like Igor Stravinsky said, judge a tree by its fruits, not its roots!
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« Reply #44 on: Dec 03, 2010, 02:06PM »

With apologies for the way this is going to sound...

I've wanted to be a composer since perhaps age 9, but did not study composition formally except for a brief stint in college, whereupon I realized that I hadn't a prayer of doing it for a living; even were the music 100 times better than it was, it needed to be flooding from my fingers. Once I discovered Finale, I again attempted to write, and a few of my pieces have been performed.

However, I received some unmistakable object lessons in 2005 about the music and just how good it wasn't. I took weekly lessons over a number of months a year or so ago, but decided to end them even before I left the area. The reason is this: I feel that I lack whatever the thing is called that allows one to write music that makes sense and, for lack of a better expression, is musical. Time and again, my teacher suggested something that made the piece better, but I simply had not thought of. Despite all the music I've heard and performed and studied for decades, such evidences of real musical thought seem to have passed through my brain without leaving any trace of themselves. When it comes to performance, I have nothing to be ashamed of and am as musical as the next guy. But when it comes to composition, my musicality and imagination simply aren't there.

So my question is: can a person learn to be musical/imaginative? Or is it something one either has or doesn't have?
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« Reply #45 on: Dec 03, 2010, 02:52PM »

So my question is: can a person learn to be musical/imaginative? Or is it something one either has or doesn't have?

Well . . . yes, but IMHO the reason has much more to do with the work a person is willing to do than with natural "talent".

On the first question, no, because everyone is already.  What we can learn are lots of tricks and tools of the trade that make it easier to show out musicality and imagination.  Just as we all have to spend many years of practicing and performing before we're decent trombonists, the same applies to composition.
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« Reply #46 on: Dec 03, 2010, 03:52PM »

Well . . . yes, but IMHO the reason has much more to do with the work a person is willing to do than with natural "talent".

On the first question, no, because everyone is already.  What we can learn are lots of tricks and tools of the trade that make it easier to show out musicality and imagination.  Just as we all have to spend many years of practicing and performing before we're decent trombonists, the same applies to composition.

W.r.t. talent, I learned that the hard way.

Not sure I'd agree that everyone is already musical. My father loved music but couldn't carry a tune in a bucket,  :D
so I figure whatever musicality I got came via my mother (who couldn't tell Beethoven from bebop, never cared who the composer was or what genre the piece belonged to, but had sung in women's glee club in college.)

Perhaps I should rephrase my question, or even state it by way of an example: My last piece is a tone poem for brass quintet and the final 4-5 minutes of it are a fugue--one of only a couple that I've ever attempted. I will accept criticism that the piece is too long (approx. 13 minutes) and that's asking too much of brass players; I took up the trombone three years ago and it's the only brass instrument whose technique I know even slightly. Harder to accept was the remark of my composition teacher, something like "You shouldn't write a fugue just to write a fugue." Well, the fugue was an interesting exercise (and is not strictly polyphonic as Bach would have written), but my overriding reason for writing it was that it seemed to go there. Weak, but the only explanation I can come up with. The fact that the teacher, one of the few people actually willing to spend time with my music, felt the fugue was unrelated to the rest of the piece, or even just showing off, made me seriously question my "talent" and/or musicality. What's ironic is that I usually couldn't make head or tail out of the teacher's pieces.  Don't know
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« Reply #47 on: Dec 03, 2010, 07:54PM »

are you writing with the intent of adhering to some formal considerations?  how it looks on paper?

or are you putting to paper what you hear in your head?
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« Reply #48 on: Dec 04, 2010, 02:38AM »

The fact that the teacher, one of the few people actually willing to spend time with my music, felt the fugue was unrelated to the rest of the piece, or even just showing off, made me seriously question my "talent" and/or musicality. What's ironic is that I usually couldn't make head or tail out of the teacher's pieces.  Don't know

Sometimes, two people have such a different set of goals for what they want to write that lessons simply don't work.

BTW, there is nothing wrong with *either* approach that Exzaclee asks about.  :)

IMHO, it can be very useful to take lessons from as many different people as possible.
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« Reply #49 on: Dec 04, 2010, 07:18AM »

Usually, not always, but usually, when i have a student who's compositions are making little musical sense, it's because they are focused more on how the score should "look" (formal considerations) than how it sounds (what's in their head.)  My personal approach is to get them to rely on their head, and above all, if they don't hear it, don't wrote it.  Similar to the approach my jazz profs took with me about only playing what you hear - the rest is BS. 

I'm not saying it can't be fun to experiment with forms, rows, etc... it's just that it never works out until one has developed a good sense of what a melody is.  music is as natural as breathing if you let it be.
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« Reply #50 on: Dec 04, 2010, 01:07PM »

"Are you writing with the intent of adhering to some formal considerations?  how it looks on paper?
or are you putting to paper what you hear in your head?"

Definitely the latter. Many times, I've wished for some way to attach electrodes to my forehead and think the music onto paper, rather than try to type it into Finale and have it evaporate in mid-phrase.

I never considered myself as having a problem melodically, although mine tend to be slow-moving rather than sprightly and I'm plagued by the urge to keep constant motion; it's difficult for me to write rests, as I desire a continuous flow. Everything seems to be quarters and eighths, too, as sixteenths somehow rarely seem appropriate. Perhaps that's the influence of my many years as a choral singer.

As for multiple teachers, that's usually not an option. Up here in ROME, NY, I wonder if there are any composers at all.  Yeah, RIGHT.

No, it's eluding me how others manage to write exciting, engaging music that people want to perform. With me, audiences mostly seem to like my stuff, but conductors and performers roll their eyes and ask, "Have you any IDEA how long this would take to rehearse?" Then they program something that sounds like cats in heat, only not as good. Let's just say the feedback from most of the composition teachers I've tried has not been encouraging, which is why I asked in the first place if one either "has it" or doesn't. To be sure, not everybody is a musical genius, but every time I try to think outside the Bachs, I wonder whether the effort is showing.
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« Reply #51 on: Dec 04, 2010, 02:06PM »

Aside from finding composition teachers, your next best option is to put up charts and recordings (if you can get them) online and ask for frank feedback.

It eludes a lot of people how some manage to write exciting, engaging music that people want to perform.  Me included, and I'm trying to figure out how to solve that problem.   :/ I can write pretty good melodies and interesting harmonies; my problem is large-scale structure: how to have a piece of music have an understandable emotional message with good transitions between sections and effective climaxes.

You just gotta hammer away at your weaknesses and find ways of solving them.

BTW, some people have success by recording themselves playing or singing before writing down their melodies.  Others can write melodies without that step but have a hard time coming up with background structure, so they sketch out the entire form of the piece with melodies and generalized comments before fleshing pieces out.  Try lots of different approaches.

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« Reply #52 on: Dec 04, 2010, 03:55PM »

>>them) online and ask for frank feedback.

Here, you mean? Dunno if I want to do that. The embarrassment factor is quite high.

>>interesting harmonies; my problem is large-scale structure: how to have a piece of music have an understandable >>emotional message with good transitions between sections and effective climaxes.

That's the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, isn't it? Someone years ago told me, "Your pieces always fall apart in the middle," which unfortunately was not followed up with any kind of specific example and remains difficult for me to accept. I've heard any number of pieces that seem to have the same problem, e.g. the Bartok viola concerto. I heard it the other day for the first time in decades, and while it was an old friend, the extremely fragmented nature of the piece struck me as never before. I realize that it was assembled from sketches Bartok had made before his death, but it seemed to lurch from one idea to another in short order and I could not perceive much rhyme or reason for it. Yet there must be some underlying structure to the piece, even if I can't perceive one. Compare and contrast with my brass piece, of which the teacher said, "At the end of the piece, I didn't know how I'd gotten there." He's a successful composer, so if anyone could have detected the structure of my piece, he could have...especially as it's a tone poem and I gave him the program beforehand. Or another piece, hacked nearly to death by the pianist at a composer's group concert. Someone told me afterwards "That was GORGEOUS!" A friend from back home, quoting one of his innumerable relatives, was less kind: "It sounds like scribbles." One man's meat is another man's poison, but I'd have thought the laws of physics would not permit something to be both GORGEOUS and scribbles. Such extremes of perception leave me scratching my bald head.
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« Reply #53 on: Feb 08, 2011, 06:34AM »

Heh.  Criticism.  Here's a book you should read:

"Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven's Time" by Nicolas Slonimsky.

Don't put too much stock in what teachers say.  Listen to what they say, then take it or leave it.  Their word isn't the gospel truth.  Listen to your gut.

If you're serious about it, just do it.  Trial and error.  It's going to be tough when things don't go well, but when they go right, it'll be great.  Get over the embarrassment factor; I know guys who have been doing it professionally for years, and it's still nerve-wracking hearing something read for the first time, it is for me too.  It's a learning process, and it may take your whole life.

Don't over-think it, just get out there and do it.
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« Reply #54 on: Feb 08, 2011, 08:46AM »

It's easy to say "that stinks".  It's easy to say "I don't like it".

When those comments come with some backup arguments it forms a way to deal with it.

There is the old joke: "What do you do with a drummer who can't keep the beat?  Take away one stick and make him a conductor.  Still can't keep a beat?  Take away the other stick and make him a critic."

Anybody who asks to have something critiqued deserves more than just "great" or "awful".  They deserve an analysis of why you think it's great or awful.

The problem with trying to learn arranging or composing on your own is frequently that lack of constructive feedback.

And don't assume that the feedback is automatically correct.  Wagner parodied some of the critics of his day in the person of Sixtus Beckmesser in his opera "Die Meistersinger".  Beckmesser is so busy applying rules he can't hear the genius.
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« Reply #55 on: Feb 12, 2011, 05:34PM »

Hmm...Since you're being so kind, I've decided to post a piece, but it's one I don't esteem and feel cannot be fixed. It was intended to be part of a suite for brass quintet.
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« Reply #56 on: Feb 12, 2011, 09:50PM »

 I hear the Muse.  I listen to the Muse.  I trust the Muse. 'Nuff said.

Your mileage may vary...

Ken F.
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« Reply #57 on: Feb 13, 2011, 06:17PM »

I hear the Muse.  I listen to the Muse.  I trust the Muse. 'Nuff said.

Your mileage may vary...

Ken F.

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« Reply #58 on: Mar 20, 2011, 06:18PM »

Hi  Idea!
I read through the postings of this long discussion and found that something is missing about composing.  I know it is hard to believe as long as this posting is.  I did not see anything about transcribing music.  I started as a copiest for my brother when he was writing.  There were no computers then so it was all by hand.  He would give me his scores and I would transcribe the parts out.  This showed me a lot about theory, form, and note distribution.  I then started to transcribe recorded music.  This then trained my ear and it taught me the ways of the composer.  I think this is more of concept that jazz musicians used most but it will work for anyone.  If you want to write like Bach then transcribe Bach's music.  If you want to write like Stravinsky then transcribe it out.  I think just analyzing their music is not enough although that is important.  Coming up with the chord progression is the easy part.  Making it sound great by using the right note distribution is the hard part.  Percy Grainger and Gustav Holst both wrote for bands and orchestras but they sound different because of how they distributed the notes of the chords to each instrument.  Chords are chords but who plays the notes creates the unique timbre of each composer.  I would think that whether you have a teacher or not transcribing music from recordings is a must to learn to be a good composer.

Keep on Playing!
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« Reply #59 on: Mar 22, 2011, 01:55AM »

Has transcribing not been mentioned?

Perhaps not.

I do know that it has been mentioned in other threads. And, yes, I completely agree that transcribing is much more valuable than the normal score analysis.

I remember a Quincy Jones interview in which he described his first lesson with the famous composition instructor Nadia Boulanger. His first project was to transcribe and transpose the first page of the score of "Daphnis and Chloe" into all 12 keys.
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« Reply #60 on: Mar 22, 2011, 08:25AM »

Boulanger. His first project was to transcribe and transpose the first page of the score of "Daphnis and Chloe" into all 12 keys.

Now I don't feel so bad that I never studied with Nadia Boulanger.

Seriously, though: All 12 keys? Of what possible use is that? It wasn't until I saw the score of "The Planets" that I discovered how Holst had obtained the organ-like sound of certain chords, but I realized that through looking at the score, not writing out the parts 12 times.
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« Reply #61 on: Mar 22, 2011, 09:11AM »

Now I don't feel so bad that I never studied with Nadia Boulanger.

Seriously, though: All 12 keys? Of what possible use is that? It wasn't until I saw the score of "The Planets" that I discovered how Holst had obtained the organ-like sound of certain chords, but I realized that through looking at the score, not writing out the parts 12 times.

It's primarily an orchestration exercise. Transposing keys also moves instruments into different ranges, forcing one to revoice some chords, as well as having to deal with some technical considerations of certain instruments. And to do so while retaining the flavor of the original. This can be challenging in modernistic pieces like Daphnis and Chloe because of the full use of instrumental range to attain specific tambral colors.
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« Reply #62 on: Mar 23, 2011, 06:35PM »

not to mention, transposing something as harrowing as daphnis and chloe through all 12 keys is a good shortcut to learning how to think  in all keys equally.  it's kind of the same with how we "teach" jazz - or any form of music for that matter. 

teach fluency in all 12 keys.  then you've taught fluency in this language.  to some extent, anyway...
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« Reply #63 on: Apr 12, 2011, 01:28PM »

The only way to get better as a composer is to write and hear what you have written.  Then go back and write more.  Every time you hear good musicians play your work, you are going to learn a lot more from that than from what any book will teach you.  I'm always amazed how much better my students get from just writing, hearing their work played and then going back and re-writing.  Even the best teacher isn't a substitute for that type of training.
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« Reply #64 on: Mar 07, 2012, 11:43PM »

Trial and error
Spend as much time as possible doing it
Common sense
Transcribe stuff you like (both chords, melodies and orchestration)

Go for it!

Cheers
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« Reply #65 on: Jul 16, 2012, 04:22PM »

Usually, not always, but usually, when i have a student who's compositions are making little musical sense, it's because they are focused more on how the score should "look" (formal considerations) than how it sounds (what's in their head.)  My personal approach is to get them to rely on their head, and above all, if they don't hear it, don't wrote it.  Similar to the approach my jazz profs took with me about only playing what you hear - the rest is BS. 

I'm not saying it can't be fun to experiment with forms, rows, etc... it's just that it never works out until one has developed a good sense of what a melody is.  music is as natural as breathing if you let it be.
I'm no composing genius.  Which is why I sell bolts for a living.  BUT - when I compose, I look for a melody FIRST, then the harmony comes later.  I know it doesn't HAVE to be done that way, but the harmonics seem to flow more naturally for me using that method.  Once I've got the general melody, all of the exposition, development, recap, variation, etc. can flow from that.

Schoenberg's book is good, even if you're not into 12-tone music.  Learned a lot from it.
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« Reply #66 on: Mar 07, 2013, 12:13PM »

I looked at the hit counts for posts, and my Just Intonation Composition is #1 in this section!

Yay!  Sing it!

One thing that hasn't come up in this thread (I think) is the value of studying composition with friends, basically forming the composition version of a book club. I do this, and get a lot of great feedback from them, and I get to provide the same to them. It works as long as we make effort to understand where each other is coming from. Looking through the history of music, highly successful groups of composers tend to come out of such groups. One that comes to mind is the minimalist 'school' of New York.
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« Reply #67 on: May 06, 2014, 02:49AM »

One specific point of studying for a teacher - and by that I mean the "ideal" teacher - is that there is so much more to the plain technical writing of notes that makes up a sounding and resounding musical piece, that the student can discover from the tutor-student talks, discussions and evaluations in the teaching.

I belive that the point of having a teacher is the fact that we humans always seem to think "better", more creatively, more widely and more dynamically when we are interacting with other people and are subjects in social contexts. The teacher in itself has no actual part in the technical developement of a student besides a motivational and practical role but as I see it, the teacher is the main person to develop a students communicative, emotional and expressional skills in the students over all development in the composing field. I belive those qualities are nothing one can develop and evaluate by self studies and transcriptions; even though most people have an inner source of expressions and emotional gestures to scope from as a matter of who and what a person is.

To be a skillful composer I belive one cannot rely on that inner source only, because if its not subjected to at least one other persons thoughts, considerations and whatnot of social interactions of both good and bad, it will dry up or get stale from lack of expressional progression and developement. Something that has happened to many great artists and composers who get stuck in one genre or one style, and seem uncapable of changing to - or finding - something new.

For me, a teacher´s role is to motivate the student to have a technincal developement, but the most important role is to make the student see that there is a value in criticism, evaluations and discussions about the musical works, and to make the student ready for the confrontation between its works and the musicians and listeners reactions. That is why the personal qualities of a teacher are so important: A teacher should in my opinion be able to handle the sometimes very fragile aspirations of expression in its students, and through talks, discussions, criticism or arguments help the students to find ways to pursue their musical inspiration over time and by different circumstances. Of course not as a result of what the surroundings say and think, but as a result of the students own capability, need and choice to develop and its courage to go through the processes that lead to change.
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« Reply #68 on: Apr 27, 2015, 09:25PM »

While the work in the realm of composing that I do can hardly be called composing, as it is so immature, one score that I would highly recommend for reading is Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
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« Reply #69 on: Apr 28, 2015, 08:26AM »

Easily the most useless, I-actually-paid-tuition-for-that? experience I've ever had was studying composition at the University of North Texas.

You can read the story here:

Dance for the Perihelion!


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« Reply #70 on: Apr 28, 2015, 11:28AM »

And I'll note another worthless class was "Advanced Orchestration."

The instructor, a graduate student, spoke almost zero to the issue of using instruments. His whole thing was about making sharp-looking music manuscripts with special ink pens on vellum paper.

They looked perfect, like engraved pages from a major music publisher, but I don't need to tell you how worthless that skill is today.

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« Reply #71 on: Apr 28, 2015, 11:35AM »

And I'll note another worthless class was "Advanced Orchestration."

The instructor, a graduate student, spoke almost zero to the issue of using instruments. His whole thing was about making sharp-looking music manuscripts with special ink pens on vellum paper.

They looked perfect, like engraved pages from a major music publisher, but I don't need to tell you how worthless that skill is today.



that used to be taught in "music fundamentals" - seems like the grad student didn't have much of a grasp on orchestration and chose not to teach it.  I can't blame him, really, it's a deeper art than many give it credit for.

so many "composition teachers" now-a-days are teaching advanced 20th century techniques (rows, serialism, etc.) and not very well either. They treat it like it's an advanced theory class. The best comp teachers I had made me listen, do score study and transcribe. "You wanna write like Beethoven?  Listen to Beethoven. It's real simple..."
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« Reply #72 on: Apr 28, 2015, 11:46AM »

so many "composition teachers" now-a-days are teaching advanced 20th century techniques (rows, serialism, etc.) and not very well either. They treat it like it's an advanced theory class. The best comp teachers I had made me listen, do score study and transcribe. "You wanna write like Beethoven?  Listen to Beethoven. It's real simple..."

I agree with your teachers. With my current teacher, I will bring what I have worked on for the week and then suggest listenings to see how composers were able to execute certain styles/directions that may be of use in my composition.

It also helps when you have a composition teacher who is geared more towards your group of interest. Only this semester my school's composition faculty included my teacher, who is more of full orchestra/large ensemble composer, where as other teachers focused more on chamber groups.
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« Reply #73 on: Dec 15, 2015, 08:00AM »

Studying composition with or without a teacher is a good question.  You need both.  A teacher for the basics for stuff dating back to the beginning of music performed.  This gives you the ability to study what you want, to do what you have to. For instance: Writing for "A" movies (star wars, independence day, the scent of a woman, etc...) is different than writing for a high school or college marching band.  Professional Musicians vs beginning musicians. However, that ground can merge. 

You should have a goal:  To make money, to be a good Samaritan, blow minds, show your heart, etc...  You goals will lead you into making the right decision for you.  I have met PHD's who have jobs writing demos for Yamaha, performance pianists who compose live while watching the films, dance instructors who compose for the Dance and Rock and Roll musicians who compose symphonies.

So if your goal is to study, use both a teacher and yourself.  If your goal is to be a composer...compose what you want or need or must do.  Start writing or playing now!
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