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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningComposition, Arranging and Theory(Moderator: zemry) Studying composition with or without a teacher
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rlb
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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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Brian

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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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Brian

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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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Brian

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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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Brian

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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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