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What do you think...

I'm having thoughts - (post doing some composing coaching) - about composing technique. Keeping in mind of course my first rule of music - there is always an exception to the rule (even this rule!). So to try and ratify the elements of composing technique; (off the top of my head in no particular order)

- Practical (instrument ranges, idioms, impossibilities etc)

- Architectural  (form)

-  Aesthetic (melody, harmony, texture) 

- Consistency (of style/language within a work)

- Transference (of ideas into music)

- Developmental

- Adaptive (the ability to 'go with' a tangent possibly creating a successful piece different to that intended)

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To this I would only add "work ethic".  Like all great things, composition requires years and years of hard work to master.

Hi Robert,

I think you've covered most bases there and am assuming you include things like counterpoint, motivic work, synthetic scales, etc. under the general title of 'Aesthetic'. I also assume that under 'Consistency' you would talk about defining parameters in a piece and how to set about finding those parameters in the first place.

For me the crucial difference in your list compared to a lot of other pedagogical writing that I've seen is the 'Adaptive' category. Keeping ones musical adventurism open within any self-defined parameters will always encourage inspirational moments and drag a piece away from the merely pure workmanship. A balance of both is highly desirable and an open mind can accomplish this in my view.

What do you think about adding notes on improvisation, perhaps in the 'Transference' category? I also often find it helpful to look at a blank ms and see it as a physical representation of the acoustic spectrum from top to bottom (orchestral score that is!). This encourages me to then think in multiple octaves, rather than any limitations imposed by my piano (and my playing.....:-). That and what John says.

Mike.

mikehewer.com

Hi Mike

some interesting points - I do want to hone down and if anything over-simplify - I was thinking practical to include things like counterpoint, and developmental relating to motivic work, though maybe a 'technical' category is needed. aesthetic I was thinking more of pure musical communication - how 'effective' it sounds. improvisation I would think of as adaptive - so you get a spark of an idea from improvising or your visual means and you adapt this into a format or form. improvisation itself I believe is often adaptive. (often too adaptive!) consistency - yes defining parameters and language of the work - e.g. don't suddenly start speaking in Urdu at the Waitrose checkout and expect to be understood (unless you are making a planned exception to the rule and that is what you piece is about - or you are planning to make unplanned exceptions - which is probably an exception in itself.) - phew! 

your last para is most interesting - thanks.

yes - so honing my subtitles needs looking at.

I was kind of taking the hard work as read!

chrz

Rob

Rob,

Depending on how comprehensive you want to be and what age group you are aiming at, what do you think about some basics in Notation software and composing with your curriculum, or even a DAW? Depending on the generation, some might be more inclined to work within a computer, or are you thinking about encouraging a manuscript approach - or both!

Perhaps the way things are done isn't as important when compared to the how anyway.

I do believe "Technology" should probably also be a category.  I see a gulf between those whose background is notation/theory (the pure paper folks whose pieces only come to life at the first rehearsal) and those whose background is production (the pure DAW folks for whom the exported WAV file *IS* the final performance).  But, for much of the youngest generation of composers, fluency with software will be an assumed skill (so proper training really ought to be part of any curriculum).

Mike, it is for A level standard. I do heavily believe in a  manuscript/keyboard approach at least to start. there is always the exception to the rule - a friend of mine composes on the keyboard scroll on logic, and imports to Sibelius via midi file. This chap is ex RCM, teaches and marks A level and has a M mus in composition.

John (and mike)  - yes technology is a part of composing now, and certainly part of any curriculum -  I do see it as an 'add on' skill though, and will cite George Crumb who's vastly experimental scores I believe are written with no technology involvement, and scores are produced by hand (I might stand to be corrected here???) (I don't think sib could recreate his scores??). Anyway - I believe technology should be a sub category to 'practical'.

I am looking primarily at the 'how' rather than the 'way' I guess.

chrz guys

Rob

Now the ‘how’ is a fascinating concept and if combined with the ‘way’ surely one would only have to be studious in mastering both to fill our world with wonderful music.

Yes I know..............the lowest form of wit.

Hello guys-

I have a slightly different take on this topic.  My school-age students range from age 6 to 18, those out of school range from 23 to 67 right now. The school-age students are all preparing (eventually) to be music majors in college and most will be composers as adults.  The adult students are writing for commissions, performances and collaboration opportunities.  All of them are actively involved with performers and other composers.   None of them get other musical training other than what they learn in their performance lessons and with me.  So I make sure they are all-round musicians as well as composers when they finally leave my studio.  All composers should be all-round musicians in my book!!

Here's how I define what I teach:

Craft

Melodic lines
Harmonic language
Rhythm
Form
Shape
Texture
Timbre

Design or architecture

Cohesion - Contrast
Direction - Arrival
Mood - Atmosphere
Tension - Relaxation
Originality (Magic!)

Disciplines
Creative listening
Score analysis
Ear training
Music dictation
Voice leading
Counterpoint
Orchestration
Conducting (essential for determining proper rhythms)
Music history

Tools
Notation rules
Paper and pencil notation
Notation software

Each of the categories of course has lower levels.  So, under Direction and Arrival, we might learn how to create a successful climax, how to lead into it, how to continue after it, where it might be in relationship to the rest of the piece.  Under Cohesion and Contrast, we might learn all the fun ways to look at a theme through a kaleidoscope - sequences, retrograde, diminution and so on, and then all the ways to contrast the theme without losing the sense of the piece.

If I had to list all the things we learn/discuss/experience over the course of one student's many years in this studio, I'd probably run out of time and paper to write it all down!!!   Luckily I have each student for an average of 6 years, ranging from 3 years to 12 years.  When you have the privilege to learn how a young person thinks and views the world, how she approaches her own unique creative process, what his musical and life goals are, you can delve into things that wouldn't normally go on the list! 

We don't use any DAWs.  Many of the universities and conservatories use notation software in the composition programs, and DAWs in other academic programs, like sound design or sound engineering.  Some of the schools we've worked with still require one hand-written score!  I tell my kids they should never depend on technology - when the power goes out, grab the staff paper and pencil.  When stranded on a desert island, draw leger lines in the sand and use shells for notes.  ;-)  Seriously, though, too much dependency on technology can really affect creativity.  I ask my kids to compose in their heads, designing and dreaming and hearing it first.  That's the art.  Writing it down is the craft.

I will study this closely Julie - I don't think it's that far from my original. perhaps you are more presenting a curriculum and I am presenting a mix of skill base and philosophy. I totally agree that we should not depend on technology - and absolutely so in an education setting. I am interested with the bit where we dream and visualize and, how accurately we can notate those dreams and visions into a form that effectively communicates our ideas. I would say I put that down to an adaptive skill.

Sounds like you have a wonderful job btw!

chrz

R

Hey Robert - yes, I really think I have the best job in the whole world!!!  I too think our ideas are much the same.  I don't know how the UK schools are, but here in the US the schools are sadly lacking in any thorough grounding in music.  I even know a lot of advanced pianists who can play really well but couldn't tell a I chord from a V7 chord if their life depended on it.  The piano teachers tell me they don't have time to cover theory, history, analysis, etc etc and the schools don't even consider it.  I have a feeling the European students have a better all-round education, including the arts.  If it weren't so cold and rainy in England, I'd move!  Especially for the gardens ...

I guess you figured out that my studio is private teaching, not associated with any school.  I taught at the University for a while but it was too limiting.  If you have any ideas of things that should be added to either of our lists, please let me know! 

Hi - will try and come up with a definitive version from my perspective and post it. Actually UK music ed is getting worse for young kids in state sector - private schools and private tutors are the only way to go really for this group, and everything is dumbed down so much now-a-days with computers as a primary tool. I do try and incorporate as much history, harmony, form ect in my piano teaching - just pointing things out as we go. Maybe a lot of piano teachers haven't been taught like this and therefore don't pass it on. conservatories are a lot better now at catering for the all-round musician though, and there are some specialist music schools that you can get scholarships to attend like Purcell, Menuhin, and Wells. also the cathedral schools chorister programs are pretty special, though niche.

England is not so bad btw - the driest parts are over 3 times drier than the wettest. I did live in Arizona for a brief spell - carrying all that water is more of a pain than a jumper and raincoat if you want to get out!
 
Julie Harris said:

Hey Robert - yes, I really think I have the best job in the whole world!!!  I too think our ideas are much the same.  I don't know how the UK schools are, but here in the US the schools are sadly lacking in any thorough grounding in music.  I even know a lot of advanced pianists who can play really well but couldn't tell a I chord from a V7 chord if their life depended on it.  The piano teachers tell me they don't have time to cover theory, history, analysis, etc etc and the schools don't even consider it.  I have a feeling the European students have a better all-round education, including the arts.  If it weren't so cold and rainy in England, I'd move!  Especially for the gardens ...

I guess you figured out that my studio is private teaching, not associated with any school.  I taught at the University for a while but it was too limiting.  If you have any ideas of things that should be added to either of our lists, please let me know! 

"Seriously, though, too much dependency on technology can really affect creativity.  I ask my kids to compose in their heads, designing and dreaming and hearing it first.  That's the art.  Writing it down is the craft."

Aint this the truth. Playback from DAW or Notation software can be completely misleading especially when it comes to orchestral balance and more importantly, if the composer only has a scant knowledge of scoring, there is a danger they will be misguided in what they are writing. I am specifically referring to serious art music here only.

My other issue with a technological approach is that at present, even the best samples (and particularly strings) cannot replicate all the techniques available in the real world and as a result, some will end up writing for what sounds good with what they have, rather than learning,then imagining and exploiting the possibilities. The mind is free to imagine what it wants and that kind of introspection is essential for more profound utterances in my view. Nice to see education is in good hands.

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