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Some of us use only DAWs, others prefer to write the score, with a pencil or with the computer...

Sometimes we compose on an instrument, other times we use only our head...

Knowing that the graphical representation is not the same on a piano-roll or on a score, knowing also that on a computer you hear immediately what you compose, and finally knowing that you play in a certain way on your instrument : Do you think that the way of composing has a big influence on your music?


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For myself, composing mostly at the computer, I find I have to keep a very close eye on whether or not parts can actually physically be performed...I have a bad tendency to get carried away with the sound alone, overlook such practicalities, then have to check up, backtrack, and fix such things. On the plus side, as long as I bear that in mind, I much prefer to write away from the instruments I somewhat play, so that I'm not confined by my technical limitations, falling into old, familiar patterns, etc., and thereby can put a lot more focus into all kinds of things I would otherwise probably miss. But, you know, now that I think of it, for those instruments I've written for which I've never actually played, it may be I've mostly been TOO careful, and haven't dared enough to venture into more obscure territory for them, utilizing them in more exciting ways. They've been like strangers I've been especially careful not to offend !
I really like the idea of having two separate words for composing. I think I'll keep that in mind for a while, and see what comes of it.

I personally spend more time exploring than I do transcribing from mental images.. so differences in instrument, means of recording, etc. are kind of common place..

Improvising into a sequencer is not composing.  You're just re-hashing the stuff that falls easily under your fingers.  Real composition is done with pencil and paper (and the other end of the pencil) and it has nothing to do with my instrumental playing vocabulary.
That's a fairly limited way to look at it, isn't it? With that definition most of the great in modern music has never composed. If improvising can't be a part of the compositional process people like Cick Corea and Herbie Hankock are left outside. Not to mention the thousands of less known improvisers out there!
Some artsy fartsy type once said that the medium is the message and I agree with that, fo sho.  Writing using finale gives me vastly different results than when I use my guitar or flail about helplessly on piano.  Yep.

Chaick and Herbie are fantastic improvisers, but they are also well versed composers.  They would both tell you that even much of their improvisations are worked out in advance, though I'm sure it's not as set as a fixed composition.  It is their skills at composing that has kept their improvisations sounding fresh. 


I know that Herbie in particular has studied portions of the "System of Horizontal Composition Based on Equal Intervals" a.k.a. the "Equal Interval System".  I've been studying it privately for 4 years and I'm nearly finished. It's been an eye opening experience from the very beginning.

Lennart Östman said:

That's a fairly limited way to look at it, isn't it? With that definition most of the great in modern music has never composed. If improvising can't be a part of the compositional process people like Cick Corea and Herbie Hankock are left outside. Not to mention the thousands of less known improvisers out there!

Hi Jerry,

I think I'm on board with you, but your statement about my statement is a materialistic distortion ;-D

Jerry Gerber said:

To say that the imaginative act of composition...must be done with a pencil is a literal, materialistic distortion.  By this logic Bach was not composing--he was using a quill, not a pencil. 

It most definitely has had influence on my music, and arguably DOES have an effect on any composer's music.  I've come up with things in my head before, away from a keyboard that I probably wouldn't have come up with at a keyboard or on FL Studio with the mouse.  I've come up with things on keyboard that I probably wouldn't have come up with on FL Studio, because when I use the keyboard, I tend to take a more theoretical approach to choosing chords and arpeggios, even if I'm not consciously doing so.  When I'm on FL Studio, (or any DAW) I know I come up with things that I wouldn't come up with on the keyboard because of my physical limitations (can only stretch a 7th) and the limitations of my playing ability.  I think balancing out those ways of composing can be very helpful for variety's sake and if you are getting writer's block.

My uncle is a professional composer, and he introduced me to writing based on a few sentences, where you try to describe in music what the sentences describe.  Of course, even with this method you still have the choice of using a DAW, your keyboard, or coming up with something away from technology, so the possibilities are numerous.  Great topic BTW!\

I almost forgot to mention how great the book "Composing Music: A Different Approach" is.  It's a workbook that introduces the idea of writing on the piano with certain limitations put on the melody, according to each exercise (i.e. abab format, no tone lower than C3, no tone higher than G4.)  It's a very interesting way of approaching writing that I had not thought of until buying the book, so the concepts presented I think are even more valuable than the actual exercises.

I think that one's method always has a great effect on the final composition. If you start designing a melody while playing a guitar or piano, the result will be different from starting with, say,  sampled strings played via keyboard or a synthesizer with a unique timbre. The timbres and capabilities of an instrument will often dictate how the melody or harmony will flow, what direction it will take. With guitar, because of my past history, I will gravitate toward a pentatonic blues scale. So I can go with that or rebel against it. With piano, I'd gravitate toward more visual note relationships, favoring bridges based on a relationship of 5ths. Another example of a different method would be to begin with a melodic idea that I would capture by singing into a pocket recorder and then proceed to find the right instrumentation. The recording process can greatly affect a composition. You can invent a progression using a string section and then improvise a horn section to go with it, through trial and error, seeing what works and what doesn't.  ....Just a few examples of different methodologies that greatly affect the final composition.

Here's a thing I created originally some 20 years ago on my Ensonic workstation synth. The whole idea of the composition is reusing two bars. Of course it could have been done on paper, but with some good software or a good old fashioned workstation synth you kind of stay more truly to the idea.


I use a DAW for making music. I use FL Studio for all my composing needs. It might seem like an odd choice, since I'm actually not using it for electronic music, but rather for jazz, rock and even orchestral music sometimes. It pretty much defines how I compose. I fell in love with FL Studio because it was easy to use, and because I could hear what it sounded like right away. Getting a good sound right away tends to have an inspiring effect on me, where I'll suddenly hear a lot of possibilities.

Working like this also comes with a downside, however. Sometimes I'll get stuck on getting the sound right so much that it interferes with actually writing anything down. For instance, I will often open a project I've been working on for quite a while, finding out right away that the EQ is completely wrong and that it doesn't make sense at all. Too much reverb here, the levels aren't right, weird EQ settings, you name it. Then I'd spend a lot of time getting it right, and then finally can I get back to writing. By that time though I'm usually not in a creative mood anymore, haha!

Nowadays, after buying several high quality sample packs, I worry less about getting the sound right, since the source material is already of decent quality. Nothing ruins my creative moments more than an annoyingly bad sample (bad or obvious looping for example, or it sounding 'thin'). Surprisingly enough the sheer simplicity of a sine/square/triangle waveform is actually quite inspiring.

Oh right. I guess I should mention that I actually 'click in' all the notes, instead of using a MIDI keyboard. Ahh, the herecy! :')

Overal working with a DAW has really been a big improvement over.. Well.. Whatever I was doing first! I think I was working with Modplug Tracker (as I was making music for games) and some basic MIDI program (my first steps into using MIDI). I would often render my MIDI files using a Soundfont program after finishing them.

I hope to some day pick up standard notation and then work with Sibelius or Finale. I've been learning to read it lately. Composing orchestral pieces in FL Studio is definitely possible, but if there's something I'm missing it's a readable overview of what's going on. That, and manually 'clicking in' vibrato, crescendos and other dynamics for each instrument is not only tiring, but also very inconsistent.

I started composing, where I would sit in front of a piano with a pen and a piece of paper and write what I played. I found that this method of composing was difficult for me, as it became quite slow and tedious. I would have a great idea and then whilst in the process of writing it down, I would loose it.

I think that having a computer and either recording live audio from my synthesizers, live midi data from my controller or writing it on a sequencer has really enabled me to achieve a lot more with my compositions. If I have an idea I can record it straight away, then continue working on it or save it for later.

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