Music Composers Unite!
I never actually divide my time when composing. I just sit writing and writing, editing, deleting, writing.. and I will stop most of the time, just like Fredrick said, when I know what the next part will be. :)
In terms of your method, Johan, yes I've tested it as well, and it is very helpful to capture the idea when it pops up suddenly in my head.
My process: I play something on guitar or keyboard. It stinks. I play something else. It's a bit too dissonant. I play again. This time it's too normal, not dissonant enough for this section. I play something else. It sucks. I play an unusual variation. Wow! Fantastic! I hit the record button and duplicate it. I stay on task, trying similar ideas. It can be an arduous process and then there's that surprising glimmer of gold. ...Then it's lunch time, maybe noon, maybe 4PM.
That's how I work. I sing melodies into my mobile phone whenever I come up with them (usually when people stare at me and wonder what the **** I'm doing). Then I go through all the melodies and mark the ones I like, and let them sit for a while. If anyone of them sticks and keep coming back I start working with it in Logic (or Garageband, which is faster and more spontaneous). It's usually here I run into trouble since I tend to sing rather off key!
Johan Roeraade said:
I don´t have scheduled time frames. My way of composing often starts with random improvising on the piano (I love to do this, and sometimes I can go on for several hours). When I find an interesting motif or melody, I write it down (usually on a computer in Sibelius). If the music stays in my head, and I cannot get rid of it, I continue to develop it into a composition. Then it is often straightforward to produce a more or less complete “draft” with reasonably correct chromatics, modulations, thematic developments and chord progressions etc. The laborious part is to adjust the overall balance and coherence of the composition. This may involve a lot of reworking and can take me several weeks (or many months when working with a larger piece of work).Then, I spend a lot of time on notation, including the expression dynamics and spelling. This may also take weeks (or more). Finally, I continue to make revisions (smaller as well as larger if required) as the composition matures in my brain.
In case an interesting motif or melody comes up in my head (which can happen anywhere, any time of the day) I make a quick notation of it on a piece of paper (otherwise I tend to forget it !). Recently I got myself a small digital recorder, which allows me to document the idea by singing or humming the melody. (Has anyone of you of tested this method?)
Interesting rule Fredrick. I find that many of the problems I encounter while composing get solved when I step away from composing and give myself time for the ideas to incubate.
Fredrick zinos said:
the only rule I have is to never stop a composing session at a problem. I always try to stop when I am absolutely sure what the next thing, musically, will be.
I tend to start with a simple slow melody.
find this melodys root key...
decide if it can go "counterpoint", or... just start winging it by ear...
if I get this far, I want to start hearing it going thru 1-4-5
then, if things are going anywhere, I expect to at least get a good sketch of the intro.
only THEN can I take a break.
if this went fast enough, I MIGHT start in on fiddling with ideas for the next part.
my BEST exercises, meaning those that got me off a "plateau" or I liked somewhat... they seemed to ALWAYS come gushing out... I have stayed up, working, straight thru... 48 hours usually or thereabouts. 72 hours is my record thus far... LMAO
(somewhere around 72hrs, I start to get really *weird*... but, around the 24HR point... I am in some weird "zone". I'm tired and must sleep, yet cant... this "zone" is where the work really progresses)
obviously, periods of UNEMPLOYMENT are where I am most productive. During "day job" this is limited to only a weekend, lol
the other workers come in from teh weekend either rested, or wrung OUT from partying too hard...
I rather APPEAR as if I am wrung out from partying all weekend, but, it was just a good solid 48 hour composing session, LMAO
but, I cant STOP until I get the first "section" of the piece out... otherwise, its "lost" somehow and I cant get back "into it" ever again...
Not so much. I usually just get an idea, which I then I notate onto paper (That digital recorder sounds useful, though for me paper is just more practical, since I can't always sing everything that is going on in my head at the same time). After that, I record it onto Sibelius. Then I play around with it in my head, and if I like what I am hearing, I write it down. I continue doing that in bits and pieces until I end up with a piece, which I then go around editing, adjusting, etc.
I was originally taught to draw a "graph" of the piece, with the vertical representing intensity (whatever was meant by that) and the horizontal representing time. That never worked for me. I prefer the improvisation method, but I find that my hands seem to go where they've gone before. I have learned, however, to note down things as they come to mind (as I don't carry music paper, normally I use letters eg CDEFGABC) or record them into my cell phone. I once had a flat phone battery, so I rang my home and left a message on the answering machine of me saying "Honey, don't delete this - it's important" followed by my terrible singing. My wife thought I'd finally lost it.
It seems that I approach different types of composition differently. For a minimalist style, I'll often start at the beginning and just keep going from there (all at once). For a song set to lyrics, I'll often work from the melody then down through the harmonic layer/s. The same goes for solo instrument with accompanist/ensemble. Does anyone else find that method depends upon style, genre or ensemble?
As composition is not my primary focus at the time (I'm more focused on piano performance and music theory/analysis) I don't ration my time in a rigorous way. But in general I sketch melodic/motivic ideas as they come to me. Then ideas for form and hermeneutic implications of music comes to me and to "fill" the concept with material I either come up with a new motivic idea or I select from the pool of material already availible (I don't force material where it doesn't want to go, however). After that I spend a significant amount of time working with the motives themselves, looking at the retrogrades/inversions, messing with the intervalic make-up (one thing I like to do is to take the whole idea and multiply the intervals by 2, then 5. So a half step becomes a whole step, a whole step becomes a major third, etc.). This allows me to see exactly how far I can stretch the material I'm working with (it also allows me to see interesting relationships that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, for example when an inverted segment has motivic relationship to the retrograde, or to the original, etc.).
From here I see which transformations of the material speak to me the most, and begin to lay out more detailed formal work from this motivic material: perhaps the inversion with its intervalic set multiplied by 5 sounds like a good secondary theme to me, etc. I then think about how to get from point A to point B, what should the large-scale "tonal"-centers be and why? What motivic ideas will fill up the space between A and B as transitional material? Should I use non-motivic material here, and if so why? etc.
This progression gives me a good balance between "rigorous" process and motivic saturation combined with my own aesthetic choices and free composition.
I mainly just take about 30 min. to 1 hour to think about the composition, and another hour or so to compose the piece itself. Other times, I just get a scrap piece of paper, and write down everything that comes to mind for about 20 minutes. As I'm also a student, I find this very efficient, because it gives me time also for schoolwork.
I compose the same way I sketch a drawing. I have a vague vision of how the end result will look like, but I use my eraser the whole time. Not just in Sibelius, but also on paper. But I have a distinctly opposite rule to the one Fredrick has: whenever I encounter a problem, I stop immediately. From then on, I start to listen to what I already have. My imagination does the rest, including solving the problem that was encountered. It works for me. But I'm not a pro, and I certainly don't have any musical training/schooling. :-)
How do I divide my time? For myself personally, I find that the more I "think-out" a composition, the less satisfactory are the results. I'm sure that has to do with the way I find the greatest satisfaction in listening to, and, experiencing music. However, I do spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to write. As well, I am a believer in the subconscious interaction with the creative process, and, though I may spend time not actually writing music, there are compositional problems that I believe are being "solved," subconsciously. Many times, it is simply a matter of giving my attention and focus to writing, "a rest," so that I can hear and evaluate my writing, and decide the best course. Ultimately, that is the crux of my compositional method, and how I spend my time -- I write, and then evaluate my music while listening to it. It is important in this process, to be able to hear what I write with "fresh" ears. To tell you the truth, I spend more time listening to music I write, than actually writing. My music has to be interesting, at least to me, or I would never be able to listen to it in the process of evaluating it. Even if we are talking about a process where the music is written, and listened to even only once, the composition process is not complete without the feedback evaluation. Why on earth, am I talking about something, (feedback), that is pretty obvious? I believe it is, because, my personal interest is in writing dramatic performance music, and because I require music to be able to satisfy not just the emotional requirements of a scene, but the dramatic requirements as well. When I evaluate what I write, I am asking myself, firstly -- "Does this fit the emotional requirements of the drama?" Because I believe that, in my operatic work, the ideal is to immediately engage the interest of the audience, and, with every scene, build and increase interest, I then ask myself, secondly, "Does what I am hearing fulfill the dramatic needs of the scene?" Each scene must propel the drama, by building interest, and if it doesn't, it will go into my music files, but, not stay in my current work folder.
I can relate to your approach to composing. For myself, I setup certain parameters or scenarios- like a certain rhythm, with a particular chord progression or strategy for harmony, direction. I like this structure to be loose, because that allows room for my subconscious to do its creative work. So I setup guidelines and then get creative within those guidelines. The guidelines are often a basis for 'style' rather than content.