Music Composers Unite!
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.
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.