Music Composers Unite!
I seem to have this problem where I work a lot on a piece and finish it to my satisfaction, but then listen to it a few months later and notice that the music doesn't breathe enough, doesn't allow for enough space. I guess being in the composing process and listening to it so much makes me want to move too fast through the piece/ideas since I'm so used to it. My perspective must be warped, versus the fresh perspective/fresh ears of listening to it months later.
Do you have this problem and what kinds of things do you do to help? I almost think I should make a habit of putting a piece down for a few months, and then coming back to it to make final edits then.
eboats, if that strategy works, that's great! One thing a previous composition prof of mine taught me is to try to sing it and see if the phrasing works or it breathes.
As far as moving before several ideas too fast (which is something I have a tendency to do as well), one thing that can help is to expand these ideas so that you feel like there's enough space. I imagine this is already part of what you do, and if helps to leave a piece for a few months, great. In terms of general proportions, if you write on a computer and mark the tempo you want, you can track the proportions of sections in time, which is a more reliable measure than something like number of pages (since this can vary if you change tempo in the middle). If you write on paper, you can also keep track of minutes and seconds by calculating that 1 beat at 60 bpm is a second.
You have stumbled on one of the great questions of composition. There is a natural tendency to want to fill every second of time with music. But, as you have discovered, this can lead to a piece with no space in it. I think it also leads to a piece that is more monochrome - not very high highs and not very low lows. When I am working on a piece, especially a longer piece, I think of ocean waves - sometimes they come crashing against the shore, and sometimes they just gently flow in and out. Contrast in a piece is key - if you do not have silence or at least low lows, you are likely to have a piece that sounds like an unbroken wall of sound from beginning to end. And probably not a very good piece at that.
Best to you and thanks for your interesting comment,
I don't think the space between musical phrases, or between sections, or a pause within a section can be accurately gauged until the piece is finished. The length of a pause or space is determined by the tempo. It all has to do with the feel and the emotion of the entire piece. Usually I end up lengthening pauses and spaces. Too much space and the piece is dead and boring. Not enough and the listener is left unrewarded or unfulfilled.
After all the notes are written, all the tempos are adjusted, and all the dynamics are written in, then is the time to feel the piece in its entirety and only then can you know where there needs to be more space or less.
I agree with Lawrence when he says, "Too much space and the piece is dead and boring. Not enough and the listener is left unrewarded or unfulfilled. ... After all the notes are written, all the tempos are adjusted, and all the dynamics are written in, then is the time to feel the piece in its entirety and only then can you know where there needs to be more space or less."
My personal view is that one doesn't have to wait that long before reviewing the piece. Immediately after initial completion, one can begin to vary the tempos. Human breathing itself is extremely variable. Any modern music piece which lacks variable tempos, and I mean widely varying tempo and frequent tempo changes, will sound "less than alive," in many cases. This will not a be a hard and fast rule, of course. With contemporary applications and methods, one can vary the rhythms and speed of the piece from measure to measure, if so desired. The addition of percussion at discrete points can make the changes in tempo sound more obvious and pronounced. Accelerando and decelerando, as opposed to simple tempo shifts, can definitely add life to a piece that seems too closely tied to a monotonous time scheme.